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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 14, Number 2 February 2015 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

Cowper's Bookshelf Donovan's Bookshelf Dunford's Bookshelf
Greenspan's Bookshelf Helen's Bookshelf Klaunser's Bookshelf
Lorraine's Bookshelf Micah's Bookshelf Shelley's Bookshelf
Taylor's Bookshelf Vogel's Bookshelf  

Cowper's Bookshelf

The River & the Land
Patrick Brode
1520 Wyandotte Street East
Windsor, ON, Canada N9A 3L2
9781927428894 $29.95

The River & the Land: A History of Windsor to 1900 is a detailed survey of the history of the Windsor-Essex area of Canada. Discussing the effect of the Confederation, Windsor's role in the American Civil War, its pivotal role in streetcar manufacturing, the cultural relations (sometimes tense or abrasive) between its primary immigrant groups (French, English, Irish, Scottish, and African-American), and more, The River & the Land is as fascinating as it is educational. A handful of black-and-white photographs, notes, and an index round out this accessible history, highly recommended for public library collections.

The Pope's Book Binder
David Mason
9781927428177 $32.95

The Pope's Book Binder: A Memoir is the autobiographical saga of David Mason, an antiquarian bookseller whose devotion to books has led him down many trails. Here are tales of gilding a treasured volume in white morocco for Pope John XXIII; of matching wits against the cousins of L.M. Montgomery at an auction; of blackmailing the head of the Royal Ontario Museum; and of searching for literary history in archives around the world. Mason criticizes Byzantine bureaucracies that block public acquisitions, and stands behind what he believes is the heart and soul of the antiquarian book trade: to preserve the histories, traditions, and cultures of the world. Highly recommended, especially for public library biography shelves and the personal reading lists of book lovers everywhere.

Artists of Sedona 1930-1999
Gene K. Garrison
Privately Published
9781491299609 $40.00

Artists of Sedona 1930-1999 is the first art history book about the artists of the small town of Sedona, Arizona. Profiling over twenty fascinating people, from the Egyptian artist who started the Sedona Arts Center to an internationally known bronze sculptor, to a retired art teacher who specializes in the abstract. Peppered with color photography of artists and their artworks, Artists of Sedona 1930-1999 is an inviting browse, accessible to gallery and media connoisseurs of all walks of life.

Brookwood Road: Memories of a Home
Scott Douglas Vaughan
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
c/o Word Slinger Publicity
9781500635299 $17.99

Brookwood Road: Memories of a Home is a novel based on the author's true-life memories of growing up in the American Deep South. Brothers and best friends Frank, Jack, and Wayne's adventures on a rural hog farm range from raising a pet raccoon, to surviving a story, and discovering a secluded hideout. Baseball is a passionately exciting sport, but can Frank find the confidence to play his best possible game? Brookwood Road also touches on the tragic rite of passage that is the passing of a beloved family member, and the hard work of daily chores on a family farm. Emotional and grounded in the realism of life itself, Brookwood Road is highly recommended.

Making the Yield
Salvatore M. Buscemi
Advantage Media Group
65 Gadsden Street, Charleston, SC 29401
c/o News & Experts (publicity)
9781599325040 $15.99

Making the Yield: Real Estate Hard Money Lending Uncovered is a guide to building a successful career in hard money lending. Hard money lending refers to the practice of lending short-term capital, also known as "bridge loans", with real estate acting as collateral. The focus of hard money lending is typically on the value of the real estate collateral, not the borrower's ability to pay, so that the hard money lender turns a profit even if the borrower must default. Author and financial expert Salvatore Buscemi, whose lifelong career includes a successful 4-year period as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs, shares his field experience in plain terms accessible to readers of all backgrounds. "I would never advise anyone thinking of entering the hard money business to do it without forming a corporation first. Your company will need to be organized, managed, and maintained as a completely separate business entity for it to work. Turning your business into a corporation also gives you additional flexibility with raising capital, and it gives you flexibility of ownership." A "must-have" for anyone interested in the hard money lending business.

Going Om
Edited by Melissa Carroll
Viva Editions
2246 Sixth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710-2219
9781936740864 $16.95

Going Om: Real-Life Stories On and Off the Yoga Mat is an anthology of true-life testimonies about people who learned more about themselves, their dreams, and how to deal with life's hard knocks through the arts of yoga and meditation. Each story tells of how yoga benefitted the author, from learning how to quiet a restless mind, to coping with the onset of Alzheimer's in a beloved parent, to dramatically improving physical health and self-worth. Anyone interested in learning more about yoga will enjoy this informative and uplifting encouragement to embrace the practice and reap its benefits!

A. Benjamin's Klooogs: Everyone's Demons
A. Benjamin
Gmailit Creations
9780615893730 $13.95

A. Benjamin's Klooogs: Everyone's Demons is far from a typical self-help book. Though filled with insightful wisdom, the writing style is free-form, jumping between vignette, poetry, parable, and other formats to deliver its brief yet soul-stirring reflections. "Klooogs", drawn from an ancient European slang word, refers to the physical pain brought by uninvited thoughts such as hurtful memories, despair, cravings, or flashbacks. Learning to overcome the personal demons that are one's "Klooogs" is a central theme of the anthology, though the issue is approached from a variety of angles. "'Tell me if you will, Rabbi, can you take a wrong action and get a right result?' [...] 'In the Talmud, you cannot employ a wrong deed on the way to accomplishing a good deed no matter how small the wrong deed or how large the good deed. Although the good deed appears to have been accomplished, the wrong deed continues to travel, picking up admirers and following along its path, gaining strength and speed. In time, it must return and negate the good deed; still it will continue forward. The answer is: you cannot.'" Due to the bite-sized nature of its discrete passages, A Benjamin's Klooogs: Everyone's Demons lends itself to being read in brief spurts just as easily as cover to cover.

Mary Cowper

Donovan's Bookshelf

The Lynchpin
Jeffrey B. Burton
MP Publishing
9781849823081 $7.99 ebook $14.95 paperback

The world of special investigations often assumes the trappings of a chess game, with precise moves often forecast far in advance by either perpetrator or agent. As the men move across the board, underlying strategy unfolds cautiously, slowly, and often unpredictably; and it's the superior game that seems to lead in one inevitable direction, then twists to provide quite a different perspective.

Special Agent Drew Cady has had it with a job that has him confronting violent felons on a regular basis: he's in recovery physically and emotionally, and the last thing he needs is another challenging case. That's why he's helping his fiancee run a resort while working part-time on an FBI fraud investigation case: far easier pursuits than hunting down felons.

All this is (of course - predictably) about to change when the body of a young woman presents a new mystery, when a faithful colleague stands accused of being a spy, and when Drew finds himself unwittingly and reluctantly being drawn back into the world of high-stakes crime and serial killers.

But that's not all of the story, though it is the crux of matters: Drew's back in touch with a sadistic killer and a master manipulator used to playing the board, and it seems that only Drew's efforts can make a difference between success and failure in an investigation packed with surprising facets.

For one thing, the victims all look alike - they are all "young, thin in stature, mid-to-lengthy dark hair, brown eyes, mid-height or taller, highly attractive" - so there's a definite model to these murders. For another, matters of national security come into play, changing a local murder case into a dogged pursuit that tests love, hate, agent interactions, and, ultimately, loyalty and determination.

It all revolves around a hidden mole code named 'Lynchpin', a set of circumstances that draw Drew ever closer to a shocking revelation, and an increasingly complex federal investigation that make his last challenging case look like a picnic in the park.

In any good thriller it's the twists and turns that make the story. And a mark of the thriller genre in general is the twist of plot. So how does an ordinary thriller evolve to something special in a world where political associations, murders, and undercurrents of passion and perversion are par for the course?

The Lynchpin demonstrates just how exact this process is, creating characters who struggle with games, silence, and what turns out to be the "world's shortest retirement" on Cady's part when a master manipulator pulls the strings and changes his life.

Who is in control? Who is really playing the game? What is behind the murders, and how does a puzzle book come into play?

Head-scratching moments, a dose of political intrigue and departmental conflict, and a world in which the true lynchpin may not be the character sporting the name make The Lynchpin a chess game of high order, and perfect for genre readers who want much more than either standard thrillers or murder mysteries tend to offer.

A Study in Detail
Michael Guillebeau
Gale/Cengage Learning
9781432829858 $23.95

A Study in Detail represents an unusual genre blend of romance, murder mystery and comedy - and it's the latter piece that sets it apart from most other genre crossover titles and lends it a special atmosphere, recommended for romance and mystery readers seeking something refreshingly different.

Quiet outdoorsman Paul fields the demands of his troublesome wife quite well, until Marta goes missing and circumstantial evidence points to him as her murderer. Now, Paul is anything but an investigator - and this is anything but an ordinary case; especially since a hidden message in his artistic wife's last painting indicates that she faked her death so that her works will become famous.

And so the drama and comedy begin as Paul finds himself on the lecture circuit discussing his not-dead-wife's life and facing down a series of increasingly-impossible events, from a $5M life insurance policy she took out before her 'death' to a casino that claims she owes them big time.

Now you have three investigators dancing around trouble and stepping on one another's toes: poor Paul, the casino enforcer, and a suspicious insurance investigator; all of whom have their own reasons for questioning Marta's demise. Add in a new age woman who believes she has been sent on a mission to help Paul get over his dead wife and you have a truly unlikely cast of characters cast together in a charade of events: a game that has all contestants circling their chairs while music plays in the background, wondering who will be sitting when it stops.

On the face of it, A Study in Detail is a mystery, but the tongue-in-cheek humor creeps into even the most staid of encounters: "It's good coffee," I said. "Really, excellent coffee." "Not for someone from Portland that knows their coffee...Right now I'll bring you a nice up of herbal tea like your girlfriend is having." I started to ask for warm dishwater instead."

And Paul's form of 'moving on' is anything but simple as he uncovers puzzle after puzzle and comes to realize he never really knew his wife at all.

The dialogue throughout is fresh, original, and witty ("Everything comes so easy for you, doesn't it, with that James Bond confidence and the Robert Redford environmentalist thing and that little boy smile that can charm the pants of a-off a some body with pants that need to stay on.") and the twists of plot will keep even the most seasoned mystery reader thinking. Protagonist interactions take the form of a series of stumbles, falls, and encounters that just keep on getting crazier.

The result is especially recommended for enthusiasts of the romance and mystery genres who seek stories that are a cut above your average whodunit approach: something with meat to it, and a game that can only end with the last one standing.

Deceptions of the Ages
Matthew D. Heines
9780990879329 $18.99

Deceptions of the Ages: "Mormons" Freemasons and Extraterrestrials doesn't continue Matthew Heines' previous travelogue/teaching books covering intercultural relationships and discoveries: instead, it analyzes a different kind of relationship between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aliens, and Freemasons.

If this approach seems a 'stretch', for some readers - it will be. Deceptions comes from a teacher who takes five thousand years of history and brings a variety of disparate forces together, using a blend of historical texts, philosophical reflections, holy writings, and more to provide factual historical insights into traditional conflicts between science and religion - and he does so with an added measure of humor to make his approach more palpable.

From the incongruities of a secret society that claims the ambiguous situation of not being a 'secret society' so much as a 'society with secrets' to the great dig under the Temple of Solomon, why it happened, and the contrast of various theories about what they found (or didn't find), Heines takes a step-by-step approach in examining various facets of history and its deceptions.

And perhaps that's the most intriguing approach of all: not just the evidence of deceptions and how they evolved over the eons, but why they happened and how their stories were perpetuated and changed over time.

Few new age or historical discussions take the form of closely analyzing the gaps between science, history and religion. Too few pinpoint exactly where and how these gaps occurred, why they widened, and the various controversies that sprung from them, creating in and of themselves new perspectives and even religions and belief systems.

And few such considerations skirt the line between history, new age analysis, and philosophy, incorporating elements of all in a compendium that is, ultimately, greater than any of its individual parts.

Despite Heines' attempts to inject humor and readability into the text, this is by no means a light read. Typical new age readers (the book's most likely audience) will find it dense, packed with historical, philosophical and spiritual references, and filled with evidence that points to the obvious fact that "we are not alone".

An index to its many references and approaches would have made Deceptions of the Ages even more useful for readers who want to cross-reference strings of thought and different historical figures - but would have been a weighty undertaking in a discussion of this magnitude.

Suffice it to say that Deceptions of the Ages offers much food for thought, will find its most enthusiastic readership among new age circles who appreciate wide-ranging discussions pulling together facts from a range of disciplines, making for a powerful, thought-provoking read.

Love is Not Enough
David Earle, LPC
4900 LaCross Rd.
North Charleston, SC 29406
9781499228915, $12.47

Love is Not Enough: Changing Dysfunctional Family Habits identifies dysfunctional family interactions and habits, categorizes them, considers their character roles in the greater circle of family dynamics and patterns, and then offers alternatives; in effect creating a 'course in a book' for those who would better understand how dysfunction actually operates between individuals in a family circle.

Now, this particular 'course' rests upon an interesting premise: "Most people have an understanding about how they were raised, how they cope with life, and how to love. After you finish this book you will "unlearn" information concerning these topics. Habits become rails where we ride our trains of life. Love Is Not Enough teaches habits that provide a chance to step back from our rails, view ourselves and others from a different perspective, and see if these rails are going toward or a way from our goals."

Readers must be ready for change, and ready to analyze their 'rails' to assess their solidity, effectiveness, and counter-productivity - otherwise, why pick up a self-help book that's all about change? And those who expect this process to be served up piecemeal, or in a manner that points the way to the path without requiring personal involvement, should look elsewhere: Love is Not Enough isn't just about changing the family structure - it's about changing the reader's habits as the first step. And this is no simple process.

Chapters offer a range of tested tools, from Mood Charts and exercises for self, couples, and family to breaking long-established habits that lead to distrust and alienation. Thus, inherent in the book's approach is somewhat of a basic willingness on the part of all or many family members to participate in the process - something that admittedly could be lacking in many circles.

There's always someone who won't try, who won't 'play a new game', and who refuses to self-inspect or change - and that's the downside of Love is Not Enough: while the reader may perceive its approach to be true, many a family is built on the very fact that love is enough, as dysfunctional as it may be.

Case histories, admonitions, and simple exercises serve to reinforce insights about the entire process ("You might be a Chaos Person if... growing up you always wanted to be somebody. Now that you are grown up you wish you had been more specific."). And while creating labels and descriptions are part of the process of imparting understanding, the non-psychology reader might initially balk at the approach of assigning a names to a particular type of dysfunction ("Chaos Person") or discussing some of the basic premises of the Twelve Steps which are woven into the healing approach (i.e. 'making amends').

Those who are truly committed to self-inspection and change should be the ideal followers of this book: in it they will find tools, admonitions, case history examples of exactly how dysfunctional patterns were identified and overcome, and keys to a better life: "No one escapes some degree of chaos for it is so ever prevalent; it is the human experience. This realization does not mean we can't improve. It does mean we can accept our state of chaos, lighten up on ourselves, have fun, and work on improving...we are a work in progress. Enjoy the journey."

If life is a journey, so is this book. Those open to exploration and not content to remain on a prescribed (destructive) course of action will find it filled with keys to derailing the negatives while using positives to move on down the line.

Gilligan's Notes
David W. Earle, LPC
4900 LaCross Rd.
North Charleston, SC 29406
9781500655822 $10.87

Gilligan's Notes: Simple Communication for Complicated People offers a tool of connection for those who find safe haven in blaming others for an incomprehensible life. David W. Earle identifies the real culprit (" clatter, distraction, demands, and expectations. Compounding these outside pressures are our own internal pressures to excel, to make our mark, be successful, and/or to seek our own fortune") as the source of miscommunication and alienation, and Gilligan's Notes is designed to help alleviate this situation - but don't consider this a singular approach. It should be viewed as just one more device in one's toolbox of coping - one dependent on a do-it-yourself attitude that embraces change, at that.

Having good communication skills breaks the barriers of isolation, thwarts misunderstandings, and builds both individuals and communities. So many books have been written about this that one might wonder at the need for yet another, so let's begin with the elements that set Gilligan's Notes apart from other books on communication. Its introduction is clear: "There are three things necessary to escape the loneliness trap: a willingness, honesty, and the necessary ability. You provide the first two ingredients. Gilligan's Notes provides the ability."

As with any good book, it's the 'how' that is the meat of matters, not the theory. Without application, there is no achievement, no success, and no change - and Gilligan's Notes is all about the application.

Now, everyone knows how to communicate; we do it all the time. But to communicate well ... now, that's a different matter; and to do so, one must hone listening and comprehension skills - it's all part of the process.

Chapters outline a program of 'active listening' to encourage communicators to become better listeners. A series of 'listening lessons' outlines sample scenarios, their underlying messages, and how to better handle them.

Self-observation is encouraged in exercises paired with admonitions, so readers who expect an outside force (i.e. author David W. Earle) to provide all the revelations will be doing themselves a disservice: Gilligan's Notes is really a cooperative effort between author and reader, and without self-reflection and change, there will be no real lessons learned: "Observe your tendency to judge what the other people are saying. Are you labeling their message based upon who they are, what their meaning is, or from some other posture resulting in your rejection of the message? Listening without judging is very hard and is why Active Listeners are so valuable."

From increasing one's effectiveness and methods of giving negative feedback to applying communications lessons in a variety of scenarios, from business to parenting, this survey doesn't limit its communication revisions to one particular purpose, but offers up a program that can apply to all communication scenarios in one's life.

Alternatives to responding in ways that just increase the problem offer not only more effective communication opportunities, but the hopes of dissuading misunderstandings and aggravating alienation and loneliness.

Take the course, then apply its lessons. It's that's simple.

What to Do While You Count to Ten
David Earle, LPC
4900 LaCross Rd.
North Charleston, SC 29406
9781491221440 $9.87

What to Do While You Count to Ten provides a program for anger management: and while this is another topic that would seem to have been 'done' time and again, - David Earle manages to provide some differences that distinguish his approach from others on the topic.

The opening line offers one such revelation: "When anger is used correctly, it can have positive results!" Now, other books may conclude as much; but only eventually - not in their introduction. It's taking somewhat of a risk to produce an anger management book that opens with reviewing the positive results of anger; but then What to Do While You Count to Ten is for the risk-taking reader seeking something different on the subject.

Earle had a long history of 'blowing his top', and with his short fuse he succeeded in alienating friends and family alike. His review of coping strategies that work highlights his own work as a therapist with clients looking to manage their anger, rounding out the personal approach and adding authority to a survey that is all about techniques of transforming anger and negativity into positive pathways of interaction.

Case histories and 'Anger Management Model' diagrams foretell that Earle must have some business grounding as well, because the feel of the visuals is 'business', while the personal stories are pure psychology.

Statements explaining the process draw connections between addiction and emotional roller coasters ("When a person's emotions are in control, it is very similar to a person who is inebriated."), recognizable as concepts from 12-step program approaches which are also included as 'solutions' to help better understand anger and its functions.

Chapters take the form of a series of counseling sessions between therapist and client, with the back-and-forth of such sessions providing the framework for discussing basic anger management techniques.

Psychology students should take note: this isn't your usual Freudian approach which leaves revelations to the client and has the therapist subtly encouraging: direction is created by the therapist who uses allegories and concepts to 'teach' his client: "When emotions are not dealt with they are exhibited in unintentional and destructive behavior." Because the interactions between client and therapist are more give-and-take, adopting a kind of Adlerian approach to cooperative problem-solving, readers are drawn into a process whereby the client peels back his emotional layers and examines the wellsprings of anger and its lack of management.

Many believe that anger should be 'controlled'; but notice that Earle's terminology advocates 'management' here. There is a difference; and one which readers learn about more easily through the eyes of this therapist/client interactive process than your usual approach of pairing exercises and psychology alone.

With its charts, exercises, and personal give-and-take reinforcing basic concepts, it's hard to become lost or confused about the program being presented in What to Do While You Count to Ten - and it's easy to apply it to one's own experiences and belief systems.

And that's the greatest strength of this book: its ability to link behavior patterns to belief systems, examine their inconsistencies and where they don't serve a greater good, then provide recommendations and suggestions for change.

Now, that's effective self-help reading!

Professor of Pain
David W. Earle, LPC
4900 LaCross Rd.
North Charleston, SC 29406
9781491046111 $9.88

Professor of Pain closely follows What to Do While You Count to Ten, and continues the process begun in Love is Not Enough - for yes; by now it's evident that this series of interconnected books is about a process, not a singular subject. Although one could argue that the nature of this process could have been condensed under one cover, it will be fairly evident why this should not have happened when absorbing this book's weighty combination of case history examples, step-by-step program discussions, and literary admonitions that often take the form of free-verse poetry.

It's an unusual mix: poetry and psychology. The combination may disappoint literary bastions of the poetic form who seek precise iambic pentameters in their works and eschew the unrestricted flow of free verse: "A woman tried to mount the horse next to her daughter./She was a large pear-shaped person/and both her attempts/to mount her horse were met with disappointment./Her face contorted with despair,/anger, humiliation,/and shame."

There's more spirituality in this leg of the journey; more of a reflective tone than in Earle's prior books. The author has stepped up to a different level in Professor of Pain and his search for the choices, attitudes, and perspectives that translate to true emotional and spiritual freedom bring him full-circle to the poetic form, which is here used as a catharsis to observe and comment on life.

Much of life is an illusion (the author maintains) with its associated paradoxes. The mind fosters deceptions that are comfortable to live with and, ultimately, self-destructive.

Professor of Pain aims, through a combination of poetic observation and psychological insight, to break through these paradoxes and reveal the underlying layers of intimacy and spirituality that are often glossed over - and dominated - by destructive family additions, habits, and dysfunction. Embracing the recovery process can also threaten loved ones who have a vested interest in (or too-comfortable familiarity with) those ingrained routines, as Professor of Pain teaches.

It's almost as though author David W. Earle has left his 'psychology body' to embark on something more ethereal, here - and his return to the poetic form for expression should be one key to this leg of his journey (which also rests upon Twelve Steps concepts.)

As much as it's about his personal journey of transformation and his changing relationships with his children as a result, Professor of Pain is about observing the angst and learning opportunities given to all who would embrace it.

Poets seeking solid poetic structure will be disappointed in the loosely structured free verse intended to reveal and focus on emotion, while psychologists looking for a linear program outline will be dismayed by Earle's winding blend of autobiography and reflective thinking - but those experiencing their own form of self-confrontation and change will find Professor of Pain an unassuming, precise definition of this process, and will be drawn to it like moths to a flame.

Iron Mask
David W. Earle, LPC
4900 LaCross Rd.
North Charleston, SC 29406
9781492268505 $8.89

Is Iron Mask a self-help book? A collection of poetry? An autobiography? Or is it an instructional on facing down the aging process, interacting with family, and taking wing?

Some books are neither one thing nor another. Some straddle the finer lines between prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction, autobiography and literary work. And some - like Iron Mask - simply defy categorization; which makes them a challenge to promote in a world where marketing relies on niches, boxes, and defining audiences.

In the ideal world, there would be room for such as Iron Mask - and an ability to say that its disparate elements hold attraction and insights for all kinds of readers. Fortunately, it's possible to change the nature of this reality through personal attention to not just writing such a piece, but bringing it to a wider range of readers than is usual for a specific genre read.

Each poem in this collection is prefaced by a personal reflection on its origins. You'll find works about abortion, death, transformation, and beyond - each with their own insights on place of origin. Take the early 'Teeter Totter', for example: here's a pairing of opinion piece with a wider applications of ethics and values: "I abhor the thought of taking the life of an unborn child. This poem, Teeter-Totter, represents my imperfect attempt to reconcile what I dislike most and the autonomy of the choice not belonging to me. ..Is abortion really the issue...or is it an ugly manifestation of something much deeper which we have not yet faced?"

Through this quote readers can see that the poems are very much free verse, that they are personal reflections, and that they follow the lines of self-inspection in many ways, from ethics and standards to the mechanics of grief: "She is drifting in life - no direction. My hand reaches out to her, statue behind the iron mask. She does not respond. I feel so alone. Today they are gone. On one side of life's room, doors are closing. I hear a silent echo as each one slams shut."

The poems are divided into chapters by theme, making it easy to understand their place in the scheme of things. From 'Children' and 'Change' to 'Love', this is a psychological journey through not only the author's life and encounters, but through the human experiences that bind us all.

The poems were written over a period of some twenty years, which sets this collection apart from many singular creations. It thus reflects not just emotions but a journey through life, following the lessons and evolution of experience and encounters with the world.

There's a brutal honesty and self-evaluation here, as well as a self-centeredness that blossoms from bud to flower to embrace reader perceptions as well.

Iron Mask would not be what it is, were it not for the inclusion of explanatory insights for each series of poems. It is the icing on the cake of understanding and connection, and it's what makes Iron Mask an intimate, revealing glimpse into not only author David W. Earle's world, but that of his family and heritage, as well.

Red Roses 'n Pinstripes
David Earle
4900 LaCross Rd.
North Charleston, SC 29406
9781495400469 $8.59

With six books to his name following the same/similar thread of self-exploration and cathartic inspirational blends of self-help psychology and poetry, one might question the need for all the volumes: couldn't the information have been synthesized into just one or two books?

But, look at it this way: would you take a complex process that had numerous steps and possibilities of detours and derailment along the way and condense them into one short treatment? What about the readers who then become 'lost' on a path that moves from step-by-step to moving in leaps and bounds?

The first three books combined the structure of epic (albeit freelance) poetry with emotional self-inspection, the later books moved past the poetry platform more into the realm of self-help observation and admonitions, and now this the final Red Roses 'n Pinstripes narrows the focus even further: to romance and its accompanying inevitable burden of lost love.

If these productions seem like disparate gatherings of philosophy and emotion woven together under the auspices of poetic structure and psychology, well, this can be said to be true. Readers looking for the classic epic poetic structure defined by rules and strict beats will want to look elsewhere (perhaps Beowulf?) for their more seasoned literary approaches, while those who seek serious psychology without the self-inspection piece will also wish to look elsewhere.

Red Roses 'n Pinstripes, as with Earle's other books, is instead a welding of the personal and the political self, fusing the literary word with a psychological journey. As such, it's intended for readers undertaking their own such travels; not for the neo-psychology student or the bastion of literary excellence; either of whom could find the series and its personal approach not to their liking.

And so the two primary elements readers should have to appreciate Earle's series in general and this conclusion in particular is an attention to examining one's personal perspectives (here, on love) and a fondness for free verse poetry which captures a consideration of his insights: "From the poems found in Part II - Love Lost, you will read me lamenting the agony of the rejection and the guilt when rejecting another."

As for the poems themselves, they are expressions of pain and loss: "Soul-stars are white hot/sparkling and twinkling/

crisscross heavenly trails/creating a star ... a super nova/the wonder of the heavens./She wouldn't lie here anymore."

Now, if this were all the collection was about, that wouldn't be enough to attract interest. Frankly, this collection's power lies in the juxtaposition of the poetic expression and its psychological analysis: prefaces to each lend spiritual and emotional insights that are essential keys to understanding each poem's approach: "With divorce, a living death, seldom does the bereaved receive this needed support - cards are not sent, families do not meet for memorial, no gifts are given. The sufferer must go through a tremendous life upheaval often without the comfort so desperately needed. Non-Occasion bemoans that distinct difference."

Red Roses 'n Pinstripes is as much about saying goodbye as it is about saying hello. Those who seek the free verse poetic structure for its more accessible thoughts, who want their psychology couched in reflection over professional inspection, and who look for personal, revealing collections rather than emotionally-distant self-help titles will find Red Roses (and its predecessors) an accessible, emotional, involving key to a journey that never ends.

The Law of Five
Robin Mahle
HARP House Publishing
Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
9780692335321 Kindle: $3.99 Print: $11.99

It's usually difficult to come into a mystery mid-series (The Law of Five is Book Three, so settings, characters and plots have been well established in prior books), but this Katie Reed/Redwood Violet novel opens with the discovery of a body in a cornfield, a situation that quickly involves Katie just when media attention is beginning to wind down from her last case.

Katie's work with the San Diego Police Department has more than taken over and changed her life, and she's trying to achieve some distance between her public and private lives - until a phone call from an old friend draws her into an investigation that involves the police department and an acquaintance suspected of murder.

All this is about to change (a somewhat predictable course of events) - but what is less predictable is the method by which the murderer draws in his victims, which in some sense includes Katie, who finds her investigative skills challenged and her interest in keeping professional distance from her work stymied. Having just faced down a terrible truth about her past trauma and its lasting effects on her future dreams, Katie is in no condition to confront a killer ... but, she has to.

The emotional piece of Katie's recovery is one of the pieces that makes The Law of Five a winning read: it's steeped in past, present and possible future events and presumes no prior knowledge of Katie's life on the part of a newcomer. Descriptions are vivid and incorporate these personal aspects, deftly weaving them into the overall mystery and providing solid depth and background: "You are not damaged goods, Kate. You're looking for another reason to keep him in your head. You think if you let him go, really let him go, that you'll lose Sam too." Katie stood up and moved towards him. "I don't know if I'll ever be whole again. And it doesn't matter how much you try to protect me from the world, Marshall. You can't protect me from myself."

There are three facets to creating a satisfying mystery: strong characterization, interconnected circumstances, and intrigue. Weave all together and provide an attention to detail for each and you have the elements of a superior mystery story, capable of reeling in readers with emotional empathy and wrapping this psychology in a mystery with no foregone conclusions.

From clues that could lead one to question whether one killer or a series of copycats is involved to Katie's probe of her personal and professional lives, readers are carried along on an emotional and investigative roller-coaster.

Chapters cover control, suffering, and (without spoilers) threaten everything Katie holds dear in her life - and readers follow her emotional highs and lows as she draws closer to the truth, then finds its repercussions destroying her world. Katie has spent a lifetime striving to feel safe: it may be time to let loose ties of safety for a greater goal.

That The Law of Five is a gripping psychological investigative mystery drama is largely due to Robin Mahle's attention to creating a protagonist who has survived much, only to find her past haunting her future happiness. The truths that evolve from her pursuit of justice will change everything around her - and readers, too, will be happy to discover this mystery stands well alone and requires no prior reading to prove haunting and involving.

21 Days in Maui
P.L. Como
4900 LaCross Rd.
North Charleston, SC 29406
9781503352537 $14.95

Several current books invite readers to take a walk out of their world by following the author's own travels; but 21 Days in Maui: How I Gave Myself Permission To Be Free additionally shares the author's determination to use only three weeks in Maui to consciously change the patterns of her life, serving as an inspirational journey of reflection for all who wish to join her.

Now, three weeks isn't a long time, no matter how determined one is to change - but Day One begins with a bang, pairing an uplifting poster board sign in a store window with an unusual phone call out of the blue from a normally-reserved ex who wants to know what Como truly desires in a relationship.

The changes blossom from there, like a Hawaiian flower, unfolding daily as Como moves from an open-minded truth-seeker to a woman who actively embraces life.

Her ponderings are both personal and reflective of a wider perspective handed: "I do not believe we are here to stifle our innermost feelings and rationalize our desires until we can't hear them anymore. I do believe that's what most people do just to get by. I understand. I have a corporate job and I have to do that a lot - stifle my innermost feelings five days a week. I'd always rather be walking my dogs."

Her ability to 'fly into the stratosphere' with bigger-picture thinking is evident from the start, but her intent here isn't to impress the reader with personal flights of fancy. Rather, it's to share her insights on how life's challenges and adversities actually work to ultimately create better paths.

Chapters blend autobiography and introspection with her special brand of 'bigger-picture' thinking. "Vivid is my word of the year, and I am finding that I'm using it a lot here in Maui. Must be because I have no set schedule and so much time to sink into the moment - a rare opportunity that must be seized on the merry-go-round we call life. Vivid is my code word for 'be here now,' where everything is more alive and colorful than any thought could ever be. It means that I'm not thinking or wishing or planning or fearing this moment away... that I am embracing it exactly as it is."

Part of her "flowering" can be attributed to the magical environment she finds herself in, and part of it is having gifted herself with unstructured time - no obligations, no commitments, no one to answer to or compromise with. This allows her to wonder, each morning, "...what will I create today?" Most of the time, she's creating new insights, new patterns of behavior, and new goals for her life; and, in the process, carrying readers along a journey of uplifting revelations.

One might wonder whether wide-ranging change is possible in only three weeks; but this journey through Como's world is nothing if not inspirational, and offers the keys for similar possibilities for the reader: "These are the thoughts I had back when I was a kid - 12 years old, pedaling fast on my bike, high on the pedals, hair whipping in the wind - free and open and available to hear, to experience, to be present to the moment. Enraptured. Is this life about finding our way back to that state of wonderment, no needs tugging at us... no thoughts weighing us down?"

Readers who harbor skepticism, angst, or have a vested interest in suffering need not look here for guidance: their patterns and interests are already set. But those seeking an uplifting, inspirational autobiography filled with light and life will find 21 Days in Maui is truly a walk out of this world, and onto a more positive path in life.

Cow Country
Adrian Jones Pearson
Cow Eye Press
9780990915003 (pbk) $19.95
9780990915027 (hardcover) $34.95
9780990915010 (eBook) $7.99

Cow Eye Community College is a rural institution offering up a well-rounded liberal arts and technical education program and sporting a curious atmosphere promising hope and advancement while actually delivering despair - or so observes an educational administrator who finds himself in the back country of the rural Cow Eye community facing down its biggest problem: impending ruin.

Charlie had no idea his job description was to include miracles and leadership on such a grand scale - but then, Charlie actually mirrors the atmosphere of Cow Eye perfectly: he's down on his luck himself.

Can the blind lead the blind? Evidently - but not without a lot of stumbling, as the whimsical and testy Cow Country reveals in the course of its romp through the politics and social mores of academia.

It's hard to neatly 'peg' the reader of Cow Country. Certainly, a sense of humor is a prerequisite. Another 'plus' would be a familiarity with the inner workings (and ironies) of higher education (of which this reviewer has some light experience from decades past), which come to light in a series of encounters and vignettes that deftly comment on community college functions and institutional actions that alienate as much as they seek to unite: "Luke joked that the seats of the bus were not meant for two adults but that he and Ethel had done their best under the circumstances and that if implicated in any subsequent paternity test he would do the right thing and pay for the abortion, though he would also forward it on to the college as a reimbursable work expense. Dr. Felch laughed at all this and said, "That's the price of teambuilding, my friends!"

As readers move through the dubiously hallowed halls of higher education, they will come to find that the initial prerequisite of some familiarity with a community college structure, though desirable, is not actually a prerequisite: those who have any kind of insights on institutional ironies and inconsistencies will relish Cow Country's hard-hitting observations about life in the slow lane of reluctant change.

As subtle digs and innuendos permeate the story, the comedy of trying to lead a dysfunctional institution comes to life: "...institutional accreditation is not the place for the expression of personal values. It's not the place for intellectual integrity or unwavering convictions. It's not a forum for your true beliefs to be laid bare. It's not the proper venue for idealistic notions of propriety or even for pragmatic conceptions of justice. And please don't use the accreditation process as a forum to stand up and scream at the top of your lungs: 'Hey, look at me, world! I'm a free-thinking self-respecting human being with heightened moral sensibilities!" The accreditors just want to know how we assess our assessments, right? just answer the damn question!"

An affair with a math teacher (obviously from a different - and less romantic - world), an elaborate Christmas party gone awry, and a revolution that rests on the efforts of an accrediting process to either give life to a failing institution or take it away forever keep Cow Country fast-paced, ironic, and at times, downright hilarious: "I'm quite sure our students will have nothing but glowing things to say about their creative writing experience here at Cow Eye. And I'm sure they will be happy to tell you all the amazing things they've learned from such a mesmerizing, if inexplicably absent, creative writing instructor. And I'm sure the responses you receive will be almost universally similar in their positivity. Won't they, kids...?" At this the surprised students nodded their consensus."

In the end, shelve any concerns that Cow Country will be foreign or indecipherable to any but the academic or institutionally-immersed reader: it's a story with universal appeal, and it's a tour de farce that opens with a downtrodden administrator facing the threshold of historic change in a small community, walking over the line, and continuing down the road into the sunset, concluding with a single vision connecting sex and enlightenment with the wider goals and struggles of a community college environment.

No spoilers here: for more, you'll just have to visit Cow Country and see for yourself.

Return To Mateguas Island, A Tale of Supernatural Suspense
Linda Watkins
Argon Press
9780991055487 ASIN: B00PQZH8Y0 $2.99

Ordering link:

Return To Mateguas Island, A Tale of Supernatural Suspense offers a satisfying sequel to Mateguas Island and delves more deeply into events, using the perspectives of different characters from young adults to a mother and her boyfriend, to probe actions of the past that hold dire implications for all involved.

At the heart of a maelstrom of horror that encircles this close-knit family is the unsolved disappearance of a father, an island's mysterious secret, and a mother's connections with supernatural forces which can keep danger at bay for only as long as her inquisitive eighteen-year-old twins can keep their curiosity in check.

All this is about to change with their return to the island, which offers re-connections with some unusual forces and exposes relationships that have kept long-held resentments at bay for years.

On the face of it, Return To Mateguas Island is about a missing father; but it evolves to be so much more. Misplaced legacies, hidden entanglements, simmering resentments, and strange powers all come to light against the backdrop of an island which holds the power to suck everyone back into a maelstrom of deadly forces.

Now, readers expecting a story replete with ghosts may be disappointed. The real power in Return To Mateguas Island lies not so much in its inclusion of supernatural rituals as in its exploration of simmering emotions that lay just under the surface of lives recovering from disaster. Thus, its power and strength are most evident in its explorations of interpersonal relationships: "Surprised by his gesture, Karen gazed into his eyes. They had both revealed secrets kept hidden for so long and it seemed as if in this moment they had taken a journey back in time - back to when they had once been so good together."

It's the reason why chapters are titled not by paranormal encounters, but by the events which transpire between selected protagonists ("Terri and Shawn", "Bill", "Karen and Dex"). It's the reason why the supernatural force described serves as a catalyst for events; not the end-all of these explorations. And it's the centrifuge of a whirlwind of emotional forces that swirl around all involved in the backdrop that is Mateguas Island and its mystical heritage.

While newcomers can access and enjoy this sequel, it's especially recommended for prior fans of Mateguas Island who became involved with the protagonists and the mystery, and who want more. This audience will find the characters are flushed out and embellished, their motivations and lives are laced with more depth, and the compelling draw of the island and its mysteries create suitable devices for a novel that excels in emotional interconnections with a dash of supernatural suspense added in for good measure.

Tales from Little Lump: Night of the Undead Snow Monkeys
Jeff Folschinsky
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00OO2I6K6 $0.99

It must be said that Jeff Folschinsky's opening paragraphs for his writings are nothing but compelling: readers who like more than a light dose of humor injected into their sci-fi/horror won't just feel compelled to continue - they'll be grabbed by the collar and pulled in, as in the second 'Tales from Little Lump' collection, Night of the Undead Snow Monkeys: "I have to admit, Japanese snow monkeys are the most adorable things that I ever did lay my eyes on. It's too bad that I had to start blowing them apart with my late husband's, God rest his soul, 12-gauge Remington pump action shotgun; but what else are you supposed to do once they've turned undead?"

It's a dilemma, indeed - and one which comes to life in a story of undead, cute but dangerous snow monkeys that plague the small town of Little Lump and create havoc for its residents.

Readers of the original Tales will know that aliens who came in peace were gunned down by an over-enthusiastic small Texas town's determination to prevent invasion at all costs. But no prior familiarity is required for this continuation of the horror theme as the Texas shoot-em-up approach is applied to a greater horror in the form of undead cuties.

Gertie and Cousin Tommy are back, ammunition is running low, and tempers are high. Gertie tells the tale and minces no words in the process - which in itself is simply hilarious: "Cousin Tommy, in this day and age, what self-respecting Texan walks outside their front door without carrying a weapon?" "Never had any use for one until now," he replied, while decapitating a monkey with his garden hoe. Isn't that the way of things? People always think, oh, guns, yuck. But all of a sudden undead Japanese snow monkeys show up, and then everyone is whistling an entirely different tune."

From a hot and heavy domino game where outsiders threatened by zombie monkeys are denied entrance to safety ("No, we're not letting him in. We're already playing with six people.") to the question of why Japanese snow monkeys have appeared in Texas in the first place, Night of the Undead Snow Monkeys is simply uproarious from beginning to end.

And while, yes, this book is technically a stand-alone and requires little prior familiarity with its predecessor, newcomers will want to turn to the original Tales; because it's there that protagonists and town makeup are given more background and history (plus, it's equally side-splitting, to boot.)

If you're looking for serious zombie apocalypse tales - look elsewhere. Night of the Undead Snow Monkeys requires that its readers have a funny bone in place - and then it tickles and tweaks it until the result is uproarious laughter: something very few horror books can claim to offer.

So go ahead - open the door, aim your weapon, and get ready to party with Night of the Undead Snow Monkeys. It promises a night you won't forget, and is very highly recommended as a standout read.

Xandria Drake: Ancient Rising
Laura C. Cantu
Print: 9780988585102 $15.99
Ebook: ASIN: B00BMBMF90 $9.99

Paranormal romance is a growing genre, but what's unusual about Xandria Drake: Ancient Rising is the dose of Ray Bradbury-type atmosphere which is thrown in for good measure, which Bradbury fans will recognize right away as an unusual carnival's arrival in town draws twenty-one-year-old Xandria Drake into a world of supernatural influences and mystery.

All the elements for a satisfying genre blend are here: uncertain romantic interests with two men who both hold sinister secrets, a curiosity (some might say a propensity for questioning and snooping) certain to get Xandria in trouble, and a rising power that turns out to be connected to vampires. (The last element could be considered a 'spoiler alert'; but it should be mentioned because if readers aren't anticipating a vampire factor, and actively avoid the popular trend to find them in many a fantasy, they may be disappointed.)

Indeed, if any criticism should be leveled here, it's that Xandria Drake: Ancient Rising draws from a wide range of genre methods and incorporates them under one umbrella to the point that at a few places, readers feel strands of all manner of methods pulling in disparate directions.

But it should be said that all these incongruent paths are successfully unified at the story's end, whether it be vampires, romance, mystery, or fantasy elements, leaving the main criticism (if it can be called that) to be that Xandria Drake: Ancient Rising won't neatly fit into any genre box.

It's especially notable that Xandria Drake: Ancient Rising creates powerfully visual scenes that draw readers into not just events and protagonists, but setting: "My jaw dropped. It was as if we passed through a film of stardust. On the other side of the mysterious veil, the night sky swirled with streams of pastel lights, like those of a multicolored aurora borealis. The forest around us came to life in an unbelievable experience of vivid green trees, flowering bushes, and overpowering scents of spring. The trees seemed to breathe, and the grass gently undulated as if dancing to an unheard song."

These moments are liberally peppered throughout and serve to bring the story line to life, elevating it beyond fantasies that don't take the time to fully inject life into their settings.

Another plus: the games played by two very different men in Xandria's life are well drawn and explored, making the romance element more than just a singular attraction. And as Xandria's powers come into their own, she finds within herself the ability to make choices that will help her define the boundaries of her attractions, her strengths, and her ultimate path in both her current lifetime and those created in lifetimes past.

So, expect not a singular approach to either paranormal fantasy or romance, but an all-encompassing story that is fast-paced, vivid, and fueled by a combination of various genre devices. Cantu's attention to detail melds them all into an engrossing story that delivers repeated surprises up to its satisfyingly-unpredictable conclusion.

Tears of Innocence
T. R. Robinson
CreateSpace, Amazon, and Smashwords
CreateSpace POD: ISBN 13: 9781500478278 $9.68
Smashwords: ISBN13: 9781311711786 $3.99
Kindle ASIN: B00MH7FJ6Y $6.76

Most lives cannot be said to be extraordinary - and, indeed, T.R. Robinson did not consider her life to be such until she began learning about the lives of others and realized that in the bigger world picture, her life is, indeed, extraordinary.

Thus, Tears of Innocence is as much about this unusual life and her survival and blossoming as it is about her encounters in the world, and is created as the first part of a projected three-book autobiographical trilogy.

The first thing to know about Tears of Innocence is that it isn't just about the author's world, but that of her ancestors as well. As the last surviving member of her branch of her family, there was nobody else to capture these memories and histories - and so she does so here, in an introduction that begins with a child abandoned in the snow and a daughter sent away from home when her mother falls ill.

At the age of five, the author's life ends. At that age she moves from a warm, loving home to uncertain circumstances, a 'found' baby brother is adopted out, never to be seen again, and because in her time there was no understanding that children held a place in the grieving process, she was pushed aside, ignored, and left to come to her own terms with her mother's death.

But that's only the beginning of her story - and the tip of the emotional iceberg, as she moves from her mother's death to a new life.

While this autobiography is steeped in family relationships, it's also about war, politics, and daily lives changed by struggle. Perhaps this is one of the facets that leads Tears of Innocence to be so striking: the juxtaposition of inner strife with equally-challenging wider world changes: "We have difficulty finding sufficient food. Bread used to be our staple diet but the German habit of flooding a country with currency means a loaf now costs thousands. They've also commandeered virtually every other product. The soup you've just enjoyed was made from a combination of potato peelings, discarded by the enemy, and stinging nettles."

It should be noted that some editing would contribute to smoother reading of this narrative, as minor grammatical errors pepper the story line ("I could've easily run into my captors arms."). That said, the narrative flows relatively smoothly and involves readers in the growing horrors of Nazi occupation, inhuman actions, and observations the author will never forget.

And now, neither will the reader.

Tears of Innocence is the perfect example of an autobiography that connects personal strife to wider world events. It's written with passion, it's presented with a 'you are there' feel, and it offers not just one life-changing experience, but a series of slings and arrows that the author survives.

The ongoing violence and struggles of her life seem nonstop at times, and serve to illustrate not only her own survival tactics and ability to adjust to adversity, but the changes society has experienced in relation to perceiving and understanding the nature of violence both at home and in communities: "You've a lot of bruises." "Oh I keep falling or missing my step and walking into doors. Must be my pregnant state." I don't think they believe me. But what can they do? My husband has full rights over me. Society had been very different then."

It covers the author's childhood and first part of her adult life, and it actually offers hope, as she was ultimately able to gain freedom from the disparate negative forces and patterns of her world. The battles she fights, the constant threats to her life, and the family interactions against the backdrop of war are personal and vivid, and will appeal to any who look to accounts of strength and survival against all odds.

Hearts Beneath the Badge
Karen Solomon
Missing Niche Publishing
9780986322112 $12.99

Plenty of books have been written about law enforcement - usually they come from the perspective of cops on the beat who either explore their daily lives or expose the social, political, and legal aspects of being a police officer.

Less common is coverage of an officer's family experiences, told from the perspective of that family: such is the contribution of Karen Solomon with Hearts Beneath the Badge, which takes what is undercover and brings it above ground by celebrating the daily experiences of law enforcement professionals.

Karen Solomon is married to a cop, and having lived with these behind-the-scenes stories of heroism, she decided to publish this book as a counterstrike against the more popular process of decrying police force violence.

Hearts Beneath the Badge seeks to balance this public outcry by pointing out the good achieved by police officers, gathering stories of what commonly happens on a daily basis. She interviewed police officers on her lunch hour and although her marriage to a cop was part of the impetus for her book, she actually held a long-standing respect for the profession and was motivated to produce this book in response to an especially tough year (publicity-wise) for law enforcement.

In a world where every policeman's failure is publicly condemned and more common successes are hardly mentioned, it's important that Hearts Beneath the Badge win acclaim.

Its chapters celebrate good decisions, heroic acts, and moreover, a sense of ethics and morality that go beyond the job description.

Society holds police offers to different values than other workers, often creating isolation in the process: "Most people get up and go to a work, grab some coffee, talk to the people in the cubicles next to them, and some even goof off while they are at work. The career of a police officer isn't as easy. They are often alone, when they take a coffee break the public sees them as wasting taxpayers' money..."

Their lives, experiences, and choices here take the form of biographical vignettes. Each chapter tells of how a man or woman became involved in law enforcement, how this affected their families and lives, and how their decisions on the job changed other lives.

The premise is simple: " enforcement is a deeply personal profession and the lives and emotions of the officers are on the line every day. In their effort to serve the public, they put their own physical and emotional safety at risk time and again." The stories are not. They are complex, thought-provoking reads that should especially be pursued by those who place all police officers in the same basket of criticism. It returns the humanity to the profession and, in so doing, creates a powerful collection of stories that should be used to counter any generalities about the profession.

Snaygill: Slithery Temptations
Michelle B. Assor
4900 LaCross Rd.
North Charleston, SC 29406
9780692282717 $TBA

Snaygill: Slithery Temptations comes from an unusual combination of the author's appreciation for snakes and her interest in fantasy. It should also be mentioned that this is Book One of a projected snake-oriented fantasy trilogy and - without injecting spoilers about the series - that readers should anticipate that the natural history of snakes woven into the plot will be a slippery slope in and of itself.

That said, Snaygill: Slithery Temptations is anything but predictable, is set in a reptile-driven kingdom, and offers up some unusual snake's-eye viewpoints: "His request failed to convince the forked tongues of a rebellious few, however.

"Does the king truly believe we are renewed and our sins forgiven every time we recite the anthem or shed our skins?

An ally agreed. "No matter how hard we try, temptation is hard to resist. We are forever cursed to writhe on our bellies, despite our newfound freedom in this land."

There's an undercurrent of unexpected humor running through Snaygill: unexpected because one doesn't ordinarily anticipate that a fantasy story about a snake kingdom's struggles will contain any kind of tongue-in-cheek observational irony.

This is evident not only in the opening chapter, but in progressive events: "Hmmm, so a wimpy water dweller seems to underestimate my immense powers," remarked

Armstrong superciliously. "What's more, you appear to be ignorant about the food chain. You should educate yourself by researching my eating habits. You will realize that I am partial to the fish and frogs in these local waters, so you might consider sharing your catch with me. I consume much more than you do, especially when I'm angry."

Anticipate a story replete with royalty and irony, magic and sinister games, and a prince's school that teaches the finer arts of deception and mystery.

The setting is more complex than your usual fantasy, taking place not in a human kingdom and not in your usual furred animal realm, but in the cold slithery world of the snake. It thus takes time to build a story line that is filled with witches, family connections, quests, and a world where hibernation cycles are as much a part of life as the quest for food.

It's truly a pleasure to see something different in the realm of both fantasy and creature-driven works. The world of fluffy bunnies has definitely been overdone, while the pursuits of slithery serpents is usually limited to realms of evil forces, so having an alternative approach in Snaygill provides refreshingly different.

There are moments of philosophical introspection - satisfying contrasts to your usual action-oriented fantasy - that take the time to thoroughly build protagonists and their movements through this slippery world: "Mallicegai soon discovered living alone was not so dreadful after all. A young heart, full of curiosity and determination, a mind thirsty for knowledge, an innate gift of a soulful voice, and the possession of great beauty, were definitely not setbacks. Besides, she was never truly alone. Wherever she slithered, the wind and the water, the sun and the moon trailed her. They too were alone, yet they comforted one another in their solitariness."

In a fantasy where serpents ride in carriages, go to school, and fall in love, Michelle B. Assor takes time to incorporate the very real nature of the snake and its habits, injecting a realistic feel to the story line while staying true to the fantasy scenario of talking, thinking snakes who mimic many of the concerns of humans - such as partaking in wedding rituals.

Under a more casual hand this balance could too easily have fallen apart. But with Assor's ability to balance natural history and fantasy, readers who appreciate both are in for a rare treat.

Written on Her Heart
Paige Rion
Paige Rion, Publisher
ISBN: 9781497403314 $9.37
ASIN: B00JPOXIB0 $3.97

Book One in the Callaway Cove Series is about a dream and a romance. Andi has the big dream of becoming a published author: something she's wanted all her life. And Ford just as passionately has one purpose: to avoid his past. These are two trains on different tracks, so one might think there'd be little connection; but romance is about to take a turn in a different direction, bringing the two together like a pair of freight trains speeding towards collision.

The best romances are ones in which disparate purposes come together, either with accompanying fireworks or elements combining attraction and conflict.

Nothing is easy, here: Andi's path to success is fraught with both opportunity and risk, while Ford comes to realize that his initial drive to avoid elements of his past may just be the thing that threatens his future happiness both with Andi and in his other pursuits in life.

A good romance should be steamy - and Written on Her Heart is such a beast, without crossing the boundary between romance and pornography.

It should be filled with conflict - another purpose met, as the conflicts presented are not as simple as being between Andi and Ford alone, but including struggles with career objectives, uncertain auxiliary friendships, underhanded and above-board actions on the parts of all protagonists, and more.

Far too often a romance novel opts for the easy way out, choosing a formula that focuses nearly exclusively on the two lovers and the evolution of their relationship. But real life is not that cut and dried, and where other romance novels miss the boat, Written on Her Heart captures and rides the tides of emotional involvement as it trashes out the problems between not only the main characters but supporting actors and actresses in the form of friendships.

This creates a complex feel which readers looking for linear plots (and steamier sex scenes) may not wish; but that audience can look elsewhere (and there's plenty to find in this genre that take that approach). Those seeking more involved attention to detail and a wider-ranging approach romance will find Written on Her Heart to be engrossing and revealing: a recommendation for any genre reader seeking more depth than most romances offer.

Deep River Burning
Donelle Dreese
WiDo Publishing
9781937178628 $15.95

There are few people more alone in the world than Denver: she's recently lost her parents, the coal mines beneath her Pennsylvania home town have erupted and ruined her town, and she's dropped out of college (and life) to take refuge in North Carolina, prepared to make a new beginning in a very different, quiet community. It all sounds like a good choice until old acquaintances long forgot draw her back to the world she fled with enticements of new opportunities and romance.

The first thing to know about Deep River Burning is that it takes time to produce its poetic, majestic descriptions and is not a hasty plot packed with one-dimensional action; so if it's immediate gratification you're seeking in the way of a thriller/romance, look elsewhere. The real strength in a novel lies in its ability to build both emotional connection and a sense of place, and Dreese achieves this in a methodical manner that takes the necessary time to do both, aptly demonstrated in the opening act that is the very first paragraph: Rivers hold stories that sometimes lie beaded on the feathers of wild geese. Denver listened to the geese speak to one another in a language of deep throated murmurings as they bathed and fluffed themselves like peacocks on the surface of the water. She couldn't help thinking how envious she was of those geese. They know where their home is, and they know where to stop and rest until they get there.

These poetic descriptions continue throughout and are simply outstanding embellishments to the plot. Again: do they slow down the action by focusing on description? Only a bit. Do they provide ethereal observations of environment and self that enhances the overall story line? Absolutely. Will they prove too thoughtful for those interested in a steamy, action-packed romance? Likely ... but then, 'steamy' isn't a word to be applied to Deep River Burning, which takes love and conflict and moves them onto the higher grounds of ecological disaster and philosophical reflection.

If one single word were to be applied to Deep River Burning's unifying perspective, it wouldn't be 'romance' so much as 'reflection'. Denver reflects on all aspects of life and her conversations with those around her are infused with purpose and a drive to comprehend her own life's meaning and that of the wider world around her: They both sat for a moment thinking and watching a bird dive into the water and seconds later, rising with a fish in its mouth. "Is this where you find God?" Denver asked inquisitively. "God is everywhere, Denver, and in all things." It was one of those statements that however true, sounded so painfully cliche that it bounced off a road block when it entered her ear.

It's a rare pleasure to find a novel so infused with such depth and an effective, poetic delivery that translates emotional and philosophical insights into strong protagonist concerns that invite real audience connection.

Her hometown may have become an unstable, toxic place - but as Denver searches for ways to not have this influence seep into her heart, readers receive a gentle, flowing story line bereft of the usual tempests of overdone love and hate, filled with the recognizable flow of life's obstacles and its greater meaning in Denver's world.

For a deeper, reflective story that goes beyond the usual realms of linear thinking and reactive emotional pieces, Deep River Burning is a true standout. It won't prove everyone's cup of tea, of course - Lipton drinkers might seek more steam and passion - but those who look for the (rarer) depth and flavor of a fine Earl Grey will want to partake, and drink deeply, of this satisfying, warm saga.

Accept this Dandelion
Brooke Williams
Prism Book Group
ASIN: B00R54MUXY $3.99

Renee's favorite flower is the dandelion: fragile, ethereal - and not, technically, a flower. This she finds out during an audition for a role on a dating show: something she's perceived as one small step towards her ultimate goal of becoming a notable morning radio show host.

She appears to have ruined her audition and is slinking back to failure until the show's eligible bachelor insists she be hired against all odds, sparking a series of encounters that heads towards predictable romance via a different direction: that of a girl who can't seem to do anything right, and a guy who has it all in the way of charm, influence, and success.

What could possibly evolve from such a strange attraction? That's the meat of Accept this Dandelion, purportedly a romance, but in essence so much more.

It's stretching the imagination, initially, to believe that the successful Ben, who can have almost any woman he wants, would be interested in Renee. She recognizes that her initial performance has been anything but satisfactory and also hones in on the possibility that she's been hired for comic relief more than a serious ability to act: "As Renee reviewed her audition, an idea formed. Every dating program like this had characters, right? There were beauties, bad girls, and even fools. There were girls everyone loved to hate. And there were always girls that gave the audience a good laugh.

Renee was cast as the fool. But that was okay for the moment. She was on the show. She didn't have to play the part intended for her. She could still raise her public profile, and, with any luck, win the job at the radio station."

But one good thing about Renee (in addition to her lofty goals) is her ability to recognize and accept opportunity when it comes knocking, even if it's a different kind of opportunity than she'd anticipated. And by her taking the offer (even with its issues) and Ben accommodating her (even with her obvious flaws), the process of their acceptance leads to something far greater than either had in mind, either professionally or personally.

Acceptance is, indeed, at the heart of Accept this Dandelion: acceptance of self, others, and the paths life offers up, whether for good or bad.

As Renee makes her choices (and makes the best of things, tailoring dubious acclaim to wider goals in her life), so Ben learns that an impulsive attraction to something more obvious and less subtle than he's been used to may ultimately promise something deeper: "So she was wearing a bathing suit underneath her clothing. She was teasing him...for sure. She must be the type of woman who wanted to draw a man in only to push him away. He would have to be careful with her. The other women were slowly lowering themselves into the pool, taking precautions to keep their hair dry. They weren't leaving anything to the imagination. Ben would be much better off with one of them."

Renee doesn't plan on dating her way to either fame or romance. Nor does she plan on pushing Ben in the pool. Or participating in a budding attraction that blossoms between two very different people.

But as Renee slowly comes to realize there's now more in her life than a coveted job promotion and Ben comes to understand the underlying influence upon his impulsive inclusion of Renee on his dating show, the two evolve both as individuals and, inevitably, move towards each other.

And that's what a good romance is all about: a process of discovery whereby two disparate souls come together.

Add a few passionate (but tasteful) romantic scenes (this is a clean romantic comedy, safe for any age to read), plenty of contemplative reflection, and a playboy intent on changing his reputation just as he meets a girl intent on changing her bumbling ways, and you have something just a bit out of the ordinary in a romance: a tour de farce that will delight with an ultimately-predictable course.

Pax Titanus
Tom Lucas
Eraserhead Press
9781621051640 $9.95

Intergalactic kidnappers usually aren't interested in construction workers - or are they? In Pax Titanus, aliens have abducted the son of a construction worker with the intention of entering him in the SkullCrushFest, a fighting tournament which involves murdering one's opponents.

There are several problems with their choice, however: the son's father is determined to rescue him, and the aptly-named Titanus holds a special ability to increase any body part in size or length ... he's ten feet tall and has war hammers, and a mean disposition. (Who wouldn't, when facing a threat to their son?)

But Pax Titanus is anything but a singular story of warring aliens and conflict: it's replete with impossibilities, humor, and risque description. Yes, the latter is there - so be prepared for shockingly graphic sexual descriptions and unexpected encounters wrapped in the guise of a rescue operation and a series of alien confrontations.

Space opera has largely waned in the face of the integration of science fiction with mystery and horror genres - and that's a shame. The giddy romps through intergalactic nether regions have largely succumbed to serious writings and predictable formulas and it's safe to say that for the most part, the genre as a whole has become overly unsurprising.

Perhaps that's the great strength of Pax Titanus: prepare to be surprised, shocked, and challenged; because there's little predictable here and much of its description and action is designed to 'shock and awe' beyond the usual approach of linear plots and ordinary heroes.

It's physical and emotional comedy at its best, with a huge dose of risque and ribald humor thrown in (prudes, look elsewhere: dialogue and interaction can be easily deemed blatant and crude, depending on your mindset.)

It's nonstop action at its least predictable, tossing in scenes and changes with the staccato blaze of guns firing and nightmares evolving.

The Roman flavor, complete with gladiators, codpieces, and strange names, is juxtaposed with unlikely futuristic scenarios involving ninja corpses, reanimated dangers, schmucks with laser swords, and doubts that arise between father and son.

And, yes, some of the humor can be said to be downright juvenile in feel; as with jokes about body parts and sex.

But, that's good space opera for you: the best works inject nonstop humor into the action and revolve around overly dramatic (yet engaging) characters who can face the choice of being dead or becoming the greatest warrior in the universe.

It's a hilarious romp, all right: not recommended for the serious hard science fiction reader used to predictability, but especially applauded for its ability to weave together a bizarre plot and disparate elements to ultimately create a heady mixture of an insane parody blended with interstellar supernova action.

Prepare to be boarded, because Pax Titanus grabs you by the neck, hauls you in, and in a mere 104 pages, creates an unforgettably hilarious universe replete with high-octane action and a satisfying juxtaposition of insane characters and purposes.

Traveling the Two-Lane
Marilyn Berman
9781610055581 $15.95

Publication date: February 26th, 2015

At first glance, Traveling the Two-Lane: A Memoir and Travelogue appears to be your ordinary approach to a road trip; but there are several different facets to the story that set it well apart from your usual "I rented a motorhome and toured America" account.

In the first place, Marilyn Berman was not only sixty-three when she began her journey, but she grew up gay in a world that largely condemned gays as being mentally ill, at best. That's why she chose to hide, never told her parents the truth, and lived a closeted life, always placing her dreams and truths on the back burner of life.

In some ways Traveling the Two-Lane is about the 'flame on' that happens when she leaves the familiar to journey out into the world, contemplating her life, her self, and her heritage. In other ways it's a slow simmer of experience that doesn't quite come to a boil, but is changed by every road she chooses and every alternate path she takes.

Because it so neatly straddles the line between travelogue and personal memoir, those who look for a 'travel' book to serve as a model for their own road trip may be disappointed. Yes, it's filled with experience; and some of that can readily serve as guidelines for those who use such books to create 'what to do/what not to do' lists - but others who seek just an armchair read will find themselves involved in much more, here - so be forewarned.

Traveling the Two-Lane isn't a simple road trip filled with close encounters and other cultures: it's a self-reflective work that considers the vastness of the wider world, the significance of one's life against this backdrop, and, especially, the difficulty of living a secret life as a closeted gay women, isolated even from one's otherwise-close family.

The juxtaposition of past and present in Traveling the Two-Lane is clearly differentiated by italicized text and allows readers to easily follow Berman's dual journey through past and present as the experiences of her road trip lead her on concurrent explorations of her choices and life.

Throughout the story there are storms and wonders, friendships and loves lost and regained, and a sense of inner and outer examination that succeed in melding memoir and travelogue into a smooth, continuous journey. From serendipity to truths perceived from a self-centered driver's seat, Berman's life unwinds in a dance between men, women, and illusions exposed.

Perhaps the latter facet is the greatest strength here: not just the stories of road trips and unexpected encounters; not just the glacier beauty of Canada or the icy reality that personal happiness is often dependent on the attitudes of others; but the truths that can only come to light during a trip that doesn't just explore, but embraces the unfamiliar.

Illusion. Philosophy. The meaning of one's personal life and choices. This is what Traveling the Two-Lane is ultimately about. Yes, it's a travelogue - but to bill it as such would be to do it a disservice and disappoint those looking for singular road trip adventure and blueprints for 'how I did it'. It's really so much more, and readers looking for the added value of social observation blended with personal experience will surely find it here.

Nora's Notion
Richard Chamberlain
Spinoza Publishing
9780978909338 $14.95

Nora's Notion is set in a small Idaho college town, revolves around one Nora, a young evangelical Christian who is involved in a romantic relationship with Zack, a non-believer. She is also seduced by her middle-aged boss. This novel is filled with a varied set of characters who find their long held beliefs and attitudes conflict with their lives - but it's as much about prophecy and each character's discovery of the spiritual and philosophical meaning in their lives as it is about Christian thinking, so readers who pick up Nora's Notion expecting a purely evangelical mindset might be surprised by the diverse threads running through its story line.

One could both applaud the disparate set of protagonists packed into Nora's Notion, or maintain that their diversity and volume are almost too much for the story line, which threatens to sag under the weight of so many personalities and special interests. It will take a reader used to the twists and turns of a series of characters - not just the main headliner Nora - to appreciate the directions that concurrently flow through Nora's Notion.

Based upon a mother's purported vision from God and a daughter's struggle to accept this vision, Nora's Notion is ultimately about the process of bringing together and integrating personal and spiritual concerns, and presents a lively set of discourses that use diverse characters to create meaningful dialogues about religion and personal directions. Chamberlin's book shows us the danger of blindly following a religious faith tainted by other's views instead of thinking for ones-self.

If you're not interested in religious and/or personal introspection, look elsewhere: this novel is replete with a series of conundrums and the events that lead to each character's confrontations with reality (in one form or another) and are those that tend to run through most peoples' lives.

Against the backdrop of family fantasies, illusions and changing relationships, Nora and Zack ultimately choose different paths than one might anticipate from the novel's opening chapters - and that's one of the major strengths in the story: to create a plethora of loose ends that at first seem to fly in all directions, but in the end neatly wrap them up not necessarily into predictable conclusions, but new beginnings.

And isn't that what life is all about? Choice, change, and spiritual connection are three driving forces that set Nora's Notion apart from your typical one-dimensional story of relationships and connections.

The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security
Joe S. Davis
Creative Publishing Partners, LLC
B00QP7SLEY $3.95 (Kindle)

The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security is novel about terrorism at work on foreign soil, presents the perspectives of terrorists at work, and at first glance seems to tie into the blossoming genre of work surrounding terrorism which this reviewer is going to label 'terrorist fiction' - most of which focuses on the efforts of agencies and individuals to thwart a growing plague of terror.

But wait, there's something different going on here: this isn't an outsider's perspective and story so much as an insider's series of revelations, it's set on foreign soil, and it poses the specter of international business involvements in the terrorist process as a way of examining not just personal motivation, but financial and economic connections.

In fact, the more one reads through The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security, the more one realizes there's something unusual going on here; particularly in contrast with other terrorist fiction approaches their subjects from the perspectives of outsiders combating terrorist activities.

It begins with a disclaimer that at first glance appears both obvious and enlightening: "Kidnapping is a form of terrorism. Because of his vast travels and interest in social anthropology, Mr. Davis demonstrates in this novel that terrorism can be used by the least of us against an entire country's democratic structure with few of its citizens being aware of either its presence or source in their political and commercial systems." One need only reflect on the events of 9/11 or (as presented in the rest of this Foreword by history professor Dr. Eugene P. Walker) on history as a whole to recognize the truth in this assessment.

The novel's opening scene documents a fictional kidnapping and in the process of describing such, probes the atmosphere of Jamaica (both uptown and down home) and sets the scene of kidnappers assigned to a particular task. Soon the perspective of small-time kidnappers assigned to a one task changes as further chapters introduce investigators who range from novice to seasoned; each with their own ideas of how to proceed: "If you're trying to rescue someone and their captors are trying to kill one or both of you, you can't take that split second to theorize his motive. It's hard for a professional to be analytical about how his actions will be judged by a group of evaluators later who most times have never really been in the path of a bullet or machete. You have to make judgments based on experience and be prepared to correct even your own judgment to keep yourself alive and complete the mission the best way possible. But most importantly, stay alive!"

It's especially notable to find cultural observations tucked within the pages of action, because these economic and social facets are what ultimately contribute to the blossoming of terrorist activities throughout the world: "What was apparent in Montego Bay was that a middle class subdivision could be located next to a slum which might have a five star hotel as its neighbor also. Developments and condos were built as land allowed, not with ideas of urban planning. The dollar was king in Montego Bay and if a corporation could house tourists adjacent to a slum and make money by enclosing all the tourist features just for their quests, that's the way it is done."

Relationships between victim and kidnapper, male and female, investigator and perp, racial issues and opportunity: all are well-drawn against the milieu of Jamaican society, with the focus remaining upon a bigger picture than a singular plot and its outcome (as the book's foreword predicted).

And this focus is what sets The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security apart from many other terrorist fiction approaches. It won't delight those looking for simple action, singular events, and linear thinking about terrorism's roots: the meat of ordinary 'thriller fiction' that brushes the surface of meaning in deference to nonstop (often predictable) events. It will prove a superior, action-packed adventure for readers interested in absorbing the bigger picture of not only these proceedings, but the social, cultural, political and economic forces behind them.

Complex? You bet: the twists and turns are relentless and energetic, and they don't stop with political observation but weave in revelations about the hearts, minds, and motivations of individuals with larger concerns.

It's no easy task to simultaneously present the criminal's perspective and the investigator's side of matters: these are two opposite sides of the same coin that must always be balanced to achieve parity.

That Joe S. Davis achieves this dance - and does it well - is evidence that The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security will appeal not so much to casual readers of terrorist action thrillers, but to those looking for more complex insights into the entire structure of terrorist activities. Thus, what begins with a simple kidnapping story evolves into something much more and, like a butterfly emerging, takes wing to fly into the complex realm of bigger social and political issues and, ultimately, the values that drive them.

It's a mark of greatness - and a reason why The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security is a special recommendation.

Almost Royalty: A Romantic Comedy...of Sorts
Courtney Hamilton
Forrest Thompson Publishers
9780983726715 $11.95
Paperback Amazon:
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There's a BBC TV show airing with a very similar title - but don't mix up Courtney Hamilton's book with the BBC production: the only things they share in common is comedy and a part of a title; but the comedy's especially well done in this book.

This novel is set in Los Angeles, and Hamilton's ability to use laser-sharp dialogue to strike at the heart of irony and upper class aspirations are captured in an unerring conversation between three friends: "I saw my friends, Bettina and Marcie, approaching. I got out of my car.

"Hi you guys," I said.

"You aren't still driving that, are you?" said Marcie.

"What's wrong with it?"

"It's a Honda," said Marcie.

"It's ugly," said Bettina.

"It's paid for," I said.

"Sure, but is that the statement you want to make?" said Marcie.

"I'm not making any statement."

"Exactly," said Marcie, "so why don't you go move that around the block so no one sees you getting into it when we leave."

Best friends facing adulthood and an elite Los Angeles atmosphere also face the consequences of being 'almost royalty' in their attitudes - all but one (the protagonist), who observes (as an outsider) the ironies of nouveau riche thinking and turns these viewpoints into hilarious dialogue that successfully nails the fallacies inherent in unspoken class systems and ideals of royalty among celebrities and non-celebrities alike.

Movements in such a world tend to assume a dance around taste, style, and perceived wealth. They tend to take the form of unerring examinations of attitudes; particularly when major events (such as a wedding) evoke a storm of resentment, expectations, and unrealistic pressures - all are captured, once again, in the protagonist's cutting-edge observations: "Unfortunately, this wasn't just about Marcie becoming a bride. That would have been fine and I could have played along, doing those fake bride-friend type things like telling her that her butt didn't look too big in the dress and pretending to like the groom. For Marcie, this was about her finally reaching her life-long goal: Marrying into L.A.'s Civilian Class Royalty and becoming part of that unique group of L.A. women who: (1) married well, (2) never again had to work, and (3) staffed the volunteer committees of L.A.'s most exclusive private schools."

Under Hamilton's hand, achieving status and success is analyzed for what it too often is: a game that revolves not just around money and its acquisition, but perceptions of what constitutes achievement.

Now, the protagonist is no street urchin: she's an attorney with power and status in her own right. Her childhood friendships have evolved much as her own status - in unexpected directions - and when she's pursued by an ambitious bachelor who presumes to know her own needs better than she, further conflict evolves.

Almost Royalty is a tongue-in-cheek observation of something purported to exist primarily in Britain: the class system. It's a different American kind of class system, however, with its own set of rules and its own approaches to life: "In Los Angeles, a town with few traditions, an unspoken class system existed. There was the Celebrity Royalty - the multi-millionaire (and somewhat feral) first-generation successes of the entertainment industry who behaved as if Los Angeles existed for their benefit only. The rules, schedules, and boundaries of civilized life existed for the others - the "Civilians," those who were not the multi-millionaire successes of the entertainment industry.

The Civilians had their own Royalty: They came from business, oil, high tech, or real estate."

An unusual note here is that much of the humor lies in bantering dialogue between the protagonist and various friends, suitors, and acquaintances: an unusual device that requires more than a degree of realistic back-and-forth that, ironically, is often more difficult to capture in dialogue than in text description. That Hamilton achieves this through precise plays on words is further evidence of her skills at blending social observation and romance with fun injections of humor: "And she's getting the cobbler, which I am going to split with her, to relieve her guilt," he says. "You know you want it."

"Once upon a time, that would have been the way to address a different topic."

"Yes. But my feelings are the same."

"You still have passionate feelings for cobbler?"

"Very funny. No, for you."

I'm a little confused."

Values, goals, social status, and the ultimate influences on choice and consequences: it's what Almost Royalty is all about - and the addition of serious reflective tones that lead to the protagonist's ultimate revelations is what sets this book well apart from either romance or comedy genres, making it something greater than the sum of these parts, and a recommendation not for romance or comedy genre readers, but for those who consider these devices as side dishes to a more satisfying main course.

The House on Sunset
Sarafina Bianco
Amazon Digital Services
$9.99 for paperback $2.99 for eBook

eBook available only through Amazon:

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At first glance The House on Sunset sounds like a novel of some kind (perhaps a horror story?), but in fact it is a memoir, and be forewarned - it opens with the author being brutalized in a savage act of domestic violence; so those who have suffered similar fates and who don't need a vivid reminder of such common occurrences should perhaps look elsewhere for their insights.

Or not: because this is ultimately a memoir of survival; and in order to get to the survival piece, the sources of violence and victim reactions to it must be addressed.

There is no sugar-coating here, either in the descriptions of the author's experiences or in the assessment of survivor mentality as being one where "Survivors are cut from the same string; a strong, fully-committed and unwavering devotion to people who steal our hearts. As we unravel, we calculate how much more we can take. We'll never have an answer to that question, but we know we'll keep saying one more try."

The author searches for courage, paints a complete picture of her family relationships and the precedents that led to her become involved with a violent personality, and the coping mechanisms that led to her acceptance of a slowly-evolving violent atmosphere, from guilt to justifying violence.

The situation evolves slowly, like boiling a frog. It moves from a few inappropriate responses and actions that slowly beat down the author's ego and self-respect to therapy sessions, struggles with denial, and counseling that included anger management on Mike's part and what was perceived to be an inability to confront problems on the author's part.

These insights are especially enlightening because in most circumstances of domestic violence, therapy is either a suggestion or a mandate (or rejected completely), and the ways it both helps and hinders is of particular interest ... and usually not presented in memoirs that focus on the acts of violence, survival and escape.

How, exactly, does a survivor/victim achieve 'normal'? The author is a teacher, and her insights into how she lives her life, does her job, and copes with ongoing nightmares and the recovery process does more than document her life: it offers guidelines and approaches for others in the same boat, making it a vivid and constructive account of a downward slide into domestic violence and an upward reach for recovery.

Ashley Fontaine
RMSW Press
9780692354346 $12.99 Paperback $2.99 Kindle

Sheryl Newcomb is coming of age as a high school senior - only it's not your typical experience: something different is waking up inside of her and coming to deadly life - something that threatens a bloodbath in Locasia County, Mississippi. That's the face of the story: horror coming to life in a backwoods area ... nothing new here.

But, in fact, there's a number of new approaches presented beyond the story of a monstrous force emerging in a teen's body and life - and that's the essence that makes Growl a different kind of beast than your usual monster/horror account.

One of these approaches involves a focus not just on Sheryl's emerging powers, but deep-held family secrets that delve into alternative cultures, perspectives, and battles. And it should be cautioned that this horror novel is, at times, a bloodbath of violent confrontations. Its psychological depth is spiced by these encounters, which may give pause for thought to readers who usually avoid bloodbath scenarios or who associate such interludes with shallower plots lacking depth.

Not so with Growl: its violence is just another supportive device of a greater story - and it's woven simply and easily into the story line with attention to making these events part of the action, not the entire action - which really takes place in Sheryl's mind as narrated through her first-person account.

Throughout the story, Sheryl is attentive to making personal progress: first in understanding the dormant forces that are awakening within her, then in accepting her family history, and finally in acknowledging and overcoming a virtual storm of possibilities and scenarios in which her control (or lack thereof) over supernatural forces can determine the fate of her world and her psyche.

It's as though all her most beloved connections are breaking so that a greater good (or evil) can be released - and these passages are perhaps the greatest strength of Growl: "I needed the connection with him to get through this. The need to pull from the depths of his strength, to explain the unexplainable and downright unbelievable to my family, raced through me....For me to transform, he would have to pass the gift, which meant his physical body would die."

It's usually the case that personal transformation involves loss - but not on this level. It's usually the case that coming of age necessarily means coming into one's powers and acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses - but not in this manner.

As Sheryl is drawn ever deeper into the truths about her life and powers, so readers are drawn into the sacrifices and threats of her world as she determines that much as she has evolved into a monster, there's a greater monster that needs to be killed: one only she can handle; and one which is gutting her love. Can Sheryl consider changing into something evil to tackle evil?

Anticipate character interactions that include local Southern dialect, bloody confrontations with inner and outer monsters, and a plethora of choices faced by a teen who ultimately must consider the real consequences of accepting her powers and using them to kill.

Without introducing spoilers, suffice it to say that Growl is all about accepting one's inner forces and melding them with life's choices. The rest is about family, love, and survival - it's all here in a dark horror coming of age story that throws in a disparate number of elements but in the end produces a unified theory of everything, recommended for mature teens into adult audiences.

Rise of the Dragons
Morgan Rice
Morgan Rice, Publisher
ASIN: B00PQRJJY0 $2.99

It's nice to note that 'Book One' of a projected series is displayed right on its cover, leaving no doubts that readers who enjoy Rise of the Dragons can expect more. All that's left is to determine whether a read of the first in this series is satisfying enough to move on to the other books - and that's what this review is all about.

Rise of the Dragons features some fairly common devices in fantasy these days: dragons (of course), a feisty female protagonist (once an exception, now more of a norm), a quest, and a coming of age story set against the backdrop of a desperate mission.

If you take these elements of formula fantasy genre writing and apply them here, outwardly the result sounds much like many other books. But the real test of a work that is different lies in what the author does with the characters, setting, and plot: how characterization is handled, how struggles are depicted, and - most importantly - how much a reader can relate to the various conflicts and influences of the protagonists.

Herein lies the opportunity for riches - and Rise of the Dragons succeeds in incorporating depth and an intriguing twist into a plot which could otherwise all too easily have been considered a too-predictable approach.

Now, many fantasies paint pictures of other worlds. The better ones immerse readers in those worlds - as Rise of the Dragons does from the start. It's difficult to paint an environment rich enough to actually feel the crunch of snow beneath one's feet, the unusual landscape of 'purple pine trees', and the efforts of a girl who 'never fit in' to accept not the domestic duties expected of girls, but the warrior powers she's inherited from her father Morgan Rice. But the saga succeeds - right from the start - in creating this all-important scene, juxtaposing Kyra's strengths and interests with the physical environment and social influences around her.

Immersion: it's what a superior fantasy is all about - and this feel is evident in a story that begins, as it should, with one protagonist's struggles and moves neatly into a wider circle of knights, dragons, magic and monsters, and destiny.

The inclusion of a second teen protagonist, Alec, serves to strengthen the plot and provides a satisfying juxtaposition of different interests to compliment a story line that is filled with action and a dose of intrigue.

All the trappings of high fantasy are here, from soldiers and battles to confrontations with self as characters decide whether grief will lead them to take on the attitudes and approaches of their enemies, or lead to higher-level thinking and responses.

It's easy to create formula writing that's predictable. Moving from one-dimension to three-dimensional thinking, however, takes attention to detail and streamlining characters, settings, and purposes in such a way that readers feel involved in the story and its outcome; not distanced in the role of the dispassionate observer.

It's all too easy to use action-packed adventure to overcome a lack of protagonist development, but Rise of the Dragons avoids this common trap and takes the higher road of involvement - and that's what makes this series opener a recommended winner for any who enjoy epic fantasy writing fueled by powerful, believable young adult protagonists.

Death by Disputation
Anna Castle
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00RC56VCW $4.99

The first requirement that should be noted for a complete enjoyment of Death by Disputation isn't a familiarity with Book One of the Francis Bacon series (though that certainly will evolve for new readers who enjoy this book) and it isn't even an affinity for the historical mystery genre (although that certainly does help).

It's a willingness to become immersed in a period saga that includes not just attention to historical setting, but details that add historical notes and capture the dialogue and language of the era - something that may frustrate those without such an affinity, but which will delight historical mystery enthusiasts looking for genuine research and attention to well-done, realistic settings which goes a cut above your usual historical mystery genre production.

One of the elements that makes Death by Disputation a 'cut above' lies in its tongue-in-cheek humor and its observational style. A good writer will describe Cambridge, for example. A superior writer will simply immerse the reader in the essence that is Cambridge: "Spring was awakening in Cambridge, and for a mercy, it wasn't raining. The sky beyond Leeds's slender figure was a perfect blue. A blackbird on a nearby ledge vigorously declared his melodious philosophy to the breeze. How could anyone destroy himself on such a beautiful March morning?"

The Elizabethan phrases sprinkled throughout demonstrate an attention to detail that is simply exquisite ("...for a mercy..."): it's as though Anna Castle has conducted her research via time machine, personally visiting the era and capturing its sights, smells, and nuances.

But this isn't about historical fiction: it's about a mystery. Here, too, Castle's style shines, delicately eliciting a series of emotional responses from her readers as she weaves a complex web of scenarios and firmly centers them in Elizabethan culture and times. Again: it's as though she lived there - and that's the hallmark of good, solid research rather than off-the-cuff mystery writing: "...the fact the letter had been opened showed that someone was suspicious of him. Why? Because he was relatively new? Because he'd been asking questions about Leeds? He'd been lucky this time. Still, Tom cursed himself for a white-livered, crack-brained, double-dyed fool. He'd have to be more careful henceforward."

As events progress and Tom uncovers more and more clues to a mystery, his involvement with his mentor Francis Bacon reflects a host of petty criminal activities with major implications for 16th century Cambridge culture. From social interactions and romance to succinct, staccato portraits of simple perception ("He rose and stretched and looked around for his hat. He found it in a corner and dusted off bits of hay, taking his time about it, reluctant to leave the warmth of friendship to go back out into the cold of deceit."), Death by Disputation is not so much a pick for those who want a quick, action-packed saga as it is a delight for historical mystery fans who want as much attention to historical detail as to mystery.

It's here that Anna Castle's strength simply shines - more so, even, than in the first book of her series.

108 Tips on Business, Travel and Culture in China
Eddie Flores, Jr. and Elisia Flores
L & L Franchise Inc.
9780985819217 $9.88

108 Tips on Business, Travel and Culture in China details a Hong Kong-born immigrant's some sixty years of dealing with the Chinese in the U.S. and in China: an experience narrated in a wry observational tone of voice that comes from one very active in the Chinese community in Hawaii.

It would have been all too easy to produce this book from an outsider's perspective: the fact that it comes from a business insider who interacts not only with the Chinese in his local community, but with those on the mainland and in China, makes his experience and approach an exceptional read for any who seek to understand Chinese-American business and cultural relations. And, it should also be noted that the book is specific to mainland China insights - not necessarily to Chinese in Taiwan or Hong Kong. It's a very specific focus on a very specific set of attitudes and mindsets that therefore will prove a gold mine of information for readers just beginning to deal with China itself.

Chapters reveal key customs and traditions in a progressive survey that opens with an introductory history and probe of Chinese cultural development before moving to the heart of matters: Chinese beliefs, various forms of communication (both verbal and non-verbal), and doing business in and traveling through China.

One wouldn't anticipate black and white cartoons throughout, supporting this effort, but the approach offers a combination of comic relief and reinforcement of written word and provides a delightful embellishment that differentiates 108 Tips on Business, Travel and Culture in China from dry cultural inspections. The cartoons are not without their own reinforcing lessons, either: take the first one - it jokes about feng shui, but its caption points out that " should not keep a broom in the room of a sick or dying person because the broom will sweep away the life of that person."

There are pointed observations Westerners get to absorb in a series of lessons that depict the author's insights into the culture - and are best learned before serious business relationships between Chinese and 'outsiders' get underway: "Unless you are born with two Chinese parents, you will always be a foreigner in the eyes of the Chinese. People may try to integrate into Chinese society, but they will always be singled out as a foreigner....Last year, I told one of my Chinese friends that I am writing a book on China. Although he knew that I was born and raised in Hong Kong and can read and write Chinese, his first words were "but you are not Chinese." A foreigner will always be a foreigner in the eyes of the Chinese. Tip #14 Being a foreigner has an advantage. You are not expected to understand the intricacies of Chinese etiquette and you will be readily forgiven for any lapses."

The juxtaposition of cartoon lessons, personal insights, and tips relating to Chinese relationships around the world make for a surprisingly easy read - surprising because even though some of these topics are touched upon or discussed in more technical books, most are dry deliberations that proffer such stilted analysis that a non-technical reader is hard pressed to truly absorb their meaning.

Not so in 108 Tips on Business, Travel and Culture in China: its delight lies in a very accessible style and approach that opens up China's psychology and history to lay readers and lends it a life and vibrancy that no analytical approach could duplicate.

It goes without saying that the prerequisite for enjoying (and employing) the lessons of this book is an intention of dealing with the Chinese on more than a casual level. Those planning a serious business or personal relationship with mainland China's peoples simply must have this book. It's that unique, that accessible, and that highly recommended!

Collateral Circulation
Barbara Ebel
Barbara Ebel, Publisher
Paperback ISBN-13: 9780991158959
eBook ISBN-13: 9780991158966 $3.99

Danny Tilson's a brain surgeon well versed in the nuances of blood flow in the human brain, but he's just worked on a puzzling surgery - and it's about to get even more puzzling as a cloud of green rain precedes a fully-formed tornado outside the operating theater. Bam! Next, Danny awakens to the knowledge that he's floating in a pulsing red liquid chamber that can only be a patient's heart, and is being shot through an aortic valve on a wild journey (shades of Fantastic Voyage!)

But his roller coaster ride through a human brain soon returns to the tornado scenario - and this time his long-time best friend Casey is a witness to a remarkable event.

As events progress, this third addition to the Danny Tilson medical mystery series won't disappoint either old fans or newcomers who love medical intrigue ala Robin Cook and the best medical writers in the genre. Perhaps that's because it comes from the seasoned hand of a physician who is steeped in the world of medical description and events and whose professional pen thus effortlessly describes such scenarios.

All the nuances of the medical community and its methods of interacting are thus well described, from ethics and lawsuit potentials to a new product that holds a dash more than a caffeine boost.

What begins as a medical mystery soon evolves into a fight for Danny's personal and professional life that involves disparate issues as diverse as weather patterns and unlikely health enthusiast patients facing unique problems: "After you look at the arteriogram and see him, I wonder if you'll be as perplexed as me. A fifty-one year old health nut with a dried up anterior cerebral artery. What caused that?"

A satisfying part of Collateral Circulation's approach is a focus not just on an evolving medical thriller, but on physician Danny Tilson's personal life. And as his surgery holds some unexpected results for patient Varg, Danny is forced to make correlations and probes that toe the line between surgery and psychology, linking physical makeup with mental abilities.

It's all about blood flow - and without giving away too much of the twists and turns of this satisfying medical thriller, suffice it to say that readers of Collateral Circulation are invited aboard their own version of Fantastic Voyage as a physician's probe into what seems a rare oddity turns into a medical and legal conundrum that ultimately centers around nutrition and new health fads.

Contemporary and wide-ranging in scope, Collateral Circulation provides yet another powerful Danny Tilson medical mystery/thriller; and while it stands firmly alone and requires no prior introduction to its predecessors in order to prove satisfying, it's safe to say newcomers will want to go back to the other books in the series for further character insights and adventure.

You Have to F**king Eat
Adam Mansbach
Akashic Books
232 Third Street, #A115
Brooklyn, NY 11215
9781617753787 $14.95

It's not easy to imagine that those who avoid swearing will take offense at a children's book that reflects the growing frustration of a parent with a picky child's eating habits, but others with a sense of humor and more than a bit of frustration will find hilarious this classic sequel to Go the F**k to Sleep, making it a pick more for parents than for kids. It's a fun read however you look at it and however harsh the language, its rollicking rhyme will invite many to commiserate over a child's impossible habits: "Your cute little tummy is rumbling/And pancakes are your favorite treat./I'm kind of surprised that you suddenly hate them./That's bullshit. Stop lying and eat."

Diane C. Donovan
Senior Reviewer

Dunford's Bookshelf

City Of Brick And Shadow
Tim Wirkus
Tyrus Books
c/o F+W Media
1140 Broadway, 14th Floor, New York, NY 10001
All Things Literary
9781440582769, $24.99, 304pp,

Synopsis: Already struggling to keep their tiny congregation afloat, two Mormon missionaries stationed in the dangerous Latin American neighborhood of Vila Barbosa suspect the worst when Marco Aurelio, a man they recently baptized, disappears from a crowded street market. When the neighborhood's corrupt police force shows no interest, Elder Toronto and Elder Schwartz decide to investigate Marco Aurelio's disappearance themselves. Breaking mission rule after mission rule, the elders doggedly pursue any clues that might lead them to their friend. As they interview the people who knew him--his short-tempered, bodybuilding brother; his gun-toting ex-wife; his mercurial former business partner--a tangled portrait emerges of an enigmatic con artist in over his head. At the edges of the investigation lurks a shadowy, mythical figure known only as the Argentine, a man who poses an increasingly dire threat to the two young missionaries as they plunge recklessly forward.

Critique: A deftly written, smoothly complex, exceptionally well crafted, "City Of Brick And Shadow" is solidly entertaining from beginning to end and establishes Tim Wirkus as a novelist of exceptional talent and remarkable storytelling skills. Very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library collections, it should be noted that "City Of Brick And Shadow" is also available in a Kindle edition ($11.99).

National Insecurity
David Rothkopf
Public Affairs Books
c/o Perseus Book Group
250 West 57th Street, #1321, New York, NY 10107
9781610393409, $29.99, 496pp,

Synopsis: In the wake of 9/11, America and its people have experienced a sense of vulnerability unprecedented in the nation's recent history. Buffeted by challenges from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the financial crisis, from Washington dysfunction to the rise of China and the dawn of the era of cyber warfare, two very different presidents and their advisors have struggled to cope with a relentless array of new threats. "National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear" offers an entirely new perspective into the hidden struggles, the surprising triumphs, and the shocking failures of those charged with leading the United States through one of the most difficult periods in its history. At its core, "National Insecurity" is the gripping story of a superpower in crisis, seeking to adapt to a rapidly changing world, sometimes showing inspiring resilience -- but often undone by the human flaws of those at the top, the mismanagement of its own system, the temptation to concentrate too much power within the hands of too few in the White House itself, and an unwillingness to draw the right lessons from the recent past. Nonetheless, within that story are unmistakable clues to a way forward that can help restore American leadership.

Critique: David Rothkopf (publisher of 'Foreign Policy Magazine) provides fresh insights for his informed and informative compendium on America's response to contemporary global terrorism by drawing on more than one hundred exclusive interviews with the key players who shaped this era. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear" is a critically important addition to community and academic library collections and highly recommended to the attention of the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the role America is playing in the 'War on Terror'. It should be noted that "National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear" is also available in a Kindle edition ($16.19).

Life With A Capital L
Matt Heard
Multnomah Books
12265 Oracle Blvd., Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80921
9781601424464, $14.99, 256pp,

Synopsis: We all desire more than just the endurance of our daily routines. But often we feel limited and stuck like we're merely existing instead of living. That's not the way it was meant to be. God intends the humanity in each of us to be deeply experienced, lavishly enjoyed, and exuberantly celebrated. In fact this is what the gospel is all about. Yes, the gospel. Contrary to conventional thinking (inside and outside the church) following Jesus is not about denying our humanness but embracing it. Rather than acting more spiritual or being more religious, we're called and enabled to become more fully human... and alive.

In "Life With A Capital L", Matt Heard (Senior Pastor at Woodman Valley Chapel, Colorado Springs, Colorado) escorts the reader on a journey of discovery: that Jesus didn't come to save us from our humanity -- Christ instead yearns to restore it to what God originally intended. Pastor Heard then explores ten key areas where everyday life can become extraordinary Life. Christ promised we could "live life to the full." He didn't just mean eventually. "Life with a Capital L" is the Life all Christians are longing for. Now.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Life With A Capital L" is as thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is inspired and inspiring. "Life With A Capital L" is very highly recommended reading for all Christians regardless of their denominational affiliations. It should be noted that "Life With A Capital L" is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.78).

Michael Dunford

Greenspan's Bookshelf

Three Dragons Doomed
Keith Donnelly
John F. Blair, Publisher
1406 Plaza Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27103
9780895876270, $26.95, 304pp,

Synopsis: Outside the small town of Saddle Boot, West Virginia, a bulldozer uncovers a long-buried body. Only four living people know it's that of drifter Johnny Cross. But Johnny Cross was not who he appeared to be. In the early-morning hours a few days later, in Mountain Center, Tennessee, a body is dumped in a downtown back alley, a young female dead less than twenty-four hours. Over the next few weeks, two more dead females turn up in East Tennessee. A serial killer with an unusual signature is on the loose. The only thing that connects these events is private investigator Donald Youngblood. Don knows the identities of the body in West Virginia and the dead women dumped in East Tennessee. He also knows the bodies are personal messages for him from a killer seeking revenge. A new and deadly game has begun. In this unique double sequel to author Keith Donnelly's "Three Days Dead" (9780895873729, $26.95 PB, $7.99 Kindle) and "Three Devils Dancing" (B0090S9ZEK, $9.99 Kindle), in "Three Dragons Doomed", Youngblood wrestles with two separate and distinct cases: finding the true identity of Johnny Cross and tracking down a serial killer who seems to be in a big hurry for a final showdown.

Critique: Simply stated, Keith Donnelly is a master of the mystery/suspense genre with a truly impressive ability to craft complex storylines and populate them with truly memorable characters. The fifth volume in the Donald Youngblood mystery series, "Three Dragons Doomed" is a solid entertainment from first page to last and highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library collections. It should be noted that "Three Dragons Doomed" is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

The Teaching Brain
Vanessa Rodriguez
The New Press
38 Green Street, 4th floor, New York, NY 10013
Smith Publicity
9781595589965, $26.95, 256pp,

Synopsis: What is at work in the mind of a five-year-old explaining the game of tag to a new friend? What is going on in the head of a thirty-five-year-old parent showing a first-grader how to button a coat? And what exactly is happening in the brain of a sixty-five-year-old professor discussing statistics with a room full of graduate students?

While research about the nature and science of learning abounds, shockingly few insights into how and why humans teach have emerged - until now. Countering the dated yet widely held presumption that teaching is simply the transfer of knowledge from one person to another, The Teaching Brain weaves together scientific research and real-life examples to show that teaching is a dynamic interaction and an evolutionary cognitive skill that develops from birth to adulthood. With engaging, accessible prose, Harvard researcher Vanessa Rodriguez reveals what it actually takes to become an expert teacher. At a time when all sides of the teaching debate tirelessly seek to define good teaching (or even how to build a better teacher) "The Teaching Brain" upends the misguided premises for how we measure the success of teachers.

This game-changing analysis of how the mind teaches will transform common perceptions of one of the most essential human practices (and one of the most hotly debated professions), charting a path forward for teachers, parents, and anyone seeking to better understand learning -- and unlocking the teaching brain in all of us.

Critique: "The Teaching Brain: An Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education" is deftly organized into three major sections; What Is Wrong with our Definition of Teaching?; It's All About Systems; and The Teaching Brain (Becoming an Expert Teacher; Developing the Teaching Brain; Your Teaching Brain; The Teaching Brain and Next Steps for Education Reform). A seminal work of impressive scholarship, "The Teaching Brain: An Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education" is especially recommended for novice classroom teachers and has a great deal of informational value for seasoned classroom instructors and curriculum developers as well. An important contribution for academic library Education reference collections, it should be noted that "The Teaching Brain: An Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education" is also available in a Kindle edition ($14.55) as well.

Paul and His Legacy
William O. Walker, Jr.
Polebridge Press
900 State Street, Salem, Oregon 97301-3922
9781598151503, $35.00, 310pp,

Synopsis: The letters of the apostle Paul are the oldest extant records of Christian history. Yet certain passages in the letters present exegetical, historical and theological problems that have had a lasting impact on Western culture. Paul's letter to the Galatians, for instance, underpins modern Christian attitudes toward gender and sexuality, faith and law, and ultimately Jewish-Christian relations. How should such passages be translated and interpreted in a historically sensitive way? Which passages are authentically Pauline and which were inserted by later generations? What historical information can we glean from the letters? Representing three decades of research on the Pauline letters, "Paul and His Legacy" collection of essays by William O. Walker, Jr. that gives special attention to historical-critical issues in Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Romans, along with the often problematic dependence of the book of Acts on the letters of Paul.

Critique: William O. Walker, Jr. is the Jennie Farris Railey King professor Emeritus of Religion at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas and an acknowledged expert on the New Testament writings of Paul the Apostle. "Paul and His Legacy" is as informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking. A work of seminal scholarship that is as fully accessible to the non-specialist general reader as it is to the academic scholar or ecclesiastical theologian, "Paul and His Legacy" is very highly recommended for personal, seminary, community, and academic library Christian Studies collections.

Able Greenspan

Helen's Bookshelf

Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World
Candy Leonard
Arcade Publishing
c/o Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018
9781628724172, $24.95, 312pp,

Synopsis: The Beatles arrived in the United States on February 7, 1964, and immediately became a constant, compelling presence in fans' lives. For the next six years, the band presented a nonstop deluge of sounds, words, images, and ideas, transforming the childhood and adolescence of millions of baby boomers. "Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World" explains how the band became a source of emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual nurturance in fans' lives, creating a relationship that was historically unique. Looking at that relationship against the backdrop of the sexual revolution, the Vietnam War, political assassinations, and other events of those tumultuous years, "Beatleness" examines critically the often-heard assertion that the Beatles "changed everything" and shows how -- through the interplay between the group, the fans, and the culture -- that change came about. A generational memoir and cultural history based on hundreds of hours of in-depth interviews with first-generation fans, Beatleness allows readers to experience (or re-experience) what it was like to be a young person during those eventful and transformative years. Its fresh approach offers many new insights into the entire Beatle phenomenon and explains why the group still means so much to so many.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World" is a 'must read' for the legions of Beetles fans and will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community library collections. It would also be a critically important and recommended addition to academic library 20th Century American Popular Culture Studies reference collections. It should be noted that "Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World" is also available in a Kindle edition ($13.99) and in an Audio Book Download format ($14.95).

Christian. Muslim. Friend
David W. Shenk
Herald Press
1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802
9780836199055, $14.99, 250pp,

Synopsis: Can Christians and Muslims be friends? Real friends? Even in a post-September 11 era of alienation and religious violence, David Shenk says yes. In "Christian. Muslim. Friend: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship", David W. Shenk lays out twelve ways that Christians can form authentic relationships with Muslims, characterized by respect, hospitality, and candid dialogue.

Rooted in his fifty years of friendship with Muslims in Somalia, Kenya, and the United States, Shenk invites Christian readers to be clear about their identity, develop trust, practice hospitality, confront distortions of both faiths, and seek out Muslims committed to peace. He invites readers to both bear witness to the Christ-centered commitments of their faith while also reaching out in friendship with Muslims. Through astounding stories of his animated conversations with Muslim clerics, visits to countless mosques around globe, and pastors and imams who join hands to work for peace, Shenk offers tested and true paths to real relationships.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Christian. Muslim. Friend: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship" is a timely contribution to our on-going national dialogue with respect to distinguishing mainstream Islamic teachings, beliefs and practices from those distortions of Islam misrepresented by such groups as Al Kaida and the Islamic State. Informed and informative, "Christian. Muslim. Friend: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship" is strongly recommended reading for all Christians regardless of denominational affiliation and would prove to be an popular and responsible addition to community library Religion & Spirituality collections, as well as an invaluable contribution to academic library Christian & Islamic reference collections and supplemental studies reading lists. It should be noted that ""Christian. Muslim. Friend: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship" is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

How To Choose Love When You Just Want To Slap Somebody
Diane L. Haworth
Balboa Press
c/o Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
Bohlsen Group
9781452514932, $8.99, 106pp,

Synopsis: You feel angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, and alone: you know there's another way-another choice; way to be in the world; way to feel calm, happy, and excited about life. But how? "How to Choose Love When You Just Want to Slap Somebody" uses humor, real-life stories, and exercises to help you understand where you get stuck, and to help you understand how to get unstuck by consciously connecting to the energy of love. Each chapter offers fast, easy exercises that allow you to choose love and bring more joy into your life: Discover techniques to help you relax and open to love; Understand how to harness the power of gratitude; Explore methods to release past hurt, grief, and sadness; Identify how the universe is working on your behalf; Recognize how your thoughts create your reality.

Critique: If you only have time to read one self-help book as this new year begins, make it Diane L. Haworth's "How To Choose Love When You Just Want To Slap Somebody". As insightfully practical as it is humourously helpful, "How To Choose Love When You Just Want To Slap Somebody" is a quick and easy read -- but the kind that can have a huge and positive impact on your life as Diane Haworth draws upon her years of experience and expertise as a professional coach, author and speaker to craft a truly useful and thoroughly 'reader friendly' instructional guide to acquiring a better and more fulfilling life. It should be noted that "How To Choose Love When You Just Want To Slap Somebody" is also available in a Kindle edition ($3.99).

Side Trip to Kathmandu
Marie Moore
Camel Press
c/o Coffeetown Press
PO Box 70515, Seattle, WA 98127
9781603812979, $12.95, 186pp,

Synopsis: Sidney Marsh's job as a New York travel agent is on the line. On her last two tours, she and her colleague Jay ended up smack in the middle of murder and mayhem. Their sleuthing sideline did not endear them to their employer, Itchy Feet Travel, so naturally they are relieved when their wealthy friend Brooke requests their presence on a no expense spared tour of India and Nepal. Another agency has made the arrangements, so all they need do is sit back and enjoy the ride. Well, not quite all. Brooke has enlisted them to keep a sharp eye on their fellow travelers, all "friends" who have grown rich from the demise of others. After surviving an attempt on her life, Brooke is certain the culprit must be one of the five: a handsome Scotsman, a Bollywood actress, an investment banker, a Parisian filmmaker, or a twice widowed blonde. Many of the tour accommodations prove to be as dodgy as the reputations of the travelers themselves. After one of the members of the moving house party dies of an apparent heart attack, everyone's nerves are on edge. Sidney can hardly be blamed for assuming a deadly game is afoot... or for falling for Adam, the doting Scotsman. Now, if only she can unmask the killer before the killer beats her to the punch.

Critique: "Side Trip to Kathmandu" is the third book in the Sidney Marsh Murder Mystery series by Marie Moore who has now clearly established herself as a master of the mystery/suspense genre. Simply stated, Marie Moore is an exceptionally gifted author who never fails to satisfy her readers and leave them eagerly looking toward her next novel. For readers to whom "Side Trip to Kathmandu" is their first introduction to Sidney Marsh, the first two of this series are: "Shore Excursion" (9781603818742, $13.95, 230pp) and "Game Drive" (9781603819619, $13.95, 222pp). Both these earlier titles are also available in Kindle editions ($4.95).

Devil, Dear
Mary Ann McFadden
Alice James Books
114 Prescott Street, Farmington, ME 04938
9781938584084, $15.95, 100pp,

Synopsis: Mary Ann McFadden's existential poems capture bizarre, sweet, and humorous moments oft unobserved. In the pages of "Devil, Dear", she explores the evolution of romantic relationships from lust-driven days to the blander ones found in lasting companionship. "Devil, Dear" takes the reader traveling near and far, examining comfort zones and boldly stepping beyond them, facing the disquietude of mortality with McFadden's fearlessness and wit.

Critique: Existentialism is a term applied to the work of certain late 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject -- not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. This is the primary and principle factor evident in every one of Mary Ann McFadden's poems comprised in her highly recommended "Devil, Dear" collection.

A Season for Martyrs
Bina Shah
Delphinium Books
PO Box 703, Harrison, NY 10528
Meryl L. Moss Media Relations
9781883285616, $14.95, 288pp,

Synopsis: Ali Sikandar is assigned to cover the arrival of Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader who has returned home to Karachi after eight years of exile to take part in the presidential race. Already eager to leave for college in the U.S. and marry his forbidden Hindu girlfriend, Ali loses a friend in a horrific explosion and finds himself swept up in events larger than his individual struggle for identity and love when he joins the People's Resistance Movement, a group that opposes President Musharraf. Amidst deadly terrorist attacks and protest marches, this contemporary narrative thread weaves in flashbacks that chronicle the deep and beautiful tales of Pakistani history, of the mythical gods who once protected this land.

Critique: "A Season for Martyrs" is the debut novel of journalist and New York Times op-ed writer Bina Shah who draws upon her experience and expertise as a native of Pakistan to craft a truly memorable work of literary fiction. Complex, vivid, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "A Season for Martyrs" is very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections. It should be noted that "A Season for Martyrs" is also available in a Kindle edition ($10.99).

Common Wealth: Art by African Americans in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Dennis Carr, et al.
MFA Publications
c/o Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115
9780878468157, $50.00, 256pp,

Synopsis: The story of African Americans in the visual arts has closely paralleled their social, political and economic aspirations over the last 400 years. From enslaved craftspersons to contemporary painters, printmakers and sculptors, African American artists have created a wealth of artistic expression that addresses common experiences, such as exclusion from dominant cultural institutions, and confronts questions of identity and community. "Common Wealth: Art by African Americans in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" is a generously illustrated volume comprised of more than 100 works of art in a variety of media by leading figures from the nineteenth century to the present, and ranging from Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and Lois Mailou Jones, to Gordon Parks, Wifredo Lam, Kara Walker, Glenn Ligon and Kerry James Marshall. -- alongside many others who deserve to be better known, including artists from the African diaspora in South America and the Caribbean. Arranged thematically and featuring authoritative texts that provide historical and interpretive context, "Common Wealth" invites readers to share in a rich outpouring of art that meets shared challenges with individual creative responses.

Critique: Technically flawless reproductions enhanced with an informed and informative commentary, "Common Wealth: Art by African Americans in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" offers a wealth of information and examples spanning four centuries of African American artistic expressions in an impressive variety of mediums. A truly exceptional body of work, "Common Wealth: Art by African Americans in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" should be considered an essential addition to community and academic library American Art History collections. Very highly recommended, it should be noted that "Common Wealth: Art by African Americans is ideal for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in African American Art History.

The Science Of Mind Way To Success, Wealth & Love
Joan McCall
Devorss Publications
PO Box 1389, Carmarillo, CA 93012
9780875168777, $8.95, 120pp,

Synopsis: Ask a hundred people the best way to be happy and get a hundred different answers. That's because not only does each person have their own perception of happiness, they also have their own way of finding it. The bottom line is that true happiness comes from within not from others and taking the first step must also start from within. "The Science Of Mind Way To Success, Wealth & Love" by Joan McCall provides a simple introduction to this philosophy that will first help her readers tap into the source of their true happiness, then jump-start their lives to new heights regardless of current relationships, finances, or career.

Critique: Articulate, practical, informed, informative, thoughtful, thought-provoking, inspired and inspiring, "The Science Of Mind Way To Success, Wealth & Love" is thoroughly 'user friendly' and will prove to be an invaluable and easy read for anyone seeking self-improvement. Very highly recommended, it should be noted that "The Science Of Mind Way To Success, Wealth & Love" is also available in a Kindle edition ($7.16).

The Wisdom of Chinese Characters
Dingguo Shi
Beijing Language & Culture University Press
c/o China Books & Periodicals, Inc.
360 Swift Avenue, Suite 48, South San Francisco, CA 94080
9787561916889, $45.95, 329pp,

Synopsis: "The Wisdom of Chinese Characters" by Dingguo Shit is specifically designed for Americans who wish to understand Chinese characters and the culture that they represent. Using intuitive visuals and simple language, "The Wisdom of Chinese Characters" sheds light upon the culture and ideology of the Chinese people while also demonstrating that Chinese characters are not only inherently fascinating of themselves but also possess a certain degree of regularity in their structures and are surprisingly easy to learn. One of the purposes of "The Wisdom of Chinese Characters" is to dispel the fear that many non-Chinese feel when setting out to learn Chinese characters and to foster an interest in Chinese language and culture. "The Wisdom of Chinese Characters" can be used either as a textbook for Chinese culture classes or as pleasure reading for those interested in Chinese characters.

Critique: Impressively informed and informative, "The Wisdom of Chinese Characters" is thoroughly 'user friendly' in format and presentation. Enhanced with the inclusion of an instructive DVD, it is an ideal and enthusiastically recommended addition to personal and academic library Chinese Studies instructional reference collections. "The Wisdom of Chinese Characters" is particularly suited as a Chinese literacy studies curriculum supplement.

Helen Dumont

Klausner's Bookshelf

Crouching Tiger Forbidden Vampire
Kerrelyn Sparks
Avon Books
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
9780062107770, $7.99,

Vietnam War marine veteran Russell Hankelburg awakens after a nearly four decade slumber to learn his loved ones were either dead or moved on and that Master Han turned him into a vampire. He thirsts to kill his creator, but also learns that the mark on his wrist shows that his vicious vile vampiric master owns him as an expendable slave.

While Russell diligently continues his hunt of three years, he encounters obsessed Jia the were-tiger whose thirst for revenge against the vampire who slaughtered her parents rivals his. Their respective quests collide when each realizes they stalk the same malicious malevolent monster. Rather than trip over each other, Russell and Jia reluctantly agree to join forces in order to destroy Master Han. Russell insists on rules to insure they focus on the mission even if her eyes hypnotize him into craving something much more daring, delicate and delightful that also will anger her family who arranged a marriage for her.

Although somewhat typical of the romantic urban fantasy subgenre, the sixteenth and final Love at Stake drama is a thrilling climax to a strong decade long saga. The lead couple is a nice pairing highlighted by readers waiting seemingly forever for Russell's tale. Series fans will appreciate the final stake though a twisting climatic farewell tour subplot comes across as a rushed curtain call.

The Rosie Effect
Graeme Simsion
Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781476767314, $25.99,

Genetics Professor Don Tillman created the perfect compatibility questionnaire that insured an outcome of no partners since nobody of sound mind would complete his 16-page required document. That is until he met Rosie who scored nada on Tillman's torture test but married him anyway (see The Rosie Project).

While Don precisely to the half inch slices and dices veggies, Rosie informs her husband she is pregnant. Pleased he didn't cut off a half inch of finger, Don responds to her happy announcement by comparing her news to surviving a plane with engine trouble that requires an after-action investigation into what caused the perilous problem. Stunned and hurt by her beloved's reaction to her joyful pronouncement, their relationship turns from happily ever after to falling apart. Unaware of what is happening to his relationship; Don focuses on reviewing the scientific literature re pregnancies and Rosie on leaving.

Though this droll sequel is an amusing look at married life through the mind of a Mr. Spock logical but socially inept autism spectrum genius; it lacks the overall fresh effect of its predecessor. Tillman remains a unique protagonist with his intriguing outlook that rings true to me; especially with his similarity to someone I love with all my heart who also simultaneously drives me crazy.

Forgiving Maximo Rothman
A. J. Sidransky
Berwick Court Publishing
P.O. Box 8515, Northfield, IL 60093
9780988954007, $16.95,

In 2005 caregiver Marie Leguenza enters nonagenarian Jewish immigrant Max Redmond's apartment in 195 Bennett Avenue. Instead of the usual greeting from the frail senior when she delivers his favorite Dominican food rather than the strict kosher of his daughter-in-law Rachel that he hates; she finds his battered body.

NYPD Detective Anatoly Kurchenko leads the investigation. Kurchenko notices Max's Orthodox son Shalom Rothman (nee Steven Redmond) and Rachel seem indifferent to the family patriarch's assault as they focus on HaShem and their autistic son Baruch's participation; refusing even to ride in a car to the hospital on a Jewish holy day. Tolya questions Dominican youngster Carlos Pabon who visits Max twice a week as part of his probation. On his last visit to Max, the old man advised Carlos re his absentee father that "life is too short to make enemies of those we love" though Redmond never forgave God for the Holocaust or his dad. The detective reads Max's four decades of diaries seeking clues; but finds himself fascinated by Max's journey from Nazi Germany to the Jewish town of Sosua in the Dominican Republic and finally upper Manhattan. This leads him to reflect on his estranged dad's escape from Soviet Russia, the deaths of his sibling and mother, and their lapsed Judaism.

This is an excellent twisting historical that uses a police investigation as a springboard to explore six plus decades of Judaism with a focus on the good in the 1940s Dominican Republic and the 2005 cross culture reach out in Washington Heights, and the ugly of the Holocaust and 1970s Soviet Russia. This profound novel contains a fully developed cast and fascinating rotating subplots.

Masterpiece Marriage
Gina Welborn
Abingdon Press
PO Box 801, Nashville, TN 37202
9781426773631, $13.99,

In 1891 Philadelphia, the record-setting one day deluge flooded Zenus Dane's textile mill; leaving most of the inventory totally ruined. His cousin Sean Gallagher and his Goddaughter niece Aimee arrive to assess the damage. While the two men lament over the lack of flood insurance as this part of town never gets inundated and discuss the lack of options, the tweener suggests he asks Aunt Priscilla for help. Zenus knows that is not possible as she will not allow him in her home. However, Zenus realizes Aunt Priscilla and her quilters are perfect customers of the scraps he salvages from his ruined inventory. Thus he heads to Belle Haven to grovel and sell.

In Baltimore Mary Varrs seeks an illustrator to add pictures to her doctoral study of tomatoes. On a Belle Haven quilting bee invitation, Mary sees a wonderful drawing. She heads to Priscilla's home hoping to obtain the services of the artist. As Mary and Zenus vie for Priscilla's support, each realizes they need to unite to get the woman's cooperation; but both dislike the other or perhaps that is love each feels.

This is an enjoyable Quilts of Love (see Quilted By Christmas by Jodie Bailey and Hidden In The Stars by Robin Caroll) inspirational historical starring a delightfully "sciencey" female and a flock seeking manufacturing male. Readers will enjoy this late nineteenth century romance as both agree that the other is not what they want in a mate.

Catherine Asaro
Baen Books
PO Box 1188, Wake Forest NC 27588
9781476736921, $15.00,

Book One: "City of Cries." On Raylicon, Bhaajan was a "dust rat" barely surviving in the Undercity ghetto beneath Cries until as a teen she did the unthinkable and left to join the Skolian Empire's military. After a stint as an officer with the Imperial Space Command Bhaajan, she became a private investigator; recently hired by the royal House of Majda rulers to search and rescue missing Prince Dayjarind Majda lost in the Undercity aqueducts.

Book Two: "Beneath The Vanished Sea." Bhaajan's efforts to bring the prince safely back to Cries leads her to learning of an illegal operation to sell weapons to the enemy Eubian Concord Space Command who killed two billion innocent without blinking. However, when the smuggled cargo vanished, Colonel Lavinda Majda gives Bhaajan three days to retrieve it or else the military will invade the Undercity.

Book Three: "The Phorine War." Bhaajan learns from her friend Jak, owner of the Black Mark, that Commander Braze is selling arms to local gangs and giving away node-bliss known as phorine above ground to Undercity residents. The former major informs Lavinda of the illegal sales and that a gang war is imminent. She asks Colonel Majda to protect the innocent, but not intercede in the battle; while she also learns why the distribution of free Phorine.

These three Skolian Empire early historical science fictions are fascinating novellas as Catherine Asaro provides her fans with a discerning glimpse into the pride of those residing in a squalid slum out of sight (so out of mind) from the affluent mainstream. Although resolutions seem too easy, saga fans will relish these entertaining early twenty-third century AD thrillers that focus on Bhaajan's rise to a position of influence.

Worlds In Chaos
James P. Hogan
PO Box 1188, Wake Forest NC 27588
9781476736945, $14.00

"Cradle of Saturn." Earth political and science leaders condemn any theories that fails to fit inside their dogma. Thus a generation ago, disgruntled and frustrated Kronian scientists left the planet to conduct research on the moons of Saturn. When Jupiter discharges an asteroid similar in size to the inner planets, the Kronians and engineer Landen Keene who remained on earth believe this supports their theory that the solar system has had many catastrophes including Venus ejected in the same way. While the earth establishment ignores the evidence preferring their safe solar system model, the newly released asteroid heads towards the planet.

"The Legend That Was Earth." The Hyadeans came to earth bearing advanced technological gifts. Initially well-received, many support their kind offer to change the planet into an Eden. However Roland Cade learns shocking revelations about the hidden agenda of these friendly aliens and that his ex-wife Marie belongs to a group labeled terrorists by earth leaders as these distrusting resistance fighters want the Hyadeans to leave.

Worlds in Chaos contains reprints of two fabulous fifteen years old science fiction thrillers with still timely societal issues. Cradle of Saturn focuses on scientists trying to persuade deniers that the extinction event is real; while The Legend That Was Earth centers on an alien superpower supported by the local leaders offering colonization solutions that benefit the Hyadeans and humanity's richest and most powerful at the cost of the masses. Though the background in each tale lacks depth; in both cases the underlying theories (government, science and economics) are mesmerizing and easy to follow without dumbing down.

Paradigms Lost
Ryk E. Spoor
PO Box 1188, Wake Forest NC 27588
9781476736938, $25.00

In April 1999, Wood's Information Service owner and solo operator Jason Woods currently works on clarifying digital photos for Police Lieutenant Klein when he hears a loud bang outside his shop. At about the same time his BFF Syl Stake, the psychic owner of the Silver Stake shop, arrives through the front door. They check the noise only to find the battered corpse of big displaced Lewis with two bites on his neck. Police Lieutenant Reisman leads the homicide investigation in which the M.E. reported the victim had no blood left in his brutalized body.

Klein explains to Wood that he is staking out Verne Domingo while the photos of this drug lord seem to be missing him even as individuals in the pictures appear to interact with someone. Learning of Wood's consultation, Verne invites Jason to his mansion where they chat while he provides a different spin to the photos and introduces his guest to a world he never knew existed over the next twenty-seven months.

Reading more like eight entertaining urban fantasy novelettes that interrelate through the fully developed lead triangle (Jason, Syl, and Verne), subgenre fans will take immense delight in reading Ryk E. Spoor's "greatly expanded edition of Digital Knight". The pulp fiction storylines are filled with plenty of adventures and diverse paranormal species that brilliantly seem natural; while dynamic Jason "is the center of weirdness for the universe" (Eerie, Indiana). Though my personal favorites occur in a California courtroom and Venice, Florida; all the entries are fun because of how adaptable, quick-thinking Jason uses his head not to knock on Wood but to find solutions to supernatural puzzlers.

Mercedes Lackey, Cody Martin, Dennis Lee and Veronica Giguere
PO Box 1188, Wake Forest NC 27588
9781476736914, $25.00

Though they won a major victory when they devastated their enemy's headquarters in North America, the forces of ECHO and CCCP have no time to celebrate as their Thulian foes remain formidable. Led from their hidden world headquarters, the Thulian armies conduct world-wide guerilla sorties while preparing for a major synchronized invasion of Echo's prime command and control locales.

ECHO warriors feel the strains of war. Belladonna Blue the Healer struggles with PTSD doubts after becoming the head of the organization with the weight of knowing she deploys her metahuman friends, many of them to their deaths. Her other mission seems much more impossible but less personal as she needs to persuade the bickering world armies to follow ECHO in combat when they locate and invade the Thulian Headquarters to cut off its head. At the same time Red Saviour breaks protocol with a dangerous deployment of her CCCP wolves. Meanwhile Sera is heartbroken after sacrificing everything to save John Murdock; as he lives but suffers from amnesia re her, ECHO and Thulian leading to new hope for Dominic Verdigris.

The fourth Secret World Chronicle (see Invasion, World Divided and Revolution) is a thrilling superhero vs. supervillain military science fiction that starts off very slowly, but accelerates into hyperspeed reaching a crescendo with a terrific climax. Filled with plenty of combat, fans (especially of Bella, Sera and John) will appreciate this rousing entry.

The Convert's Song
Sebastian Rotella
Mulholland Books
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017-0010
9780316324694, $26.00,

Having worked the dangerous crossing between San Diego and Tijuana as a U.S. Border Patrol field operative (see Triple Crossing) Valentine Pescatore quit to begin a less harrowing job as a private investigator in Buenos Aires. To Pescatore's delightful surprise, he meets his at one time BFF Raymond Mercer the singer who he has not seen in a decade since their teen years in Chicago. Shocking the P.I. is his buddy cleaned up his act when he became a Muslim.

Not long afterward, terrorists kill hundreds at the El Amacen mall in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood. The Buenos Aires police suspect Mercer and Pescatore were the keys behind the highly complex assault. While Mercer has vanished, Pescatore teams up with French agent Fatima Belhaj in pursuit that eventually leads to Western Europe.

The second Pescatore intrigue is a great action-packed suspense that entertains throughout yet also enables the audience to better understand the diverse variety of terrorists and their overall impact on international relations and politics. Fast-paced from the moment Mercer says hi to the final confrontation yet filled with graveyard humor and musicology in which both enrich the outstanding storyline, The Convert's Song will be on the short lists as a top five espionage thriller of 2014.

Woman With A Gun
Phillip Margolin
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
9780062266521, $26.95,

In 2015, MOMA hosts an exhibit of Pulitzer Prize winning Kathy Moran's photographs. Attending the event, wannabe writer Stacey Kim, is mesmerized by an iconic photo "Woman With A Gun"; that of a woman in a white wedding dress on a beach staring out at the ocean while holding a nineteenth century six-shooter. Obsessed to know more about this astonishing picture Stacey heads to the hometown of the photographer in Palisades Heights, Oregon where Kathy also took that incredible picture.

In 2005, millionaire Raymond Cahill marries Megan. A few hours later he is dead and she suffered a concussion. Afterward Megan insists she remembers nothing after exchanging their vows. Five years prior to the Cahill homicide, ADA Jack Booth lost a sure-shot case to his unrequited love lawyer Kathy Moran that that haunts him fifteen years later. With plans to write a novel based on the incident Stacey arrives to investigate; Jack helps her even as more murders occur.

The three prime subplots converge into an interesting murder mystery though the 2015 homicides distract from the exciting present day inquiry into the gripping decade old cold case and adds unnecessary cast. Still readers will want to know what happened in 2005.

Universal Alien
Gini Koch
Daw Books, Inc.
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780756409302, $7.99,

In less than five years, Kitty Katt-Martini has come a long way from being an Arizona marketing manager, but nothing compared to her husband Jeff the alien from Alpha Four in the Alpha Centauri system and now Vice President of the United States. However, you may take the girl out of Arizona, but not Arizona out of the girl; as Kitty cannot hide her boredom with many of the Second Lady social functions such as her ennui while attending a cricket match in Australia. Insulting the host country and causing havoc for the Secret Service, Kitty decides to leave; but ungracefully falls and bangs her head.

When she regains consciousness, a confused Kitty finds she is the solo alien and married with children to her "handler" Chuckie Reynolds; and that the Alpha Centauri entourage including Jeff Martini never came to earth. At the same time another Kitty resides amidst aliens. In both worlds, each Kitty must confront the Mastermind if she is to return home to her Jeff on her earth.

The tenth Alien science fiction (see Alien In The House and Alien Research) is a madcap what if thriller in which the heroine gets a double taste of what could have been (think of George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life). As always frantically-paced and jocular, Universal Alien is a lively over the top of Mount Kosciuszko entry.

The Tess Chronicles Volume Two
P.R. Frost
Daw Books, Inc.
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780756410254, $8.99

"Faery Moon." After surviving imp fever, Tess Noncoire became a Celestial Blade Warrior and bonded to Scrap the imp. Tess and Scrap work outside the system to stop demons from coming into our realm (see The Tess Chronicles Volume One). In Vegas they and her grieving mother attend the Fairy Moon show where winged dancers fly without wires. In the Interdimensional Chat Room, Scrap sees the portal to Faery leaking out energy. He and Tess learn the dancers are faeries trapped by Lord Graham abetted by a vampire. Tess, Scrap, her archivist Golum, Damien the half demon, Lucia the vampire pretending to be a demon or is that a demon pretending to be a vamp, and their cab driver Mickey try to liberate the faeries and close the leak.

"Forest Moon Rising." Tess and Scrap travel to Portland where a psychopath who crossed over through an undiscovered leak has committed violent crimes against women. At the same time other issues overwhelm Tess. She is responsible for a horde of half-breed demons; serves as a backup to a renowned Celtic-folk singer; needs to write a book; and finally persuades her beloved they are fated once she decides who he is.

The reprints of Tess Noncaire books 3 and 4 are exciting kick butt urban fantasies filled with danger, intrigue and heartache. The heroine at times seems to be the star of a fantasy game in which whenever she needs a new skill she obtains it seemingly instantly but also uses her new talent as a seasoned veteran rather than struggling to understand what she newly possesses. Still this is an engaging series as the Amazon warrior and her impish sidekick battle paranormal evil.

High Stakes: A Jack Doyle Mystery
John McEvoy
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., #103, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
c/o MM Book Publicity
9781464202766, $24.95,

FBI Agents Damon Tirabassi and Karen Engel contact former Chicago Golden Gloves champ Jack Doyle to help them with another case involving murdered race horses (see Blind Switch for their previous collaboration). At Jack's favorite greasy spoon, the Feds explain that retired horses are frequently given to veterinary schools; however an unknown fanatic vehemently opposed to the practice has performed several mercy killings. They want Doyle to seek clues among his racing cronies at the track.

Just after their breakfast meeting, Doyle travels to Dublin to attend an award ceremony honoring his friend jockey Mickey Sheehan. While still in Ireland, a frightened Sheila Hanratty informs Doyle that her husband Niall the bookmaker has suffered several questionable accidents; suspecting foul play, Jack investigates. Back in the States, affluent jailed convict Harvey Rexroth (see Blind Switch) seeks "justice" against the man who assisted the Feds in sending him up river.

The fifth Jack Doyle turf mystery (see Photo Finish, Close Call and The Significant Seven) is a terrific thriller with a strong trifecta of subplots enhanced by appealing horse racing tales. If you don't know Jack you are missing a treat summed up on the first page when the felon muses: "the lock had been easier to pick than Secretariat in a Fantasy League Race."

The Wolf and the Lamb: A Jerusalem Mystery
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., #103, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
9781464203282, $24.95,

In 30 CE Jerusalem, Roman Emperor Tiberius' outpost inspector Cassia Drusus arrests the Empire's Prefect of Judea and Overseer of the Palestine Pontius Pilate for the murder of his adversarial rival Aurelius Decimus. Stunned Pilate is well aware of how damaging the evidence is and that his Roman compatriots want to exile him back home where he will face certain death. Thus he turns to honorable Sanhedrin Chief Rabban Gamaliel, who has solved several mysteries lately (see The Eighth Veil and Holy Smoke), to prove his innocence in spite of being caught with blood on him while next to the corpse in which his dagger protruded from the victim's heart.

Ironically Rabban Gamaliel believes the greatest threat to the Jewish people comes from the despicable Pilate. Aware of the condemnation and most likely assassination attempts he will receive from his people (especially the deadly Dagger Men) if they learn of his task, Rabban Gamaliel agrees to investigate. With assists from his physician friend Loukas and Pilate's "messenger" Marius, Rabban Gamaliel begins his dangerous inquiry. Meanwhile as Jews celebrate Passover, High Priest of the Temple Caiaphas arrests the Galilean upstart Yeshua ben Joseph abetted by Pilate's clever sacrifice rule to keep Rabban Gamaliel from presiding over a trial.

The third Jerusalem Mystery is a fantastic entry in what is one of the best ancient times' investigative series. Though the first century Holy Land inquiry is excellent, the historical background hooks the audience. Spellbinding are reasonable explanations as to why Pilate and Caiaphas feared Yeshua so much that these natural enemies collaborated to eliminate him while disregarding Gamaliel's warning they will regret their decision once they understand the outcome.

The Fortress in Orion (Dead Enders)
Mike Resnick
c/o Prometheus Books
59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst, NY 14228-2197
9781616149901, $18.00,

Democracy covert operative Colonel Nathan Pretorius awakens in a hospital recovering from a near death experience when General Wilbur Cooper arrives. Nathan recognizes Cooper as the SOB who sends him on dangerous missions like the one on Bendaris IV that left him visiting the Other Side of life and the need for new body parts.

Ignoring Pretorius' insistence to leave him on pension, Cooper assigns his top field agent with his latest impossible target that he insists is the Big One game changer. Introduced to the clone of the Traanskei Coalition Kabori General Michkag, Pretorius learns what his superior officer expects him to accomplish. He and a small, eclectic team will capture or assassinate the original Michkag and replace him with their lab replica while the alien military leader attends a meeting in an underground fortress on Orion. Pretorius honestly explains to those he wants on his squad that the pay stinks and the odds of survival are 7% and dropping with each new info. Still Pretorius, Felix Ortega the strongman more machine than man, Sally "Snake" Kowalski the contortionist convict, Toni "Pandora" Levy the hacker-locksmith, Circe the emotion reader, the clone and Kabori defector Djibmet begin the suicide mission by stopping at a whorehouse on McPherson's World to add a mental shapeshifter and a Madam.

The first Dead Enders science fiction starts a new exciting series in the Birthright universe (see The Starship and Jake Masters sagas). Though the action is somewhat muted as the first half of the novel introduces the readers to the unique team, The Fortress in Orion remains an enjoyable outer space adventure.

Caris Roane
St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250035318, $7.99,

Marius the vampire fears his father Daniel for good reason as the latter will do anything to achieve his objective of ruling their species and the inferior humans. This ruthless vampire would maim and kill anyone after torturing them including his five children, especially the three rebelling against him (see Chains Of Darkness and Born In Chains for the stories of two of the siblings). Daniel's minion and Marius vie for control of a gizmo that can kill vampires.

Though he cannot perceive how a member of the lesser race is his only chance at success, Marius knows he needs the assistance of archeology grad student Shayna Prentiss. When his father's thugs accost Shayna, Marius intercedes by kidnapping her and taking her to his secret hideout. Stunned by the extraordinary skills of her savior and her wannabe abductees, Shaya is further astonished by her attraction to Marius as she never falls for "living" males; her preference being the dead of ancient civilizations. However her amazement is much less than that of her host who cannot believe how much he desires a lowly mortal. Bound by their blood chain and in love, Shaya embraces the vampire culture with a thirst to know more; while Marius fears what will happen to his beloved once she enters the combat against his deadly dad.

The third and final Dark Men in Chains romantic fantasy is a thrilling climax to a pleasant two cultures colliding trilogy. Although the initial lead pair in love (beyond saving the world) seems too abrupt, Caris Roane writes an appealing tale that has the audience rooting for this enchanting couple.

Mine To Take
Jackie Ashenden
St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250051769, $7.99

The result of a rape, Gabriel Woolf lives for one thing only; destroy the SOB who violently assaulted his mom and anyone even the innocent who stands in the way of his achieving his objective. Ruthlessly stomping through people, Gabe joins the Nine Circles billionaire club whose members are his nearest thing to friendship.

Thanks in part to Eva, a Nine Circles' associate, Gabe's plan to complete his life goal of vengeance vowed at his recently deceased mom's deathbed takes a giant step towards fruition. He offers to invest in his biological father Guy Tremain's financially troubled hotel chain with one stipulation that his target's stepdaughter investment broker Honor St. James escorts him at an affluent lodge. When he tries to bully Honor; unlike so many before her who cravenly backed down she stands up to him. Stunned by her strength and her by a feeling of connecting lost souls, Gabe and Honor begin an affair that both want but fear will take them to uncharted undesirable territory; neither anticipated how strong their need grows nor how convoluted Guy's byzantine maze proves to be.

The opening act of the Nine Circles romance is a taut drama that stars two captivating leads. Believing he belongs in Dante's hell, Gabe is an intriguing avenger whose attraction to Honor brings unwanted feelings of love and guilt that he prefers to ignore before they implode his scheme. Honor has deep issues too re loss, but remains resolutely in love while doubting a HEA will happen.

More Than Neighbors
Janice Kay Johnson
Harlequin SuperRomance
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373608928, $6.75,

Near Spokane in Goodwater, woodworker Widower Gabriel Tennert relishes his rustic solitude though he was not always like this. He has celebrated for over three years that his former reclusive neighbor Ephraim Walker moved away leaving the ranch vacant until now. Hearing loud music, to his horror Gabe knows he has a new neighbor that includes kids.

Rather than watch her stressed out twelve years old son come home every day in tears, single mom Ciara Malloy bought the Walker spread after a meeting with her child's middle school assistant principal; in which he had the audacity to blame Mark for being bullied. Mark likes Gabe's horses and though the woodworker normally stays far away from people, he enjoys the tweener's enthusiasm. Soon Gabe mentors Mark on woodworking, horses and bullies. Ciara and Gabe are attracted to one another, but both hesitate to act on their feelings though their reasons differ.

This is a profound family drama featuring three fully developed protagonists. Mark especially stands out as a young victim slowly regaining his tweener equilibrium in a different setting; while Ciara is a grizzly momma protecting her cub; and Gabe feels guilt over his increasing emotional involvement with the mother and son. The romance is well-written, but it is the baggage each must overcome in order to forge a committed relationship that makes this an interesting contemporary.

Cowgirls Don't Cry
Silver James
Harlequin Desire
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373733644, $5.25

The blizzard shut down O'Hare stranding travelers like affluent lawyer Chance Barron at least overnight. Also trapped in Chicago is Cassidy Morgan, who was flying to Oklahoma City to say goodbye to her dying father Ben. Pulling no sugarcoated punches; Uncle Boots tells her tomorrow morning will be too late to see Ben alive, but he will delay the cremation until she can see her dad one last time. Though she lives in the city, the storm made it impossible to go home. At a hotel near the airport, Chance and Cass meet in a bar and soon share the night.

The next morning, flights start taking off with Chance and Cass both heading to Oklahoma City; and once there onto Royal, Texas. Each wants to see the other, but she has a funeral and a ranch sale. His influential jackass father Cyrus loathed her dad over a woman decades ago so even with Ben dead his grudge lives. Ergo he interferes with his son's intimate relationship with his enemy's daughter.

The first Red Dirt Royalty contemporary is an enjoyable seemingly star-crossed romance. Readers root for courageous Cass while wondering when, if ever, Chance will stand up to his martinet father and just say no.

Never Trust A Cowboy
Kathleen Eagle
Harlequin Special Edition
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373658596, $5.50

In Short Straw, South Dakota, undercover "ace" Delano Fox obtains a position working directly for Brad Benson, stepson of the Flynn Ranch owner Frank Flynn. As Brad sleeps off the night before in his truck, Del arrives at the spread where he meets Frank's daughter Lila, who while recovering from an injury lives apart from her dad and his second family and also runs a daycare on the ranch.

Del and Lila are attracted to each other from their first encounter. However, Del believes sassy Lila will ignore his part in Brad's arrest when that occurs; but also knows that when his beloved learns the truth about his reason for being at her family ranch and his background, she will lose her trust in him. Still Del must complete his assignment and pray he still has his woman afterward.

Aptly titled, this South Dakota ranch romance contains a strong twisting storyline and a solid cast in a vivid Badlands setting. Readers will enjoy visiting the Mount Rushmore State with delectable Del and likable Lila as our guides.

The Marshal
Adrienne Giordano
Harlequin Intrigue
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373698103, $5.50

Diligent when he is on the job protecting government officials in danger from nut cases, Deputy US Marshal Brent Thompson obsessively uses his limited downtime seeking clues to the over two decades old murder of his mother to give to the Carlisle Sheriff's Department. He knows that homicide shaped him, but also believes he and his sister moved on due to strong family support led by his maternal aunt. At a gala he attends in Chicago as a guest honoring a former client octogenarian Judge Kline, Gerald and Pamela Hennings, parents of another of Brent's protected person defense attorney Penny who learns of the murder of Brent's mother.

Hennings and Solomon (see The Prosecutor) law partner Gerald assigns his investigator (and former Miss Illinois runner-up) Jenna Hayward to work the Thompson cold case. FBI Special Agent Russ Voight (see The Defender) assists them. As they follow leads, Jenna and Brent are attracted to each other, but try to remain professionally focused.

The Marshal is an entertaining romantic intrigue that starts extremely slow but once the cast is set and the good guys teamed up, the storyline accelerates into a rousing suspense. Brent is a captivating character who believes he moved passed his mom's murder until he meets Jenna and realizes he flees from commitments. Jenna starts off believing her twin peaks and looks make her an excellent sleuth, but learns her brain is more vital to her success. Adrienne Giordano provides an absorbing twisting murder mystery.

Wound Up
Kelli Ireland
Harlequin Blaze
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373798322, $5.50

In Seattle, Beaux Hommes stripper Justin Maxwell knows tonight is his last performance having just received his doctorate in psychology though he has eighty more hours of practicum to complete. In the audience on his farewell show is his former student Grace Cooper. Justin has wanted her for years, but controlled his desire as he accepted that would have been immoral; but joyfully realizes not anymore.

After his final act aimed as if she was his only person in attendance, Justin and Grace leave together. However, in spite of the best night of their respective lives, Grace the intern relocates to Baltimore in two weeks. Both reluctantly accept their relationship has no future but things turn worse when they learn each volunteers at the not-for-profit Second Chances helping disadvantaged youths; particularly since Justin mishandles what this means after their one niter. Still as they work together, the attraction turns into love but their attitudes re Second Chances remain a major schism.

The second Pleasure Before Business blazing romance (see Stripped Down) is a heated tale starring protagonists with youth traumas that shaped their respective adult lives. An exciting relevant suspense subplot distracts from the prime theme of whether this couple in love can find the emotional fortitude to commit to a long term relationship; with readers cheering for them to make it.

Mountain Retreat
Cassie Miles
Harlequin Intrigue
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373698073, $5.50

Six months and four days ago U.S. Marine Nick Corelli disappeared inside the South American dictatorship, Tiquanna. In Austin his worried fiancee Sidney Parker keeps her eidetic memory from torturing her 24/7 by working nights at the Silver Star Saloon where she can recall specific orders from even 12 customers. Her day job at Texas Tritan led to her meeting Tiquanna dictator Tomas Hurtado three years ago.

During her ordeal, sixteen times CIA or military Intel have interrogated Sidney, but offer little info re her Nick. This time the CIA Special Agent-in-Charge Victoria Hawthorne informs her that Hurtado and his wife Elena will be in Austin next week. After his superior leaves, Special Agent Sean Phillips tells Sidney to leave the room and run to her left; there she finds Nick who looks at her from the eyes of a stranger. With Nick still undercover, Sidney is placed in a safe house. When that is breached Nick takes his beloved to a Mountain Retreat, but the persistent seemingly in the know enemy pursues them.

The key to this exhilarating romantic intrigue is the heroine who proves she has the right stuff under lethal conditions. Filled with action as the protagonists know the mission is staying alive especially since their unknown adversary anticipates their movements in this thrilling suspense.

Seducing the Marine
Kate Hoffmann
Harlequin Blaze
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373798315, $5.50

As Marine Staff Sergeant Will MacIntyre works on deactivating an IED in Afghanistan, he thinks of his high school and college sweetheart back in Michigan's Upper Peninsular. While he dropped out of school to join the military to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, she became Dr. Olivia Eklund. When he steps on another explosive, Will is sent flying; severely injured his last words before becoming unconscious is his former Yooper girlfriend's name.

As he hides in his grandfather's remote cabin near Calumet while on medical leave, Will, missing his appointment with the VA doctor, ignores his health yet still hopes eventually to return to his unit. When he runs into his Liv, Will knows she will always be his one, but she never understood his joining the military as accentuated by her Dear Will letter four months into his military career. Unable to resist he kisses her. However when a seven years old hockey player breaks a wrist during a game, Will helps distract him while Liv works on his injury. Unable to resist, they renew their love and he starts taking care of himself. Still his being in the military remains an obstacle to a long-term commitment.

This profound Uniformly Hot! military romance focuses on the problems that even loving couples confront when one of them is away on long term deployments; ironically in this second chance plot the hero is home but both anticipate his return to theater. With a deep support cast and terrific protagonists, Kate Hoffmann authors an insightful look at a military-civilian relationship.

The Party Starts At Midnight
Lucy King
Harlequin KISS
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373179114, $5.99

Before he gives a speech about their company at a holiday gala at the South Bank Hotel in London, client Jake sends his events planner Abby to the penthouse searching for his missing in action brother Leo. She finds him sprawled out sleeping on the floor of the bathroom. Abby awakens the exhausted and somewhat intoxicated hunk; who due to her drill sergeant efforts manages to attend the party.

Abby and Leo are attracted to each other, so as she cleans up after the celebration ends he persuades her to share what's left of an all-niter with him. That tryst leads to an email relationship. As both of them fall in love, she dreams of marriage while he suffers from commitment phobia having been hurt before.

This is a refreshing long distance information age romance between two pleasant independent protagonists. The email courtship engages the audience; as the heroine knows he's the one, while her champion wants to delete it but cannot do so.

Starting With June
Emilie Rose
Harlequin SuperRomance
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373608874, $6.75

At Quantico, due to his depth perception failing him U.S. Marine Sam Rivers receives the depressing news of a medical discharge ending his military career. On his mind is thirty one and washed up. Waiting in the parking lot for him is his buddy and former marine sniper peer Roth Sterling (see A Better Man) who needs his help. Four months ago, Chief of Police Roth arrested and fired his dirty senior deputy, but believes there are more corrupt cops on his Quincey, North Carolina force. He hires Sam to go undercover to recon which cops are breaking the law.

Sam teams up with police officer June Jones, but conceals from his partner why he came to Quincey. Attracted to each other, he refuses to acknowledge his heart though he wants June. Instead Sam remains steadfast to his goal to leave the "armpit of the world" and return to active duty once he completes the mission and gets his perception back; only his perception has changed. June assumes the men she loves, like her hypercritical father and her denying partner, find something lacking in her.

The third Quincey contemporary is an engaging police force romance in which Sam's attitude and his assignment seem to doom their relationship. Sam and Roth appear too similar in personality although one can argue they fit the profile of a successful military sniper. With a nod to Rookie Blue (hopefully this couple stays together rather than hop around), readers will appreciate this tale.

A League Of Her Own
Karen Rock
Harlequin Heartwarming
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373367030, $6.50

Former twice collegiate softball player of the year, Heather Gadway coaches the Morro Bay University team. Her demanding dad Dave calls her, but she ignores him to focus on the team's pitcher though she expects a lecture once she calls him back. Dr. Freeman informs her that her dad had a heart attack and is about to undergo surgery. Heather returns home to be there for her father and to manage his minor league team the Holly Springs Falcons though he does not believe she is capable of doing the job.

Recovering alcoholic Garrett Wolf knows the Falcons especially Dave Garrett took a chance by signing him at twenty-seven and three years out of baseball, but the team's survival was shaky before the owner's emergency surgery. Fearing his career will be over if Dave fails to return, Garrett likes the small southern town lifestyle after being out of control in nearby Atlanta. When Heather meets her players they all share doubts about a female softball superstar managing their team. However, she and Garrett are attracted to each other, but both know a romantic entanglement could kill their respective goals to make it in baseball.

A League Of Her Own is a Heartwarming baseball romance starring a former superstar with a bone marrow need to prove her worthy to her dad and a recovering alcoholic with a bone marrow need to prove him worthy to play in the Majors. A fast-paced nine innings, Karen Rock authors a lively pitchers' duel.

The Million-Dollar Question
Kimberley Lang
Harlequin KISS
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373179121, $5.99

Evan Lawford regrets how he treated Olivia Madison back in college though he struggled with what he did as he never wanted to hurt her, her kind parents or her brother Jory his roommate. A successful businessman Evan and ballerina Olivia meet for the first time since he abruptly ended their one-night stand relationship breaking her heart (and secretly his).

Evan knows he still wants Olivia; and to her chagrin, though she lectures herself to ignore him, she remains attracted to the rat that hurt her. As they begin round two with no idea where it will go, Olivia conceals from Jeff why she wanted to see him in the first place; fearing how he will react if he knew funding her art comes before her thumping heart. Meanwhile Jeff deals once again between loving Olivia and loving her caring family who he does not want to hurt as they treated him as one of them unlike his biological family.

This is a pleasurable second chance at love romance starring two fascinating leads in love although Evan's rationale for rejecting his beloved shows how ethical he is but also seems foolish. Still The Million-Dollar Question is a warm contemporary.

Southern Comforts
Nan Dixon
Harlequin SuperRomance
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373608911, $6.75

Mamie Fitzgerald converted historical Fitzgerald House into a B&B in Savannah in 1998. She created rules for her three daughters (Abigail, Bess and Dolley) to manage the establishment. Her oldest offspring Abby wants to be a chef, but delays her dream because time and money are needed to renovate the B&B.

When Mr. Fantasy arrives, Abbey thinks hunk until she hears him scornfully lecture someone over his cell phone and muses cranky hunk while reminding herself of Mama's Rule #1: "The guests are always right, even when they are wrong." However, when a child wants to catch a "rainbow", he gives him a lift and changes Abbey's opinion to huggable hunk. Developer Grayson Smythe informs her he has reservations to stay in the Kennedy Suite for six months. Over the next few weeks, she witnesses his kindness towards a single mom new employee and her child; and soon the guest and the innkeeper share meals together in her kitchen breaking Mama's Rule #2: "Absolutely never get involved with a guest. It's not well done." As they fall in love, his Yankee (hard to use the word Yankee for a Bostonian) background invades Georgia.

The first Fitzgerald Georgia Peach romance is a warm opening act with two fully-developed leads, a particularly strong support cast (including one involved in a suspenseful subplot that showcases Gray's moral code) and the pragmatic fun Mama's Rules; enhanced by Abigail's new rules. Klausner's rule: this is a charming southern hospitality contemporary.

The Secret Affair
Brenda Jackson
Harlequin Desire
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373733545, $5.25

Paige Novak tells her sister Jillian that like their two other siblings she cannot go on the cruise with her to celebrate the latter graduating from med school; as she just got a part in a Spielberg movie. Disappointed Jillian understands though she hoped she and her sisters could have gotten together. She decides to go it alone as she needs something to get her mind off Aidan Westmoreland, who she ended their top secret relationship a year ago.

However, Paige put on an Academy Award winning performance when she informed Jillian she can't join her since she had no intention of going on that cruise; instead she arranged for Aidan to be with Jillian. On the ship Aidan makes it clear he wants to jump Jillian's bones, but more so wants their relationship to be forever. Now he must persuade his reluctant beloved that they are good for each other; not just in bed but in all aspects of life including their careers as doctors.

The 28th Westmoreland family drama (see Aidan's identical twin Adrian in The Real Thing) is a delightful second chance at love romance. Part of the fun is learning about the first time around especially the start and climax of their affair. Though Jillian can act immature at times, the protagonists are a nice pairing of an "Unstoppable Force (Aidan - must be in Westmoreland DNA) meets an Immovable Object" (Jillian).

Lone Star Survivor
Colleen Thompson
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373278992, $5.50

The military informed the matriarch of the Rayford family of Rusted Spur, Texas that terrorists killed her son Ian. In a mental haze, the former Army captain, guided by the image in his shattered mind of the woman he loves, walks towards his North Texas ranch though suffering from memory loss, PTSD and physical injuries. When his brother Zach (see Lone Star Redemption) gives him a ride, Ian fails to recognize his euphoric sibling.

At the Marston unit of the Warriors 4 Life Rehabilitation Center, former Army Colonel Julian Ross assigns his fiancee psychologist Dr. Andrea Warrington to help the "Texas Miracle" Ian recover. Andrea explains to Julian that she was Ian's fiancee, but ended their relationship because she could not deal with his unexplained absences. With major reservations, Andrea agrees to stay at the ranch for two weeks to help Ian. As they work together, their love remains strong; but assault from an adversary has both believing that this unknown foe wants to insure Ian never remembers what happened in theater.

The second Rayford family drama is an intriguing romantic suspense in which the mental state of the Wounded Warrior supersedes his reunion return from the dead and the attacks on him and his beloved. Driven by the relationship between the fabulous lead couple before "Ian" died and in the present, the story line is filled with action and a twist that adds tension but also simplifies the plot.

Colton Holiday Lockdown
C.J. Miller
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373278985, $5.50

Dr. Rafe Granger returned to his hometown Dead River, Wyoming to help alongside other dedicated medical personnel to find a cure for the pandemic virus threatening to kill all trapped inside the quarantine zone. When two months of research is destroyed with the refrigerated Vacumtainer tubes emptied, a frustrated Rafe wants to give up and leave Purgatory, but knows there is no exit except the elixir or death. He believes the only good thing so far in his coming home is grown up Nurse Gemma Colton.

As Rafe and Gemma team up seeking the cure, they fall in love. However, he left Dead River once before and she assumes he will be gone as soon as he can. At the same time, someone in the shadows watches them and the other researchers with further plans to insure they cannot prevent the death of all the townsfolk.

The final Coltons: Return To Wyoming miniseries (see Her Colton Lawman by Carla Cassidy and A Secret Colton Baby by Karen Whiddon) is an exhilarating medical thriller with the romance taking a backseat to the efforts to find the cure and the culprit hampering the progress. Though the motive of the villain and that of an accomplice seem weak, readers will feel they are inside of Dead River alongside the researchers, the dying people and their expected soon to be sick loved ones struggling against a deadly virus.

Seducing The Hunter
Vivi Anna
Harlequin Nocturne
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373009350, $5.75

Daeva the Seductress of Shadows demon prefers residing on earth rather than in Hell. Over many millennia she has possessed female mortals until an exorcist would send her home until she escapes again. Presently she has been in Hell for three years ever since the love of her life demon hunter Quinn Strom sent her there.

Her servant-friend Klix the goblin stuns her when he says his sister Loir is going topside seeking a skeleton key that opens something ancient and valuable to demons. Daeva concludes someone aware of the key knows that it opens the cursed Chest of Sorrows containing a deadly tome inside that a scholar entrusted to her a century ago.

Crimson Hall Cabal sorcerer Richter Collins accompanied by a female goblin demands Quinn give him the key. Before she leaves the injured Quinn, Loir informs him she is servant to the one he betrayed and who told her not to kill him. In Hell, Klaven the demon tortures Daeva trying to learn where she hid the chest; at the same time San Francisco State Professor Q tells Strom he has no choice except to work with the female who knows the location as this is an End of Days event. Reluctantly Quinn visits Mary to get the supplies needed to bring his Demon back to earth. When Quinn summons Daeva, the negotiations begin.

The second delightful Strom family demon hunter urban fantasy (see Releasing The Hunter) is an entertaining action-packed thriller. The second chance at love dysfunctional relationship between the demon and the hunter at times supersedes the good and evil battle between the cabal, Klaven and their minion vs. Strom, Daeva and their allies.

The Shifter's Choice
Jenna Kernan
Harlequin Nocturne
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373009343, $5.75

Yonkers resident Sofia Touma was given the choice between prison and the marines. After basic, she is flown to Molokai, Hawaii where Captain Travis MacConnelly warns her if she quits like her file shows she has done in almost everything in her life, she returns to prison. Though he expects her to quit in thirty seconds, his wife Brianna persuaded him to give Sofia the assignment of teaching a depressed, suicidal marine sign language when the injured sergeant refuses to cooperate with anyone including his superior officer.

A werewolf attacked Sergeant Johnny Loc Lam and Captain Travis MacConnelly (see The Vampire's Wolf); but whereas the latter moved on, the former has not adjusted at all. Lam tries to frighten his new teacher away, but Sofia refuses to leave. Instead she finds out what he has become; his inability to shift from the beast to human, and the connotation that sign language means to him no cure possible. As they fall in love, he fears his adversaries who want the wolf all the time will use her as a pawn to control him.

The second military romantic fantasy is an enjoyable Beauty and The Beast tale due mostly to the sergeant's unique disorder enhanced by his fear of what signing means to him, and his sign language instructor's reaction to his condition. Although the vampire subplot adds suspense, the relationship between the leads (and them to Mac and Brianna) make for an engaging paranormal drama.

A Texas Holiday Miracle
Linda Warren
Harlequin American Romance
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373755479, $5.50

Before he died five months ago, widower Jack Carroll asked his twenty-eight years old daughter Lacey to raise his six year old other child Emma. Agreeing to become her half-sister's legal guardian, Lacey left her life in Austin to be there for her sibling in Horseshoe, Texas. Though there have been some rewarding moments, there have also been incidents like Emma's fight with Brad Wilson over whether Santa is real and her entering the yard of the Grouch next door to pet Pepper, a dying cancer-stricken dog.

That neighbor Gabe Garrison blames himself for his son Zack's death since he gave him the ATV in which he died. When he nails the gate between them shut to keep Emma out, Lacey lectures him about hurting a little child and how his son would be disappointed with his behavior. Not long afterward Emma pets Pepper, tells Gabe her daddy is in heaven and that his dog needs a doctor. Gabe knows it is time to put Pepper down, but emotionally can't let go; as the canine is his last link to Zack. However, as the two sisters continue to invade his privacy, he soon wants to give Christmas joy back to Emma and though not ready for a relationship he begins falling in love with Lacey.

A Texas Holiday Miracle is a great Christmas romance starring a wonderful lead triangle. With a nod to the 1897 New York Sun editorial, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus", readers will celebrate the Yuletide season with Linda Warren as love helps people through the grief process after losing a loved one.

Meet Me Under The Mistletoe
Cara Colter
Harlequin American Romance
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373743186, $5.50

On November 30th Banks and Banks accountant Hanna Merrifield begs Mr. Dewey not to quit as the manager of her Upstate New York Christmas Valley Farm that she inherited when her mom died a year ago. Even with a potential buyer arriving tomorrow, Dewey refuses to listen to Hanna's pleadings; he blames his anti-Christmas spirit on the evil dwarf horse Molly and insensitive people knocking on his door at any time of day or night. She tells her unsympathetic boss she needs twenty-four hours to go home on a family emergency before driving the two hours to the farm to meet her "savior" the person interested in ownership.

As she tries to capture Molly the wanderer, her first love Sam Chisholm, heading to the farm to buy it, almost runs over Hanna. Having been engaged only a few months ago, Hanna's shocked that she still has deep feelings for the former rebel without a cause turned suit. Sam reciprocates as the gnome he remembers now is a beautiful woman. Both use the veneer of a business deal to conceal their desires. As their love seems to each of them like a Christmas Miracle, Hanna must decide between ennui at Banks and Banks or cherished competition on her family farm.

The merry Meet Me Under The Mistletoe feels somewhat like a throwback to a pre-social media holiday romance. Hanna and Sam are a nice amiable pairing while the secondary characters add layers to Cara Colter's pleasant Christmas contemporary.

Things Half In Shadow
Alan Finn
Gallery Books
c/o Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781476761725, $16.00,

The Civil War ended four years ago, but the residents of Philadelphia, like most of the country, still mourn their dead and the streets contain veterans who came home with visible injuries that can never heal and mental traumas no one understands. Philadelphia Evening Bulletin crime reporter Edward Clark finds little things like the city's fog reminding him of the horror of gun smoke he witnessed as a soldier at Antietam. He also suffers from an older trauma; when he was ten Edward watched in revulsion his father Magellan Holmes the magician murder his mother.

Clark's current assignment is to look into amoral avarice fakes taking advantage of those grieving their losses by offering a last chance to communicate with their dearly departed. Reluctantly he looks into the spiritualists that remind him of his parents. His first expose is single mom Widow Lucy Collins; but afterward the charlatan persuades him to let her join him on his task. They attend a seance hosted by highly regarded medium Lenora Grimes Pastor, who appears genuine until in the middle of the session she dies. Lucy and Edward investigate her death in which they and other attendees are suspects, and the only one besides the killer who can tell the truth is the victim.

Though ostensibly a Reconstruction Era whodunit, Things Half in Shadows is much more; as Alan Finn also interweaves a seemingly ghost tale with incredible historical detail especially focusing on the mourners and the damaged vets that make this very timely. The cast is fully developed with many, including the protagonists and the dead medium, concealing secrets. Though readers will figure out early on what is going on, this is a superb read.

Karen Robards
Gallery Books
c/o Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781476766584, $26.00,

FBI Agent Finn Bradley breaks into the dark Houston mansion seeking Jeff Cowan, son of disgraced and imprisoned financier George, who scammed billions from his customers. Instead of confronting Jeff, Finn sees his still warm body hanging in what looks like a suicide. He also finds Jeff's separated wife Riley at the scene.

Riley explains to the Fed that Jeff feared for his safety and that of his family after several of his dad's associates "accidently" died at a time when irate volatile clients demand their money returned immediately; but he also failed to name names. HPD rules suicide, but Riley believes otherwise as she concludes her teenage sister-in-law Emma and her mother-in-law Margaret remain worthwhile targets of violent scammed investors who demand George reveal where he hid the loot. Finn and his partner trail Riley hoping she leads them to the missing money. Thus he intercedes when mobsters assault Riley. Neither trusts the other, but their misgivings are made worse by their attraction even as the irate adversary snatch Emma to force George to talk.

Hush is a tremendous romantic suspense starring two refreshing beloved enemies who spend much of the thrilling storyline lying or concealing the truth. The fresh relationship between Riley and Finn make for an intriguing romantic subplot that enhances the prime suspenseful storyline of keeping safe the Cowan women while locating those responsible for the attacks on them.

Murder At The Book Group
Maggie King
Pocket Books
c/o Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 13th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781476762463, $7.99,

In 2005 in Richmond, during the Murder On Tour book club discussion, published author of Murder a la Isabel Carlene Arness vehemently tosses her copy of Murder In The Keys into her fireplace stunning the other attendees; as Carlene is normally a calm soft-spoken individual. Wannabe romance writer Hazel Rose wonders if the cause of Carlene's venom is the separation from her husband Evan, who happens also to be one of her Hazel's ex-spouses. Their efforts to illicit more information on why she hated the novel leads to Carlene's venomous response over the misuse of cyanide, which she plans to deploy correctly in her next novel. As the session winds down, Carlene collapses; the shocked participants realize she is dead from ironically cyanide poisoning.

The stunned reading group agrees that Carlene was not herself at the meeting and even more upset when newbie Linda arrived; but also would not kill herself especially using cyanide in spite of a suicide note. Assuming a murder occurred at the book group session; Hazel, her sometimes much more than just a friend retired RPD homicide detective Vince Castelli and her cousin Lucy Hooper look into the victim's past seeking who loathed the recently dearly departed Carlene.

The first Book Group mystery is a pleasant amateur sleuth though a scorecard as to who belongs with whom at that moment would be helpful (this group gets around). Witty Hazel is a tremendous lead who deftly keeps the storyline focused even with a myriad of supporting characters. Murder At The Book Group is a delightful cozy in which the audience will want more investigations starring Hazel and her bookish cohorts.

Dogwood Hill
Sherryl Woods
Mira Books
c/o Harlequin
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, ON, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780778317326, $8.99,

Retired due to a knee injury from the NFL at twenty-eight, former star quarterback Aidan Mitchell arrives in Chesapeake Shores allegedly to interview for the high school coaching job. He meets Archie the dog whose owner Widow Liz March apologizes for her dog's boisterous, friendly greeting.

Led by the extended O'Brien family, the New Yorker feels welcome, but overwhelmed as it was always his late mom and him only. He also conceals from everyone his real reason for coming to the Maryland community. Aidan wants to meet his biological father Thomas O'Brien. His Uncle Mick offers him a five year coaching contract, but Aiden hesitates, as he is unsure whether he could be near his "family" for that length of time. Instead he counters with a one year deal and a four year option to take over a team with a several years losing streak. As he works with his new team, Aidan must deal with a player's demanding father, his O'Brien secret, and his feelings for Liz; who after being burned by her husband, reluctantly reciprocates.

The twelfth Chesapeake Shores (see The Christmas Bouquet and A Seaside Christmas) is a warm family drama starring two engaging leads struggling with respective overflowing plates made much more complex by their love for each other and further compounded by trust issues. Series fans will relish this feel good contemporary.

Elizabeth Heiter
Mira Books
c/o Harlequin
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, ON, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780778317388, $7.99

Almost two decades have passed since someone kidnapped Evelyn Baine's twelve years old BFF Cassie Byers. The case to include two other similar abductions from apparently the same culprit dubbed the Nursery Rhyme Killer remains unsolved; but also motivated Evelyn into becoming a profiler (see Hunted).

In the present at the Aquia, Virginia FBI Behavior Analysis Unit where Evelyn works, Cassie's mom Julie calls her not with the news they found her daughter's corpse, but that the Nursery Rhyme Killer has returned to Rose Bay, South Carolina snatching Brittany Douglas. Evelyn pleads with her boss to let her join the Child Abduction Rapid Deployment team already at the scene as she insists she would be the best profiler for this case. While he fears a conflict of interest he sends her knowing Evelyn will go home anyway. Local police officer Jack Bullock objects to Evelyn's presence as her name is on the rhyme left behind during the Cassie kidnapping, but Chief Tomas accepts her as a motivated asset. As she begins her profile, Evelyn knows this may be her last case if solved her life mission is over and if not she is dead.

The second Profiler police procedural is a tense psychological mystery in which the heroine's connection to one of the cold case kidnappings adds a personal spin that thaws her previous tundra personality. The hunt for the missing child running out of time makes for a compelling read; even as nothing new is added to the profiling of the Criminal Minds serial killer theme.

Broken Bonds
Karen Harper
Mira Books
c/o Harlequin
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, ON, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780778317357, $7.99

Despite the Lockwood sisters' harrowing childhood memories of the youngest sibling's abduction and their father's desertion, the middle one Kathryn the anthropologist (see Forbidden Ground) and Tess (see Shattered Secrets) found love and happiness in Cold Creek, Ohio. The two younger siblings would like the oldest Charlene the social worker to move on like they have.

The Childhood Education in Appalachia Project employs Charlene. She visits families in their homes in order to persuade the parents to send their kids to school. On a remote mountain road, Charlene saves the life of Lake Azur community manager Matt Rowan just before his truck plunges off the road. Since his vehicle was pushed off the cliff by a black truck, Charlene and Matt wonder who wants him dead. As they team up investigating his near death, the couple falls in love.

The third and final Lockwood sister Cold Creek thriller is an enjoyable romantic suspense as there are several viable suspects with diverse motives and the love subplot supports the terse inquiry. The deep look at fracking enriches the sensational spinning storyline.

Together Again
Debbie Macomber
Mira Books
c/o Harlequin
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, ON, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780778315148, $7.99

"The Trouble With Caasi." In downtown Portland, the CEO of the Empress Hotel Caasi Crane is stunned when her incredibly competent general manager Blake Sherrill resigns just a few months after a generous raise. At their meeting just after she read his stunning resignation letter, Blake cynically informs her he has no job other offer and he finally got her attention as he prepares to depart. As Caasi begins to learn about Blake's non-hotel life after eight years in close proximity, she also realizes why she is miserable since he quit and that has nothing to do with work especially after he kisses her. She loves this man about to hike out of her life.

"Reflections of Yesterday." A dozen years ago in Groves Point, South Carolina, teenagers Simon Canfield and Angie Robinson were in love. However, his affluent family bribed her father to leave town with his daughter. Angie refused until she saw Simon with someone from his upper class. Knowing she is not his social equal, Angie and her family leave town with the Canfield money. Almost thirty, Angie owns a successful florist, but feels a deep need to pay back the blood money. Back in Groves Point, Angie and Simon see one another for the first time since they were seventeen. Each realizes their love remains as strong as ever, but he acrimoniously rejects her overtures as her betrayal has hardened his heart.

These mid 1980s reprints are pleasant last chance contemporary romances. The Trouble With Caasi is refreshing as the lead female is clueless re non business male relationships; while engaging Reflections of Yesterday is typical of the subgenre.

Deadly Obsession (A Brown and Deluca Novel)
Maggie Shayne
Mira Books
c/o Harlequin
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, ON, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780778316800, $7.99

Renowned self-help author Rachel de Luca gained psychic skills after she received the corneas donated from the late brother of police detective Mason Brown. Rachel and Mace began seeing each other and tonight enjoy another wonderful evening together when they see a blaze. Mace learns from bystanders that the two Rouse children are trapped inside. Without regard to his safety, he rushes inside and soon exits carrying eight years old Jeffrey and three years old Rose though afterward Mace is rushed to Syracuse's St. Joe suffering from severe burns on his arms and smoke inhalation. Panicked Rachel calls her sister who reminds her that Mace's nephews (Jeremy and Joshua) need her with their father Eric dead, their mom Marie locked away in a padded cell and now their uncle injured.

Mace's partner Rosie informs him and Rachel that the fire inspector concluded arson killed the mother and the person of interest is the separated husband Peter. Mace leaves the hospital to finish recuperating at home. He hires Gretchen Young as his in-home nurse; unaware she has romantic plans for him after watching his heroism on the news. At the same time Marie escapes confinement, several more arsons including Mace's home occur. Rachel distrusts Gretchen although she wonders if that is jealousy instead of her psychic barometer warning her.

The fourth Brown and de Luca paranormal police procedural (see Sleep with the Light, Wake To Darkness and Innocent Prey) is a tremendous thriller that rotates perspective giving the audience a wonderful 360 panorama at what is going on that ironically the characters do not have. Fast-paced, loaded with action and a strong cast, this is one drama hard to put down.

Home in Seattle
Debbie Macomber
Mira Books
c/o Harlequin
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, ON, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780778316787, $7.99

"The Playboy and the Widow." In Seattle, playboy Cliff Howard and widowed mother of two preadolescent daughters (Joan and Katie) Diana Collins meet and surprisingly are attracted to each other; a feeling both dreads. Even more shocking to Cliff and Diana, Joan and Katie give him their approval.

"Fallen Angel." In Seattle, Harold Johnson retires and expects his daughter Amy to run Johnson Industries. Unsure she wants to be the CEO instead of just an executive raising a loving family, Amy meets wanderer Josh Powell. To her astonishment she tells him about her father's desires; Josh explains he had a similar relationship with his dad, but instead fled the world of finance and his demanding parent to travel the globe. As they fall in love, each must decide what they want with their respective lives.

These are reprints of two engaging Seattle romances written over two decades ago. Both enjoyable novels contain pleasing casts though in each case the lead relationships never feel totally plausible; as the early encounters are doubtful and time is not on their sides. Still Debbie Macomber, even in her early days, shows her skills in authoring charming romances.

Harriet Klausner
Senior Reviewer

Lorraine's Bookshelf

The Key to Beethoven
Paul M. Ellison, author
North American Beethoven Studies No. 7
William Meredith, series editor
Pendragon Press
PO Box 190, Hillsdale, NY 12529
9781576472026 $60.00 (PB) 435pp,

"The Key to Beethoven: Connecting Tonality and Meaning in His Music" is an ambitious, significant contribution to the study of use of tonality with affective intent in the music of Beethoven. A network of complex quotations and observations about the topic of musical meaning in the introduction yields one jewel-like observation by Stravinsky, who said: " If, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is only an illusion and not a reality....(he later added) expresses itself." This leads to an exciting outlook and examination of Beethoven's philosophical background, methodology, and other influences on his composition approaches. It is the conclusion of the author that exploration of the affective use of tonality in Beethoven's compositions derives or grows from the philosophy of affective tonality held by the composers and theorists of earlier periods, including Baroque and Classical. The author presents convincing evidence that Beethoven created a syntax of affective tonality, projecting different mood states by using familiarly accepted key characteristics. Through careful analysis of Beethoven's use of key symbolism and meaning in primary and secondary keys in songs, vocal and choral music, the author creates a table of Beethoven's affective use of tonality in primary keys (Table 2, p. 135), and also a second table of Beethoven's Affective Use of Tonality in Secondary Keys (Table 3, p. 175). Further examination reveals Beethoven's varied use of tonal symbolism, including ironic use of key in song compositions. The tonal affect analysis approach is then tested on an untexted instrumental composition, a sonata for piano in D minor Op. 31, No. 2. Described as "a tool for deconstructing the mood states found within...," the use of the tonal affect analysis approach can enrich interpretation of a composition's meaning, and has potential for further application in understanding use of tonality in other untexted works by Beethoven. The offering of "The Key to Beethoven" is a stepping stone for others to examine other untexted compositions using key characteristics as a vehicle for decoding meaning of Beethoven's music. "The Key To Beethoven" is a significant scholarly book that will appeal to both professional music analysts and other music appreciators, lovers of the Romantic genius of Beethoven.

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Micah's Bookshelf

Rusty Bell
Nthikeng Mohlele
University of KwaZulu-Natal Press
c/o International Specialized Book Services
920 Northeast 58th Avenue, Suite 300, Portland, OR, 97213
9781869142872, $22.00, 168pp,

Synopsis: Michael is a respected and haunted South African corporate lawyer and the narrator of "Rusty Bell", a sweeping, intimate, and intricate exploration of the plurality and mystery of things: love, grief, fate, lust, but, most of all, life. "Rusty Bell" delves into head-cracking and bruising questions in this coming-of- and against-age story; told with humor, beauty, and calculated rage. Brimming with delicacy and authorial thunder, this part-campus novel and part-philosophical epistle is one man's rebellion against 'life as we know it'. "Rusty Bell" is an appallingly wise examination of the perils of being human.

Critique: "Rusty Bell" is author Nthikeng Mohlele's third novel and continues to document this Johannesburg, South African author as a master storyteller rich with imagination and able to deftly craft truly recognizable characters and offering his readers with a truly engaging novel that is as entertaining as it is memorable. Very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community libraries, for those readers to whom "Rusty Bell" is their first introduction to the work of Nthikeng Mohlele, his two earlier novels are "The Scent of Bliss" (Kwela Books, 9780795702761, $22.79) and "Small Things" (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 9781869142452, $22.50; Kindle, $9.99).

Not A Hope In Hell
Hank J. Kirby
Lindford Western Library
c/o Ulverscroft Large Print (USA), Inc.
PO Box 1230, West Seneca, NY 14224-1230
9781444821772, $20.99, 248pp,

Synopsis: They said he was a trigger-happy sheriff, but when the bad boys came to town nobody complained when he cut loose with his guns - until the day when two elderly folk were killed during a shoot-out, forcing the sheriff to get out of town and find a new place to make a living. But when things don't work out as planned, the only place to go is back to Texas, where the wanted dodgers await, along with a whole crowd of other enemies -- and the daughter of the old folks who died.

Critique: Simply stated, Hank J. Kirby is a master of the western action/adventure genre and "Not A Hope In Hell" is a riveting read from first page to last. Cliff hanger action, unexpected plot twists and turns, fast guns and dangerous times, "Not A Hope In Hell" is especially recommended for western novel enthusiasts and with it's large print format, certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library collections.

Relational Suicide Assessment
Douglas Flemons & Leonard M. Gralnix
W. W. Norton & Company
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110
9780393706529, $35.00, 272pp,

Synopsis: Given the isolating nature of suicidal ideation and actions, it's all too easy for clinicians conducting a suicide assessment to find themselves developing tunnel vision, becoming overly focused on the client's individual risk factors. Although critically important to explore, these risks and the danger they pose can't be fully appreciated without considering them in relation to the person's resources for safely negotiating a pathway through his or her desperation. And, in turn, these intrapersonal risks and resources must be understood in context -- in relation to the interpersonal risks and resources contributed by the client's significant others. In "Relational Suicide Assessment: Risks, Resources, and Possibilities for Safety", Family therapist Douglas Flemons and psychiatrist Leonard M. Gralnik, collaborate to provide a comprehensive relational approach to suicide assessment. The authors offer a Risk and Resource Interview Guide as a means of organizing assessment conversations with suicidal clients. Drawing on an extensive research literature, as well as their combined 50+ years of clinical experience, the authors distill relevant topics of inquiry arrayed within four domains of suicidal experience: disruptions and demands, suffering, troubling behaviors, and desperation. Knowing what questions to ask a suicidal client is essential, but it is just as important to know how to ask questions and how to join through empathic statements. Beyond this, clinicians need to know how to make safety decisions, how to construct safety plans, and what to include in case note documentation. In the final chapter, an annotated transcript serves to tie together the ideas and methods offered throughout the book. "Relational Suicide Assessment" provides the theoretical grounding, empirical data, and practical tools necessary for clinicians to feel prepared and confident when engaging in this most anxiety-provoking of clinical responsibilities

Critique: Informed and informative, "Relational Suicide Assessment: Risks, Resources, and Possibilities for Safety" is exceptionally well written, organized and presented, making it a critically important contribution to professional and academic library Psychology/Psychiatry reference collections and supplemental studies reading lists. It should be noted that "Relational Suicide Assessment: Risks, Resources, and Possibilities for Safety" is also available in a Kindle edition ($19.25).

Micah Andrew

Shelley's Bookshelf

Murder in Mariposa Bay
Sue McGinty
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781482707830, $14.95 (PB), $2.99 (Kindle),

Sue McGinty escaped from Los Angeles and her job at McGraw-Hill and headed north with her "grumpy cat" to the coastal town of Los Osos. She envisioned herself as a sort of Jessica Fletcher, and the comparison is apt. What emerged is her heroine, Bella Kowalski, and three entertaining mysteries. MURDER IN MARIPOSA BAY represents her 2014 publishing gem.

Bella Kowalski, ex-nun and self-styled eccentric, and her husband, ex-cop Mike, camp at Mariposa Bay State Park for a romantic getaway weekend. The trip usually includes a night at the Mariposa Inn as an extravagance, but this year their sedate tryst is not to be. They decide to walk to the Inn from their campsite and are almost run down by a mysterious black Escalade SUV. Upon arrival at the Inn, Mike recognizes the night clerk, but neither of them wants to acknowledge their connection. The next morning, Bella and Mike find a grisly scene at the front desk, which leads them to the body of the night clerk:

"'Or a bad guy,' he said. Again, too late. I'd already pushed the glass door open. Bloody footprints led to the footpath through the eucalyptus grove. I stepped toward it; Mike blocked my way.

'Stay back.'

'No way.'

I followed the blood spots several hundred yards through the grove to a small Beach below the Natural History Museum. Then I saw him. The clerk lay on his back, sightless eyes staring at the rising sun, his shirt a bloody swamp."

McGinty's plot is dark and obscure, complete with local ghosts. Bella searches for her husband, who vanishes right after the murder. Her friends are not what they seem, and sinister forces are at work in the town. All told, MURDER IN MARIPOSA BAY is a thrill ride, even as Bella deals with her relationship with her ailing mother.

Shelley Glodowski
Senior Reviewer

Taylor's Bookshelf

Wall, Watchtower, And Pencil Stub
John R. Carpenter
Yucca Publishing
c/o Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018
9781631580048, $24.95, 304pp,

Synopsis: Even as World War II raged on, contemporary writers were riveted by its every twist and turn. One of the war's most fascinating features was that it was subject to constant change, surprises, and fate reversal. It ensured that wartime writers, who did not yet know of its outcome, adopted points of view that were entirely spontaneous, rather than based on historical hindsight. "Wall, Watchtower, and Pencil Stub: Writing During World War II" presents the war in its entirety, with all its force, suspense, and drama. With exceptional clarity it shows how the extreme events of war challenged writers, inspired their art, and in turn produced a modern legacy of literature. "Wall, Watchtower, and Pencil Stub" makes a convincing case for the permanent centrality of World War II in our present-day culture, literature, and history. The war was not separate from the cultural trends that preceded it before 1939, or the postwar world after 1945. "Wall, Watchtower, and Pencil Stub" places many of the major writers of the time (Samuel Beckett, Richard Hillary, Norman Mailer, Pearl Buck, James Jones, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and others) into an entirely new context.

Critique: A fascinating read from beginning to end, "Wall, Watchtower, and Pencil Stub: Writing During World War II" is an informed and informative history of how the literature arising from the pens of the men and women who lived through it had a profound and enduring impact upon American popular culture. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Wall, Watchtower, and Pencil Stub: Writing During World War II" is exceptionally well written, organized and presented. Very highly recommended for community and academic library collections, "Wall, Watchtower, and Pencil Stub: Writing During World War II" is especially commended to the attention of the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the subject. It should be noted that "Wall, Watchtower, and Pencil Stub: Writing During World War II" is also available in a Kindle edition ($13.99).

Blood On The Saddle
Dan Cushman
c/o Ulverscroft Large Print (USA), Inc.
PO Box 1230, West Seneca, NY 14224-1230
9780753153659, $29.99, 480pp,

Synopsis: Montana Territory is about to become a state. The Buttons family, among its earlier pioneers, still controls what is known as the Button Reserve. The Omaha & Montana Cattle Company wants that land, and for years their land war against the Button family has been led by John Gannaway. Billy Buttons and his younger brother, Clyde, are the only Button men to have survived that war. Now Gannaway has been murdered, and Billy is accused of the crime - and forgery and cattle rustling besides. With their ranch staked out, and the sheriff asking for his surrender, Billy tells his mother that he's riding into town to turn himself in. At his trial, Billy Buttons has Company men lined up against him... But on his side is the brilliant defense attorney Thomas F. Boe, whose record of acquittals is legendary.

Critique: A fully engaging read from beginning to end, "Blood On The Saddle" is a terrific western and in this large print edition, very highly recommended for personal and community library collections. Simply stated, author Dan Cushman is a master storytelling of the first rank and "Blood On The Saddle" is a solid entertainment commended to the attention of anyone who appreciates a well crafted western novel with any number of plot twists, turns, and surprises.

John Taylor

Vogel's Bookshelf

The Brain's Way of Healing
Norman Doidge, M.D.
Viking Books
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780670025503, $29.95, 432pp,

Synopsis: In "The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity", Dr. Norman Doidge described the most important breakthrough in our understanding of the brain in four hundred years: the discovery that the brain can change its own structure and function in response to mental experience - what we call neuroplasticity. "The Brain's Way of Healing" shows for the first time just how the amazing process of neuroplastic healing really works. It describes natural, non-invasive avenues into the brain provided by the forms of energy around us - light, sound, vibration, movement - which pass through our senses and our bodies to awaken the brain's own healing capacities without producing unpleasant side effects. Dr. Doidge explores cases where patients alleviated years of chronic pain or recovered from debilitating strokes or accidents; children on the autistic spectrum or with learning disorders normalizing; symptoms of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and cerebral palsy radically improved, and other near-miracle recoveries. And we learn how to vastly reduce the risk of dementia with simple approaches anyone can use. For centuries it was believed that the brain's complexity prevented recovery from damage or disease. "The Brain's Way of Healing" shows that this very sophistication is the source of a unique kind of healing and does so lucidly uses illustrative stories to present cutting-edge science with practical real-world applications, and principles.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity" is informed and informative. Very highly recommended for both community and academic library Health/Medicine collections, "The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity" is especially appropriate for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in how the human brain functions and deals with disease and physical trauma. It should be noted that "The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity" is also available in a Kindle edition ($11.99); as an Audio CD ($30.91); and as an Audio Book Download ($27.56).

Strategic Connections
Anne Baber
Amacom Books
1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
9780814434963, $21.95, 256pp,

Synopsis: Today's corporate organizations are collaborative. With old command-and-control methods replaced by openness and transparency, networking has become an essential professional skill - expected of everyone, at every level. Unveiling eight indispensable competencies for the new Network-Oriented Workforce, "Strategic Connections: The New Face of Networking in a Collaborative World" provides practical advice for building better, more productive business relationships. Readers will discover how to: commit to a positive, proactive networking mindset; align networking activities with individual and organizational objectives; leverage their contacts by organizing them into strategic groups; earn trust - a prerequisite for collaboration; boost their social acumen and increase their likeability; master conversational skills and deepen interactions; employ storytelling to make communications memorable; and, use networking to deliver value to the company. Thanks to technology, new contacts are only a click away. But the level of connection and collaboration required for real success demands advanced face-to-face relationship-building skills. "Strategic Connections" gives you the tools you need to meet goals, execute strategies, foster innovation, and make yourself invaluable to your company.

Critique: Featuring an impressively practical and effective ten step plan for developing and supporting a 'Network-Oriented Workplace', "Strategic Connections: The New Face of Networking in a Collaborative World" is thoroughly 'reader friendly' and strongly recommended for anyone with a corporate responsibility for advancing their company's interests, efficiency, and success. Very highly recommended for community and academic library Business Studies instructional reference collections, it should be noted that "Strategic Connections: The New Face of Networking in a Collaborative World" is also available in a Kindle edition ($13.17).

Midnight In The Century
Victor Serge, author
New York Review of Books
435 Hudson Street, Suite 300, New York, NY 10014
9781590177709, $16.95, 240pp,

Synopsis: In 1933, Victor Serge was arrested by Stalin's police, interrogated, and held in solitary confinement for more than eighty days. Released, he spent two years in exile in remote Orenburg. These experiences were the inspiration for "Midnight in the Century", Serge's searching novel about revolutionaries living in the shadow of Stalin's betrayal of the revolution. Among the exiles gathered in the town of Chenor, or Black-Waters, are the granite-faced Old Bolshevik Ryzhik, stoic yet gentle Varvara, and Rodion, a young, self-educated worker who is trying to make sense of the world and history. They struggle in the unlikely company of Russian Orthodox Old Believers who are also suffering for their faith. Against unbelievable odds, the young Rodion will escape captivity and find a new life in the wild. Surviving the dark winter night of the soul, he rediscovers the only real, and most radical, form of resistance: hope.

Critique: Expertly translated into English for an American readership by Richard Greeman, "Midnight In The Century" is a thoughtful and thought-provoking read. A vivid and extraordinary recreation of Stalinist Russia, "Midnight In The Century" is a literary treasure and strongly recommended for community and academic library collections. For personal reading lists it be noted that "Midnight In The Century" is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Paul T. Vogel

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

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