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The Gondola Maker
Hardcover: ISBN 9780989367127, $24.95
Trade paperback: ISBN 9780989367103, $12.49
Ebook: ISBN 9780989367110, $5.49
The Gondola Maker is historical fiction at its best, and is a strong recommendation for any who are interested in 1500s European settings and powerful protagonists.
It opens with a bang: "I chew my lower lip while I wait to see my father's gondola catch fire." And thus, readers are hooked from the first line as they wonder why the protagonist (a 1581 Venetian gondola maker whose family has made them for generations) would stand by and observe a gondola's destruction. And while readers are quickly given information that a crime has been committed in the gondola, they are still left to wonder about the involvement of son Luca Vianello, who has yet to leave his mark on the world.
As boatmen gather to witness the gondola's destruction as a symbol of justice being carried out, Luca finds this is only the first event in a journey that will ultimately carry him away from his own heritage and destiny as a gondola maker, leading him to the edge of insanity when his mother dies in childbirth and a destructive argument with his father results in the obliteration of the family business.
Despite his flight and actions, the gondola trade continues to haunt Luca: his new job (as a private gondolier to a busy, successful artist) results in the discovery of a neglected antique gondola which Luca feels compelled to restore with the thought of using it as a lure to impress an attractive young woman.
Part of what makes The Gondola Maker so compelling is the setting and spirit of Venice, which are captured through Luca's eyes and which spice the tale with images that foster the feel of 1500s Venice and its waterways: "In Venice, things are not always as they first appear. I contemplate this observation from my post on the aft deck of one of Master Fumagalli's gondolas, taking in the panorama of bridges, domes, bell towers, and quaysides of my native city. I row into the neck of the Grand Canal, and, one by one, the reflection of each colorful facade appears, only to dissipate into wavering, shimmering shards under my oar."
Many historical novels simply tell a story: The Gondola Maker is steeped in the story from start to finish, deftly capturing and displaying Venice's culture and boating traditions. It's this immersion (too rarely seen in historical novels) that brings history to life. Laura Morelli's story is 'show and tell' at its best: while Luca experiences his life changes, readers are plunged into a bygone world packed with sensory experiences, observations and Venetian culture. One can almost touch, feel and taste the atmosphere: it's that thick.
Another compelling difference in The Gondola Maker: it blends a boy's coming of age with the very adult world that surrounds him. When he works on the antique boat, his family's legacy comes to life; and as he comes to realize the motives of his newfound love he discovers his own past is impossible to completely reject: "I run my fingertips over the maple leaf. The finish has darkened it into a pleasingly crackled patina that reveals the veins of the rounded leaves. I cannot find it within myself to sand it away."
Extensive research into Venice's history in general and gondola makers and their culture in particular is reflected in the efforts of an art historian in the perfect position to bring the era to life.
In the end the boy becomes a man, newfound friendships offer fresh opportunities for growth and trade, and the gondolas which are the heart of both Luca's life and early Venetian culture will prove the pivotal force for rejoining families and shattered worlds.
Any reader who wants to be steeped in history - not just told about it - will relish the fire and life in every page of The Gondola Maker.
210 60th Street, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
9781938467912, $16.95, www.koehlerbooks.com
American Sky: Good Landings and Other Flying Adventures is a recommendation for any who enjoy stories of flight, documents the author's aviation encounters, and blends a memoir of flying with a chronicle of how he moved from being an antiwar protestor in the late 1960s to becoming a corporate jet pilot. But most of all, it's a story of how Fred Tribuzzo came to realize his dream (of flying planes), and packs in exciting moments.
American Sky opens with the bang of an emergency: My first flight emergency happened shortly after takeoff in a Cessna 152, a small two-seat trainer. There was no warning, no seat-of-the-pants magic alerting me to engine failure. "Nail the airspeed - we're hardly climbing," I said without urgency, seeing my student in a shallow climb. "We need altitude." A moment later the engine rolled back to idle. It was summer, late afternoon, the cockpit full of sunshine and very quiet, except for the wind rushing by. I barked "I've got it" and grabbed the control wheel and knocked his hand off the throttle making sure it was shoved all the way forward. My heart pounded as I lowered the nose transitioning to my best glide speed.
From this moment onward readers are 'hooked' as they experience flight and action from the cockpit of pilot Tribuzzo, who juxtaposes adventure and experience with flying insights: Full flaps allowed for a steeper descent without increasing airspeed needed to clear obstacles and land as slow as possible near the beginning of the field. We flew over a stand of trees and a barn. When my touchdown point advanced farther down the field, I lowered the nose and steepened the descent.
While aviation students will be the most likely fans of this nonfiction memoir, it's also a pick for those who enjoy true-live adventure stories, coming-of-age stories, and dramatic accounts of how careers are forged and achieved. Chapters are jam-packed with aviation incidents that juxtapose technical details in such a way that even casual armchair readers will find the result engrossing, entertaining, and educational.
American Sky isn't just Fred Tribuzzo's memoir, however: it weaves in accounts from other pilots and includes a healthy dose of humor in the process: Alan reminded his dad what he had told him years ago about emergency landings at night. Frank smiled and said that you got the ship configured: airspeed, flaps, controlled descent, lined up like there's a runway in front of you, and then, at a hundred feet above the ground you turn on the landing light. Frank paused, allowing the bleakness of the situation to sink in, even though we all knew the punch-line. "If you don't like what you see, turn off your landing light!"
Political change, social change, and their effects upon the aviation world are all charted in chapters that shift, change, and capture the ups and downs and takeoffs and landings of a career pilot. The result is a chronicle that deftly captures the nuances of flying in a lively read recommended for any interested in philosophy, friendships and flight: Alan and I knew there's great satisfaction in a good landing: a moment of happiness born of patience. Too much or too little power or leveling off too soon can ruin the last few seconds of a wonderful flight.
Silent Fear: A Medical Mystery
Ebook ISBN: 9780991158911
Paperback ISBN: 9780991158904
Silent Fear is billed as a medical mystery and holds an important characteristic separating it from many competitors in the genre: its author is a physician herself, so the medical facts, setting and background are not only believable but are solidly grounded in reality.
This pragmatic feel is repeatedly reflected in chapters packed with not just action, but medical challenges that center around a nationwide meningitis outbreak and brain surgeon Dr. Danny Tilson, whose expertise places him at the heart of investigations into the rapidly-spreading infection.
For decades the modern world has lived with the specter of a world-wide, deadly pandemic. Silent Fear charts the course of such an event, using the character of Danny to follow its progression, mystery, and challenges through the medical community and population at large.
While Silent Fear is about a catastrophic world-wide event, it's also about Danny's turbulent life outside his job and how it's affected and changed by the epidemic. As the pandemic looms, so do the crises in Danny's own life - and the feel that certain disaster is about to change everything he knows.
Silent Fear's medical procedures and descriptions are precise, reflecting real-world actions and experiences all backed by the author's own experiences in the medical community: "He snapped the film onto the view box behind them and evaluated the hematoma showing a concavity towards the brain." While this precision could be deemed a no-brainer for a medical mystery/thriller, it's interesting to note that too many other "medical novels" either fail to reflect medical realities or fall short of logical sequences of events in diagnostic and treatment proceedings.
As disease and panic spreads, Danny finds himself not only at the center of a whirlwind, but seemingly immune to the very conditions laying waste to his colleagues and friends.
This only adds to the mystery and creates further questions as Danny's personal life spins as relentlessly towards crisis as his professional life: "For the first time in months after meeting Rachel and Julia once in Knoxville, he was getting to see his baby girl, and now it would be one big scramble to sort out this new development. Rachel sure knew how to dump on him. He felt pressure inside his head like one of his own patients with high intracranial pressure."
A court battle, personal challenge and medical mystery weave complex paths of disputes and resolution: patterns that permeate Silent Fear. Even seasoned medical thriller readers won't know exactly where the plot is heading: and in mystery/thriller genre reading, that's an unexpected 'plus'.
It would have been all too easy to make Silent Fear ALL about the pandemic. The inclusion of one man's personal whirlwind of emotional change adds depth to the story line and more accurately reflects the realities of life: that even in the face of disaster and death, subplots of personal issues retain their ability to redirect attention.
In the end, to call Silent Fear a medical mystery alone would be to simplify its content and message. Yes, it's medical mystery/thriller writing at its best - but it's also about life-changing actions, responsibilities, family ties, romance, and survival. All these elements combine in a hard-hitting, realistic story sure to attract a wide audience.
The Fourth Season
The Fourth Season, a Sandra Mahoney mystery, represents the fourth book in Dorothy Johnston's mystery quartet, beginning with The Trojan Dog, then The White Tower and Eden. (The other books have not been seen by this reviewer).
It opens with a compelling first-person reflection: "The story I'm about to tell begins and ends by water....(sic) Over time, the two deaths ran together in my mind and I came to think of them as the water murders. The name conjures up an image of fluidity; but could as well suggest stagnation; or the leaching away of what is held to be precious by those most in need of it. I don't mean life itself - that absolute division - or not only that. I mean that which gives each individual life its meaning."
Through this introduction readers receive fair warning that this mystery is anything but formula writing: it blends in philosophy and life associations and thus its plot incorporates far deeper significance than your usual 'whodunnit' focus on methods and perps alone.
Sandra Mahoney is a private investigator (of course) who finds personal meaning in the discovery of a floating body: a body which was once her partner's lover, making Ivan an immediate suspect, with no alibi.
To complicate matters further, she's investigating a second murder AND juggling the needs of two children also affected by Laila's death: a six-year-old and an adolescent. There's a lot of emotional reaction on all sides; and all this overshadows and complicates what is already a challenging investigation, blending personal into professional concerns and creating more than a series of conundrums for Sandra.
Dorothy Johnston should be commended, first of all, for using the first person as a vehicle for presenting all these emotions. It brings out inner feelings without the distance of using the third person and it adds fire and passion to her story: "What does it mean to be told too little? What does this particular lack mean to an adolescent boy, or to his mother, who happens to be a person endeavouring to make her living by collecting information? It was an endeavour that, for years up until that moment, had sustained, if only just, both my life and that of my children - sustained in a thousand practical, easily overlooked ways."
Dorothy Johnston is equally powerful at displaying her investigator protagonist's emotions throughout the course of events: another strength that separates The Fourth Season from your typical murder mystery: "I wanted to come face to face with that killer now. What man or woman, known to me perhaps, had that degree of nerve? Was it possible to deduce this from the outside? My experience told me no, of course it wasn't. Did other people look at me and ask themselves: could she? Would she? I asked myself then: what are you capable of, if sufficiently pushed? I didn't know the answer. I hoped it wasn't murder. I hoped I knew myself well enough for that."
As events unfold and add layers of complexity to Sandra Mahoney's life, they successfully engross readers in not just a singular murder investigation, but a unified survey of everyone emotionally shaken by death. It's this approach that makes The Fourth Season a powerfully different story, highly recommended for any who seek more complexity in their murder reading.
Oh, and if you think you need previous background from the other books in the quartet, be advised: this stands well on its own. Also be advised: once you read The Fourth Season you most likely WILL want to pick up the others to see what you missed!
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
ASIN: B00ESZOEGE Kindle $3.99
Michael's Messengers is historical fiction at its best and most complex, and is recommended for readers of World War II history interested in not a light, quick read, but a work of art packed with depth and historical references.
It all starts in 1931, when 11-year-old Jacob Grunfeld, Polish by birth, and his father, a German escape Poland on the eve of Hitler's rise to journey to America to live safe and prosperous lives even as they continue to hide their Jewish roots, uncertain of growing anti-Semitic sentiments around the world.
A prologue sets the stage for a story based on the life and times of one Jack Meadows, nee Jacob Grunfeld, who began his real autobiography in 1940 only to provide, decades later, a historical fiction piece that could be the saga of 'everyman' living his times. As Meadows says, "I cheated death and now I can tell you a story that's hard to believe. I'm the sum total of every survivor of every battle and every holocaust. My story is their story."
The difference is; this story sees the light of day in a format that offers insight and vivid reflection for anyone interested in the circumstances and underlying messages of World War II and beyond, as represented in Michael's Messengers.
Lewis Allen Lambert is a retired military officer and no stranger to battle and 20th century military history. His interest in bringing events to life through the eyes of those who lived it results in a powerful first-person story that melds historical events with personal perspectives to impart a rare 'you are there' feel to the entire era and its participants.
Now, the use of the first person isn't circumstance. Alan Marks, the author of Jack's story writes in the first person as Jack dictated it to him, and Jack provided notes of conversations he'd had which were also included in the book.
Jacob and his father understand and get along well with everyone, from Polish to German to American cultures. Jacob's mother "wasn't very religious" and didn't even keep a kosher house, and his busy physician father is largely absent - until Jack's mother dies in childbirth.
When the Nazis loom, it's Jacob's father who recognizes the threat (far more than many around him) and determines to move them far away to safety; first to Baltimore, Maryland, then to Kansas City, Missouri, where his father changes their names (from Dr. Herschel Grunfeld to Dr. Harold Meadows, and Jacob's name to Jack Meadows.)
Perhaps more than anything else, it's this move that sets the tone for the rest of Jack's life. It's when he learns to hide his Jewish roots in the face of a culture that, unlike Baltimore, is not comprised of mixed races but is largely white.
The course of his life continues; to college, to his training as a teenage pilot, and to his father's surprising invitation to "do something for Poland and the Jewish people" by joining the Polish Air Force in 1939 (Jack is still too young - not yet 21 - to join the American Army Air Force). And here is where the real story begins, as Jack journeys back to Poland; this time not as a child, but as an adult prepared to fight for not only his country, but his people and a Jewish heritage he never fully embraced.
Now, military accounts often tend to become bogged down in numbers, strategies, statistics and tactical details. While I'm not saying that Michael's Messengers doesn't include all these facets, what is evident throughout are minutiae often missing from military fiction and historical novels: i.e., the underlying political maneuvering, the protagonist's own search for personal meaning and connections in the face of war, and the overall motivations of all sides that either foster or deflect the realities of struggle.
Jack constantly tries to understand, and his struggles become the reader's opportunity for further insights: "I wanted to understand why Jews had been the targets of oppression for thousands of years. Was it really religious persecution or were Jews viewed as being different as a people? Or was it because Jews didn't assimilate and survived regardless of what was going on around them in history?...History doesn't really answer these questions. The psychology of it all is not in the history books."
As these questions of identity and history become keys to Jack's growth, they also permeate decisions about battle and strategy on a deeper level and involve readers in an attempt to comprehend the truth of an entire race's evolution and persecution.
It's unusual to find a focus on understanding set against the backdrop of war even as the protagonist involves himself in confrontation and battle.
Jack eventually fails in his mission to prevent the rise of Nazism in Poland and he joins the RAF in England, where he becomes an ace fighter pilot and a decorated hero. In true keeping with a multifaceted story, he falls in love several times, finds he also fails at romance, but pursues his dreams (and his studies of the Jewish condition and psyche) against all odds.
It's these revelations which are the 'meat' of Michael's Messengers, adding much food for thought and reflection and rounding out the protagonist's motivations and insights: "...Jews are a class of people within most nations that remain separate, distinct, and in many cases successful...I've concluded that non-Jews are envious that these non-indigenous people live among them and thrive, despite being outcasts in their mother country. It's not the religion that separates us from them, but our ability to survive and thrive as a people in every country, regardless of the culture, political structure, and societal norms we find ourselves in."
Any who anticipate a singular focus on military history may be disappointed: Michael's Messengers is so much more! It's about Jewish history and culture, military service, expectations and experiences, one man's perseverance against a host of disappointments, his personal quest for meaning, and more. Jack's choices don't make for easy alliances either: Jack's decision to support his adopted country, Great Britain, his confrontations with Luftwaffe fighter pilots at least as skilled as he, and his ongoing connections to his German roots provides a powerful story of one survivor's encounters with expectation, confrontation, abandonment, pain and, ultimately, love and sacrifice.
Don't expect an easy read. DO expect a historical novel replete with rich details: one that juxtaposes personal revelation with action and social change with individual challenge. Without spoiling the surprise ending, Jack ultimately realizes the wellspring of his true love - one of three loves of his life, and the one which he ultimately refuses to abandon.
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
ASIN: B007COSY0K Kindle $3.99
Uncommon Warrior is Book Two of Lambert's trilogy, and continues the saga of Jack Meadows, a Polish-born naturalized American who trained as a fighter pilot in America and returned to Poland at a young age to fly with the Polish Air Force in 1939.
While his ability to take risks and emerge on the other end of conflict as a victor serves him well in battle, it didn't translate to his personal life, which saw a succession of failed romances.
Now, Michael's Messengers provided background history and at its conclusion Jack appears to have overcome barriers in his life, achieving greatness and facing the prospect of a wider success than he's previously known. The novel was a dense yet an involving read and those who appreciate its setting and message are in the perfect position to also understand Jack's evolving life in Uncommon Warrior.
Engaged to be married and anticipating both the end of war and the promise of a new political career, Jack seems set to begin a new life filled with promise; but life has a way of injecting challenge and change into even the best-laid plans; and so Jack's course in life is once again transformed by the events laid out in Uncommon Warrior.
While an introduction reviews the main characters of the story and provides a synopsis of past events, it's highly recommended that readers begin with Michael's Messengers to appreciate the depth of experience, description and influences on Jack's evolving life before venturing into the ongoing saga in Uncommon Warrior. Those with such a background will be able to more readily appreciate Jack's past and its ongoing influence on his present-day world and future.
The costs of war, victory, defeat and (most of all) the cost of being a survivor are outlined in an account of one man's immersion in hell and madness and his struggles to find a way out of conflict. For four long years combat pilot Jack has maintained an edge because of his skills; but the field is about to change, leading him away from familiar tactics and into unknown territory.
As Jack looks forward to a new relationship and what it might mean to lead a life not dominated by war and conflict, he also faces some new, tough decisions that involve changed priorities and the acknowledgement that "The war can't last forever" - and that when it's over, life for Jack will be vastly different.
Before that can happen, Jack assumes an important, a new more dangerous role in the RAF, stumbles upon an opportunity to help Jewish people in hiding by flying them out of Denmark to safety in England, and struggles with new confrontations with the Luftwaffe in the course of combat operations around enemy lines.
That author Lewis Lambert is a retired military officer is evident in a novel that is packed with military processes, realistic scenes and encounters, and laced with a thorough knowledge of military history, combat operations, and World War II events. All this is presented in the first person, which helps readers gain a personal perspective through the eyes of one Jack Meadows, whose life not only revolves around the war but is recreated by its changing demands.
From justifications for actions to Jack's experiences of amazing sights, people, and circumstances, World War II comes to life through personal experience, creating vivid observations that immerse readers in a 'you are there' series of events: "As we flew toward the coastline I saw the most amazing sight. As far as I could see from port to starboard, about 25 kilometers or more along the horizon, there was nothing but ships. As we descended I saw the wake of hundreds, of landing craft plying their way toward the beaches. I could see thousands of tracers in both directions."
It's these observational moments, paired with Jack's ongoing growth as both a fighter pilot and a human being, that make Uncommon Warrior a power-packed novel of morale under impossible conditions. Any military fiction reader will appreciate the close attention to historical detail, the exacting probes of Jack's personality and his combat operations, and the unusually well-rounded presentation of personal, political and military perspectives as seen through the eyes of a man who lived in extraordinary times.
Jack's story would seem to conclude in Book Two, with an epilogue written by Alan Marks as a tribute to his friend. But wait - there's more....
A Son's Odyssey
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
ASIN: B0060LEYRI, Kindle $3.99
A Son's Odyssey provides the third and final book in the trilogy covering the life of Jack Meadows, the youngest flag officer in the RAF during World War II, and picks up where Uncommon Warrior left off when Jack disappeared from the radar and was presumed dead.
While the first two books focused on Jack's life and experiences, A Son's Odyssey details the ongoing search for Jack conducted by Alan Marks, Jack's best friend, who refused to believe Jack was truly dead.
Once again, it's highly recommended that readers enjoy the first books in the trilogy, Michael's Messengers and Uncommon Warrior, before undertaking this concluding volume. For one thing, they provide the depth, detail and background to set the stage for a thorough appreciation of A Son's Odyssey, creating the foundations for understanding an uncommon friendship between an army officer and a pilot 25 years his junior. Readers will readily appreciate why a powerful conviction of Jack's survival proved a tie that would bind generations together nearly thirty years after Jack's disappearance, and will have a better basis for an appreciation of A Son's Odyssey.
What really sparked the creation of A Son's Odyssey was the absence of closure that the certainty of death would have provided. Without this certainty, a "...hole is left in the heart of everyone who knew him" - in particular, a father and comrade who finds it nearly impossible to accept the loss of his young friend only three days before the Germans surrendered. Perhaps part of this difficulty lies in Jack's previous (almost supernatural) ability to survive crashes and even death itself.
As the friend embarks on an odyssey to fill in the gaps in Jack's life, his interviews with others who knew Jack reveals the depths of Jack's influence on them at a very young age, the gaps left by his disappearance, and the real possibility that Jack could have survived against all odds. All this prompts a journey of discovery to learn more about Jack's life and leads to an investigation of post-war chaos and the fates of battle survivors.
Assumptions on what could have happened and scenarios that could have led to survival make for an odyssey that reveals records of concentration camps and possible scenarios that could have led Jack to not resurface. Fueling it all is a friend's feeling that he couldn't complete Jack's story without knowing what really happened to him: a mission that led him to tell Jack's father "...if it took him the rest of his life, he would pursue the search for Jack."
Charged with the task and legacy of his friend that "If he failed to find Jack before he died, then he wanted me to continue his search. He told me not to publish the book until he passed on because he wanted to leave this world with the everlasting belief that Jack may have survived the war."), his son Aaron Marks' life becomes immersed in his father's legacy: a seemingly-impossible quest for the truth.
With the prior books in this trilogy providing all the background, readers become engrossed in a new drama: this one revolving around not only Jack's ultimate fate, but how a search for truth transforms several generations. The twisting maze of clues leads in unexpected directions; from romance to connections between all the people who knew Jack and were affected by his courage and life.
In the end it's all about these connections forged in the course of war: links that survive even beyond death. Expect a stunning conclusion to the trilogy; one which finally, definitively, leads to a resolution fueled by determination and love.
The Poor Man's Guide To Suicide
Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC
No ISBN, $TBA
The Poor Man's Guide To Suicide is about life on a downward spiral and centers around Wesley Weimer, a prison guard nearing middle age with little to show for his life... no romance, no future, no meaning. As Christmas approaches, that feeling of hopelessness crowds in: his relationships with family are unfulfilling and painful, his free time is spent tending his crippled mother, and even his relationships with his children are estranged and center around child support payments.
Even statistics support his decision: "DIVORCED, non-custodial fathers maintain a much higher tendency to bump themselves off, or so the Internet tells me. I can see that. It's not surprising, really. I'm thirty-three... two kids, two moms...already bald... and twice-divorced."
There's only one thing he can take control of in his life: ending it. And so he contrives to have a prisoner strangle him in exchange for ten thousand dollars so he can leave a life insurance legacy to his family. The only problem is: he doesn't have ten thousand dollars, and must focus his energy on a last ditch effort to raise the money for his own murder.
As usual, life gets in the way of man's best-laid plans; here in the form of a cop friend who lands in jail and inadvertently leads Wesley on a path back to redemption and meaning in life.
The Poor Man's Guide To Suicide is set in the Midwest and is steeped in Midwestern culture, where the protagonist and his mother are more than used to weather extremes and resigned to living there until they die: "Poor Mom. She's stuck in the Midwest forever, looks like. She abhors cold weather but won't start complaining until the holidays have finally passed. Then she'll really start in. 'Wesley,' she'll say, 'When are we moving to Florida?' And I'll say, 'Whenever you want, Ma.' But nothing will ever change. We'll both end up dying here..."
Prison culture is a big part of The Poor Man's Guide To Suicide: a cast of characters steadily interact with Wesley and support the noir-type, dark atmosphere of individuals who have their own reasons for living (or slowly dying): "He won't do anything. He's never cheated. Never will. He's had plenty of opportunities. But he just bleeds these women for information and maybe a little self-validation...then he goes home to his wife...raring to go, I'd imagine."
Slowly readers come to realize that there are a host of characters not far from Wesley's state of despair - and a few that exude hope against all odds: "I think when bad things happen to him, they're always filtered through a prism that spits out rainbows. Bad things are reduced and neatly fitted into this world of his that ain't so bad. He'll be okay. He'll always be okay. Some people are just like that."
The Poor Man's Guide To Suicide is, ultimately, about the process of finding that key to life, accepting it, and using it. The novel charts Wesley's progress through his prison guard role and world and provides a combination of dark observation, dark humor, dark experience, and (in due course) the kinds of experiences that could lead to choosing a better life over death.
Don't anticipate a light read, here. The Poor Man's Guide To Suicide is true grit at its best, and Wesley's interactions are often stark, bloody, and filled with confrontation: "When the bouncers arrived, I was on top of Justin, steadily choking him. It felt so good, so damned good to unleash all those barbaric juices. You figure, in such situations, the drunkest guy will usually lose. I happened to be a tad more sober, that's all. I still think that somewhere in my drunken brain, I knew better than to punch his face in, which I had no desire to do in the first place. I was only subduing him, preserving my safety and maybe a little pride."
It's all about forming connections that encourage survival, relearning how to take pleasure in life's small joys and experiences, and forging a path in the world that includes lowered expectations, leading to greater satisfaction and happiness.
Readers follow Wesley's journey towards the light, in the process absorbing much about Midwest and prison culture and the efforts of one man to find meaning in his life or die trying. In the end Wesley finds his prison charges teach him much about life and how to live it - and how he processes and eventually uses this information makes for a powerful read that will satisfy any who like dark, gritty noir writing with the promise of a positive resolution: "Convicted felons, for the most part, are locked up because they are creatures of habit, because they kept going back to the same well, which eventually dried up on them. If a deer keeps going back to the same stream at the same time every day, after a while, the poor bastard gets a 306-round in its neck. Or it's stomach. Creatures of habit die."
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
ISBN: 1494281759, $12.00
"Thump" is actually T.M. Jefferson, an African-American man who's a successful junior associate in an investment firm. The problem? This success has largely stemmed from his relationship with one of the firm's partners, who rewards him with promotions and bonuses as a result. When he falls in love with someone outside the firm, an ugly scene erupts that threatens everything he's worked for.
That's the plot of Thump in a nutshell. Now for the nitty-gritty: the story opens with the flirtatious Thump moving between two women: nurse Tiffany (who is his love) and boss Henrietta Kingman. It's a deft dance and it's evident that Thump has been dancing it for quite some time. He's also more than adept in the courtroom (as a quick court encounter proves.) It's all about hedging the risks, personally and professionally - and the heat is about to get turned up.
As the story progresses, Thump's delicate game is challenged. He's used to landing big fish in his business, but his personal and business life just got a little more complicated, and special interests abound. There's also a healthy dose of insight on racism affecting African-Americans - even a professional such as Thump. In fact, prejudice and racism increasingly permeate an engrossing account that pinpoints many underlying currents in racist behavior patterns: "Thump pounded on his chest. "I've lived with these insults. Do you know how humiliating it is when white people give me that look, that quick appraising glance just before they decide how wide a circle they should take around me, as if I'm going to hit them or pull a gun out and rob them?"
These subplots add to an overall tale that follows Thump's encounters within and outside his firm, increasing in tension as the predicable happens (Thump is fired by Henrietta, the entire mess winds up in court, and a sexual harassment case follows.)
The dual focus on Thump's personal and business relationships and how they entwine, presenting waxing and waning levels of complexity, is just one of the attractions Thump.
As the story line evolves to examine these racial and social differences (why whites are afraid of blacks, and the roots of prejudice), a now-wheelchair-bound Thump is forced to confront his deepest experiences with society; especially the origins of a life that seems to be leading towards his getting a "bad rap" despite his efforts.
Courtroom proceedings reinforce Thump's efforts to gain justice and tackle issues of prejudice at the same time, but they also challenge Thump's perspective on life, fairness, and the paths he's chosen on the way to a world now shattered all around him.
Readers come to realize that Thump's saga (his encounters with racism and his sexual harassment case) provides vehicles for deeper understanding. While courtroom proceedings and sexual harassment issues are fictional here, they're supported by the author's research into other cases that hold similar facts.
Thump's courtroom victory or failure will set the tone for the rest of his life - and also sets the tone for an exploration of office politics, sexual harassment and racism that comes alive in novel format in a way nonfiction could never achieve.
Any reader interested in realistic courtroom dramas fueled by social issues and civil rights concerns will find Thump engrossing.
In the American Night
A Press of Rabble; A Caveat Lector Book
ASIN: B00HQT3OJW $3.99
In the American Night is a collection of short stories by Christopher Bernard: and even if you've never read him before, it's easy to see he's mastered the form and its subtler nuances.
So many short story collections revolve set up approaches which, over the range of the collection, become predictable and dull. Not so In the American Night, whose diverse characters, settings and plots assume constantly-surprising, surreal landscapes. One wouldn't expect, for example, to have a fairy tale setting entwined with a realistic story, or (in the same book) an account of addiction mixed into a story of insanity.
That all these diverse elements work together to create a collection stronger than each of its parts is a tribute to Christopher Bernard's ability to surprise his audience; and that technique will especially delight readers looking for new, refreshingly different scenarios.
Take the opening act, 'Wallenda Descending'. It takes a few paragraphs of lovely description before readers come to see that this is about a high-wire artist performing over a street to a public audience.
His act is all about magic: the magic of confidence, of public disbelief and awe, of the elements involved in the sway of the high wire, and a life lived as a performer, with the backdrop of the crowd and travel cementing rituals and beliefs. Bernard's descriptions immerse readers in the aerialist's world: "The man eases forward, balanced like gossamer over the abyss, toes backward, then actually runs a few feet ahead, skipping lightly, and suddenly jumps, touching the trembling wire like a waterskate on a drop of water, takes out a short rope from a mysterious back pocket and begins to skip rope on the high black wire as it quivers and trembles and shakes and the crowd roars and the cymbals crash."
The artist's passion for performing increasingly dangerous high wire acts without the usual safety devices leads to a tragic moment in time - and his transition from the circus world and the family connections that have led to this moment are deftly transmitted to readers who become immersed in the experience.
Now move to a short story about 'artaholic' 'AA', which opens with a man down on his luck entering a life on the streets. This all began, surprisingly, with an appreciation for art: "At first art was an occasional thing, something special that gave me the feeling of a different world, a more beautiful, exciting, meaningful place than the reality I knew every day. I could let myself go in the sheer pleasure of it, enjoying it with family and friends. It seemed to do all of us good, seemed wholesome, even ennobling. So I started indulging in art now and again, felt satisfied and grateful for the generosity and hard work of those talented men and women who offered this look at a grander world. And I would return, refreshed, to the real world I lived in."
In this case the protagonist's fascination with art began subtly, during his teen years, and evolved from a curiosity to a passion: "...like most people. I'd slip into an art galley after school, dream about the pictures by Chagall or Picasso or Dubuffet, take a snort of the smell of dry oil paint, then go home, a crazy smile on my face."
The 'art bug' takes over his life as an adult, bringing him to the point where he becomes an addict ("...this is my story. The story of how I got the art bug, how it took over my life until it nearly destroyed everything I cared about and drove out of my life everyone who loved me, and how it was only after hitting bottom and facing the misery I had made of my life and admitting I was on a one-way track to my personal doom that I pulled myself finally back from the despair caused by the hell of art addiction.")
Poetry and problems with love, goals and jobs: all this is wound tightly into a story of self-discovery, years of living in denial, and the revelations of being homeless. What does all this have to do with a passion for art? Read it and find out.
In the American Night is a unique collection that celebrates individual lives, choices, courage, and failures and achievement. Each protagonist has a distinctive perspective on life, and each short story uses a combination of metaphor, psychological insight and specific, diverse experience to explore both human nature and obsession.
Readers looking for literary, poetic and evocative stories marked by their diversity and injected with emotional fervor will find In the American Night a distinctive, compelling collection.
Colin Juvonen, Publisher
3 Auditions is a novella set in near future America and tells of the screenwriter Emory Mann, affected when a coup establishes a new political order in the country, causing his daughter to be placed on a 'Most Wanted' list after she vanishes.
Emory's efforts to help her result in his own confrontations with the new order: encounters that will transform his life and reflect the dark changes taking hold in the US.
As Emory moves from lonely widower to a traveler in a strange new world, his perspectives undergo radical transformation. Used to a life where he was not politically engaged, Emory reluctantly enters the realm of observation, commentary, and finally active involvement; all fueled by the prospect of helping his daughter Martha, who has gone underground and been missing for some two years.
One powerful attribute of 3 Auditions is that Emory's world starts off sounding familiar (much like our own world today) and slowly incorporates disparate elements that show how much America has been transformed. That some of these elements are conceivable in present-day, post-911 America only serves to make events more accessible, more emotionally charged, and disturbingly familiar and realistic: "My Fast Pass transponder was gone from the side netting; instead there was a similarly sized, but gun metal colored object probably twice as heavy...They either wanted me to know they had been in the car or could care less if I knew. I turned the new transponder around in my hand, imagining the features. Tossing it wouldn't be a good idea and I headed out."
As events evolve and Emory's journey becomes more challenging, readers are treated to a host of subtle commentaries on how freedoms have been compromised, ideals limited, and how Americans have come to accept such changes as necessary. How can repression be promoted as caution, challenges to freedom repackaged as attempts to preserve social structure, and one man's quest become a symbol for navigating the maze of such a changed landscape?
For a man relatively uninvolved in politics, Emory finds himself at the center of a vortex of change, with his screenwriting abilities and his connections to a long-vanished daughter (now considered a 'terrorist' by the new order) placing him on the line between old and new American values.
The New Republic has permeated into the psyches of its citizens, creeping into their very temperament, as Emory observes when describing a dog's shooting: ""I was shocked by their passivity, almost as shocked as I was by the shooter. The crowd was much more cowed than I would have thought. They were submissive and that was a shock, especially here in Texas.""
Emory's search for his daughter and for truth will reveal far more than he anticipated about this new world and leads to his newfound role as a pawn in a larger political arena where autocrats rule without constraint.
It's a too-real possibility, and 3 Auditions deftly carries out its promise of immersing readers in how such a world could come to pass. Any who enjoy stories of possible future societies in general and America's changes in particular will find this a compelling read, using the character of 'everyman' Emory as a charming, but troubled tour-guide.
James M Jackson
Barking Rain Press
ISBN (Paperback): 9781935460909, Price: $13.95
ISBN (eBook): 9781935460916, Price: $5.95
Cabin Fever is a recommended pick both for crime and mystery readers who enjoyed the prior Seamus McCree story in Bad Policy and for newcomers such as this reviewer, who encounter Seamus here for the first time. No prior introduction is needed for this stand-alone story, which opens with Seamus anticipating a relaxing retreat at a family cabin after his probe of financial crimes in a prior story.
There's no rest for the weary, however - and especially not for a savvy crime investigator whose skills could be tapped at any time - even in the relative isolation of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Not everybody is unfortunate enough to discover a naked woman on their porch during a blizzard; and not everyone could readily identify the rope burns on her ankles and wrists as indicators that she's been imprisoned.
Seamus faces a medical emergency as he is snowbound, has few resources, and must struggle with a woman suffering from frostbite, fever and amnesia - but this is only the opening salvo of a story that is highly charged and packed with twists and turns challenging his investigative skills.
When the police finally arrive, it's only to pinpoint Seamus as the chief suspect in a string of local crimes that involve a series of murders and disappearances. As he confronts the law and a domestic paramilitary group, Seamus finds his best defense is not a strong offense but his talent for conducting investigations, which holds wider ramifications than the mystery surrounding one female prisoner.
What sets Cabin Fever apart from your usual mystery is a wry sense of humor that pops up from time to time at unusual moments. Take, for example, Seamus' initial discovery of the woman on his porch. At first he believes a practical joke is in the making - a theory quickly disproven; but not before a hearty laugh: "Turning from the door, I caught a flash of two bare legs dangling below the chair hammock attached to a porch rafter. I laughed so hard my sides ached and my lungs hurt from the frozen air. In a place where winter lasts half the year, jokes and jokers get odd. The jerks must have stepped a blow-up doll onto my porch to make the footprints and posed it in the swinging chair. They had concealed their tracks well. In this dark, I couldn't figure out how they did it, but I'd find the evidence in daylight. Fine. Like pink flamingos mysteriously congregating in front lawns of townies about to return from vacation, this babe was definitely going to show up in someone's sauna in the near future. Might as well drag it to the house so it'll be close at hand for future revenge. I grabbed the plastic legs to haul the thing from the chair. The legs were real."
As Seamus' son Paddy becomes involved in events that draw Seamus ever deeper into danger, chapters alternate between the first-person perspective of Seamus and a third-person observational perspective, offering a satisfying combination of introspective and investigative analysis and creating an easy flow of dialogue, plot and perspective that readers will find engrossing.
Don't expect your usual focus on police procedures, either: there's more depth to Cabin Fever's investigative process, fostered by a protagonist who operates outside the usual avenues of inquiry. This serves to create a story line that's complex and unpredictable. In a probe that will lay bare the inner workings, politics and interactions of county and state police and FBI systems alike, Cabin Fever offers a satisfying saga that ultimately revolves around freedom, justifications for violence and killing, and a thwarted effort to take back the nation through citizen action.
In the end it's all about fresh starts for everyone involved. With its combination of social consciousness, political action, intrigue, and family relationships, Cabin Fever will satisfy any mystery or thriller reader.
The Vanished Ones
N.V. Sumner, Publisher
Mobi version: 9780991134700
Epub version: 9780991134717
Print version: 9780991134731
$2.99 ebook; $10.99 Paperback
Li Chen is an investigator of missing children in San Francisco and her latest case involves a successful architect and her young child who have both vanished. There are only two clues: a set of the mother's fingerprints at a crime scene some ninety miles away and a disturbed woman who claims the two have been kidnapped by a sadistic cult leader.
Not much to go on; but then, Li Chen's job doesn't usually hold many clues, and her special challenge is to piece together tendrils of truth. Usually she finds it part of a day's work to distance herself from her cases, but this one holds some unusual parallels to her own life; and so Li embarks on a journey to uncover a truth that could have a devastating personal impact.
The Vanished Ones moves deftly from a child's kidnapping to an investigator's own family issues, creating connections and insights that tie both together. It pairs mystery with psychology and creates moments and scenes that join past and present together; from memories of Yulin (her vanished sister) to searches which all too often result in evidence of murder: "Li couldn't keep her eyes away from the decomposing bodies that were once two vibrant girls who, only weeks before, had had their whole lives ahead of them. She ran up the stairs unable to breathe in the dungeon, gasping for breath as she reached the top. She collapsed on the lawn, desperately searching for air to fill her lungs. In the back of her mind, she wondered if that's what had happened to Yulin."
Everything keeps coming back to Yulin. As Li finds increasing puzzles in her desperate search for Matti and Kendall, she comes to realize that she is running out of time... that they are all running out of time. But finding the missing isn't her only challenge in The Vanished Ones: when Li uncovers a physical issue that could threaten her life, her epiphany also revolves around what she can and can't control: "...there were some things in life over which she had no control and some things she just couldn't fix."
As hope quickly follows upon the heels of despair, Li finds her latest case will challenge not only her values in life and her acceptance of past events, but the hope and fears she holds for her future.
The Vanished Ones is actually about many different types of disappearances, and about perseverance in the absence of all hope. It's also about how much the past can dictate present and future - and most of all, it's about tenaciousness and rediscovery.
All this, wrapped in the cloak of a satisfying mystery and thriller, makes The Vanished Ones a special recommendation for readers who want more psychological depth than casual investigative probes usually offer.
13:24 - A Story of Faith and Obsession
M. Dolon Hickmon
ISBN (Print): 9780991106608
ISBN (eBook): 9700991106622
Retail Price: $18.99USD ($16.99 on Amazon.com)
eBook Price: $6.99USD
13:24 - A Story of Faith and Obsession is truly a complex and multi-faceted novel. To call it a crime story would be simplistic: woven within the plot are insights on obsessive behavior patterns, how music can provide subliminal impulses toward destructive actions, and how even religion can provoke a turn to the dark side of death and destruction. The characters are varied, with plausible motivations, often deeply rooted in their pasts. Through their actions, reactions and decisions, an absorbing Biblical mythology comes to life within a modern underworld of human trafficking.
The story opens with a teenager named Chris, who has a deadly premeditated violence in mind for his mother's boyfriend - and who winds up shooting the man dead in a very deliberate manner. Chris' mother is also found murdered in a grisly fashion, and other than Chris's infatuation with a rock star's demonic stage act, Detective William Hursel finds few clues as to 'why'. With Chris vanished and now a fugitive, it is up to Hursel to piece together prior events. What he discovers opens his eyes to another world.
Moving between Chris' life and band leader Josh's affluent existence, Hursel uncovers dark and complex links between the two and their experiences. Faced with the evidence of those connections, Josh decides to clear his name by joining the probe into what really happened. Hard truths emerge, lending insights into Josh's motivations not only for creating the kind of image that lures young fans to his brand of music, but for building a lifestyle that defies any kind of faith at all. Throughout, flashbacks of degrading childhood mistreatment drive an evolving darkness that sends ripples into the present.
Also at stake are beliefs and interactions between secular psychologists, their patients, and lives changed by death, faith, and abuse. It is a story about lifetimes of fear, plots of revenge, and reactions to messages begun in early years; but it is also about choices made along the way: "Chris took his time, relating to each. He identified most strongly with those punishers who, with jaws set and eyes alight, broadcast the cold satisfaction of exacting revenge."
With lyrics that express themes of spiritual longing, thwarted parenting, and perversion and its translation, Josh's music becomes intrinsic to the story, driving Chris and others while also mirroring the circumstances of their lives: "Josh's hostile rasping gave way to a mind-bending guitar solo. Bristling with high-octane fuzz, the instrumental sagged and wobbled as Mike waved the whammy bar and pulled aggressively on his strings. His wild discordance sent the crowd into an apoplectic frenzy."
As the plot slinks through a world of violence, readers witness the lasting impacts of poisoned faith and childhood violence on the human psyche. The tortured protagonists experience wickedness differently and take two different courses, one struggling against the downward spiral of his history, while the other follows a path that ends in brutality and inhumanity.
For some readers, this account of obsession, abuse, and redemption could strike too close to home; but those who want a hard-hitting, emotionally charged crime story should place this near the top of their reading list. 13:24's emotional impact is solid and compelling, dark though it is, and it will keep readers guessing about all the connections and results right up to the blistering conclusion."
Saving the Innocents
Randall Kenneth Drake
Silver Dragon Press LLC
ISBN: 0974716103, $5.99, www.rkdrake.com
Saving the Innocents is all about courage, strength, and personal effort; and as it chronicles the life and efforts of one Mary Jane Chevalier (an 'everywoman' who feels powerless but in fact is powerful), it also reflects modern society's milieu - and thus will resonate with readers looking for positive stories about courage and determination in the face of impossible odds.
But Saving the Innocents isn't a story without violence: indeed, the first paragraph has Mary Jane facing death with little more than the snap of her gum as a response: "She thought it funny . . . what went through her mind while waiting for the bullet. Time slowed down in that moment. Several thoughts and feelings flashed - alternating waves. Her body felt relaxed at first, as though relief had finally come. Freedom. And she welcomed it."
The first striking thing to note about Saving the Innocents is its attention to detail and description, which capture powerful images with a pen finely honed by the moment: "The sound was like a bumblebee as it split the smoke-filled air. She swung her body around with a gathering force, and brought the cue from behind her like a broadsword - the way a Viking marauder would in the long ago of Scotland. The wooden blade made a thunderous crack into the side of the big man's knee, the cue splitting apart..."
Mary's passion for finding her father is only equaled by her determination to save the weak who, much like herself, have limited choices when facing violence. And so her very nature inevitably becomes linked to two very special people who enter her life on the run and who create a double mystery for her to pursue. True to her helpful nature, Mary Jane feels compelled to assist; and that action in turn will transform her own life as she becomes absorbed in a deadly manhunt, determined to save the innocents she's stumbled upon and, ultimately, herself.
Mary Jane feels like an unknown: while she makes efforts in life, she largely feels her achievements are too little ... or so her conscious says. Her decision to search out an absent father who changed her life through his actions is what results in the unexpected: the discovery of a man and a little girl hiding out because they have seen too much.
Now, some notes on this novel's unusual roots: they were inspired by the author's infatuation with movies and with the songs of Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow. Parts of this story actually came to him in a series of flashback-like scenes which he dutifully penned as they came; but it was McLachlan's music that prompted a flood of inspiration prompted by a realization that each line of one of her songs described one of the scenes Randall Kenneth Drake was already writing.
And it was Morisette's song 'Mary Jane' and 'You Learn' combined with Crow's lyrics in 'Am I Getting Through' which both contributed to the character of Mary Jane Chevalier. Listen to this music for further insights into that protagonist and her origins - at the risk of gaining advance insights into where the plot is going. In fact - listening to the music of all three as background to reading provides a kind of multimedia experience that any singular song, artist or the book alone couldn't impart.
The scenes originated with a story Drake stumbled upon in a bar, of an abandoned child left by her mother in front of the 'best house she would like to live in'. And so psychological and physical abandonment are one element in a novel that weaves a complicated story line powered by a woman who is strong, but believes herself to be weak. It's unusual to find a strong female heroine in a novel but Mary Jane IS that heroine, fighting for the weak and making a difference not just in her world, but in the worlds of others.
To add a dose of complexity, the protagonists all hold names indicative of their underlying roles in the story line: thus Delphia acts as an oracle and seer, Chevalier is actually a knight in disguise, and Mary Jane (much to the reader's surprise) embodies ALL these qualities, exhibited during the course of her quest.
It's all about a quest involving 'finding an angel', fantasies designed to cope with soul-threatening encounters, issues of death and values in life, and an epic quest disguised as a search for meaning. In this case not only does Mary Jane find her cause and meaning from life, but events come full circle in posing an angelic presence for Sera, the little girl who needs rescuing.
Saving the Innocents is also about preparing for battle, caring for self and strangers alike, and what motivates the deepest of emotions: "All her life she had wanted to be noticed - to love and be loved - to be someone's champion. The answers had come from the most unexpected sources. Nick, Delphia, Jack, and Sera. An ex-fireman, a crippled, blind woman . . . an odd, devoted, loyal man - and a little girl."
As protagonists join the story and begin their dance of interaction and influence, readers are treated to much more than a mystery or crime story: it's a story of courage, survival against all odds, and revelations that change everyone involved. The heart and soul of Saving the Innocents lies in Mary Jane's choices and determination which create a true heroine's journey in which Mary Jane's emotions and observations act as a driving force behind an epic quest for salvation that spills from the personal to (ultimately) an entire circle of characters.
Any looking for a novel that wraps its reader in a cloak of complexity and warmth will find Saving the Innocents filled with satisfying twists, turns, and protagonist interactions that create scenarios of understanding, connection and, ultimately, redemption.
William R. Leibowitz
Manifesto Media Group
9780989866217, Paperback: $12.95, E-book: $4.99
Miracle Man opens on a rainy day with a sad scenario: a baby is abandoned in a dumpster by people too young to be burned with a child and too involved with drugs to care about a tiny life. Fast forward four years: Bobby is being raised by loving foster parents and has a good life despite his near-death experience as a baby; but something is still wrong - which is why they have taken him to a child psychologist for evaluation.
Bobby is developing patterns of behavior that are odd (trances, disturbing nightmares, broken sleep); but what the psychologist discovers is even more disturbing. Far from being a victim of childhood trauma, Bobby is actually a genius operating on a level far removed from anything intelligence tests have measured before.
Bobby's abilities are superhuman and his early interest in the medical field leads to a fascination with curing diseases; something that diverts from the purposes of the military group controlling his advanced education.
To call this novel a 'medical thriller' or a 'political story' would be to do it an injustice. Miracle Man is about miracles, motivations, ethics and morals, and the influence of special interests in the work of genius minds. It's about one 'super' boy's devotion to solving some of medicine's greatest mysteries against forces that would divert these great talents to something darker; and it's ultimately about the ability to withstand moral and ethical temptations against all odds.
Readers are treated to a plot with many twists and turns: it holds intrigue, describes compulsions and diversions, shows how a genius battles dark forces within and outside of himself, and generally paints a powerful picture of a search for privacy as much as meaning: "Every time he received an award or made a discovery, it became an impetus to the press to dredge him up as the subject of a story or special report. The snooping began anew. He hated to admit it, but in retrospect, he was grateful to Orin Varneys for having taken possession of all records relating to his childhood and sealing them under the protection of the OSSIS. Bobby shuddered to think about the field day the media would have if they had been able to discover his past."
A dash of romance would seem impossible under such conditions but even this emerges, even as Bobby's work threatens to separate him from anything resembling a normal life - including love...."But as the weeks went by, Susan began to notice a difference in him. He was becoming increasingly detached from present reality. Even when he wasn't in one of his frequent trances, he didn't seem present. Reclusive and paranoid, he sequestered himself in his office with the door locked - or worked from the guest house for days on end."
Is Bobby a savior or a destroyer? A miracle man or a tortured genius with the power to annihilate himself and the world?
Miracle Man pinpoints the true wellspring of Bobby's genius and what amounts to an ultimate illness defying everything he's worked for and believes in. And so a gripping novel of psychological tension becomes much more than your usual 'medical thriller', and is a pick for any who want high octane action and emotionally-charged reading right up to an unexpected, gripping conclusion.
Revolutionary Conversations: The Tools You Need for the Success You Want
Mark H. Fowler, Noal McDonald and Barbara Gaughen-Muller
Revolutionary Conversations LLC
ASIN: B00HNUE3IA, $9.95
Revolutionary Conversations: The Tools You Need for the Success You Want introduces not just a concept but a new way of communicating: the S.H.A.R.E.(TM) Tools. This is no fly-by-night or quick program, but has been 25 years in the making, developed by business re-engineering specialist Mark Fowler in conjunction with human resources professional Noal McDonald and public relations expert and NGO leader Barbara Gaughen-Muller. With this team on board for the program's development and deployment, Revolutionary Conversations(TM) features just the level of expertise needed to assure readers of the program's validity and real-world applications.
There are plenty examples of such throughout the book, demonstrating how these Tools can fit into and change virtually any conversation, from business to personal.
Revolutionary Conversations(TM) opens with a preface explaining the program's origins and its applications. An important detail to note: unlike other change-promoting programs that make use of stiff routines and non-intuitive wording, the Tools focus on incorporating its power into everyday language and interactions. This means a more natural flow of language, thought and communication that doesn't stop its participants dead with canned or contrived 'buzzwords'.
Another 'plus' to note: the purpose here is to create boundaries for a win-win conversation that promotes and supports all involved. But how are complicated situations addressed using the S.H.A.R.E. Tools? S.H.A.R.E. stands for Stop-Help-Ask-Risk-Explore; and that's what this program-in-a-book is all about.
It's unusual to have a book open with three different prefaces by all three collaborators, and this is just one early indication that readers are in for something special. Each author provides insights on their experiences with the program and their vision for its use, and each of these different insights lends to a greater idea of the applications and power of the S.H.A.R.E. agenda.
Each section concludes with a handy link back to the Table of Contents, a feature that lends to quick and effortless browsing, cross-referencing, and an easier flow of ideas with an ability to move back and forth between concepts.
So what is a Revolutionary Conversations(TM)? It "....happens when we take the time - whether in a minute or an hour - to make sure we're all on the same page. When we do this, we create an environment of learning, not just knowing." The benefits of taking this extra time are evident in higher productivity and morale, less stress on the job, and better client relationships - for a start.
As each piece of a Revolutionary Conversations(TM) is dissected and analyzed, readers absorb the program's basic tenants, its goals, and how to reach them through modifying approaches, attitudes, and most of all, language.
The focus is on a genuine, meaningful attitude and how to shift engrained patterns towards a better, positive result. It all sounds ideal and it all sounds desirable: the meat lies in the 'how' involved in the process itself, and here the book is quite clear, offering specifics and no hazy 'fluff', and reinforcing these approaches with plenty of familiar, real-world examples.
From avoiding patterns of blame and "my idea/your idea" to creating a collaborative environment, Revolutionary Conversations(TM) is all about identifying the greater good, involving individuals in the types of patterns that lead to success for everyone, and changing the defeating, petty approaches that traditional business environments often foster through competition and struggle.
Gone is the notion that such struggle is 'good' for winning: here everybody wins or nobody wins, and the crux of the matter is the kinds of approaches and conversations one cultivates in business. Lest any believe this book is directed to managers alone, let it be mentioned that all of the tools can also be used by employees in dealings with bosses and co-workers, as in the case of Mary, who found a way to STOP her boss and not only protected herself from his anger, but changed their relationship dynamic to a more positive path that resulted in her becoming a more valued part of her company.
It's all about identifying what is beneficial and assessing how to get there through changing engrained or destructive patterns - and the process of using the tools identified in Revolutionary Conversations(TM) will create a powerful dynamic that will change not just corporations or small businesses, but lives.
From a sample weeks-long schedule of integrating this program into one's life to what to expect on changes, Revolutionary Conversations(TM) serves up a powerful set of tools recommended not just for business leaders and readers, but for any who would empower themselves to create better patterns of conversations to change their lives.
Go Deep & Take Plenty of Root
Erik Fraser Storlie
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
ISBN 9781482695984, $2.99
Go Deep and Take Plenty of Root: A Prairie-Norwegian Father, Rebellion in Minneapolis, Basement Zen, Growing Up, Growing Tender is memoir writing at its best, and embraces the author's process of self-discovery and change. It's a series of memories, reconstructions of conversations and experiences over a thirty-year time frame, and a reflection of life: "From those years I don't have a single memory of my father. For me, he didn't yet exist. Then my brother Duncan was born. I was almost five. Through the wooden bars of a little bed that sat right in the corner of
my parents' bedroom, I stared with loathing at a pink, chubby invasion. Now my mother was preoccupied. I had to face my father, and he was beyond my knowing. He felt like silent, cold darkness."
From his prairie-Norwegian roots to his discovery of a beatnik underground in Minnesota and his family relationships, Go Deep and Take Plenty of Root compliments Erik Fraser Storlie's previous memoir Nothing on My Mind (not seen by this writer), which focused on his counterculture social and spiritual experiences in Berkeley during the 1960s and documented the wellspring of his life's early influences.
As readers follow his first-person memories and journey from childhood to adulthood, one striking theme running through these experiences is his evolving relationship with a distant father. As Erik Storlie grows, so do his impressions of his father evolve to an understanding of the man and his motivations; and so do his observations of changing Minneapolis during a time when urbanization was relentlessly changing the face of the city's last wild areas.
Don't expect smooth sailing in this memoir: Storlie doesn't gloss over either the details of his growth or the concurrent evolution of self-destructive behavior patterns and a relationship with difficult but ultimately supportive and loyal father. Surprisingly, it's this relationship that will provide the real catalyst for change in Storlie's adult years - that, and a Minneapolis background that opens his eyes to personal strength and new experiences far outside his comfort zone.
Go Deep and Take Plenty of Root involves readers in Storlie's life and times, retaining the optimism and excitement of youth as it captures these poignant moments of his world: "I'd never had so much fun before in my whole life - at least not since days when Karl and I were kids and ran, over and over again, full tilt toward the lip of the Bluff to send ourselves flying into thin air, tumbling in clouds of fine sand. At last, I had a life. I was encircled with good buddies. I made love to a beautiful woman. I was a man. All this, and I was only seventeen."
Even while he acknowledges the challenges of his life, Storlie's never far from the past.
Readers become immersed in a storm of thoughts, reflections and emotions that ultimately coalesce to reveal the patterns of growth, self-discovery and new experiences that make up life itself.
The result is a warm, first-person memoir that is especially recommended for prior readers who want further insights into Storlie's influences and origins.
The Fregoli Delusion
Michael J. McCann
The Plaid Raccoon Press
9780987708748 (trade paperback)
$3.99 (e-book); $16.99 (trade paperback)
The Fregoli Delusion provides another Donaghue and Stainer crime novel and is recommended for both prior fans of the dynamic duo and newcomers who need no prior introduction to the other three stories to appreciate the scenarios here.
A billionaire is shot to death in a public park and the only eyewitness appears to have been in the perfect place for observing everything. There's only one problem: he appears to be psychotic, and his testimony won't hold up in court or help the investigation.
Or will it?
Lieutenant Hank Donaghue and Detective Karen Stainer find their usual routines disrupted as their focus becomes a probe not of the usual underworld, but the top levels of society where a killer apparently lies in wait: possibly in plain sight.
As for the eyewitness: is he really delusional, or is his perspective more valid than any other eyewitness's could be?
The Fregoli Delusion is all about delusion, reality, and a very real syndrome that affects a crime investigation and teaches the two investigators a thing or two about psychology: ""Fregoli syndrome is actually quite rare," Caldwell said. "It's a form of delusional misidentification syndrome, or DMS, where the patient believes they're being persecuted by someone who disguises himself as other people. It's named after Leopoldo Fregoli, an Italian actor who was famous a hundred years ago for being a quick change artist.""
It's actually based on a real (albeit rare) condition that has been referred to as the 'delusion of doubles', and is an intriguing reality that author Michael J. McCann deftly uses to his advantage to create a further twist on the traditional crime story.
The first thing to note: characterization is not just solid, it's actually compelling. Michael J. McCann's ability to make this a stand-alone novel that ties in well with the past but doesn't keep newcomers guessing for a moment is just one strength in a story packed with insights on psychological motivations, interpersonal relationships, and meaning.
After all - it's meaning and connection that drive any good mystery and keep readers involved in the overall 'whodunnit'; and in this The Fregoli Delusion excels.
Psychological insights drive a hard-hitting story line filled with satisfying twists based on an evolving reader understanding of not just criminal motivation, but the emotions of investigators trained to narrow their focus to the smallest details: ""Some of it involves what Freud called isolation of affect," he said. "A defense mechanism where you respond to unpleasantness or horror by putting your emotions in a box and cutting them off from the rest of your thought processes. I do that. Every cop does, if they want to survive. Compartmentalize your emotional responses to the things you see and keep the lid on very tightly."..."The problems come, though, when you do that for too long and you lose touch with your emotions altogether." He watched the ship inch down the river. "You lose all your highs and lows, and end up in the middle where there's little or no emotion at all. Or, just as bad, you have inappropriate emotional responses to normal things.""
It's all about interpersonal interactions: as The Fregoli Delusion evolves, so does reader knowledge about the approaches (and ultimate costs) of crime detective work.
The result is an intriguing story line that rides waves of deception to a triumphant, unpredictable conclusion. In the end everyone is educated not only about the Fregoli syndrome, but the ultimate emotional effects of murder on all involved.
Wrap insight in a cloak of relentless action and intrigue and you have a hard-driving story perfect for crime novel readers looking for something with a little more depth and meat to its plot.
Blinded opens with one Vic Phillips, a star poker player who seems to have it all: fame, women, and the respect of a tough gambling community. Vic is the most successful of his group called the Unit (four players who have taken Vegas by storm), and his brash, charismatic ways support his seemingly effortless ability to ace every poker tournament he's involved in.
So what's his secret - and what's in the cards for Vic's future in Vegas? That's what Blinded is all about: a cat-and-mouse game that opens with a winner and proceeds to examine strategy, motivation, achievement and, ultimately, the costs of being an unbeatable superman.
When Vic eschews ongoing success, he opens up a bucket of worms. As poker plays and strategy dominate even his personal relationships, he comes to find more is simmering under the surface of business and personal interactions than he had believed: ""It's just these new guys coming in. They don't care about the game. Every one of them has some gimmick, some lucky charm, some weird schtick they think will propel them to victory. The essence of the game is gone. It's no longer about the cards, it's about some bullshit prop show.""
Vegas is a strange world. It revolves around gambling, showmanship, manipulation and strategy and sports a cold front that wafts from every casino. As readers enter the realistic streets of this world, they learn about its atmosphere and how it permeates everything it touches, and they also learn about Vic's dreams, addictions, and a way of life that infects nearly everything he touches.
It's all about poker faces and plays, action and reaction, and corporate manipulation. As Vic comes to identify his blind sides and failings both as a professional player and as an individual, so he comes to see that he could lose everything - including his love - if he continues to pursue a self-destructive path.
Blinded is about self-revelation most of all: about selling out and hiding, about change, and about moving beyond a world centered upon high-stakes strategy and gaming.
As Vic evolves to realize his romance is stronger than his game, so readers become part of an explosive, violent world centered around casino politics and underhanded manipulation. It all boils down to a final table and a confrontation that will challenge not only Vic's reputation, but his path in life.
Can love win over wealth, and can romance become a gamble? -- Read Blinded and find out.
Spirit Tales Spirit Tale One: The Wheelwork: Don't You Know You're Not Alone!
Rabbi Sipporah Joseph
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781494748494, $9.99 Kindle, $20.10 Paperback
Spirit Tales Spirit Tale One: The Wheelwork is a recommendation for students of Messianic Jewish studies, and provides the first in the 'Spirit Tales' series of stories: this opener centering around what influences identity.
First, an introduction: its author, Messianic Rabbi (MRav) Sipporah Joseph, is a born Jew and a Jewish religious storyteller with not just a heritage to claim, but a personal faith deeply rooted in Messianic Judaism. Her stories thus center around and explore elements of Messianic Judaism using the storyteller mode as a user-friendly way of accessing deeper spiritual understanding, and are "...based on truth and truth and inspired by His writings. Inspired by Him whose residence is far above earth."
The Wheelwork opens this dialogue with a story most definitely not a fairytale but a 'spirit tale' which reflects a dialogue with God, and begins with a prologue that sets Grandma Sasson as a family storyteller with a message for all: ""The ruach blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but cannot tell from where it comes or where it goes. God is He, He is Ruach (Spirit) and Ruach is speaking to our ruach (spirit) revealing great mysteries, knowledge, wisdom, understanding and joy. Just like the wind blows He is whispering to us, can you hear it? When you're quiet on the inside you might here His gentle whispering, the still small voice. Adam and Chava (or Eve) knew the sound of His voice and Presence. We need to learn again to know and recognize the Voice, Ruach, EL Dio and let Him inspire us in our daily lives."
The opening story in the series, The Wheelwork, is set in a faraway fictional country where a big city holds citizens actively engaged in competitions, fights, and other self-serving activities. It centers upon young adult Danit, daughter of Lot and Zillah, and it happens on a typical day for a student expected to attain a university law degree. Despite her success and path on the fast track for further societal success, Danit "... felt an emptiness inside herself, but couldn't find words to describe it."
When her parents seem to abandon her, Danit finds herself within a whirlwind of personal and spiritual revelation, transported to a strange new world somewhere between living and dying, where all things are possible: ""What is happening to me?!" Danit cried out. But at the same time she felt a peace that surpassed all understanding. She was inside the whirlwind and was taken to a place she had never known before."
Her journey to uncover a previously-elusive understanding masked by the patterns of her goal-oriented world will change not only her life, but the lives around her; for The Wheelwork is all about the process involved in setting these forces in motion, and provides the rudiments of a healing encounter that will set the winds of spiritual change in motion for Danit - and for readers.
Understanding, faith and love are facets of life that Danit has never before realized, and they sweep her away in a tide of newfound self-examination and, ultimately, understanding.
It's rare to find a religious treatise based on Jewish Biblical teachings that hold the potential to reach out to a non-devout audience; but the storyteller form holds within it a greater power than plainer writing. All this is reinforced by a concluding section of 'questions' by Grandma Sasson's young listeners which further clarify points presented in the story.
The result is a powerful vision of redemption, recovery, and spiritual awakening filled with moral, ethical and religious insights especially recommended for Jewish readers looking for Messianic parables that are both different and highly accessible. It's deserving of five stars for its unique focus and insights, highly recommended for any who enjoy parables with Jewish roots.
In the Comfort of Shadows
Orange Hat Publishing
9781937165635; $12.99 paperback; $3.99 ebook
In the Comfort of Shadows tells of one Ann Olson, who is on a treasure hunt to reveal the hidden secrets of her family and childhood - with little to go on but the memories of an estranged hermit cousin who lives by himself on a run-down farm in rural Wisconsin. Ann thinks she's prepared for almost anything - but what she discovers in Emmett's house, past, and present will reveal the truth not only about her own heritage and why she was adopted, but the ultimate places her search will lead her.
Many adoptees wind up wanting to know the entire story behind their adoption at some point in their lives. Like Ann, many have relatively little to go on, and must piece together circumstances from family stories and rumors.
Ann has an advantage, however, in the presence of a distant relative, now elderly, who knows the truth of her heritage: and so her journey to meet this man results in discoveries of his diaries and truths about his background as well as hers. Even as her sister turns away from further investigation, happy with the way things are, Ann perseveres in her quest.
In the Comfort of Shadows is about much more than family secrets, politics, adoptee struggles, or even self-discovery: ultimately it's about love past and present, the forces that shape it, and the results of its decisions. It's also about facing the unexpected and understanding the depths of friendship, connections and family. As Ann comes to discover the complexity revolving around these links, she also comes to feel more than she thought about not only past events, but possibilities of romance in her future.
Only when Ann absorbs the truth about her past and the diaries that hold keys to understanding love and loss can she move beyond her quest to embrace what lies ahead in her own future.
The diary entries are poignant, filled with mystery, promise, affection and hope during a time of war. Ann's review of them leads to discoveries about love's perseverance: "Viewed in retrospect, the events of the past few months have had a profound effect on my philosophy of life in general."
As the story moves from wartime Germany, France, love lost to another, separations due to 'circumstance of war or heart', and poetry and diary entries, Ann slowly comes to know a truth that gets Emmet to talk about his life and help Ann understand about her own heritage.
As Ann learns more, she slowly comes to believe Emmett's story makes sense - even if it is an explanation she never could have imagined or anticipated.
In the Comfort of Shadows is all about uncovering family connections and how past affects present. It's a fine story of biological connections, sacrifice, and how the presence and ramifications of close-held secrets become recurring themes in the lives of all involved. Like ripples in a pond, Ann's search and revelations affect all around her - including a love who has some secrets of his own.
Poignant, engrossing and unpredictable, In the Comfort of Shadows is a moving story of past, present, and future all wound tightly into an adoptee's quest for the truth.
Where is Heaven?
Proud Eagle Publishing
AISN BOOHRV V78E
Kindle Edition: $4.99 Paperback: $13.18
Where Is Heaven? A Handbook for the Skeptical Believer questions everything about religion, from where it came from and the good and evil it does to the origins and purposes of heaven and hell to how prayer works. A near-death experience began the author's investigation into all these questions, and unlike most books which center on this experience, it focuses on the questions the experience fostered which prompted the author's overall investigation into the meaning of religion.
So if you're looking for another near-death probe, don't look here: you won't find it. The book's title says it all: in questioning (and I do mean questioning) the literal fact and nature of heaven, it offers a critical assessment of spiritual thinking from the nature and purpose of holy books themselves to man's interpretation.
Lest readers believe Where Is Heaven? comes from an atheist, the author says in the very first chapter that "I am a staunch believer in God." His belief in how that is interpreted is far more complex; considering the role God had in his own survival, why he has major issues with organized religion, and why believers should question where religion came from and how it is interpreted.
At each step of the way readers are involved in translations, interpretations, and critical assessments of how organized religion perceives, changes, and spreads the word and concepts of God and religion. From the evolution of symbols and rituals to how religions have historically given birth to fanatics, chapters strive to point out differences between human purpose and motivation and traditional belief systems.
While it may seem, at times, as though Phil Bowie is using thinly veiled belief as a method for bashing tradition, in fact his insights are actually supportive of belief. Just not the kinds of blind belief that organized religions tend to advocate.
He uses historical precedent to examine the changing beliefs that "God is on our side" in world struggles, he documents the evolution of belief systems around the world over centuries of human experience, and he condemns the failures of religious organizations to identify and reject the radical elements within their own groups: "And, as with the larger body of Muslims, I don't see the majority of Christians and Jews loudly condemning the several radical factions their own religions have spawned."
Sure, this approach will offend many who find it easier to identify the failings of religions other than their own: but it will intrigue believers who consider self-examination to be more than the prerogative of priests and other religious entities, and it provides an opportunity for dialogue between wide audiences of believers, scientists, historians, religious leaders, and everyday people.
From Phil Bowie's own eye-opening experiences with health challenges and minor miracles to how he came to perceive the power of God at work in everyday events, Where Is Heaven? is a journey that blends introspection with analysis and invites readers to do the same: "Throughout this particular long and complex miracle I can clearly see the power of God at work, because life and consciousness and self-awareness and perception and freedom and willpower and reasoning and curiosity have flowed to all of us through a wonderful eons-long questing adventure and the exquisite mechanisms of evolution, all of which were certainly instituted and perhaps often guided by God. In many respects mankind has done exceptionally well with those gifts. Including the performance of true miracles for the likes of me. And I believe that's how it works. Thank God, but thanks at least equally to the most complex of His organic creations we know of. Us."
As Bowie comes, through his own philosophical and spiritual reflections, to reject the killing and destruction presented in Revelation, so he invites his readers to journey along on a different interpretation of religion: one that maintains faith in a benign, good force.
Any who would undertake their own spiritual examination will find Where Is Heaven? A Handbook for the Skeptical Believer a good starting place, offering a blend of autobiography, spiritual reflection, and enough historical precedent to consider the good, the evil, and the God present in modern belief systems. Thought-provoking and likely to be controversial, it's a pick not for the traditional believer, but for those who would inspect more closely the nature and possibilities of God.
An Upraised Chalice
When bad things happen to good people, there's usually no logic to explaining spiritual purpose. A lot must be attributed to faith, intuition, and inherent belief systems: but what if the Divine were expressively involved in this process of understanding? What if a near-death experience resulted not just in a glimpse of the other side, but an actual close encounter?
That's what happened to author Gene O'Neil, who details his chronicle of spiritual exploration stemming from such an event in An Upraised Chalice, where the author was killed then 'sent back'.
One note: the author is both a life-long spiritual seeker and a practical, family man as well as a flight instructor and builder. His autobiography is no self-centered spiritual self-examination, but a chronicle of a life course changed by an auto accident which wasn't just near-fatal, but fatal. And lest there be any misunderstanding of the story's underlying purpose and presentation, its full title is An Upraised Chalice: Adventures and Near-Death Encounters in my Search for the Brotherhood of Light and What It Can Mean for You. It's this dual focus on life change, a spiritual quest, and encounters with the Brotherhood of Light which are the meat of his autobiography, so if spiritual introspection is not for you, look elsewhere.
Any reader interested in spiritual stories of the Divine will find one of its strengths lies in its bigger picture, using personal experience as a guidepost to spiritual revelation. There's focus on karmic paths, life journeys, and a wide-ranging spiritual paradigm that embraces Jesus and other spiritual traditions equally - which is why traditionalists will likely not be open to An Upraised Chalice's premise. And that's a shame. It's packed with details on a course of life embarked upon by not a new age seeker, but a practical man who is a homesteader, is well versed in physical science, and who became dedicated to 'awakening humanity' through an awakening process detailed here.
There's no better place to begin, for true spiritual revelation, than with one's own personal experience; and so An Upraised Chalice sets the tone for any ready for their own 'journey of discovery'.
Begin with a fascinating prologue by David Tame, who first met the author at the end of 1999, when the two were to meet up to go to a spiritual retreat. Tame's life held many unusual parallel encounters to O'Neil's - and provides many candid testimonies to O'Neil's competence: "Gene isn't an air-headed visionary, he doesn't make up stories or even embellish them. So when he relates, for instance, that Archangel Michael spoke to him and saved his life, it's the solid truth."
With this pithy introduction in mind, readers embark on an exploration of an extraordinary journey that all began with premonitions of disaster, a head-on collision, and the intervention of Archangel Michael, who decreed that the author return to Earth on a mission. What brought about this intercession forms the meat of the journey as O'Neil searches for answers on why he's remained alive.
In this case it's all about a bigger picture which moves from personal and spiritual reflection to the lives of humans on Earth and the paths and forces that drive them. O'Neil's search in a way can be identified as the modern dilemma of 'everyman': "There is a growing sense among many that something major is missing in our civilization - a lack of moral compass, a lack of direction. Many are looking for answers."
And the crux of living lies in these questions: "The years turn into decades and sooner or later, (hopefully later) sickness or accidents happen and all are again confronted with the big questions: Why? What's next? What has this life that I've lived been about? As one begins to consider their own eventual departure: What have I been able to do to make things a little better? What have I passed along to make others' lives more beautiful?"
An alternative history of man on Earth is provided in the course of a journey that outlines purpose, meaning, and evolutionary processes. Accounts of various civilizations, the evolution of Great Laws, the purpose of individual incarnations over various lives, and how karmic patterns unfold and are worked on make for lively chapters blending O'Neill's experiences with answers he has found in the course of his quest.
Be forewarned: the author is on a mission, reflected here. And that mission includes spreading understanding "...it's both a humbling and an empowering experience - humbling in the sense that the sacred action invoked is so very beautiful, so vast, and all-inclusive in scope, conveying such hope and promise of a glorious freedom only dreamt of - empowering in the sense that as one accelerates in this sacred decree, the majesty of one's own Presence giving this decree is truly experienced more and more - thus the decree becomes even more powerful."
Those who would drink from O'Neill's chalice of understanding will find its contents full and complex. Near death encounters, a travelogue to the world's spiritual places and their impact on his life and understanding make for a fascinating blend of self-inspection, pilgrimage, and revelation that holds many possible truths that will resonate for any who mindful of their own spirituality and who are open to a wide-ranging approach linking such diverse elements as Edgar Cayce, Jesus, Eastern religions and much more.
Malinalli of the Fifth Sun; The Slave Girl Who Changed the Fate of Mexico and Spain
Helen Heightsman Gordon
1663 Liberty Dr. Suite #300, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781462064939, Hardcover: $32.95, ebook: $3.95
Malinalli of the Fifth Sun; The Slave Girl Who Changed the Fate of Mexico and Spain chronicles the life of Malinalli (aka Dona Marina and later "La Malinche"), one of twenty slaves chosen for Conquistador Hernan Cortes after he defeats the natives of Tabasco, and assumes a kind of Cinderella overtone as a wicked stepfather changes her life. Malinalli comes to be valued by Cortes for her trilingual language abilities, she stands at his side as his interpreter even though she's a slave, and she eventually helps him change and win worlds.
Malinalli of the Fifth Sun is historical fiction at its best: a rich, history-based story packed with detail makes for realistic reading, capturing the scenes and politics of these early times and using the protagonist of a young slave girl as a vehicle for greater understanding of various cultures and encounters between very different peoples.
As Malinalli evolves from being a lowly slave girl to a highly respected, highly regarded consort, readers learn much about the history, customs, and interactions between tribes of the times, and tells a vivid, real and little-known story of a real slave girl who changed her world.
Her story is revealed through several, contrasting viewpoints: while this juxtaposition could easily become confusing, Helen Heightsman Gordon deftly circumvents any potential uncertainty by providing clear transition points and separations between eyewitnesses, carrying readers effortlessly through protagonist changes and encounters.
While the entire story centers on only a brief, sixteen-year period of events, it's just perfect for Malinalli of the Fifth Sun: anything more could easily have become weighty and cumbersome. As it is, historical fiction readers should expect to absorb a great deal of information based on facts: for this is no flighty romance, no casual focus on a singular life, but an epic portrayal of world-changing events and, most of all, encounters between very different (and evolved) civilizations and peoples.
It would have been all too easy to portray Malinalli as simply a slave girl lover of Cortes, but the expanded focus on how their private lives changed and challenged their very different worlds and the decisions made in full acknowledgment of the politics and dangers of their times (for example, Cortes allows her to marry a hidalgo lover to keep her safe) makes for a richer read than would have been possible with a lighter approach to history.
That the circle of life and love prevails over all hardships is one recurring theme of a novel packed with passion, introspection, and encounters that constantly challenge both protagonists to rise above not only their own interests, but each other's worlds.
The fictional form allows for greater understanding of personal motivation, political desire, and most of all, of Mexican history and culture: "Cortežs had seen the effects of such avarice before, in the West Indies, and he was determined to prevent the extermination of the Mexicans. He hoped to instill in the Spanish settlers at least a philosophy of noblesse oblige, a paternal attitude toward the natives whose labor constituted the most genuine and permanent wealth of the country."
There are costs and connections beyond either their personal or political relationship, but there are also poignant and romantic moments that clearly explain the deep connections between the two: "The main reason I love Hernan is that he treats me like a person, even though he could sell me or give me away like a piece of property. Even if I were free to choose, I'd choose him."
If it's more than a light historical novel that is desired: one filled instead with historical precedent, solid research, strong characterization and complexity (all this grounded by romance and passion) than look no further than Malinalli of the Fifth Sun. Its compelling saga engrosses from beginning to end!
Once Upon the Rhine: A Love Story
No ISBN, $TBA
Once Upon the Rhine: A Love Story is a recommendation for romance readers looking for steamy passages, and tells of one Alexis Cole, a model who is looking for success, but manages to come off as a bimbo despite her best intentions: "She could be the coolest agent around, but would bust your balls if you were a flake because there was just too much money at stake. I was shaking in my high-heeled boots because I blew the most important casting in town and missed the strict deadline for the other."
But what begins as a terrible shoot filled with mishaps largely generated by her too-free tongue turns into success as she wins the shoot largely because of her flamboyant manner and finds herself on a dream journey to an overseas job involving a castle on the Rhine. And she isn't just modeling gowns - she's been picked as 'the face' for the world's biggest wine company! Is Alexis lucky or what?
The story could have become one-dimensional at this point - but it's not. The plucky protagonist that is Alexis drives the plot with her first-person observations, chutzpah, and a manner that elevates 'bimbo' to 'outrageous', with a healthy dose of humor thrown in for good measure: "AWESOME! I was going to represent wine, better not tell them I never drank before! OMG this is like the best day of my life! I was so stunned that of all the puppets on the planet, I was the one plucked out of obscurity and was about to be recognized in every corner of the guzzling world."
Another big surprise: Alexis is a romantic virgin, saving herself for "the one" - and constantly being disappointed (and, again, the biting humor is woven into observation and experience - a lovely touch indeed): "I'm still a virgin, still waiting for my knight in shining armor." I sighed, looking down. "He'll come," said Grant, "but these days you're lucky if you even get the horse." That night I felt a loneliness I hadn't felt in years because I actually thought maybe Wilhelm was the one, but now he was gone, and there wasn't even a horse, just a bunch of mean, green ugly birds."
As she shoots photos, makes new friends, and explores new worlds filled with scenic beauty and puzzling cultures, Alexis finds herself newly opening up to the possibilities of love. The descriptions of these worlds are deftly penned, providing readers with a smooth transition between the protagonist's emotions and her impressions of her new world, and imparting a staunch 'you are there' feel to the novel: "Zurich was a beautiful city, and the first thing I noticed was how clean and crisp the air smelled perhaps because of the majestic snow-capped mountains in the distance. The city had such a luxurious feel, making me wonder if the streets were paved in gold especially near the banking area surrounding Paradeplatz. There were other weaving cobblestone roads, with all kinds of charming shops and cafes that all had an old-world feeling. It amazed me how many people were carrying loads of expensive shopping bags, and it made me wonder how so many people could be so filthy rich."
As unexpected romance evolves, Alexis discovers new appreciation for both love and the underlying meaning that it will truly be 'forever'. Only when she's faced with losing that newfound feeling does she realize what love truly entails - and finds within her the courage to accept its promises and confront its challenges.
Once Upon the Rhine: A Love Story is romance fiction at its best: it builds a sassy, outspoken protagonist who shows real flare and character underneath a seemingly shallow model's persona, it focuses on an evolving love relationship with all its complexity and challenges, and it offers no easy outs. The ending is predictable but satisfying and serves to reinforce the opening feel: that Alexis is a kind of Cinderella just beginning to open up to the possibilities of real romance in her life against the backdrop of circumstance and coincidences that turn close-held dreams into reality.
Amazon Digital Services (ebook, $3.99)
CreateSpace (paperback, $11.69)
ACX (audiobook, price varies)
Timelapse is timeslip thriller writing at its best and opens with Alex's grief over the accidental death of his wife. Now, most accounts would either end there or explore this grief process, but Timelapse posits an intriguing 'what if'. What if a colleague of Alex's has found a way to go back in time, changing the course of Alex's life? What if a way can be found to reverse the past? What if Alex stumbles into a terrible world where not only his wife but a young son are also torn from him? And even if it threatens the world - would he still grasp the chance to change everything?
At the same time Jessica, an inhabitant of that strange new world, is facing her own nightmare challenges when Alex rescues her from a grim confrontation. And despite her belief that Alex is not quite sane, she finds herself attracted to his determination and courage.
Romance, time-travel and thrilling twists and turns under one cover? Read on: there's nothing predictable about the events in Timelapse and as the main protagonists become more entwined in their dangerous new world (and each other) there are further questions about who really is controlling time travel and events in an alternate universe where everything is threatened.
Timelapse holds several notable strengths that differentiate it from other time-travel and alternate history novels. For one thing, its characters hold more depth and personality, involving readers in two separate world concerns that unite the protagonists. Both are lost in a place where freedom and the Constitution are non-existent, and where a scheming megalomaniac builds the potential for even greater disaster.
Secondly, the action is fast-paced and unrelenting, opening with a bang and never letting up: "The world ended in a blaze of light, shattering into fractured shards of impossible color. Alex Morgan lay senseless, flat on his back on the floor, arms outflung, a steady trickle of blood seeping from a small, bruised gash behind his right ear. His last conscious thought had been: Oh my God! An attack!"
Most time-travel books would make the main protagonist a scientist with a background in time travel: by having casting Alex as an educated professor who just happens to stumble on a time travel device, a whole new dimension is introduced that sets aside any presumptions of knowledge, technical expertise, or scientific savvy - and this removes the 'edge' from events, making two protagonists from very different worlds equals in their explorations.
As Alex comes to identify an even greater threat than his own personal losses, he finds himself rise above his suffering to fight in the name of freedom for both worlds. And who better to fight by his side than already-seasoned freedom fighter Jessica, who ultimately wants the same thing?
Now, when you travel in time, dates become understandably mixed up. And you better have them straight when you contemplate being in a particular place at a particular time in order to change destiny.
Without giving away the events that move inevitably to a final confrontation, suffice it to say that romance and danger are always at the helm of a time-travel saga that weaves politics, plots, and love together in a solid, action-packed saga.
Those who want their alternate history and timeslip stories laced with believable, winning protagonists should look no further than Timelapse: it provides a gripping, involving read from start to finish, and stands out from the crowd.
Ian White, illustrated by Gaston Hauviller
Magical Animals pairs a rollicking rhyme about a bored young boy with vivid color drawings by Gaston Hauviller, and is a recommendation for either parental read-aloud or for young picturebook readers who have an introductory command of language and an appreciation for animals, fantasy and rhyme.
Leo is bored: his mother reinforces the idea that magic is not real, so he's facing the prospect of growing up in a world devoid of wonder when - flash, bang! - a wizard with a silver beard and red cape appears to refute this notion and to introduce the idea that "It's a magical world if you know where to go."
One would expect the wizard to - flash, bang! - transport Leo to an alternate universe, or something filled with elves, gnomes, and fantasy. Instead the wizard is intent on showing Leo the magic of nature, and gorgeous color drawings accompany discoveries of hummingbirds, turtles, mountain goats and more.
All this is presented in a fun rhyming story: ""Mountain goats prance on a hillside so sheer./ Just the mere sight of it fills me with fear./ How can they run in so steep a location?/Magical hooves are the sole explanation!"
True magic is 'hard to explain' and it's everywhere, right outside Leo's window. All it takes is a dedicated wizard, a bit of belief, and a desire to explore the world to bring these natural wonders to life.
This is truly a different take on the natural history picturebook theme. By injecting a sense of magic and discovery and using a fictional format to explore nature, young readers will be far more interested in embarking on their own discoveries of the great outdoors and nature's wonders.
The bright, involving drawings by Gaston Hauviller are both realistic and fantastic, often juxtaposing the wizard and Leo in lively, impossible observational interactions with a real-looking bit of nature - as in their observation of spiders, where the spider is presented large-sized on its web while tiny-sized Leo and the wizard float outside the web on colorful parachutes.
The concluding message pairs magic with the real world and will provide picturebook readers with a warm feeling of discovery and magic of their own, making this a fine and inspirational recommendation for young leisure readers who love magical stories.
Wendy Lynn Decker
Address P.O. Box 110, Old Bridge, NJ 08857
9780615979984, $12.99, www.amazon.com
Sweet Tea is a fine young adult story presented in the first person and revolving around the responsibilities of sixteen-year-old Olivia, who first learns that her mother may be mentally ill from a TV talk show on the subject. The question is: what to do now?
Her mother's always been 'eccentric', but Sweet Tea's opening sentence quickly pinpoints the truth: "Mama was different from other mothers, only I didn't realize how different, until the day she buried our Thanksgiving turkey in the front yard. At the time, Mama believed the sacrificial act would save our sinful souls. In actuality, it challenged me to sacrifice my own."
As a 'child', Olivia surely can't force her mother into treatment; yet as a young adult she faces the prospect of being alone with a more-than-eccentric woman as her older sister prepares to move away in search of fame and fortune, leaving Olivia alone to cope with her mother. There's no help from her younger brother Luke, either: he's more than buried himself in a fascination for taking things apart and putting them back together. Only he tackle his home life in this manner, so he ignores it.
Even after Olivia's suspicions are confirmed, life doesn't get any easier: there's no relative to tap for help, no support system to engage Olivia in a consideration of the choices a parent's mental illness can bring, and Olivia has to muster courage and resourcefulness to bring about positive results all on her own. There is only the kindness of two strangers to rely on...but can she trust them? And can she overcome her own fears to move out into the world with no support system behind her?
Therein lies the meat of Sweet Tea (actually more bittersweet than sweet): Olivia's struggle to cope with her mother's condition while retaining her own sense of independence and growth.
Olivia may be young, fearful, and inexperienced, but her determination to build a life regardless of its special challenges is notable and uplifting, and carries readers along a dual path of appreciation for Olivia's home life and more mundane teen challenges of boyfriends and decisions made in life outside her home.
So many titles on mental illness narrow the focus to coping and neglect the overall bigger picture of how a home life with mental illness can interact with a wider world outside home's front door. Not so Sweet Tea, which provides a more realistic portrait from a teen's viewpoint that embraces so much more than a singular concern.
Yes, her mother's condition threatens to dominate her life - but that's not her only world. As Olivia's worlds coalesce, one of her biggest challenges is learning to trust in the efforts of others: "I guess my initial thoughts about Westin were wrong. Even if I hadn't changed my mind, he was right. I had no choice but to have faith at that moment."
And as Olivia makes decisions about her future, from her mother's fate to her career possibilities as a journalist, she finds life offers her far more than a limited or dangerous future with a mentally ill parent.
In the end Sweet Tea is about many life-changing moments: survival, coping strategies, faith, trust - and personal evolution.
Life, death, and everything in between: Sweet Tea offers a bittersweet taste of what life's all about, and will immerse young adult and adult readers alike in a life well lived.
Divine Order: Book of Peace & Happiness
La Resa Edwards
BS Splitter & The Principles of Peace
9780983847847, $999.99, www.BSSplitter.com
(free on Twitter @BSSplitter)
You've heard of channeling and spirit guides? These usually contain words of wisdom passed through the 'other side' and translated/presented by human oracles, if you will. Well, 'BS Splitter & The Principles of Peace' is something different: it's Volume Zero in the series Divine Order: Book of Peace & Happiness, it is "dictated by God", and whether or not you believe in its foundations, it offers many a startling, revealing revelation for any open to considering a different kind of 'word of God' than the traditional Bible of yore.
The title is no happy accident: divine order is the focus of a saga that began with the author's enlightenment in 2001. Before that, she was a 30-something 'lost soul'. And if you anticipate a pious set of insights, be prepared for an eye-popping introduction firmly rooted in the real world with language that is quite less than Godly: "After his 3rd or 4th trip, Miss Thang began trippin. Like Clockwork. Some Guy's phone would ring. Being a typical guy, Some Guy "didn't wanna Hear that Female shit." (...about his weekend disappearances.)
The process of her discoveries involves readers in an extraordinary journey: but be prepared for a lot of capitalization of words throughout every paragraph. The author's use of capitalization as emphasis is just one of the facets that set Divine Order apart from anything else.
Another is its focus on a different viewpoint of something the author calls 'The Timespace Splitter' - a zone that precludes ever returning to 'Blueprint Earth'. There's a warning about the life (and soul) changing effects of embarking on this journey, which involves entering a Considered Time Zone where one's original body will be physically Timeplaced in the First Dimension to allow the mind to travel back and forth from beginning to end - resulting in a slowed aging process (among many other things.)
New age and spirituality heavily blend in the course of this eye-opening journey, so its ideal reader should be open to both. Quite frankly, those unprepared to consider extraordinary experiences, places and spiritual ideas won't even read past the first chapter.
Those who do (which is those who harbor a blend of open- mindnessness and the ability to take ongoing capitalization as emphasis) will find here a series of lessons on God's divine plan.
Now, be cautioned: Divine Order is anything but light reading or light food for thought. As the author says, "...there is no easy Way to Reveal God's whereabouts." For that matter, there's no simpler way to transmit the weighty concepts of Divine Order. In other words: don't expect to skim this treatise, don't expect its wisdom to result in an instantaneous 'I see!' epiphony, and don't treat it as a novel. It's laborious reading simply because its concepts are challenging, involved, and life-changing despite the author's inclusion of many examples, case histories, and human-centered insights.
So what's in it for the reader? Those appreciative of contemplative spiritual treatises will find its promise clearly stated: "If you Choose Divine Order, welcome to The Peace of Life....What have You brought into Today's World That You cannot disown?...(sic) Don't worry if Your Work, thus far, has been Selfish or of little to no Value. As long as You Are not Adverse, God has not Forgotten You."
From psychology to prayer, politics to adversity, suffering and illness to where to go for Spiritual Nourishment: it's all here, in a complex blueprint that comes not just from the author's heart, but from somewhere else entirely.
It's a positive message in a bottle for a waning worldview: one that is recommended especially for new age spirituality readers seeking very specific insights into a wide-ranging set of social and spiritual ailments. The payoff for undertaking this journey? Newfound possibilities for understanding the roots of human angst and the promise of peace and understanding which comes not just from God, but from another dimension entirely, translated here by a very special messenger.
It doesn't take long before readers come to realize that the author is much more than an oracle. Without giving away more, suffice it to say that Divine Order comes from unusual origins, provides a program for spiritual enlightenment and change, and represents the ticket to a lifelong journey that, like a ripple, holds the potential to change the reader and his/her world.
The Perfect Game
9781940745541, $3.99 Kindle, www.amazon.com
Kyle Vine is a professor with a problem: he's overstepped boundaries in a liaison with a young student and he's in over his head ... but don't expect a novel revolving around romance, here. The Perfect Game is supernatural thriller writing at its best, and starts with a familiar story that soon weaves its way into the realm of the impossible.
When Kyle's object of affection suddenly collapses on a New York street with a brain hemorrhage, it seems like nothing but a natural tragedy, however rare. That's one thing; but when he discovers that this is no unique occurrence lately, Kyle finds himself involved in something far beyond his expertise.
Can it be that someone is behind these deaths and, if so, why is he striking, how, and where will he strike again? Kyle pairs with Allie Shelton's uncle (who is equally determined to find out the truth behind what happened) and he finds not only more unanswered questions, but a complex maze of criminal intent and a clever force with the ability to hide from anything.
One strength of The Perfect Game is that we don't just receive the perspective of the investigator, but the dark - and unusual - thoughts of the perp himself, who makes some puzzling mental associations during the ritual of committing his murders: "He knelt down next to the young man and cradled his head in one arm, pushed the other one against his chest and, just like with the girl, twisted and snapped his neck like a toothpick, making sure it remained in the awkward position. Then he stuffed it all into that deepest corner of his mind, never to be visited again. Just like Dale Carnegie said to do."
And Kyle isn't just a professor-turned-investigator: he's a man with a history of broken love, simultaneously confronting both murder and the reasons behind love gone wrong: ""You did what you did," he said. "I was okay with sacrificing intimacy for comfort. You weren't. I didn't do enough to realize it, and you didn't do enough to make me aware of it. And this is where we are. It happens."
It's this complexity of characters and an attention to exploring their full lives and motivations that adds meat and depth to the supernatural thriller piece, immersing readers in a quagmire of emotions and cat-and-mouse moves as well as exploring the rationales behind playing such games.
Desires for love, health, harmony and peace motivate each character to change and to make decisions that are life-changing, life-threatening, and possibly deadly. And the reader is caught up in these characters, their lives, and their experiences while the story succeeds in adding more and more elements of intrigue into a murder mystery that is far more than a singular investigative piece.
In the end it's all about friendships, forgiveness, and finding odd friends in dangerous places under strange circumstances: something Kyle seems to excel at.
Anyone looking for a supernatural thriller that is unpredictable and engrossing will find The Perfect Game a satisfyingly complex read.
The Way the World Is
ASINASIN: B00H0H39JA $5.99
Note: Only available in eBook edition
The Way the World Is - Book 2 of the 'Olivia' series - continues the story of teen pioneer Olivia Killion, who - in the first book of the series, Olivia, Mourning - inherited her father's land in Michigan and began farming it, together with a black helper who became more than just her business partner.
As fans of Olivia, Mourning will recall, Olivia is headstrong, feisty, and filled with all the confidence and certainty of a seventeen-year-old who thinks she knows what she's getting into and what the world is all about. In fact nothing could be further from the truth: while her assessment of the realities of black/white relations are spot on and her caution is survival thinking at its best, Olivia simply lacks the experience to make her way through the world without receiving some hard lessons, and The Way the World Is follows this progress and evolution.
Fans of Olivia, Mourning will find this sequel no less engrossing, with its gritty protagonist who is determined to forge her own unique path in life. Fans will also appreciate Olivia's new challenges, which open here with a bang: a pregnant Olivia is about to give birth, with no idea whether her child will be white or black.
It does turn out that the child is Mourning's baby - and with that comes a host of new tests - though Olivia is actually thrilled that her baby comes from her gentle, kind friend and not from the white monster who raped her.
As she contemplates her child's future Olivia must make decisions based on what is best for both of them - and is forced to realize that in a prejudiced world there is no way that the dark-skinned baby of an unmarried white girl will be accepted for anything but what it is: "But there are dark-skinned white people that aren't colored. Arabs. What about Egyptians? Don't they have dark skin?" "Maybe a dark-skinned Egyptian ain't exactly colored, but he sure ain't white and ain't gonna be asked to tea in any parlors in Five Rocks. You can't pass this baby. Not in this world. Don't even think about it. You'd only break your heart trying. And his."
Olivia dreams that Mourning will eventually come back and raise his son safely; but now it's time for a new life for them both. Olivia once again must rebuild her destiny and take charge, making hard decisions and hoping they will benefit everyone.
Though she never abandons her search for the loved ones who have vanished, her new life in Detroit comes with friends and healing and offers an unexpected opportunity to do good by helping fugitive slaves escape across the river. This is something she never would have contemplated, were it not for her friendship and love for Mourning and their child.
The Way the World Is covers a variety of themes: personal growth, change, destiny, responsibility and, ultimately, the costs of love. As Olivia makes her way in life and chooses the paths she takes from a smorgasbord of choices, she slowly realizes the limitations of her worldviews: "She was glad she had when she entered the tidy little town of Backwoods. Sturdy wooden sidewalks lined both sides of its Main Street, shielding brightly painted houses and stores from the mud in the road. The more she saw of the world, the more Olivia realized what a shabby little town she had grown up in."
And as Olivia grows into a person determined to make a difference in the world, so readers come to appreciate not just the atmosphere and special challenges of her times, but the motivations behind her actions: "His wife is still down south. In slavery. He's saving up his money to go get her." Michelle sucked her front teeth and then held Olivia's gaze and said, "I already know what you're thinking. But you can't buy all the slaves in the south." "I know I can't. But there's not a single reason I can't help buy this one."
Thanks to her relationship with Mourning, Olivia's search for the way she wants to live expands to include saving those pieces of the world she can touch and affect. And thanks to her wider-ranging decisions, she finds her way to an unexpected life, filled with genuine friendships and new possibilities.
In a way Olivia's journey is the route of many in life. She begins with courage and determination and a naivete about the world that is changed by encounters both positive and negative - but she remains steadfast, determined, and strong-willed. When her world (and preconceptions) fall apart, she rebuilds it to be stronger than ever - and with new purpose.
Perhaps the most powerful passage of all sums up in a nutshell what motivates Olivia to keep hope and determination alive, even in the face of despair: "As long as we draw breath, nothing in this life is final."
Some books stand alone and require no prior familiarity with others in their series ... but don't miss Olivia, Mourning. It sets the stage for an ongoing saga rich in detail, history, and perspective. Together, the two books offer a powerful saga that makes for thoroughly engrossing, compelling historical fiction at its best.
ElsBeth and the Call of the Castle Ghosties
J Bean Palmer and Chris Palmer
Holly Hill Press
ISBN: 9781456620806 $3.99
ElsBeth and the Call of the Castle Ghosties centers around almost-ten-year-old ElsBeth Amelia Thistle (the youngest witch on Cape Cod) and her journey to integrate her different worlds of science and magic, and is an engaging fantasy recommended for advanced elementary through middle school readers.
A gorgeous, colorful painting of ElsBeth and a moonlit castle across the water invites young readers to enter a plot that represents Book Three of the 'The Cape Cod Witch Series', but which stands well on its own for newcomers.
More than twenty full-color illustrations by Melanie Therrien throughout the saga provide visual embellishment to the story, which opens with a spooky encounter of a castle ghost commanding the youngest of the Thistle clan across the sea to Scotland.
Present-time Cape Cod is the next scene, where the young witch senses an evil danger about to descend on and change her happy world: "...Like her future had become unsettled. Like some danger had just sailed up and dropped anchor in her future. Hardly anyone knew she was a witch -- this was just something that wasn't discussed. A good, nine-year-old witch, granted, but a witch nonetheless. She knew her perceptions were sometimes a little different, and they didn't ask her permission to come in on her. And she definitely didn't always understand them."
As ElsBeth finds herself on a long journey, summoned by ancestral ghosts who need her help, she encounters magic and different kinds of allies in unexpected places along the way. Far from home, she discovers some of her old friends have been conscripted to accompany her - and slowly her two disparate worlds blend.
The very fact that ElsBeth and her friends have all been lifted from everything familiar and transported to someplace outside of all their experiences lends to new perceptions - and this, again, is one of the ongoing strengths of the story: "She was a little worried about Veronica, who was always aware how pretty she was, and didn't seem altogether pleased she might not be the prettiest girl around right now. But that seemed a small worry compared to what they'd been through getting here."
ElsBeth and the Call of the Castle Ghosties isn't a one-dimensional fantasy adventure: readers are treated to a host of sensations and experiences wedded to emotion and reflection; and that's one of its strongest features, keeping it 'real' and inviting: "She wanted to ask the insightful bat if he thought it was OK for her to go on the trip today. But there wasn't time, and he'd probably just say, "Think for yourself." He was always encouraging ElsBeth to think things through on her own. And as much as she wanted to be good at that, she knew thinking about things wasn't her strongest point. She preferred action. She liked to just start ... and then keep going."
Too many fantasies (especially for young adults) focus more on the fantasy setting and adventure than on personal interactions and revelations. What sets apart better writings is an attention to psychological depth, which is more than evident in the passages of reflection and understanding throughout ElsBeth and the Call of the Castle Ghosties.
The other books in the series have not been seen by this reviewer; but if they're anything like this one, they deserve all the acclaim they have already received elsewhere.
Suffice it to say that ElsBeth and the Call of the Castle Ghosties is about as fine a middle school fantasy as you could get: vivid, packed with ghosts and mystery, and yet tempered with an attention to interpersonal depth that is rare and inviting.
Harley P. Davidsun's Loony Bin
ISBN: 061587228X, Paperback: $6.00, Kindle: $2.99
Harley P. Davidsun's Loony Bin is a zany and fun read set in a fourth grade class and presents an unconventional teacher and his crazy classroom assignments: perfect reading for kids who are typically bored by your usual stories of school.
Teacher Harley P. Davidsun makes his difference evident from the moment students set foot in his classroom: "The HIM was leaning back in the teacher's chair with his black motorcycle boots propped up right in the middle of the teacher's desk. His faded, frayed, torn-up blue jeans looked like they were at least a hundred years old. A long ponytail hung over the back of his sleeveless black t-shirt, and a gold hoop dangled from his left earlobe. Dark sunglasses sat on his crooked nose, and a scraggly beard lay on his bulging belly, almost reaching to his big, silver belt buckle.
The HIM didn't say a word. He just crossed his huge, tattooed arms over his ample belly and sat there eyeballing every kid who passed by his desk."
And lest appearances lie, the teacher's first greeting also indicates that school will be anything but normal this year: "...he grumbled in a sort of grizzly-bear voice wrapped up in a Southern drawl: "Welcome to the fourth grade loony bin."
As Gomez and his best friend Fester come to know their unconventional teacher - and participate in his antics - they discover that it will be the best school year they've ever experienced - and so readers in grades 3-6 will also discover the Loony Bin to be one of the liveliest, most unpredictable reads about school to land on their desks in quite some time.
Mind you, there are lessons taught within the hilarious escapades throughout: ""Here are a couple things, some real gems of wisdom you all oughtta tuck away in your gray matter for safe keepin'. If you eat like a pig, you're gonna look like one. Believe me, too many chocolate fudge sundaes and sittin' in front of the TV like a couch potato will be hazardous to your health.""
And even when Mr. D. is hospitalized and out of commission after an accident, the antics continue (at school and in the hospital), fostered by his unique brand of humor, insights on the world, and an attitude which successfully rubs off on his young students.
Ironically enough, one of his substitute teachers becomes equally zany, even participating when a fart-making contest erupts in the classroom and crescendos with a toilet-paper war pitting boys against girls.
There's absolutely nothing boring - or predictable - about Harley P. Davidsun's Loony Bin: even the most reluctant reader will become immersed in the whimsical exploits of teachers and students, and will find this to be a compelling page-turner.
Diane C. Donovan
Into The Wilderness
59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst, NY 14228-2197
9781616148638, $17.99, www.amazon.com
Following the Tribulation that decimated the world population, the white Apostles of the Lamb leaders of Onewere Island abused the brown-skins. Witnessing the horror of those they worshipped as deities, the brown-skinned former believers turned doubters Ruth and Maryam know they must leave before they become dead victims. Thus the Blessed Sisters, accompanied by white Apostle cousins Joseph (who loves Maryam) and Lazarus, leave their insular community by sea.
Sailing the Pacific, the quartet arrives in violent racist what was once called Australia before the Tribulation. On Marawa Island, they find their hope for the future shattered as apparently no humans reside there. Meanwhile Maryam and Joseph struggle with their love for each other while she also loathes Lazarus for what she saw he did on the Star of the Sea cruise ship before the foursome fled for their lives (see The Crossing for his atrocity).
The second Blood of the Lamb dystopian post-apocalyptic teenage thriller once again profoundly and harshly looks at organized religion and civilization turning brutally barbaric after the Tribulation collapse. The enjoyable storyline is at its best when the Blessed Sisters (especially Maryam) confront a vicious new world order as violent as what occurred on the Star of the Sea though when the plot leaves Maryam to focus on others it loses some momentum. Still readers will appreciate the dark middle book in a world in which rape and murder are the accepted norms.
Scraps Of Evidence
PO Box 801, Nashville, TN 37202
9781426752780, $12.95, www.amazon.com
Following the still cold case homicide of her best friend Samantha Marshall on the night of their high school prom, Tess Villanova dedicated her life to becoming a cop just like her Uncle Gordon, St. Augustine's second in command and currently in charge with the Chief ill. While Gordon's wife, yarn shop owner Kathy, recovers from a concussion in the hospital, now a detective Tess worries about her aunt who insists she tripped over her spoiled Persian Prissy. Tess also fears something is wrong between her uncle and aunt.
Tess meets her new partner ex-Chicago Police Department hot shot and now ASPD lead detective Logan McMillan. Though homicides are infrequent in the Florida city, the detectives investigate the murder of twenty-one year old legal assistant Antonia Sanchez. When Tess sees a mark on the nape of the corpse that is similar to what was on Sam's neck and two other victims, she and the M.E. know he is back. When her aunt returns to the hospital, Tess sadly believes her role model may be a spouse abuser and that Kathy has clues sewn into her life quilts and scraps supporting that contention and who knows what else.
The latest Quilts of Love inspirational romance (see Aloha Rose by Lisa Carter and Tempest's Course by Lynette Sowell) is an engaging police procedural in which the case comes before the love subplot. In spite of identifying the killer rather early, readers will enjoy this wonderful whodunit as the Quilts of Love serve as keys to the investigation, the romance and renewed faith in the Lord.
c/o St. Martin's Publishing Group
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250035059, $24.99, www.amazon.com
Motivated by the unsolved death of close friend Lindy Ames when both attended Atherton Prep several years ago, renowned New York City-based reporter Maxine Revere works cold cases. Though never arrested the only suspect in the Ames murder classmate Kevin O'Neal commits suicide. Returning to her hometown of Atherton, California for the funeral of the man who was her high school best friend until he lied to her (and others) re his alibi; Max decides it is past time to work on the one inquiry close to her heart. Ironically, she muses this is a place where she is unwelcome even by her family since she initially supported Kevin in spite of his becoming the pariah.
Upon arrival at San Francisco International Airport with her assistant David Kane who is visiting his daughter, elderly Penny and Henry Hoffman recognize her and plead with her to look into the death of their grandson Jason a construction worker at Atherton Prep. In town Kevin's sister Jodie insists her sibling was murdered and asks Max to investigate. Ignoring the police insistence she not make any inquires, Max looks into the two recent deaths and the cold case that haunts her.
With a nod to the Cold Justice TV show, the first Max Revere investigation is a fast-paced whodunit that has the protagonist working three inquiries tied to Atherton Prep over the objections of the cops, her family and most of the affluent residents. Although the enjoyable storyline is straightforward, readers will enjoy tough Max as the clues lead to the one place she prays it never goes.
In London, psychiatrist Alice Quentin feels she became a good therapist because she understands the mental anguish and suffering of her patients as she deals with some of the same personal phobias; having been abused as a child including lock ups in dark closets. Alice the child has become very judgmental, condemning and unforgiving as Alice the audit; her parents know this first-hand. That does not prevent Southwark Detective Chief Inspector Burns employing Dr. Quentin as a consultant to determine how closely the police need to monitor the soon to be released (by the courts) convicted killer of a hooker.
While jogging at night in Southwark, Alice stops for a breather at historical Crossbones Cemetery. She notices a decomposed naked female corpse with crosses made by a knife all over the body. Not long after that gruesome discovery, near the van owned by her schizophrenic drug addict brother, Alice finds a second dead nude female prostitute with the same etchings on the skin as the first victim. The police provide protection to the psychiatrist due to death threats while more women are murdered in the same horrid way that was used by incarcerated Marie Benson and her deceased husband Ray.
The first Quentin case is a dark macabre serial killer thriller made fresh by an emotionally scarred heroine and an extremely weird over the top of Big Ben support cast. Readers who appreciate a grim whodunit starring a very flawed protagonist will want to jog Southwark with aptly named Alice.
Spratt & Co. LLC
9780989446105, $14.99, www.amazon.com
Miami Chronicle reporter Matt Connelly exposed the excesses of Commissioner Suarez before the pair got into a public brawl that ended the already shaky relationship the journalist had with his girlfriend Dana Fried. Suarez's affluent political connections also harm Connelly's position at the paper so he decides to cover the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but outside of the Defense Department's embed program. After a stint in Fallujah he is in Kandahar when the Americans attack an alleged Taliban weapons stronghold killing many innocents and injuring Matt before the enemy captures him. A local helps him escape.
Back in Florida, his editor Kagan warns him the media has changed while he played war correspondent as you comply, die or quit. He further explains the paper's new owner Armstrong Media demands upbeat compliant stories including fictional accounts treated as real news and not war horrors exposing the Pentagon propaganda like the false weapons claim that led to Mike's shoulder injury and capture. Mike risks his life trying to tell the truth to an America not interested in honest reporting of dark news.
With a nod to the Yellow Journalism of the early twentieth century, Linda Baletsa provides a powerful expose of the duplicity to a war-weary and scandal-scarred public by the industrial-government-media complex. Although heavy-handed with too much explanation (in fairness as expected by a twenty-first century version of Sinclair Lewis' The Jungle), fans will relish Operation Mockingbird as those of us who care about the Fourth Estate providing real news (to include the depressing) are "Holding Out for a Hero" (by Bonnie Tyler) like idealistic Iron Mike.
31, West 57th Street, New York, NY10019
9781623650865, $24.95, www.amazon.com
In 1887, Londoners live in abject fear waiting for the next Jack the Ripper murder. Assisting the police on the violent deadly assaults drives Dr. Thomas Bond to increasingly using opium to help him temporarily forget the gruesome sight though he believes the nightmares will haunt him until he dies.
When a new female victim even more violently attacked than the previous poor souls is found, the city panics. However, Bond realizes this homicide is different as Ripper leaves the entire corpse for the police and locals to deal with; while this murderer left only the torso. Doubting Ripper changed his method and more victims with body parts deposited all around town including the construction site of Scotland Yard are found; Bond concludes a second more violent psycho dubbed the Thames Torso is doubling down on the horror gripping the beleaguered city.
Based on the real Thames Torso murders that horrified London during the Ripper period and using as the protagonist a genuine historical person to tell the tale Sarah Pinborough provides a taut late Victorian crime thriller with a stunning Eastern European spin. The inclusion of world-wide newspaper coverage of the first known serial killers adds fascinating macabre shock and depth; mindful of the Son of Sam coverage. Readers will relish this tense twisting historical whodunit.
Do or Die
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780345543790, $26.00, www.amazon.com
At a prison near Sarasota, Florida, upon meeting her new client ex-SEAL turned felon Ian Dunn for the first time, Bryant, Hill and Stoneham lawyer Phoebe Kruger is amazed how big he is as he makes her Amazonian body feel petit and even the tall other attendee Martell Griffin seem little. Ian demands Phoebe's boss the B in her firm "Uncle" Jerry Bryant be here, but a car accident left him hurt and his granddaughter dead. Griffin states he is not a Fed but represents them to offer Dunn freedom today if he cooperates on the rescue of nuclear physicist Lusa Vaszko's two kidnapped children allegedly held inside the Kazbekistani Consul in Miami. They need him because he is a convict that allows government denial. Dunn prefers to remain in prison as he has for almost a year; he conceals that he must stay in jail as part of a deal to protect his brother and his sibling's family from mobster Manny Dellarosa who just suffered a heart attack.
Abducting Kruger, Dunn fears for his family since Manny's psycho brother leads the mob. As he works options to keep his loved ones safe, Dunn teams up with his cute lawyer to try to rescue the abducted kids before their kidnappers kill the youngsters or the scientist surrenders to them.
The first Reluctant Heroes romantic suspense is an exciting thriller as the heroine and readers learn nothing is what it seems as established by the opening fascinating yet too long encounter. Still once Dunn car jacks Kruger's vehicle with her inside, the storyline accelerates into a fast-paced, impossible to put down race to save the innocent.
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, 3rd floor, New York, NY 10014-3657
9780525953081, $27.95, www.amazon.com
Forty years ago Harry Day murdered several prostitutes; but before the cops arrested him his wife killed him. His two young daughters grow up without their parents. The oldest Shana committed a homicide at fourteen that incarcerated her for life while three years younger Adeline, only a baby when her father died, became a pain therapist while ironically suffering from congenital insensitivity to pain.
Having fallen down stairs while on the job, Boston Homicide Detective D.D. Warren uses Adeline as her therapist. Ironically, when a serial killer copying Day's M.O. begins a deadly spree, Warren leads the investigation. Warren visits Shana at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute where she has been a resident for two and half decades and talks with Adeline to learn what they know, if anything useful, about the Rose Killer.
The seventh D.D. Warren police procedural (see Love You More and Catch Me) is a powerful tense investigative thriller that rotates perspective between the three women although the sisters steal the show of this aptly titled tale. Fast-paced throughout, sub-genre fans will want to read Lisa Gardner's homage to V.C. Andrews.
An Air of Treason
P. F. Chisholm
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., #103, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
9781464202209, $24.95, www.amazon.com
In 1592, the Queen ignoring the advice of Mistress Thomasina de Paris directs the woman to order Deputy Warden of the West March Sir Robert Carey to investigate a death that occurred just after he was born in 1560; he must resolve the cold case before the Queen enters Oxford. Though there was a year-long inquiry thirty-two years ago just after Amy Dudley tumbled down stairs to her death, that probe found no evidence of homicide but Elizabeth like many believes the wife of deceased Robert Dudley was murdered.
Robert prefers to avoid this mess because he knows whatever he does is dangerous to his well-being especially since the late Widower Dudley was a special suitor of Her Highness, making the Royal a prime suspect. As he begins his investigation Robert finds clues that imply murder and imply his father was part of a conspiracy. While his dedicated guard Sergeant Henry Dodd vanishes, an unknown adversary poisons Carey with belladonna; leaving him blind with no time to heal.
The latest Robert Carey Elizabethan mystery is a great entry in a strong historical series (see A Famine of Horses and A Murder of Crows) with a current focus on the investigation by a real person into actual mysterious death of Amy Dudley. Fast-paced throughout with the spin that Dodd has his own exciting subplot; P.F. Chisholm provides another entertaining late sixteenth century whodunit.
Poisoned Pen Press
On Nantucket Island, Preston Lomax draws up a long list including his wife and children as to who wanted him dead and who will shortly join that parade. Three weeks later, his daughter finds his corpse in his eyesore Mcmansion. Massachusetts State Police Detective Lonnie Fraker claims jurisdiction as this is a capital crime, but new resident Chief of Police Henry Kennis stays actively involved. The homicide investigation surfaces many suspects; as his family loathed him for his abuse of them; and every islander and many on Wall Street had a strong motive to kill Lomax who was in major debt and allegedly ready to default by vanishing.
Fraker solves the screwdriver stabbing murder by arresting David Treizize. However, Kennis' gut from years working homicide in L.A. tells him they locked up the wrong person. Following his feelings, he continues the inquiry though alienating many locals who demand case closed and the State who threatens to destroy him.
The fabulous first Kennis Nantucket police procedural is a strong whodunit that brings to life the island in a vivid though not always complementary way. Although transitions at times come across unsmooth, readers will appreciate this taut, fast-paced yet character driven murder mystery.
Whispers of Vivaldi
Beverle Graves Myers
Poisoned Pen Press
In 1745 Venice, the esteemed Teatro San Marco opera house is in financial trouble since many patrons deserted it for its lightweight rival Teatro Grimani in spite the latter's focus on minor works with pretty inane tunes and beautiful by poor performing prima donnas. Teatro San Marco Director Maestro Torani orders former soprano Tito Amato to find a fresh saving piece in time for Carnival.
Tito offers his boss the False Duke by Niccolo Rocatti, whose previous works have not been very good. However, Tito insists that this piece about twins is different with Whispers of Vivaldi as if the late great Red Priest wrote it. Sold on the concept, Torani imports Angeletto of Naples as the star in spite of incessant rumors the castrato is actually a female. When someone murders Torani, recognizing himself as the prime suspect Tito must solve the homicide before it is too late for him and his beloved opera house.
The latest Baroque mystery (see The Iron Tongue of Midnight) contains an interesting surprising whodunit as the protagonist's mentor is the victim. The exciting investigation is enhanced by the colorful descriptions of mid eighteenth century Venice and the behind the scenes of an opera house; so picturesque the background turns the storyline into a fabulous historical with a strong supporting whodunit.
The Moses Virus
Taylor Trade Publishing
c/o Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706
9781589799080, $24.95, www.amazon.com
The American Academy of Rome sponsors an excavation led by Bryn Mawr College archeology professor Dr. Robert "Doc" Brown into an underground passageway at the Roman Forum that he believes leads to Nero's Palace missing for 2000 years. Attending the dig besides Doc and his students are NYU Forensics Archeology Professor Dr. Tom Stewart and International Herald Tribune Jim Ruchet. With care and diligence, the staff lowers Doc and his assistant Eric Bowen into the hole. The pair reaches a crumbling wall which they manage to open only communications turn silent. A tug on the rope from above proves they remain tied but neither Doc or Eric pull back to show they are okay. Greg Bater goes down into the hole to find their corpses horribly twisted and moss covering them.
The autopsy states a long buried virus caused the deaths, but the official position is that a cave-in killed Doc and Eric while burying the passageway. No one believes this as journalists and shadier people stalk anyone at the dig. Fearing the virus will end up in unscrupulous hands and distrusting a private firm too interested in the virus; nor the Vatican, the Italian government and other interested nations to do the right thing to prevent a pandemic, Stewart seeks the virus to destroy it.
The Moses Virus is an exciting cautionary thriller that grips the audience once Doc and Eric enter the hole and never slows down until the climatic confrontation. Although grad student Alexandra Cellini is a strong brave female, her romantic tie to the beleaguered hero seems more of a subgenre requirement. Still readers will relish this fast-paced taut tale.
William Morrow & Company
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
9780062064851, $27.99, www.amazon.com
Not long after the Mexican presidential election, someone beheads twenty-three people at the American border. Mexican Comandante Cecilia Garza recognizes the Hummingbird etching on each body as the trademark of Chuparosa the assassin. Garza concludes Chuparosa plans a major event at the United Nations Week summit in New York where her President Vargas will attend; so she heads to Manhattan.
Having dealt with Swedish jihadists coming through the porous Canadian border, NYPD Intelligence Division Detective Jeremy Fisk works security at the summit though his role is at the office. While a mass murder with decapitated bodies with etched hummingbirds occurs in Rockaway, Queens, Fisk meets Garza and learns of Chuparosa's planned assassination of President Vargas. Though both suffer from the violent loss of loved ones and a need to cooperate, the two cops reluctantly agree to team up to not just prevent Chuparosa from causing murderous havoc at the UN and Manhattan, but to end his reign of terror permanently though neither of their agencies believe this mass killer exists.
The second Fisk police procedural (see The Intercept) is a strong thriller due to the fully developed lead triangle as readers get to know each of them; especially interesting is Garza whose motivation is her mother and sister. The fast-paced storyline is frantic as time runs out and action-packed but decelerates as the plot nears the anticipated climatic confrontation before regaining final twisting speed. Still this is a ride worth taking by genre fans.
In 1920 in East Anglia, someone, shooting from a distance, murders Captain Hutchinson as he enters Ely Cathedral to attend the fashionable wedding of his cousin, and soon after kills Tory Parliament candidate Herbert Swift as he began a campaign speech. Two weeks after the Hutchinson murder, the local police make no progress on the homicides so ask Scotland Yard to investigate.
Inspector Ian Rutledge takes over the inquiry with little substantiated information and the case somewhat cold. He knows that most likely the same sniper killed both men and a woman insists she witnessed the Swift killing by what she strongly claims is a monster. As Rutledge ties the killings to the Great War, he fears his own combat issues will explode his brains if the adversary does not do it first.
Team Todd has written one of the best Inspector Rutledge historical police procedurals in the strong long running series (see Proof of Guilt). The protagonist struggles with PTSD, customized to his combat experiences (with Hamish) and his overall demeanor, while working a case that accentuates his inner demons. Readers will appreciate this taut whodunit that brings to life the still timely (with present day veteran and military suicide rate much greater than the rest of the public) unintended consequences of war on the soldiers after the hostilities between nations end; but never for those who served at the front.
Simon & Schuster, Jan 7 2014, $25.00
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781476725888, $25.00, www.amazon.com
Twenty-six year old Garrett Reilly lives in two states: anger at the world and being high. He is also Wall Street's top bond trader because he quickly recognizes number patterns that no one else notices. He informs his boss at Jenkins & Altshuler, Avery Bernstein that the Chinese are selling off two hundred billion dollars of treasuries bought twelve years ago through Dubai-based Al Samir trading house by an unknown client. Garrett explains their plan to flood the market with debt and destroy the dollar. He further tells Avery they also can make a fortune on this.
DIA overhears Avery's call to Treasury re Chinese selling of American debt. Major General Kline sends Captain Alexis Truffant, who insisted the Chinese declared war in a type never seen before, to test if Garrett is the Ascendant. In minutes, Garrett identifies who she is and why she seeks him out; except he hates the military since his brother died in combat in Afghanistan. DIA places hostile Garrett in charge of the modern day Cold War operations using market manipulation as the WMDs.
With a nod to the TV show Numb3rs but on a global scale, The Ascendant is a tense thriller that grips readers from the moment Garrett reads the pattern and never slows down as actions affirms his distrust of both sides in the monetary war. The protagonist is a fascinating antihero ironically placed in the position of saving a world he loathes by those he detests. Although the motive for the Chinese actions seem over the top of the Great Wall, readers will appreciate this action-packed tale as the latest "War to End All Wars" fought by a different set of numbers.
Michael E. Witzgall
9780615938905, $13.95, www.amazon.com
In Dallas, a serial killer targets religious leaders. Assigned to lead the investigation is DPD CAPERS/Homicide Unit Sergeant Detective Renee LaFleet. A Marine Force Reconnaissance Officer veteran, Ren quickly concludes this case may prove tougher than his combat experience in Iraq as the body count mounts by a perp who knows what he or she is doing.
As he begins to see the pattern emerge, Ren fears his BFF, retired Navy SEAL turned Catholic priest Father Richard Shannon, may be the culprit. What eludes Ren is why and how to prove his buddy Rick has become an avenging angel when even the cop disbelieves his own assertion and circumstantial evidence that someone he has known for so long could be this murdering bringer of death.
Sentinel's Choice is an exhilarating police procedural that grips the reader from the surprising prologue to the stunning climax. Ren is a terrific protagonist who refuses to accept his own theory as his mind stubbornly insists no way leading to his rejecting what his senses insist is the truth. With a great twisting finish to a strong investigation, fans will relish Michael E. Witzgall's refreshing serial killer novel.
Dying to Know
2143 Wooddale Drive, Woodbury, MN 55125-2989
9780738739502, $14.99, www.amazon.com
In Frederick County, Virginia working late hours for days with his partner Bear Braddock, police detective Oliver Tucker feels good about being home asleep for a change with his wife Angela, a university archeology professor. When she wakes him up having heard a noise, he investigates only someone shoots him. Oliver realizes he is dead and the only one who sees him as a ghost is their dog Hercule. He assumes he remains on earth to find his killer though his memory is porous.
Bear and the rest of the cops assume the murder of one of them is tied to a killing last week of a security guard Oliver and his partner were investigating. To forget temporarily, grieving Angela works her consulting assignment at a development site where bones were found that stopped the project until she can ascertain its historical significance. As Oliver makes contact with his Angel, he begins to suspect his best friend Bear might be involved with his wife and perhaps his murder since his partner of fifteen years acts strange. Still with the help of Angel and other ghosts, Oliver works the case, which expands from just finding his killer but also keeping his beloved safe and helping restless spirits.
The first Gumshoe Ghost Mystery is an entertaining paranormal whodunit with a strong investigation, a super late twist and a deep cast led by the confused jealous Oliver. Fans will appreciate this supernatural whodunit though the bewildered mental filter of the lead ghost re relationships at times slows down the pacing of an otherwise fun tale.
Forget Me Knot
c/o Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street, Floor 21, New York, NY 10018-2522
9780758292056, $7.99, www.amazon.com
In the San Fernando Valley Martha, Lucy and Birdie meet every Tuesday to quilt. This time the trio heads to the affluent home of local quilting award winning Claire to ask her if she would like to join their group. Upon arrival, the threesome finds Claire dead.
Not long afterward, Claire's first place prize winning quilt and award winners by Martha and Birdie are stolen. Fuming Martha wants her quilt back while the deceased's mother asks her to read her late daughters quilt stories. As Martha seeks to catch a thief, she also begins to find clues as to whom murdered the quilter and why in Claire's work.
The first Quilting Mystery is an engaging amateur sleuth tale starring a strong middle aged woman who refuses to allow her fibromyalgia to dictate who she is. Although there is some sub-genre stereotyping (i.e., her changing relationship with the lead homicide investigator) readers will enjoy marvelous Martha's opening act as she stitches together the clues left behind by Claire.
Death of a Chocoholic
In Bar Harbor, Maine, Island Times food and wine reporter single mom (of teenagers Gemma and Dustin) Hayley Powell writes a popular column. Because she believes there can never be enough chocolate, Hayley wants Bessie Winthrop to succeed as a chocolatier, but the woman's feline roommates make her treats unhealthy due to an abundance of cat hairs mixed in with the sweets.
Not long after Bessie tries to make it as a chocolate creator, she dies of an apparent heart attack. Slightly depressed when she learns the sad news, Haley tries one of the late Bessie's concoctions while also finding a threatening note that leads her to believe the chocolatier wannabe was murdered. No one including her BFFs Mona and Liddy, who help her anyway investigate, believe Hayley's concocted theory.
The latest Hayley Powell Mystery (see Death of a Country Fried Redneck) is an engaging amusing amateur sleuth that will have readers thinking of the classic Lucy and Ethel candy assembly line. Character-driven by the heroine, the sub-genre audience will appreciate the zany escapades of the three amigas as they seek a killer who probably will target them if they make any progress.
A Promise Kept
Robin Lee Hatcher
Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9781401687656, $15.99, www.amazon.com
Allison Kavanagh knows she caused heartache when she invoked her interpretation of God's personal message to her that demanded too much of her husband Tony who chose to leave her. Stunned Allison seeks solace to reflect on why her path to the Lord broke her marriage and her spirit. She moves into the isolated cabin in the Idaho mountains north of Boise that she inherited from her Great Aunt Emma the renowned nature photographer.
In spite of loved ones' support, Allison struggles with moving on especially dealing with how her strong beliefs and misunderstanding of what God wanted of her led to this emotional debacle. When she finds Emma's 1920s and 1930s journals, photos and a wedding dress Allison learns a broken heart caused her ancestor's unhappy independence.
This engaging inspirational contemporary drama reflects on how God works in mysterious unexpected ways that challenges a person's beliefs especially when the adamant true-believer is unprepared for a different seemingly wrong path than what was anticipated. Character driven by Allison and Emma, readers will appreciate Robin Lee Hatcher taking us on inspiring contemporary path.
The Headmistress of Rosemere
Sarah E. Ladd
Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9781401688363, $15.99, www.amazon.com
In 1816 in Darbury, England, with the death of her father, the disappearance of her brother in London and the withdrawal of her mother, by default Patience Creighton becomes the headmistress at Rosemere School for Young Ladies replacing her late dad. She does quite well due in part to the dedicated staff and her vigilance to insure the students receive the best care and education.
The Rosemere landlord William Sterling flees London and his debts to rusticate on his estate. He and the headmistress meet and are attracted to one another though William knows he is unworthy of this wonderful dedicated woman. Those holding his IOUs arrive at the estate demanding William pay his debts by selling them his land. William logically knows the best response to their claims, but his heart warns him not to destroy his beloved's enterprise; although Patience is shaken by her now married absentee sibling coming back to claim the headmaster position.
The second Whispers On The Moors historical romance (see The Heiress of Winterwood) is a delightful Regency starring a likable heroine and a cad changing his spots. Though the audience knows from the first protagonists' encounter the path this entertaining storyline will take, readers will enjoy accompanying William and Patience on their trek to love.
c/o Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street, Floor 21, New York, NY 10018-2522
9780786032174, $9.99, www.amazon.com
Though he sort of quit while still breathing, a rarity for a long time CIA operative, Ryan Kealey concludes that once an espionage agent always an espionage agent until you're dead. However, the world he survived no longer exists as the suits and techies run the "cooperating" espionage alphabets with their data mining and electronic surveillance superseding on the ground human Intel.
As Kealey muses over being a dinosaur; US Naval Space Command detect Plutonium 239 in the Arctic Circle; at the same time Islamic Republic of Iran Navy Captain Elham breaks radio silence to announce his vessel the Jamaran picked up a special find. Kealey is assigned the field operation of neutralizing the nuke before the Iranians deploy it. Out in the cold, Kealey teams up with nuclear physicist Rayhan Jafari, but their home office support handicaps them as the pair struggles to prevent the setting off a weapon of mass destruction.
The latest Ryan Kealey thriller (see The Exile, The Operative, The Invisible, The Assassin and The American) is a taut action-packed entry that leaves readers pondering what happens to all the weapons (not just nukes) compiled in a world in which annual Global Arms Sales are in the billions. Adding a wonderful spin to the tale is Ryan's dad Captain Largo Kealey's actions in sinking a Nazi transporter of nukes in 1944 that leads to his chip off the old block son's activity 2013. Readers will appreciate this exciting cautionary tale.
Amy Kathleen Ryan
St. Martin's Griffin
c/o St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9780312621360, $18.99, www.amazon.com
Two ships (the New Horizon and the Empyrean) left dying earth in hopes of finding a new home planet. Instead of a mutual beneficial collaboration between the vessels, Pastor Anne Mather of the New Horizon establishes a brutal lethal theocracy that included abductions from the sister ship. When the kidnapped teen girls led by Kieran escaped back to the Empyrean, with no choice they left their parents behind (see Glow). An attempted rescue fails and the Empyrean destroyed (see Spark).
The former leaders of the Empyrean (Waverly, Kieran and Seth) manage to get on board the New Horizon, but under diverse circumstances. Mather mentors Kieran; an elderly male conceals Waverly while plotting rebellion from the theocratic iron fist of the righteous Pastor; and ailing Seth, like he did on the Empyrean, remains alone living in hiding.
The final Sky Chasers outer space thriller is an entertaining young adult science fiction. The fast-paced story line rotates perspective between the three teen former leaders of the ruined Empyrean as each has landed in a different set of tsuris. Filled with suspense as the heroes and readers wonder whom to trust and whether the protagonists will ever see each other again, teen fans especially will relish the climax of a strong science fiction trilogy.
Obsessed By Him
St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250046239, $15.99, www.amazon.com
"Claimed by Him." Billionaire Graves Buchanan has loved his best friend Daniel Lexington's sister Chloe seemingly forever, but never acted on his feelings somewhat out of loyalty to his buddy, but mostly because he believes she deserves better. Chloe decides to make her twenty-fifth birthday her best ever by going after her heart's desire Graves.
"Taken by Him." Luke Preston lies in a hospital owned by his family while recovering from a bullet wound. Assuming his womanizing led to the attempted homicide, Luke leaves Chicago for Cancun where he falls in love with Peyton Lane.
"Bound by Him." After being away for three years, Andrew Fairchild returns to Chicago with one thing in mind to get his beloved Whitney Donahue to give him a second chance though unaware a snake stands in their path to happiness.
"Kept by Him." Daniel Lexington controls his deepest needs especially those starring him with Monica Davenport. She believes her desires especially dreaming with Daniel prevent her from finding love until Monica takes a chance on fulfilling her darkest craving by offering him what he always wanted with her.
"Bared by Him." A decade ago, Ivy Summers met Cade West at the hospital where her mom and his wife Laura were receiving cancer treatment. He treated her with angry disdain then and the widower does so again now when she asks for a donation for the Lincoln Heights Breast Cancer Foundation. Instead raging Cade offers her a deal; they play poker with the stakes being $2 million and her clothing.
The five engaging Billionaire Club's erotic romances (previously released separately as e-books) contain surprisingly fully developed characters obsessed with their love.
Love Your Entity
St. Martin's Press
In Chicago, ghost whisperer author Sierra Brennan opens the door to her historical townhouse for the first time only to be greeted by a naked sexy man and a female ghost. She accuses them of trespassing while the nude hunk asks who else she is talking to. Sierra demands they leave, but each ignores her. To keep ownership of her new inheritance Sierra must reside there for thirty days so she reluctantly accepts her new roommates as part of the residence for now.
Vampire Ronan McCoy claims the house belongs to him too as he explains he was just freed from a century of indenture servicing master vampire Baron Vox. There is a catch to his liberation; to save his sister's soul Ronan must locate and deliver a missing key to his former master. Ruby the ghost explains her link to the house occurred when she was murdered there. She warns Sierra to be careful of the other entity residing there as raging Hal, once a violent part of the Capone mob, seeks vengeance. Even before he realizes he loves her, Ronan knows he must keep Sierra safe from dangerous Hal.
The third amusing Entity urban fantasy (see Sleeping With The Entity and The Entity Within) is a delightful lighthearted vampire romance. Sub-genre fans will appreciate Cat Devon's latest Entity entry as the whisperer, the vampires and the ghosts bring freshness to the Windy City.
Heart of Stone
St. Martin's Press
After the quarterly Vancouver Art and History Museum fundraising gala at the Georgia House, docent Ella Harrow begins to leave alone when very important third generation financial supporter Patrick Stanley assaults her. Using her psychic power, she stops the angry creep until her boss Beatrice Boucher arrives preventing him from further attacks. As Ella leaves by herself, she lectures the "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle" gargoyle statue that she loves to look at for not repelling evil; as is his mission. The statue comes to life confusing Kees of the Guild of Wardens that an untrained human awakened him from his ages-long hibernation and stunning Ella who wonders when she will awaken from her sleep.
Kees informs Ella that his adversaries, the lethal seven demons of the Dark, must be returning. He further explains this means he needs his team so the bewildered museum employee and the gargoyle search for them. During their quest with their malevolent enemies in pursuit, each feels a deep attraction growing in intensity; which makes no sense to unemotional Kees, but very understandable to romantic Ella who loved him when he had a Heart of Stone.
Christine Warren starts her new paranormal romance series with a rousing first act that sets the boundaries of this engaging urban fantasy. Kees is a terrific hero who took pride in his totally logical thought-process (much more than Mr. Spock), but this arising finds him in alien territory fighting his unwanted yet wanted feelings of desire. He is the catalyst that changes Ella from an anti-social loner who relishes artifacts not people into a caring courageous warrior. Heart of Stone is a strong opening tale.
St. Martin's Press
Lovers Dr. Asher and Nurse Edie leave blizzard wracked County Hospital where they work at the secret Y4 ward for paranormal patients on the Maraschino cruise ship bound for Hawaii. However, besides seasickness in which she rejects meds due to her pregnancy, Edie feels overwhelmed standing on the sixth deck looking out on the vast ocean while Asher wants to spend the two weeks naked in their cabin.
However, soon after departure, Asher recognizes evil from his less savory days. He explains to Edie that the malevolence hired him to steal synthetic blood, which he did for a fee that he cashed but turned the rogue in to the Consortium. Edie says even bad guys need R&R. Soon afterward, people on board become ill with some dying and some going insane. Asher believes his former employer is behind the disaster while Edie concludes patient zero is an Old Testament monster.
The fourth Edie Spence paranormal is an exciting thriller that starts slow but accelerates into hyperspeed once the pandemic erupts. The change of venue from the Y4 ward to the ship brings freshness but also leaves behind in the States the strange patients and odd staff who made the previous entries (see Moonshifted, Nightshifted and Shapeshifted) unique. Still the exciting storyline engages the readers as series fans will appreciate this taut tale and its shocking finish.
The citizens of Coventry were used to powerful blizzards, but this one was the strongest that anyone who survived could remember as affirmed by the records. Many died from exposure or accidents while some simply vanished with their bodies never found. Unnerving reports surfaced from those who endured the ordeal of blue-white "ice men" racing about in the blizzard at extraordinary impossible speeds.
A dozen years later, the citizens of Coventry prepare for the latest storm of the century. However, unlike the previous lethal mega storm of twelve years ago, confidence is long gone as those who lived through that horrific blizzard fear the ice men cometh for them.
In spite of a different season, the exciting Snowbound will remind readers of Stephen King's Storm of the Century as they share the premise of a supernatural attack during a monster storm. Although why Coventry failed to become a ghost-town after the eerie deadly blizzard twelve years ago is left unanswered, readers will enjoy this suspenseful horror.
Roberta Kells Dorr
c/o Moody Publishers
820 N. LaSalle Blvd., Chicago, IL 60610
9780802409553, $14.99, www.amazon.com
The three-year long drought has devastated the land. Eighteen years old Prince Solomon believes the people turning away from Yahweh has caused this disaster. His older half-brother Adonijah insists their elderly father King David's infertility is the reason for no rain; Solomon protests that is the belief of the followers of Baal. Adonijah insists that their sire be tested by the most beautiful girl in Israel; if he fails to plant his seed, he must be replaced by one of his sons.
Shulamit the shepherdess is the chosen one to become the latest bride of the king. Three days after Solomon and Shulamit first meet, they fall in love. However, she is to be David's wife; his mother demands her son's first bride be a royal; and the future of the kingdom keeps them apart.
Based on the Song of Songs, Solomon's Song is a wonderful reprint of the monarch's forbidden eternal love. Deeper focus on what the protagonists saw in each other to fall in love so quickly with little unchaperoned contact would have anchored the heartbreak to follow. Still biblical fiction fans will appreciate the heartbroken king wisely without passion choosing for the sake of his people ruling over loving.
Once Upon A Winter's Heart
c/o Hachette Publishing Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017-0010
9781455528110, $11.00, www.amazon.com
Following the death of her octogenarian grandfather, Emma Burcelli announces romance died with her beloved Poppi. Her grandparents recently had celebrated their Blue Sapphire anniversary while her mom fears Nona will soon join her beloved soul mate in heaven.
With no ties in Seattle except for her roommate Lucy, Emma quits her boring dead-end job at Brightpond marketing that she believes should be called Dullpond to return home to care for her Nona who was more a mom to her and her sisters than their career-oriented mother. Emma helps out at the family-owned bookstore where she meets Lane Forester. They share wonderful tales about Poppi; leading to Emma beginning to believe in love again until her sister Anne and their mom insist she forget him as Lane belongs to her sibling.
Readers will be singing Dean Martin's That's Amore as Melody Carlson provides an engaging contemporary romance. Although the path to true love runs through family misunderstandings causing tsuris for the protagonists and the climax is as sweetly as expected by Valentine's Day, fans will agree with the melody that "Everybody Loves Somebody" (Dean Martin).
Shadowed by Grace
Cara C. Putman
B&H Publishing Group
127 Ninth Avenue North, Nashville, TN 37234-0143
9781433681783, $14.99, www.amazon.com
In 1944 Philadelphia, Bobby Hamilton explains to photographer Rachel Justice that he managed to do the impossible by getting her an assignment in ravaged Italy as no one but a lunatic would send a female into a war zone. Rachel conceals from her boss her secret agenda for craving an assignment in Europe. Using initials on sketches her mom possesses, she hopes to locate the dad she never met and beg him to pay her mother's unmanageable medical costs.
In Europe, the brass sticks Lieutenant Scott Lindstrom with keeping the crazy woman safe. Rachel proves useful with her photography skill helping Scott with performing his military job of protecting Italy's priceless art from the retreating Nazi looters and vandals. As they fall in love, his mission and her personal quest place their lives in peril and consequently leaves their relationship teetering.
With a nod to the Monuments Men (see the nonfiction account of the Monuments Men by Bret Witter and Robert M. Edsel), this is an exciting WWII drama that focuses on art preservation and the heroine's missing father with the romance supporting the action. Although there is too much significant happenchance moving the entertaining storyline forward, readers will appreciate the perilous efforts by the Allies to preserve Italian treasures.
1636: Sea Of Fortune
PO Box 1188, Wake Forest NC 27588
9781451639391, $15.00, www.amazon.com
"Stretching Out." In Belem do Para, Brazil, Henrique Pereira da Costa and his servant and best friend Maurico enter the Amazon Valley seeking rubber trees. They show drawings to the native Indians, who fail to comprehend what the outsiders want until Maurico makes a clay model that lead them being escorted to rubber trees. Henrique and Maurico send sap to Portugal for testing. When they come home, Henrique finds a cracked vase with the silver candelabra secretly inside gone. He knows the inquisitors will destroy him as a Jew and take everything he owns including Maurico. Dutchwoman Maria Vorst illustrates plants and animals in Grantville, but craves working in South America. She persuades Dutch sea captain David Pieterszoon de Vries to take her on his colonization voyage to Suriname as his science officer.
"Rising Sun." For several years Portuguese priests converted Japanese to Christianity until the religion was banned from the locals though secret ceremonies still occur. Shogun Iemitsu Tokagawa and his senior councilor Sakai Tadakatsu struggle with their Christian subjects when they learn about the soon to come rebellion. Many Christians are executed while others sent to New Nippon in the Northern New World under the control of Grand Governor Date Masamune.
Both segues expand the Ring of Fire universe into new or previously limited geography and culture. "Stretching Out" includes seven excellent entries mostly in South America and the Caribbean built on real events but with a nice Grantville twist. "Rising Sun" contains five terrific tales in Japan and the American-Canadian West Coast also built on real events enhanced by historical speculation but with a nice Grantville twist.
The Forever Engine
In 2018, Professor Jack Fargo teaches History at the University of Chicago. British Army Major Reggie Llewellyn orders Jack to come to Wessex without explaining why. Jack remembers Reggie from their Afghanistan War days as a casual killer. They meet at the Wessex High Energy Collider where the visitor is shown a recently minted Roman coin that Reggie insists is real. When the collider sends items into the past, an equally weighted object arrives in the present. However, the coin differs as it apparently represents a different historical timeline than that Jack and Reggie claim as theirs.
Jack observes an experiment until an explosion repels him back to 1888 London. Captain Gordon of the Horse Guards escorts Jack into a different city then the one he knows as a historian as he learns The Confederate States of America has an embassy in Great Britain. At Dorset House, scientists and military Intel interrogate Jack. Quartermaster General Redvers Buller accepts Jack's contention of time travel while assigning him, Gordon and Glasgow University Physics Professor William Thomson to find killers threatening the kingdom. Thomsom introduces Jack to Nikola Telsa before the trio crosses the Channel on a Grand Tour where French agent Gabrielle Courbiere joins them as they head to Bavaria to inspect a twenty-first century damaged armored vehicle found there.
Using the same world as the Space 1889 game, The Forever Engine is an entertaining alternate Victorian due to the fascinating nation changing and the fun steampunk technology. Readers will appreciate this engaging thriller anchored by a wonderful cast (real persona included) who don't know Jack as the time displaced single dad just wants to get back to his college bound daughter Sarah.
A Liaden Universe: Constellation Vol 2
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
The second Liaden Universe: Constellation compilation contains sixteen strong previously published short stories including twelve self-published by the authors. The anthology provides depth to various worlds in the trade routes, but the collection also takes a no frills approach with no introductions except for a brief Foreword that focuses on the publishing market. On Skardu in "Veil of the Dancer" Inas craves being a chip off the old paternal block as she wants to become a scholar. Kore sends a letter to Midj asking the pilot to come to Shaltren in "Quiet Knives". Daav and Clarence meet on Liad in "The Beggar King". "Prodigal Son" Val Con returns on a mission to Vandar. The entries are quite good with series fans appreciating them especially if you can place where these tales fit in terms of time in the wider universe of novels, novellas and the other shorts (see A Liaden Universe: Constellation Vol 1). Newcomers will enjoy the stories as exciting singles but not as an introduction to the wonderful vast Lee-Miller galaxy.
Mercedes Lackey, Veronica Giguere, Martin Cody and Dennis Lee
The meta-humans of Echo and CCCP managed to halt the blitzkrieg Invasion by the Nazis in spite of the seemingly superior ultra-powerful weaponry of the invaders. However, inside of Echo a revolt has broken out over the merit of romance writer and techno-mage Victoria Victrix Nagy's Overwatch recording of events while one of Bulwark's Misfits Harmony leaves her mentor in a comatose state (see World Divided). Two other Misfits Bruno and Scope hunt Harmony who has turned into a Blacksnake assassin.
As Nagy improves her Overwatch program while stealthy testing it on CCCP, EMT Bella Dawn Parker AKA Belladonna Blue the healer tries to save Bulwark's life; as Seraphym enters his dreams to lay out his possible futures to him. At the same time General Shen Xue lives inside the body that once belonged to CCCP operative Fel Li who's trapped inside the Jade Emperor's sword Whisper possessed by Xue. The General accosts Echo owner Dominic Verdigris III while his bodyguard Khanjar tries to intervene but fails. However Xue and Verd reach an accord.
As with the second entry (see World Divided), action in the third Secret World Chronicle is a bit muted compared with the opening Invasion as the hostility remains from within and with Echo's adversarial rival Blacksnake rather than the Nazi/Thule threat. The key to this enjoyable fantasy remains with the superhuman filled with flaws that reduce their super qualities to mere human. The engaging storyline emphasizes the shaky political bedfellows who make for Revolution at a time when unity is critical.
Blotto, Twinks and the Bootlegger's Moll
Felony & Mayhem
9781937384920, $14.95, www.amazon.com
Due to plumbing at their Tawcester Towers, the Lyminster Family is in financial trouble; besides more important the noisy pipes and flooding (even a Gainsborough took a drenching) drive the Dowager Duchess crazy. She assesses their assets and decides the best bet is marrying her handsome but dumb son Deveraux AKA Blotto to a wealthy American as doltish as her male offspring for paying to enter the aristocracy.
Thus his Mater exiles Blotto, accompanied to keep him on mission by his brilliant beautiful sister Twinks, to Chicago for him to wed Mary, the heiress daughter of meat-packing magnate Luther P. Chapstick III. Furthermore, Mater explains to her son he will live in the States with his in-laws and wife as they are unacceptable in her England. However, Mr. Chapstick makes demands that the Duchess arranges a party filled with blue bloods or his daughter marries someone else. Twinks realizes that Chapstick is wealthy from his illegal activities, but she knows Blotto must marry Mary and the mob or face a more dangerous foe their Mater.
The latest Blotto and Twinks 1920s English drama (see Blotto, Twinks And The Dead Dowager Duchess and Blotto, Twinks And The Ex-King's Daughter) is an engaging satire that lampoons mysteries and rigid social mores. Though the behavior of the matrimonial dealmakers is over the top of the Willis Tower as stereotypes of a mobster and a monetary strapped aristocrat (albeit their discussions are inanely amusing), readers will appreciate the Bootlegger's tale.
The House On The Cliff
Bourbon Street Books
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
9780062284570, $14.99, www.amazon.com
Actor Gwydion Morgan finds his anxiety attacks destroying his career and perhaps his life as he considers suicide to end his anguish. Desperate to overcome his phobia of buttons before he takes a final curtain call, Gwydion turns to Welsh psychotherapist Jessica Mayhew for help. Jessica finds her patient's mental trauma fascinating as the actor's freezing in abject fear from koumpounophobia and is prepared to end his misery by death. She investigates his family past and present and learns his au pair as a child drowned in a strange accident.
Jessica's home life is in shambles as her rebellious teenage daughter is nasty towards her and her spouse admits to sleeping with someone else. Upset Jessica considers an unprofessional relationship with Gwydion and his renowned father director Evan Morgan.
The House on the Cliff is a fascinating psychological suspense that is at its best when the focus is on the therapist or her patient in conjunction with each other or with their respective families. The amateur sleuthing subplot detracts from an otherwise strong relationship drama starring a deep lead and a fully developed supporting cast.
Home to Seaview Key
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, ON, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780778315896, $7.99, www.amazon.com
Following her divorce, Abby Miller returns home to the Seaview Key, Florida to start over and reconnect with family and friends like her childhood BFFs recently married Hannah and Luke Stevens (see Seaview Inn). When town newcomer paramedic Seth Landry rescues Abby from drowning, they are stunned by their attraction to each other. However, both have had recent heart wrenching setbacks so each prefers friendship instead of romance.
Meanwhile Hannah fears her beloved Luke still carries the torch of his teen sweetheart Abby. At the same time that Hannah fears love lost, Abby and Seth work together on a fundraiser. Still feeling the pull of desire, they agree to a short term tryst; as neither is emotionally ready for a permanent loving relationship.
The second Seaview Key romance is a delightful leisurely-paced contemporary as the flawed lead characters struggle with falling in love at a time when neither feels capable of giving the other all they deserve; especially wary of commitment is military veteran Seth. The Hannah jealousy subplot adds depth to a fine tale of love between two reluctant protagonists.
Though the psychopathic Stormchaser serial killer remains free, his belief in his superiority psyche has been shattered as Nola Landry witnessed and lived to tell his murdering of three of her neighbors (see Going Once). Additionally the task force injured him physically especially scarring his face and Nola's survival caused him great mental damage as he now knows pain and anguish. Still the agents must not underestimate this psychopath who preys on people during the aftermath of a natural disaster especially with tornado season beginning.
Angry with what went wrong and holding the task force responsible for his recent setbacks, the Stormchaser focuses on taking the kill to his pursuers. He targets the newest Stormchaser TF member Jo Luckett, former wife of TF FBI Agent Wade Luckett, to prove to his foes he remains the top gun in their game. Still in love, the Luckett marriage ended with the death of their unborn child as neither could turn to the other while grieving their loss. Now they need to rely on each other as the once precise and methodical Stormchaser increasingly becomes deadlier and more out of control as he takes risks he never did before Nola devastated his equilibrium.
This exhilarating Forces of Nature second chance romantic suspense continues to emphasize catching the murderer before he kills the latest TF agent. Though on the surface the intense storyline appears similar to Going Once, the psychologically decomposing of the deranged killer brings freshness to a taut thriller.
Taste Of Darkness
Maria V. Snyder
As probably the last Healer in the Fifteen Realms, Avry feels frustrated having found her ailing lover Kerrick only to have him vanish before she can save his life. In turn, Prince Ryne is frustrated with the Healer who helped him defeat the evil King Tohan as she captures enemy combatants only to free them and now deserts him accompanied by her friends in search of her beloved before he dies.
As Tohon's army of the dead rise, Avry fears the deceased ruler is returning as he haunts her nightmares. Making matters most dangerous is the Skeleton King plans to use the chaos to take control of the Fifteen Realms. Avry realizes she must intervene in the war before her world is destroyed even if that intervention most likely means her death and that of her Kerrick.
The final Healer young adult fantasy is an exciting thriller that questions the morality of executing, incarcerating or freeing a captured enemy similar to issues re prisoners at Guantanamo; as Stalin said: "The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic." Although the key heroes beginning with Avry and Kerrick act inanely out of character at times and the ending feels rushed, fans will enjoy this dark climax to the exhilarating sensory trilogy (see Touch of Power and Scent of Magic).
Alice Close Your Eyes
On Vashon Island in Puget Sound, writer Alice Croft is on a mission of what she insists to herself justified vengeance to destroy the SOB who coldly allowed her mother to die when the bastard tossed away her inhaler she desperately needed. That moment a decade ago devastated Alice's life.
Alice needs the right person for the job of murder so has been following her selected candidate Jack Calabrese to ascertain if he has the gonads to complete her quest. She breaks into Jack's home when he is away, but he comes back early and catches her. He stays calm while they chat and soon each realizes they share a craving for S&M sex with Jack becoming the aggressor. Though Alice relishes their mutually satisfying proclivity, she has not lost her brain's obsession to her libido as she still wants this dominant to kill the person who murdered her mother and destroyed her too.
Alice Close Your Eyes is a dark erotica psychological suspense. The lead couple has respective issues with Alice's psychosis much more prevalent while the intended victim remains unknown until the climax except through her nightmarish mental filter. Although the sex supersedes the revenge for much of the storyline, readers will appreciate Averil Dean's taut twisting tale.
The Black Stiletto: Secrets & Lies
595 Bay Isles Road, 120-G, Longboat Key, FL 34228
9781608091010, $26.95, www.amazon.com
In 1961 New York, Judy Cooper barely escapes from the cops but not before catching two creeps, a chill and subsequently a fever. As she recovers from her severe cold, Judy realizes her time as "the Black Stiletto" roaming the mean streets of Manhattan may be over as the police and the mob hunt her.
Judy and Leo Kelly meet and share a deep attraction. He persuades her to accompany him to Los Angeles. However, in Southern California, Judy slowly realizes that though he seems to love her like she does him, Leo suffers from commitment phobia. Worse to her chagrin, this man she cherishes is a vicious criminal; the type of miscreant she pursued as the Black Stiletto on the East Coast.
The fourth super Black Stiletto thriller is a great historical tale (with a contemporary base) as the latest diary brings alive the transition between Ike and JFK, and the beginning of the latter's new Administration making it seem as if Raymond Benson wrote Judy's entries in 1961. Fast-paced, the change of coasts adds freshness especially with LAPD more tolerant of a crime fighting vigilante than their NYPD counterparts. Series fans will enjoy The Black Stiletto does Los Angeles while newcomers will seek her NYC escapades (see The Black Stiletto, The Black Stiletto: Stars and Stripes, and The Black Stiletto: Black And White).
Quests of Shadowind: Sky Shifter
c/o Cheryl Kirking
9780615439259, $10.95, www.amazon.com
On summer vacation, frightened thirteen year old Mindy Oakes wakes up her fifteen years old brother Logan concerned that their parents were gone. Logan wants his bratty sister to let him sleep, but he soon realizes nothing is right including the room he sleeps in as the house is not theirs; neither is the location; or the PJs he wears. He tries the phone with its odd umbilical cord to call his parents, but no one answers.
Stepping outside, Mindy and Logan see no adults except their neighbor Preston, but mechanical insects grab and take him away as today is his twentieth birthday. The horrified siblings soon meet other young people like Samantha but no adults. As they learn more about this new world, the Oakes and others begin a quest to obtain the Staff of the Sky Shifter before Lord Torrent releases his computer virus with the help of Kyle Whitelaw the neighborhood bully in both worlds. To do so they must enter Computerland even as the evil Torrent deploys his WMD to devastate their earth and their new (hopefully temporary) home Shadowind.
The first Quests of Shadowind is an exhilarating young teen fantasy that brings the Lord of the Flies and gruesome beasts into the digital age. The action-packed storyline with its vivid locales is excellent when the focus is on the Oates duet (especially Logan the leader) and Torrent, but loses some steam when cartoonish Kyle (think of a teen Bluto), take center stage. Armchair readers will appreciate spending time with the struggling to survive youth in vivid Shadowind and colorful Computerland while also knowing we are home.
The Unwelcome Child
c/o Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 13th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781451650891, $7.99, www.amazon.com
In Lake Hurley, New York, Elle Edwards was born in sin; at least that was the proclamation of her religious zealot Grandmother. Her wicked Mother abandoned Elle after one quick glimpse at her newborn in order to escape the wrath of her Mother; who had raised her to believe pain kept away sin; but obviously failed. Her crusading Grandmother supported by her husband keeps their soulless grandchild occupied with hard labor and strict religious teachings as a solitary confined prisoner they vigilantly guard to prevent Elle's evil spreading to others.
However, in spite of their religious fervor to isolate the devil's offspring, Elle meets twins Mason and Claudine who befriend her and begins to get her to believe she is not Satan's child. They also encourage her to pursue her art as she has a gift. However, she knows Grandmother will never allow evil Elle to go out into the world.
The Unwelcome Child is an exciting psychological thriller as V.C. Andrews uses religious fanaticism to make a case that the abused child (rationalized by Elle tormentors as holy means to contain evil) becomes the abused adult without caring intervention. Although the "godly" extremism by the grandparents is over the top of the Adirondacks, readers will enjoy this fascinating look at good and evil through the eyes of the sinful victim and her devout family.
A Well-Tempered Heart
Jan Philipp Sendker
2 Park Avenue, 24th Floor, New York, NY 10016
9781590516409, $15.95, www.amazon.com
Several years after Julia Win's father Tin gave up his New York legal practice to return to his homeland Burma, she followed him to learn why he abandoned her and her mom. There she learned of Tin's beloved soul mate Mi Mi in which true love never dies in spite of fifty years and thousands of miles apart, and met her brother Monk U Ba (see The Art of Hearing Heartbeats). After returning to the States, Julia became a successful but dissatisfied lawyer practicing in Manhattan.
A decade since her Asian roots trip, Julia and her boyfriend end their relationship, which adds malaise to her overall depression that there is more to life. While at an important work meeting, a female voice begins talking to her inside her head. Stunned, she walks out without a word to the other attendees, but the persistent voice keeps asking her thought-provoking questions re Julia's unhappiness. After consulting with her sister Amy, Julia decides to return to her father's homeland to see her other sibling. U Ba welcomes her and introduces Julia to Nu Nu; who tells the dispirited American about how her sons were drafted as expendable child soldiers.
Win's second trip to her paternal roots is a wonderful spiritual journey that once again provides readers with historical perspective this time through Nu Nu's tale. Though it lacks the incredible passionate romance of the first adventures; a strong support cast, a winning locale and a lost soul seeking something she is unsure of what make for a delightful sequel.
All Russians Love Birch Trees
Olga Grjasnowa, author
Eva Bacon, translator
2 Park Avenue, 24th Floor, New York, NY 10016
9781590515846, $15.95, www.amazon.colm
Masha Kogan was a little girl when her family fled war-ravaged Azerbaijan settling in Germany where the national policy encourages Jewish immigration though the natives are wary of foreigners from certain regions but especially Muslims. She has a propensity for language speaking many fluently as Masha studies to become an interpreter. The Jewish community is angry with her because her two best friends, Sami the Lebanese and Cem the Turk born in Germany, are Muslim while her boyfriend Elias is a natural born German.
When Elias breaks his leg playing soccer, he undergoes surgery only to die. Grieving Masha relooks her priorities and accepts a translator position in Israel. Her initial welcome to the Holy Land upon landing at the airport is security, claiming high risk, destroying her computer for containing Arabic stickers on it. From that stunning stray, as in Germany, Masha feels like an unwanted outsider especially since she speaks Arabic instead of Hebrew. As she meets her fellow Jews, Masha stereotypes the Israelis as deniers or PTSD suffers with her belonging to neither grouping.
This is a fascinating tale in which the violent background supersedes the protagonist who takes readers as a person without a homeland from Azerbaijan to Germany to Israel with the constant international message from the natives: distrust anyone different especially refugees. Timely with the immigration debate in America, readers will appreciate the harrowing journey that the displaced face more than the heroine escorting us.
Worthy Brown's Daughter
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
9780062195340, $26.99, www.amazon.com
Rachel Perry was happy living in Ohio with her husband Matthew the lawyer and surrounded by their families. However, he had the wanderlust so they left the Buckeye State for Oregon. Nearing their destination, Matthew watches his wife crossing a raging river in the McCormack wagon as Rachel gives comfort to pregnant Mary; to his horror he helplessly sees his beloved spouse die.
In Portland, the grieving widower opens up a legal practice. Freeman Worthy Brown retains Matthew to liberate his teenage Roxanne from their former slave owner, prominent attorney Caleb Barbour. Not long afterward, witnesses find Worthy standing over Caleb's murdered corpse. Matthew defends his client in front of hanging Judge Jed Tyler, who is distracted by his attraction to Sharon Hill. When affluent Benjamin Gillette dies, Sharon shows their marriage contract that has Tyler wonder whether the woman he craves killed the businessman and if she truly is the deceased's widow.
Worthy Brown's Daughter is an intriguing historical that looks closely at life in Portland just after Oregon becomes a state. Matthew is terrific as he struggles with the true meaning of justice between the law and what he believes is morally right; while Worthy seems genuine with his genuflecting deference to white leaders after decades as a slave. Although Barbour, Tyler and Hill are over the top of the Cascades as stereotypes of western baddies, fans will enjoy visiting Oregon circa 1860 especially the courtroom.
The Pagan Lord
In 899, King Alfred the Great dies. His son Edward becomes the monarch of a land at war between the Saxons and the Danes. Several like Uhtred the Pagan warlord were in favor when Alfred ruled Wessex only to find themselves in trouble with Edward on the throne as the new King of the Saxons purges Danish influence. This is made clear to Uhtred after a particular violent incident in which Alfred would have applauded him while Edward declares him outlaw.
Fleeing the monarch's wrath, Uhtred turns home to take back Bebbanburg. His brave inane action places him in the midst of war between the Danes and Saxons. Feeling comfortable in combat, Uhtred plans to strike back at those who outlawed him regardless of what happens to Britain especially those people subject to Danish control.
This is a great tenth century historical that centers on competing multiple cultures (Danes vs. Saxons and Christians vs. Pagans) fighting for control of England. The premise is built from the hypothesis that much, if not all of the island, could have become Scandinavian as easily as it became Saxon. Fans of the Saxon Tales (see Death of Kings) will appreciate this strong entry as Uhtred's angry acrimonious aims impact the world around him.
Christopher Golden, editor
This seventeen story collection focuses on "tales of horror and dark fantasy" with the caveat that each contribution must be coauthored by a collaboration of at least two writers who previously never teamed up. The compilation is very well written as expected by the highly regarded participants, but the entries often miss the dark adjective requirement and ergo are rarely horrifying. "Violence is as American as Cherry Pie" (H. Raps Brown) for the deceased as much as the living in "Wielded" by Tom Piccirilli and T.M. Wright. In "Dark Witness" (Charlaine Harris and Rachel Caine) the female struggles to cope with rape. Erin persuades her BFF Jana to come to the party where the latter learns the hard way about the cost of "Blind Love" (father-daughter team Lansdale). The troll's feeding tastes would lock him away for life or execute him in human society for two distinct reasons in "Trip Trap" by Sherrilyn Kenyon and Kevin J. Anderson. This is a fun anthology but many of the tales use humor that lightens the intended darkness.
77 West 66th Street, New York, NY 10023-6298
9781401341947, $15.99, www.amazon.com
Three months ago in Chicago, novelist Julia Bishop's husband Jeremy committed suicide when his Ponzi investment scheme collapsed. His death left his widow holding the bag of a myriad of lawsuits from irate investors and possible criminal charges of being his partner even while she claims she was unaware of his illegal endeavor.
Though they never met before, Adrian Sinclair visits Julia at her home with an employment proposition that will enable her to escape the howling wolves wanting her blood. She accepts his job offer of companion to his aging mother at their Havenwood Estate in isolated northern Minnesota. Julia is amazed that Adrian's mom is renowned horror author Amaris "the female Edgar Allan Poe" Sinclair, who reportedly died a decade ago; that Havenwood was the sight of a horrid eerie incident in 1875 involving a homicide and spiritualist Seraphina; and that spirits from that Reconstruction Era deadly event remain at the mansion with one of them insanely evil.
Wendy Webb's latest supernatural (see The Tale of Halcyon Crane and The Fate of Mercy Alban) is an exciting contemporary haunted house thriller starring a woman who thought as she left Chicago nothing could be worse until she meets the occupants of Havenwood. Although the key late twist feels unsatisfactory and implausible (even with ghosts), readers will enjoy this haunting modern day gothic.
Finders, Keepers, Losers, Weepers
Robert S. Levinson
Five Star Books
10 Water Street, Suite 310, Waterville, ME 04901
9781432827816, $25.95, www.amazon.com
In Indianapolis, rock and roll superstar Nat Axelrod has consensual sex with groupie Mae Jean Minter when her father arrives and accused him of violent rape before shooting the music legend. Nat survives the chest wound, but his career crashes when he is convicted of rape. Nat's manager Danny Manings' wife dies due to a drug overdose and his career shattered when his top gun began serving concurrent twenty-five year sentences. Nat dies in prison.
A decade later, reporter Laurent Connart investigates Nat's fall from grace but uncovers evidence that the rock legend was innocent and shockingly free and alive. While the intrepid journalist searches for the truth, Danny and Nat seek respective second chances along different paths; with the deranged singer seeking vengeance and the manager hoping to launch a potential new star Patrice Malloy. All converge in Los Angeles.
Finders, Keepers, Losers, Weepers is an entertaining look at the underbelly of the music industry though none of the key players come across as likeable; which adds depth to the dark character-driven storyline. Readers will appreciate Robert S. Levinson's rousing Rock and Roll thriller; as the women need plenty of contraception with their libidos as enticing weapons and the men need to prove they are the most kick ass.
The Knife's Edge
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9780989148320, $29.99, www.amazon.com
Rumors abound of the Return with few like Ren having the courage or foolishness to say the name Ronin. Almost everyone else acts like Kirin fearful of even whispering the dreaded word.
Neophyte Vera passes the Seven Trials, but coveting power wants much more than being a mere Reaver. She attempts to release the power of the sword. Her boyfriend Kirin finds her dead with the sword protruding from her corpse. The palace guards believe he killed her. Kirin grabs the sword, but loses control and kills several people. His grandfather informs him he is the prophecy of the Return, but not ready; thus Kirin's elderly relative intercedes wiping out his memories. He becomes Gray living a solitary life with his only companion a hermit. However, Vera sends evil beasts to kill her former boyfriend, who escapes and flees as he reluctantly begins to accept what he is and must do.
This an entertaining quest fantasy with a fascinating twist re how the characters, particularly Kirin-Gray, think of the Ronin legend as evil vs. the seemingly reality of harsh savior. Though the storyline goes as expected, Gray brings freshness as a sort of Frodo struggling with what is going on to him with the changes in his life. The support cast, especially vile Vera and Gray's "buddies", enhances the exciting storyline as we want to know why people strongly fear the Return and why just about everyone believes the Ronin is malevolent.
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781494847883, $16.99, www.amazon.com
In 1997 Connecticut, teenage newcomer Lacey Watkins attends a party only to watch in horror as some of the others kill a girl. She testifies against them, but her life is in shambles so she leaves town.
Sixteen years later, Gavin MacFadyen attends the funeral of his former New Haven Police Department partner Terri Watkins, who was killed in a suspicious hit and run. Grieving Gavin thinks thirty-eight years old Terri had everything going for her until her sibling came back to town. Lacey also mourns the loss of the one person who abidingly loved her regardless of what trouble she caused. NHPD begins to look at Lacey as a suspect in her sister's death. Feeling he owes Terri and attracted to Lacey, Gavin offers to protect her while investigating the vehicular homicide of her sibling and several other apparently related murders.
The First Gavin MacFadyen investigation is a strong whodunit as the evidence implicates Lacey while even her new hero wonders if his libido fogs up his brain. Fast-paced, readers will appreciate this entertaining mystery sprinkled with red herrings as Gavin tries to keep Lacey safe from a persistent killer with a powerful vendetta motivator.
My Sweetest Escape
Chelsea M. Cameron
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373778539, $11.95, www.amazon.com
Eighteen-year-old Joscelyn Archer was proud of being the second sibling to receive a high school diploma and going to college. When her life at the University of New Hampshire collapses, her parents force her to transfer to Maine where her older sister Renee attends and serve as her warden.
University of Maine student Dustin Sharp vowed to behave after a recent incident. However, he also wants his new choir boy persona enlivened with Jos. She feels the same way, but her prison guard vigilantly watches her and a trauma makes her hesitant. Dusty remains persistent in pursuit of the coed he loves.
Though there is a deja vu feeling (see My Favorite Mistake), readers will enjoy this New England campus romance. The lead characters are a fascinating pairing of two souls struggling to behave. In spite of the life changing incidents each protagonist diligently conceals something not worthy of hiding especially from the person they love. Still fans will enjoy touring the U of Maine with this couple.
In seven years as Jacobs County Sheriff, Hayes Carson has been shot twice and only one prisoner, El Jefe the Mexican drug lord, escaped. He hates Jacobsville Times' publisher Minette Rayner who he holds culpable for the death of his brother because she gave him the drugs that killed him. Hayes also knows something about her father that he promised his dad he would not reveal to anyone especially Minette. Hayes personally pledged to himself to lock up El Jefe and to deliver justice to Minette.
When he is shot for the third time while at home, the injury requires special attention and therapy; but no one volunteers to move into his home mostly because of his roommate Andy the six foot iguana. Minette offers Hayes a room in her abode shared with her family. Like him she hides a secret, but his proves dangerous to the woman he vows to be her loving Protector.
This reprint of a Long, Tall Texans romance (see Dangerous) is an entertaining entry as close quarters turns loathing into loving. The human cast adds complexity as morality proves multifaceted and convoluted while Andy being Andy steals scenes. Although there is too many flashbacks delaying the romance and the present day police procedural action, fans of the series will enjoy the sheriff and the publisher starting to fall in love; that is if they live long enough to fully cherish one another.
Texas Outlaws: Billy
Sabrina Collins comes to Lost Gun, Texas because the town hosts a big famous rodeo. She is not there as a fan but to persuade cowboys to sign onto her new online dating service. At a dance, Sabrina and rodeo rider Billy Chisholm meet and begin a no strings tryst that both agrees ends when the rodeo leaves town.
However, to her shock Sabrina likes the townsfolk who welcome her as one of them. Even more stunning to her, Sabrina begins to fall in love with Billy. Although astonished by his feelings for Sabrina, Billy believes his childhood makes him unworthy of her.
The latest Texas Outlaws romance (see Jesse) is an enjoyable contemporary starring two protagonists struggling with the inconvenience of love entering their heated affair. Although the relationship conflict comes across as weak; readers will appreciate Kimberly Raye's titillating Texas tale starting with these "Strangers in the night; ... Love was just a glance away, a warm embracing dance away" (Sinatra).
Max Varo asks performance coach Serena Long, who helped him several years ago, for a favor. He tells her that his thirtyish childhood friend Adam Shawnigan is the best player on their amateur hockey team, but always chokes during the playoffs. She says she knows nothing about hockey, but his explanation leads her to believe Adam suffers from performance anxiety. After being assured by Max that Adam wants help, Serena agrees to work with him.
However, as Serena works with reluctant Adam to overcome his fear of failure, someone threatens the coach. A cop Adam insists on protecting Serena from her stalker while she objects over his persistence. As they enjoy sex, they fall in love.
The first Last Bachelor Standing (Max and their other pal Dylan to follow) is a thrilling contemporary romantic suspense as Adam and Serena help each other in and out of the boudoir. Readers will enjoy the best buddy camaraderie between the three amigos, but it is the heat generated by the lead couple that could melt the ice at the NHL's 2014 Winter Classics (in Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Soldier Field and Vancouver's' BC Place) that make this a wonderful first period.
Blood on Copperhead Trail
Ridge County Public Integrity Officer Laney Hanvey is assigned to investigate how deep the corruption within the Bitterwood Police Department is after the late former Chief of Detectives Rayburn was exposed for being on the payroll of Wayne Cortland. Part of her inquiry is to recommend whether BPD be folded inside of the county's Office of the Sherif or left independent run by newcomer Doyle Massey.
The murdered body of Missy Adderly is found on Copperhead Trail. Shocked Laney knew the deceased but fears for her younger sister Janelle who went hiking with the Adderly siblings. Leaving his detectives to work the homicide, Doyle accompanies Laney as she begins a search and she prays rescue mission for missing teens as a storm and human danger threaten their effort.
The fourth Bitterwood P.D. romantic police procedural (see Murder in the Smokies, The Smoky Mountain Mist and Smoky Ridge Curse) is an enjoyable S&R drama that contains a strong storyline yet also moves forward the overarching theme as more of Cortland's empire is revealed. The harrowing suspenseful rescue effort supersedes the attraction with saving the heroine's sister and surviving the storm and miscreants in the Smokies coming before the protagonists' desires.
Rocky Mountain Revenge
Socialite Elizabeth Giardino lived a pampered life while ignoring how her father Sam made his money as head of a crime family in which her brother Sammy is the heir apparent. When Elizabeth met undercover FBI agent Jake Westmoreland, she no longer could be the princess who kept her head in the sand re her dad's activities so she testified against him.
Now she is Anne Gardener in the Witness Protection Program as Elizabeth Giardino died one year ago on Valentine's Day. She is unaware that her father escaped from prison with plans to kill his beloved betrayer while her sibling plots to take over the mob. In love with Elizabeth, Jake, fearing for her life, searches for her. When he finds her in the Rocky Mountains, she is stunned because she thought he died in the Valentine Day's massacre while also knowing if he located her than her father and his thugs will too.
Rocky Mountain Revenge is an exhilarating WPP romantic thriller starring two strong characters dealing with trust issues as well as her lethal family problems. Fast-paced with a powerful sense of foreboding in a pristine remote locale, readers will appreciate Cindi Myers's suspenseful tale though the lead antagonists are underdeveloped stereotypical avenging mobsters.
The human may be living in squalor in Cave City, Kentucky, but his claim on a blog to have found hidden treasure sends hermitic vampire Marc Delacroix to his abode as he believes the man found a vampire cache. Moments after his arrival at the dump, two werewolves enter the building. Russell and Cece Parks learned of the hidden werewolf treasure when a drunk bragged about it. A dog angry over the invasion has the three intruders fleeing.
Marc and Cece are attracted to each but distrust supersedes desire. Though her pack wants their natural enemy dead, Cece risks becoming an exiled lone wolf by rescuing him; while a third party paranormal hunt for the same artifacts killing anyone, regardless of species, in their way.
Moon Rising is an exciting paranormal taboo romance due to the fully developed lead characters whose relationship goes from attraction to love rather quickly; while trust proves more convoluted and extremely difficult to achieve because of conflicting loyalties. Fast-paced readers will enjoy the treasure hunt teaming by the vampire and the were in the ideal locale, Mammoth Cave National Park.
Everywhere She Goes
Janice Kay Johnson
Angel Butte, Oregon Mayor Noah Chandler is fuming with the City Council when they select LAPD Homicide Lieutenant Alec Raynor as police chief as he felt they needed an administrative expert instead of an urban detective. After Alec accepts the position, Noah informs acting chief Colin McAllister that he was not selected because the department is corrupt and needs a radical change.
After years away from her hometown, Colin's sister Cait returns to Angel Butte as the new city planner. She is not in town very long when someone tries to kill her. With a murder of another resident, and attracted to each other, Colin vows to keep Cait safe from this lethal unknown adversary who obviously wants her dead though she knows not whom or why.
The second Mysteries of Angel Butte (see Colin's tale - Bringing Maddie Home) is an exciting amateur sleuth romance as the lead couple, in spite of not being law enforcement, team up trying to identify who wants the heroine dead and why. Romantic suspense fans will enjoy this fast-paced female in peril tale.
Race for the Gold
Harlequin Love Inspired Suspense
Laney Thompson and Max Blanco feel great that both made the U.S. Olympics speed skating teams. Walking together, they kiss when a car plows into them.
Though still suffering from nightmares about the end of her dream, four years later twenty-seven years old Laney trained by Max mounts a comeback. In the trials she crashes but explains to Max it was not her concentration problem, but her right skate felt off; mysteriously it is missing. Someone assaults her dad Dan and reporter Hugh Peterson wants to talk with Laney claiming he has information re her accident four years ago. As more incidents occur, Max vows to keep his beloved Laney safe from whoever wants to keep her off the American Olympics squad.
With an obvious nod to the January two-decades ago Nancy Kerrigan attack, Race for the Gold is a fast-paced (duh - speed skating) suspenseful sports romance. The insight into training and the tryouts add depth to an interesting skater in peril thriller as readers will wonder who and why someone, using any means, wants Laney out of the competition.
The Greek's Tiny Miracle
International exporter Dev Harris and Stephanie Marsh met in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean and shared ten days of incredible love until he abruptly vanished leaving behind a thank you note and nothing else. He returned to his Greek military unit knowing they had no future together though he also believes he loves the American. Heartbroken and feeling like a fool, Stephanie learns how her late mom felt raising a child as a single mother' as she is carrying Dev's baby.
Greek Navy SEAL Nikos Vassalos suffers from a spine injury and PTSD after his last mission went ugly leaving his best friend Kon dead. Though he visits Kon's family, he mostly grieves by himself on his yacht Diomedes rejecting even his worried family as he distrusts himself to behave properly among civilized company. Though she fears his reaction, Stephanie finds the father of her child but this cold broken Nikos is nothing like the warm passionate Dev she loved. Still she knows how much growing up she wanted her daddy in her life so Stephanie tries to get through Nikos' hardened acrimonious exterior to resuscitate his heart.
The Greek's Tiny Miracle is an engaging second chance due to the actions of the intrepid heroine who refuses to accept Nikos' rejection of their child. Ironically Stephanie keeps the storyline moving forward but tormented Nikos owns the novel with his bone marrow deep fear that his PTSD will one day explode out of control and harm those he loves.
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
In Wolf Creek, Pennsylvania Marlene Marcoli and her sister Sheri own the Roadside Stop. After closing the shop for the night, Marlene heads to her apartment above Minnie's Treasure Trove only to find her door battered open. She runs back to her car and calls the cops. Police Detective Frank Delaney answers the call as he thinks back to when he met her and her two half-sisters while investigating the disappearance of her still missing aunt. Frank tells her the rooms look like a three year old had a temper tantrum. Marlene assumes Michael Arello, who she fired for stealing food from the Roadside Stop and also was canned by her sister Roxy for the same crime from her restaurant, did the damage.
When more assaults targeting Marlene occur, she thinks Pittsburgh has come for her with a vengeance. Frank vows to protect the woman he has fallen in love with, but fails when the unknown adversary kidnaps his Marlene.
The second Wolf Creek police procedural romance is an exciting woman in peril tale that overall is very similar in tone to Foxy Roxy's entry (see Cold Case, Hot Accomplice). Still readers will enjoy the romance between the cop and the middle sister interrupted by her abduction.
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
Stealth Operations Specialist Creed Thomas arrives in Cape, Churn, Oregon seeking a yacht he tagged in Russia and Phillip Macias who is interested in the vessel. He goes undercover as an insurance investigator seeking a boat that crashed nearby. He rents a ship from Dave Logsden and hires Cape Churn Memorial Nurse Emma Jenkins as his diver though as a former SEAL he most likely is superior in the water. Emma hopes to find a way to pay back the money her fiance stole from funds planned for a children's wing addition.
Emma and Creed work closely together in search of his boat and in his case Phillip the terrorist and in hers the eighteenth century sunken Santa Ana. As they fall in love, Emma fears Creed fails to share her commitment.
Returning to the picturesque (except in fog) Oregon coast (see Deadly Reckoning), Elle James provides another strong romantic suspense. The lead couple is a wonderful pairing while the sea adventures come across vivid and filled with action.
The Nanny's Secret
In Dutchman's Creek, Colorado, Wolf Ridge Ski Resort owner Wyatt Richardson advertises for a nanny to watch his sixteen year old daughter Chloe's newborn Michael. Several candidates answered the former Olympian medalist's ad in the Dutchman's Creek Sentinel, but none seemed suited. His last interview is with part-time local reporter Leigh Foster, whose only experience with infants is baby-sitting. She affirms his opinion that she needs the money, but desperate and at the hospital with Chloe's bitter approval he hires the twenty-six years old.
Leigh learns immediately that Chloe is spoiled and filled with rage at her dad for not ever being in her life and with her mom for choosing New York with her lover over seeing her new granddaughter. As Wyatt and Leigh begin to fall in love, she fears he will kick her to the curb when he discovers The Nanny's Secret as to why she really wanted this position.
The latest Billionaires and Babies romance (see A Billionaire for Christmas by Janice Maynard) is a wonderful family affair with the title character, the father and teen daughter fully developed. Although Leigh's hidden agenda seems inane, fans will enjoy this warm contemporary.
The Dance Off
In Richmond, architect Ryder Fitzgerald knows he would do anything for his decade plus younger sister Sam, but believes she asks too much of him when she begs him and others coming to her wedding to learn ballroom dancing. Still he finds himself at the Amelia Brandt Dance Academy where instructor Nadia Kent will provide him with private lessons.
Ryder and Nadia are attracted to each other even before their first tango. As they dance together, they fall in love. However, he rejects long term relationships after observing his serial married father ignore his children and wife of the moment for his next bride, which is why Ryder is giving Sam away; and Nadia allowed attraction to nuke her career so vowed never again.
The Dance Off is a wonderful contemporary starring two relationship phobic protagonists learning to trust in love one step at a time. Readers will enjoy hopping to the Lindy and "Get Up Offa That Thing" (James Brown) as Ally Blake provides a lively romance.
Big Sky Secrets
Linda Lael Miller
Divorcee Landry Sutton returns home to his Parable, Montana rustic roots to sell his share of Hangman Bend's Ranch to his brother Zane as he plans to live in the city where he became a wealthy executive. At his sibling's Big Sky Wedding, Landry met 200-proof urbanite Widow Ria Manning; who finds everyday rural life harrowing while she runs a flower farm. Landry and Ria were attracted to one another at first sight, but neither acted on their feelings as his ex-wife and his father's abandonment left him a doubter; while her deceased firefighting spouse's cheating and her dysfunctional family left her a skeptic.
When his wandering buffalo trample her flowers and send a frightened Ria into a panic, Landry arrives to take them home. Before leaving with his bison, he challenges her to go with him; she reluctantly takes up his dare. As they double and triple dare each other, Landry and Ria fall in love; but besides their hearts they share exorbitant distrust of people that keeps both from committing to a forever relationship.
The last Parable ranch romance (see Big Sky Summer and Big Sky River) is an entertaining contemporary as love is not enough for the protagonists who must work through their troubled pasts before they fully can connect. Landry's butler Highbridge brings fresh humor to the enjoyable straightforward storyline.
Mr. (Not Quite) Perfect
Glitz fashion magazine reporter Allegra Fielding sells a concept for an article to her powerful editor Stella on changing Mr. (Not Quite) Perfect into Prince Charming. Allegra has one other persuasion to perform. She must convince her practical temporary engineering roommate Max Warriner to be the makeover subject.
Recently dumped by his fiancee Emma for being more of a passionless friend than a committed lover, Max agrees to become the experiment if Allegra pretends to be his fiancee. Max begins to understand that relationships require two involved people offering what their partner needs to keep the fire burning. Allegra has an epiphany that her ideal paragon ironically is not good enough for her or any full-blooded woman to live with as it is more important that someone who cares so much about you that they will do things for you they detest. While the roomies fall in love, both fears that they fail to meet the other's ideal perfect criteria.
Jessica Hart provides a wonderful contemporary romance in which the lead couple must leave their respective comfort zone if they want a loving relationship. Though the storyline goes the path as expected, readers will enjoy the engaging not quite transformation of a modern day male Pygmalion.
A Promise For The Baby
In Vegas, dealer Vivian Yip and attorney Karl Milek meet and spend a drunken night together. In the hangover morning, each is shocked that they married, but agree to a divorce. She goes back to the casino while he returns to Chicago after accusing her of manipulating him for money.
Over the next few weeks, Vivian loses her job and her savings due to her father's machinations, and her figure due to that one night stand. She shows up in Chicago pregnant accompanied by her parrot. Karl likes the concept of an offspring so he gives her a place to stay until he learns why Vivian lost her job; his original fears that morning after lead him to distrust the mother of his unborn.
A Promise for the Baby is a wonderful family drama starring a down on her luck protagonist, an unlikable lead male and a strong support cast made up of mostly of her father and aunt, his kin and their friends. Readers will enjoy Jennifer Lohmann's amusing tale of what happens in Vegas stays in Chicago with Vivian knowing Karl loves her due to how he ultimately treats her felonious father.
The Vampire Hunter
In Paris, Knight of the Stake Kaz Rothstein searches for the distributer behind the devastation that has turned the streets of the City of Lights into a dark hellhole. After Kaz rescues a young female from a vampire pack; she thanks her hero with a kiss that shakes him to his bone marrow and has her heart pounding. To his astonishment, Zac is attracted to the beguiling witch Zoe Guillbeaux.
Meanwhile the witch has been working on an elixir to cure an undead friend addicted to faery ichor, but remains ignorant that her medicine has become the rage of the Paris underground. As each learns the whole truth; she fears her beloved's reaction to her.
This In The Company of Vampires romantic urban fantasy is an entertaining Paris thriller. The lead couple is a terrific pairing of two individuals who are in love but doubts linger in each's minds from their respective history with the paranormal. Although the fascinating drug investigation takes too long to come together, readers will appreciate the changing relationship between the hunter and the witch (from The Good to The Bad to The Ugly, and hopefully back to the Good).
She Shall Be Praised
c/o Hachette Publishing Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017-0010
9780892968466, $15.00, www.amazon.com
In 1883, following a trip to London, upper crust Emma Crowell stops at the home of her aunt and uncle in Hope County, Oregon. Heeding her father's plea, Emma accepts Joshua Hamilton's proposal. About to leave on a business trip to Paris, Joshua gives his fiancee a poodle.
On the coach to Portland without a chaperone, Emma demands the driver stop because her dog Pippa needs a break. Once the socialite and the canine leave the coach; the driver leaves them behind in the wild. Two outlaws capture the deb and the dog until rancher Peter Lowery and his manager Colley, searching for sheep rustlers, rescue them. He takes the females to his home, but explains he cannot escort her to Portland due to his ranch obligations for a few months. Instead Peter offers her a place to stay if Emma becomes the housekeeper and his son Robby's caretaker. As Emma adapts to working guided by the Proverbs, she falls in love with her host and his child. Although she believes Peter reciprocates Emma must persuade him to let her stay with them instead of taking her to Portland.
The third Women of Hope Americana romance (see Remember Me When and For Such A Time As This) is a wonderful 1880s Oregonian inspirational. The key cast comes across fully developed; especially Emma who starts off as a debutante out of place in a rustic lifestyle after years in ballrooms (though I doubt she can change her spots, Ginny Aiken makes a compelling case). Ironically, Colley and Pippa bring freshness to She Shall Be Praised while the protagonists need to overcome their respective first impressions of each other.
The Broken Dragon
Daw Books, Inc.
c/o Penguin Group
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780756409159, $7.99, www.amazon.com
Teen twins Lily and Valeria are opposites due to their respective magic skills; yet inseparable as halves together they make a whole. Lively Lily lacks any magical talent but is an accomplished healer; non-vivacious Val is a great mage but is always sickly as usage drains a person. With the support of his mate Brevelan the witch, Senior Magician and Chancellor of the University of Magicians Jaylor insists his daughter Val learns to care for herself; as he has separate missions for his daughters. Jaylor also explains adversaries plan a coup d'etat that threatens the reign of King Darville and their adopted son Glenndon, heir to the throne (see The Silent Dragon).
Da assigns Val as keeper to control Lady Ariiell's magic while the pair heads to the home of the latter's father and to report any strangeness in Lord Laisac's household. Lily will become companion to Lord Jemmarc's wife ailing Lady Graciella while escorting her from Coronnan City to Castle Saria's fresh sea air. However, a magically-generated super storm leaves the country in peril from a raging talented magician with the only hope to prevent the pandemic catastrophe rests with the separated sisters uniting with each other and others.
The second Children of the Dragon Nimbus is an exciting coming of age quest fantasy as the twins must find themselves while on separate adventures yet also need each other in the immediate fight. The fully developed with differing skills and personalities siblings are terrific as they keep their respective subplot focused. Fans of the original Dragon Nimbus saga (see The Glass Dragon, The Perfect Princess, The Loneliest Magician and The Wizard's Treasure) will appreciate Irene Radford's entertaining next generation series.
Fury Of The Demon
Though still recuperating from Demon Lord Rhyzkahl's vicious betrayal, still shocked Demon Summoner Kara Gillian has no time to heal. She and her beloved rescuer and mentor Demon Lord Mzatal rely on one another as they plan to rescue his kidnapped ward Idris from summoners loyal to Rhyzkahl.
They leave the land of the demons as clues lead them to earth where Kara not too long ago was once a mundane Beaulac, Louisiana Police Detective. FBI agents Ryan Kristoff and Zack Garner assist them starting with making her an agency consultant. When Kara and Mzatal become embroiled in a homicide by magic, the summoner fears this is much more than a simple S&R as the pair concludes Rhyzkahl's minion grows exponentially.
The latest Kara Gillian urban fantasy (see Mark of the Demon and Touch of the Demon) is a fabulous tale as the heroine psychologically struggles with betrayal by so-called friends while reassessing her interpretation of her recent past. She also deals with the horrific revelations of what happened on her home plane while Mzatal trained her for months in his realm. Fast-paced throughout, series fans will appreciate the Bayou Summoner's return home.
Teenager Emma knows heartbreak as her beloved boyfriend Nathan died one month after they first got together. Three months have passed since his demise, but for Emma that seems like eternity as besides missing him, she has learned she is a necromancer who sees and communicates with the dead; for instance her late dad lecturing her over the importance of high school. At Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Emma visits Nathan's grave, just like his mom always does, but unlike his mother they talk and touch.
Emma learns from two friends, necromantic-hunters Eric and Chase, that the Queen of the Dead prevents souls from leaving this plane. Her heart conflicts over alienating the powerful Queen by helping Nathan depart and keeping him with her.
The second Queen of the Dead teen fantasy (see Silence) is an exciting tale as the heroine must choose between a Hobson's Choice of the ghostly status quo and her love moving on. Newcomers would better understand the protagonist by reading Silence first as Emma has come a long way in a seemingly short time from her reluctant early days as a necromancer and the importance of her ability to make friendships with anyone even those needing to kill her.
The Magic Between Us
1935 Brookdale Road, #139, Naperville, IL 60563
9781402268182, $6.99, www.amazon.com
His parents live on the mortal plane while hybrid Marcus Thorne resides in the land of the fae without them ever in his life. He loves Cecelia Hewitt and expects to one day marry her. However, family duty calls for him to cross the plane to become an English aristocrat; leaving behind his beloved Cecelia.
His kin welcomes Marcus but also tells him they want him happy which includes marrying Cecelia. However, she has family demands so she says no to his proposal. Resolute Marcus vows to learn what prevents his beloved from becoming his wife and fixing this roadblock to their happiness.
The latest "Magic" regency romantic fantasy (see A Lady And Her Magic and The Magic Of "I Do") is an engaging paranormal historical starring two likeable leads struggling with obligations that keep them from saying yes at the same time to The Magic Between Them. Although a late redemption feels improbable and tsuris resolved too quickly and easily, fans will enjoy this cross-plane romance.
Lord of the Hunt
1935 Brookdale Road, #139, Naperville, IL 60563
9781402280191, $6.99, www.amazon.com
Taryn is frightened but intrepid as she breathes the air of her ancestors for the first time when she crosses from the mortal plane to Annwyn, home of the Fae. She accepted an invitation by the former Outcast Prince, who though unready will soon be the ruler with Winter coming for the first time in decades. Her mission is personal as she prays the present King will pardon her exiled father so that he and her beloved mother can come home before the throne change leaves those banished from the realm dead.
The Lord of the Hunt Verden shocks himself when he realizes he is attracted to the naive Fae outsider. He mentors Taryn on life at court, but fears those with ruthless ambition will use his beloved as a power grabbing expendable pawn during the royal change when illusions die and planes expire.
The latest Court of Annwyn romantic fantasy is a superb thriller that works on the macro level with the great change coming to the land of the Fae and on the micro level with the growing love between the daughter of exiles and the Lord of the Hunt. Readers will appreciate this strong entry as the destructive force of Winter leaves Annwyn and the mortal world in peril.
The Quaker And The Rebel
Harvest House Publishers
990 Owen Loop North, Eugene, Oregon 97402-9173
9780736950503, $13.99, www.amazon.com
In 1861 on Virginia's Bennington Island in the Ohio River, Dr. Porter and Mrs. Augusta Bennington hire Quaker Emily Harrison as a governess to their two daughters. Emily explains to Augusta that she is engaged and as soon as her fiance returns from DC, she will marry him in Marietta. The governess also declares she adamantly opposes slavery though concealing from her slave-owning employer that her late parents worked the Underground Railroad. Not upset with the brazen woman, Augusta replies that she, her sister and her nephew Alexander Hunt are Quakers too.
Emily struggles between loyalty to the Bennington family and a need to help runaway slaves. She also is attracted to slave owner Alexander in spite of his lackadaisical uncaring nature; refusing to take a side in the conflict. Alexander reciprocates her feelings but hides from Emily that he is "the Gray Wraith" trying to help slaves without using a gun.
The first Civil War Heroines' romance is an exciting historical starring two protagonists driven by their Quaker faith to assist runaway slaves. Though transitions are choppy, Alexander and Emily cleverly change due to the horrors they witness. Vividly written, readers will appreciate the insight into Quakerism during the battle of Middleburg, the blockade of Richmond, the courageous efforts of the Underground Railroad and the secession of West Virginia (from Virginia) providing a strong backdrop to a fabulous War Between The States drama.
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780345539786, $25.00, www.amazon.com
Unlike his older brother Kieran, his sister Leanna and their Mother; sixteen year old Darrow watched stoically when the Golds tried and convicted his father, and the Greys hung his dad with the felon's loved one's pulling his feet to overcome the scarcity of gravity on Mars. Along with his family, as part of the lowest strata consisting of underground Red miners, Darrow works in hell digging for valuable helium-3 so that his offspring may have a better life on a terraformed surface.
When Darrow's wife Little Eo learns the lies the elite has told about the hostile surface conditions as living planet-side is safe abundant with cities; she somberly sings a banned hymn. The upper strata convict and hang her. Grieving the loss of his spouse and childhood best friend, Darrow seeks revenge. The rebellious Sons of Ares offer him an opportunity, which he accepts. Following surgery and intense weeks of training, Darrow gains admission to the exclusive Institute. There he struggles to adjust at a school in which power is the only prize coveted by the surface aristocratic students and faculty while the losers' lament are death or servitude; and students like Darrow are expendables at any time.
With a nod to the Hunger Games, Red Rising is an action-packed science fiction thriller that never slows from the moment Father is executed for dancing. Though the premise offers nothing new, this fast-paced Martian thriller grips the audience as the lowly Red surfaces driven by a bone marrow deep purpose to change the social order that he used to believe in.
A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder
Anthology edited by Robert Krog
Dark Oak Press
c/o Kerlak Enterprises Inc.
1779 Kirby Pkwy, Ste 1-373, Memphis TN 38138
9781937035655, $2.99 Kindle and Nook / $14.95 paperback
Whether sailing the bounding main or scavenging through outer space in print or film, pirates seem to pique our imagination. The 24 diverse tales in this anthology celebrate the pirate mystique in prose and verse through wondrous imageries of exotic locales and characters of humorous cunning or exceptional courage. Within these pages I traveled Earth's oceans and the ocean of space while experiencing history, fantasy, and sci fi created by clever wordsmiths. Each author and every tale transported me to fascinating places and eras.
The pirates here don't see themselves as ordinary. They're entrepreneurs, pursuing worthy purposes, serving mankind in unusual ways: a princess who turns pirate to solve a personal problem; a young dragon who learns the wisdom of being different; ghosts and ghost ships that teach extraordinary life lessons; landlocked pirate pretenders who dream fondly of adventure. The seas and winds become a living backdrop here through waves that roar or gently lap, creaking yardarms, flapping sails, and rattling anchor chains.
If you enjoy historic adventures, fantasy, science fiction, or simply an exceptional reading experience, this anthology is highly recommended.
A Sweetheart for Valentine
Lorna Balian, author/illustrator
Star Bright Books
13 Landsdowne Street, Cambridge, MA 02139
9781932065145, $15.95, www.starbrightbooks.com
"A Sweetheart for Valentine" is an inspired modern fairy tale with a twist: the foundling baby heroine is a giantess! Lovingly raised and fed by an entire village (perhaps the moral is, 'It takes a village....') named St. Valentine, the giantess thrives and outgrows every building and article of clothing in the village. But Valentine became sad, so sad her tear threatened to drown St. Valentine. What was the cause of her grief? She needed someone to love and marry ( who was big enough to carry her off). Although this seemed hopeless at first, her prayer for a lover was answered when a clumsy young giant stumbled into the village one day with a broken toe. Remaining to heal with the generous and gentle villagers, he confessed he was wandering the hills looking for a wife. At first, unfortunately, Valentine and her young giant do not exactly hit it off, despite their obviously having been destined for one another. Once again the patient, kind, and resourceful villagers hit upon a plan: They will feed and care for the young giant and allow nature to take its course, with proximity helping nature along. Sure enough the two lovers eventually discover each other and their attraction blooms into love. Once again, Valentine cries rivers of tears, because, the villagers find, she has nothing to wear to her wedding. Easily solved, the villagers declare, and they devise a marvelous bridal dress for her twined of flowers, leaves, and vines. All ends well as the two grown up giants lovingly pledge their troths, and the date of their wedding, February 14, is declared to be celebrated as Valentine's Day from that day forward. Charming, comical illustrations of tiny villagers contrast with the two huge lovers and create an incredible beflowered fantasy world that magically rewards faith and good works with true love and joy. "A Sweetheart for Valentine" is a true re-imagining of what may have inspired Valentine's Day once upon a time.
Mel Bay's Modern Piano Method Grade 1
Per Danielsson, author
Mel Bay Publications
PO Box 66, Pacific, MO 63069
97800786678303, $14.99 MB20077BCD, www.melbay.com
"Mel Bay's Modern Piano Method Grade 1" presents an excellent system for introducing the contemporary, older beginning pianist to piano/keyboard performance, including general keyboard techniques and skills and functional music literacy skills, including "a well-rounded understanding of how to read notes and ...basic cord symbols..." Beginning with an introduction to keyboard and written music, grand staff, measure, rhythm, time signatures, and the music alphabet, several Getting Started exercises lead to other basic keyboard awareness exercises in middle C and G position. Accompanying the written book is a play along audio CD with 24 track numbers of songs the student can listen to while reading and playing along. CD track numbers are listed with a CD symbol/logo at the beginning of written recorded pieces for practicing. Emphasis is placed upon keyboard/synthesizer education and use of MIDI recordings and resources to compose and record using computer resources. Exercises and song difficulty levels progress rapidly as the student gains experience and confidence in both performing, reading, hearing, and improvising or composing keyboard music. An excellent basic understanding of chords and chord progressions, first in all major keys, and finally in many different combinations such as major 7ths, major 9ths, diminished 7ths and 9ths, and minor 7ths and 9ths in F, G, D, C, and B flat. Other exotic colored chords for jazz coloration are also touched upon. "Mel Bay's Modern Piano Method Grade 1" is an excellent tool for the young adult contemporary musician seeking to enlarge his piano/keyboard performance skills and repertoire.
The New York Composers' Forum Concerts 1935-1940
Melissa J. De Graaf, author
University of Rochester Press
668 Mt. Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620
9781580464260, $75.00, www.urpress.com
"The New York Composers' Forum Concerts 1935-1940" is a carefully sifted analysis of the impact of five years of weekly or biweekly concerts that showcased emerging and established modern composers of American music. Of the over 200 featured composers, such notables as Aaron Copland, Amy Beach, Randall Thompson, Edward MacDowell, Harrison Kerr, Charles Ives, Paul Hindemith, Roy Harris, Howard Hanson, Ruth Crawford, Ernest Bloch, and many more. In addition, student composers' works were featured. All composers and their works included in the five years of Forum Concerts are referenced in Appendices A and B of "The New York Composers' Forum Concerts 1935-1940 (pp.191-221)." The Composers Forum was designed to document modern music, as well as to provide an audience and performance venue, also including feedback in the form of question and answer sessions promoting dialogue between composers and audiences. Admission was free, making for a random sampling of audience members. The project was funded by the FMP (Federal Music Project) under the umbrella of the WPA, part of FDR's New Deal. Utilizing the extensive collection of Forum documents available, de Graaf analyses the spectrum of modern music styles and the audiences' reaction to them, while exploring "the ways in which modernism intersected with jazz, gender, and politics (p. 7)."
The book is divided into two sections: Part One: Modern Music and its Audience, and Part Two: Testing and Contesting Identities. These are further enhanced by 28 references to music examples from the Forum, indexed along with illustrations in the beginning after chapter headings. The sweeping conclusion to the ending of the Composers' Forum was that it did achieve the goal of increased knowledge and appreciation of contemporary music by modern audiences. However, critics pointed out a failure to uncover continued direct funding for music composers, despite active lobbying and support by many individuals, groups and organizations. However it did provide something of a template for a Composers' Forum, which eventually evolved into slightly different forms. Original goals of the Composers' Forum, including audience education, crossing the gap between listener and composer, and providing a venue or forum for public discussion of modern music, have been retained in newly emerging federally funded arts projects. A stimulating array of related topics such as gendered reception of modern music, the melting pot of American musical identity, and the search for authenticity in voice are established as worthy of further study and exploration.
Correctional Chaplains: Keepers of the Cloak
W. Thomas Beckner
9780985107833, $24.95, 178 Pages
Academically Relevant and Practical in Application
"Correctional Chaplains - Keepers of the Cloak" by W. Thomas Beckner is highly endorsed by leaders in Criminal Justice, Correctional Services Agencies, Educators, and Prison Chaplains.
The book is written to help the reader understand the work of the chaplaincy in present-day correctional situations and settings. Beckner begins with a brief history of the correction chaplaincy, the changing role of the chaplain, and the search for a meaningful model. He also introduces the personal, pastoral, administrative opportunity of the position. The goals and results of retribution, rehabilitation, reform, and redemption are reviewed and evaluated.
Beckner discusses psychological and social issues as the root causes that drive irrational behavioral patterns in individuals that lead to a lifestyle of poor choices resulting in criminal acts. Beckner than establishes working core principles and concepts designed for prison chaplains to be used as guidelines for serving the spiritual needs, liberating truth, and freedom from bondage. Beckner's writing is Biblically based, academically relevant, and practical in application.
W. Thomas Beckner's "Correctional Chaplains - Keepers of the Cloak" is an important book for chaplains both professional and lay, as well as anyone considering serving in any capacity in the corrections field.
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.
Copies of the book are available through the Restorative Justice Ministries Network Store at: http://rjmntexas.net/store.html
Prone to Love
Destiny Image Publishers Inc.
P. O. Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257
9780768442496, $15.99, 224 pages
An Invitation to Discover the Miraculous Power of the Heavenly Father's Love
In his book "Prone to Love" Jason Clark invites the reader to join him in a discovery process; a process in understanding the deeper meaning, the realities, benefits, and expectations available to the child of God. I knew within the first few pages of endorsements, dedication, acknowledgments, and foreword that this was I book I had to read.
Jason clearly recognizes the power of "story." A parallel story within the narration includes all the elements of good story telling, and segues into an amazingly profound application message. Jason's character shine through in his writing; his response to God the Father's love, and in his resolve to impact a new generation to become true followers of Jesus and of His Kingdom.
It was ana unexpected pleasure to find an author who resonates with the depth of feeling and sense of anointing as Jason. Jason's powerful song lyrics struck melodious chords of joy within me as a sense of God's presence filled the room causing me to stop often to reflect on another revelation of God the Father's love.
This book is for anyone who is seriously seeking an increased awareness of their identity as a follower of Christ and or to satisfy a hunger for a deeper relationship with God, the Father.
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.
How to Operate in the Gifts of the Spirit
Destiny Image Publishers, Inc.
P. O. Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257
9780768442489, $15.99, 190 pages
A Biblical Perspective on the Supernatural Gifts of the Holy Spirit
In his book "How to Operate in the Gifts of the Spirit" Steven Brooks draws from Biblical examples and his personal experiences in ministry to illustrate the way the Holy Spirit operates in the lives of God's people as manifest by the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit working through their lives.
Brooks is recognized for his skill in preaching and teaching the Word of God with authority and incredible clarity. He has a far reaching International healing ministry and is a top selling author.
Brook's writing is carefully organized and instructive. He classifies the spiritual gifts as the revelation gifts, the power gifts, and the vocal gifts. He goes on to describe and illustrate the manifestation of three spiritual gifts within each classification.
This is a comprehensive study. The real life illustrations are about credible everyday people living a lifestyle of operating in the supernatural realm of the Holy Spirit transforming the lives around them, giving honor to Jesus.
"How to Operate in the Gifts of the Spirit" is an important guidebook for every believer desiring a manifestation of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit in their ministry.
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.
The Future of Us - Your Guide to Prophecy, Prayer, and the Coming Days
Destiny Image Publishers, Inc.
P. O. Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257
9780768403367, $14.99, 222 Pages
A Paradigm Shift - Shaping and Transforming the Future
Julia Loren has compiled writings from over a dozen bestselling authors, recognized for their works in prophetic ministry, radical faith, global missions, spiritual insight, church leadership and international influence in "The Future of Us - Your Guide to Prophecy, Prayer, and the Coming Days."
The book is made up of three sections: Prophetic Warnings of Disasters to Come; Prophetic Promises Around the World, and How to Change the World. These prophetic messages are designed to bring an awareness and consciousness of the need for preparedness of the global enormousness of natural disasters and the aftermath and impact on people's lives.
The writers clearly express personal observations, divergent views, clear instruction, warnings, perspective and hope, and preparation practical preparation for earthquakes, hurricanes, solar disturbances, and polar shifts. Julia Loren takes the reader behind the scenes of the plight of refuges of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana inside the shelters. She relates how victims transitioned from shock to anger as they were relocated from shelters to trailer parks.
I found the background of the historical workings of the Holy Spirit and of the progression to the 4th Wave of the Spirit and the chapter on the radical shift within the Body of Christ especially helpful.
"The Future of Us - Your Guide to Prophecy, Prayer, and the Coming Days" is an important preparedness manual for concerned Christians.
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.
Your Guide to Living Life Out Loud
Destiny Image Publishers Inc.
P. O. Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257
9780768442618, $14.99, 158 Pages
Seize the Day - Living Life Out Loud
Dave Bell, worship leader, musician, and song writer tells his story in his book "Your Guide to Living Life Out loud."
In 2003 sixteen year old Dave was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer located on the back of his right eye. Dave was faced with six months of chemotherapy as well intense radiotherapy. Doctors revealed to Dave and his parents that the cancer may take his life, impact his vision, and that the treatments might leave him unable to father children.
Through these traumatic challenges Dave learned early to face the facts, by claiming God's promises, and embracing the truth. He took an attitude of living life to the full. He sums up his approach to receiving healing as: taking the right perspective, recognizing the power of faith, accepting the fact that healing is a process, and that it is a partnership with God and a team from the medical field.
Helpful healing checklists provide a guide and reminder of the progress of the healing process. Dave also uses the lyrics of songs he has written, collaborated on, or have been helpful to him to bring encouragement and inspiration to the reader.
Bell's writing style reads like a fast moving adventure story. US readers take note that the author is from the UK to appreciate some unique idioms.
Dozens of photos speak for themselves in telling Dave's story. Another unique feature of the book is the: Life Out Loud Guide, written by Paul Blundel, and illustrated with artwork created by Anton Fowler.
Dave's is a positive testimony of finding freedom through battling aggressive cancer by aggressively "Living Life Out Loud."
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.
While the Lambs Slept
P O Box 428, Enumclaw, WA 98022
9781414121963, $20.99, www.amazon.com
A Cutting Edge Suspense Thriller with a Message
Randy Johnson captures the essence of God's redeeming grace in his novel "While the Lambs Slept." Johnson skillfully weaves the broken lives of his characters through the steps of forgiveness and acceptance through a building of relationships and establishing community.
Johnson's personal awareness of law enforcement and parole procedures, and mentoring programs bring credibility and reality to his writing. A complex plot, well developed characters, and sensitivity in handling behavioral issues and social mores add a dimension of inspiration and soul searching reality to this work of fiction.
The writer of Christian fiction is faced with the challenge of writing for three diverse audiences; Christian readers looking for entertainment with an evangelistic slant, the sincere seeker looking for entertainment hoping to find spiritual answers, and the secular reader looking for a well written story.
Many Christian authors pattern their style, physical descriptions, dialog, and language with successful secular authors writing in their genre. They may include a compromised Christian message. Other authors may have all the elements of a good story but become preachy or may take their readers down rabbit trails of theology. Johnson has found a balance by developing character traits that manifest Christian love, forgiveness, and a lifestyle that portrays the virtue of genuine goodness.
"While the Lambs Slept" is a dramatic story, an action packed page turner that elicits empathy, awareness, and a commitment to reach out to broken and hurting individuals with nonjudgmental acceptance.
A complimentary copy of the book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.
Richard R. Blake
Twice as Dead
Sue Ann Jaffarian
Midnight Ink Books
2143 Wooddale Dr., Woodbury, MN 55125-2989
9780738713526, $14.95, www.amazon.com
Sue Ann Jaffarian has several mystery series to her credit, including the Odelia Grey Mysteries; the Ghost of Granny Apples Mysteries; and the Madison Rose mysteries.
Jaffarian has received numerous awards and recognition from various mystery writers' groups and industry publications. Her books have also been optioned for television and been praised by the New York Times.
Odelia Grey is an oversized amateur sleuth with a propensity for attracting corpses...so much so that her friends have taken note of the situation and have issued repeated warnings to her. But when Odelia stumbles upon a corpse at a wedding reception, and the corpse turns out to be the wedding planner, the situation is more than bizarre; particularly when Odelia's friend and Detective Dev Frye stops by:
"Know what?" I asked, going on alert. Zee had picked up her fork again, but it was now stopped halfway to her mouth as she waited for his response.
Dev cleared his throat but didn't speak. Everyone at the table was still, hanging in suspense.
"What is it, Dev?" Greg urged, his voice eager.
Finally, Dev wiped his mouth and made his announcement. "Shirley Pearson was a he - a man."
Jaffarian is a witty writer who can anthropomorphize a tomato in a humorous way. She clearly loves to write and create characters and plots that jump off the page.
TWICE AS DEAD is a pleasure to read, and Jaffarian makes us laugh out loud. Odelia is a feisty, smart woman who won't take no for an answer.
Diamond Cut Diamond
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781477299999 $23.99 softcover; $3.99 e-book
Darlene Cox hails from Seattle, Washington, but was born in Walla Walla, Washington. She worked in law, but has always been an avid reader and writer. Working with attorneys increased her love of precise language and turn of phrase. To date she has written four mysteries, of which DIAMOND CUT DIAMOND is her latest effort.
Peter Brock and Jack Morrison were buddies in school, and opened a successful law practice together that quickly gained respect among New York's elite. The story begins with the death of charismatic Peter Brock. Why would a young, successful attorney just climbing to the peaks take his own life?
"The law firm was a success from the get-go, but the anticipated financial rewards weren't adding up fast enough to satisfy Peter's goal - to get rich, and get out. When he met James Campbell, a wealthy New York diamond dealer eager to keep a good portion of his wealth out of the hands of a greedy IRS, Peter recognized how his goal could be attained more quickly. Unbeknownst to Campbell, the systematic movement of his assets into banks in various locations and under various names would ensure Peter's future."
From the start after Peter's death, partner Jack Morrison is after the missing Campbell millions. His main suspect is Peter's Administrative Assistant - Bernie Baranski. Jack, an incorrigible crook himself, believes he can use his employees to spy on Bernie and destroy her; after he recovers the money. DIAMOND CUT DIAMOND is a page burner, and Ms. Cox's stories only leave the reader yearning for more. Her writing is precise, entertaining, and her characters color a superb plot.
The Juice Lady's Remedies for Stress and Adrenal Fatigue
600 Rinehard Road, Lake Mary, Florida 32746
9781621365679, $12.95, www.amazon.com
I believe we all have stress in our lives, some more than others. However, I don't think that most of us know the damage that it is doing to us both physically and mentally. As I began reading this book I was truly touched by what our author went through in her life, and she opens her past trials to us. Life can be hard, but there are solutions to helping us live a better one, this book helps you to know some of them.
In the beginning Ms. Calbom shares with us her battle to overcome stress in her life. She explains how changing her eating habits made all the difference to her, and why it really does help. She shared by simply adding fresh fruits, and vegetables to your diet you will be able to tell a difference. Surprised? So was I. This book is very detailed with instructions on what foods to buy, what to look for when you are purchasing them, and how to prepare them. She goes further into other aspects as well that you will find very helpful.
I could definitely feel by her writing that he has an honest desire to help others achieve what she herself has found. This little book is packed full of useful information that will be a gold mine to anyone who wants to better their life. Well written, informative, and recommended.
The Devils Cradle
N.L. Lamont Publishing
9780992400408, $12.00, www.lamontpublishing.com
Unfortunately for me I had the Flu and needed to rest in bed this past week, however, I'm glad I had this outstanding book to read. In this story we are taken into the life of Nina Holt. A beautiful woman who had a hard start in life and than became the wife of an abusive man, Michael, who kept her prisoner in her own home for a long time. Michael used Nina as a sex toy and also enjoyed being abusive to her both physically and mentally. Her husband was quite the man in the world's eye. Premier of Tasmania, he just about called all the shots in the world they lived in. Top that with his brother, Greg, being the Head Detective of the area, they had everything pretty wrapped up. Their power stretched near and far.
Nina and Michael have a nine-year old son who Nina sees slowly growing into the evil man his father is. She decides it was time to escape. While desperately trying to find a way off the Island they lived on she breaks down in her car and ex-cop Case Herder comes to her rescue. He also has a history, as his wife was murdered and he has just found out that someway Greg was involved with his wife, and possibly her murder. The plot thickens. After some problem with trust between the two of them, Nina and Case, finally join forces to battle an evil that has never lost before.
Before I say anymore, I am going to say right off that this book is pretty full of sexual activity that is told in detail that may make some uncomfortable. Being honest, I will tell you that I skimmed over that part of the read as I came upon it, which was often. However, I believe the author wanted the reader to understand just what Nina had to go through in her life. To continue, the storyline is excellent and keeps you reading on. You actually care what happens to the Characters. I don't think I have ever cheered for a character in a read to win more than I did in this one. There were many twists and turns in the story as the battle for Nina and her son's freedom continued, and the mystery behind Case's wives murder becomes revealed. It is fast paced, full of emotion of one kind or another, and has a bang of an ending. Enjoy!
Rapture Factor on America
Edward L. Brownlee
127 East Trade Center Terrace, Mustang, OK 73064
9781627466202, $12.00, www.amazon.com
I am an addict to any books written on the Rapture so I was quite excited to read this book, and I was not disappointed. I love my Country, America, and pray for her daily. However, I am also worried that she may go the wrong way in the future, if she continues the way she is going. I wanted to know what our author had to say about our beloved Country.
I loved how he gave so much information on how the Lord moved in our beginnings, using so many of our Founding Fathers. He walks you through the building of our Nation, the lives of those who put forth our laws, and their belief in God. I really enjoyed reading about our Presidents and seeing the honor they gave to the Lord and the hope they gave our Country. You clearly see that the Lord was working through them, and that the Lord's hand was upon us in so many ways. Very well done.
Mr. Brownlee's shows where struggles began in our Country. You soon see why different programs that were introduced had a hand in our problems, even to this day. The taking out of God in our Society was an act that we are still paying for.
Mr. Brownlee shares with us Scriptures that are warnings, and also some that reveal what will happen if a Nations choses ways that are not of the Lord. Scary for sure. I felt this book was teaming with much needed information of our Country's beginning, movement through time, and where we are headed. I'm certainly not going to try to put in one small review the information this book holds for you. However, I am going to say that it is an eye opener in so many areas. Although I may have some different beliefs in some areas, I learned a lot from this read. I feel this book will awaken you and certainly make you think. Just where does stand now, and where will America stand when Jesus comes for His people? One Nation Under God? You decide.
Well done! Recommended.
If You Were Me and Lived In Turkey
Carole P. Roman
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
978148197849, $8.99, www.amazon.com
I have had the honor of reviewing Ms. Roman's wonderful series, 'If You Were Me And Lived In." This time my treat was learning about Turkey. We start off learning where Turkey is on the map, and what her Capital City is. We then begin our journey learning some interesting facts, such as, what the names of the children may be, what they would call their Mother and Father, and what some of the foods are they eat, and the journey has just begun.
Although these books are not long they are packed full of information that child or adult would find interesting. Along with that information is beautiful full color illustrations that bring the words and people to life. I have some children around that I have shared these books with. A really fun activity to do is take the books in the series and look at the differences in different lands. What is the word for Mom in one Country, and what is it in another? It is truly a learning experience. I highly recommend this book along with all the others that Ms. Roman is making available. A fun learning adventure. Highly Recommended.
If I Were Me And Lived In India
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781484930861, $10.95, www.amazon.com
I am always excited to review any of the book that author, Carole P. Roman has in her wonder series 'If You Were Me And Lived In"...... This time we are taking a tour of the country India. I was impressed with this read, it is packed full of interesting facts about the Country, India. We start off seeing where India is on a map, travel to read where the Capital is, and learn that there are over one hundred different languages spoken there. Wow!
Of course children and adults reading this book will learn of different activities children in India do, different foods they usually eat, and some of their country history. Illustrations, as usual are bold, big and definitely give you a great visual. What can I say except this - another winner for Ms. Roman. Always expect the best from her books, because you are always going to receive it. Recommended.
The Treasure of Snake Island
A Captain Beard Story
Carole P. Roman
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781482390971, $10.95, www.amazon.com
I was happy to receive this adorable children's read, "The Treasure of Snake Island, a Captain No Beard Story by author, Carole P. Roman. I have read other books in this series and they are never disappointing, nor was this one.
We are taken on another great adventure as Captain No Beard and his zany crew travel to Snake Island, what they find there will delight and surprise you, no I am not telling. This is a fun, entertaining read. Illustrations are big, bold and colorful and definitely help to bring the characters and story to life. Definitely a winner. Recommended for young and old.
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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