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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 13, Number 11 November 2014 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

Donovan's Bookshelf Dunford's Bookshelf Helen's Bookshelf
Klausner's Bookshelf Lorraine's Bookshelf Micah's Bookshelf
Richard's Bookshelf Shirley's Bookshelf Taylor's Bookshelf
Vogel's Bookshelf    

Donovan's Bookshelf

Flash Blood
Joseph Hirsch
Damnation Books
9781629291598, $5.95 digital
9781629291604, $TBA print

There are pivot points in life that take even the most fiercely followed course and wreck havoc with it, turning dreams into nightmares to create either new dreams or dead-end roads. These are the points where life-changing avenues are chosen; the points where bad encounters and questionable decisions lead to either new beginnings or sordid endings. They can take even the most seasoned and wisest of men and turn their lives upside down. Such is the case for the protagonist of Flash Blood, who is about to go up against something unprecedented in his experience.

Detective James Arklow is no rookie and no newcomer to the investigative process and all its nuances; so when he leaves the police force to become a private investigator, he brings with him years of knowledge and savvy.

All this is about to be put to the test in Flash Blood, the story of what emerges when a man is pitted against the impossible.

Arklow is a multi-dimensional investigator: this means that his character is fully developed above and beyond your usual singular detective focus. His ultimate ambition is to not just be a cop or a detective (and, especially, not a teacher), but to be a successful mystery writer: a believable, involving pursuit given the nature of his background and his drive to become something more than his assignments: "If I made it as a mystery writer, he could rent the space forever-or burn down the building itself if it struck his fancy. If the doings of my private eye alter ego did not provide me with enough income, I would return to my real life job as a detective."

But the truth is, his instincts for detective work have long been honed by street savvy, and whether this will translate successfully to literary excellence has yet to be proven.

And so Flash Blood is a test, on many levels: a test soon to embrace every skill Arklow has ever developed as he faces some of his biggest challenges yet.

One of the first things a thriller reader will note is Flash Blood's attention to detail, right down to the sights and smells of atmosphere that impart a 'you are there' feel to almost every page: "Disguises hung in a plastic laundry bag - which had been hanging for so long that each outfit would probably have to be washed before as well as after it was next worn...I hopped down, my Hush Puppies crunching the gravel as I landed. Mikey spat a wad of tobacco off to his side, in the direction of the smoking mechanics."

Against this backdrop of intrigue and gritty description stands the lone figure of a detective pitted against the sobering realities of the drug world and its dangerous lure: "He also said nothing, nothing, feels better than an overdose. He said he was being hugged by the warm arms of God."

As his real case takes over and mystery writing takes a back shelf, Arklow finds events too puzzling to even contemplate incorporating into a literary effort: "I certainly didn't want to let my mind wander back to what I was supposed to be doing with my meager literary talents right now. I would finish this case and then put my fictive detective through his procedural paces again. It didn't occur to me that my present case could serve as grist for my next potboiler. It was frankly too weird to inhabit any space in even my melodramatic literary universe."

Faced with a new substance that removes all pain and agonies (past and present) from real life, Arklow gets it, but good: "His blood took away other pains, too, the hidden accretion of years as the senses deadened, as colors shined less brightly and food tasted bitter, as the vibrancy of seasons and their textures faded, no matter what one did in an effort to rekindle whatever substance childhood contained. That was what it was, what was in the blood and what was in the needle, and what was now traveling through me. It was childhood."

How does a practical man face down a drug with the promise of changing reality itself? Arklow's increasingly personal connections with a poppy promise brought back from the war could change the course of his ambitions and dreams: "Men destroyed their lives for sex, for love, for

women all the time, and what was in that bag made me feel better than anything a woman ever gave me." Or, they could transform his life into something greater than he's ever known.

Flash Blood represents a pivot point in Arklow's life, plain and simple. As such, it will immerse readers in a world of good and bad choices, and it powers all these choices with a potent protagonist whose ultimate goals and reality prove subject to change without notice. Detective novel genre readers, take note: this is a far more complex scenario than your usual 'whodunnit' - and therefore, far more satisfying a read.

Steel Shamrocks: The Sons of Annie McKenna
David Quinn
1663 Liberty Dr. Suite #300, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781491734346 $20.95

Even in these modern times where unemployment is high, it's hard to imagine the lengths that the early Irish went through as they faced extreme economic hardship and starvation in 'the old country'. Little in the American experience mirrors those days in early Irish history where people starved in the streets and would go to extreme measures for economic security; but this feel can come close (and does) in Steel Shamrocks.

Steel Shamrocks: The Sons of Annie McKenna tells of a widowed farmer and father of eleven who moved his entire family from Ireland for work in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Imagine a long passage in a dubious ship bound for a strange country, accompanied by his six sons, daughter-in-law Annie, and her three-month-old baby!

The group arrives in Quebec on this rickety "timber ship," but their trials don't end there: the entire family walks twelve hundred miles to new opportunities and promises in America - and thus begins almost a hundred years of family strife and triumph.

Steel Shamrocks portrays this experience through the perceptions of Hugh's widowed daughter-in-law Annie and her two sons. And to its credit, the historical novel doesn't just focus on economic hardship: civil war, floods, political corruption, labor disputes ... all the trappings of hard times are woven into the story of the McKenna men and their mother. They are powerful personalities who struggle to rebuild lives in a strange new world.

From ebbing correspondence between family and soldier during wartime to waning confidence that love will overcome all, portraits of individual interactions, purposes, and struggle are the centerpiece of this saga, as a good historical story should be: "As Meade pressed his pursuit of Lee through the Maryland countryside and into Pennsylvania, his army was greeted by nearly one hundred school children singing the Star Spangled Banner and other patriotic songs. Also turned out were enterprising, if not generous, civilians selling bread, pies, cakes, and bottles of milk. O'Neill nudged his comrade in the march. "Now look at these fellows, Charlie. Many seem young and fit. Shouldn't they be defending their homes and the Union instead of squeezing the last coins out of a soldier's pocket."

This is not to say that Steel Shamrocks isn't steeped in real history: it is. Many paragraphs are devoted throughout to interpreting background events with historical perspective and insights on battles and other proceedings; so if it's just a casual leisure read with a light history background that is sought, look elsewhere for such entertainment.

This is serious historical writing: as such, it seeks to pair the drama of fiction with nonfiction facts and background, and both captures the experiences and feel of its times and provides the necessary supportive platform of history upon which to base these events.

That's one of the novel's strengths. Steel Shamrocks stands apart from other stories of the early experiences of Irish immigrants in America.

It's hard to imagine the lengths that the early Irish went through, both in the 'old country' and in the new America. Steel Shamrocks is firmly grounded in real events and a sense of its times, and its detailed approach will delight serious readers of historical fiction.

Echo Across Time
Skye Genaro
Brighid Publishing
Barnes and Noble:

In a solid, superior relationship, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Individuals meet, collide, fulfill vacancies in each other, and then evolve to become something greater; sometimes staying together, sometimes separating. It's much like the explosion of a supernova; this bonding and separation course. And it's a process made even more intense by the added trappings of special abilities, teen struggles with maturity and growth, a time-traveling Romeo, and a girl's growing sense of her place in a world from which she was formerly alienated, on so many levels.

Teen protagonist Echo doesn't view her amazing supernatural abilities as talents: in fact, they're wrecking her life - every bit of it.

Lest readers wonder at how special benefits translate to liabilities: a few examples from her daily life include a teacher's negative aura reflecting his disappointment at her failure, which makes her grades all the more unbearable; classmate strife which psychically blasts her senses; and her on-edge emotions which involuntarily translate into telekinetic reactions and disasters.

She wasn't born talented: a bullying episode that landed her in the hospital in a coma led to the emergence of these unwelcome powers - and now they are, increasingly, destroying her life and proving ever more difficult to control. It's only a matter of time before someone finds out about her secret abilities. They're nothing but trouble ... but Echo doesn't know the meaning of real trouble; it's just beginning.

Enter a gorgeous fellow teen who emerges from nowhere, has his own exceptional abilities, and promises to teach and lead her places she hasn't dared to explore. Conner is just what Echo needs: someone who understands the isolation brought about by her powers, and someone who can guide her in their growth and use.
But can he really guide her in the right direction, or are the choices they face ones that won't benefit either them or their blossoming relationship?

Paranormal romance is nothing new: in fact, it's a standard in many adult supernatural reads these days; and plenty of teen romances include a dose of fantasy as well. Quite often it boils down to the quest (and, there's always some kind of quest, whether it be psychological or an actual journey) and its presentation of possibilities - and it's here that Echo Across Time shines in its divergence from anticipated paths.

Does Connor live in the future? Why has he entered her life? Who is apparently murdering those with paranormal powers, and why could this be part of a bigger picture? Relationships are kindled on need, learning, change, and challenge: certainly, all the elements are here for Connor and Echo to embark on an intense relationship.

One doesn't expect the specter of psychic terrorism to rise in the course of such events, but it does. And readers won't expect the accompanying twists and turns in their relationship as teacher becomes student and student evolves into something beyond what either could have dreamed possible.

The bullies haven't vanished, either. As old experiences resurface to become new threats, Echo is kept on her toes as she walks the line between two very different, equally dangerous worlds in a story line which explores not just psychic abilities, but various kinds of powers and the choices involved in wielding them for either good or evil.

In the end the focus on personal choices and what's involved in making them becomes the real heart and strength of this saga, with the themes of romance and supernatural abilities ultimately proving only the wrapping around the bigger picture.

It's time to state the usual (which is in the subtitle, and obvious): this is Book One of an 'Echo Saga' and, as such, doesn't present a neat wrap-up, but leaves the door open for more. In fact, it leaves off where one door closes and another opens...but no spoilers: it's up to readers to determine the nature of these doors, and to wait for the next development.

The Catalain Book of Secrets
Jessica Lourey
Toadhouse Books
9780990834212, $14.99 paperback, $5.99 ebook,

The Catalain Book of Secrets opens with a bang and keeps on firing off the unexpected: "Ursula was twelve years old when her mother asked her to murder a man." Think Charles DeLint or Alice Hoffman in this book, which will appeal to any reader who enjoys stories of magic and mystery.

The novel opens in Faith Falls, which is home to a lumbering mansion housing a century-old family and their secret book.

Not so secret are the magical gifts the Catalain women harbor, the lengths they will go to protect their heritage, and a sticky past that reaches out to grab and immerse any Catalain woman who dares leave her ancestral heritage to strike out into the wider world.

Such is the case with Katrine, who managed to escape the Catalain legacy by moving overseas, marrying, and honing a coveted high-profile magazine job ... until everything falls apart and she returns to the one place she knows best: the family fold.

And here's where things get interesting. That fold harbors more than a few secrets and dangers, and the grip on family members has just tightened with her decision to return home.

Ursula is a talented herbalist able to concoct nearly any potion as if by magic, but she's never thought of using her abilities for ill before: not until her mother Velda schemes a perfect murder that only Ursula can pull off. And the aftermath holds both promise and disaster; for her mother longs to leave the ancient family house that Ursula has treasured all her life.

Fast forward to a very different future: one in which Ursula remains haunted by her younger years, even as she still lives in the house she loves and even as the soul of the man she murdered reaches out beyond the grave to inhabit her life.

Add a daughter who eschews her magical heritage in an effort to hide her own closely-held secret, the aforementioned Katrine's reluctant return to the family fold, and magical connections between past, present and future as they incarnate in different Catalain women's lives and you have a read that smoothly moves from character to character, purpose to purpose, and perspective to perspective with the smooth skimming expertise of surfing champions who glide over turbulent waters with seeming ease.

Shared ancestry, shared secrets, shared magic and shared responsibilities for bad choices permeate a story line that also holds the promise of romance and redemption. Ultimately, it's about each individual recognizing who they are and how they fit into the family's labyrinth of puzzles and connections.

An evil event and a dying man's threat ("I will take your power when the snakes rise. Your children will pay for this, and their children.") demand that the secrets that bind them all must be confronted, aired, and ultimately buried if any of the Catalain women are to ever lead peaceful lives that accept the past and integrate the present.

Magical stories tend to assume a similarity of theme and perspective. What makes for a standout in this genre is an attention to how characters evolve, change, and make choices surrounding family connections and personal direction. Perhaps the biggest secret of them all is closely held by the unexpected moments embraced in The Catalain Book of Secrets, making for a compelling read for any seeking spell-binding reading.

Logos: A Novel of Christianity's Origins
John Neeleman
Homebound Publications
9781938846250, $19.95

A superior historical novel tackles past events from different perspectives, injects an intimate feel of bygone years (from sights, smells and sounds to the political and social interactions between individuals), and synthesizes all this using characters lifted from historical fact and personalized so that they are real living, breathing people.

Plenty of novels have examined various facets of Christ's life from different points of view, while movies duplicate the effort and have even tackled this examination from the perspectives of others who were related to or interacted with Jesus.

That's why it's surprising to note yet another approach that has hitherto been overlooked by the fictional format: a record of events captured by an anonymous writer who saw all, wrote about his observations, and left only his legacy behind.

Logos: A Novel of Christianity's Origins is such a beast, but make no doubt about this: this is no 'Life of Brian' light presentation, but a serious historical approach set in an ancient world that captures not only the advent of Christianity and the rise of a religion, but the heart and soul of its times. As such, it's satisfyingly meaty, dense reading packed with detail and recreations of the warfare and strife rampaging through Christ's era.

The fears of martyrs, the uncertain friendships between soldiers and believers, the sacking of Jewish enclaves and lives - all this is vividly captured in a readable story that reaches out to grasp readers and immerse them in the baptismal waters of ancient times: "Below them the city burned, everywhere aglow with fire. Ahead was the red moon's baleful gaze. They ran through the gates, now bent and twisted, and passed between two gigantic pillars. Inside the Court of Gentiles was a hell of noise and fire; helter-skelter with Roman soldiers; bodies laying everywhere. Jacob's eyes were blurred by tears, his heart pounding."

Few others novels portray sacking, pillaging and destruction so vividly, with their social and political underpinnings exposed and raw. Against this backdrop of ending worlds lies the hope of miracles and faith; and from these ruins the phoenix that is Christ's legend emerges: "Jacob woke in the dark and realized the pain was gone and he was healed...Above the distant range he saw the thin sickle of a new moon and a smattering of stars. Above more stars shone brightly. The night was quiet. He felt invigorated, alive and well for the first time in many weeks. Yet his mind was a chaos of conflicting thoughts. He understood that the rebellion against Rome had been folly, but his hatred of Romans was renewed, inflamed by the old man's story."

Against this backdrop of hatred, racial tensions, and political interventions in daily life lies the legend and mystery of a leader and efforts to capture these events for posterity. Our anonymous writer didn't realize that his words and works would have a world-changing impact on centuries of mankind - and that's yet another revelation, here: the lasting legacy of a single observer who charts the disintegration, rebuilding, and perspectives of his world.

One sterling feature here is that perspective changes. Thus, readers view this world through Roman eyes, Jewish eyes, and from different angles: "This wall once circumscribed the seven hills, then the entirety of the city, with battlements and troops," Marcus said. "Now Rome has burst its seams and spread as far as the eye can see beyond it. Yet Romans feel no need to build a new wall. The Empire is so immense, and Rome's domination so complete, the citizens feel perfectly safe without such protection."

Without such changing viewpoints, Logos could all too easily have become a one-dimensional survey, even given its important focus. That it seeks to be a more multi-faceted production with layers of insights honed from diverse experience just lends to a bigger picture of Christianity's evolution than most novels would attempt.

Stories such as this form the foundations of our lives and all too easily become legends, told and retold until nuggets of truth fade and are glossed over. Logos returns the rough, gritty, realistic feel of its times to modern readers and succeeds in capturing extra dimensions of Christ's life and times which aren't presented elsewhere.

The best historical novel tackles historical events from different perspectives, injects an intimate feel of bygone years, and deftly implants these facets into characters taken from historical fact and personalized so that they are real living, breathing people.

In this, Logos shines. Historical novel readers are in for a treat.

Whatever Happened to Mourning Free?
Yael Politis
Amazon Kindle
ISBN: 9781502591524
List price: eBook $5.99 paperback $12.82

One might expect, from the question posed in the title and by its subtitle 'Book 3 of the Olivia Series', that familiarity with Yael Politis' other books would be a requirement to appreciate this continuation of Olivia's saga - but, it's not. In setting the story three generations distant from Olivia's world, Politis succeeds in creating what is essentially a 'tie-in' featuring many of the protagonists and backgrounds of the prior books without an accompanying requirement that they be read in order for Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? to be appreciated.

This novel is set in relatively modern times - 1967 - so don't expect the frontier mentality and setting of the prior books, but a whole new production fueled by Charlene Connor, descended from the Killion family, who faces many similar issues as her ancestor - albeit with a modern twist.

When a lawyer enters her confused life, bringing new writings from her long-gone great-great-great Aunt Olivia Killion, she views this as an opportunity to finally learn more about what happened to them and, in the process, gain insights about her heritage, legacy, and her own issues.

Because Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? promises prior readers a continuation of past events, it's important to note that those who hadn't anticipated the present-day character of Charlene, and who eagerly awaited more Olivia adventures, may find themselves disappointed, at first. (Those seeking such a continuation can always skip ahead by using a specific text string [such as 'Detroit, Michigan - May 24, 1843'] as a search tool.)

Readers who take the time to absorb Charlene's search and perspective will find here a wonderful dovetail with the original story line that links her discoveries of the past to her present-day life.

Now, this is not to say that Olivia doesn't feature in anything other than journal entries: such is not the case at all. Chapters juxtapose Charlene's life with Olivia's and provide a satisfying sense of continuity and interlinked family heritage as they explore both of their lives. And there's more: Charlene's review of Olivia's decisions and the birth of her half-black child may lead to a fiery inheritance of her own: something the too-savvy Reeves realizes before she.

From laws revolving around segregation and the history and living legacy of Freedom Riders to prejudice which emerges when Charlene reveals facts to even her close friend Kim, Politis deftly captures the feel and sentiments of the times and immerses readers in the living legacy of Charlene's ancestor Olivia and all their choices: "Charlene stood up. "Unfortunately, I couldn't sell to a negro if I wanted to because no negro in his right mind would want to live here. And even if one did, no realtor would have the guts to show him a house, knowing that would be the last listing he ever got." Her voice gained volume. "So you can stop worrying. Your street's not going to be anything but lily white for years to come." She turned her back on her friend and started for the door....Kim followed her down the back door steps in her nightgown. "You act like you're so different, but you always asked your mom for nigger-in-the-box pancakes, just like the rest of us," she said loudly, referring to what they used to call Aunt Jemima pancake mix. Charlene stopped and said, "I did a lot of stupid things when I was a kid and didn't know any better." Her voice had returned to its normal tone. "And then I grew up and am trying to find other ways to behave."

Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? asks a question, and in the process of answering it, probes the underbelly of prejudice and the lasting, rippling effects of decisions made in the past and their effect on the present.

It's what every good series title should be: a stand-alone read that smoothly connects past events with present-day decisions, and a fitting addition that both enhances the overall series and stands firmly on its own two feet. Its ability to immerse newcomers and old fans alike is exceptional.

And for a series title addition, that's really saying something!

Random Targets
James Raven
Robert Hale, Publisher
9780719813665, $TBA

Now, here's a chilling scenario: what if a sniper launches a series of deadly attacks on Britain's motorways and eludes capture? What if a clever investigator can crack the case? So far, all seems in keeping with the usual anticipated plot of a thriller; but here's where the story takes an unexpected turn ... because what if a deadly truth emerges that holds such impact that any future driver will be taking his and her life at risk?

Such is the setting and premise of Random Targets, where killings are only the introduction to a deeper, larger danger.

If its plot was a more one-dimensional story line, the action would center on solving a single crime, criminal, or circle of baddies. Were it a more predictable story, the sniper's identity and location would be its main focus. And were it a standard story line, the psychological tension would revolve around problem-solving; not a 'bigger picture'.

But, truth be told, it's the wider focus which separates a low-level thriller from something truly outstanding; and in this case Random Targets fits the bill of 'extraordinary'.

Take the underlying psychological tension, for example. What lends to such tension is one simple premise outlined in the very first sentence: "no one saw it coming." Expand on the theme: nobody understands it. Add more than a dash of intrigue: it makes no sense. And then add the coup de'etat ... when the puzzle unwinds, it's worse than anyone could have expected.

Add the factor that all the events are ultimately possible in real life and you have a gripping thriller that slowly reveals the goal of an impossible endgame, presenting the sniper's perspective as he slowly inches towards this deadly purpose: "As he raised the rifle he felt completely at ease. These killings had become routine. He was just going through the motions; one deadly step at a time until he'd reached his goal. He didn't feel a thing for his victims. He didn't know them. They were just a means to an end."

In this case, it's hard to use individual quotes to fully capture the underlying horror and tension steeped in Raven's novel from its very first page. And the identity of the elusive killer is only the tip of the story's iceberg - another truly memorable device that keeps it remarkable.

Deep into the account, another sentence says it all: "Temple knew he had no choice but to think the unthinkable. What he had learned in the last hour cast doubt on all the assumptions that had been made."

And, here you have it in a nutshell, straight from the characters' mouth: Random Targets excels in building assumptions and then knocks them down until there are no more clues or assumptions left. It's then that truth is exposed - a raw truth that will leave even the most seasoned genre reader on edge.

In any thriller story of exceptional note, it's how the 'bigger picture' is handled that makes it a top pick. That Raven holds the punches until an unexpected conclusion is reached is tribute to his ability to grab attention with nonstop staccato action, then evolve the plot to fruition in unexpected ways.

The conclusion winds up to be more than one man's investigation, but a portrait of a chilling new world's evolution. And this, perhaps, is Random Target's greatest achievement: it makes its readers want to give up their car keys.

The Seamless Universe
Kathleen Ripley Leo
9781499230871 $10.99 paperback, $2.99 Kindle

Author website:

Fairies immersed in a feud that stretches from the beginnings of time, linked to Earth and romance, are nothing new. What is different is the premise of how they came to be linked to human affairs; for The Seamless Universe was created with purpose in mind - and that purpose has always been for magic to protect the affairs of humans.

Until now.

For it's a delicate balance, indeed, when not two, but three fairy communities intersect. And it's a balance where human affairs don't always take precedence - especially when romance is involved.

Think 'Romeo and Juliet', add fairy magic, and then pose the possibility of a forbidden passion's ability to affect not just immediate worlds, but the entire human and faery realm alike, and you have just one component of The Seamless Universe; a saga that grips and involves.

But, don't take one reviewer's word for this passion: dive into passages that inject a sense of magic into every event: "Colors were flaring and spiraling all over the place, and out of control. Discordant music from the minor to the major keys blared and blatted. Light spectrums broke apart, crashing into each other as the colors flared as brightly as magnesium strength and as muted as muddy river bottoms. Candela everywhere were tasting bile. It was horrible to hear from the lips of their beloved Regent that the very essence of Candela life was dependent on their sworn enemy."

In a world spiraling rapidly out of control (and away from preconceived notions of how the world is and should be run), two individuals hold the power to change everything. It's the ultimate story of actions and consequences, and a decisive portrait of how individual choice can change entire worlds.

At the heart of this story lies magic - and that's where fantasy readers will find the story line at its strongest: in its ability to weave magical events with a stunning backdrop of imagery and vision: "Gathering up sweet grass was a good first task. Both fey used it to fashion everyday utensils, and weavings for their homes. After that, it would be picking juniper berries and cutting boughs of fragrant wormwood. Harvesting prairie smoke had been considered, but discounted since prairie smoke bloomed and gave out their tendrils in the spring, many months ago."

It's all too often that good writers omit detail for the sake of the action and plot - and, that's a shame. The Seamless Universe's poetic attention to depth and detail just goes to show that it's a powerful vehicle for transporting fantasy readers into another realm - and herein is the heart of a superior fantasy read; one that soundly beats promise and passion within pages juxtaposing adventure and believable characters with a powerful setting.

The Orphan of Torundi
J.L. McCreedy
Penelope Pipp Publishing
9780988236929 Pbk $9.99
9780988236936 E-book $4.99

Life, for some, is anything but ordinary: Sam was orphaned as an infant, grew up on a pharmaceutical research mission in the rain forests of Torundi (where she learned to harvest local resources and identify local flora and fauna), and is sent to an American boarding school in Malaysia upon turning seventeen.

It's there that her life really begins to evolve (or, unravel: take your pick) as she searches for the reason why she was banished from her beloved rainforest home, only to uncover corporate greed and manipulation lies behind her exile.

Suddenly it's more than personal (and even more than political): it's one teenager on the cusp of adulthood fighting for her beloved home, and it's suddenly intrigue and espionage writing at its best.

Why 'at its best'? Because any good thriller is cemented early on by solid psychology and characterization; and (more so than most) The Orphan of Torundi demonstrates the importance of these devices by creating a well-rounded protagonist whose blossoming love, passion for home, and confusion over her life's course and its origins become entwined with a bigger picture.

J.L. McCreedy achieves this depth in part because of the nature of protagonist Sam, who harbors an inquisitive nature, an innocence about adult affairs, and a passion for truth and understanding that serve as the driving forces behind her investigations.

Then, there's the cultural setting: Sam's experiences are steeped with the atmosphere and culture of Asia: "My team shrugs and climbs into their respective rickshaws. Yanto leads our procession as the two other rickshaws follow with their flickering headlights. Carriage wheels splosh in a puddle as we turn off Lebuh Chulia Street and onto Lebuh Leith, the small street signs barely lit by occasional overhead lights."

So many thrillers, whether they be adult or young adult, gloss over either setting or psychology. By placing her story in an exotic albeit believable location and making Sam's experiences a series of first-person observations, McCreedy achieves the feel and intensity of a first-rate work of art.

Another solid approach that lends to The Orphan of Torundi's strength is that readers of all ages are invited into Sam's thought process as she struggles to understand her vastly-changed world: "I think of Dr. Jean, of the days and nights we'd spend pouring over a single idea. What do we do when we don't know how to make sense of a subject? We reorganize and start at the beginning."

Many lives are anything but ordinary; but it's a challenge capturing their progression with all their psychological facets. And in the heat of thriller writing (or in writing with young adult audiences in mind), it's all too easy to become immersed in the story line without building the accompanying psychology that makes for a superior read.

That The Orphan of Torundi holds both is testimony to its strengths. Add further details on Torundi law, a deeply held secret that reaches out from beyond the grave, and a series of changes that threaten even love and you have a read that seamlessly invites readers into another world and smoothly, compellingly, immerses readers in the sounds, flavor and politics of that world: "The air smells saltier all of a sudden, the wind whips harder and the sound of the boat returns with a rumble in my ears. Far to my right, the shores of Malaysia stretch north to south; far to my left, nothing but sea."

For seventeen years Sam's life and world have seemed 'set', even with the mystery embedded in it. All that's about to change. And with its sweeping descriptions and involving protagonist, readers can expect to hop on board the departing train of adventure for an invigorating, can't-put-it-down ride.

Strip Off Your Fear: The Good Girl's Guide to Saying What You Want
Betsy Talbot
ES Scott Publishing
9781475056761, $4.99 Kindle / $12.99 print

Strip Off Your Fear: The Good Girl's Guide to Saying What You Want addresses a common problem many women face: not just saying what is wanted; but identifying this as separate from what others want. And readers who believe that this perspective will come from an 'outsider' versed in psychology over personal experience should think otherwise: warning is given before the first chapter even unfolds, in a pointed, fun, and compelling 'disclosure': "Any resemblance to actual fears you have in your head is entirely on purpose. I'm in your brain, and that's why I know this book is going to help you."

Strip Off Your Fear isn't for the public speaker or for the person who wants tips on how to better engage: it's for the timid woman who struggles to fully engage; who usually lets others do her speaking for her. It's directed to the "good girls" of the world who always place others' interests above their own, and it advocates something that sounds simple but is truly difficult for this group: exploring one's innate needs and wants, and how to get them.

Chapters use personal stories to identify this process of uncovering not just one's voice, but one's real needs and wants in life; and they pinpoint breakthrough moments, how they were achieved, and (more importantly) how they served as an impetus for lasting change in both action and word.

Don't expect the usual trappings of a self-help psychology piece (readers who approach Strip Off Your Fear expecting such an approach will be disappointed): it's firmly rooted in the author's experience; so it's better to deem it an 'autobiographical self-help' work, because here's where its passion and insights set it apart from a typical genre read: "I was living the life of my dreams, out and proud in front of everyone, and had been detailing my worries and feelings on the blog for the past two years. I was no longer hiding behind my hair, and it was the first time I realized it. Before I was worried about changing my career, and now I didn't even have one!"

Another note: readers will expect fear to be the main issue here - but surprisingly, it isn't. The problem doesn't center on developing a fear-free life (such isn't possible); it focuses on creating a game plan for identifying these fears and turning them into strengths and advantages; and this is where Strip Off Your Fear really shines!

But, where to begin, if one has never spoken up before? With something as simple as going to lunch. As readers learn about common techniques of defaulting and deflection, they learn to recognize the behavioral patterns that have led to engrained denials and lack of self-confidence - and how to develop solid techniques for changes that are achieved in little bits and pieces.

One of the Army's mottos for recruitment is "Be the person you were meant to be". This phrase also nails the motto of Strip Off Your Fear; because when self-confidence is boosted, all manner of revelations take place that decommission behaviors reinforcing hiding, apologizing, and deflecting the most important thing of all: one's true self.

Don't expect Betsy Talbot's book to do everything for you. She's just the messenger, providing the message and the tools. The real work is just beginning, for women who are shy, retiring, and used to not making waves in their lives.

Strip Off Your Fear offers tools and an easy structure for using them. Any who have struggled to identify their 'voice' and desires will find this packed with step-by-step details on exactly how to find it - and what to do with it, when it's finally set free.

Days of Amber
Alex Chu, H.W. Vivian and Beth Kallman Werner
ASIN: B00LQU6PFW $3.99

Amber & Associates is a successful software company with one major difference from any other: its employees are aloof, lazy, and dysfunctional: uncommon characteristics for a company approaching its first IPO. Even a series of system hacks doesn't shake employee complacency - until a senior risk analyst's drunken exit prompts the jaded group to rethink their priorities.

If all this sounds ribald, incongruous, and with potential for more than a touch of humor throughout - well, it is. Anticipate a fun read fueled by an uncommon scenario in which the business structure supports a playpen of dysfunction and the key protagonists are out to lunch - all day long.

Readers who anticipate the usual 'business novel' are in for something different, here. Gone are dull, dry or predictable business challenges; and in their place is a series of encounters that border on the zany: "When Gordon reached the conference room's wood-paneled door, he slapped the metal handle down and swung it open, shouting, "Someone's been stealing our data!" at seven suited executives, six men and one woman, who were all seated around a white circular table. The executives stared at Gordon in silence, their brows raised in stunned disbelief, thus making the senior risk analyst feel like an idiot. "Ah, Gordon," welcomed one of the men cheerfully in his booming voice. It was Aaron Amber, founder and CEO of the company. Aaron looked in his mid-fifties; had the broad build of a pro-wrestler, with white bristly hair atop a shiny, peach-colored oval scalp, and bright eyes that were as blue as the ocean he enjoyed sailing upon. "So nice of you to join us. We couldn't possibly go public without you scrutinizing, well... something."

While business readers looking for serious lessons embedded in the structure of a novel may be disappointed at this light-hearted approach, there's plenty of that to be found elsewhere - and not enough of the unique brand of tongue-in-cheek observational humor that permeates Days of Amber.

So, the first prerequisite to its complete enjoyment is a sense of humor, and the second is an interest in business pursuits that don't follow the usual definitions of company structures and professional attitudes.

Characters are realistic and well-developed, but again - if you're looking for a typical business novel packed with real-world insights, look elsewhere. The intention here isn't to present a logical progression of business decisions, but to poke fun at the often-incongruous business personalities that inhabit software environments.

Perhaps the ideal reader of Days of Amber should have some experience with Google-like companies and software start-ups to appreciate the level of dysfunction many of these organizations seem to cultivate. Perhaps it's a case of linguistics: many passages are fun plays and pique the imagination with unexpected references: "After more than twenty years of loyalty and commitment to his best friend's company, Gordon was being replaced by a group of ambitious, know-nothing business posers, thrown away like an obsolete VHS player."

One thing is certain: readers who approach Days of Amber anticipating your traditional business novel will likely be disappointed; but those who seek something light, refreshing, and truly different will find it not an educational business pursuit so much as a fun leisure read that offers up some unexpected twists and turns in the course of an IPO pursuit.

Detective Lessons
Bill Larkin
Spyglass Press
Amazon link:
Author website:

Take a wealthy real estate developer whose son has disappeared, have him persuade a deputy sheriff to conduct a missing person search beyond the usual police efforts, then pair said deputy with a feisty female P.I. who has her own ideas of how to conduct a search and you have the framework for an involving detective story that revolves as much upon protagonist head-butting as it does around the process of mystery-solving.

And that's just the opening salvo of action that permeates Detective Lessons, lending it an atmosphere and approach that moves full-circle into an investigation leading to the father's own lair of activities, which holds some unexpected clues.

There are plenty of detective novels that center on developing relationships between investigators: that's nothing new. And many take unexpected twists and often come home to roost - that's also par for the course.

What's unexpected - and unique - in Detective Lessons is a series of twists of plot and character which seem to lead in a logical direction, only to take a 360-degree turn towards something entirely different.

Thus, the seemingly-straightforward story of a missing son and a touch of spark and possible romance between two very different investigators turns into an exploration of how directions change in life, how ideals of duty are challenged in the course of a professional career, and how trust slowly evolves from situations that test endurance, values and even life perspectives.

Oh, and don't forget the touch of humor that runs through even the simplest of events: "Hotchkiss asked, "Schmitty, I'm trying to figure out how to write this report without using the word 'moron' at least once."

In the end, it's not just about the mystery, how it's solved, or how people come together or break apart in the course of an investigation. It's about how law enforcement struggles with internal and external forces beyond the facts of an investigation to arrive at solutions, it's about how individuals grow and change in the course of police work, and it's about how the bad guys handle revenge, deceit, and complex games just as likely to weave webs of entrapment around themselves as around their victims.

Detective Lessons is filled with lessons beyond the usual investigative piece: teachings about psyche, interpersonal interactions, evolving relationships, presumptions and the finer art of deciphering a range of puzzles both professional and personal. These lessons are embedded in observations between protagonists that add satisfying complexity to the overall plot: "Megan had known him for at least ten years and she'd expected the man to grieve, but he remained tense and distant. A driving thought pattern underneath. Singularly focused on finding his son alive. She felt he wasn't really with them in the car."

Because of its multi-faceted approach, Detective Lessons is especially recommended for genre readers who look for more than a light, casual mystery; and who delight in complex psychological interactions and changing relationships.

The Sicilian Defence
Alejandro Luque
c/o PeakPublish
No ISBN $6.30

One would think that a short story collection set in Sicily would arrive steeped in a culture and flavor of place: not so with The Sicilian Defence - but that's not to say this is a black mark on the collection. Alejandro Luque himself admits that the stories aren't as much about culture and daily life (they could have been set in any country and any place) but primarily revolve around themes of life, death, and moral and political choices. Given this purpose, Sicily serves only as the backdrop, reflecting the island's literary history more than its everyday life. And with this approach in mind, readers seeking real literature over light, everyday observational pieces will find The Sicilian Defence no casual read, but a magnificently crafted series of vignettes exposing the underbelly of choice and its consequences.

Take 'The Decline of the Don Juan', for example. Now, here's a tale that opens with a suave Italian man's reflection on women and love-making. He's a staid, older voyeur-type Don who advocates (among his manly circle) a male revolution as observations are made that women are little more than devious manipulators: "For centuries, women have been subject to unjust humiliation and subjugation," adds Muscara in a scholarly tone. "Later, like she-wolves in sheep's clothing, they've kept on assuming a subordinate role, a relatively subordinate role, let's be clear, but they're enigmatically taking control of the house, the family wealth, as you already know, dominating the children's affections and all the rest.."

What form will this revolt take? Why, the classic form of withholding affection and attention; but this time, evolving from a male perspective: "So this revolution you're talking about, what form is it going to take," once again Scannapieco. "In us declaring a strike. In us not paying them attention and forgetting about them. In cutting out all the compliments, all the chivalry, all the oohs and aahs! In biting our tongues when we run foul of them. In withdrawing all our admiring glances. Just like they don't exist," says Muscara."

The classic dilemma which evolves from this idea is presented in a flowing descriptive story packed with metaphor and imagery: "The conversation starts to flow off in varying directions, like a piece of free jazz, where every soloist does his own thing, trying to form an amalgam of phrases and grooves, each one reeled off amongst coughs and the clunk of a signet ring, never seeing the light or following any real course. It is the melody which serves as breakfast lunch and dinner in this prison without walls and bars, this paper ucciardone where we are born and where we will never die. "

As readers follow each (very different) tale, they begin to get a sense of Sicilian psychology, rules of engagement over issues of sacrifice, meaning, and love, and, ultimately, the finer art of lying, loving, and living.

And herein lies the heart of The Sicilian Defence: its ability to capture exquisite bits of everyday life and times, to inject each short story with blossoming hearts and minds, and to ultimately create a sense of Sicilian psychology within the confines of stories that, yes, could have been set 'anywhere', but that ultimately capture the essence of the Italian mind-set.

And perhaps this is The Sicilian Defence's greatest achievement of all - and why this short story collection is especially recommended for readers of fine literature over those seeking light, casual stories.

The Northern Star: Civil War
Mike Gullickson
Lightside/Darkside Entertainment
ISBN-13: 978-0692287170
ISBN-10: 0692287175
$2.99 digital/$9.99 paperback

Prepare to be afraid. Be very afraid. Because even seasoned science fiction readers well versed in stories of military conflict and cyber-futures will enjoy something different in The Northern Star: Civil War.

Mention the word 'Civil War story' and most Americans have instant visions of a historical novel; but in the case of The Northern Star: Civil War, that presupposition couldn't be further from the truth.

The story is cyberpunk through and through and at its best, is set in 2068 in a world where humans live more in cyberspace than in the reality of their ravaged, resource-depleted world, and provides a sequel to The Northern Star: The Beginning (an introduction not seen by this reviewer) which depicts such a world at violent odds with splinter groups and factions vying for power.

So far this futuristic setting seems relatively common; but let's add a mentally ill bionic soldier who is at once a hero and a killer, a mystery surrounding a town where adults are murdered and children kidnapped, and a world driven by ambition and greed carried to its nth degree of logic and you have a truly gripping sci-fi read that moves far beyond any civil war re-enactment that one could imagine.

Expect no light adventure, here. Part of what makes The Northern Star: Civil War so disturbingly compelling is that its roots are solidly implanted in events of modern times. So take greed, corporate maneuvering and political manipulation and then extrapolate them to a future world where one reluctant, rebuilt soldier finds himself adopting the strange position of protector rather than fighter.

It's a world where giant manufactured men can become Tank Majors or Tank Minors with unique high-tech battle gear designed to make them invincible, all supervised by a non-bionic who distrusts the very technology he's been assigned to oversee: "Boen may have controlled the bionics' operations around the world, but he still didn't trust the technology. He'd observed how, in today's military, there was a caste system that didn't exist before: the bionic and the soft soldier. It had created an unspoken rift between soldiers, one that superseded even rank. The Tank Majors - goliath bionics - and the Tank Minors - infantry bionics - had made flesh-and-blood men into children."

Then take trends of today, such as everyone's fascination with the Internet, and depict a world where this preoccupation of the masses has been encouraged by a few determined to control everything - then imagine what happens when the addictive switch of cyberspace is turned off: "We can't access our money. We can't order food. People can't work. No games, no friends. The only thing that sorta works is the phones."

And here you have it, in a nutshell: the crux of why the events of The Northern Star: Civil War ultimately prove so compelling. It's because they aren't unbelievable, but a logical possibility based on modern scenarios. It's because the protagonists, whether they be bionic fighter-soldiers with their own agendas and perceptions or the common man, are portrayed as well-developed individuals struggling with a world that is only half-real.

So turn to The Northern Star: Civil War for a glimpse into one possible future and a world which re-defines the meaning of sacrifice and obedience. Then prepare to be afraid; be very afraid. With its cornerstone foundations rooted in perceptions and patterns of modern times, it's military sci-fi and futuristic cyber-reality at its best.

Swift River
R.C. Binstock
R.C. Binstock Books
c/o Createspace
9781501097249 Print $12.99 / Ebook: $5.99

Polly's home is a small Massachusetts town that, along with three others, stands in the way of progress when water-starved 1927 Boston locates an aquifer that will supply all their needs - if they can just move or deal with four obstacles.

Her valley has been home to generations of farmers, artisans and more; all of which is slated to all be washed away in the special interests of a bigger town Polly has never even seen. Thus opens a story based on the very real events of the Massachusetts Quabbin Reservoir project: a scenario that has played out time and again across America.

When the tale begins, Polly is but a girl facing the impossible destruction of everything she knows, and everything that has involved generations of Americans in the pursuit of progress.

Now, this story has been told time and again in fiction and nonfiction; but what makes Swift River exceptional is an evocative, immersing writing style that mirrors the overwhelm of engulfing waters. Even the novel's first observational paragraph proceeds to wash the reader away with Polly's experiences: "I keep thinking about the dog. The one who disappeared just before we heard the news. For a while I figured he was killed by an automobile, then I decided he left us to stay with someone he liked better. But even later, after that, I wondered if he knew. Somehow knew what was coming. And maybe got clear away - you know I raised him, not them - out of the valley to someplace safe."

Polly's perspective is presented in a series of observations and journal entries that captures not only the events affecting Swift River, but her own coming-of-age.

Part of life's educational process involves 'accepting the things we cannot change' and understanding what constitutes inevitability versus fighting the good fight. It's something all Swift River residents of all ages face in this story - and something Polly must reconcile with her own growth process if she is to survive the deluge that threatens to erase her heritage.

While the novel is all about rebirth and how memories and influences of the past can be washed away to make room for a different future, don't expect Swift River to be about a singular event: this simply serves as the impetus for exploring Polly's wider world and the secrets she closely guards. Even more pointed are passages that explore the 'why' behind these secrets and her decisions surrounding them, providing answers that can be extrapolated into the causes of inaction and victimization: "Because I fear the very worst, I simply can't afford to know."

As the wider world converges on Swift River and Polly, she comes to see that issues are not as cut-and-dried as she would perceive, and begins to understand that against the specter of disaster are nuggets of possibility for rebirth and transformation.

As both deluge and war encroach, Polly finds reason to amend her life's vision, purpose, and experience into this newly-born world. Her observations are the flow that cement an engrossing story and effortlessly carry readers through the quickening currents of her life: "...there is this: no change can harm you. No sudden hurt, no disappointment can ever worsen your condition. Valley gone, loved ones gone - what small distinction shall I make? The trivial gradation of my losses over time is a game, a purposeless folly; in the end it doesn't matter. A life begins and goes on and at a certain time is over. And then it simply never was. This is the source of all grief."

Ultimately Swift River becomes not just the story of one girl's observation of her heritage's destruction just as she's on the cusp of understanding its meaning to her life, but the story of how we all survive adversity and disaster. With its lyrical passages, powerful psychological insights and evocative text, Swift River will carry readers on an unexpected journey of amazing discoveries packed with philosophical reflection and observations about life's meaning.

The Death Cliff Monster: Half Dead
David D. Tracey
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00M8UFMQM, $7.50

While a cartoon-like cover drawing initially indicates that The Death Cliff Monster: Half Dead could be slated for younger audiences, youth beware: the writing is for an adult or advanced teen reader, as its opening sentence quickly indicates: "In Carl's normal early morning nightmare, he sees Joan's burnt, mangled, and dried up face. Carl has a difficult time in believing her once beyond beautiful face now look like this. He then sees her hand come up from its laying position as she hands him her high school friendship ring back; though, he knows in his dream - she no longer is alive."

So belay the thought that The Death Cliff Monster: Half Dead is for middle school readers, ignore the crayoned appearance of cover art that indicates a younger audience, and be prepared for a complex, whimsical, and surprising read about a son's return to the prodigal farm homestead to care for an aging father, only to find that a monster which lives nearby has already stolen the souls of his mother and high school sweetheart.

If comparison were to be made between David D. Tracey's writings and that of a more famous, successful writer, think the early works of Christopher C. Moore, which embed elements of the zany with impossible scenarios and protagonist challenges.

Amid the opening acts of illicit affairs, this whimsical side shines through; whether it be in descriptions of events or in dialogue between characters: "I have a gig working for a stunt outfit. I figure out what the angle and distance their ramps have to be for their tricks, along with what speed they need to get to in order to reach their landing ramps safely." "So, do you use a slide rule or computer? Personally, I'd never accept a calculation taken from a computer, not with life at stake. What if a virus were on your computer? That would make for a very unhappy client. In your case, one who could come back and haunt you."

Speaking of 'haunting', the action lies not so much in family interactions and affairs as it does in Carl's discovery of the monster, its abilities, and the number of tragedies that pile up as danger hungrily embarks on its rampage: "It seemed two others who enter the steak house after them also love steaks. They sit at a table that is not next to Carl's and Rita's but close enough that they can observe them. These two men order raw steaks. It seems they can't help but make a grueling sound when they eat. This causes an elderly man with his wife to turn around to them to protest these sounds. This man, however, never says a word to these men when he sees one of these men's wild looking orange eyes staring back at him. The older man instead calls the waiter over. He asks this waiter for what he and his wife have left bagged. As soon as their food is boxed, both leave in haste not often seen of people their age. These two elder people didn't go far; at least their bodies don't, as two more of those that prefer their steaks raw are waiting for this elderly couple in the back seat of their car."

It should be noted that some editing would have produced a more polished saga: there are minor grammatical errors sprinkled throughout that would have benefited from an editor's final touch ("two human like figures", "We have called the hotel we sent you too...").

That said, those who can overlook this sprinkling (and, they are minor) and, especially, readers who enjoy a touch of tongue-in-cheek humor with their monster tales ala Christopher Moore will find Tracey's approach is very similar - and totally engrossing.

As events ramp up towards a grand finale, Chris finds himself helping Rita and those who suffer from disabilities, and facing down the thing below The Death Cliff that threatens everything he holds dear.

It's all about action, human interaction, and a quest to confront The Half Dead Thing before it becomes unconquerable. But the true heart of any drama lies in its characters and presentation: Tracey's ability to add wry twists to his plot makes for a compelling and fun read recommended not for the young so much as the young at heart.

Christopher Moore, make room: there's competition in town!

S. O. E. or Searchers of Ex-O-da
David D. Tracey
Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

A group of aliens sent to Earth from their homeworld Exoda are tasked with an assessment operation: determine if the Earth should be harvested by the fleet behind them, or let the planet pass.

Such a harvesting operation was already conducted by aliens some sixty-five million year ago; but this time the human race is in charge - and thus the planet is the subject of even closer scrutiny.

As S. O. E. or Searchers of Ex-O-da evolves, there are points of reference that are fun and odd: for example, the aliens sport human names (Cecil Patrick Randolph, for example) which seem incongruous for an invading fleet from beyond the stars.

Another curious note: the fate of the Earth (as well as other worlds) actually depends on the destructive actions of these aliens. Much as fire needs to clear the way for new life, so have the aliens' past actions paved the way for what is to eventually become humanity. And that's just the beginning of the story.

Now move into the human realm, where individuals are just discovering their extraterrestrial origins and truths, which sometimes become sticky with complexity: "This is complicated. I must tell you first that those two people who we were led to believe are our parents, are not our parents. Our father is the brother of our real father. Our mother, she is the sister of our real mother. " "My head is spinning Royal. It is royally spinning. Anyways, why is that?"

As with his other book, a cartoon-drawing cover hides the fact that its real audience is adult, while a smattering of grammatical errors throughout could have been eliminated with a professional editor's assistance.

Aside from these observations, be prepared for a hilarious comedy of errors that's worth pursuing despite any small copy glitches; for S. O. E. or Searchers of Ex-O-da is a comedy of errors and ironies, whether you're talking about plots to break away from alien prisons, muddled heritage and strange genes, or the odd habits of fearless leaders with a passion for speed and an inability to resist the possibilities offered by a spaceship's long corridor: "He again floors his cart to its maximum speed. This causes panic throughout the long crowded passageway. He does this from the time he starts his trip to the time he gets out of it at his stateroom. He decides he needs to take these kinds of trips on a regular basis. He realizes he loves to witness the horror in his crewmates faces as the try in panic to avoid being mowed down. There is a speed limit throughout the ship. As the official Commander of the ship, he knows, even though he can be held responsible for other types of crimes, he is immune from any type of vehicle prosecution. This holds true should he even kill someone with his cart."

Perhaps this is the strongest piece of S. O. E. or Searchers of Ex-O-da: its ability to imbibe even the most serious of plots with a zany sense of whimsy and humor that adds an element of unpredictability to the entire story line. Whether it's science fiction or fiction, real unpredictability and humor is surprisingly rare and a refreshing find.

In the end the fates of human and alien worlds will become entwined in more ways than one. Without spilling beans, it should be noted that readers looking for a voice that's truly different will find it in only a few places: in Christopher Moore's successful tales and, now, in David D. Tracey's fast-paced story of Searchers who uncover more than they bargained for.

Children of Lies
Susan Lerner
On the Edge Books
9780975285381, $TBA

Take headline news reports of the intifada in the Middle East, add deeper social concerns, and then focus on the political awakening of an idealistic pre-med student and you have a novel replete with insights on how the political becomes the personal and vice versa.

Rachel is just completing her studies as a pre-med student at Columbia University. Her path in life seems set and a Palestinian revolt in the Middle East seems so far away - until campus protests bring it home and a blossoming relationship with a young Palestinian doctor (who leads the movement) makes it a personal issue for her.

Her growing political awareness and criticism of Israel's policies bring her into conflict with family and friends, but woven into her complex political growth is a humanitarian goal to bring health clinics to those in need in other countries. Against this backdrop, Rachel makes choices to bring healthcare to Palestinians: something her own physician father was involved in before his death.

Up until now, all seems fairly predictable - but at this point the plot adds a satisfying twist and what seems like a set path involving Rachel's social and political awareness turns into a dangerous course as Michael's real political connections are exposed. For Michael is proud of being an underground fighter in a deadly game - so proud that he will do anything for the cause... even sacrifice his love for Rachel and for the ideal of the healthcare clinics that is one of their shared passions.

As Rachel comes to know more of Michael, she begins to realize how little she actually knows - and observes how little he seems to have enjoyed the usual childhood pleasures. Still, she sees him as different from the angry militant personas of the Middle East presented in the media. When clouds of suspicion descend on both sides, Rachel and Michael seemed doomed in more ways than one; victims of the forces of politics and special interests that are using them as pawns in a bigger game.

Platitudes and mindsets are explored and exploded, romance is tested to its limits, and ultimately both Michael and Rachel face world-changing decisions that rest squarely on the political and social interactions and conflicts between Jews and Palestinians.

Rachel must consider a basic question when she's forced to fully comprehend the nature of Michael's involvements: "Would a rabid Jew hater fall in love with her?" And on Michael's part, he struggles with a lifetime of deception that moves from childhood to adult concerns too quickly to allow for any real analysis.

Readers of straight romance stories might find more political reflection than is usual for a romance, while those following thrillers and novels of intrigue might be surprised that romance occupies such a central part of the story line. But, in fact, it's personal connections that bring home political ideas: that, and the determination of what to do about one's ideals. How far should one travel in the pursuit of faith and political change, even if it sacrifices love?

It's a deadly game, fueled by romance and belief systems. Readers can expect a story of international politics, intrigue, and romance all wrapped up with social commentary and driven by the passions of two powerful protagonists who each learn something more about themselves and their world through their shared concerns over conditions in the Middle East.

After Helen
Paul Cavanagh
Not That London Publisher
9780993809309 (pbk.) $15.95
9780993809316 (html) $4.99

Each revelation holds within it a possibility of letting go the past - and each 'goodbye' is really a invitation to new opportunities and new worlds. That's the underlying, compelling message of After Helen, a new/old novel with an unusual story to tell: one that isn't limited to the pages of this book.

It's remarkable to find a novel that not only has survived the test of time (it's been some ten years since its original publication in Canada) but, like the proverbial phoenix of myth, rises to commendation a decade later as a reprint redesigned for global audiences. This first novel received a rare award, earning author Paul Cavanagh the first 'Lit Idol' award at the London International Book Fair in 2004: this alone should be enough to entreat readers of 2014 to add After Helen to their reading lists.

But, say this background wasn't so. Say that After Helen appeared for the first time today (...and that wouldn't be far from the truth, as its original audience was largely limited to Canadian readers). Say that it attracts a powerful wave of readers in those who look for novels steeped in psychological depth, tension, and personal revelations ala writers such as Nicholas Sparks. Now develop the character of a history teacher (who reflects on his late wife Helen and the aftermath of her demise) and you have the evolving, compelling story that is After Helen, as much an ongoing pick for modern audiences as it was a decade ago.

Of course, there are long-buried family secrets Irving unearths in the process of his confrontation with the past. Of course, there's love, betrayal, and an important present-day relationship with a teen daughter that hinges on the outcome of Irving's discoveries and choices. When a rebellious daughter, Severn, steals a book that may hold answers to his late wife's secrets, Irving is forced on a journey of investigation which threatens to reveal truths he didn't really want to know; especially in the aftermath of her glory.

Through it all is the specter of ongoing grief that permeates Irving's immediate reactions and long-range emotions alike: "I sensed her wariness hardening into disappointment - or was it disapproval? - as if she somehow believed that by getting on with my life, I was declaring Helen easy to forget."

As Irving faces character Livingston and uncovers more hard questions, he provides astute observations about narcissism and the lasting effects of selfishness and its impact on those around them, even in circles that remain oblivious to its incarnation or effects: "I can see now that Livingston has left such a trail of discarded women in his life because they could never compete with his most ardent lover - himself. Women were simply pleasingly proportioned mirrors in which to admire his own reflection. Unfortunately, they all too often bent the light to his advantage, mistaking his bloated ego for svelte panache."

As a single parent facing a lonely future, the mystery surrounding Helen, Livingston, and others grows larger than life and threatens to unravel and consume his attention - and as it unravels, it exposes itself to all: "I realize that they're the photos Severn stole from home, the ones of her with Helen. Katie picks up one picture after another, staring at each of them. The resemblance is unmistakable, even to her. She looks at me, at once shocked and embarrassed. Then her gaze inches towards Livingston..."

Irving never intended to destroy others' lives, illusions and dreams in the course of investigating family secrets; but the aftermath of his probes is a fallout of emotional connections that threatens a half-life of decades of impact.

It's unusual to find a novel where the main character is deceased. Irving's pursuit of the truth builds the nature of Helen's life as surely and painfully as it represents a father's conflicted and stormy relationship with a teen who goes missing.

In the end, it's about journeys, resolution, and new lives based on acknowledging (and then avoiding) destructive patterns of the past. Irving's quest in After Helen is all about identifying these patterns, with all their opportunities for destruction, change, and rebirth. Fiction readers looking for powerful emotional ventures ala Anne Tyler or Nicholas Sparks won't be disappointed.

Jessica Shortall
Otet Press
9780990919209 print
9780990919216 ebook

Work.Pump.Repeat is recommended for working mothers and HR professionals who would understand the requirements for breastfeeding a child while remaining employed, and comes from a thirty-something working mother of two who has used these techniques herself - so it's an authoritative text that actually represents methods that have been personally tried and tested.

Shortall isn't talking about ordinary clerical positions, either. Much of her work involves international globe-trotting business trips, and that just makes Work.Pump.Repeat widely applicable to all levels of career working mothers.

One would think the subject would open with a positive reflection on the freedoms and potentials of breast milk pumps: instead, it provides hard-hitting reality from the start: "Here's an idea: let's use machines to extract breast milk from our bodies several times a day, while we are working demanding jobs. Let's do this when we are already exhausted, anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed - and trying to prove to our employers that we're "back"."

Working and breastfeeding her baby proved one of the most difficult tasks Jessica Shortall had ever attempted: " produced more anxiety and guilt and feelings of being overwhelmed than any other part of parenting. It was a very physical job, in the midst of an already physically trying time in my life - the lugging of the equipment and the milk, the running from a meeting to pump and back again, the finding of private places in which to pump. It was also an emotional job, and one filled with second-guesses. It was time-consuming, draining (literally), anxiety-producing, and stressful. Being someone's sole (or main) source of nutrition is hard work."

Chapters outline points of conflict, stress, and what can be done to alleviate common problems, providing bulleted paragraphs that make for quick and easy browsing for busy working mothers who want to tackle one point at a time.

There are specifics on ideals versus reality, there are tips on how to handle timing for baby needs and business pursuits alike, there are discussions of machines, methods, and psychology - and most of all, there's a supportive text that brings together all these common problems and how to overcome many of them.

One might anticipate the baby-oriented focus here; but what is even more surprising is the healthy dual focus on business concerns that even incorporate office politics: "First, you: You have to keep looking like a pro. Even the most supportive managers, leaders, and even some co-workers will be watching you when you come back. I heard this from several HR experts. They'll be looking at you, wondering, "Is she really the same as before? Is she as committed, and is she really back?"

Under such scrutiny one's professional and business reputation is often on the line, requiring absolute attention to prioritizing AND preserving one's image as a committed professional and a mother: "Like it or not, for those looking for confirmation that you're not fully "back," everything you do at work related to your new baby can add up: Every early departure for a sick kid, every time you leave a meeting to pump, every time you pull out the baby pictures to ooh and ahh with your work friends. This doesn't mean you can't do these things - our HR experts stress this point - it just means you should keep an eye on these activities, and prioritize what's most essential (like pumping)."

The keys to business travel with breast milk and pump are invaluable and even take into account TSA procedures and how frozen milk can be safely escorted through security: "...what do you do when a rumpled TSA agent (who, just before you walked up, touched his 1,000th traveler of the day without washing his hands) wants to open a bag of your frozen breast milk and wave a little slip of paper in there?"

These tips aren't limited to successful travel arrangements or tips for successful work, but move beyond these areas with their acknowledgment of the special challenges facing a working, professional, breastfeeding new mother.

The result is a solid advice guide that should be on the shelves of any woman who enjoys a career and who wants to return to it while continuing to nurture her child: a guide very highly recommended for its exceptional focus and well-rounded discussion of the realities of the venture; right down to the politics of asking for employer concessions: "Ask yourself the same kinds of questions: what will make them confident in your abilities to do this? What personalities are you dealing with? What's the business case? What drawbacks will this scenario have, and how will you address them? Tone remains important: you are not begging, but you are also not "owed" this. Build as strong a case as possible, and present it confidently."

Eye of Truth
P.G. Badzey
Privately Published
ISBN-10: 1503077144
ISBN-13: 9781503077140, $3.99

When a fantasy setting casts its net upon the waters of epic adventure, it can either draw in riches or sink in a mire of predictability and staid literary devices. Eye of Truth represents a real treasure, and captures this with exceptional prowess and vigor, at that. Think Dungeons and Dragons or Tolkien, throw in a dash of Patrick Rothfus, add a second book to a successful high fantasy saga, add a quest for vengeance and sinister undead sorcerers, and stir. Now blend prophecy with an epic quest, a grueling life beset upon by murderous gnomes and deadly battle, and a female warrior who hasn't even recovered from her last challenging fight and you have a vivid story indeed in Eye of Truth.

The first thing to mention is that this sequel does not require any prior familiarity with Whitehorse Peak, the first in the series, to prove accessible to newcomers. It stands well alone in its epic adventure and succeeds in what any good series addition should do: fills in background events for context while creating stand-alone scenes and situations newcomers can easily enjoy.

This means that readers new to Badzey's fantasies are in for a treat as they absorb Dar and Andyn's encounters with gem-stealing thieves, face down betrayals and bounty hunters, sift through dragon treasure, and uncover Grey Rider enigmas that only deepen with their journey.

There are surprising moments of wry humor ("Connor held up his black leather armor and made a face. He poked a

finger through a blackened hole and eyed the water stains. "Sure. I'm made of money. I'll just buy another set of enchanted leather armor") that blend well with a story line steeped in vivid descriptions of place, people and creatures: "He waited in the shadows, secure in his spell but leaving nothing to chance. A troop of dark elves, twelve strong, marched down the ink-black passage, their forms bright in his heat-vision. They passed through an archway but he remained where he was. A few seconds later, two immense spiders, each the size of a small horse, strode down the passage, multiple eyes bright. The giant arachnids walked right past his little alcove with only a faint clacking noise."

Under Badzey's guidance and prose, readers can feel the dripping walls, hear the 'click' of giant spiders passing close by, and become immersed in a world where elves and alliances are all to be questioned.

From court cases and unjust accusations to magical examinations and assessments, Andyn finds herself in increasing danger as she searches for peace and finds only convoluted lies and conflict. Is nothing safe?

Dar and Andyn ultimately uncover new truths that revolve around difficult choices, love, and redemption; and their journey succeeds in carrying readers through a fantasy world steeped in mystery and adventure. It's hard to go wrong with such a volatile mix; but it takes a skilled hand, indeed, to cast such a wide net, then (seemingly effortlessly) draw all the facets of special interests and personalities into a logical yet unexpected conclusion. Badzey is such a hand, and Eye of Truth is such an achievement, recommended for any reader who enjoys their high fantasy spiced with a bit of mystery.

Hunt for the Star
Dane Richter
9780646901923, Kindle
ASIN: B00BH1O3U4, $5.99

Book One of the Eldon Archives promises two things: high fantasy and an ongoing saga. The fantasy piece is promised with cover art of a growling beast man, teeth bared, suited up in armor, while the subtitle clearly outlines that this is the first book in an intended series. So readers are clearly forewarned to expect an ongoing saga of war and fantasy, at the least.

Any good hunt for an important object usually involves elusive quarries and changing goals. And, any good epic fantasy depends on a number of devices to prove successful; while any good work of military science fiction or fantasy rests largely on the solid development of a political and military framework upon which to build events and center characters.

Dane Richter's Hunt for the Star achieves this by placing its action squarely in a political quagmire as an aging warrior tasked with the challenging mission of retrieving a powerful crystal (the Eldon Star) must turn to the younger Ethan for youthful aid.

There's only one major problem: it has been foretold that if Ethan continues on this journey, he will die. And Artos has already used deceitful means to lure Ethan into the undertaking. Would Artos risk and sacrifice even his own family for the greater good of the world?

But this isn't all that's going on: of course, a disparate set of forces are also searching for the Eldon Star. As wizards, politicians, and dangerous soldiers interact in often-fiery conflict, think an intriguing blend of Lovecraft combined with Tolkien's epic journey, mix in a little sword and sorcery action ala Marion Zimmer Bradley, and add smoky taverns and clashing battles, and you have a story that rests on the laurels of friendship and family relationships tested by the trappings of magic and war.

As with any story, it's the characterization that ultimately 'makes it': here, as Ethan matures and becomes well versed not only in the art of battle, but in the nature of uncertain diplomacy, courage, and wry acceptance of life's little (and larger) challenges: "This particular stranger, however, did not like the way that Ethan looked at him. He boldly walked up to the human and grasped him by the shoulder with such force that Ethan almost cried out. 'Sorry friend,' said Ethan quickly, trying to remain composed. The grip loosened and Ethan heard a raspy hiss as the dark stranger let go and continued about his business. Shaken and now wary, Ethan swallowed hard. The volume of people was stifling, and he remained careful not to accidentally hit anyone else. Thinking it best to be prepared for pickpockets, he closed his hand over the leather purse hanging from his belt. He could feel many eyes watching him, and he did his best to keep his from wandering."

Why would a coming of age process be so clearly defined if a protagonist/hero was doomed to die? Obviously, Ethan is slated for something more: the question is, how will he accomplish his quest and stay alive against the inevitability of prophecy and a devious relative who will do anything to save the world?

Readers will come to enjoy Ethan's journeys in more ways than one, thrilling to the gory battles that permeate the story, mark the steps of his personal and political awakening, and lead to the inevitability of a huge battle that will change everything for everyone.

Without venturing into a spoiler, let it be said that Ethan's ultimate goal doesn't prove to be what he set out for in the first place; but something greater - and something that demands an ultimate sacrifice.

The Eldon Star is shrouded not only in blood, but in secrets that will be given up only a few at a time. And as Ethan's connection to it reveals messages he's unwilling to accept, his life and those around him changes - not necessarily for the better: "The more days that passed, the more Ethan kept to himself. The burden of leadership seemed to be taking its toll. 'Are you all right, Ethan? You seem distant,' said Keral. 'I feel ...' Ethan sighed heavily. 'I don't know ... it's as if I am beginning to feel a part of this guidestone. I sense when it is about to talk to me and I know if the news will be good or bad.' 'That has to be a good thing though ... doesn't it?' said Keral cautiously, looking down at Ethan's hand, tightly clasped around the black rock. 'I suppose, only lately the feelings are just too mixed up to draw anything decisively.' He gestured for Keral to ride nearer and lowered his voice to a whisper. 'The last two days I have just been following this river and ... and while I know something is there ...' he said, shaking his clasped hand, '... I don't really know what it is trying to tell me.'"

Any good hunt for an important object usually involves elusive quarries and changing goals. Hunt for the Star's powerful saga is all about transition points, and its strong characterization will hook fantasy readers and leave them longing for the continuation of the story, already promised in Book Two.

Tuning In
Chris Neal
Neal Family Publishing
9780990910114 $TBA

A good story should ideally open with a bang, drawing in readers from its very first paragraph, and Tuning In's prologue achieves this with a deft, precise hand that raises many questions and invites readers to pursue answers: "I am young on the run and I love it! As a man in his early twenties most consider me uneducated, self-absorbed and essentially useless. I must admit I encourage these perceptions to give me an advantage in life. However, the two guys with guns chasing after me didn't care about my age at all. What an interesting way to start the day. At least I would get some good exercise."

Now, it should be noted that there are punctuation errors in this work-in-progress that hopefully will be smoothed upon publication ("Goodness child you shouldn't scare people like that." or "I don't know why?"): commas are missing and there are very minor points that need cleanup.

But the action, characters, and, most of all, the humor shines forth in a story packed with fun observation and lively events, as when the amnesiac 'Michael' develops a list of responses to medical questions he's more than tired of answering: "RESPONSES TO THE STUPID QUESTIONS OF THE DAY

No I Do Not Remember;
No I Do Not Know Who You Are;
Yes, I Remember Your Name Now That You Have Introduced Yourself;
Yes, I Know Your Name. It's On Your Name Tag;
I Will Go To The Restroom When I Need To;
No I Do Not Need Assistance To Go To The Restroom;
Are You Sure You Graduated From Medical School?;
Please Prove That You Have Graduated From Medical School;
When I Ask For Food Then I Am Hungry;
I Hope You Are Not Billing Me For Every Stupid Question."

As Michael struggles with absent memories, filling in the blanks, dealing with relatives and associates, and not a small level of intrigue, Tuning In becomes more than the simple act of re-creating one's past: it becomes a story of surviving one's present.

There are escape plans and backup schemes, there's an ultimate power the protagonist calls 'Tuning In' (which enables him to 'tune' into the mental traffic of those around him) and there are (of course) those who would circumvent even these abilities: "I anticipated getting a good look at what was on this guy's mind. Yet when I shook his hand, the most unusual sensation went through my arm. I didn't even get a whiff of what the guy was feeling. Physical contact always provided a link of some type. I got nothing."

As mystery after mystery blends into a novel that at times reads like a noir detective story and other times like a science fiction saga, readers are treated to an evolving set of circumstances that are satisfyingly unpredictable. Even the romance piece is filled with thoughtful reflection above and beyond the relationship's evolving connections: "I didn't want to tell her. I would save her the pain of this revelation. I took a different approach that felt right despite the pain. "Do you want to know or should I keep it to myself?" That wasn't really a fair question. The real problem was a selfish problem. I wanted a brutally honest relationship. My life and what I was intending to do with it would only accept an honest partner. Everyone else was a target, an unwilling participant, or a chump. I didn't have friends or casual acquaintances. There was no real in between with me. If Amber and I couldn't discuss the difficult topics or if I couldn't tell her the hard truth and survive, then I wanted to know now. This was indeed selfishness despite the wisdom in the action."

What if your special abilities led directly into a den of danger posing as a corporate entity? What if others who knew of these abilities have corruption in mind? Does real empowerment lie in one's abilities, one's actions, or one's choices in life? And, what ultimately matters in an evolving battle between two very different purposes? The protagonist uncovers all this and more: "Something clicked into place. All the half answers and words of wisdom left. I was holding my reason to live and my reason to fight."

Eventually it all comes full-circle to a combination of faith and self-discovery: "This great world is beyond your understanding and abilities. Governments have power and money that can destroy you in thousands of ways before breakfast. The real power you have is to try and then you will find out exactly what your true abilities are."

The noir sci-fi elements are simply frosting on the cake of greater purpose - and all this culminates in a surprise conclusion that makes Tuning In a fast-paced, gifted story with an ability to draw in diverse audiences, from sci-fi readers to those who enjoy a high-tech detective saga with the spice of romance added for ultimate flavor.

Brancato: Mafia Street Boss
Frank Monastra
Brighton Publishing LLC
9781621831365 $14.95

Brancato: Mafia Street Boss tells the story of an Ohio Mafia boss who was one of Ohio's most feared mobsters and the right-hand man of Cleveland Mafia Boss John Scalish. One might expect from such a background that this story would center on his life of crime; but there are a number of surprises in Brancato's approach that set it apart from other mob exposes.

There's the anticipated rise of a penniless Sicilian immigrant and his introduction to a world of crime and money ... and then there's the concurrent story of relatives familiar with quite a different persona: that of a kind, generous, and soft-spoken, loving family man.

Frank Brancato was the author's grandfather; so Monastra is in a unique position to provide a dual view of his grandfather's heritage - but that's not to say he pulls punches in reviewing Brancato's powerful mob connections, either. Chapters document the ruthless elimination of adversaries from small businessmen who refused to cooperate with the mob to those who would provide information to the police.

Newspaper reports and FBI files combine with family memories in a biography that not only follows Brancato's rise in the Mafia, but the group's overall rise to power from the 1920s to the 1970s.

Those with Cleveland roots, Sicilian heritage, or with a special interest in the history of organized crime in America will find this story replete with insights that begin with some fifty years of a grandfather's history and uses it to examine the bigger picture of Mafia operations.

Its duality is also reflected in a more balanced view of Brancato's personality, which held friendships dear, rewarded loyalties, and honed habits and values early on with the longshore job that was one of the major influences on his life: "Frank learned at an early age it was better to watch how people worked than to just open up his mouth and talk; he could always learn more this way."

Readers who eschew biography in favor of dry facts, and those who want more of a lively story line than history, may find Brancato: Mafia Street Boss unexpected: it incorporates elements of each and comes across as a history with family recollections added in. This approach means that die-hards on either side will find elements not completely to their liking - but Brancato's real strength lies in this very approach, which melds the personal with the bigger picture of Ohio culture and life.

Liberal quotes from newspaper reports and legal proceedings create insights on how Brancato consistently thwarted the legal entities that pursued him: "Another article revealed that an order had been given to reopen the Brancato deportation case, with hearings to be held in Cleveland by the Board of Immigration Appeals, which had formed what they called a secret file on the Cleveland racketeer Frank Brancato that would show how he had been heavily involved with the gambling across the state of Ohio for over ten years."

There are stormy battles and the threat of deportation and Congressional hearings, and just when the newspaper quotes and history begin to get dense, family routines enter the picture: "The FBI continued with their extensive file on Brancato, updating it quarterly. He still had his every-Sunday-morning meeting at either the Damante's barber shop on Chagrin Boulevard or at LaMarca's barbershop on Kinsman. My cousin Dorothy told me she and her sister Virginia would often go with our grandfather on these Sunday-morning meetings. They would stop at LaPuma Bakery and pick up cookies and Italian pastries and then visit several relatives after the meeting."

Brancato: Mafia Street Boss had to come from a family member's hand: there would be no other way to capture the subtler nuances of his life, and any third-party investigative piece would have left out Frank Brancato's family connections: and in Sicilian life, that would be verboten.

Family is everything in Italian culture (even if it's the mob's brand of 'family'). In coming from the pen of a family member writing a generation later, the history of Mafia operations in Ohio will not only be told, but tempered by the 'other family life' Brancato held so dear.

That is well-rounded writing - and a key attribute of this blend of history, biography, and newspaper reports which is especially recommended for Cleveland readers and those with Italian heritage.

They Always Come in Three
E.L. Crenshaw
Black Rose Writing
PO Box 1540, Castroville, TX 78009
9781612964089, $16.95,

Any commercial airplane ride always begins at the gate. The plane taxis to the runway, then there's liftoff, flight, and touchdown. Everything's smooth and everything works, in an ideal situation. But what if one airline begins to suffer not one, but a series of devastating crashes? What if the usual path of taxi, liftoff, flight, and touchdown doesn't end safely at the gate? And what if a deadly force is involved in a series of events that bring airline safety crashing to the ground?

They Always Come in Three profiles such plane crashes, weaves in conspiracy theories, and highlights the efforts of two investigators to get at the bottom of these deadly of events. It's a recommended pick for thriller readers who want more than the usual atmosphere of fiction in their leisure reading choices.

There's added value here because author E.L. Crenshaw

happens to be an aviation professional himself; so his observations of what can cause a plane's crash are based not on fictional possibilities but upon reality. Backed by this reality, They Always Come in Three assumes a life of its own and as engines rev, a plane crashes in its opening chapter, and an investigation immediately kicks in.

Protocol is followed; but that routine is shattered by not one but a series of events that test the investigative department's capabilities and place two men in hot pursuit of the truth. The problem is: when they get too close to that truth, they are assigned elsewhere - which means there's a traitor in the ranks, too.

The liftoff here lies in the disasters. Their flight path criss-crosses special interest groups, tests the skills of two men determined to reveal the heart of the conspiracy, and takes an uncertain course as a cross-country search evolves into a desperate mission of danger.

At every turn the anticipated smooth flight becomes bumpy with complexities and inconsistencies. Thriller readers will find the investigation process precisely detailed, right down to the serial numbers of plane modifications: "Speed handed the aircraft modification folders to Cyrano, and then he examined the serial numbers on a list of fuel switches. After several minutes, Speed turned to Cyrano "Do the airplane numbers match with the fuel serial numbers," he said."

As They Always Come in Three comes up to speed, the investigators find their probe leads them in different directions, from a Naval air station to a militant group and into the heart of national investigative proceedings and politics.

Turbulence increases, agents and police officers clash, and prisoners are taken. There is potential for great change or great corruption - in the Department of Homeland Security.

As the flight nears its conclusion, readers are brought on board for a surprising outcome: one that neatly wraps up loose ends and provides a bit of a twist.

It's landing time: was the long flight worth it? With sterling onboard entertainment, snacks of intrigue served up a piece at a time, and a series of precise investigative associations that test even the seasoned talents of Speed and his partner Cyrano, it's difficult to predict where this flight will wind up.

And when the doors open at journey's end, readers will have enjoyed a rollicking ride and a long journey that leads to a crescendo of surprising truths, all wrapped up in intricate formulas for discovery and realistic aviation insights powered by an author who has had extensive industry experience.

Retirement Basics
Donna Davis
Golden Goddess Press

As retirement looms for baby boomers, most come to realize (as author Donna Davis did) that they are not financially prepared. With no 'game plan' in place and uncertainties surrounding social security payments, 401K plans, and IRAs, it's more than time for a book on the subject directed specifically at this age group, making Retirement Basics: Help for Broke Baby Boomers the item of choice for those approaching retirement years who aren't already well versed in options.

The definitive word in the title isn't 'baby boomer' - it's 'broke'. This means that Davis doesn't assume the aging reader has made any prior plans, or that readers are monied or even necessarily employed.

And while chapters cover the usual subjects of social security, Medicare, and supplemental income, they also include some surprise topics from living in the USA versus the option of living abroad and creating and modifying wills to considering the options of working part-time after retirement.

Retirement, Davis explains, is a transformative experience. It embraces the notion of lifestyle change, it introduces new possibilities and new fears, and it offers the option of developing and following a lifelong dream or passion.

Begin with social security: that's the foundation of many a retirement plan. Davis assumes little prior knowledge and outlines many of the tools readers can easily use to gain exact information about their benefits and when they will be paid. Website links provided within the book go directly to key areas of information, such as those covering full retirement age or the Social Security Planner.

Common myths are dispelled and specific information is provided; but even more importantly, this information is clearly presented and easily digested: "I always thought that everybody collecting Social Security got the same monthly amount. I thought it was a set amount, but that is not the case. The payment will be different for everybody and is dependent on how much you have put into the system over your working lifetime."

This all-encompassing survey isn't just about financial security, either. A chapter covers how maintaining one's health in retirement helps decrease medical expenses. Ms. Davis addresses how food additives and advertising affect eating habits that contribute to nationwide obesity which may lead to a number of long-term illnesses and the need for increased medical services and prescription drugs.

Another chapter covers living wills and inheritance issues and emphasizes that making one's future inheritance part of one's financial plan is never a good idea: "Inheritance is not a good retirement plan. Things change. People can get married, divorced, have fights - anything can happen. People are living much longer now and may outlive their finances. If long-term or nursing home care is needed, the expected giver may deplete their funds before they pass on. The point is inheritance is never a sure thing until the money is actually in your bank account. Don't count on it. Consider it a nice bonus should you be fortunate to receive one."

And that second career in retirement? Davis isn't talking about becoming a Wal-Mart greeter: she's talking about opportunities that incorporate flexibility, such as online selling or pet-sitting services.

At each step of the way, Retirement Basics offers a combination of Davis' own experiences and strategies that work. The addition of this 'personal touch' makes for a far more accessible product for the general-interest reader who has had limited exposure to financial concepts and doesn't have much insight into retirement's possible options.

Competing titles cover most of these nuts and bolts, but use dense language and terminology that doesn't make for a smooth, flowing read. Retirement Basics: Help for Broke Baby Boomers is different: its purpose is to cover a range of options, offer explanations that are easily digested, and reach baby boomers in particular, with their special retirement issues and options. With its wealth of possibilities, anyone nervous about their upcoming retirement will come away from Retirement Basics feeling better informed and more confident about all the positive signs on their retirement horizon.

Seams in Reality
Alex Siegel
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00NYJVXU0 $0.99

After so many books in the Grey Spear Society series, Alex Siegel is taking a break; but it's not the kind of break that involves not writing a book; it's the kind that starts a new series - and, a very different one at that. So hang on to your wizard hat and be prepared for a venture into sorcery and magic which begins with a young college man's romance with a secret master sorcerer and involves him in a government agency tasked with protecting the special 'seams in reality' that allow magic to seep through.

And that's just the beginning: Seams in Reality sets the stage for what evolves into smorgasbord of action that prompts an aspiring actor to play one of the most demanding roles of his life. In any good production, actors wait for cues to provide performances that accent action and character with compelling stories, sweeping audiences along dual paths of probability and the unexpected.

Seams in Reality presents a showcase of incongruities, beginning with a middle-aged woman in her fifties who would seem too old to become involved with a young college man. Tonya's interest in Andrew hones his innate talents in a direction other than what Andrew has studied for, and when a scholarship deal turns out to be an introduction to extracurricular studies, Andrew finds the world far more complex than he'd ever imagined.

In order to accept the concept of magic, he has to recognize his own uneducated abilities; and in order to survive what's to come, he'll have to become knowledgeable very quickly indeed.

Seams in Reality offers all the elements of a superior play or story: create an accessible, interesting protagonist, add romance and intrigue, wrap everything in magic - and then let the fun begin by introducing an evil sorcerer into the mix, who harbors a thirst for power and a connection to Andrew's family.

Unlike Siegel's prior series, Seams in Reality appears directed to a young adult audience (its protagonist is just entering the adult world); but that doesn't mean it should be limited to a particular age group.

Fast-paced action, tantalizing explorations of Andrew's process of accepting and using his powers, and the honing of survival skills that ultimately translate to enough savvy to save not just himself but the world around him make for a vivid progression of events to involve all ages.

Perhaps the single greatest skill of Seams in Reality lies in its exploration of crime, definitions of 'good' and 'evil', and lines of ethics and morality that blur during the process of social and political interests. One doesn't expect a criminal investigation to be a part of a sorcery story; but this is just one aspect of a multi-faceted read that is fully developed as Andrew learns to 'think like a magician', Tonya learns to trust his innate senses, and even the resources of a federal government fully vested in the idea and manipulation of magic becomes strained.

Plenty of titles explore themes of coming of age, sorcery, and even government manipulations of magic. Few take the time to intricately bind all of these aspects together in a story that ultimately revolves around treachery, lies, and portable 'seams' in reality that can be used for ill under the wrong hands.

Don't expect a complete wrap-up here, either: Seams in Reality is first in a series: as such, it leaves the door wide open for more action even while exiting stage left.

The Gullwing Odyssey
Antonio Simon, Jr.
Darkwater Syndicate, Inc.
9780991074501, $14.99,

Fantasy and humor don't often mix; and when they do, it's with the spark and zest of good magic and the fireworks of satire. Add a travel snafu to the mix and you have a fun saga that doesn't just rely on swords and sorcery for its drama, but exposes the bumbling efforts of a young messenger who mistakenly chooses the wrong boat and finds himself aboard a vessel bound for a country ruled by talking dragons.

That might not be so bad were it not for an ongoing drama that leads Marco to impersonate an ambassador for one dinner date, only to inadvertently bring peace to warring kingdoms and attract the attention of a powerful dragon daughter. Oops!

But this brand of humor isn't subtle: it's overt. It's based on a series of wordplays, ironies, and fun observations and it doesn't take a genius to pick up these witty moments, which pop up right from the beginning with a seaman's inability to perform his most basic duty: produce a puzzle rhyme in response to Marco's simple inquiry: "So answer me this: where are the ships headed for Avignary?" Turbo gnawed his reed. "That answer's hidden in an old tale of the sea." He cleared his throat. "The ship you seek flies a pennant blue as the sky on a summer day, red like the blood in your countrymen's veins, and gold like, a... eh... Sorry, lad. I never was too good at rhyming sea tales. Rhythmic pentameter'll be the death me, if I knew what that was."

"What does this have anything to do with my getting to Avignary?" asked Marco. "Rules of the sea, my boy. An old salt like me has to answer every nautical question by spinning a tale of the sea on the fly. And they don't have to be true." Turbo held up an index finger to make his point. "But they have to rhyme. That's the important part."

The humor isn't limited to street encounters, either, but stretches into the highest realms of the nation as a king afraid of battle tries to use overwhelming titles to frighten off opponents: "Consider yourselves fortunate, you who would meet with our Most Wise and Watchful Protector, he who is none other than His Luminous Preponderancy, His Transcendent Imperial Majesty, His Lofty Sublime Grace, His Percipient Magnificence, His Most Resolute Prominence, his... uh..."The retainer trailed off as his bluster of inspiration fell to doldrums. Hurried footsteps up the hall preceded his appearance at the archway. "Have my many titles scared them off yet?" Rao asked. "No," the retainer answered.

"Then make some up."

Another plus of The Gullwing Odyssey is its ability to incorporate a series of misadventures and absurd yet appealing characters and stories within the main plot. There's a scardy-cat king, a bumbling messenger boy, and a fussy, obsessive-compulsive magician who can't serve his dragon lords properly without a meal and drawer packed with silverware at every event. There's also Red Underwear Tuesday.

Marco just wants what most people want: a quiet, successful life. That all these other obstacles get in the way, handing him unwanted adventure and making him the victim of mistaken identity with all its complexities, is just one of the approaches that sets The Gullwing Odyssey apart from other fantasies and places it partially in the company of Tolkien's The Hobbit, where another unwilling adventurer finds himself undertaking a monumental, world-changing task.

But, think The Hobbit with a heavier dose of humor. Think of dragons that don't conquer by fire and force so much as by a religious-type of fervor that actually requires much study: "A rap at the door snared his attention. Kuril stood at the threshold, his eyes set on the book he held in his claws.

"Good morning or afternoon, sir or madam," Kuril read aloud. "Do you have a moment to discuss redemption of your soul through the Good Master? Brief pause. If you would allow me inside your tent, shack, hovel, house, apartment, home, castle - select appropriate dwelling - I can demonstrate to you the wonders of the Glorious Verb, BECAUSE. Shut book and wait for a response."..."I have been shown the way, Marco. And now it is my duty to show it to others. It's all here, in this book." He proffered the miniature Glorious Verb with giddy claws, nearly shoving it in Marco's face. "What is?" Marco asked. "The answer." "To what?" "Everything." "Then what is the question?" "Everything."

And now, a caveat: readers who don't anticipate, look for, or appreciate humor in their fantasies should look elsewhere; because The Gullwing Odyssey rests solidly on the shaking shoulders of a good laugh - and that's what sets it apart from ninety percent of fantasies on the market.

That it accomplishes this humor using a powerful hand, many unexpected moments, and an action-packed plot where the comedy isn't the frosting, but a major ingredient of the actual cake itself, makes The Gullwing Odyssey an exceptional read and highly recommended for any who would laugh their way through a world of dragons, warring kingdoms, and a boy whose destiny is to move from bumbling messenger to world-changer.

The Mystery of King Tutankhamun
Ken Derby
Illusion Publishing
0692269355, $6.00,

Ancient curses that reach from the past into modern times, a missing tomb, and battles with tomb-raiders for treasure...these are all elements of a superior fiction read. They're also key elements in King Tut's life, which was shrouded in mystery long before Howard Carter uncovered the truth.

Historical fiction should ideally envelope all the elements of fact, but embellish them with the trappings of drama, action, and even intrigue. This is even more essential in a piece intended for boys and girls who might normally eschew standard, dry historical discussions.

But all ages hold a similar fascination with the Egyptian mystery of King Tut, and thus The Mystery of King Tutankhamun is one example of a historical piece that successfully uses all these devices to create a compelling, involving read for elementary to middle school readers and beyond.

It's set in 1909, when archaeologist Howard Carter and aristocrat George Herbert joined forces to investigate Egypt's 18th Dynasty and the mystery that revolved around three missing royal burial sites; one of which being that of the famous King Tutankhamun.

Ken Derby re-creates the dialogue and perspective of Carter and Herbert with a deft hand, bringing to life their goals and approaches, and the deals and passions of the times from robberies of tombs to scientific research.

The story of an ancient mystery begins as all good stories should: at the beginning of the time, when King Tut's reign is threatened by conspiracies to kill him off: "Tutankhamun announced a grand banquet for his family, friends, and members of the government. Ay, Horemheb, and Nakhtmin feared Tutankhamun might use the banquet as an opportunity to publicly announce that he was going to take full control of the kingdom. It was obvious to them that the time for their coup had come."

Attention is given throughout to the motivations of all involved; from the enemies of Tut to Carter's financiers: "Carter made Carnarvon a generous offer: He would pay for one more season of digging out of his own pocket, even to the point of depleting all the money he had in the world. "If I find the tomb," he said to Carnarvon, "it will still belong to you, since you still own the digging rights." Carnarvon was impressed with Carter's determination and, being a sporting man, he couldn't possibly pass up a challenge when faced with one. So, a deal was struck, and Carnarvon agreed to finance one more season of digging, at his own expense. He only hoped his money wouldn't be spent in vain yet again."

As a series of mishaps befall those who worked on the excavations, the real possibility of an ancient curse that reaches its deadly hand into modern times is explored with a presentation of the tragedies that begin to befall those involved with Tut's tomb: "Dr. Douglas Derry, the anatomy expert, died soon after Tutankhamun's autopsy from a circulatory system disorder. Alfred Louis, a chemist who assisted Dr. Derry, died of a heart attack shortly after the autopsy. Ali Kemel Fahmy Bey, an Egyptian, was shot by his wife in the London Savoy some time after visiting the tomb."

With chapters steeped in the sights, sounds, politics and magic of both ancient Egypt and turn-of-the-century times, any with an interest in King Tut's tomb will become immersed in events that make The Mystery of King Tutankhamun a page-turning exploration that begins with one mystery and concludes with an even greater one: "...did Carter, the man who unearthed King Tutankhamun, die a slow death because of a curse he did not believe in?"

With such a subject and such a vivid re-enactment of events in hand, readers will find it an engrossing history story that splices facts with drama and insights and assumes no prior knowledge of Egyptian history in general or King Tut in particular.

Our Wild and Precious Lives
A.G. Russo
Red Skye Press
9780990710288, $4.99

In any life there are defining moments. In any historical era there are key transition points. The real challenge of the novel writer is to capture those moments, recreate them, and lend both insight and reality to events linking past, present, and individual lives.

A novel set in 1960 Cold War Germany doesn't sound like an auspicious beginning for a young adult read; nor do the protagonists, who are teenage Army brats used to relying on one another for support and companionship. But an adult-sounding setting and circumstances is exactly what sets Our Wild and Precious Lives apart from other young adult reads and makes it a vivid and different story that will reach into adult circles even as it remains firmly rooted in the perceptions, experiences, and reactions of teenagers.

Tom and Melly worry about adjusting to a strange foreign country and entering yet another new school, but they also face problems at home with an abusive, controlling war veteran father and his domination over their lives.

It's rare to see a supportive, genuine love between brother and sister depicted against the backdrop of military life with all its challenges. It's also rare to find the events and feel of post-World War II woven into a story line that brings to life not only key moments in the international world of the 1960s, but the involvements of military families stationed abroad.

Creating a novel filled with such political and family insights is a dance. Of necessity it must move deftly, logically and precisely between two very different atmospheres that don't necessarily sync up easily: that of a military family's interactions and psychology, and the bigger picture of world events.

Russo's dance begins at home and paints a solid portrait of four very different individuals with their own methods of living their lives and their own methods of coping with adversity: "Lena was in a trance when she cleaned. Melly wondered what the heck was she thinking, but Tom understood his mother better and guessed she didn't think at all. Cleaning was a distraction, a way to get out of her own gloomy world and use up all of her nervous energy....Sometimes when he watched her he had an overwhelming feeling of sadness, knowing how hard she tried to please everyone, especially Jim, and how impossible that was."

Through a series of observations and experiences, the personality of each family member is flushed out until they become living, breathing individuals that interact and grow as their environment changes. And through their eyes and experiences, what Americans at home have followed in the news becomes vivid, real, and filled with potential for danger: "This is a land grab, with the Russians thinking if they occupy the territory, they own it. And that, boys and girls, is why this crisis is important. We're here, or rather, our fathers are here, because of the Domino Theory, which says that if one country falls to the Soviets, the rest will fall like dominoes, and there will be nothing to stop the Communists from taking over Europe."

Part of what makes Our Wild and Precious Lives so compelling is Russo's focus on emotional growth and understanding. This lends a realistic feel to the entire endeavor, brings political events to life by revealing their impact on daily lives, and makes each protagonist believable and compelling: "Melly didn't understand herself why she felt everything so deeply. Tom said she was oversensitive. So it must be some fault of hers, yet she found life harsh and cruel, not happy-happy like some people."

The real strength of a good novel lies in its ability to view the world through others' eyes. As the siblings mature (and as events concurrently mature in Europe) readers receive insights not just on the young adult perspective, but (through a series of flashbacks) the forces that shaped their father's psyche and set the stage for the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But the ultimate power of Our Wild and Precious Lives lies in the evolution of the army brat protagonists into passionate people influenced by their parents' decisions, but ultimately leading their own battles and undertaking their own life journeys, fueled by separate beliefs, passions, and family connections: "Normally people adjust to grief because they live among people they've known all their lives, but Army brats have no such attachments, no lifelong friends to support them, only each other. Now they would all go their separate ways. How could they share their reality with others? How could anyone else possibly understand?"

Without spilling beans, suffice it to say there are some unpredictable surprises along the way that make the novel's conclusion anything but inevitable.

In any life there are defining moments. In any era there are key transition points. Our Wild and Precious Lives captures and syncs both in a story line that is, in itself, a wild and precious read that, in the end, offers the hope of deeper understanding between all protagonists.

Ellie Dalton: and Other Stories
Billy McCoy
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00NUE4T4G, $3.88

Ellie is a passionate woman trapped in a marriage with a selfish, unfaithful husband; so when economics professor and cousin Carson and his wife offer her a lifeline of escape, she grabs it and moves in with them. There's only one problem: she's a sensual woman who soon tempts Carson beyond boundaries; and so she brings with her not only baggage but conflict.

Ellie Dalton: and Other Stories takes this central theme and develops a series of short stories based on various events stemming from the central theme of this affair. It examines acts of selfishness on many levels and how it affects and changes the lives of different protagonists.

"Is there something wrong with being happy?" the question is asked from the beginning. But in the end the very selfless act of sharing happiness becomes its own threat in a story of how different protagonists handle self-interests.

This is no instant torrid passion: the attraction between Ellie and her cousin begins slowly with a touch here and a look there. But as events in Ellie Dalton: and Other Stories progress, Ellie finds herself connecting with Carson in ways she never has before: "She imagined there was a harmony of thought between her and Carson, a paralleling of souls. His absolute attention was centered on her and it acted like fuel on a smoldering flame, so long ignored."

McCoy's language makes it very apparent from the start the route Ellie and Carson will take: there are 'fogs of desire' and 'caressing seductive smiles'. Both protagonists find in each other what they have lacked: one completely, the other in exciting transgression from marital vows and moral fiber.

It's easy to see how Ellie falls in love with Carson, with his unselfish attention to her woes; but on Carson's side, events are more complex. He feels sorry for Ellie, but he craves novelty: something missing from his own marriage and life. His challenge and intention to "help Ellie see things differently" becomes something more, and the process of this journey will change all their lives.

Ellie Dalton: and Other Stories could easily have taken the form of a novel: the fact that it's presented as a short story and that Ellie serves as an introduction to a series of stories about other characters facing selfishness, life-changing moments, and angst makes it all the more powerful for its surprise conclusion and searchlight on everything in a marriage which brings love - and despair.

'In The Shadows of a Strong Woman' follows, telling of Rita, a competitive woman and scholarly bookworm and loner who now is a divorcee, veteran, and the mother of a lazy 22-year-old son. When a son's selfishness and proposed marriage emerge, Rita finds herself interfering in an affair that could change all their lives.

Like Ellie, Rita is headstrong - but in very different ways. Where Ellie is needy, Rita is controlling. Where Ellie immerses herself in love, Rita has never let herself be swept away by much in life. And as Rita makes decisions for herself and her son that will change all their lives, the contrast between her approach to romance and Ellie's is strikingly depicted.

"I didn't raise you to be self-centered!" Rita cries at her son. But, she did. And both of their selfish acts are what drives the story to a conclusion similar to Ellie's, but with a different twist.

As each story evolves, McCoy's focus is revealed in a precise series of explorations of fires of the heart: fires that ultimately consume passions and life itself.

Justice and injustice, crime and punishment, and the consequences of self-centered perspectives all come to life in a collection of interconnected jigsaw puzzle pieces that offer snippets of drama and analysis of good intentions gone awry.

As with any solid short story collection, the protagonists are all different and settings vary widely; but kernels of truth are revealed that offer up compelling vignettes. Readers looking for short stories largely centered around powerful women and their perspectives will find Ellie Dalton: and Other Stories a fine read.

Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer

Dunford's Bookshelf

You Don't Know Me: New and Selected Stories
James Nolan
University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press
PO Box 40831, Lafayette, LA 70504-0831
9781935754343, $20.00, 296pp,

Synopsis: In this collection of interrelated short stories, James Nolan swings wide open the courtyard gates of a city fabled both for its good times and bad. With ten new stories plus ten from his acclaimed previous volume, Perpetual Care, he introduces us to a quirky village of universal characters at crisis moments: white, black, and Hispanic; young, middle-aged, and elderly; straight and gay; women and men. We meet fatherless boys, Creole spinsters, and lying hustlers, a pregnant teenager, a concert pianist searching for his roots, a crooked homicide detective, a Carnival-parade king hiding in a Dunkin Donuts, a pistol-packing babysitter, and a codger who plots to blow up an overpass. Bookended by two post-Katrina stories, this collection takes us from the secretive hive of the French Quarter to decaying cemeteries, from Gentilly to Uptown to family dramas in the suburbs. With mordant dark humor, James Nolan paints a wry, disturbing but affectionately human portrait of his hometown for those who think they already know New Orleans, and what it means. But until you turn the addictive pages of these stories, you don't not really.

Critique: "You Don't Know Me: New and Selected Stories" clearly documents James Nolan has a major talent whose imagination is fully matched by his literary skills. A fascinating read throughout, "You Don't Know Me: New and Selected Stories" is very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library Contemporary American Short Story collections.

Studying Wisconsin
Martha Bergland & Paul G. Hayes
Wisconsin Historical Society Press
816 State Street, Madison, WI 53575
9780870206481, $26.95, 424pp,

Synopsis: In this long overdue tribute to Wisconsin's first scientist, authors Martha Bergland and Paul G. Hayes explore the remarkable life and achievements of Increase Lapham (1811 - 1875). Lapham's ability to observe, understand, and meticulously catalog the natural world marked all of his work, from his days as a teenage surveyor on the Erie Canal to his last great contribution as state geologist. Self-taught, Lapham mastered botany, geology, archaeology, limnology, mineralogy, engineering, meteorology, and cartography. A prolific writer, his 1844 guide to the territory was the first book published in Wisconsin. Asked late in life which field of science was his specialty, he replied simply, "I am studying Wisconsin." Lapham identified and preserved thousands of botanical specimens. He surveyed and mapped Wisconsin's effigy mounds. He was a force behind the creation of the National Weather Service, lobbying for a storm warning system to protect Great Lakes sailors. Told in compelling detail through Lapham's letters, journals, books, and articles, Studying Wisconsin chronicles the life and times of Wisconsin's pioneer citizen-scientist.

Critique: A masterpiece of meticulous and detailed scholarship, "Studying Wisconsin: The Life of Increase Lapham, early chronicler of plants, rocks, rivers, mounds and all things Wisconsin" is an impressive and seminal biography that does full justice to the contributions made by Increase Lapham. A full bodied account of his life and times, "Studying Wisconsin: The Life of Increase Lapham, early chronicler of plants, rocks, rivers, mounds and all things Wisconsin" is an exceptionally written and fascinating read from beginning to end and a very highly recommended addition to every Wisconsin community and academic library Biography collection.

John Wayne's Way: Life Lessons from the Duke
Douglas Brode
The Globe Pequot Press
246 Goose Lane, Suite 200, Guilford, CT 06437
9780762796298, $18.95, 192pp,

Synopsis: As John Wayne's character said in The Alamo: "There's right and there's wrong. You got to do one or the other." The ultimate measure of a man is how he chooses to act. From the pithy to the humorous to the profound, the film career of the man known as The Duke is full of life lessons for today. In "John Wayne's Way: Life Lessons from the Duke", author Doug Brode explores the film legacy of the Duke and provides commentary on the lessons learned from the archetypes of the West and American manhood Wayne displayed on the silver screen. Complete with quotes and photographs from the movies, these pithy lessons will be appealing to John Wayne fans and Western film buffs.

Critique: A pure pleasure to read from first page to last, "John Wayne's Way: Life Lessons from the Duke" should be considered a 'must' for his legions of fans that continue to treasure his memory and the characters he played in his Hollywood films. "John Wayne's Way: Life Lessons from the Duke" is certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library collections.

Barnyards and Birkenstocks
Don Stuart
Washington State University Press
PO Box 645910
Pullman, WA 99164-5910
9780874223224, $28.95, 288pp,

Synopsis: "Barnyards and Birkenstocks: Why Farmers and Environmentalists Need Each Other" stresses the need for collaboration between those that must work the land and those that seek to preserve it. An attorney who has held director positions with American Farmland Trust, a commercial fisheries trade association, and the Washington Association of Conservation Districts, Don Stuart persuasively argues that combining efforts could advance the economic needs of one group while furthering conservation activities of the other, and points out costs of continued political impasse. To promote empathy between farmers and environmentalists, "Barnyards and Birkenstocks: Why Farmers and Environmentalists Need Each Other" presents opposing perspectives on a range of topics such as incentives, regulations, government spending, environmental markets, growth management, climate change, public lands grazing, and the federal farm bill. "Barnyards and Birkenstocks: Why Farmers and Environmentalists Need Each Other" explores agriculture's environmental risks to water and air quality, wildlife habitat, wetlands, and human health, as well as private and public interests related to farmland loss, explaining why intervention is so necessary. Then, drawing from multiple case studies and a lifetime spent resolving conflicts, he identifies characteristics of successful community programs and suggests a model for a prosperous, healthy future. Of special note is the inclusion of a variety of tools such as sensible zoning, purchasing development rights, and creating environmental markets, and discussions of diverse situations that warrant their use.

Critique: As informed and informative, as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Barnyards and Birkenstocks: Why Farmers and Environmentalists Need Each Other" is an important and significant contribution to local, regional, and national discussions on balancing the need to agriculturally exploit the environment to produce food with the need to protect and preserve the land for a sustainable ecosystem. With its extraordinarily well written, organized and presented commentary, "Barnyards and Birkenstocks: Why Farmers and Environmentalists Need Each Other" is very highly recommended for community and academic library Environmental Studies collections in general, and to the attention of non-specialist general readers with an interest in the political policy implications required for balancing agricultural activities with environmental necessities.

Michael Dunford

Helen's Bookshelf

The Only Little Prayer You Need
Debra Landwehr Engle
Hampton Roads Publishing Company
65 Parker St., Ste. 7, Newburyport, MA 01950
9781571747181, $14.95, 224pp,

Synopsis: Debra Landwehr Engle's "The Only Little Prayer You Need: The Shortest Route to a Life of Joy, Abundance, and Peace of Mind". Based on Engle's study of "A Course in Miracles", she explains how to use the prayer and experience immediate benefits: being less irritable, more patient; laughing more; feeling like you have more time, more energy; worrying less; making decisions more easily; and saying no without guilt

A typical prayer goes something like this: "Please help us find the money to pay our mortgage this month." Saying the prayer may help you feel like the burden of that month's mortgage has been lifted, but the part of you that feeds on fear will simply seek out new financial worries to keep you awake at night. Old patterns remain intact.

In contrast, asking, "Please heal my fear-based thoughts about our mortgage" lifts the burden and relieves the need to re-create that fear and hold onto it. This prayer heals your very desire for burdens, your addiction to fear-based thoughts, freeing you to live without that fear and with greater peace of mind. As a result, your financial situation is also free to improve. That's what makes it so different.

Critique: As inspired and inspiring as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking, "The Only Little Prayer You Need: The Shortest Route to a Life of Joy, Abundance, and Peace of Mind" is very highly recommended reading and will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to personal, family, and community library Self-Help / Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted that "The Only Little Prayer You Need: The Shortest Route to a Life of Joy, Abundance, and Peace of Mind" is also available in a Kindle edition ($10.09), as well as an Audio Download ($9.18) and an MP3 CD ($10.79).

Revolutionize Your Child's Life
Peggy Caruso
Morgan James Publishing
4410 E Claiborne Square, Suite 334, Hampton VA 23666-2071
Smith Publicity
9781630472528, $16.95, 168pp,

Synopsis: The world our children are growing up in today is vastly different from the one we recall as we think back to our own adolescence. It is not only the typical changes we see naturally occurring from one generation to the next, but a whole new component to parenting has been added with the development and rapid growth of technology. Couple these changes with the dynamics of what constitutes a family, balancing the busy life of career and home and taking preventative measures to safeguard our children against negativity. We all want our children to excel and lead happy, productive lives, but now more than ever, today's parents need a basic guide that tells them everything they need to know and provide them with the answers they are seeking in the most effective yet simplistic fashion. "Revolutionize Your Child's Life: A Simple Guide to the Health, Wealth and Welfare of Your Child" will do just that for the parent looking to help their child while at the same time empowering them to make their own, sound decisions as they grow and face challenges that lie ahead of them. It will educate you on understanding how your child's mind develops and influences every action. You will be able to identify behavioral issues before they fully develop and repair the ones that have become problematic. You will learn the key to help your child reach success and happiness.

Critique: Informed, informative, and thoroughly 'reader friendly', "Revolutionize Your Child's Life: A Simple Guide to the Health, Wealth and Welfare of Your Child" will prove to be an exceptionally useful and practical instructional guide for parents seeking to prepare their children for a successful, rewarding, and accomplished adulthood. Very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library Parenting Skills reference collections, it should be noted that "Revolutionize Your Child's Life: A Simple Guide to the Health, Wealth and Welfare of Your Child" is also available in both a hardcover edition (9781630472542, $36.95) and a Kindle edition ($7.69).

A Mind For Numbers
Barbara Oakley
Jeremy P. Tarcher
c/o Penguin Group, USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014-3657
9780399165245, $16.95, 336pp,

Synopsis: Whether you are a student struggling to fulfill a math or science requirement, or you are embarking on a career change that requires a higher level of math competency, "A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)" offers the tools you need to get a better grasp of that intimidating but inescapable field. Engineering professor Barbara Oakley knows firsthand how it feels to struggle with math. She flunked her way through high school math and science courses, before enlisting in the army immediately after graduation. When she saw how her lack of mathematical and technical savvy severely limited her options - both to rise in the military and to explore other careers - she returned to school with a newfound determination to re-tool her brain to master the very subjects that had given her so much trouble throughout her entire life. In "A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)", Dr. Oakley lets us in on the secrets to effectively learning math and science - secrets that even dedicated and successful students wish they'd known earlier. Contrary to popular belief, math requires creative, as well as analytical, thinking. Most people think that there's only one way to do a problem, when in actuality, there are often a number of different solutions - you just need the creativity to see them. For example, there are more than three hundred different known proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem. In short, studying a problem in a laser-focused way until you reach a solution is not an effective way to learn math. Rather, it involves taking the time to step away from a problem and allow the more relaxed and creative part of the brain to take over. "A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)" shows us that we all have what it takes to excel in math, and learning it is not as painful as some might think!

Critique: If only all the math textbooks in highschool were as well written, organized and presented as Barbara Oakley's "A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)". This is enthusiastically recommended reading for anyone of any age who has ever felt that 'doing math' was beyond them. Simply stated, "A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)" should be a part of every highschool, college, trade school, and community library collection in the country!

Helen Dumont

Klausner's Bookshelf

Fiction River: Past Crimes
Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Editors)
WMG Publications
9781561466061, $15.99,

"Stolen In Passing" by Dory Crowe. In 1857, the slave catchers arrive at Cape Cod in pursuit of a runaway; unaware why here.

"New World Gambles" by Leah Cutter. As the Canadian-Pacific is built, with a Tong connection Mei works tables in Victoria.

"The Bank Teller" by Jamie McNabb. He left Puget Sound for five years, but in 1901 returns seeking revenge against those who shanghaied him.

"An Education For Thursday" by Dean Wesley Smith. Arriving in Delamar, Idaho Angela seeks revenge against two rapists.

"The Curious Case Of The Ha'Penny Detective" by Lee Allred. In 1923 on the Canadian Pacific, Drennen and Nevins discuss Professor Chase.

"The Horns Of Hather" by Richard Quarry. Decreeing all will worship Aten, the Pharaoh sends Chenzira to stop the Festival of Opet.

"Impressions" by Lisa Silverthorne. In 1780s London, as a child he saw his first death mask; as an adult he hunts this serial killer.

"The Raiders" by Cat Rambo. In 1858, he met the pickpocket in New York; they meet again as POWs in Andersonville.

"The Monster In Our Midst" by Kris Nelscott. In 1918 Arkansas, Lureen sends a postcard depicting a lynching to Emerson in Atlanta.

"Blood And Lightning On The Newport Highway" by M. Elizabeth Castle. The Revenuer returns to Knoxville with plans for the nearby moonshiners.

"Deathmobile" by Michelle Lang. In 1977 Long Island, Mr. Deathmobile threatens Little Rocky and Tony.

"The Stonewall Rat" by JC Andrijesdi. Working for the mob, he and his partner seek the informer at the gay establishment when a kid arrives; soon afterward the police raid the place.

Meeting the exceptional quality of previous anthologies, this collection contains excellent Past Crimes short stories.

The Goddess Of Small Victories
Yannick Grannec, Willard Wood (translator)
Other Press
2 Park Avenue, 24th Floor, New York, NY 10016
9781590516362, $26.95,

In 1980, the Institute for Advanced Study sends archivist Anna Roth to the Pine Run Retirement Home in Pennsylvania to persuade obstinate widow Adele Godel to release the papers of her late husband, brilliant troubled mathematician Kurt. Anna says she would like to catalogue the Nachlass so that those qualified can study it. She also explains she reads the rarely used Gabelsberger shorthand; the style Kurt employed.

Adele tells the visitor how they met in Vienna and though several years older than Kurt with his mother's reluctant approval they married. When the Nazis annexed Austria, Kurt and Adele fled eventually arriving in America, but treated as enemy agents due to their accents. While she did everything to make her disturbed mate's life easier over the five decades together, for the first time Kurt, still distressed, found acceptance at Princeton because of his brilliant work.

This is an intriguing biographical fiction that focuses on the mentally tough widow and through her filter we see the great but mentally ill genius. Although distracting from the fascinating main storyline, a well-written secondary subplot re the relationship between Adele and Anna further shows the strength of the older woman; as she encourages her visitor to be all she can be with what she wants out of life. With real persona like Einstein; documented incidents (with footnotes) and events like the A-bombs and the Cold War to anchor time and place, readers will appreciate The Goddess Of Small Victories.

The Eyes Of Aurora
Albert A. Bell, Jr.
Perseverance Press
c/o Daniel & Daniel, Publishers
PO Box 2790, McKinleyville, CA 95519
9781564745491, $15.95,

At the Centumviral Court, Gaius Pliny successfully prosecutes the case for his future mother-in-law Pompeia Celerina against rival defense Marcus Regulus who represented Quintus Vibius. Pliny's martinet mother and Pompeia host a victory celebration that includes toasting the upcoming wedding between their children though Pliny loves his slave Aurora instead of his wealthy beautiful fiancee Livilla.

Aurora recently met impoverished Crispina and her ailing son. She persuades Pliny and his friend Tacitus to accompany her in order to help Crispina. When they arrive at Crispina's home, they find neither her nor her son in residence; left behind is an enigmatic word square. The trio soon finds out that raging Regulus arrived before them and a further search of the grounds reveals a decapitated female body. Horrified by the gruesome sight of a headless corpse, Aurora and Pliny find comfort with each.

The fifth Notebooks of Pliny the Younger (see The Corpus Conundrum and Death in the Ashes) is a twisting complicated Ancient Rome revenge thriller with additional stunning spins in the protagonist's personal relationships. Although the case turns overly byzantine, readers will relish traveling the Ostian Way; escorted by Pliny and Aurora.

Shadows on a Maine Christmas: An Antique Print Mystery
Lea Wait
Perseverance Press
c/o Daniel & Daniel, Publishers
PO Box 2790, McKinleyville, CA 95519
9781564745477, $15.95,

Lovers Will Brower resides in Maine while antique dealer Maggie Summer lives in New Jersey. Besides the issues of a long distance relationship, the couple disagrees over adopting a child. Will insists never; while Maggie may soon raise a little girl or two young sisters. However, the couple agrees to share a Maine Christmas.

Maggie the obsessive anxiety queen fears when she tells her beloved about the potential adoption, he will kick her butt back to the Garden State. She adores the way he cares for his ailing Aunt Nettie, but panics his caretaking blinds him to nurturing others. She also frets over his desire to remain in the Pine Tree State as affirmed by Will his seeking to buy a home. However, Maggie biggest consternation is that she lost her Will to realtor Jo Heartwood. Needing to forget her trepidations, Maggie wonders what Aunt Nettie and her longtime friends imply criminally happened when they were much younger. When someone murders geriatric nurse Carrie Folk; Maggie, Maine State Trooper Nick Strait and Aunt Nettie investigate especially after learning that the victim was a blackmailer.

Returning to Maine (see Shadows on the Coast of Maine and Shadows of a Down East Summer), the seventh Antique Print cozy (see Shadows on a Cape Cod Wedding) is an enjoyable entry in which the secondary elderly characters especially one with dementia own the storyline. The homicide investigation begins late though the informal inquiry into what happened decades ago starts very early; as Lea Wait provides a deep look at senior citizen mental health, abortion and adoption.

Tracie L. Slatton
Parvati Press
9780986061158, $16.99,

In 1939 earth time Alia mourns the loss of Ariel by leaving Heaven to take on mortal form just before Paris falls. A self-anointed fallen angel, the hedonistic Alia insists she cares nothing about the beleaguered Broken Parisians and even less with the evil Nazi occupiers to come.

However, Alia enjoys sex with her sweet ferocious lover, half-Spaniard, half German Jew Pedro the bullfighter, whose father abandoned him and his mom in Spain while he was still in the womb. Archangel Michael questions Alia why here when she knows the torment to follow. She insists she did not lose her way; that God did by allowing this mad Fuhrer loose on his so-called beloved mortals. Michael reminds her she has one miracle to offer, he prays she wisely uses it. As the war intensifies and unthinkable atrocities occur, Alia meets Josef the Jewish physicist, mathematician and violinist, and soon to be her lover. As the years pass, Alia's day of reckoning that Michael predicted finally arrives when she must choose between continual self-indulgence and sacrifice to save the lives of her friend Jewish widow Suzanne Dubois and her child Cecile.

Though the action is somewhat muted, Broken is a great philosophical WWII drama that focuses on a fallen angel who no longer believes God cares. The key cast is fully-developed with diverse reactions to what is happening to the Jews and not just Hitler's Final Solution as Josef learned in Antwerp and others in Cuba and America; while real persona like Sartre adds a powerful sense of time and place. Tracie L. Slatton provides a profound look at religion during a crisis of faith in which even angels question whether God abandoned the flock.

J.F. Lewis
59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst, NY 14228-2197
9781616149840, $18.00,

The Eldrennai created the Aern as slave warriors to defend the master race against the Zaur. Over seemingly endless time, the Eldrennai eventually became freed but also remained Grudgebearers sworn to their oath to protect the Eldrennai. A truce of sorts was reached between the three races six hundred years ago at the Sundering and every century since they meet at the Grand Compunction to renew the shaky peace.

However, just before the latest conference, an Eldrennai royal Prince Dolvek inanely devastates the pact when the fool opens up an exhibit of sentient Aernese armor. Accompanied by his daughter on his way to the centennial conference, but angrily aware of the breach due to his link to the ancient armor, Oathkeeper Kholster considers eradicating his former Masters as the viable means of not breaking the vow while reacting to the affront.

The first Grudgebearer science fiction tale is a great drama that looks closely at the relationships between three sentient species; especially the profound effect of long term enslavement on a now somewhat freed race. The cast representing the three peoples and the armor seem genuine. Except for unnecessary deities, this is an outstanding opening act.

Sword of the Bright Lady
M.C. Planck
59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst, NY 14228-2197
9781616149888, $18.00

At first mechanical engineer Christopher Sinclair thought he was in some sort of weird dream with no electrical device anywhere and a dirty teenaged stranger named Helga sharing his bed instead of his wife. He changes his mind about sleeping and assumes he was in a plane crash in a remote medieval part of Europe. However, he soon realizes this is not Arizona, America or Switzerland; as somehow he "walked" into another realm.

Feeling lost and missing his spouse, Christopher begins to learn the rules of "physics" in his new world are based on tael death magic with the power hierarchy dependent on how much a person controls. To initially survive in this war-ravaged dominion, Christopher pledges allegiance to the Goddess of Healing, the Bright Lady. When Marcius the God of War offers the engineer a better deal he accepts performing the deity's quests in return to going home. Sinclair introduces a new type of magic based on guns and butter as he teaches commoners to forge steel to make weapons and household items.

Book One of The World Of Prime is a fantastic opening act fantasy as a twenty-first century American engineer with contemporary inclusiveness ethics and a belief in physics falls through a rabbit hole into a medieval feudal land whose system is magic based and deity connected. Much more Clark Kent than Superman, bewildered Christopher keeps the intense storyline focused by muddling through his new life as a fish out of water while dealing with enemies who kill to maintain the status quo and Doubting Thomas supporters. He wants to go home, but the Gods refuse to give him ruby red slippers.

A Death On Sunday
Tish Owen
Willow Tree Press
c/o E.M.A. Mysteries
PO Box 142414, St. Louis, MO 63114-0414
9781937778194, $16.95,

Maher Investigates sleuth Tessely Anne Marie Maher cherishes brunch with her extended family at her mommy's home. However, this time a long-distance shot is fired towards the house; Tess' best friend Chick Donnelly falls out of a tree dead. Near his body are drawings he made of his beloved Tess.

Although Chick's death may have been a freakish hunting accident; Tess, her brother County Sheriff Connell Maher and their father the former sheriff believe a professional hit occurred though none of them can fathom why. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation sends Agents Lyle and Boyd to take charge of the homicide inquiry based on Chick's alleged drug dealings. They warn the Maher family to stay out of their case or face charges of interference in an official state investigation. Firmly believing that grieving Tess murdered her lover over drug money, the TBI cops look nowhere else for the killer. Knowing she will be railroaded, Tess, with help from her family and friends, stealthily conducts her own inquiry seeking a motive including Chick's business, Donnelly Repair and Restoration.

Putting aside that a family of cops and a private eye fail to obtain a lawyer with TBI focused solely on Tess, A Death On Sunday is a terrific whodunit as the homicide is personal. Mourning her loss, Tess' chats with the late Chick feel genuine and add depth to an engaging investigation in which the heroine works around the Knoxville stereotyped obnoxious outsiders.

The Front Seat Passenger
Pascal Garnier, Jane Aitken (translator)
Gallic Books
59 Ebury Street, London, SW1W ONZ
9781908313638, $13.95,

After visiting his pere in Normandy, Fabien Delorme returns to Paris to an empty house. He actually is pleased though surprised his wife Sylvie is not home as their relationship has drifted apart. Fabien soon learns that Sylvie and her lover Martial Arnoult died in a car accident in Dijon.

Instead of grief, Fabien obsesses over his spouse having a secret lover she concealed from him. In Dijon to identify Sylvie's corpse, Fabien notices a woman do likewise with Arnoult's body. Obviously he concludes she is Arnoult's widow, Martine. Ironically in spite of her cuckolding him, Fabien misses Sylvie who kept him anchored. Thus he decides since Arnoult stole his wife, he will do likewise with the other man's widow. Stalking Martine, Fabien becomes part of her life and that of her companion.

The latest Gallic translation of a Pascal Garnier suspenseful French middle class tragedy (see Moon in a Dead Eye, The Panda Theory and How's the Pain?) is another superb dark surrealistic novella. Character driven by unlikable but realistic three degrees of separation key cast, readers will appreciate the impact on their respective mates by the deaths of The Front Seat Passenger and the driver.

Death Takes A Mistress
Rosemary & Larry Mild
Magic Island Literary Works
9780983859758, $14.95,

In 1982 Bath, England, Wayne Sachs comes home from work to see the door to his neighbor Lainee Cohen's flat open. He mentions it to his wife Janie who is worried about the young single mom as Lainee is running late to pick up her three month old infant Ivy. The couple enters the apartment only to find Lainee's corpse. The Sachs raise Ivy along with their own two children as part of the family while the homicide goes cold with the only vague clue involving a Jewish family in Annapolis, Maryland.

In 2005, Ivy heads to the States seeking to locate her paternal family with one goal in mind: find her mom's lover (her biological father) who killed her. Ivy obtains a clerk position at The Olde Victorian Bookstore owned and run by Dan and Rivka Sherman; and through them a room at the Widow Riley's house, a place where Rivka was held prisoner (see Death Goes Postal). Reluctantly Ivy admits her reason for being in Maryland. Dan's lawyer-friend Joel Wise obtains 1979-1983 records that list families starting a business in Annapolis. Rivka and Dan reduce the potential number to four. However, someone is not just unwelcoming as this person tries to kill the Englishwoman.

The second Dan and Rivka Sherman cozy is a super cold case mystery (it went frozen twenty-three years ago) wrapped inside a family drama as Ivy learns what matters in life, how fortunate she has been with people caring for and about her, and that revenge is insignificant. The keys to this fabulous tale are the amateur sleuthing seems genuine and Ivy keeps the storyline focused as refreshingly the prime player.

Wet Work
Les Roberts
Gray & Company, Publishers
9781938441547, $14.59,

After leaving Youngstown, Ohio for the military, Dominick Candiotti learned to kill in Viet Nam as a Phoenix Force Wet Work assassin. Decades later with no family living and calling himself Douglas, he works for the Brownstone Agency on a fee for kill of internal enemies of the country. His handler Og has one rule: complete the kill but never repeat the same M.O.

His current hit is Father Joseph Benveniste of St. Catherine's Catholic Church in Philadelphia. Though he completes the assignment following his confessional, this assassination affects Douglas differently than his previous hits since going on commission five years ago. He wonders if killing a priest reminds him too much of the murder of his brother Father Richard (see The Strange Death of Father Candy) and besides there is no justification for murdering people like Father Joseph who were no threat to America. When Douglas informs Og he is retiring, his handler believes the one way a hired gun quits is in a coffin. Thus several of his peers come after Douglas.

Giving Cleveland detective Milan Jacovich a breather, Les Roberts writes an action-packed thriller in Dominick Candiotti's second appearance. The hero reminds me of a composite of Charles Bronson's The Mechanic and Sylvester Stallone's Assassins. Although not for anyone with a squeamish stomach as the amount of blood flow would turn Lake Erie into the Red Sea, readers will enjoy this tense suspense.

The Language Of Silence
Peggy Webb
Gallery Books
c/o Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781451684810, $16.00,

In 1976 in Tupelo, Mississippi, Ellen Blair fears her husband Wayne. To the rest of the world Wayne is a charming businessman; but inside their home he is violent having sent his wife to the hospital with accidents caused by her clumsiness. Knowing if she does not flee soon, her spouse will one day kill the child she carries.

Her Great Aunt Ruth Gibson encourages her to leave town just like Ellen's grandmother Lola did five decades earlier. Lola joined the Great Giovanni Bros/ Hogan & Sandusky Circus as a star tiger tamer to escape family violence. When Ellen gets to the Haven House shelter, Wayne greets her with a beating he disguises as a car accident. Her mom offers no hope as Josie insists Wayne is a good husband if Ellen could learn the Language of Silence. When Ruth is hospitalized in Arkansas, Ellen insists on going to the Ozarks while Wayne demands they stay home to greet his visiting Japanese client. Leaving Tupelo, Ellen joins the same traveling circus as her grandmother did but as a teacher with her favorite student being mute Nicky. Ruth welcomes her niece, but soon sees visions of irate Wayne coming for his runaway spouse. With Lola's help, the female relatives flee for their lives from a psychopathic husband.

The Language of Silence is a profound tale that looks deeply at spousal abuse during the "Stand By Your Man" at any cost even your life era. Ironically, Wayne believes in the sanctuary of his vows enhanced by his fists. Although the ending seems over the top of the trapeze wire, The Language Of Silence is a wonderful second chance at life if you take the risk.

Cry Father
Benjamin Whitmer
Gallery Books
c/o Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781476734354, $25.00,

Patterson Wells travels the country working as a tree trimmer at disasters. Since a doctor erred on his son's diagnosis leading to the child's death; Wells has become a disaster. His marriage died with his child, but his ex who lives in Taos wants to sue the medical killer for malpractice; while Wells no longer cares about anything except writing letters to his late son Justin. His only companion is his dog Sancho.

He visits his friend Chase to go fishing, but his buddy is meth dazed and hogtied a female who upon release by Wells bashes the head of her drugged out host with a bat. At home in Colorado, Wells meets drug runner and user Junior, son of his neighbor Henry. Wells and Junior begin an odyssey of violence fueled by coke and meth.

This gory thriller opens up with the swings of a bat and closes with more violence after much blood and guts flow in between. Wells is a mesmerizing sociopathic antihero as he no longer cares about life since his child died; yet keeps alive their father-son relationship through the letters he writes to Justin. Not for anyone with a squeamish stomach, Cry Father is an extremely dark and very brutal tale.

Hidden In The Stars
Robin Caroll
Abingdon Press
PO Box 801, Nashville, TN 37202
9781426773600, $13.99,

The vicious assault against her and her mom in their home in Plano, Texas leaves Olympic-level gymnast Sophia Montgomery in an Arkansas hospital unable to speak due to larynx damage and aware her crushed hands will never allow her to compete ever again. Police Detectives Julian Frazier and Brody Alexander lead the investigation that frustrates the victim and the cops. Her grandmother Alena Borin visits Sophia who does not recognize the woman. Lip reader Charlie Wallace arrives to interpret Sophia's responses to Julian's questions starting with the attack on her and Mamochka, and their demands that her mom give them something. Julian tells her that her Mamochka is dead.

Worrying about Sophia's safety as those who invaded her home thought she was dead, Julian wonders what the Russians wanted and how come the deceased was estranged from her own mother who refuses to talk about why. Julian admires Sophia's tenacity but denies he is falling in love. As he and his partners work the case, Julian feels knowing what caused the estrangement is critical and clues may be found in a memorial quilt made by Mamochka.

The latest Quilts of Love inspirational (see A Grand Design by Amber Stockton and A Promise In Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga) is a terrific police procedural in which the past haunts the present and thereby impacts the future. The cast is strong and the Russian intrigue adrenaline pumping. The romance takes a backseat to the suspense as the hero insists the victim is a trauma patient needing protection not love; while he also struggles with his lost faith having blamed God for his late partner Eli's death and fearing the same abandonment re Sophia.

Under A Turquois Sky
Lisa Carter
Abingdon Press
PO Box 801, Nashville, TN 37202
9781426758027, $14.99,

On a date with Pritchard the weasel lawyer, Kailyn Eudailey meets his client Esteban Flores the drug lord and his gangstas. Only undercover agent Rafe gets her out of a nasty scene. Three months later in Charlotte, horrified and frozen in place Kailyn takes pictures of Esteban murdering his wife Gabriella who was her best friend. She agrees to testify against the sociopath in exchange for the Feds placing her in WITSEC as Kailyn Jones, accompanied by the last gift Gaby gave her, Taco the dog.

Assigned to protect Kailyn after assaults in safe houses; she angrily recognizes FBI Agent Aaron Yazzie from when he was Rafael Chavez pawing her. After another betrayal leading to his adopted father a U.S. Marshal got shot, Aaron takes the Southern Belle and Taco to his Navaho roots in New Mexico where his grandmother and estranged father live, and he did before leaving for the streets of Albuquerque. They pretend to be a married couple though the angry male with no place in both worlds and the Steel Magnolia female fight and fuss; until they fall in love.

Returning to the Navaho Reservation (see Beneath a Navajo Moon) Lisa Carter provides readers with a taut romantic suspense starring two "enemy combatants". The storyline starts at hypersonic Mach speed; decelerates somewhat with life on the reservation emphasizing relationships including the lead couple continual ripping skin off each other; and eventually returns to Mach 3 with a great climax.

Last Family Standing
Jennifer AlLee
Abingdon Press
PO Box 801, Nashville, TN 37202
9781426768095, $13.99,

Jules calls her BFF Monica informing her that the newborn the latter gave up at birth twenty-five years ago is on the reality TV show Last Family Standing. Besides looking like Monica did years ago, fashion designer Jessica Beckett holds Monica's graduation photo. Jess says she is close with her adopted parents but would like to meet her biological mom and have her compete with her on the show next season while failing to explain why not her mom Susan.

The next morning the show's host Rick Wolff visits Monica, whose friends gave his staff her name and address. Reluctantly and between crying bouts, Monica agrees to do the show just to meet her offspring even if their encounter will be filmed on a deserted island. Adding a shocking complication is Jess' biological father Duncan arrives to meet his daughter too.

Although there is too much Survivor in the pleasurable contest and an unnecessary but nice romance, Last Family Standing is a wonderful extended family drama. The cast consists of likeable people connected through Jess; as a TV host and two sets of parents try to come together in a fishbowl while a national audience watches.

Where Treetops Glisten
Tricia Goyer, Cara Putnam and Sarah Sundin
WaterBrook Press
c/o Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group
12265 Oracle Boulevard, Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80921
9781601426482, $14.99,

"White Christmas" by Cara Putman. In 1942, Abigail Turner stays home in Lafayette, Indiana while attending Purdue University and working at a candy store. Abigail prefers no man in her life after her boyfriend Sam died at Pearl Harbor until limping Jackson Lucas rescues her from being hit by a car.

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Sarah Sundin. In 1943 Army fighter pilot Pete Turner is back in in Lafayette but struggles to adjust to the home front after his combat experiences until he meets sad six year old Linnie Kessler. Her daddy died and his body was never recovered. Pete wants to bring a Merry Christmas to the hurting child and her widow mom Grace who only knows him as a nasty person.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Sarah Sundin. In 1944 in Nieuwenhagen, the Netherlands, Meredith, the younger sister of Abigail and Pete serves as a combat nurse following just behind the troops at the front lines. However, someone seems to know her, but Merry fears this unknown person is betraying her with reminders of her broken heart or perhaps it is a Christmas miracle.

This is a spectacular WWII family anthology as three siblings are caught up in war and romance to the music of Bing. Historical romance fans will sing Let It Snow while wishing for the Turner trio to have a Hoosier Merry Christmas in 1945.

Thief Of Glory
Sigmund Brouwer
WaterBrook Press
c/o Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group
12265 Oracle Boulevard, Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80921
9780307446497, $14.99,

In 1942, the Japanese successfully invade the Dutch East Indies islands. On Java, the soldiers deploy the affluent adult males as slaves toiling on the Burma rail; while placing the left behind women and preadolescent children in prison camps. Overnight, the son of a well-to-do Dutch headmaster, tweener Jeremiah Prins is burdened with keeping his mom and young siblings safe when his dad and older brothers are taken away. He does his best, but the horrid conditions of the camps limit his options. Still he tries while many others succumb to the nightmare.

Decades later, Jeremiah still searches for peace from those troubled times. His journals help as do his loved ones, but those were times that tested him and still haunt him as he looks back and wonders what he could have done differently.

Thief Of Glory is a powerful historical that intensely describes "crimes against humanity" atrocities during WWII. Character driven by Jeremiah and other victims; this thought-provoking tale reflects on Thomas Paine's insight into another war as "These are the times that try men's souls."

Accidents Of Marriage
Randy Susan Meyers
Atria Books
c/o Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
9781451673043, $25.00,

Married for fifteen years, social worker Maddy and attorney Ben raise three children (fourteen years old Emma, nine years old Gracie and seven years old Caleb) in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts. Recently Maddy feels overwhelmed by her work and her children's needs, but the greatest pressure comes from her quick to anger husband.

Ben drives to work, but rushes back home to gather needed papers he left behind. Maddy calls Ben begging he pick her up in a bad area as the cops towed her vehicle away for failing to register the car and taxis refuse to stop. Angrily, Ben cancels a critical meeting and drives over to pick up his wife. When he gets into a road rage contest with another foolish driver, Ben loses control and crashes; leaving Maddy in a coma. Now Ben and the three kids struggle with the family glue comatose.

This is an insightful look at the impact of rage on a family. The crucial powerful premise is the realistic diverse ways the extended family, coworkers and friends behave before the accident; while Maddy is comatose; and after she regains consciousness. Accidents Of Marriage pulls no punches as Randy Susan Meyers writes a profound novel.

The Manhattan Puzzle
Laurence O'Bryan
Avon Books
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
9781847562906, $12.99,

In Manhattan, Lord Bidener observes his euphoric sadistic assistant Xena salivating while torturing BXH security chief Hare. Using a torch on him, Hare begs for mercy before he gives up the international firm's codes. Once they have what they wanted, vicious Xena slowly guts him.

In London Isabel Ryan worries that her husband Sean failed to come home. When the police demand she tell them where her spouse is as he is linked to a homicide in New York, her concern for his safety goes viral. Isabel fears their work for BXH re the symbol may have left her spouse in peril. Following her instincts to rescue her mate and also break the ancient code, Isabel leaves their four years old son Alek safe with a close friend before flying to New York in search of Sean. Meanwhile Sean, held captive by those who also frame him with murder of Hare, realizes his hosts enjoy inflicting pain on others and will have no compunctions abducting and torturing him or his wife.

The 3rd Ryan Puzzle suspense (see Istanbul Puzzle and The Jerusalem Puzzle) is an exciting over the top of the Empire State Building Brownian thriller. Isobel is a solid lead though her Energizer Bunny stamina seems doubtful even fueled by adrenaline and coffee; while the villains are caricatures of psychopaths.

Paul Finch
9780007492299, $14.99

Britain's National Crime Group Detective Sergeant Mark Heckenberg works alone as he has for several years on the disappearances of over three dozen successful and seemingly contented women throughout England and Wales. Although diligent on following up on any potential lead, Heck has made no progress with his investigation while wondering why his superiors have not launched a major inquiry involving massive manpower. Instead of helping Heck, to his outraged consternation the brass closes the case.

Placed on leave, a fuming Heck continues his probe into finding the missing women, but without official authorization and its accompanying restraints. Searching for her vanished sibling, military veteran Lauren Wraxford teams up with Heck. They soon learn of the Nice Guys Club with apparent ties to the National Crime Group. This enterprise sells female captives to affluent clients to do what they want with them before killing their used commodity.

This British investigative tale starts off as a police procedural, but quickly turns into a lone wolf and sidekick thriller. Heck is conscientious, but should have been more frustrated even before his case was officially ended; while rightfully aggressive Lauren proves his better as she brings out the best (and worst) in him. The over the top of the Tower of London sinisterly conspiracy drama is entertaining while condemning leaders preferring to ignore the violence against women and hate crimes against other groups (think of the 2012 reauthorization debate re VAWA renewal).

Shelley Shepard Gray
Avon Inspire
9780062204509, $12.99

In Sugarcreek, Ohio, with his parents in heaven, Randall Beiler struggles keeping the family farm viable and worries he is failing his younger siblings who still live there with him; as the older ones left them to move on with their lives. Thus seeing no immediate future, Randall ends his long term relationship with Elizabeth Nolt though he loves her.

To his chagrin, his brother hires Elizabeth to cook and perform other household chores. Needing money since her mother abandoned her and her grandmother, Elizabeth hesitantly accepts the position. Fearing his beloved will see him as a loser, just as he believes his family does, Randall loathes the arrangement.

The third Return to Sugarcreek Amish romance (see Thankful and Hopeful) is an entertaining second chance if the stubborn male would set aside his fear of failure. Although several minor subplots involving other residents distracts from the prime storyline of "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Book of Proverbs), this is an upbeat Joyful contemporary.

M. E. May
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781494461911, $14.95,

Teenage brothers Tommy and Bobby Sturgen went fishing on Eagle Creek Reservoir when the latter's special fly became entangled. Ignoring his older sibling's admonitions, Bobby jumped into the water to free it because this was the last one his late grandfather gave him. When Bobby failed to surface, Tommy jumped in and rescued him. Both saw the fly entangled with a car. They call the Sheriff's Department who send Fire Department divers to the reservoir. The submerged vehicle contains the remains of Wendy Matherson who vanished without a trace a decade ago.

Missing Persons' Sergeant Benjamin Jacobs and Detective Tyrone Mayhew, whose wife just gave birth to their fourth child (and their first daughter), work the cold case. This was Tyrone's first investigation in which he and his partner looked at the husband Reid but found no evidence of foul play. The three sons reacted differently to their mom's disappearance. The oldest mid-twenties Tanner attends Ohio State's pharmacy graduate program; the middle child twentyish Ryan has an aerospace degree and is an Air Force officer; the youngest teenage Jared has emotional issues while failing at everything. After talking with the four males and others, the detectives believe Jared may have suppressed memories of what happened. However, someone wants the case to remain frozen so threaten to harm Ben and Tyrone's loved ones.

The third Circle City police procedural (see Perfidy and Inconspicuous) is a terse suspense as the villain targets civilian family members to force the cops and others off the investigation. Fast-paced from start to finish, the subgenre audience will enjoy Ensconced (superb ironic title) even though we identify the villain before the detectives do.

Lethal Seasons
Alice Sabo
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781500526627, $15.00,

In what afterward became known by survivors as Year Zero, a maniac released a virus leaving estimates of 40% of the world population dead and all governments unable to cope with a pandemic of that magnitude. Every summer for the next decade since Year Zero, the virus returns with a new lethal strain to continue the devastation of humanity and the end of urban centers.

Nick, who lost his loved ones to the disease, travels what is left of the United States as a census counter. When he finds two corpses who apparently killed each other; Nick would rejoice that there is one less mercenary causing havoc; but mourns for the other dead person since child bearing age and younger females are the most critical demographic if mankind is to survive. His mission now is to find and rescue the deceased woman's siblings while teams of marauders stalk these youngsters and his home High Meadow is under assault.

Mindful of the Kevin Costner movie The Postman, the first Changed World post-apocalyptic thriller is an exciting but grim novel as survival of the deadliest is the way of life (outside of High Meadow) since Year Zero. Although the key cast is underdeveloped, Alice Sabo authors a twisting tense tale of an America (like the rest of the earth) continual out of control spiral deeper into the darkest era since recorded history began, but with tiny lights of hope like Nick.

To Hell And Gone In Texas
Russ Hall
Red Adept Publishing
9781940215334, $13.99,

Travis County Sheriff Clayton and his deputies barely are at the gruesome crime scene in which a father and his two adult sons were decapitated when ICE agent Jaime Avila takes over the investigation. Soon afterward, Clayton calls his retired former sheriff's detective Al Quinn to inform him that his estranged brother Maury has been hospitalized, and the Austin City Homicide cops are treating it as an attempted murder. Reluctantly he arrives at the hospital where his former prom date so many years ago towering Detective Ferguson Jergens guards Maury. Having not spoken in two decades to Maury, he is stunned to see how frail his sibling is and shocked that he took three Viagra pills in spite of a heart problem preventing his obtaining a prescription.

When a second attempt at murdering Maury occurs; Al puts aside his animosity and fishing to take his brother to his secluded lakeside house. However, Al's home no longer is secluded as Avila arrives and insists Maury turn informant. Fergie investigates several murders tied to sex addicted Maury and arson burns down Al's house; while the Los Zetas Mexican mob adds to the sibling tsuris.

To Hell And Gone In Texas is an exciting action-packed crime thriller with a fabulous late twist. Quinn is the taciturn reluctant hero who knows his insides are emotionally scarred while Maury shares his DNA but passionately leaps into the inferno as he believes The Gods Must Be Crazy 2. The support cast and locale add depth to a suspenseful Lone Star State mystery.

Cat In A Yellow Spotlight
Carole Nelson Douglas
Wishlist Publishing
9781500926205, $15.99,

Two and a half decades ago, the great rock band Black & White was the hottest group around as everything they did went platinum. However, superegos fueled by excess sex and overdosing on drugs led to the band's bitter dissolving; though the two superstars (Chocolatte and French Vanilla) had great solo careers.

Now twenty-five years since the ugly public break-up, Black & White is in Vegas to perform a reunion event at the Crystal Phoenix. The hotel's boss lady Van Von Rhine tells her public relations consultant Temple Barr to babysit the group; especially the critical feuding two divas, ready to rage Chocolatte and paranoid frail French Vanilla. When a corpse related to the band is found, LVPD Lieutenant Molina investigates; while Temple's feline protector Midnight Louie, Miss Midnight Louise and the cat crew also make inquiries, in the feline's case to insure their favorite PR guru remains safe.

The latest Midnight Louie anthropomorphic mystery (see Cat In A Vegas Gold Vendetta, Cat In A White Tie And Tails and Cat In An Alien X-ray) is a deadly rock and roll reunion tale filled with taut twists (including Kitty the Cutter) and pop culture trivia. Temple keeps the prime storyline focused, although the divas headline this show with their behavior; while series fans will enjoy the antics of the father and daughter feline duet working their tails off investigating the murder.

Deborah Frazier
Privately Published
9780578128795, $9.00,

Rita and Mike Evans are the perfect who fell in love in high school. Both are excited with the birth of their first child; but especially the marine, a former quarterback, who looks forward to playing sports with his son. However, Dr. Martin informs them their newborn has abnormalities in the genitals and recommends surgery to change the boy into a girl. Reluctantly, Mike accepts the doctor's recommendation and persuades his wife that their son is better off as a girl.

Over the next few years Cali is raised as a girl mostly by her loving mother; her dad, filled with guilt and doubt, kept reenlisting and volunteering for deployments. Cali prefers competing against the guys and proves a better athlete than them. She begins receiving hormone shots, but unaware what they are; as her mom refuses to tell her the big secret and her dad abandoned his family. Cali also feels suicidal as she hates feelings of being a boy trapped in a girl's body. Meghan remains her only friend and anchor even after Cali confesses to her that her brain screams male. Becoming a psychologist to help others with similar haunting issues as hers, twentyish Cali meets and marries kind Lance but she still feels trapped in the wrong gender.

Cali is a powerful psychological medical thriller that cautions parents to think of the long-term consequences on their newborn before agreeing to a sex change procedure. Character-driven by the protagonist's inner turmoil of a freak in the wrong body, Cali reminds readers that even loving decisions have second order effects and that doctors are people not gods; but mostly consider the future as much as the present.

Return to Glory
Sara Arden
Harlequin HQN
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373779307, $7.99,

Former SEAL Jack McConnell returns home to Glory, Kansas a broken man. He sits in his dress whites and pulls the trigger of a gun pointed at his head. The click disappoints Jack as the chamber was empty. Jack's BFF, GPD police officer Caleb Lewis, arrives before the PTSD veteran continues with his Russian Roulette.

When Caleb's sister Betsy was a tweener, Jack saved her life. Since then he has been her beloved hero. Whereas he assumes he no longer is her idol, Betsy knows she still loves him damaged goods and all; and will do anything to help Jack heal from his emotional injuries. Though he doubts she can reach through his darkness, Jack doesn't know Betsy; as she remains determined to save her hero from himself.

Return to Glory is an insightful contemporary romance that provides a stunned audience with a timely realistic look at a suicidal vet struggling with mental and physical war wounds, and the beloved woman (and townsfolk) giving her all to rescue him. Character-driven by traumatized Jack, this is not an easy read starting with the opening haunting sequence. As readers wonder if love will prove enough to save a life, Sara Arden brings needed attention on the much higher rate than the civilian population of suicides among returning veterans.

Rachael Johns
Harlequin HQN
9780373779369, $7.99

A decade ago in Hope Junction, Australia, Elenora Hughes jilted Flynn Quartermaine at the altar to pursue an acting career. When her godmother Matilda breaks her ankle, Ellie returns home after remaining in the big city as a successful soap opera star for years to care for her beloved injured senior citizen.

Ellie and Flynn share in common two things: each fears a second chance and each remains in love with the other. The tabloids stalk the couple and other residents in the small western town; local nurse Lauren Simpson deploys a plan to finally win Flynn's heart; and Ellie's show producer pressures her to return to the set. However, as Mat reveals a secret and Ellie finds joy in directing and teaching drama, she explains to the two people she cherishes with all her heart why she left Hope behind ten years ago.

Jilted is an engaging second chance Australian romance due to likable leads and a colorful local cast dealing with the big city invaders. Although the storyline goes as expected, Rachel Johns provides her audience with a pleasant HEA Down Under contemporary.

In Your Dreams
Kristan Higgins
Harlequin HQN
9780373779314, $7.99

In Manningsport, New York, Blue Heron head winemaker Jack Holland rescues four teenagers from drowning after they wrecked their car. The townsfolk rightfully consider the kindhearted Jack the hero of the Midwinter Miracle; but he remains traumatized over the boy in that accident still in a coma.

Police Officer Emmaline Neal needs a date for her former fiance Kevin Bates's wedding in Malibu. Friends suggest she ask Jack to be her guest, which he agrees. In California, Emma feels overwhelmed and not just because she is the groom's ex; as her family resides nearby and she believes she is the lone failure of Dr. and Dr. Neal. When she and Jack share a wonderful evening of love, Emma doubts it is more than just a one-night tryst; as a cop can't compare to his former wife Hadley who demands a second chance with him. However she doesn't know Jack; as well as she thought as he wants much more than a SOCAL fling.

The fourth Blue Heron romance (see Waiting On You, The Perfect Match and The Best Man) is a charming contemporary starring two amiable protagonists and ably supported by their families and other bicoastal locals. Kristan Higgins authors a warm droll drama as the self-doubter buries her trepidations in Skittles and chocolate cake, and the PTSD sufferer struggles with the accolades from his heroic act; neither knows how to deal with falling in love.

Scene Of The Crime: Baton Rouge
Carla Cassidy
Harlequin Intrigue
9780373697915, $5.50

Three days ago FBI Agents Revennaugh and Clinton (see ... Return to Mystic Lake) went missing; before them two other agents, a sheriff, a wife and a child vanished from their homes in the last couple of months. FBI Baton Rouge Office Director Miller assigns Agent Alexander Harkins to lead a team of eight Feds including his former wife Georgina Beaumont to capture a diabolical taunting "FBI trained serial killer".

Alexander feels good about heading the task force, but also has trepidations as his last lead role went bad and soon after his marriage ended. His hidden agenda is to learn Georgina's dark secrets she concealed from him so that he can break down the barriers they caused in hopes of a do-over. When the psychopath targets Georgina, Alexander risks his life to keep her safe.

The latest Scene of the Crime thriller (see ... Deadman's Bluff; ... Return to Bachelor Moon; and ... Bachelor Moon) is an exciting second chance police procedural. Although a taunting serial killer is an overused villain; filled with plenty of action and viable suspects especially two with FBI credentials; ... Baton Rouge is an adrenalin-pumping romantic suspense.

Some Like It Hotter
Isabel Sharpe
Harlequin Blaze
9780373798209, $5.50

While enjoying her blend of orange chamomile tea on Aura Beach, California, Slow Pour coffee shop owner Eva Meyer is bored after three years of living in nearby Carmia. In Manhattan, Eva's twin Chris, owner of the NYEspresso coffee shop, realizes after three years in the Big Apple she is exhausted. The sisters chat and agree to switch places for a month.

In New York persistent customer Ames Cooke has been attracted to quiet Chris. However, eccentric Eva likes him and unlike her somewhat reticent sibling, charges head first into his life. He knows she is wrong for him, but also is addicted to her taste. As the days go by, Ames belief he can handle one month of lovemaking with the wrong sister turns into needing a lifetime with this right twin, but to persuade her may prove impossible.

Some Like it Hotter is a wonderful heated romance due to the delightful opposite coastal pairing of two people falling in love over tea and coffee. The pleasant blending of the lead couple sets a high bar for Chris' mellow meltdown.

Wicked Nights
Anne Marsh
Harlequin Blaze
9780373798193, $5.50

On Discovery Island, California (see Wicked Sexy) SEAL rescue swimmer Cal Brennan struggles mentally to dive into the water after his last mission; which he knows is not good for a person co-running Deep Dive. Piper Clark has driven Cal crazy for two decades as an "enemy combatant". Now the thirty years old naval instructor struggles with his desire for the nutty former internationally ranked diver, whose injured knee cost her, the Olympics.

He knows he must think with his upper head, as his rescue and diving school, and her Dream Big And Dive shop, along with several others, compete for the lucrative Fiesta Cruise Line contract. Knowing he still haunts her as he did when he was older than her growing up, Piper taunts Cal into a bet in which the one who wins the bid owns the loser for a night.

The latest Uniformly Hot! Romance (see A SEAL's Kiss by Tawny Weber) is a lighthearted, but heated Blaze as two childhood adversaries with traumas to overcome fall in love bidding for the same contract. Although Piper's behavior is over the top of the Sierras, she and Cal make a fine couple as opposites attracted in the water, on the land and especially in the bedroom.

Christmas At Thunder Horse Ranch
Elle James
Harlequin Intrigue
9780373697922, $5.50

In North Dakota U.S. Customs and Border Protection interdiction agent Dante Thunder Horse flies his copter to check out a farmer's report that a snowmobile illegally crossed from Canada. While flying solo because his copilot has the flu, Dante knows this is the third anniversary of the worst day in his life; his late fiancee Captain Samantha Olson died on this date in Afghanistan. He spots the snowmobile and watches in astonishment a man launch a rocket propelled grenade at the helicopter. Dante survives the fiery crash but his assassin fires shots at him.

University of North Dakota Paleontology Professor Emma Jennings is near the crash area searching for the skull of a T-Rex when she sees the inferno. Emma rushes to the scene only to witness a person on a snowmobile firing at recumbent man wearing only thermal underwear. Heroically she crashes into the shooter's vehicle knocking away his gun. The assassin flees so Emma checks on the wounded person who she recognizes. Dante and Emma head to his Thunder Horse Ranch knowing her intervention places her in peril.

This is an entertaining romantic suspense with some gender bending action as the academic saves their butts several times. Fast-paced throughout, Christmas At Thunder Horse Ranch is a fun thriller.

Course Of Action: The Rescue
Lindsay McKenna and Merline Lovelace
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
9780373278855, $5.50

"Jaguar Night" by Lindsay McKenna. In the Amazon Rainforest, a drug lord abducts volunteer nurse Aly Landon. Marine Staff Sergeant Josh Patterson liberates her from the vicious gang. Now they must trek a hundred miles in a rough terrain with deadly force in pursuit, and her still hurt from her captivity and not in shape for such a march. Josh admires her tenacity, but soon falls in love with the brave Aly.

"Amazon Gold" by Merline Lovelace. In Peru, Naval Chief Charlene Dawson and her RCB crew conveys by sea Delta Force Sergeant First Class Jack Halliday and his team into the Amazon. His mission is to take down former teammate turned rogue drug dealer Sean McMasters. Neither Charley nor Jack anticipated an attraction, but both feel the pull.

The second Course of Action Sidewinders military romance duology contains two action-packed plots due to the strong protagonists working dangerous operations while falling in love in the exotic Amazon.

Texas Born
Diana Palmer
Harlequin Special Edition
9780373658411, $5.50

In Comanche Wells, Texas, three weeks have passed since seventeen year old Michelle Godfrey buried her father Alan next to her mother while his second wife Roberta raged at the unnecessary cost. Irate Roberta dumped all of her late husband's personal items in a landfill while her stepdaughter was at school and kept Michelle from attending church. Roberta tries to sell her late spouse's stamp collection, but Michelle intervenes and the ethical collector refuses to complete the purchase. After slapping Michelle, Roberta still plans to place the house on sale though the market is tanked.

Michelle meets her kind but troubled neighbor veteran Gabriel Brandon who tells her to stay calm and consider becoming an emancipated minor but definitely not accept abuse. When someone kills Roberta, the police suspect Michelle who had plenty of motives to murder her odious stepmother. Gabriel looks after Michelle as if she was his sibling Sara though his feelings for the teen are unsisterly. Vowing patience until his beloved is old enough to decide what and who she wants, Michelle threatens Gabriel's control as she may be seventeen but acts thirty.

Once the villainess dies, this Long, Tall Texans contemporary (see Desperado) is a pleasant sweet romance. The teen is forced to be an old soul by family circumstances and the hero is willing to do whatever she needs to allow her to grow up before making his case. Although Roberta is a caricature of Cinderella's wicked stepmother, this is a fine entry.

This Good Man
Janice Kay Johnson
Harlequin SuperRomance
9780373608683, $6.75

Filled with guilt, Family Violence Unit police captain Reid Sawyer returns to the Spokane area when he learns he has a much younger teenage half-brother Caleb. Reid assumes his violent dad, who battered him and his mother including getting away with uxoricide, would do likewise with his surly fifteen years offspring whose mom abandoned him three years ago. Reid says he is damaged so cannot take Caleb with him, but offers to place him with friends off the grid until he turns eighteen. Reid takes a position with the Angel Butte's Police Department before taking a battered Caleb to live with the couple Roger and Paula Hale who saved his life decades ago.

When social worker Anna Grant demands ABPD search for a thirteen years old runaway, Reid intervenes and orders his officer to look for the kid. Meanwhile, he and Anna are attracted to each other, but though it could cost him his job, Reid conceals from her where he hid Caleb in order to protect the kind Hale couple and to keep his brother safe. He is unaware that Anna's traumatic childhood in the foster care system left her damaged and her sister dead.

The fourth Mysteries Of Angel Butte (see Cop By Her Side, Bringing Maddie Home and Everywhere She Goes) is a timely (think NFL) character-driven police procedural mindful of the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as the storyline takes a deep look at the impact of child abuse. The lead couple share in common love for each other, dedication to their jobs and damaged psyches from their troubled childhood. Leisurely-paced with the romance taking a back seat to the abuse plot, Janice Kay Johnson provides an intense drama.

Promises Under The Peach Tree
Joanne Rock
Harlequin SuperRomance
9780373608706, $6.75

After her partner absconded with their funds leading to their bakery failing in New York, Nina Spencer returns home back to Heartache, Tennessee to be with her ailing beloved Gram; who raised her when her parents divorced each other and their only child. Mack Finley rarely returns to Heartache, but left Nashville to help his siblings with the Harvest Festival with this year's gala honoring his late dad who used to manage the annual event when he was the town mayor.

Over eight years ago when they were high school students, Nina and Mack were sweethearts, but their breakup was ugly. When they meet for the first time in years, Nina and Mack know they still love each other. However, both also fear the risk on their respective hearts if they take that repeat first leap of faith.

Though the second chance romance between Mack and Nina is the prime storyline, Promises Under The Peach Tree contains vigorous secondary plots involving health issues, diversity and a failing marriage. Readers will appreciate this profound small-town Volunteer State drama.

The Texan's Twins
Pamela Britton
Harlequin American Romance
9780373755356, $5.50

In the middle of a field in Nowhere, Texas, Jet Baron goes to meet J.C. Marks. However, instead of the male project engineer just hired by Baron Energies, he sees a beautiful woman. He assumes the female is a stripper sent as a joke. After that auspicious start, arrogant Jet continues to step into sh*t including offering to meet no-nonsense Jasmine Caroline Marks for breakfast; while she mocks his occupation of rodeo performer and scorns his skirt chasing.

Attracted to the feisty engineer, Jet learns she is the single mother of twin girls (Brooke and Gwen) whose father, her fiance, Darren died before she gave birth. As they work together, Jet and J.C. fall in love, but her kids come first especially when Brooke becomes ill; reminding the harried mother heartbreakingly of what happened to Darren.

The fourth Texas Rodeo Barons romance (see The Texan's Little Secret by Barbara White Daille and The Texan's Cowgirl Bride by Trish Milburn) is a warm family novel starring a seemingly care-free philanderer and a stressed-out mom. The strong females (his sister Lizzie - see The Texan's Baby by Donna Alward, the engineer, and the twins) make this a winning contemporary; while their male counterparts (Jet, his dad and Lizzie's mate Chris) struggle to live up to the high standards the women and girls set.

Frozen Heart, Melting Kiss
Ellie Darkins
Harlequin Romance
9780373743070, $5.99

Rachel begged Maya Hartney of Maya's Delight to cater the Appleby and Associates gala. Maya's greatest sensation is to watch people go orgasmic over her food. So when, Rachel's boss Will Thomas treats her gourmet spread like fine junk food, she's hurt by his reaction, one that she never had before. As she leaves, Maya realizes his treatment of her reminds her of her parents quick to write her off. However, his boss Sir Cuthbert Appleby lectures him for whatever he did to hurt Maya and demands he take time off before he burns out; threatening to end the pro bono work Will does for the worthy Julia House.

Will visits Maya at her house to persuade her to change her mind and cater the office dinner; she adamantly refuses as his descriptor "fine" is not good enough for her to cook the meals. He offers to be a student in her one-week cooking, but since that is filled she counters with one-on-one lessons. As they cook, kiss and fuss, the caterer and the workaholic fall in love.

This culinary romance is an engaging jocular contemporary. The student fears heart-felt personal relationships and the instructor's only previous passion has been cooking culinary delights for appreciative people. Ellie Darkins bakes a warm (can't use fine in order not to alienate Maya) romance.

Undercover In Copper Lake
Marilyn Pappano
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
9780373278862, $5.50

DEA Ice Queen Alexandra Baker tells informant Sean Holigan that his "friend" of thirteen years, mob boss Craig Kolinski, will send him to Copper Lake, Georgia to collect info on his younger sister Maggie. Baker explains Maggie was dating a Kolinski drug dealer until the couple was arrested. Expecting Maggie will talk to the DA; Kolinski will demand her brother make sure his meth head sister keep quiet.

Kolinski gives Sean a picture of his nieces (five years old Daisy and six years old Dahlia) and says make sure addict Maggie shuts up or the little girls will pay the price. Unaware his sibling has children, reluctantly, Sean returns to Copper Lake; a place he considers as hell. Meeting for the first time since high school, Sean and his out of control nieces' foster mother Sophy Marchand are attracted to each other. He soon risks his life to keep the three females in peril he loves safe from ruthless hit men.

The latest Copper Lake romantic suspense (see Copper Lake Encounter and Copper Lake Confidential) is an exciting thriller starring a prodigal son coming home and a do-gooder heroine; although the young hellions steal the show. Filled with action, Undercover In Copper Lake is a tense family drama.

Heir To Scandal
Andrea Laurence
Harlequin Desire
9780373733392, $5.25

Congressman Xander Langston returns to his Cornwall, Connecticut hometown to begin his reelection campaign. Thankful to strawberries and understanding the importance of avoiding scandal, Xander needs to limit the fallout from the human remains found on Eden Farm where he and three other boys (see A Beauty Uncovered and Undeniable Demands) were raised as foster children.

When Xander and his high school sweetheart Rose Pierce meet for the first since she ended their relationship over a decade ago; both realizes they remain attracted to each other. However, he struggles to adhere to his mantra of no scandal; while she is a single mom raising a son Joey, whose age implies Xander is his father. When Rose's brother Craig calls her that Joey was injured, Xander takes her to the hospital where he asks the Big Question.

The third Secrets of Eden is an exciting second chance romance that moves forward the overarching premise and stars a likeable cast. Although the motif of hiding the fact from a father that he sired a child has been overused and unfair even when the rationale is altruistic, the efforts to keep the potential out of wedlock scandal from exploding make for a warm family drama.

She's So Into Him
Joss Wood
Harlequin Kiss
780373179060, $5.99

A decade ago, Maddison Shaw was falling in love with Cale Grant, but the love 'em and leave 'em hunk quickly moved on to his next conquest. Over the years he would appear on TV and in the gossip columns while Maddie became a successful events planner.

In Simon's Town, South Africa, doing a favor for her best friends Maddie tends the bar at their popular establishment the I.Q. when Cale enters. Maddie realizes he is even hotter now than when his touch ignited her college age libido. After offering her condolences over the death from cancer of his even wilder twin Oliver, Cale persuades reluctant Maddie to help him with a charity triathlon in honor of his late sibling. Needing to prove to her interfering BFFs that she's so not into him, Maddie agrees to assist him. All it took was one kiss to affirm to Maddie that She's So Into Him.

This is a pleasant lighthearted second chance romance in a fascinating Cape Town suburban location. The changing relationship between the protagonists enhanced by the matchmaking older gay couple who "adopted" the emotional waif makes for a fun "Mad" contemporary.

Immortal Obsession
Linda Thomas-Sundstrom
Harlequin Nocturne
9780373009299, $5.75

American reporter Madison Chase is in London albeit covering a story about the missing Yale Four, but also has a personal agenda. She searches for her younger by a minute brother Stewart, a well-regarded Floridian attorney, who recently disappeared in London while she thought insanely investigating vampires.

A Blood Knight Guardian for centuries, Christopher St. John struggles to keep the inane mortals like Madison safe from the foolish fangs and especially from the Shades. When they meet at a club, he is stunned by his desire for the forbidden human. As she forces their teaming by his need to prevent an internationally known risk-taking journalist dying or vanishing, Madison wonders if her knight with shining fangs will bite her or be her Protector.

The latest Vampire Moons romantic urban fantasy (see Guardian Of The Knight and Golden Vampire) is a tense tale of London swinging with dangerous supernatural abound. Although Christopher seems too similar to his knightly predecessors, the subgenre fans will root for courageous Madison to succeed with her endeavor while like the heroine wondering what happened to her twin.

Beyond The Moon
Michele Hauf
Harlequin Nocturne
9780373009282, $5.75

In 1870s Clichy, France, fifteen year old Verity Van Velde the witch witnesses as her mother Amandine, betrayed by her witch hunter lover, screaming in pain while a mob rejoices her burning at the stakes. A century and a half later residing in Paris, Verity still distrusts males.

Also in Paris, the Order of the Stake sends top knight Rook to end the murderous spree of the Zmaj tribe and their leader Slater; who recently turned rogue with many marked kills that have brought unwanted attention to the secretive vampires. When four vampires attack Verity, Rook intercedes and rescues her. As they work together to end the killing spree, the vampire knight and the witch fall in love; but she distrusts all males after watching her mom's horrifying death and he fears that undesirable feeling after what happened centuries ago.

The second In The Company of Vampires romantic urban fantasy is a thrilling Parisian tale that provides readers with a unique glimpse of the City of Lights. The protagonists are a nice pairing of cross paranormal species who share in common love and doubts, which make their relationship somewhat similar to the stars of the equally engaging The Vampire Hunter.

Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials
Ovidia Yu
William Morrow & Company
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
9780062338327, $14.99,

In Singapore, after her husband died leaving Rosie "Aunty" Lee a wealthy widow; she decided becoming the idle rich was not her thing. Instead she opened up Aunty Lee's Delights catering business, which proved popular. Currently she caters a gala at the luxurious home of affluent Henry and Mabel Sung; though Aunty Lee heard rumors on the street the power couple is in financial trouble.

At the house, she overhears the hosts vehemently arguing. Soon afterward, Mabel and her son Leonard are found dead from food poisoning. The police consider a murder-suicide, but soon blame the deaths on Aunty Lee failing to prepare her famous stewed chicken using potentially dangerous buah keluak nuts incorrectly. Rejecting the cops' accusation as she has made that entree many times, Aunty Lee looks into the deaths as a murder instead of negligible homicide. She begins to find a connection between the Sung family and the organ donor scandal that has angered the city.

The second Aunty Lee Singapore murder investigation (see Aunty Lee's Delights) is a delightful amateur sleuth starring an energetic gutsy widow. Once again the heroine adapts her recipe-creating skill to her inquiry as she tries to save her cooking reputation with help from her sidekick Nina who warned her about serving the apparently deadly dish. Although the organ trafficking subplot is underplayed and contradictory to the overall brisk tone of the storyline, readers will want to join Aunty Lee's special tour of Singapore.

The Drop
Dennis LeHane
9780062365446, $14.99

Just two days after Christmas and with Little Christmas still to come in the Flats, lonely Cousin Marv's bartender Bob Saginowski heads home after his shift ends. He stops when he hears a whimpering noise. Bob rescues a battered abandoned puppy from a trash can belonging to Nadia Dunn who takes a picture of the bartender and his new companion he names Rocco.

Nadia helps Bob with Rocco but insane Eric Deeds demands they give him the canine as he insists the dog is his. At the same, Marv, who lost ownership of his former dive to Chechen financiers, struggles with a lack of funds and much more. When masked men rob the bar of 5K, the angry owners target the financially strapped cousins as the most likely thieves.

Tied to a not yet released movie, which in turn is based on the short story "Animal Rescue" (see Boston Noir), The Drop is a stark gritty look at the Boston dreck. Most of the cast is nasty and greedy as if human DNA is imprinted to take advantage and harm others; in contrast to caring Bob. Faster than a Celtic fast-break during the Rondo and the Big Three era, readers will enjoy visiting Boston's meanest vilest streets.

Heroes Are My Weakness
Susan Elizabeth Phillips
9780062106070, $26.99

Princess Crumpet the puppet "asks" why not Miami Beach as ailing financially broke thirtyish ventriloquist Annie Hewitt drives in wintry weather heading to a Maine barrier island where her late mom Mariah's Moonraker Cottage is and allegedly her legacy can be found. Fearing her return to a place she fled over a decade ago, Annie resolutely completes the journey.

Annie heads to Harp House on the hill above Moonraker seeking Will Shaw for the key to the cottage. Instead Widower Theo Harp tells her Shaw left a month ago, he lives there for now working on his next horror novel and demands she leave and never return. The next day Annie meets the other residents of Harp House, the owner's housekeeper Widow Jaycie Mills struggling with a broken leg and caring for her traumatized mute four years old daughter. Jaycie saved Annie's life eighteen years ago from what horrible "Lord" Theo did to her. As Annie and her puppets help Livia, the puppeteer begins to rethink back to what really happened when terrible Theo tormented her even as someone will do anything to drive her off the island.

This is a great gothic that combines the classic elements but within a modern day New England albeit somewhat isolated island atmosphere. Theo is the brooding flawed antihero and Annie the "innocent" damsel in distress; while Harp House turns out to be the "moody" mansion. Susan Elizabeth Phillips writes a tremendous contemporary.

To Dwell In Darkness
Deborah Crombie
9780062271600, $25.99

Save London's History operatives toss a smoke bomb in the historical St. Pancras Station to disrupt a musical gala. Instead of a harmless but frightening prank, the bomb injures a band manager Tam Moran and burns an unknown to an unidentifiable crisp. Exiled to Camden, Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid leads the investigation. Evidence points to former cop Ryan Marsh who initially was thought to be the victim.

At the same time, Duncan's wife Detective Investigator Gemma James believes electronics shop clerk Dillon Underwood raped and killed tweener Mercy Johnson. However, she struggles to find concrete evidence to put this deadly pedophile away before he harms or murders some other child.

Meanwhile their children find a momma with a litter of four newborns freezing in a locked shed. They struggle with what to do with the five cats they rescued.

The sixteenth Kincaid- James British police procedural (see The Sound Of Broken Glass, No Mark Upon Her and Necessary As Blood) is an engaging mystery in which the married cops work separate cases while the kids add a personal touch to the mix. Kincaid's bombing inquiry is the stronger case as Deborah Crombie weaves history and architect into the investigation carried out by the DS and familiar officers. James' probe is well written but not as thrilling.

The Deep End (A Casey Holland Mystery)
Debra Purdy Kong
TouchWood Editions
103 - 1075 Pendergast Street, Victoria, BC, Canada, V8V 0A1
9781771510936, $14.95,

In Vancouver, British Columbia, Mainland Security Specialist Casey Holland conducts surveillance of teen shoplifters who cleverly steal from the Gen Mart Department Store. Her task is to follow them, but not to confront them. Instead, the thieves mark her and attack her though she has no idea how they knew she was undercover.

Even with help from her boyfriend-roommate Lou, Casey also struggles with the behavior of her thirteen going on thirty years old ward Summer, whose mother is in prison. Her biggest concern for the young teen is Summer's older slimy boyfriend.

Casey also volunteers at Fraserview Youth Custody Center. However, she is astonished when she knows one of the kids there; in trouble potentially for murder teenager Justin Sparrow, whose grandmother Amy is her friend. The facility's manager Mac Jorgeson suffers a fatal heart attack and too coincidental to ignore soon after another person employed there also dies. Fearing for Justin's safety, Casey investigates the deaths even while a third near fatality occurs.

The fourth Casey Holland Mystery (see The Opposite of Dark, Deadly Accusations and Beneath the Bleak New Moon) is an enjoyable tale starring a caring, nice (perhaps too nice) heroine who suffers bumps and bruises while working two violent cases. Harder for Casey than the assault on her body is the "attack" on her mind by her ward. Readers will dive into The Deep End even with no water in the pool.

Martini Regrets
Phyllis Smallman
TouchWood Editions
103 - 1075 Pendergast Street, Victoria, BC, Canada, V8V 0A1
9781771510905, $14.95,

After having one last drink with a friend in Miami, Sherri Travis breaks her dad's admonition to never drive across the Everglades at night. However, she needs gas to complete her trek through the swamp to Jacaranda, Florida where she lives with her fiance Clay Adams and owns the Sunset Bar and Grill. At a station, she hears a boy pleading with the female attendant to save his life. When she refuses, he hits Sherri and takes her car. The girl is also gone as two "swamp rats" arrive. Sherri takes cover in a pipe and then the swamp before finding a nursery with a murder victim inside. She recovers her car and gets home, but vows to say nothing.

Sherri learns that the nursery was burned down with a couple inside dead. She soon has a visit from the late nursery owner's affluent brother Ethan seeking information on a special orchard his sibling allegedly possessed. Helping Clay with his business and coming to the bar, enables Ethan to become part of their lives though Sherri wishes he would leave. Ethan won't because he knows the bartender is the last living person to have been in the nursery.

The latest Sherri Travis Mystery (see Highball Exit, A Brewski For The Old Man and Margarita Nights) is a twisting thriller filled with people ready to kill to possess a rare orchard. The heroine's time in the Glades is incredible as we will feel lost too; while her efforts to stay out of the mess fails because obsessive collectors know where she has been. With an unexpected shocker and a reluctant amateur sleuth, Martini Regrets is a fantastic crime drama.

Locker Rooms
Patty Lesser
iUniverse, Inc.
c/o Author House
1663 Liberty Dr. Suite #300, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781491713365, $16.95,

In Dundas, Canada thirty-eight year old Alida wins 10 million dollars in the lottery. After collecting her check in nearby Toronto, Alida buys the Michael house, which is near the home where her parents live in Dundas. When she cleans out the fireplace, Alida finds a tunnel behind it. Stepping inside, Alida locates three rooms filled with lockers. Opening one locker, a voice begs her to help free them from the boite.

Stunned and frightened as the voices warn her of Shad who locked them away, Alida escorts Barbara to her grave so that her soul can move on. She takes two others to their final resting site while wondering why these good people who suffered sad deaths were locked away like sinners. As Shad tries to kill her with a train derailment, a plane accident and a taxi's breaks failure, and goes after her mind through her parents; Alida believes God watches over her. Her fourth rescue Oliver asks to stay with her for a while. As Alida and Oliver fall in love, her only hope to save these souls resides with Lucifer.

Locker Rooms is a refreshing, very creative look at the afterlife through the eyes of a courageous bi-polar (though that illness is downplayed) heroine, those victims she rescues and a devil who makes Lucifer seem heavenly. Character-driven, readers will enjoy this leisurely-paced good, innocent and evil thriller especially as we learn a little about those souls Alida saves. I would like to read more about those trapped inside the boite in perhaps a prequel short story collection.

Jack Staples And The Ring Of Time
Mark Batterson and Joel N. Clark
David C. Cook
c/o Cook Communications
4050 Lee Vance View, Colorado Springs, CO 80918
9780781411073, $9.99,

In Ireland, on his eleventh birthday Jack Staples is at the circus with his teenage brother Parker and their mother. Ironically while a girl performs on a tightrope above lions and surrounded by a ring of fire, Jack is the only one in the audience distracted by a blackbird. Suddenly all hell breaks loose inside the tent leaving Jack trapped by a spreading inferno while a terrifying voice demands he help destroy the Awakened. His sibling and everyone else made it outside; they all assume Jack died except his mom who insists that The Child of Prophecy lives. Inside, a lion dies saving Jack from the blaze by covering his body with his.

Most people have scales covering their eyes to keep them from seeing the evil that surrounds mankind; however Jack's has fallen off so he now sees these horrors. He and his BFF Arthur join the scales-off Awakened who include their elderly teacher Mrs. Dumphry and her former student Alexia AKA "Wild". Jack and Alexia learn both make up The Children of Prophecy; one will terminate and the other will resuscitate the Awakened. When the Assassin attacks the town targeting the pair, they must learn under fire how to fight back.

Jack Staples (and Alexia) And The Ring Of Fire hooks readers from the opening act and never slows down in spite of rapid shifting focus. The Christian good and evil fantasy is faster than DC's Flash, as the pace never allows the tweener audience a respite. Yet the first Staples story still insures that key players like the yin and yang Children of Prophecy and their teacher are fully developed.

The Perfect Witness
Iris Johansen
St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250020055, $27.99,

Her father recognized the advantage of his daughter having the ability to know people's deepest secrets and used his offspring to help him become the head of the New Jersey Mafia. At her murdered father's funeral, Teresa Casali saw in the eyes of the new Don Rico Camano that he wants her dead. Henchmen who attended her Sweet Sixteen last month pursue her and shoot her in the arm as she flees into a forest expecting to die before the night ends. A stranger appears out of nowhere and persuades the frightened teen to trust him. Aware of Teresa's paranormal talent, Andre Mandak takes a hesitant Teresa to safety and provides her with a new identity as Allie Girard and the normalcy of a caring family.

Seven years later, Allie still wonders when her savior collects whatever he wants from her; as everyone one has a scheme. When her past exposes her, Allie is on the run to protect her loved ones from killers. However, she also plans to use her skill to take the fight to her enemies with Mandak's help; even as he informs her just what he needs from her.

The Perfect Witness is Iris Johansen at her action-packed best as this dark thriller grips readers from the start to the finish. The key players all have hidden agendas, but the heroine keeps the taut storyline focused as she matures from a stunned frightened teen on the run into a still frightened on the run fighting machine with a plan to fight back.

A Scandal To Remember
Elizabeth Essex
St. Martin's
9781250044587, $7.99

In 1815 Portsmouth, England, Charles Dance reports to intoxicated Captain Muckross of the Tenacious as the First Lieutenant on a two year South Seas science expedition. Looking at the vessel, Dance concludes the present state of the ship is a quick watery grave; made worse by a drunken crew and captain, and two other officers in which one is way past retirement age and the other is very green. Finally when the by the book former war veteran believes matters could not turn uglier, conchologist J. E. Burke arrives; the J stands for Jane.

At sea Dance takes charge of running the Tenacious even as the mutinous crew resents a female on board as women are a harbinger of doom for a ship. Both he and Jane are taken aback by their attraction to each other. While she tries to focus on science, he attempts to concentrate on them keeping afloat. Meanwhile others want to send the scientist and the officer to a watery grave.

The fifth "scandalous" Reckless Brides Regency romance (see Almost a Scandal and A Breath of Scandal) is an entertaining High Seas adventure starring opposites-attract couple. Jane proves her skills beyond shells and Charles recognizing her abilities when they are in dire straits by supporting her taking charge during a life-threatening scenario by not playing macho hero. Elizabeth Essex authors an excellent historical.

His To Claim
Opal Carew
St. Martin's Griffin
9781250052827, $14.99

Melanie left her job of two years at Rainer Enterprises when she fell in unrequited love with her boss Rafe Ranier, who chose her best friend Jessica over her; ironically Jessica chose his brother Dane over him (see His To Possess). Instead of another office assistant position, Melanie obtains work at a coffee shop when to her shock Rafe enters to ask why she left. However, Melanie conceals the real reason from him; while he realizes how much he misses her.

Jessica gives Melanie a gift card for her birthday to use at a tattoo parlor. Also there is Rafe. As they begin to talk and argue, they each conceal a sexual secret that if revealed would bond them; but she needs his love and he doubts he can trust anyone with his heart. When Melanie joins his former band as a roadie, Rafe as Storm follows.

The first trade paperback printing of six short e-books is a direct sequel to His To Possess. The torrid erotic romance is filled with sexual encounters of a various kind, but Melanie's trysts with the band feel wrong due to her love for Rafe and her morality. Still the engaging relationship between the sexually yin and yang BDSM lead characters make for a heated drama as Rafe proves a male has enough blood for one head at a time; his lower one wins all the debates and may cost him his beloved Melanie.

The Devil In Denim
Melanie Scott
St. Martin's
9781250040428, $7.99

Maggie Jameson believes her father mentored her for years to replace him as the owner of the New York Saints baseball team. Thus when her dad sells her beloved Saints to three former college jocks (Alex, Lucas and Mal), Maggie feels betrayed; made even angrier when she learns of the Judas sale at the purchasing contract signing.

Alex Winters and his two friends saw their college baseball careers go up in smoke when they were injured rescuing people from a fire. Being from Queens, Alex wants to turn around the fortunes of the Saints; but understands that for the players to accept him and his partners, they need the support Maggie who has the team's sympathy. Irate Maggie loathes the upstart and considers a better offer (at least for her) that would make her the team's CEO by using the league's Executive Committee. As Alex tries to convince Maggie to join the new management team, the former college catcher and the previous owner's daughter fall in love.

The series opener is an exciting baseball romance that cleverly combines on field action, boardroom action and bedroom (also locker room) action into a terrific sports tale. Fans will enjoy the gender war between opponents in love as Melanie Scott provides a winning game one.

Irresistible Force
D.D. Ayres
St. Martin's
9781250042170, $7.99

One month ago, someone kidnapped Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD Officer James Cannon's K9 partner Bogart. James followed leads in search of his missing police dog until he sees Bogart with a woman in an isolated cabin just outside of Raleigh.

Shayla Appleton fears her former boyfriend, outwardly charming to the world but abusive to her. Eric Coates refuses to accept it is over between them. Thus she "adopted" dumped for death Prince from the local animal shelter where she volunteers. James confronts her for abducting his canine Bogart, but Shay says she saved him from execution as the woman who dropped him off demanded they do. After Shay dials 911, Chief Deputy Sheriff Ward arrives to take control of the scene. Shay describes the woman wanting her Prince to die; James recognizes his crazy former girlfriend Jaylynn Turner. Both already cherish Prince Bogart and with help from their dog; James and Shay deal with their respective monstrous previous significant others, her childhood and worse love for each other.

The first K-9 Rescue police procedural romantic suspense is an exciting action-packed tale that deftly combines falling in love (due to the efforts of a matchmaking dog) with the nefarious activities of the two over the top of Mount Mitchell exes (neither have a redeeming quality). Prince Bogart steals the show from his human partners as D.D. Ayres provides a terse opener.

Ultimate Sins
Lora Leigh
St. Martin's
9780312389109, $7.99

After being away from his Colorado hometown for years Crowe Callahan returns to deal with the Corbin County attorney Wayne "Slasher" Sorenson, a diabolical serial killing rapist. Crowe also realizes he will have to see the only woman he ever loved, Wayne's daughter Amelia.

Wayne loathes Crowe and his Callahan kin especially the cousins Logan (see Deadly Sins and Rafer (see Midnight Sins) who he feels stole something that belongs to him. He has an added incentive to detest Crowe when his daughter committed the Ultimate Sins, choosing to betray him by allying with his enemy. Fearing for his beloved Amelia, Crowe expects her father to attempt to commit filicide so he risks his life to keep her safe.

The latest Callahan Sins (see Secret Sins) is an edgy over the top of the Rocky Mountains romantic suspense in which newbies will be lost and returnees need a scorecard to keep track of the Cecil B. DeMille size cast. For Sins fans only, at times the heated sexual interludes that melt the mountaintop snow intrude on the anticipated showdown between father and lover.

The Hawley Book Of The Dead
Chrysler Szarlan
Ballantine Books
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780345545022, $26.00,

Vegas stage performers the Magical Maskelynes performed the Defying the Bullets illusion many times. However, this time when Revelation fires the gun at her husband Jeremy, a stream of red explodes. Horrified that she pulled the trigger that killed her spouse, Reve knows someone tampered with the pistol. The most likely person is Wesley Knowles who a shocked Reve notices leaving the theater early with a big grin on his face, a jaunt to his step and a revelatory nod to her.

Grieving Reve, accompanied by her teenage twin daughters (Grace and Fai) and tweener child (Caleigh), returns to her childhood home abandoned Hawley Five Corners, Massachusetts. Able to perform real magic by disappearing into another plane, Reve needs to protect her children from a revenging individual with a two decade festering grudge; she calls her enemy Fetch. Her adversary's plan is to destroy Reve by initially harming those she loves before the final act involving Revelation's permanent vanishing. Left somewhat ignorant by her family matriarchs, Reve needs to find The Hawley Book of the Dead to learn key truths and additionally locate four artifacts that could protect her and her offspring when Fetch and whoever controls him confront her.

The Hawley Book Of The Dead is an exhilarating urban fantasy that grips the audience from the opening act homicide until the final revelations. Although the motive for Fetch seeking revenge seems weak, readers will relish the journey to the expected confrontation. Chrysler Szarlan provides a wonderful tale filled with seemingly real paranormal species residing in Vegas; a haven for families with real magical skills to live in plain sight.

Shattered Secrets
Karen Harper
Mira Books
c/o Harlequin
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, ON, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780778316473, $7.99,

When Tess Lockwood was a young child growing up in Cold Creek, Ohio, someone snatched her. For eight months she remained kidnapped before eventually returning to her family. Though she recalls nothing of her abduction time, the horror kept Tess away from her hometown for almost two decades.

Recently Tess inherited her family home with the death of her mom. Reluctantly Tess returns to Cold Creek with a plan to leave the Buckeye State for that state to the north (paraphrasing Woody Hayes) Michigan as soon as she sells the property. Filled with guilt because he was watching her when she was taken, Sheriff Gabe McCord hopes Tess can remember details of her horror so that he can end the string of kidnappings that torments him and haunted his late father the previous sheriff. As Tess begins to recover buried memories, someone wants her dead. Meanwhile, a child's abduction forces Gabe and Tess to ignore their growing attraction to focus on the rescue.

Shattered Secrets is an enjoyable romantic suspense starring a fascinating heroine suffering from PTSD though the horror occurred almost two decades ago. During the memory recovery phase, the storyline is leisurely-paced; but accelerates into a frantic hyperspeed second half leading to the audience anxiously awaiting a final conflict between Tess and her nightmare.

The Homecoming
Robyn Carr
9780778316442, $7.99

Seth Sileski left Thunder Point, Oregon on a football scholarship before joining the NFL. His professional career ended with a severe injury. Thus the thirtyish Seth came home to the coastal community after being away except for frequent visits to see his parents since he was eighteen. Recently Seth was placed in charge of the Sheriff's Department Thunder Point substation.

However, not everyone welcomes back Seth. Thunder Point High School guidance counselor Iris McKinley refuses to speak to him though they were once childhood BFFs. When she finally reveals to him what he did to her while intoxicated, Seth is horrified as he does not recall having sex with the then virgin Iris before breaking her heart. Knowing he done her wrong (with homage by moi to Mae West and Cary Grant), Seth tries to persuade his reluctant beloved Iris to let him make it up to her for the rest of their lives.

The sixth Thunder Point Oregonian romance (see The Promise and The Chance) is a warm second chance contemporary. The lead duet is a likable pair especially the wary Iris while the townsfolk add local character to a charming leisurely-paced novel.

The Maiden Of Ireland
Susan Wiggs
9780778316466, $7.99

In 1658, weeping women attend the execution of Father John the heretic. The condemned man muses that for six years John Wesley Hawkins worked undercover as Father John to remove the usurper Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell from ruling the land and restore the rightful king to the throne, but failed. As he is about to hang, he says his last words: "...God save Charles Stuart...". At the very last moment with the rope tearing into his throat, Cromwell saves his life and that of his daughter but demands in remittance John uncover the identity of the Fianna Irish rebellion or else he and his family will die.

Wesley travels to Connemara, Ireland where Caitlin MacBride, daughter of the local chieftain, notices him walking near her home Castle Clonmuir. His shameful scheme is simply seduce Caitlin into revealing who the Fianna chief is. What Wesley failed to anticipate was falling in love with his target.

This "revised" version of 1993 The Mist And The Magic (don't know how much was refreshed) is an enjoyable brisk Cromwellian romance with a unique locale; instead of the usual London, Ireland shines during the era when Parliament and the Lord Protector ruled the kingdom. Leisurely-paced, this is an entertaining seventeenth century historical even with the lead relationship being typical of the subgenre.

Madame Picasso
Anne Girard
9780778316350, $14.99

In 1911, Eva Gouel rejects her family's demand she marry Monsieur Fix. Instead she flees for Paris where her only friend is Polish speaking Louis Vollard who changed her name to Marcelle Humbert. To her elation, one of her goals is met when Madam Leutard hires her as a seamstress at the Moulin Rouge. There she sees a powerful man sitting at the front of the dance hall but surprisingly no woman with him.

Last night, after a fight with his beloved intoxicated mistress and primary model, Fernande Olivier the artist, Pablo Picasso went to the Moulin Rouge alone. The next day, Louis and Marcelle visit the Petit Palais to see an exhibition. Also there is the solitary man from the evening before, an up and coming Spaniard artist Pablo Picasso. Eva becomes his insecure muse; but his Montmartre crowd prefers feisty artsy Fernande who they consider as one of them to the upstart outsider. That same year Eva came to Paris, someone stole the Mona Lisa with Picasso considered a suspect. A few short years later, as war explodes across Europe, Eva suffers from tuberculosis.

This is an excellent biographical fiction that brings to life mostly Paris when the City of Lights was the world's cultural center during the years leading up to and the beginning of WWI. Character driven by the triangular relationship between Picasso, Gouel and Olivier, subgenre fans will relish this vivid art historical.

The Way You Look Tonight
Bella Andre
9780778317302, $7.99

Seven years ago Rafe Sullivan left the police to open up a private investigator firm. His office proved very successful and many in Washington believe he runs the best in the state. However, jaded Rafe also knows the downside as 100% of those he or his staff investigated were up to no good.

His sister Mia the realtor tells him the lake house near Seattle that they used to visit as children is on the market. Knowing he desperately needs a getaway R&R place, Rafe buys the rundown cabin. To his pleasant surprise, staying next door at her late grandparents' house is no longer cute but instead beautiful Brooke Jansen, who aged perfectly. Having left Boston, Brooke is thrilled that her childhood crush is within reach. However, though as attracted to her as she is to him, Rafe hesitates as he has seen so many more relationships die though he admits his extended family have proven the exception.

Having left the San Francisco Sullivans in forever loving relationships, Bella Andre heads north for the first sexy Seattle Sullivans saga. Although the location changes, the quality of the leads remains strong even if their romance starts too quickly. Series fans will find the pleasant opening act very enjoyable and look forward to Mia who's next on deck.

To Love And Protect
Debbie Macomber
9780778316459, $7.99

"Shadow Chasing." Washington State residents Carla Walker and Philip Garrison meet while on vacation in Mazatlán, Mexico. They are attracted to each other from the start and fall in love. However when she learns he is a cop, Carla ends their relationship as she knows personally the danger of his occupation.

"For All My Tomorrows." As a single mom, Widow Lynn Danfort has raised their two kids alone ever since her husband Gary died on the job. She needed Gary's partner Ryder Matthews to help her cope, but his grief led him to flee Seattle, a luxury she could not afford with her youngsters needing her. Three years since the tragedy, Ryder returns home hoping to atone for his desertion of the woman and children he loved even before Gary's death. However, Lynn no longer needs a man in her life.

These are reprints of 1980s Debbie Macomber police procedural romances. Though similar in overall premise and straightforward, both are well written with a nice cast.

The Winter Guest
Pam Jenoff
9780778315964, $14.99

In 1940 in Biekowice, Poland the Nowak patriarch died in a cart accident while the matriarch was hospitalized with severe injuries. Though acrimonious rivals with diverse opinions about the German invasion; the oldest children, twins Helena and Ruth take charge of their younger siblings (Michal, Dorie and Karolina) even as the Nazis blitzkrieg Poland.

Though she knows she should ignore the wounded foreigner, Helena rescues Jewish American soldier Sam Rosen. Initially telling no one about him she hides the paratrooper as he heals. When Helena and Sam fall in love, jealous Ruth reacts with bitterness; while opportunistic neighbors plot against the family.

The latest Pam Jenoff WWII Poland thriller (see The Kommandant's Girl and The Diplomat's Daughter) is another excellent historical as readers obtain a vivid sense of life during the Nazi occupation. The strong cast makes for a powerful drama enabling us to see the deadly era through the eyes of the five Nowak siblings (especially the diverse bias of the twins) and Sam. As the truth fails to set them free, The Winter Guest is a fantastic 1940s war novel.

Gutenberg's Apprentice
Alix Christie
9780062336019, $27.99

In 1450, merchant Johann Fust orders his adopted son Peter Schoeffer to come home from Paris immediately. Though he prefers to stay in France as his work as a scribe has been thriving, Peter obeys and takes the three day journey to Mainz, Germany. Johan explains to Peter that he has invested in Johann Gensfleisch's project. He wants the lad to become Johann's apprentice in order to help him succeed and to learn a new trade that will leave scribes obsolete. Filled with doubts and misgivings Peter works with Johann on printing the Bible with equipment that fails more than it works. He fixes several of the bugs although his mentor proves difficult to work for; the Church and the scribe guild oppose the devil's creation; while their family warns father and son of the danger to all of them from this heresy. Still they persevere until they eventually create the Gutenberg Bible, which is further condemned as not anywhere near the art of the scribes.

This remarkable historical fiction describes the obstacles in developing the movable type printing press. Like A & E's Biography: 100 Most Influential People of the Millennium naming Gutenberg number one after five and half centuries of major impact (until the digital print ended its influence), Alix Christie pays homage to the invention that changed information flow to the masses. Peter's mixed feelings whether to print or not to print anchor the detailed fifteenth century drama with a human impact. Although a romance feels unnecessary and even well written family dynamics that add understanding of the lead trio come across as intrusive; the audience will be enthralled with the fascinating printing press invention main storyline.

A Song For The Dying
Stuart McBride
HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
9780007344307, $24.95,

Once a Scottish Detective Inspector who worked a serial killer case that included his late daughter as a victim (see Birthdays for the Dead) Ash Henderson went to prison when Irish felon Maeve Kerrigan successfully framed him for a murder. Eight years behind bars with two goals keeping him going: avenging what Kerrigan did to him and finishing the Inside Man serial killer case investigation though the latter went dormant after Ash went to prison.

When a nurse was found murdered with the Inside Man's brand of a doll buried in the body, Ash's former partner psychologist Dr. Alice McDonald obtains his release with electronic conditions to work the inquiry with her. The best chance to catch the psychopath is a survivor, who just gave birth. Ash thinks first the predator and then the personal.

The second dark twisting Henderson police procedural is an exciting gritty thriller starring an angry rebel with a cause. Fast-paced and filled with Stuart McBride's trademark gore, fans will cheer on the antihero though McDonald comes across as a recalcitrant child rather than an expert forensic psychologist.

Stalked: The Boy Who Said No
Patti Sheehy
Oceanview Publishing
595 Bay Isles Road, 120-G, Longboat Key, FL 34228
9781608091256, $26.95,

Disenchanted with the Castro regime, Frank Mederos followed his beloved Magda to the United States (see The Boy Who Said No: An Escape to Freedom). In 1967 though confused by the race riots in his new home, married Frank and Magda dream of raising a family in a land where there is plenty of freedom of choice.

For several years, the Cuban exiles enjoy their middle class existence and love their child Darlene until Magda becomes ill, suffering from Hodgins Disease. Meanwhile back in Cuba, Lieutenant Pino, whose career died when Frank escaped the island, plans to avenge against the man who destroyed him.

The second Frank Mederos biographical fiction is an appealing thriller due to a strong, easy to root for protagonist. Although the tale captures the "better dead than red" mindset of the 1950s Cold War, it feels wrong by the late 1960s and 1970s which is when Stalked occurred. Still this is a well-written historical further anchored in time by a Governor Clinton appearance.

Murder at Marble House: A Gilded Newport Mystery
Alyssa Maxwell
c/o Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street, Floor 21, New York, NY 10018-2522
9780758290847, $15.00,

In 1895 Newport, Rhode Island, eighteen year old Consuelo Vanderbilt refuses to marry the Duke of Marlborough, the chosen one selected by her mother, Alva. When Consuelo's poor cousin Emma Cross arrives, Alva warns her to persuade the recalcitrant teen or else.

Not long afterward, Madam Devereaux the psychic is found murdered in the Marble House gardens and Consuelo is missing. Knowing her niece recently solved the Murder At The Breakers, Alva orders Emma to discreetly find Consuelo before the Duke, coming from England to New York before he arrives in Newport. Limited by what she can do without bringing attention to the Vanderbilt family, Emma worries about her cousin's safety as more homicides occur and clues take her to the underbelly of the affluent city.

The second Gilded Newport Mystery is an entertaining historical amateur sleuth that deftly combines a deep look at the rich and famous with a whodunit. Emma is terrific as she deals with her demanding aunt while her inquiry focuses on finding her cousin, but doing so without anyone learning Consuelo vanished. At the same time a killer is on the loose but seemingly not part of Emma's increasingly desperate search.

French Pastry Murder
Leslie Meier
9780758277046, $25.00

TV hostess of Women Who Make a Difference, Norah Hemming provides a trip to Paris to four deserving Tinker's Cove, Maine women (and their husbands) due to their raising money and awareness for two decades for the Hat and Mitten Fund charity. One of the quartet Pennysaver columnist Lucy Stone also looks forward to seeing her daughter Elizabeth who works at the Cavendish Hotel in Paris.

The eight visiting Americans enjoy the City of Lights as they tour the attractions, and Lucy and her husband are thrilled in seeing their oldest though the two females argue somewhat. Lucy and her three friends (Sue, Rachel, and Pam) obtain lessons at Le Cooking School from renowned pastry chef Larry Bruneau. However, at the school, Lucy finds Chef Larry dying from a knife stabbing in his chest. Police Commissaire LaPointe leads the official inquiry starting with taking the passports from Lucy and her companions as they are suspects.

The latest Lucy Stone mystery (see Christmas Carol Murder and Easter Bunny Murder) is an enjoyable Parisian whodunit as the Americans in Paris theme is fun to follow. Although the mystery is over the top of the Eifel Tower, series fans will relish this bon appetit entry.

Caught Dead Handed
Carol J. Perry
9781617733697, $7.99

After a decade away, Maralee Barrett returns home from St. Petersburg, Florida to Salem, Massachusetts for a job interview at WICH-TV. She arrives at the cable station only to be told the position was filled. Before Lee leaves, the interviewer who dissed her, station manager Mr. Doan angrily leaves his office because the call-in psychic host Ariel Constellation walked out on her show. As she departs, Lee, hearing a cell phone, finds Ariel's corpse.

Program director Janice Valen calls 911. SPD Detective Pete Mondello arrives to lead the inquiry. Valen explains to Lee that Scott Palmer's sports reporting got him the job, but that she needs a replacement ASAP for Ariel. Though not a psychic, Lee, needing a job, accepts. However, something odd ensues; the ball Lee employs as a gimmick actually works. She investigates while Ariel's cat O'Ryan moves in with Lee and Aunt Ibby. The killer murders again while stalking the new psychic, her aunt and that darned cat.

Although Salem has hosted several paranormal whodunits (see the Wishcraft Mystery series by Heather Blake), the first Witch City Mystery is a bewitching psychic investigation due to strong characterizations starting with the heroine and the cat who adopted her. The fast-paced storyline spins a spell on the audience who will believe in the otherworldly; at the same time the protagonist struggles to accept her sudden skills while adopting the mantra "Better Read than Dead" (Psychic Eye Mysteries by Victoria Laurie).

To Fudge Or Not To Fudge
Nancy Coco
9780758287120, $7.99

On Mackinac Island, Michigan Allie McMurphy owns and manages the Historic Registered McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop. As such she prepares for an invasion of guests arriving for the annual Lilac Festival, but accepts she needs help. Thus Allie and her Bichon-Poodle Mal heads to the island paper, the Town Crier, to place an ad for a part time summer maid. Outside the newspaper office, Mal digs up a sock containing a bone that proves to be human.

Meanwhile Allie's former cooking instructor Peter Thomas adds her onto his reality show Candied Chef he is filming on the island. In turn, Allie hires Sandy Everheart as her kitchen assistant at the hotel. As Mal unearths more bones, a visitor dies while possessing one of Allie's fudge treats. Prompted to investigate by being a person of police interest, Allie fears Mal will soon uncover her buried remains.

The second Candy-Coated mystery is a pleasing cozy due to the captivating location and the quirky cast (locals and TV crew). Although once again the overused premise of an amateur sleuth making inquiries to stay out of jail detracts from an otherwise delightful tale, Allie remains awesome at the hotel, cooking fudge and especially investigating a murder; while trying to stay alive and out of jail.

The Richebourg Affair
R.M. Cartmel
Crime Scene Books
9780992948603, $13.95,

Just last night in Paris, La Police Nationale Commandant Truchaud and his staff celebrated the capture of the Fox. However, the next day, Madame Albrand calls Truchaud to inform him his brother Bertin died in his sleep. Stunned Truchaud heads home to Nuits-Saint-Georges in Burgundy to attend the funeral and be there for his family; something he failed at after drifting apart when his older sibling became the fils in Domaine Truchaud Pere et Fils.

However, his welcome home as the prodigal son from family members (widower Dad, twelve years old nephew Bruno and sister-in-law Michelle) and neighbors leads the cop to wonder what besides grief has everyone on edge. As he learns more about the village and his family, Truchaud begins to ponder who had motive to kill Bertin, what is buried in the wine cellar and whether a rumored scandal will destroy the reputation of Domaine Truchaud Pere et Fils.

The first Commandant Truchaud investigation is an entertaining wine mystery with a deep look at the region, the villagers and especially the industry. The storyline starts leisurely as we meet the cast and tour the locale with part of the fascination focused on the fish out of water in spite of growing up there; as Truchaud epitomizes Andrew Bird's lyrics: "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree". Once relationships are established, the plot accelerates into a strong drama with the protagonist realizing vino veritas most likely means the destruction of his family.

Sleeping Late On Judgment Day
Tad Williams
Daw Books, Inc.
c/o Penguin Group
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780756408893, $25.95,

Known in the Bay Area as Bobby Dollar, the Angel Doloriel entered Hell to rescue his girlfriend Caz the Countess of the Cold Hands trapped there by her owner Eligor the Horseman. The good is he escaped Hell; the bad is he failed to liberate his demon girlfriend (see Happy Hour in Hell); and the ugly is he has no idea what to attempt next.

Bobby's friend Walter escapes Hell, but suffers amnesia. His buddy's memory loss concerns Bobby because when they met in Hell, Walter was trying to warn him that Heaven is not a sanctuary. Soon after their reunion, Bobby faces a not so heavenly judgmental tribunal with his only chance of surviving being that damned feather he needs to either save his soul or rescue his beloved.

The third Bobby Dollar urban fantasy (see The Dirty Streets of Heaven) is a fabulous satire as this time the angel advocate learns first hand that Heaven and Hell are identical twins when it comes to incompetence, immorality and intolerance. Sleeping Late On Judgment Day is a tremendous spoof.

Spells At The Crossroads
Barbara Ashford
9780756410216, $8.99

"Spellcast." Following the loss of her job and the ceiling plaster in her New York apartment caving in, Maggie Graham escapes to Vermont. When she learns of summer stock roles performing at the Crossroads Theatre in a barn just outside Dale, Maggie auditions and is stunned when she obtains roles in three shows. Maggie finds the troupe odd yet endearing; but most disturbing is director Rowan Mackenzie. He never seems to leave the theater and somehow casts a person in roles they need to perform on stage and in life rather than what they planned on.

"Spellcrossed." Still in Vermont, Maggie replaced Rowan Mackenzie as director of the non-profit Crossroads Theatre. The summer stock season has been difficult on her because of the cast. The obnoxious professionals scorn Maggie and are nasty towards the bewildered amateurs; while the children act like an out of control horde. She considers using the magic she found at the converted old barn, but knows her first mission is selling tickets if she wants to get her boss out of her theater. However, ignoring the magic proves an unviable option when she finds herself drawn into a past personal mystery that needs resolution before the first curtain call.

This reprint of the opening two Graham Green Mountain State acts stars a mesmerizing individual who casts a charm spell on readers; as magical Maggie keeps these wonderful whimsical witty works focused. The theater's otherworldly elements heal the lead first on stage and second as the field general director while subtly enhancing this second chance at making dreams real.

Species Imperative
Julie E. Czerneda
9780756410148, $17.00

"Survival." In the far distant future, humanity begins to reclaim the earth and at the same time joins the Interspecies Union. Brymn the gigantic blue Dhryn arrives to warn earthlings that the hostile Ro armada plans for their genocide; humanity's only survival hope is Norcoast Salmon Research Facility Administrator Dr. Mac Connor.

"Migration." Trusting Brymn, Mac travels to his home world where to her horror he and his race transform into feeders, devouring every planet that is in their path. Back on Earth, Mac wants to forget the revulsion she witnessed. Unfortunately she is the only one who can read and speak Dhryn; so the Interspecies Union needs her to learn why a staunch ally turned into carnivorous predatory adversary. Mac's salmon migration expertise enables her to understand the Dhryn and who the enemy really is.

"Regeneration." Mac believes that the Ro somehow changed the Dhryn into a biological weapon of planetary mass destruction. She knows the Ro live in a dimension beyond ours, but believes the means to save the Dhryn and bring the Ro to intergalactic justice may be found on destroyed Myriam.

This Species Imperative omnibus reprinting brings together the brilliant trilogy that focuses on sentient races allied for political, economic, and cultural reasons, and now a common enemy. Mac is a superb heroine, but it is the incredible world building with intricately drawn species that make for a fantastic dark futuristic outer space series.

The Winter Long
Seanan McGuire
9780756408084, $7.99

In Muir Woods, King of Cats Tybalt coaxes Sir Toby Daye to attend the first kingdom-wide Yule Ball since Gilead's murder. Adhering to protocol, Toby pays her respect to her liege Duke Sylvester Torquil.

After Toby and the gang return to San Francisco, Sylvester rings the door of her Victorian. Only after she allows her surprising visitor to enter does Toby realize her guest is not her liege as Sylvester smells like dogwood flower and daffodil while his lookalike's odor is that of smoke and rotten oranges. Her personal bogeyman Simon has returned stunning her with his claim to have saved October's life when he changed her into a fish. Astonished by this revelation and other Simon assertions, Toby relooks at what she believed were indisputable facts.

The latest October Daye urban fantasy is a stunner as Seanan McGuire shakes up her universe with a Big Bang that takes us fans and the heroine out of our comfort zones after seven previous entries (see Ashes of Honor and Chimes at Midnight). The shocked Daye obsessively soul searches needing to believe as John said: "...the truth will set you free" but hopes not by killing her or driving her insane. This is a fantastic spin to a fabulous saga.

Death in the Dolomites: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery
David P. Wagner
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., #103, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
9781464202728, $24.95,

Translator Rick Montoya leaves Rome for a skiing vacation in Campiglio. However, when American banker Cameron Taylor vanishes while also at the ski resort, Inspector Luca Albani, aware of Rick's assistance to the Tuscany police (see Cold Tuscan Stone), asks for his help. Rick agrees to join the inquiry as long as it does not interfere with his R&R.

Several witnesses insist they saw Cameron head to the slopes, but none including his sister recall seeing him return to the lodge. Meanwhile, someone wanting Rick to stay out of the investigation, attacks him while he skis and a lookalike is stabbed. This plus the discovery of a corpse leads to Rick taking the case more seriously as he wonders who gains from murder.

The second Rick Montoya Italian investigation is an engaging whodunit though the Alpine cuisine supersedes the case and even the skiing. Even as the mystery is shortchanged for much of the storyline by Rick's vacation, Death in the Dolomites remains a well-written tale.

The Edison Effect: A Professor Bradshaw Mystery
Bernadette Pajer
Poisoned Pen
9781464202520, $24.95

In 1903 Seattle, renowned inventor Thomas Edison arrives at the University of Washington office of electrical engineering Professor Benjamin Bradshaw. The Wizard of Menlo Park demands Bradshaw assist him in retrieving a dangerous gizmo from Elliot Bay. Bradshaw respects Edison's brilliance but distrusts him as avarice and ruthless; so he refuses to help him obtain the gadget invented by a former student of the professor, Oscar Daulton.

Meanwhile at the Bon Marche Department Store, an electrician dies while holding onto Edison's Christmas lights. Bradshaw, Henry Pratt and SPD Detective O'Brien investigate the death. At the same time, a widower with a single child, Bradshaw struggles between his religion and his love for Missouri.

The fine fourth Professor Bradshaw early twentieth century historical (see A Spark Of Death, Fatal Induction and Capacity for Murder) is made fresh by the unflinching look at the complex Edison. The wizard lives up to his mantra of "Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration"; but a major part of the 90% includes mercilessness in his dealings with others. Readers who accept that portrayal will enjoy the Edison Effect on Bradshaw and others.

Phantom Limb: A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen
9781464202568, $24.95

In Pittsburgh, Lisa Harland, a former Playboy centerfold three decades ago and a failed starlet when she was still a Campbell, visits the office of Dr. Daniel Rinaldi. Married to much older wheelchair-bound and affluent Charles, Lisa tells the psychologist she shortly plans to commit suicide. Daniel desperately tries to persuade her not to kill herself.

Not long afterward Pittsburgh PD informs Daniel that someone kidnapped Lisa outside his office. A consultant to PPD, Daniel may have important information on the victim's state of mind just prior to her abduction, but is hesitant to say anything due to patient confidentiality. Selected by the kidnapper to do the ransom drop, Daniel arrives at the Harland estate where he finds a dysfunctional untrustworthy extended family. As he works with the gloomy Harland brood and PPD, Daniel also fears for another patient, a potentially suicidal veteran.

The fourth Daniel Rinaldi mystery (see Fever Dream and Mirror Image), is an enjoyable police procedural as once again the protagonist, as happened in Night Terrors, struggles between patient confidentiality and law enforcement needs with a life at stake. Fast-paced throughout, readers will appreciate this terrific twisting thriller as seen through the observant eyes of Dr. Rinaldi.

Mad Dog Justice
Mark Rubinstein
Thunder Lake Press
9780985626808, $12.99,

Surgeon Roddy "Mad Dog" Dolan and Accountant Danny Burns were best friends for over three decades ago going back to when they were in high school. They partnered with an acquaintance from their salad days Kenny Egan investing in McLaughlin's restaurant. However, Kenny's investment funds were borrowed from the mob; who had other plans for McLaughlin's. Ten months ago, Roddy and Danny killed Kenny and a demanding "investor" John Grange as well as their friendship before leaving the restaurant business (see Mad Dog House).

Ten months later, Danny's wife Angie worries about her husband whose tension is stratospheric. While she pleads with him to come home from work, someone shoots him. At the hospital Yonkers PD Detective Harvey Morgan leads the investigation as fortunate Danny recovers at the hospital. Not long afterward in the parking garage at Lawrence Hospital, Roddy heads to his car only to see someone shoot and kill anesthesiologist Walt McKay parked near him. Morgan questions him; while Roddy, hiding the truth from everyone, concludes he must bring Mad Dog Justice to those stalking him, his friend and potentially their families

The second action-packed Mad Dog urban thriller is a tense gritty entry with the consequences of what the two BFFs did continuing to haunt them; as Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar: "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." Mark Rubinstein provides an insightful morality play with trust and betrayal as key recurring themes. With a strong support cast and powerful opposites in personality leads, fans will enjoy Mad Dog Justice but should read the opening act first.

Auditory Viewpoint
Lillian R. Melendez
Black Rose Writing
PO Box 1540, Castroville, TX 78009
9781612962115, $14.95,

New Jersey radio talk show host Gloria Rank uses her four working senses at a very high degree of capacity to ignore her being blind since birth. When someone steals her sister Anna's identity, she turns to Gloria for help. They report the theft to the cops and Gloria asks a former guest on her show, computer security analyst Benjamin Taylor, for assistance in what they should do, identifying who the thief is and how they obtained access into Anna's bank account.

When someone leaves a corpse at Anna's door, FBI Agent Sanchez investigates with the younger Rank sister as a suspect. Gloria mentors her sibling to rely on her other senses more than just sight to uncover the identity of the thieves even as their inquiry leads them to cross the Hudson at the same time more bodies engulf the sisters.

This frightening thriller will stun readers with its caveat emptor insight into the electronic scams used to steal information and what the victim of such a crime must do to halt this intrusion and prevent future thefts. Gloria is a wonderful protagonist who teaches Anna and readers how to not just rely mostly on sight, but to maximize all of your senses independently and in collaboration. The sleuthing (by the sisters and Benjamin) and the serial killer segue add suspense; while how to maximize your environmental perceptions provides depth to the key cast. Still it is the astonishing acumen into what to do when your identity is stolen that grips the audience and makes a person consider turning into an electronic hermit.

Feast for Thieves
Marcus Brotherton
River North
c/o Moody Publishers
820 N. LaSalle Blvd., Chicago, IL 60610
9780802412133, $14.99,

In 1946 in Cut Eye, Texas WWII veteran Zearl "Rowdy" Slater and his partner Crazy Ake rob a bank. Deputies fire at them until the thieves jump into a river. Expecting to die, "incorrigible" Rowdy holds onto the sack of money while thinking back to a couple of years ago when he survived the Battle of The Bulge and the worst Belgium winter in three decades. Eight minutes and thirty eight seconds of counting Mississippi later, Rowdy hears a voice and almost immediately afterward a tree limb falls enabling him to escape the rushing water; Ake was nowhere in sight nor once on land was the voice.

Feeling a miracle saved him, Rowdy returns the stolen money to Sheriff Halligan Barker who consults with a mutual military acquaintance re Rowdy. Afterward Barker accuses Rowdy of stealing, but seeing an opportunity to save the dying town gives him a chance to redeem himself if he becomes the minister for one year in lieu of jail. Life as the town preacher proves byzantine while dealing with the conflicting demands of the flock and persuading the missionary Bobbie Barker he replaced that he changed. Ake's arrival is just one more Job test that Rowdy assumes God dumped on his reformed soul.

In the author's note, Marcus Brotherton informs readers that paratrooper Wayne "Skinny" Sisk (see Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose) was the inspiration for the enthralling antihero turned hero novel. Rowdy is a terrific lead who keeps the storyline focused while he poorly copes with one year preaching to sinners and believers, and falling in love with a saintly sassafras. His vernacular adds depth to a strong twisting post WWII drama.

Wood Sprites
Wen Spencer
Baen Books
PO Box 1188, Wake Forest NC 27588
9781476736716, $25.00,

In New York City, twins Louise Georgina and Jillian Eloise Mayer are fifth graders at the Perelman School for the Gifted; while they also own and run Lemon Lime Jel-Lo creating satirical elven animations. An explosion in the studio disrupts their latest project leaving them in the hospital. To their astonishment, the two patients learn their blood type is AB; while their parents (George and Mackenzie) are O.

George, who works at a cryogenic lab, explains they came from fertilized eggs. Further research leads the sisters to learn they are hybrids with human and elven blood; who their surrogate mother and biological parents are; and the existence of four other eggs soon to be destroyed. Louise and Eloise decide to identify whose specific DNA flows inside them and to save the eggs while working on a school play; but unaware their efforts place them in the middle of a cross-species conflict.

The 4th Elfhome young adult fantasy (see Tinker, Wolf Who Rules and Elfhome) contains plenty of science fiction in the mix while also allowing Tinker a respite as the focus turns to her younger brilliant sisters who provide a tweener perspective to recent events. Fast-paced from the opening explosion to the final explosive confrontation, series fans will appreciate this entry in spite of little new happening; as all the twins want are to learn more about their roots, save their unborn siblings, produce their next film and perform in the school play; others have different plans for the pair.

The Savior
Tony Daniel and David Drake
9781476736709, $25.00

Zentrum the all mighty God of the Duisberg was a supercomputer before civilization imploded. Interpreting his programming to keep people safe in spite of themselves, over the centuries Zentrum using its devout supporters controlled change to insure the planet remained in Stasis; ergo avoid repeating the great collapse. However, the intellectual and brave periodically push the envelope so far before Zentrum reacts by releasing the terrorist Blood Winds barbarian horde to cleanse and purify society.

Encouraged by those two entities (the ancient legend of planet Bellevue General Raj Whitehall and Bellevue's supercomputer Center) who made him their Chosen by sharing his brain; Major Abel Dashian understands that Zentrum must die as the first step to free his people. However, even with a military legend and a supercomputer advising him from within his mind, Dashian has doubts about killing a super god seems impossible and if by a miracle successful, he still must lead his docile people against the gory warriors of the Blood Winds.

The well written 10th David Drake General (and 2nd collaborated with Tony Daniel) military science fiction is a gripping action-packed sequel in which the audience should read The Heretic first to learn how a small boy became the rebel leader. The "triad" is well conceived, but the improbable fighting skills and non-blinking acceptance of advance technology by Dashien's supporters seem over the top of Olympus Mons (think of the boomer horde original misadjusting to the initial spread of 1980s desktops) though very entertaining.

Lois McMaster Bujold
9781476736730, $15.00

On his last mission at Jackson's Whole, dwarfish secret agent Miles Vorkosigan died, but was frozen and resuscitated (see Mirror Dance). Insisting he is fine, Miles returns to field work only to suffer a seizure that endangers others while on a combat foray. Afterward he lies about what happened and especially his physical condition in the report he provides to his superior, Barrayaran Imperial Security Chief Simon Illyan. Reacting as he must, Illyan fires Miles.

Devastated as his field work including being the Admiral of the Dendarii mercenaries has been his only reason to live; the depressed Vorkosigan considers an active response "to be or not to be". However, when Illyan's 100% perfect recall memory chip begins to fail him, Miles convinces the desperate Emperor Gregor to name him the Imperial Auditor; as both understand the gravity of errors by the Chief of IMPSEC places the empire in peril.

Following up on the Hugo Award winning Mirror Dance, this reprint of Memory is a strong transitional entry as Vorkosigan begins a new career. Character driven by the "failing" minds, bodies and emotions of the two heroes, readers will appreciate this powerful novel that showcases Lois McMaster Bujold's skills as Miles finds a new relevancy answering "...that is the question."

Dinosaurs & A Dirigible
David Drake
9781476736839, $14.00

This anthology contains reprints of the fun four Henry Vickers (first time together) time traveling dinosaur era hunter novellas (King Tyrant Lizard, Calibration Run, Time Safari and Boundary Layer) and a fifth fine but filler entry (Travelers) in which he does not appear in the dirigible. The Vickers sagas take readers to the predatory prehistoric era as the safari guide learns first hand who The Most Dangerous Game (Richard Connell) in history is while hunting dinosaurs and in one case hominid. The non-Vickers addition occurs in 1897 when two teen Travellers have adventures crossing the United States in an airship captained by a seemingly eccentric genius. Dinosaurs & A Dirigible is a delightful read.

Fortunes of the Imperium
Jody Lynn Nye
9781476736723, $15.00

In Taino, after losing his driver's license due to accepting a foolish dare from his cousin, Core Worlds Lieutenant Lord Thomas Innes Loche Kinago learns from his aide-de-camp Commander Parsons that his irate mother has a special punishment for his shaming the dignity of the fleet. Thus Thomas prepares for a diplomatic mission into the Autocracy of the Uctu sector where he is to learn why shippers are being held and delayed in that region. However, his hidden agenda is to end the smuggling of contraband including weapons into Uctu space; as nine vessels recently were caught with illegal shipments.

To Thomas' dismay, his cousin Jil joins him due to personal reasons involving a need to leave Taino for a while. When Thomas and Visoltia the Autocrat meet, she likes the Core World officer for his upbeat energy and kindness, and amused by his ego greater than Uctu space; he is not the usual simpering diplomat she typically encounters. Still as is his personality, Thomas distracts easily; leaving it to Parsons to keep him as usual focused on the mission; especially since most likely someone high up in the Autocracy runs the smuggling gamut.

The latest amusing Imperium science fiction (see The View From The Imperium) is a lighthearted outer space adventure due to the Jeeves-Wooster hyperbolic characterizations of the lead pair as they struggle with understanding an alien sentient lizard populace. Although the storyline remains a one act joke with too much sidebar focus on Thomas' latest distraction, this jocular novel is fun due to the antics of this aristocratic superego playing the roles of diplomat and undercover agent.

Harriet Klausner
Senior Reviewer

Lorraine's Bookshelf

Because I Am a Girl: I Can Change the World
Rosemary McCarney & Jen Albaugh, authors
Second Story Press
20 Maud Street, Ste. 401, Toronto, ON, Canada, M5V 2M5
Orca Books (distributor)
9781927583, $16.95,

"Because I Am a Girl: I Can Change the World," an exciting text for middle grade students, contains many individual girls' stories from developing countries that illustrate each of the statements of the Because I Am a Girl Manifesto, of Plan International Canada's global initiative to work for improving the lives of children. The manifesto states:

Because I am a girl... I watch my brothers go to school while I stay home.
Because I am a girl... I eat if there's food left over when everyone is done.
Because I am a girl... I am the poorest of the poor.
Because I am a girl... I will share what I know.
Because I am a girl... I am the heart of my community.
Because I am a girl... I will pull my family out of poverty if you give me a chance.
Because I am a girl... I will take what you invest in me and uplift everyone around me.
Because I am a girl... I can change the world.

Built around the core concept that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, and educating girls is key to that process, "Because I Am a Girl" presents individual girls' experiences to illustrate many sad facts of life for girls in developing countries, along with poignant color photos of girls. Girls' stories from Pakistan, Laos, Peru, Nepal, Uganda, Thailand, and the Philippines are included, along with many more examples. Many girls are inspired by the example of Malala Yousafzai, who said, in reference to working for change and educating girls and children, " (it all starts with) one child, one teacher, one pen, and one book." "Because I Am a Girl" allows middle grade students to meet many other girls who have faced incredible obstacles to work for change and education and a promising future.

The Compendium of Raath: The Long Road
Michael Mood
Privately Published
B00NB85BYS, $2.99 Kindle


"The Long Road," the second volume of "The Compendium of Raath," by e-author Michael Mood is a fast-moving sequel to Book 1: "The Chosen." It begins with a dramatic battle/escape scene where the healing skills of the pregnant animal speaker, Wren, under the guidance of Heather, are focused upon healing Otom, who continues to carry the branch of the Dryad Tree for Wren to draw upon later.

At the end of Book 1: "The Chosen," the five arm-marked chosen had heard the reading of the Tome found by Raven in the battle with the Foglins. Listening to readings by Allura (Domma) from the Book found by Raven, the five Chosen were given their marching orders. Wren, the Chosen Protector, must travel far to Benshar to grow in knowledge and power, posing as something she is not to do what is right in nature's work. Halimaldie, the Chosen Benefactor, must find worthy causes and donate everything he owns, an order which he rejects. Otom, the Chosen Monk, must sacrifice his love (Allura), and go with Wren the Protector to aid her quest. Allura, the Chosen Devotee, must travel to the island of Trirene to persuade the residents of the strength and goodness of the Sunburst Clerics (do missionary work). Krothair, the Chosen Servitor, is to train in the ways of the Servitor but not with the Kingsguardians in Haroma. Instead he will go to the Royal force of Marshanti, in a city he has never seen. "The Long Road" picks up on all five threads for the Chosen with sometimes dizzying turn(s).

All five Chosen face unfathomable challenges in their paths, with stunning plot twists. Wren faces a corrupt organization that thrives upon the destruction of precious animals. She must pose as an initiate to gain access and foment rebellion from within by inspiring the captive animals she Protects. Her path is hard, her loss is heart stabbing, and her surprise meeting with her father (also her impregnator) is terribly confusing. Halimaldie faces a different task, as he reluctantly begins the process of discovering worthy causes and giving away his wealth to support them, dealing with a world of intrigue and power as he does so. Otom follows Raven and uncovers a drug-laced theocracy that deadens the hearts and minds of its people. His task and challenge is to pierce the fog of despair, which is great. Allura does her mystic missionary work on Trirene, and Krothair completes his Servitor training in the Royal Guard, supporting another female champion warrior who continually bests him in combat and wins his loyalty and his heart. All the Chosen face daunting, impossible tasks and obstacles, some within the mind, and some outside the body.

Like many second books of powerful fantasy series, "The Long Road" is an almost hypnotic course through dangerous and stormy waves to an unknown destination. The reader is left thrilled, stirred, horrified, gratified, and hungry for the resolution that is building.

Michael Mood is a masterful storyteller. His use of unpredictable plot twists, unmasking techniques, interlacing, and weaving of subplot narrative lines is amazing, as is his character building for both male and female protagonists. Everyone should read this riveting fantasy series.

A Mighty Tree: An Illustrated Epic (book and CD)
Chris Vandeleur, author/illustrator
Rick Lott, Mike Humiston, Dennin Vandeleur, Chris Vandeleur, The Reformers
CD recorded by Doug Eagle, Eagle Sound, Durango, CO
Shelving Concepts
Vandeleur Art
P.O. Box 774, Bayfield, CO 81122
(No ISBN), $TBA,

"A Mighty Tree" is an amazing color illustrated epic song in verse, in book form accompanied by a CD of full performance. The message of "A Mighty Tree" is folksy and revolutionary. A mighty tree grows and is sadly cut down and reduced to amazing lumber that is used to create many different things, some valued and some not. The fate of a guitar made from this mighty tree is traced through triumph and tragedy, until in the guitar finally returns via a long trail to its original site of growth. The mediums of verse, art, and song are presented and combined by this incredible author and member of The Reformers, a performing group. "A Mighty Tree" may be sad and convoluted as a tale, but it has a core that shines through, a belief in a better way. "A Mighty Tree" opens doors and windows in the mind, for adults and younger appreciators.

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Micah's Bookshelf

Without Frontiers
Daryl Easlea
The Overlook Press
141 Wooster Street, New York, NY 10012
9781468309645, $28.95, 416pp,

Synopsis: Peter Brian Gabriel may have started out as a high profile rock performer with a penchant for theatrical costumes, but he was never going to age in the traditional rock manner. Neither becoming a parody of his past self nor endlessly seeking self-consciously new images, instead he took his creativeness and perfectionism into fresh fields. Throughout his career, Gabriel has been a pioneer in the music industry, pushing pop music to new heights while having the foresight to support emerging genres and technologies. From his work as a member of Genesis, to his hugely successful solo career (including the groundbreaking music video for Sledgehammer), to his ambitious collaboration with international musicians and artists, Peter Gabriel has been one of the most innovative and versatile artists of the past thirty years.

Critique: An extraordinary biography of an extraordinary musician, "Without Frontiers: The Life and Music of Peter Gabriel" by Daryl Easlea is the fascinating story of a unique and successful 'rock era' musician who, unlike so many of his contemporaries, was able to live a balanced life and avoid the corrosive (and even fatal) excesses of the times. Informed, informative, and exceptionally well written, "Without Frontiers: The Life and Music of Peter Gabriel" is very highly recommended reading and will prove to be a welcome addition to academic and community library 20th Century American Popular Music and Biography collections. It should be noted that "Without Frontiers: The Life and Music of Peter Gabriel" is also available in a Kindle edition ($17.27).

The Roman Guide to Slave Management
Jerry Toner
The Overlook Press
141 Wooster Street, New York, NY 10012
9781468309379, $24.95, 192pp,

Synopsis: Marcus Sidonius Falx is an average Roman citizen. Born of a relatively well-off noble family, he lives on a palatial estate in Campania, dines with senators and generals, and, like all of his ancestors before him, owns countless slaves. Having spent most of his life managing his servants - many of them prisoners from Rome's military conquests - he decided to write a kind of owner's manual for his friends and countrymen. The result, "The Roman Guide to Slave Management", is a sly, subversive guide to the realities of servitude in ancient Rome. Cambridge scholar Jerry Toner uses Falx, his fictional but true-to-life creation, to describe where and how to Romans bought slaves, how they could tell an obedient worker from a troublemaker, and even how the ruling class reacted to the inevitable slave revolts. Toner also adds commentary throughout, analyzing the callous words and casual brutality of Falx and his compatriots and putting it all in context for the modern reader. Written with a deep knowledge of ancient culture - and the depths of its cruelty - this is the Roman Empire as you've never seen it before.

Critique: "The Roman Guide to Slave Management: A Treatise by Nobleman Marcus Sidonius Falx" is a unique and unusual work that documents author Jerry Toner as an outstanding literary talent combined with a detailed knowledge and understanding of antiquarian Roman culture. Entertaining and occasionally quite thought-provoking, "The Roman Guide to Slave Management: A Treatise by Nobleman Marcus Sidonius Falx" is a very highly recommended read and will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community library collections. It should be noted that "The Roman Guide to Slave Management: A Treatise by Nobleman Marcus Sidonius Falx" is also available in a Kindle edition ($10.99).

Worlding America
Oliver Scheiding & Martin Seidl
Stanford University Press
425 Broadway Street, Redwood City, CA 94063-3126
9780804790802, $45.00, 264pp,

Synopsis: "Worlding America: A Transnational Anthology of Short Narratives before 1800" explores the circulation of short narratives in the early Americas through a combination of neglected primary materials and scholarly commentary. Building on recent reconsiderations of American literature in light of transnational and hemispheric approaches, it follows the migration of stories from various backgrounds and demonstrates how forms and themes developed in a new literary market that spanned the Atlantic world. While short narratives prior to 1800 have been largely excluded from critical discussions as well as anthologies, they give insight into the conditions of publishing and writing as well as the demand for brief, entertaining pieces that was met by a wide variety of sources, including sermons, letters, diaries, travelogues, and, eventually, magazines and newspapers. Breaking with traditional concepts of period, authorship, and genre, Worlding America groups the different types of narratives it anthologizes according to key subject areas such as "Life Writing," "Female Agency," or the "Cultures of Print." Each section is introduced by a headnote that explains relevant historical and literary developments, situating each narrative in its cultural context and providing its publication history. Suggestions for further reading will also be appreciated by scholars and students wishing to pursue research in these under represented forms.

Critique: A collaboration by academicians Oliver Scheiding (Professor of Early American Literature, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany) and Martin Seidl (Research Assistant, Obama Institute for American Studies, Johannes Gutenbrg University, Mainz, Germany), "Worlding America: A Transnational Anthology of Short Narratives before 1800" is an impressive compendium of meticulous scholarship that makes a seminal and important contribution to the diverse nature of early American literature that is truly extraordinary and highly recommended for academic library American Literature reference collections and American Literary Studies supplemental reading lists.

Sleep in Peace Tonight
James MacManus
Thomas Dunne Books
c/o St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
Meryl L. Moss Media Relations
9781250051974, $26.99, 368pp,

Synopsis: It's January 1941, and the Blitz is devastating England. Food supplies are low, Tube stations in London have become bomb shelters, and U-boats have hampered any hope of easy victory. Though the United States maintains its isolationist position, Churchill knows that England is finished without the aid of its powerful ally. Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt's most trusted adviser, is sent to London as his emissary, and there he falls under the spell of Churchill's commanding rhetoric---and legendary drinking habits. As he experiences life in a country under attack, Hopkins questions the United States' silence in the war. But back home FDR is paranoid about the isolationist lobby, and even Hopkins is having trouble convincing him to support the war. As Hopkins grapples with his mission and personal loyalties, he also revels in secret clubs with newsman Edward R. Murrow and has an affair with his younger driver. Except Hopkins doesn't know that his driver is a British intelligence agent. She craves wartime action and will go to any lengths to prove she should be on the front line. This is London under fire, and it's only when the night descends and the bombs fall that people's inner darkness comes to light.

Critique: Although a work of fiction, with "Sleep in Peace Tonight", author James MacManus has managed to vividly recreate Blitz-era London and White House politics as a framework for a genuine thriller that will hold the reader's total attention from beginning to end. This impressive and deftly novel is very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library collections. It should also be noted that "Sleep in Peace Tonight" is also available in a Kindle edition ($11.04).

Micah Andrew

Richard's Bookshelf

I Have Seen God: The Miraculous Story of the Diospi Suyana Hospital in Peru
Klaus-Dieter John
Monarch Books - Lion Hudson
Wilkinson House, Jordon Hill Road
Oxford OX2 8DR, England
9780857215741, $16.99, 286 Pages

Compassion, Vision, and Providence

Klaus-Dieter John relates the story of God's call on his life as a teenager. He goes on to tell of his amazing journey in answering that call: which includes medical school in Germany, meeting his future wife, Martina, and of their shared vision of becoming missionary doctors. Step by step John describes God at work in his life through answered prayers, intervention in crisis, and what he chooses to call "miracles," from minute to gigantic.

John and Martina traveled the world during their medical training and career as surgeon and in medical work; ultimately settling in the Peruvian Andes to work among the Quechua Indians where they founded the Diospi Suyana Hospital. Exciting color photos reveal the magnitude of the undertaking in an area of extreme poverty.

Klaus-Dieter John's writing is moving, with an action story line. He draws the reader in through compelling real life stories that result in a sense personal involvement evoking compassion and inspiration. I found myself deeply touched and highly motivated to step up to the plate, take action steps to recognize God at work around me and pursue his purpose and plan for me with vision and compassion.

"I Have Seen God" is must reading for anyone with a desire to know more of the reality and power of a Living God. I can highly recommend this book to family and friends knowing that it holds the power to change lives.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

The Quincy Solution
Barry Goldstein
Robert D. Reed Publishers
P. O. Box 1392, Bandon, Oregon 97411
978134759868, $19.95, 296 pages,

A Shocking Expose of Domestic Violence in America

In "The Quincy Solution" Barry Goldstein alerts the reader with a new awareness of the extent of the problems created as a result of the attention given on sexual violence wife and child abuse in the home and of the need for reformation our legal systems, investigative practices, and in prejudices in courts custody decisions.

Goldstein provides a brief background and history of domestic violence, inequalities between the sexes, and the lack of calling on expert testimony by the courts and the prevailing sense of "it can't be changed" revealing how we live in a society that ignores or tolerates rather than protects the victims of domestic violence. He goes on to introduces the Quincy Model which focuses on risk assessment and victim safety in cooperation with law enforcement personnel, the courts, and experts in the field of Domestic Violence.

Quincy, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb, in Norfolk County became alarmed by the rate of homicides directly related to domestic violence cases. This led to the development and implementation of a model of best practices which dramatically reduced these homicides annually.

Goldstein writes with clarity is fervent, articulate and comprehensive. He presents compelling case studies with analysis leading to conclusions worthy of consideration and putting into practice.

"The Quincy Solution" is timely, relevant, must reading for judges, lawyers, and Domestic Violence evaluators.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purpose. Opinions expressed are my own.

The Face of Mount Rushmore: National Park Mystery Series
Mary Morgan
Illustrated by Dawn McVay Baumer
Buttonwood Press LLC
P. O. Box 716, Haslett, Michigan 48840
9780982335178, $7.95,

The Cooper Twins Uncover Clues to a Cryptic Plot by Some Shady Characters

"The Face of Mount Rushmore" is the second book in Mary Morgan's "National Park Mystery Series." The Cooper twins, Ben and Bekka, are excited about an uncharacteristic request from Uncle Paul to join him for a 4th of July fireworks celebration at the Rushmore National Monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Excitement is in the air as preparations are made for a family vacation of camping along their way to meet Uncle Paul. Bekka keeps the family up-to-date on what to expect as she quizzes them with important "For Your Information" (FYI) quizzes, using her tour book as a source of reference. As they near their destination plans are made plans to pan for gold at the Thunder Mountain Gold Mine; dig for dinosaurs, follow the 1874 expeditions of Colonel George Custer, to hike along the Presidential Trial, and to check out the Junior Ranger experience offered at the Rushmore National Monument.

Ben was stunned when he overheard two suspicious looking men alluding to a cryptic plot to detonate dynamite at a time when the fireworks would muffle the sound of an explosion. Tension continued to heighten as the mystery unraveled and the intrigue continued to build to a "dynamite" conclusion.

Morgan's unique writing style, genuine characters, and love for story provide the preteen reader with elements of adventure, history, and family values, using a balance of humor, entertainment, inspiration, and informative data.

"The Face of Mount Rushmore - National Park Mystery Series" should be on the reading lists of elementary school, church, and home school family libraries. Preteen readers will enjoy each mysterious adventure in the series. Highly recommended.

Richard R. Blake, Senior Reviewer

Shirley's Bookshelf

A Dark Mind
T.R. Ragan
Thomas & Mercer
c/o Amazon Digital Publishing
PO Box 400818 Las Vegas, NV 89140
9781611099850, $11.99, 380 pgs,

I like a good mystery, although I usually don't like them to be too gory, but this one caught my attention. The story is mainly wrapped around a lady named Lizzy, who is a private investigator and also lives with a man friend who works with the FBI. Lizzy is pulled into a hideous case of a serial killer when the wife of one of her clients is killed and her husband is the prime suspect, she knew it was not true. Don't get me wrong, this is not the only killing that is included, you are taken from one horrible murder to another, mainly couples abducted and killed, done by a very sick killer who seeks out couples to destroy their lives. It is quite a ride.

The author did an excellent job with character development, bringing each one to life, and that is important in a read like this, as the author has to make you care what happens to these characters. Giving some of their life events and happenings they were going through definitely helped to bring the story alive in real time. The clues were not as easy to pick up, at least for me, oh they were there, but where is the question? Who was doing this and why? I stayed up several nights to finish this read as it is not a short one, but you will definitely get to the point where you have to know how it ends, and that is always the mark of a great mystery. Well done.

Acid Asset
M.H. Vesseur
Vibes Amsterdam
9789491908019, $14.95, 140pgs,

This is definitely a different read, but one I feel will capture your attention. We meet Carl Pappas, who is The Radio Detective. He becomes involved in yet another adventure as he battles to find the truth against those who only want something very shady covered up. Doing a Radio Show and speaking things that others don't like is bad enough, but you don't want to get in the face of those who are playing for keeps, there the adventure begins and will take you on a roller coaster ride. A read that combines good characters and bad pulling you into the mystery. I believe you will enjoy this read.

Lexus Sam
BP Gallucci
Iguana Books
CSI Annex
720 Bathurst Street, 3rd floor
Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2R4, Canada
9781771800440, $14.95, 270pgs,

In this read we meet a man who is definitely suffering from amnesia. You travel with him as he tries each day to remember who he is and how he got to where he is. On his journey to find his true self, he comes upon different leads, different people, different events, but still the memories are gone, locked away in a secret place, but where and why?

I have to say this was an interesting read, although at times left me shaking my head, a little confused . If the author was going for taking the reader inside the head of his character, he really did a great job. I admit I felt a little lost myself as I traveled this road with him. Definitely a different mystery than you would expect, but one that I do not feel will disappoint you.

Evil And The Details
Roy A. Teel, Jr.
Narroway Publishing L.L.C
P.O. Box 1431, Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352
9780988702523, $29.95, 173pages,

In this read we are taken to Los Angeles, where a serial Killer is capturing young teenage boys and doing horrible things to them before he kills them. The entire city of protective agencies is alerted, from Agents from the FBI to Special Agents from the Sheriff's Office and even one called, The Iron Eagle, who battles evil his way and is not appreciated by the conventional law enforcers. Is there one lone killer or is something happening that is more than anyone expected? The plot thickens.

I really lost myself in this story. Yes, it is a bit gruesome but the author does a great job in getting you involved with what is happening and the different characters.I found the different characters to be well defined making them very real to life in the minds eye. It can at times be quite morbid and sobering, sad and upsetting, yet it is that pull on the emotions that keeps you motivated to move on in hopes of an end. Throwing in 'The Iron Eagle,' I feel was a good move on the author's part. I found myself cheering for him, even though he works outside of the law, his vengeance on the evil was appreciated.

I really enjoyed this read and am looking forward to the continued story. Well done, Mr. Teel, keep them coming.

Steve Jackson
WildBlue Press
9780990557302, $12.95, 248pgs,

This is one of those books that draws you to it, but brakes your heart at the same time. This is more than a story, it is the telling the truth of a monster who devoured children for his un-Godly pleasures. It is the story of Detectives who dedicate their lives to finding this monster and making our world a little safer, and doing changing their own lives forever.

And more than that, it is the story of broken hearted Mom's and Dad's who will never see their beloved child again in this world. Yet, it is a story of courage, the Human Spirit never giving up determined to see justice done despite the pain and suffering and the impact it has on their lives as well.

To me, this was not an easy book to read. I think because we want our world to be one of safety. This book reminds us that there is evil lurking, waiting to devour the unsuspecting. We all want to believe for the best in others, but this story is a true reminder that darkness can be released at anytime from those we may never suspect. It is well written, factual, and eye opening. You end the read thanking God for the protection of those you love and silently praying for those who will never recover from the hurt that this evil darkness has put upon them. Sad but true.

They Dying Dance
Ricardo M Fleshman
9781497463417, $14.95, 134pgs,

This book story is hedged deep in New Orleans. It takes you into the very core of this city. Laced with voodoo, the dark arts, and down right scary and mysterious people you are drawn into a story of murder, love and mystery. The characters are brought alive, some good, some evil, intertwined in a battle so intense that you wonder who will win as the evil becomes thicker and stronger.

Our Detective, Private Investigator, Moses Andre Byone, is hired to find the killer of an important Lawyer. In doing so he uncovers a silver box, which holds more secrets and is wanted by all, who will pay any price, even murder to have it. What a ride.

This is a well written mystery that will definitely keep your attention. I love how the author mixed the mystery with the dark hidden ways of New Orleans and the people there. Well worth your consideration.

Come Back Dear Sun
Geena Bean
Illustrated by Cheri Webber
9781479393114, $9.95, 20pgs,

Anyone who has children in this day and age definitely have a battle balancing their time and activities. Living in the Computer Age that we do now, children are caught up with Gaming, and also doing much of their school work using the computer. As we all know, it can consume our time.

This delightful read takes you into the world where the Sun does not feel needed or wanted, and has decided to pack up and leave. Why? Because no one is enjoying it, nor realizing its importance. However, when the darkness does not go away there is an awakening.

This is a wonderful book that definitely addresses a problem that is world spread. Children need sunshine, outside activities, but are basically tied to their computers. This book brings front and forward the importance of the sun, being outside and enjoying the world we live in. It is an eye opener, one that will make adults and children stop and think what they are missing and how terrible it would be without the sun.

I highly recommend this book. I believe it should be in every school Library and every house with children. It is an encouraging read that parents can share with their children, and may just make a few adults realize what they are missing as well.

Aletheia The Magic Butterfly
A M Curiel
APFEL Incorporated
9780615236414, $14.98, 54 pages,

Before I write anything else, I want to say that the illustrations in this book are breathtaking. Not only the mixture of colors, but as I looked at them I actually felt in a way that I could hop right into the scene. That is quite amazing.

The story its self is quite amazing as well. It is one that takes you into a very colorful world, one of negative and positive energy. I liked that lesson very much. The importance of releasing positive energy, and the benefits of it, is not as well known, or taught, as it should be. This is a story that shows how terrible things that are trying to come our way can be stopped if we learn the positive, and release it against the negative.

This is definitely a one of a kind book that I feel would be exciting for your child and is full of hidden wisdom that will nudge them in the right direction. I recommend it.

The Planets The Definitive Visual Guide To Our Solar System
DK Publishing, Inc.
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9781465424648, $30.00, 256 pages,

I can remember as a child hearing my father talk about the different Planets and his voice was always one of amazement and respect. Having that as a background in my life, I myself loved learning about them, but during my time of schooling we did not have the great information that is available today. I was excited to see what this book had to offer.

This outstanding book will totally amaze you. It is a very large book, because it is packed with a very large source of information. It starts out with a clear Contents List, giving you the choice to start from the beginning or pick and choose what you would like to learn about first. I started from the beginning myself. You are awakened to full sized images of the planet on that page. I was speech less and amazed at each one, spending a lot of time just looking at this wonderful piece of creation that was before my eyes. Once you are over the awe, you can read tons of information about the planet, even things that make it special or different from other planets. Wow! This book does not lack information, and it is written in a clear concise way. I was glad of that.

I could go on and on giving you the information that is inside these pages, but what I would like for you to understand is that this truly is one of the best books I have ever seen in displaying and giving information about the planets, in my entire life. As different ones in my family looked through it, I could hear them say, "Wow! I never knew that!" "That's amazing!" "I never knew this planet looked like that.", and the list goes on, as we all learned amazing facts and gazed upon breathtaking pictures.

This is truly a masterpiece book. One that is a must for study reasons and one that is a must have for all of us who live on Planet Earth and share the great Universe with these, our neighbors. I am very thankful I was given the opportunity to review this book so I may tell others of its great value. Highly Recommended

Never Give Up
Jerry Gill
Ann Darrow Publishing Company
9781889823614, $7.99, 180 pgs,

The stars of our story, Vic and Lin Li are going on a trip to England, but first they want to do some camping at the Grand Canyon. That should be relaxing, but not this time. They are taken prisoner because they are mistaken for some people and accused of doing something they did not. After all, surely everyone should know they would never harm children. Finally they are cleared of these charges, but now they are thrown into a much more dangerous situation as they become prisoner to slavers. What a ride.

This is an adventurist read taking you from one adventure to another as the two friends battle for their lives and innocent people as well. Will they make the ship that is to take them to their destination? And what adventure waits there? An interesting read, one you will enjoy, and one that will keep your attention from adventure to adventure.

The Devil's Violin
Art Johnson
Story Merchant Books
9601 Whilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California 90210
9780989715461, $19.95, 161pgs,

In this tale we go to different parts of the world in search of a Violin. Sound strange, well this Violin was different than most. It is said it was played by the Devil, and had a sound that was unlike any other. Mysterious, Unearthly! Now the race was on as even the FBI is involved, but why? What is truly behind this instrument that would involve so many?

This was quite a read, deep and intense from beginning to end. It was wrapped in so much mystery that it will set your had spinning. Not at all slow pace, but will have you racing from 0ne incredible local to another, and have you wonder, just who are the good guys and who are not? Why is this Violin so important, I'll never tell. A good read.

Wages Creek
Jeffrey Hickey
9780991257508, $10.00, 40pgs,

In this light enjoyable read we go on vacation with the Hickey family to Wages Creek where they will camp out. Unfortunately Dad doesn't feel well, so Mom and the children leave him alone to rest, but does he? I don't think so. Dad encounters three talking ducks who seem to have a problem while Mom and the children are away. Dad isn't sure if he is dreaming, after all Ducks don't talk, or do they? Can Dad help them with this very serious problem?

This is a very entertaining book with a very good story line. the interaction between Dad and the Ducks is humorous, and frustrating for Dad, which makes it funnier for the reader. The illustrations were good in helping to bring the story to life, and the ending was very good. A CD with the story read by our author, with music is also available. I believe this is a very enjoyable read that both young and old will enjoy.

Shirley Priscilla Johnson
Senior Reviewer

Taylor's Bookshelf

Badass Civil War Beards
Anna Marie Hider & Julia Ann Hide
John F. Blair, Publisher
1406 Plaza Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27103
9780895876379, $12.95, 96pp,

Synopsis: From the cavemen to the hipsters of today, beards have been the hallmark of brave and manly men. For some reason, the popularity of beards skyrocketed during the late 19th century, when men became more willing to experiment with never-before-seen facial hair styles. Abraham Lincoln even grew his beard because a little girl wrote him and said he'd look more presidential with one. A little over two years ago, sisters Anna and Julia Hider were discussing why all Civil War soldiers seemed to sport crazy beards. Their conversation quickly became the Tumblr blog "Badass Civil War Beards" which they co-wrote between classes at two separate universities. The concept touched a funny bone, and "Badass Civil War Beards", the book, was born. It features over 100 of the Civil War's most stupidly awesome (and awesomely stupid) examples of facial hair, accompanied by short analyses, historical tidbits, poems, and puns about each person and his beardly glory. Who knew history could be so much fun?

Critique: Just when you thought every possible aspect of the American Civil War had been written about, here comes a quirky but absolutely fascinating aspect -- the remarkable facial hair of the men who fought in the bloodiest conflict in American history. A thoroughly entertaining read from beginning to end, this is a book made for browsing and a "must" for personal, community, and academic library Civil War Studies collections and supplemental reading lists.

Pepper, Silk & Ivory
Rabbi Marvin Tokayer & Ellen Rodman
Gefen Publishing House
c/o Storch
255 Central Ave #B-206 Lawrence, NY 11559 USA
Meryl L. Moss Media Relations
9789652296474, $24.95, 300pp,

Synopsis: "Pepper, Silk & Ivory: Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East" tells the amazing stories of Jews who both benefited from and contributed to the Far East, now such an important part of the world politically and economically. Here is the amazing story of the Jewish juvenile delinquent who went on to become a general in the Chinese Army and was frequently referred to as the uncrowned Jewish king of China. The true account of a youngster who decorated bric-a-brac with shells he obtained from sailors returning to the docks on the East End in London from the Far East would go on to found Shell Oil, create the vessel called a tanker to transport oil safely and efficiently and beat John D. Rockefeller in the oil business. The factual account of a Jewish man educated at Princeton and fluent in many languages would go on to be a well-known baseball player and also an amazing spy for the United States during a trip to Japan. These and so many other remarkable people and events, both documented and anecdotal, from antiquity to the modern day, make for a fascinating and compelling read from beginning to end.

Critique: Informed, informative, unique, and thoroughly 'reader friendly', "Pepper, Silk & Ivory: Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East" is an uncommon and treasured volume of memorable and surprising accomplishments by memorable people. Very highly recommended for community and academic library Judaic Studies collections, "Pepper, Silk & Ivory: Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East" is especially appropriate for non-specialist general readers with an interest in Jewish History. It should be noted that "Pepper, Silk & Ivory: Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East" is also available in a Kindle edition ($8.49).

More Awesome Than Money
Jim Dwyer
Viking Books
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780670025602, $27.95, 384pp,

Synopsis: "More Awesome Than Money: Four Boys and Their Heroic Quest to Save Your Privacy from Facebook" is the story of four NYU undergrads who wanted to build a social network that would allow users to control their personal data, instead of surrendering it to big businesses like Facebook. They called it Diaspora. In days, they raised $200,000, and reporters, venture capitalists, and the digital community's most legendary figures were soon monitoring their progress. Max dreamed of being a CEO. Ilya was the idealist. Dan coded like a pro, and Rafi tried to keep them all on track. But as the months passed and the money ran out, the Diaspora Four fell victim to errors, bad decisions, and their own hubris. In November 2011, Ilya committed suicide. Diaspora has been tech news since day one, but the story reaches far beyond Silicon Valley to the now urgent issues about the future of the Internet. With the cooperation of the surviving partners, New York Times bestselling author Jim Dwyer tells a riveting story of four ambitious and talented young men who tried to rebottle the genie of personal privacy - and paid the price.

Critique: Author Jim Dwyer writes non-fiction with all the literary flair and engagement of a block-buster novel. "More Awesome Than Money: Four Boys and Their Heroic Quest to Save Your Privacy from Facebook" is his newest body of work and continues to document his extraordinary story telling abilities which he deftly combines with painstakingly detailed research. The result is "More Awesome Than Money: Four Boys and Their Heroic Quest to Save Your Privacy from Facebook" which is very highly recommended for community and academic library collections, as well as to the attention of the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the social and cultural ramifications of the technology revolution that is shaping our world of today -- and tomorrow. It should also be noted that "More Awesome Than Money: Four Boys and Their Heroic Quest to Save Your Privacy from Facebook" is also available in a Kindle edition ($14.99).

Small Change, Big Gains: Reflections of an Energy Entrepreneur
Thomas Stoner
Greenleaf Book Group Press
PO Box 91869, Austin, TX 78709
Project Butterfly
9781626340022, $24.95, 556pp,

Synopsis: "Small Change, Big Gains: Reflections of an Energy Entrepreneur" introduces climate change economics and provides recommendations on how to develop feasible pathways to a sustainable energy future. Global energy supplies are considered as if they were a single portfolio of assets, and shows it is possible to align the interests of energy investors, suppliers, users, and environmental stewards. "Small Change, Big Gains: Reflections of an Energy Entrepreneur" introduces climate change economics and provides recommendations on how to develop feasible pathways to a sustainable energy future. Author Thomas Stoner illustrates clearly how climate change and resource use are not just economic and environmental issues, but also existential ones. He likens humanity's relative inaction to the climate crisis--a situation he terms 'environmental suicide'--to his own experience as a survivor of suicide. In a deeply personal account, Mr. Stoner shares his feelings of responsibility for another's self-destructive choice, asking, "What could I have done differently. " Today, he asserts that we must all seek to answer a different question to help humanity avoid environmental suicide: "What can we do differently?"

Critique: Extraordinarily well written, "Small Change, Big Gains: Reflections of an Energy Entrepreneur" is as informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking. A highly recommended addition to community and academic library Environmental Studies collections, "Small Change, Big Gains: Reflections of an Energy Entrepreneur" is an ideal for the non-specialist general reader with an interest on the economic impact of climate change, global energy issues, and what is still possible and must be accomplished to head off catastrophic disaster within the life span of our grandchildren. It should be noted that "Small Change, Big Gains: Reflections of an Energy Entrepreneur" is also available in a Kindle edition ($7.69).

Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Greenland
Patti Wheeler & Keith Hemstreet
Greenleaf Book Group Press
PO Box 91869, Austin, TX 78709
c/o Smith Publicity
9781626341203, $12.95, 176pp,

Synopsis: Upon arriving in Ilulissat, Greenland, Gannon and Wyatt prepare for the adventure of a lifetime--a dogsled expedition in the Arctic! But before the explorers even crack a whip, they receive a desperate mayday call from an Inuit family that is stranded in the far north. Suddenly, Gannon and Wyatt's expedition to study climate change and Greenlandic culture turns into something far more dangerous--a mission to save lives. As they rush north to rescue the family, led by Inuit guides, the brothers must steer clear of deadly hidden crevasses, hungry polar bears, and bitter cold as they race into an Arctic super-storm, putting even more lives in jeopardy--their own.

Critique: "Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Greenland" is the latest addition to Patti Wheeler and Keith Hemstreet's outstanding series of Gannon and Wyatt adventures laid out in the style of exploration journals. Exceptionally well written and original, "Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Greenland" is very highly recommended for both school and community library collections. Other titles in this extraordinary series include: "Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Botswana" (9781608325856, $12.95 HC, $3.82 Kindle); "Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Great Bear Rainforest" (9781608325887, $12.95 HC, $4.99 Kindle); and "Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Egypt" (9781608325610, $12.95 HC, $4.99 Kindle). Note: Young readers can find Gannon and Wyatt's blog, photographs, and video footage from their real-life expeditions at

John Taylor

Vogel's Bookshelf

The Phantom Rider
Walt Keene
Linford Western Library
c/o Ulverscroft Large Print (USA), Inc.
PO Box 1230, West Seneca, NY 14224-1230
9781444819960, $20.99, 224pp,

Synopsis: A mysterious albino killer is riding into each town on the plains, hell-bent on dispatching as many men, women and children as he can. In the blood of his victims is scrawled the same message: 'The Phantom'. As the ruthless horseman travels further south, he is unaware that he is soon to face three men who could be the ones to stop his unholy carnage. For Tom Dix, Dan Shaw and the legendary Wild Bill Hickok are waiting...

Critique: A terrific no-holds barred story from first page to last, "The Phantom Rider" grips the reader's total attention and just won't let go from beginning to end. A superbly crafted western, "The Phantom Rider" is highly recommended for all western novel enthusiasts and would make a popular addition to any community library collection. It should be noted that this Large Print edition is ideal for older readers.

Libraries and the Affordable Care Act
Francisca Goldsmith
Catherine English
ALA Editions
50 East Huron St., Chicago, IL 60611
9780838912881, $24.95, 112pp,

Synopsis: Ever since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, public library staff throughout the country have been working hard to provide access to information about the law while educating their communities about how implementation affects them. But defining the expectations and limitations of libraries roles regarding support of the new law remains a challenge. "Libraries and the Affordable Care Act: Helping the Community Understand Health-care Options" is an important guide and the first written specifically for library staff, offering best practices, advice, and examples of library responses from the first open enrollment period (October 2013-March 2014). Offering clear and explicit guidance related to the ethical and legal aspects of Affordable Care Act policy support through local library services, "Libraries and the Affordable Care Act: Helping the Community Understand Health-care Options" analyzes the nearly 20 different state-level marketplace regulatory ecosystems to find common ground, then pathfinds the quickest routes to state-level information for each state; addresses the diverse needs of public library communities in both urban and rural settings, while examining staff capacities at various libraries; encourages a pragmatic approach through the inclusion of to do lists at the end of each chapter; and provides strategies and tools for building community healthcare awareness. Published in advance of the second open enrollment period, "Libraries and the Affordable Care Act: Helping the Community Understand Health-care Options" is an invaluable guide will encourage broader and more assured community support during this period of major policy changes to healthcare access and availability.

Critique: Informed, informative, up-to-date, practical, exceptionally well written and organized, "Libraries and the Affordable Care Act: Helping the Community Understand Health-care Options" should be in the reference collection of every community and academic library throughout the country. It should be noted that "Libraries and the Affordable Care Act: Helping the Community Understand Health-care Options" is also available in a Kindle edition ($19.00).

Music Education: Navigating the Future
Clint Randles, editor
711 - 3rd Avenue, Floor 8, New York, NY 10017-9209
9781138022584, $140.00, 368pp,

Synopsis: Education involving music is a multifaceted and ever-altering challenge. As new media, technologies, and pedagogies are developed, academics and practitioners must make sure that they are aware of current trends and where they might lead. Compiled and edited by academician Clint Randles (School of Music, University of South Florida), "Music Education: Navigating the Future" features studies on the future of music education from emerging scholars in the field. These studies are then supplemented by commentaries from established leaders of the music education community. "Music Education: Navigating the Future" covers topics such as music and leisure, new forms of media in music teaching and learning, the role of technology in music learning, popular music tuition in the expansion of curricular offering, and assessment of music education research.

Critique: Comprised of twenty-two outstanding articles deftly organized into five major sections (Working within the Domain; Making Sense of Our Tools; Visualizing Expansion; Guiding Researchers; Plotting a Course of Action), "Music Education: Navigating the Future" will prove ideal for supplemental reading lists in the field of Music Education and a core addition for Music Department and Academic Library reference collections. It should be noted that "Music Education: Navigating the Future" is also available in a Kindle edition ($100.00).

Leonard Cohen and Philosophy: Various Positions
Jason Holt, editor
Open Court Publishing Company
70 East Lake Street, Suite 800, Chicago, IL 60601
9780812698565, $19.95, 281pp,

Synopsis: From the early years, when he morphed from celebrated poet to provocative singer/songwriter, to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Leonard Cohen has endured as one of the most enigmatic and profound figures in all of popular music. With his uniquely compelling voice and unparalleled depth of artistic vision, the aesthetic quality and intellectual merit of Cohen's work are above dispute; here, for the first time, a team of philosophers takes an in-depth look at its real significance. Want to know what Cohen and Kierkegaard have in common? Or whether Cohen rivals the great philosophical pessimist Schopenhauer? Then "Leonard Cohen and Philosophy: Various Positions is an ideal read. It provides the first thorough analysis of Cohen from various (philosophical) positions. It is intended not only for Cohen fans but also undergraduates in philosophy and other areas. It explores important neglected aspects of Cohen's work without attempting to reduce them to academic tropes, yet nonetheless it is also useful to academics - or anyone - beguiled by the enigma that is Leonard Cohen.

Critique: Exceptionally informed and informative, "Leonard Cohen and Philosophy: Various Positions" is especially commended for academic library Philosophy Studies and Contemporary Popular Music Studies reference collections in general, and Leonard Cohen Studies supplemental reading lists in particular. It should be noted that "Leonard Cohen and Philosophy: Various Positions" is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Feng Youlan: Selected Philosophical Writings
Feng Youlan
China Books & Periodicals, Inc.
360 Swift Avenue, Suite 48, South San Francisco, CA 94080
9780835100694, $29.95, 497pp,

Synopsis: Feng Youlan (1895-1990, also rendered Feng Yulan) was one of the leading philosophers and educators in Twentieth Century China and is widely credited with creating the discipline of comparative philosophy in modern China. He is is the author of over 30 books and more than 500 articles on Asian and Western philosophy, among them A New Treatise on Neo-Confucianism, On New Affairs, Explanation of the New World, A New Treatise on the Nature of Man, The Spirit of Chinese Philosophy and On the Methodology of Metaphysics. He also compiled A History of Chinese Philosophy (in two volumes), A Short History of Chinese Philosophy (in English) and A New Edition of A History of Chinese Philosophy (in seven volumes). China Books is pleased to issue this compact volume, which is derived from Feng's own 14-volume compendium: The Complete Works of the Hall of Three Pines. It is hoped that this volume will further broaden Feng's lasting influence on a new generation of students and scholars.

Critique: An important compendium showcasing the thought and contributions of a major contemporary philosophy and scholar, "Feng Youlan: Selected Philosophical Writings" is a seminal work that is especially recommended for academic library Chinese Culture & Philosophy reference collections and supplemental reading lists. It should be noted that "Feng Youlan: Selected Philosophical Writings" is also available in a Kindle edition ($24.95).

Time Will Say Nothing: A Philosopher Survives an Iranian Prison
Ramin Jahanbegloo
University of Regina Press
University of Regina
3737 Wascana Parkway
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, S4S 0A2
9780889773028, $27.95, 255pp,

Synopsis: Sorbonne-educated and the author of almost 30 books, Ramin Jahanbegloo, a philosopher of non-violence in the tradition of Tolstoy and Gandhi, was arrested and detained in Iran's notorious Evin prison in 2006. A petition against his imprisonment was initiated, with Umberto Eco, Jurgen Habermas, and Noam Chomsky among the signatories. International organizations joined in, and media around the world reported his case extensively. Finally, after four months, he was released. In this memoir Jahanbegloo recounts his confinement, his fear for his life, and his concern for the well-being of his family. With cockroaches his only companions, he is sustained by the wisdom of the great philosophers and by his memories of childhood in Tehran and coming-of-age in Paris. Now exiled to Canada, Jahanbegloo wryly observes that he "traded the danger and violence of an Iranian prison for the mediocrity and hypocrisy of a late capitalist society" and finds himself struggling yet again--this time against banality--in his continued quest for freedom.

Critique: An astonishing account, "Time Will Say Nothing: A Philosopher Survives an Iranian Prison" is a valued addition to the national dialogue about human rights violations and conditions in contemporary Iran. Informed and informative, "Time Will Say Nothing: A Philosopher Survives an Iranian Prison" should be included into every academic library Contemporary Iranian Studies collection and supplemental reading lists.

Paul Vogel

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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