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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 6, Number 11 November 2006 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Arlene's Bookshelf Bethany's Bookshelf
Buhle's Bookshelf Burroughs' Bookshelf Carson's Bookshelf
Debra's Bookshelf Gary's Bookshelf Gloria's Bookshelf
Gorden's Bookshelf Harwood's Bookshelf Kaye's Bookshelf
Margaret's Bookshelf Mayra's Bookshelf Paul's Bookshelf
Richard's Bookshelf Slessman's Bookshelf Sullivan's Bookshelf
Theodore's Bookshelf    

Reviewer's Choice

M.E Ellis
Wildchild Publishing
P.O. Box 4897, Culver City, CA, 90231-4897
1934069213 $15.99

Aaron Paul Lazar, Reviewer

Pervalism is a gripping journey into the tortured mind of serial killer John Brookes. Abused by an odious mother and adored by a doting father, Brookes' psyche is scarred from childhood. His sins begin with animal torture, which gives him a weighty sense of power and a bizarre sensual release. Although the torture scenes were tough to read, the story beguiled this reader with ghoulish fascination and it was impossible not to read Pervalism in one sitting.

Pervalism is not for the faint of heart. Brookes' vile behaviors escalate as he reaches his teen years. When his promiscuous mother bears a child, resultant from an affair, his jealousy erupts into obsessive rage. She appears to love the new baby. Yet Brookes is riddled with questions, ripped apart by the disparity. How could she have hated him so much, yet love the squalling baby who now rides in his old pram? His hostility and excessive envy push him to stalk her, and when opportunities ripen, he drives her to a ghastly deed.

Oddly enough, Brookes matures into a seemingly normal man who marries, has a child, and holds down a job as a hospital janitor. Yet, perhaps it isn't really so strange, when one considers the current day killers who are unmasked and found to be living sedately in suburbia, reportedly considered "nice, quiet neighbors." Brookes holds out for several years without giving into his baser needs. The devil quiets when he learns to love his wife and son with ferocity. When Brookes' family is treated poorly, a rumbling sense of outrage collides with old feelings of violence and revenge, and the grisly deeds of his earlier life are perpetuated.

As the body count rises, Ellis exhibits a unique talent in her ability to provoke understanding and empathy for her homicidal protagonist. Brookes' pain is palpable. His fears understandable. His rage predictable. Each time he kills anew, however, the horror escalates to unpredictable levels.
M.E's skill is consummate. Her voice, consistent and eerie, will ensnare the most reticent reader. An English setting, the backdrop for Brookes' heinous acts, provides a rich tapestry of British culture that weaves depth and a strong sense of place into the work. John Brookes becomes eerily lifelike in this potent and unforgettable thriller. Watch the book trailer at and purchase either the ebook or print book at

The Lobotomist
Jack El-Hai
John Wiley & Sons
0471232920 $27.95

Alma Halbert Bond

The Lobotomist: a maverick medical genius and his tragic quest to rid the world of mental illness
Today the word "lobotomy" evokes images of medical savagery: innocent lives wrecked by experimental procedures and misguided psychiatrists using the insane as guinea pigs. The man behind this controversial surgical procedure, whose tireless advocacy led to 50,000 lobotomies performed in the United states, is the subject of a new biography by Jack El-Hai. The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness, from John Wiley & Sons, offers us a picture of the man behind the icepick, Dr. Walter Freeman.

Walter Freeman was the physician who refined and promoted lobotomy, an operation which cut the frontal lobes of the brain in the attempt to relieve psychiatric disorders. In his fifty-year long career, he performed nearly thirty-five hundred lobotomies, including the first of such surgeries in the United States. Walter Freeman is not a particularly appealing character, at least as El-Hai presents him. The only time I really liked him or felt much for him was when he took his sons on camping trips and when his son Keen died.

I don't envy El-Hai his task. He probably presents Freeman in this unempathetic manner because he was a remote, detached person who displayed a minimum of emotion about anything except psychosurgery. Nor is his wife Marjorie fleshed out. El-Hai tells us that the marriage is deteriorating, but does not show what is wrong, besides stating that Freeman carried on extramarital affairs. The author never informs us what was amiss in the union that necessitated the affairs. How did Freeman treat his wife? Was he loving, gentle, generous? Abusive, sadistic, disinterested? Did he love her, or she him? From El-Hai's reports, the marriage, like Freemans' personality, seems estranged and without affect. We are not told what Marjorie was like as a person, what she saw in Freeman, why she married and stayed with him for decades, and what comfort or companionship, if any, he found in her. In fact, we are given little insight into the depths of his nature.

Most important in a book entitled The Lobotomist, as a psychoanalyst I can only speculate as to why he was so besotted with psychosurgery. El- Hai tells a good story and has done excellent research, but his psychological understanding of Freeman would have been deepened by the psychoanalytic approach Freeman hated. Not incidentally, why did he hate psychoanalysis so much? Was he afraid he would discover it was the force of his unconscious sadism that led to his obsession with psychosurgery? One gets a sinking feeling on reading about the operations Freeman conducted utilizing an icepick from the kitchen.

The following report by Freeman after he performed a lobotomy on a huge, aggressive woman suggests that if not sadistic, his behavior was boorish and unprofessional. "He could teasingly grasp her around the throat, twist her arm, tickle her in the ribs and slap her behind without eliciting anything more than a wide grin or a hoarse chuckle (p. 150)." In discussing his lifelong lack of enthusiasm for psychoanalysis, Freeman wrote, "Insight is a terrible weapon, and few know how to use it constructively. When we really get to know what stinkers we are, it takes only a little depression to tip the scales in favor of suicide (pp. 127-128)." Perhaps this statement tells more about Freeman than it does psychoanalysis. Freeman was a solitary, uninteresting child, adolescent, and man, except for his fascination with the brain, which began as early as his first year of medical school. A neighbor called him, "indifferent, aloof, conceited, peculiar and eccentric (p. 152)." "Medicine held my interest to the point where I excluded many other things," he said "In fact I was barely unaware of my family (p. 43)." Even when Freeman's father was dying of cancer, he spent little time with him. Freeman was equally uninvolved with his mother. He admired her energy, but felt little affection for her. "My eyes were moist when I saw her fighting the oxygen tent, but dry when she died," he reported (p. 82).

Surgery in general bored him, and he said he liked the preliminary neurological work-up in the laboratory too much to become a surgeon. Freeman was a prolific writer, leading to the publication of numerous articles and books. His first book, "Psychosurgery," written with his most important collaborator, James Watts, was approved of by the press, which uncritically accepted their theories. Nevertheless, many of his medical colleagues disapproved of Freeman's willingness to promote lobotomy in the popular press, along with his entire career.

Whatever his shortcomings, Freeman was a talented writer. I like his description of why he kept a beard for most of his life, which makes him sound almost human. Both his grandfathers and his father had worn them. "Those who have never grown beards cannot appreciate the delicious feeling of a breeze blowing through it on a warm summer day as the car covers the miles," Freeman wrote in a personal manuscript. "There is the softest titillation, like the caress of a beautiful woman (p. 49)." Too bad he didn't apply this sensitivity to his personal relationships.

As the savant promoting the widespread use of psychosurgery, the solitary Freeman at last had found a role which took him back to people. Mental hospitals around the country invited him to operate on their patients. He enjoyed displaying his skills, passing on his knowledge to others, and salvaging people trapped in the worst and most hopeless medical facilities in the United States. He liked the role so much that once he even refused to let a broken arm keep him from demonstrating transorbital lobotomy. Yet nothing lasts forever. After a half century of fame and fortune, Freeman's raison d'etre came to an end. The introduction of psychotropic drugs, the gradual emptying of psychiatric hospital beds, and the ascent of psychoanalysis heralded the retreat of lobotomy as an important method for "curing" mental illness. Freeman, however, never accepted the possibilities of the new medications, but persisted in believing that psychosurgery would again take its place in the treatment of the mentally ill.

He was proved wrong. Psychosurgery never again returned to center stage in the treatment of psychiatric illness, and Freeman slipped into a new chapter of his life in which everything he believed in was lost to him; his accomplishments, his convictions, and his marriage. He spent the last years of his life traveling alone about the country wracking up research on patients upon whom he had performed lobotomies. He died of colon cancer at the age of 76.

"The Lobotomist" is recommended for people interested in the history of psychiatry, who want to learn about the meticulous research concerning the development and waning of psychosurgery, and to know something about a man famous in his time who otherwise might be lost to history. El-Hai tells a good story, which holds the interest of the reader. For those who seek an in-depth portrait of Dr. Walter Freeman, however, that book has yet to be written.

Ungrateful Daughters: the Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown
Maureen Waller
Hodder & Stoughton
0340826142 $12.56

Brenda Daniels

I selected this book thinking it was a historical novel. I have always enjoyed the medieval era and stories relating to royalty. The mix of fact and fiction enthrals me! Ungrateful Daughters is non-fiction, however. It is a historical account of King James II and his daughters, Anne and Mary, who usurped the English throne. The closest the book comes to fiction is conjecture. Nevertheless, it is an exciting and thoroughly researched account. Although non-fiction, the book is told in story format, making it more interesting. Indeed, the opening lines of the prologue read: "The seamen peered through the gloom at the tall, gaunt figure sitting motionless by the fire. Swathed in a broad-brimmed black hat and long dark cloak, he bore an uncanny resemblance to the late King Charles I…"

Apart from the attached comprehensive bibliography it is apparent from the text that the author has done extensive research and formed her own opinions. For instance, it was widely rumoured that Queen Mary Beatrice's December 1687 pregnancy was a lie. Waller, however, says: "It was ridiculous for the Queen's detractors to infer that she was past childbearing years. She was only twenty-nine years old." Waller includes many quotes from original documents and letters of the time, for example: "'If you are crowned while I and the Prince of Wales are living, the curses of an angry father will fall on you, as well as those of a God who commands obedience to parents'" (James II to Mary of Orange). Illustrations, a genealogical table and a 'cast of characters in the royal family' were helpful references as I found it difficult to keep a track of the numerous Marys, Annes, Charleses, Jameses and Williams!

Although written in plain English, this book is not light reading and will most likely be enjoyed only by devotees of the genre. It is a highly informative and entertaining account of a complex historical period. One in which Catholicism waged war on Protestantism, the Dutch waged war on the English and family members waged war on each other. Other titles by the same author include 1700: Scenes from London Life and London 1945: Life in the debris of war.

Our Misunderstood Bible
George E. Mendenhall
BookSurge, LLC
5341 Dorchester Road, Suite 16, Charleston, SC 29418
1419637223 $10.99

Burton H. Wolfe, Reviewer

Professor George E. Mendenhall and I view the Judaeo-Christian Bible from two different perspectives. Mendenhall, Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan, finds that the narratives, especially those in the Old Testament, "are bound up with the historical experiences of ancient human beings" (quoted from his introduction). I view all of the "books" of both the Old and New Testaments as fiction: the propaganda of ancient Hebrew scribes promoting beliefs in the precepts and customs of their particular sect.

Why, then, have I bothered to read and review Mendenhall's latest book? I have done so because Mendenhall challenges traditional translations and interpretations of the Bible and, in the process, he corrects prevailing ignorance and nonsense generated by theologians and so-called "scholars" who often turn out to be quacks perverting historical facts and even the scriptures upon which they claim those "facts" to be grounded.

Over the years Mendenhall's challenges to traditional renditions and interpretations of the Bible, as well as to standard assumptions in the works of writers dealing with ancient history of the Near East (or Middle East), have led many scholars in the field to call him a "heretic." The standard bearers are not happy about Mendenhall's getting in their way with his findings in such prior works of his as Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition, and Ancient Israel's Faith and History. His critics, however, have enjoyed no success in refuting Mendenhall's facts and interpretations. They are based not only on his vast knowledge of ancient languages and customs, but also on his frequent participation in archaeological expeditions that have resulted in findings not consonant with traditional beliefs.

Revelations in Mendenhall's latest book, Our Misunderstood Bible, may prove to be the toughest yet for traditionalists to deal with; and he thinks that the blunt manner in which he expounds them is the reason why publishers told him the book is "unmarketable" and he had to resort to bringing it out via the BookSurge division of I doubt it. The book is simply too skimpy for marketing to book stores and libraries. When a book is as tiny as this one, it is impossible to print the title and author on the spine, and that becomes a big obstacle to sales and distribution as well as to library shelving and cataloging. It is to be hoped that Mendenhall will expand upon the themes in this little but important book, so that it can become a standard reference work shelved in many libraries.

Here are samples of Mendenhall's challenges to traditionalist views of the Bible:

+ "God" was originally "Yahweh," worshipped by the ancient Hebrews as their creator and protector. Hence, when Christians pray to "God" to "forgive us our trespasses," they confess that they and people of today known as Jews have inherited the same Creator and stand together as "all Hebrews."

+ Christians who promote "creationism" to deny evolution "make the name of God ridiculous."

+ The story of Noah's ark is merely a revision of the "Epic of Gilgamesh" written 4,000 years earlier, rendering the ongoing "search for the ark on Mount Ararat" a farcical pursuit. Nevertheless, Mendenhall maintains as part of the theme of his book, the story indicates the ancients' knowledge of a true historical event: a great flood.

+ The prediction of a son to be conceived by a "virgin" emanates from a mistranslation of the semitic word almah, referring to a member of a royal household and not to a virgin.

+ The term "commandments" in the "Ten Commandments" is a mistranslation of a word that the ancient scribes used to indicate commitment to the precepts for ethical conduct which they set forth, and they had no intention of presenting those precepts as any kind of order from God.
Because of the difficulties entailed in disseminating such a tiny book, I have to doubt that this valuable work of Mendenhall's will get much attention. That is a shame. I can only hope that he will find a way to expand upon his findings and produce a much larger, footnoted book that will be accepted by a publishing house committed to providing the promotion, distribution, and sales which this latest work of Mendenhall's deserves.

The Troublesome Amputee
John Edward Lawson
Raw Dog Screaming Press
5103 72nd Place, Hyattsville, MD 20784
1933293152, $8.95, 108 pages,

Cameron Pierce

Having already established himself as an excellent fiction writer (check out his first novel, Last Burn in Hell) and editor extraordinaire (Raw Dog Screaming Press, The Dream People, numerous anthologies), with The Troublesome Amputee, John Edward Lawson proves he's a poet to reckon with. Now, you may be wondering, "Doesn't he already have a few poetry collections available?" He does, but what primarily sets The Troublesome Amputee apart is the form. Ladies and gentlemen, this is no chapbook. This is a snazzy, jazzy, snuggle a legless woman's stubs, trade paperback collection of some of the most darkly humorous poetry you're likely to encounter. With poems varying from a few lines to a few pages, limericks about werewolves to a Chuck Palahniuk homage, even those who aren't poetry enthusiasts or genre readers will find something to laugh, squirm, and maybe cry about. As with anything of such variety and quantity (over fifty poems!), different pieces will appeal to different readers.

Bledful, one of the more serious poems, didn't do much for me. It seemed to lack the spark of originality that radiates from most of Lawson's work, but I'm sure it'll be a favorite for a whole legion of readers with tastes different than my own. All in all, The Troublesome Amputee not only confirmed John Edward Lawson as a triple threat (editor, poet, writer of fiction), but shows why he's among the leading pioneers of the Bizarro genre. As Jeremy Robert Johnson said, "Lawson has proven himself Bizarro's true bard, its mad laureate." Cover price is only $8.95, so shell out nine bucks and read him now, because you know what will happen when school curriculum boards catch on in fifty years, don't you?

Water for Elephants
Sara Gruen
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
P O Box 2225, Chapel Hill NC 27515-2225
1565124995 $23.95

Coletta Ollerer

This book takes the reader back to the 1930s when people traveled on trains putting on circus pereformances in small town America. We are introduced to the caste system in these enterprises: 1st class is represented by the boss. 2nd class is the populated by the performers. Everyone else comprises the lowest class: those who care for the animals, those who prepare food, those whose job it is to put the big top up and take it down and pack up and unload the cars on the train for the next stop. These last are the roustabouts.

Jacob Jankowski is an energetic, enterprising young man working toward his degree in Veterinary Science at Cornell when he becomes orphaned. He had planned to enter his father's veterinary practice after graduation. He discovers a second great loss when he is told there is no estate. His parents had mortgaged everything to pay for his University education. Despondent at this double whammy he walks out on his final exams amid waves of stress. He needs a change of scene and finds himself hired on as a roustabout with Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. He meets and becomes friends with some of those employed there and makes a few enemies. The ebb and flow of those relationships rock the story. The narrative is further enhanced when we meet Jacob in his 90s as a resident of a nursing home. His reflections on his experiences with the circus consume his thoughts. The author jumps from past to present in her very successful attempt to draw us into the story.

The boss discovers Jacob's 'almost status' of veterinarian and gives him charge of caring for the animals. On one occasion he was feeding an orangutan when the animal signaled to him by shifting her eyes that she wanted an orange in another pan. "'Here,' I say, handing her the orange. 'You can have it.' She takes it . . . and reaches out again . . . . I hold out my hand. She wraps her long fingers around it, then lets go . . . . . She was thanking me." (p118) Rosie is the name of an elephant the circus acquires. It is thought that she is not smart enough to be a performer so they put her on display with the other animals for the people to see when they enter the bigtop. Among the delighted circus-goers she is a big hit. "One man is brave enough to lean forward and dump a box of Cracker Jack into her open mouth. She rewards him by removing his hat, placing it on her head, and then posing with her trunk curled in the air." (p163) Jacob understands that Rosie is not stupid and he is able to unlock the secret of how to use her as a performer.

The conflict between the owner and his performers and others in his employ rages back and forth and finally comes to a head. I enjoyed reading about young Jacob and his adventures and I loved the antics of 90 year old Jacob too. He was a bit cranky but smart and very insightful. Learning about how life was lived in a traveling circus was an eye-opener. With no unions and very few non-circus jobs available and with minimal skills the workers were very much at the mercy of the big boss. This is a very enjoyable and worthwhile read.

Rarity from the Hollow, A Lacy Dawn Adventure
Robert Eggleton
Fatcat Press
PO Box 130281, Ann Arbor, MI 48113
0977644839 $6.95, 411 pages,,

Barry Hunter

Lacy Dawn is the last person you would pick to be the savior of the universe. She's in the fifth grade in the backwoods of West Virginia. Her best friend - Faith, is the ghost of a school mate that was beaten to death and lives in a tree. During recess she gives advice to her schoolmates about their future. Her boyfriend - DotCom, is an android that has lived in a cave for thousands of years keeping watch over her lineage from the first days of humankind. Her dad - Dewayne is a disabled vet and her family is on welfare. Tom, the next door neighbor, grows "buds". Jenny, her mom does the best she can. Lacy and DotCom do some "reprogramming" on the parents to make them smarter and stronger and Lacy is up to college level in her studies with DotCom.

It turns out that in order for Lacy to save the universe; she must raise the prestige of Earth by becoming the greatest shopper of all time and negotiate the best deals for her services and those of her family on the planet Shptiludrp. Eggleton has crafted a novel that deals with social commentary mixed with some eerie science fiction and a strange problem that Lacy has to solve to save the universe with the help of her family and her dog, Brownie. I can almost hear a blue grass version of Metallica while reading this. I expect to see more from Eggleton and Lacy Dawn. Good satire is hard to find and science fiction satire is even harder to find.

Mike Klaassen
Blue Works
Windstorm Creative
7419 Ebbert Drive, SE, Port Orchard, WA 98367
1590921712 $14.99

Judith Nasse, Reviewer

When, while reading Cracks, it gets so intense that one wants to put the book down for a breather. One can't. It is too gripping a read. One natural disaster after another happens to a group of five boys who are deemed potentially rehabitable, but can they be redeemed? Will they survive the disasters as well as the vengeance they reap upon one another?

The boys are taken on a spelunking trip deep into the caves of the remote Arkansas Ozarks. The first earthquake hits while the boys and their leaders are still deep in the caves. They escape only to watch their adult leaders killed in another earthquake causing a landslide to fall on them. The boys are on their own, and the only boy who has some survival skills is Bodie McCann whose foster father had previously taken him camping and fishing. Bodie soon learns that the other four boys savagely sabotage his attempts to help them escape and incessantly fight with one another, though they begrudgingly accept the food he finds and hunts for them.

Matters only get worse as the boys face more earthquakes, forest fires, and then find a cache of marijuana in a hidden mountain cabin. When they ransack another house, Bodie sees his foster parents on the T.V., begging for him to come home. The other boys refuse to let him go, so he has to run for it with them chasing him with guns and knives. Will he escape, get home, and mend his ways? Mike Klaassen has written another adventurous, powerful book. Cracks is a book teen boys will relate to, knowing that there is always hope for their future in spite of the direst circumstances. This book is must read for young people and for counselors leading youth rehabilitation groups.

Nympholeptic in New York
Carol Kellogg
Llumina Press
8055 West McNab Road, Tamarac, FL 33321
1595264256 $12.95

Marian Loreti

"Nympholeptic in New York," a title that sent me rushing for my dictionary, is a delicious tale of love and suspense wrapped in a tantalizing historical mystery. It is also the story of a woman who is forced by circumstances to take uncharacteristically bold actions that, to her utter astonishment, lead to her own self-discovery. Delia, the narrator, is a thirty-something, never-married Manhattanite who spends her days in a dead-end job, building brilliant computer models which her boss passes off as his own, to accolades from company management. At night, before retiring to her lonely apartment, Delia checks up on her father, a charming but penniless painter of abstract oils.

As the novel opens, Delia's sister, Ariel, who is the free-as-the-wind polar opposite of Delia, has gone missing. At first, Delia is more concerned about their father – he is understandably disturbed by his daughter's disappearance, and Delia worries that the stress could push him into one of his chronic depressions. About Ariel, Delia has little concern: Ariel has a history of suddenly picking up and taking off on trips funded on a shoestring; the sisters are not close, and their estrangement undoubtedly contributes to Delia's lack of concern.

Still, Ariel must be located for their father's peace of mind, so Delia visits Ariel's apartment looking for clues to her sister's whereabouts. She finds only one: on Ariel's answering machine is a partially obliterated telephone message, a man's voice that says merely ". . .room where the most important event in the history of Western civilization occurred. Be there - " Assuming that if she can identify the room she can figure out where her sister is, Delia attempts her own intellectual detective work. When that fails, she decides to seek help on an Internet dating site for brainy singles and runs an ad that begins – you guessed it – "Nympholeptic in New York."
Among the studious, silly, and sexy responses she gets to her ad is one from a Londoner who happens to be flying to New York on business the next day; he says he knows the location of the historic room and offers to take her there. You will have to read the novel to see whether he keeps his promise, but it's not giving the plot away to say that Delia and the Englishman fall in love and conduct a love affair by e-mail from a distance of four thousand miles. Enhancing the romance that begins to change Delia's life are the beautiful sonnets the Englishman writes and sprinkles into his epistles.

Delia's attention suddenly shifts back to her sister when she visits the store where Ariel was last employed and learns that she was fired for offending one of the store's clients: unwittingly, her sister managed simultaneously to humiliate, break up the engagement of, and cause financial loss to a member of the mafia. Delia now realizes that her sister may indeed be in big trouble. I will leave it to the reader to discover how the disparate threads of the foremost room of Western civilization, a presumed pursuit by a Mafioso, and a long-distance love affair are all woven together – and I have not even touched upon the subplots.

The first person, day-by-day diary format of the book makes for compelling reading and enables us to experience first-hand the thoughts and feelings, reasoning and rationalization, resolve and vacillation that drive the main character. Secondary characters are also vividly portrayed. I particularly enjoyed Delia's father, who produces a quotation from Shakespeare to fit every occasion, as well as the mysterious woman he meets in Central Park, who joins forces with Delia to help solve the mystery. The scenes with Delia's boss, Larry ("his highly-polished desk, unsullied by any paper, matched his highly-polished mind, unencumbered by any ideas") struck a responsive nerve as I watched him strut in glory or sneer with scorn according to whether the work he had stolen from her was received well or ill by senior management.

At times poignant, at times funny, "Nympholeptic in New York" runs the gamut of many of life's emotions and skewers more than a few of its absurdities. Above all, this is a highly entertaining novel: the suspense kicks in early on, and the surprises never seemed to stop coming. "Nympholeptic in New York" is a wonderful novel in every way, and a delightful read.

My Dysfunctional Family Tree
Ariel Bouvier
John F. Blair Publisher
1406 Plaza Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27103
0895873338 $14.95

Natasha Parker

Ariel Bouvier has created a family that transcends the meaning of the word eccentric. Dancing Aunt Dixie tapped dance so fast she gained the nickname "Machine Gun." Uncle Herbert, an evangelist, was booted from his congregation after insisting that his two dogs, Sampson and Delilah, would be joining him in heaven. Cousin Huey searched the Himalayas year after year for the Abominable Snowman until he disappeared on one of his summit attempts. Aunt Ida Rose lost her pet chickens to foxes and decided to move to England take up fox hunting.

From hippies to inventors to chicken farmers, this is a family that will make you laugh out loud. Ariel Bouvier has a very unique talent for developing some of the most interesting, eccentric characters you would ever want to meet. And the photographs are simply priceless. "My Dysfunctional Family Tree" contains 45 photos and profiles that will keep you entertained page after page.

The Middle East Conspiracy and the Fourth Dimension
George L. Darley
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200, Bloomington, IN 47403
1420831577 $20.00

Rocky Reichman, Reviewer

Having a good plot is essential to the success of any book, and George L. Darley's debut novel has this and much more. I found the story enthralling, exciting and, at many points, captivating. The Middle East Conspiracy is a gripping mystery of complicated twists and turns that in the end all form together to make perfect sense. The book is about American and British Intelligence agencies working together to stop major terrorist attacks in both their countries, and in the end, they are successful. There were a few twists in the story--like a sudden death--that could keep no reader from wanting to turn the page. The book has too much description and history - too much information is thrown out at the reader at one time. Darley needs to tell about his characters bit by bit, so that as the story progresses, we learn more and more about his characters and get to know them better. The book also has too many run-on sentences. My suggestion to the author would be to write sentences that are short and more to the point.

Despite this, Darley has an uncanny ability at describing his characters, and is a master at creating strong characters with interesting backgrounds. The Middle East Conspiracy also touches on something magnificent, something no other book ever has: Darley reveals differing emotions in terrorists' minds as well as in the agents who fight them, giving us an inside look into what he thinks really goes on in the minds of terrorists and the American heroes who battle them. George L. Darley shows a vast knowledge of modern weaponry, apparel and cars. Also, Darley is to be applauded for the lesson he teaches us at the end of his story--about "fighting the good fight," which makes his book important, and therefore a "must-read" for all Americans. Darley looks like he will have a promising career as a writer, and The Middle East Conspiracy certainly proclaims that.

Three Weeks Last Spring
Victoria Howard
Publish America
1424129907 $24.95

Shirley Roe, Reviewer

Skye Dunbar is a lovely, auburn haired young woman with a broken heart. In order to avoid being hurt by another man, she has thrown herself into her career. With partner, John Ridge, the two have perfected computer software that will bring them world- wide recognition and great wealth. After months of hard work, Skye takes a vacation to Seattle, Washington but will it put the ghosts of the past to rest, or cause a new more intense set of problems for our heroine?
Mystery, intrigue, environmental disaster and love, await Skye as she settles in the secluded cabin in the San Juan Islands. Meanwhile, marine biologist, Jedediah Walker has problems of his own. Victoria Howard brings her characters and their emotional baggage to life in Three Weeks Last Spring. Her vivid descriptions of the landscape enable readers to experience the beauty of the north- west United States. Readers are drawn to Skye and Walker as their relationship goes from bad to good and back again. Is it true love or simply sexual attraction?

Author Victoria Howard lives in South Yorkshire, where she enjoys writing, travel and gardening. This is her first novel. An excellent read for a quiet afternoon. Just enough suspense to keep readers interested, as well as a tantalizing romance. Recommended by Shirley Roe, Allbooks Reviews.

The God Delusion
Richard Dawkins
Houghton Mifflin Company
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003
0618680004 $27.00

David Roemer, Reviewer

Like all atheists, Richard Dawkins does not understand the concept of God and why God exists. He has been told this before: This is as good a moment as any to forestall an inevitable retort to the book, one that would otherwise--as sure as night follows day--turn up in a review: 'The God that Dawkins doesn't believe in is a God that I don't believe in either. I don't believe in an old man in the sky with a long white beard.'... I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented. (p. 36)

In this review, I will try to succeed where others have failed so that we can say of Dawkins, "And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith..." Dawkins is an atheist because he places too much confidence in the methods and ideas of science. Working scientists are just people living their lives in a practical and reasonable manner. If something unusual occurs in the lab, scientists assumes there is a reason and try to replicate what happened. This is the same kind of common sense and reason mothers use when they assume there has been no change in the number of children they have when they are out shopping. Since we are human beings, we are capable of more than just making a living and getting through the day. We are capable of asking questions that can't be answered. We are capable of philosophizing, in other words, and are perfectly justified in criticizing people whose philosophizing is irrational. In America, we treat people who believe in ghosts much worse than we treat atheists. An example of an unanswerable philosophical question is the mind-body problem: What is the relationship between myself and my body? Dawkins, ever the scientist, does not agree that the question has no answer. This is what he says:

A dualist acknowledges a fundamental distinction between matter and mind. A monist, by contrast, believes that mind is a manifestation of matter--material in a brain or perhaps a computer--and cannot exist apart from matter. A dualist believes the mind is some kind of disembodied spirit that inhabits the body and therefore conceivably could leave the body and exist somewhere else. (p. 180)

This form of monism is called materialism or physicalism. Another form of monism is idealism, which is the philosophy that the material world doesn't exist. To understand this, imagine that you are sitting on a big rock and feeling gratitude to God for your existence. It occurs to you that God created the rock so you could sit on it and that God could just as easily have created in your mind the illusion of the rock. If you conclude that there is no reason to think the rock really exists, you are an idealist. Bishop George Berkeley was alone when he thought this up and was relating in a very static and passive way to the rock. Our relations with other people, however, are not passive and static but active and dynamic. There is no question that other people exist because they throw rocks at us, one way or another, and the rocks are real.

This refutation of idealism leads to the concept of God and God's existence. While the mind-body problem makes it impossible to define man, the fact that we are different from other people means we can say: Man is a finite being. God is a being which is not like this. God is not finite, but infinite or totally other. We know God exists because a finite being can't be the reason or for its own existence. This is the metaphysical view of man and God that I learned as an undergraduate at a Catholic college from 1960-1964. A reason for the appeal of Dawkins's philosophy of man is in Webster's Third International Dictionary. Definition 4.c of substance is the one used by chemists, a sect in the religion of science. The definition of metaphysics, however, has nothing to do with physics. I suggest that Dawkins is willing to consider dualism and monism because the concept substance is implied, and is not willing to consider metaphysics because the concept of being is not scientific. Strangely, he seems to be aware that his monist/dualist analysis is not based on personal experience. Continuing from the above quote:

F. Amstey's 1882 novel Vice Versa makes sense to a dualist, but strictly should be incomprehensible to a dyed-in-the-wool monist like me...Like most scientists, I am not a dualist, but I am nevertheless easily capable of enjoying Vice Versa and Laughing Gas. Paul Bloom would say this is because, even though I have learned to be an intellectual monist, I am a human animal and therefore evolved as an instinctive dualist. The idea that there is a me perched somewhere behind my eyes and capable, at least in fiction, of migrating into somebody else's head, is deeply ingrained in me and in every other human being, whatever our intellectual pretensions to monism. (p. 180, emphasis added) Why pretend? Why not be honest and accept reality as you find it? Why say that free will is an illusion and the self is an epiphenomena? This is what fellow atheist Lee M. Silver says (See my previous review of Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality). Dawkins's friend Daniel Dennett likewise considers dualism and materialism to be the only philosophical choices (See my previous review of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena). Why believe and say something is true when you can't see the truth of it? Professor Dawkins is willing to discuss the philosophy of being (metaphysics) when he thinks he can refute the proof of God's existence. He restates Aquinas's arguments and says: All involve an infinite regress--the answer to a question raises a prior question, and so on ad infinitum...All three of these arguments rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it. They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress. (p. 77) The last sentence is a reference to David Hume's refutation: Who made God? Hume misconstrued the principle of causality which is that every contingent being needs a cause. Hume thought Aquinas was saying every being needs a cause.

Dawkins continues the previous quote as follows: Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts. (p. 77) The regress Dawkins is referring to is a hypothetical chain of contingent beings in the metaphysical proof of God's existence. In this proof, a contingent being needs a cause and a self-sufficient or necessary being does not. Dawkins is mistakenly assuming that a self-sufficient being must terminate a contingent chain, so he is calling the self-sufficient being a "terminator." It can also exist outside of the chain and give the entire chain existence.

In his list of divine properties, Dawkins leaves out the key property of God which is the infinity of God. This is the basis of the proof of God's existence: a finite being needs a cause, but an infinite being does not. Saying there is no reason to say God is infinite is nonsense. Continuing with this long quote: Incidentally, it has not escaped the notice of logicians that omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible. If God is omniscient, he must already know how he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence. But that means he can't change his mind about his intervention, which means he is not omnipotent. (p. 78) This is a new one on me. The three arguments against God I know about are

Why does God let innocent people suffer? What motivated an infinite being to create finite beings? How can we have free will if God knows what our actions will be?

In the chapters titled 'Arguments for God's Existence' and 'Why There Is Most Certainly No God' there is no reference to finite beings and infinite beings. Dawkins is not the one to go to for an answer to these questions. That he hit upon a good question is no more remarkable than the fact that a stopped clock is right twice a day. In his chapter on morality, following a discussion of the conditions that favor the evolution of altruism and good morals, there is a subsection titled 'If there is no God, why be good?' The beginning of the chapter Dawkins gives examples of how angry people get at the idea of morality without religion. I'm angry too because he doesn't answer the question. The title of the section is a scam. Dawkins answers two similar questions: Does belief in God cause people to be good? Can you decide what is good without God?

He also criticizes people who do good out of fear of God without, however, recommending the virtue of loving God: When a religious person puts it to me in this way [title of the section] (and many of them do), my immediate temptation is to issue the following challenge: 'Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God's approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That's not morality, that's sucking up, apple-polishing, looking over your shoulder at the great surveillance camera in the sky, or the still small wiretap inside your head, monitoring your every move, even your every base thought.'" (p. 226)

If you ask a religious person whey they are kind and honorable, you get an answer. If you ask the likes of Sigmund Freud and Richard Dawkins, there is no answer. To Freud's credit and Dawkins's shame, Freud admits he has no answer. Ernest Jones quotes Freud as follows:

When I ask myself why I have always behaved honorably, ready to spare others and to be kind whenever possible, and when I did not give up being so when I observed that in that way one harms oneself and becomes an anvil because other people are brutal and untrustworthy, then it is true, I have no answer. (Sigmund Freud, 2:465) The God in the title of the book is not the God of metaphysics and reason. It is a personal God, one who satisfies our need to have a meaningful life, that is, the God of revelation. Dawkins says: ...I shall define the God Hypothesis more defensibly: there exists a super human, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it including us...Not surprisingly, since it is founded on local traditions of private revelation rather than evidence, The God Hypothesis comes in many versions." (p. 32) I believe in God and have faith in God because of the "local traditions of private revelations." I don't know if it is right to call it evidence since we are considering beliefs whose truth cannot be seen. Nor do I criticize anyone for not believing in revelation. Saying it is wrong not to believe would be an unfair criticism. But I do criticize Dawkins and say he is wrong because it is apparent from this book that he has simply assumed religion isn't true. There are many who make this assumption, unaware that it is just an assumption, but who keep their lack of faith to themselves and give faith to their children. Not only doesn't Dawkins believe, he believes those who believe are wrong and that mankind would be better off without religion.

By way of refutation, I'd like to quote from a letter Saint Ambrose wrote to Emperor Theodosius in 390 AD after Roman troops massacred a big crowd of people, who happened to be in a stadium in Thessalonia, to retaliate against a protest of a tax increase that was already severely punished by the local authorities: When it was first heard of, a synod had met because of the arrival of the Gallican Bishops. There was not one who did not lament it, not one who thought lightly of it; your being in fellowship with Ambrose was no excuse for your deed. Blame for what had been done would have been heaped more and more on me, had no one said that your reconciliation to our God was necessary. Are you ashamed, O Emperor, to do that which the royal prophet David, the forefather of Christ, according to the flesh, did? To him it was told how the rich man who had many flocks seized and killed the poor man's one lamb, because of the arrival of his guest, and recognizing that he himself was being condemned in the tale, for that he himself had done it, he said: 'l have sinned against the Lord.' Bear it, then, without impatience, O Emperor, if it be said to you: You have done that which was spoken of to King David by the prophet. For if you listen obediently to this, and say: 'I have sinned against the Lord,' if you repeat those words of the royal prophet: 'O come let us worship and fall down before Him, and mourn before the Lord our God. Who made us,' it shall be said to you also: 'Since thou repentest, the Lord putteth away thy sin, and thou shalt not die. (Internet Medieval Sourcebook: Ambrose to Theodosius I 390 [Letter 51]).

The Xmas Factor
Annie Saunders
Orion House, 5 Upper Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9EA, UK
0752873407 GBP 9.99

Rowena Brew

The Xmas Factor is a hilarious story of two women's very different approach to the Christmas season. Carol is a high powered business woman and single mum, who can barely find time to squeeze Christmas present shopping between meetings, but dreams of her ideal Christmas, spent with her son, Tim, in a quaint village far away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Beth, new wife and stepmum, has some pretty big shoes to fill in the form of her husband, Jacob's deceased first wife, Becca. She is determined for this Christmas to be the best ever, and starts her preparations in August. With two hyperactive dogs, the stepdaughter from hell, and the constant reminder from the women of the village to how perfect Becca was, this is easier said than done. Although worlds apart, the two women's lives become more entangled than either one knows as Christmas draws near. This book had me laughing out loud throughout, and most definitely had put me in the festive mood by the end, while also managing to deal with several important issues including the pressures of single parent families, child abandonment and dealing with bereavement.

Monique and the Mango Rains
Kris Holloway
Waveland Press, Inc.
4180 IL Route 83, Suite 101, Long Grove, IL 60047
1577664353 $17.95

Shari Maser

Women, especially mothers and maternity-care or child-care workers: pick up this intriguing book only when you have time to savor each page like a bite of ripe mango, because you will not be able to put it down again until you have! In this true story of an idealistic American college girl in the Peace Corps and a hardworking teenage mother from an impoverished village in Mali, Kris Holloway serves as midwife Monique Dembele's volunteer assistant for two years. Monique is a true feminist, determined to bring better health, higher education, and true happiness to the women and children in her village and beyond. Lots of hard work, inspired by Monique's determination and Kris' ingenuity, makes an enormous and lasting impact on women's childbearing and childrearing experiences in this region of Mali. The special friendship these two women develop leads to a deeper understanding of their cultural differences and their human commonalities.

We readers are lucky to have the opportunity to see through Kris' and Monique's eyes as they learn from one another. We can experience Kris' revelation as she realizes that diapers are a modern convenience that millions of mothers must function without. We can feel Monique's awe as she discovers that travelers ride in airplanes, not on them. We can share their outrage at the needless circumcision of Malian girls; their despair as they watch babies waste away from malnutrition and disease; and their joy when the first babyfood garden is planted in Nampossela. Reading this memoir is the closest most of us will come to traveling the world, reaching across the ocean in friendship, and making a difference firsthand. For some of us, it will be the first step toward doing just that!

If only I could...
Greg M. Sarva
Ampol Publishing, Inc
1211 C Street, Sacramento, CA , 95814-0911 , USA
0976620235, $16.95, 256 pages

Tami Brady

John Kadel lives a very simple life. He reads a lot- mostly to keep from thinking about the past. In fact, John spends quite much of his time trying to forget his memories. For the most part, John has even succeeded in this task. None of his friends really know anything substantial about his life and sometimes John even convinces himself that nothing of consequence happened in
the past. Then, a series of life changing events begins. John finds out he is dying. At
first, he is almost relieved that his life is over. However, this attitude soon changes when John bumps into his past- or rather she bumps into him. If only I could... reminds us that life is short and regrets have a life of their own but at any time we can choose to really live and to choose love once again. What would you do if you were dying? What would be your biggest regret?

Shadow Man: A Charlie Moon Mystery
James D. Doss
St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
0312936648, $6.99

Victoria Kennedy

If you're into mysteries with funny likable characters, then this book might be right up your alley. James Doss's Charlie Moon Mysteries are both entertaining and a hoot. Tony Hillerman's books first got me started in this genre and if I remember correctly someone once compared Doss's books to Hillerman's. I needed no further encouragement and read one of his books. Mr. Doss put me under a spell and charmed me with his characters, his stories and his wonderful sense of humor.

The story Shadow Man starts out with a murder in the small town of Granite Creek, Colorado. There's a man and a woman sitting in a restaurant that evening, but each is dining alone. Without any warning a night of simple pleasure turns to horror as the woman, a former district attorney, falls over dead. She's been shot by a sniper. Her fellow diner, an eccentric orthodontist by the name of Dr. Manfred Blinkoe, has been involved in several shady enterprises over the years and he's convinced the bullet was meant for him.

Granite, Colorado chief of police, Scott Parris thinks the guy is a nutcase and takes little stock in what he says, but when pressed to recommend a private investigator he gives Blinkoe the name of his long time friend Charlie Moon. Charlie is the tribal investigator for the Ute Indian tribe in southern Colorado, as well as being a cattle rancher. Charlie reluctantly accepts a retainer for future services from the strange Dr. Blinkoe. Shortly afterwards, Dr. Blinkoe leaves his sexy young wife and goes on a boating trip. There's a mishap at the boat and some local fishermen find nothing but a few grisly remains. Next Dr. Blinkoe's young wife gets nervous and disappears after calling her lawyer. Meanwhile Charlie's ancient and cantankerous Aunt Daisy, who is a Ute shaman, and her elderly Anglo friend decide to go looking for Mrs. Blinkoe. The trouble they get themselves in will have you laughing out loud.

Charlie's love interest, FBI agent Lila Mae McTeague is in on the investigation and it's fun to watch Charlie and her spar as they seek to uncover the truth. The Charlie Moon Mysteries are a wonderful mix of mystery, Native American beliefs and humor that will keep you coming back for more. This book is no exception and I think it's Doss's best to date. Other books by James Doss are: The Shaman Sings, The Shaman Laughs, The Shaman's Bones, The Shaman's Game, The Night Visitor, Grandmother Spider, White Shell Woman, Dead Soul, and The Witch's Tongue.

Arlene's Bookshelf

True Colours
Karen Surtees & Nann Dunne
Yellow Rose Books
4700 Highway 365, Suite A, PMB 210, Port Arthur, TX 77642-8025
193230052X $16.95

True Colours, 3rd edition by Karen Surtees and Nann Dunne tells the story of TJ Meridian's return to her old home town, Meridianville, Texas. Having left after her father closed down his ranch and meat-packing business, she now returns to a community consumed with hate and distrust. Her father's actions brought economic disaster to the town, and people are still holding a grudge of monumental proportions toward the Meridian family. In an effort to re-focus her life and make amends, TJ opens the ranch and modernizes the plant. When her horse needs medical attention, Dr. Mare Gillespie arrives to treat the creature. Mare knows the past relationship of the Meridians and the townspeople and has little sympathy for the return of the prodigal daughter. Slowly over time, TJ and Mare develop a friendship as each woman is drawn to the other. A life-threatening accident, some long lost relatives, and a few new friends all add to the mix which makes for a most entertaining and absorbing reading experience.

This third edition of True Colours shows a deeper clarity of writing, a substantiality of style, and a rhythmic, yet leisurely, approach to storytelling. The narration flows naturally; it never becomes intrusive. Richly resonant dialogue which realistically and credibly reflects the characters suffuses the storyline. Too often this reviewer has become distracted by stilted mundane speech which makes a chore of reading rather than the joy it should be. True Colours steers clear of the vapid, the counterfeit, and the gratingly pedestrian. These women verbally interact; they communicate with each other in a manner that genuine people use.
Surtees and Dunne have created conflicts both external and internal, and for this reviewer, the latter was most compelling, irresistible, and significant. The action scenes are well written and tense. However, the inner conflicts that both TJ and Mare, have to overcome, accept, or refute make this novel so much more than the typical or usual novel found in the romance genre. Its depth of personal discovery, realization, and fulfillment transcends the ordinary and stereotypical depictions too often accepted as good writing.

True Colours is the type of book that completely involves and immerses the reader. It isn't very often one finds a novel that honestly and realistically deals with women and disabilities. TJ is most definitely a three-dimensional character. Her flaws, as well as her virtues, are on display. Sometimes endearing and other times infuriating, TJ envelops the reader in her world while creating a genuine empathy within the reader. This is the hallmark of a memorable and fascinating character, one who remains with you long after the cover is closed. Surtees and Dunne have constructed the story so that a sequel (Many Roads to Travel) will be the natural and obvious path to take to follow TJ's and Mare's life experiences. However, whether you read the sequel or not, no one should miss the opportunity to read True Colours, 3rd edition. A genuinely consummate work of fiction comes along all too rarely.

Many Roads to Travel
Karen Surtees & Nann Dunne
Yellow Rose Books
4700 Highway 365, Suite A, PMB 210, Port Arthur, TX 77642-8025
1932300554 $16.95

The sequel to True Colours advances the story of TJ Meridian and Dr. Mare Gillespie. TJ has had another back surgery to correct an injury previously incurred in a car accident. Her painful recovery presents both physical and emotional turmoil and increased tensions for TJ and Mare as well as their close friends, Paula and Erin. As if this weren't enough with which to contend, TJ's cherished horse, Faithful Flag, develops its own health problems, and further aggravating the situation, is the appearance of TJ's father's second family. TJ's unrelenting struggle with her tenebrous childhood memories further exacerbates her already tenuous emotional state. As the story progresses, the truth of the title, Many Roads to Travel, becomes not only more apparent and striking but also more challenging and extraordinary to navigate. Surtees and Dunne have written a novel which clearly and deftly segues from their earlier work, but it also has definitive stand-alone qualities, such as a skillfully constructed plotline, credible internal and external conflicts, and noteworthy thematic concepts.

Many Roads to Travel delves further into the psyches of the lead protagonists, and the reader won't always like or agree with their actions/words but that serves to prove how involved the reader becomes with each chapter. Whereas TJ and Mare are equally tenacious and assertive, it is completely believable that each woman would grapple with coming to terms with the unequivocal realities of their situations. Although as the plot advanced, at times TJ demanded more effort from this reviewer to feel empathetic, yet it is to Surtees' and Dunne's credit that the character of TJ is so expertly and comprehensively actualized that I was able to identify with her point of view. In addition to creating another first-rate story, the authors have confronted several thematic issues which this reviewer found refreshing and intriguing. One salient point, that disabilities do not make one less of a person, provided TJ with more than one opportunity to assess her life, her relationships, and her future. Whether she chooses to act upon her realizations presents a whole other trove of internal conflicts.

As for Mare, with circumstances far beyond her command, it is the basic tenet of offering compassion and support that she must embrace. As she discovers, the simplest is often the hardest to accept; some things just can't be fixed. Many Roads to Travel is one of those rare instances in genre writing wherein the reader has the opportunity for analysis and synthesis. It is a rather somewhat revelatory novel whose characters represent varied layers of discernment, thus affording the reader the satisfaction of thinking and responding, whether internally or with others. Instead of being a quick yet forgettable read, Many Roads to Travel has substance, it ignites awareness and reaction, and it provides the reader with a genuinely transcendent reading experience.

Turn Back Time
Bold Strokes Books
430 Herrington Road, Johnsonville, NY 12094
1933110341 $15.95

One of the most prolific authors in the romance genre, Radclyffe, has written her twenty-fourth romance novel which is entitled Turn Back Time. She has also returned to familiar ground, both in writing and in life, the hospital setting. Pearce Rifkin, Acting Chief Surgical Resident, and Wynter Thompson, surgical resident, are practicing at the same hospital, University Hospital, in Philadelphia. Pearce has a life plan which does not include any serious entanglements to impede her success. She is determined to follow in her father's footsteps in the medical field. Wynter is filling a last-minute vacancy created by the early departure of another resident. She is also coping with a failed relationship and the responsibilities of being a parent to her three year-old daughter, Ronnie. However, it isn't until the two women meet that they recognize each other from a brief interlude they had four years earlier. Both of them have changed considerably in a variety of ways, and it is this circumstance that will propel both doctors down a similar yet unexpected path.

Radclyffe is in the forefront of authors who consistently create memorable characters. Despite the human frailties and flaws each woman possesses, the reader has no difficulty in conjuring up empathy both for their situations and their choices. The interaction between Pearce and Wynter gradually escalates thus revealing the many facets of each personality. This unfolding of layers is what keeps the reader engaged. The author eschews the obvious and demonstrates a keen insight into logical, coherent, and realistic character development. The secondary characters are equally crafted in their credibility.

One interesting aspect of this story is the relationship between Pearce and Ronnie, Wynter's young daughter. The façade of the cool and detached Dr. Rifkin becomes less formidable when she is in the child's company. Pearce begins to consider the possibility of parenting being within the realm of possibility. She re-evaluates the prospect of combining a career, a relationship, and a family. It is also captivating to witness Wynter's reactions to Pearce's efforts to forge a relationship with the three year-old.

The romance genre is rife with authors who spin a decent story, yet lack the expertise to instill definitive verisimilitude in both their characters and their actions. The many novels Radclyffe has written attest to her skill at crafting a superlative story populated with characters one would want to meet, spend time with, or have over for a meal. Romance novels are about the people above all else. After all, one wants that happy ending. However, if one or both of the protagonists do not gain entree to the mind and heart of the reader, then a true romance has not been achieved. It is always a given that when reading a Radclyffe romance, the reader is assured that the story will eventually creatively distill the essence of each character, whether it be through superlative dialogue or exceptional narrative. Turn Back Time continues this attribute.

Whitewater Rendezvous
Kim Baldwin
Bold Strokes Books
430 Herrington Road, Johnsonville, NY 12094
1933110384 $15.95

Whitewater Rendezvous, set in the remote Odakonya River area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is the adventurous love story of two disparate and intensely dynamic women, Megan Maxwell and Chaz Herrick. Megan, the driven vice-president of World News Central television news, is known as the Royal Ice Bitch. It is a moniker not totally undeserving for the workaholic. Chaz, the attractive easygoing Alaskan tour guide, on the other hand, is content and treasures living apart from the raucous tumult of the general population. After these two intelligent, resolute, and witty women meet, Megan begins to think that perhaps losing that bet with her Chicago Broads in Boadcasting pals to join them for an Alaskan kayaking adventure may not be as disconcerting as she had thought. Matters are further complicated by harrowing Arctic storms, seemingly incompatible priorities, and the entertaining clash between two very tenacious and assertive women.

Setting plays a key role in a well-crafted story of this type. Baldwin obviously knows her material, and with great care and skill, has transcribed the aura of an Arctic night sky and the grandeur of Alaskan isolation to the written page. The reader's senses are vividly awakened which allows that reader to become one with the environment - not always an easy task for an author to create.

A hallmark of great writing is consummate characterization, and Whitewater Rendezvous does not disappoint. This novel is populated with round, not flat, characters. Each is delineated and developed with expertise and style. From the imagery to the diction to the syntax used, the personalities of the major characters are constructed in a credible, lucid, and realistic manner. Megan's workaholic focus is clearly articulated, making it simple for the reader to empathize. Chaz's free spirit is infectious thus making it equally simple for the reader to identify with that desire to throw caution to the wind and escape. One aspect of Baldwin's writing is the absence of the stereotypical, and her characters in this story display that yet again.

Whitewater Rendezvous captures the reader from the very first page. It totally immerses and envelopes the reader in the Arctic experience. The novel deals with basic truths. What is important in life? Is there a soul mate somewhere out there for me? Can opposites truly attract? Superior chapter endings, stylishly and tightly written sentences, precise pacing, and exquisite narrative all coalesce to produce a novel of first-rate quality, both in concept and expression. Whitewater Rendezvous is Kim Baldwin's third novel. (Hunter's Pursuit and Force of Nature) The author's technique, range, and originality of composition continue to expand and flourish with each effort. This reviewer highly recommends Whitewater Rendezvous and eagerly looks forward to Baldwin's next novel, Flight Risk, to be published in February 2007.

Arlene Germain

Bethany's Bookshelf

The Demise of Luleta Jones
Mark Allen Boone
Blacksmith Books
PO Box 4228, Lisle, IL 60532-9228
0977251500 $15.95 630-969-5145

African-American author and publishing industry expert Mark Allen Boone presents The Demise of Luleta Jones, a whodunit novel set in Chicago, Illinois and Nashville Tennessee about the mysterious death of a public school teacher from a recently gentrified neighborhood. Lurking beneath the seemingly docile and tranquil surface of surrounding environment is a ruthlessness directed toward gifted African-Americans who resist the strict demands of the hostile community. A tautly written investigative thriller from first page to last.

By the Skin of His Teeth
Ann Walsh
Dundurn Press
3 Church Street, Suite 500, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1M2, Canada
1550026348 $10.99 416-214-5544

Written by Ann Walsh, By the Skin of His Teeth: A Barkerville Mystery is a historical novel set in Barkerville, British Columbia, during the year 1870. When a Chinese man is found stabbed to death outside his restaurant, only a young Chinese boy can testify against the prideful and cruel accused perpetrator. Seventeen-year-old Ted MacIntosh befriends the boy, helping him stand up for justice while the Chinese community is scared into silence. Ted and the boy fight to bring the truth to trial, with lives and the future of the community hanging in the balance. A gripping, suspenseful drama; also recommended are the previous novels about Ted MacIntosh, "Moses, Me and Murder" and "The Doctor's Apprentice."

Deadly Dreams and Desires
J. Henning
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403 (publisher)
961 Iris Lane, Fernley, NV 89408 (author)
1420868683 $31.00

Written by J. Henning, Deadly Dreams and Desires is a chilling novel of murder for revenge. When two detectives arrest Alex Jordan for the alleged killing of their friend and co-worker, her horrific, explicit, and brutal confessions reveal that the murder case is far more complex than it would appear at first glance. A dark story of manipulation, a woman taken to the breaking point, and threatening human darkness so profound it makes two detectives strive to protect a cop-killer from the gas chamber, Deadly Dreams and Desires simultaneously chills and fascinates the reader.

The Mask of Oya
Flor Fernandez Barrios
Liaison Press
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
189495338X $14.95

Written by Flor Fernandez Barrios, a psychotherapist and spiritual workshop leader of Cuban heritage, The Mask of Oya is testimony introducing the reader to the spirit world she has experienced since childhood. Afro-Cuban dieties such as Yemaya, lord of oceans and giver of life, and Oya, lord of the winds and gatekeeper between life and death, are among the spiritual figures portrayed for the lay reader; testimonies of men and women in physical or emotional pain and the guideposts to their healing illustrate the power and wisdom of ancient practices. A profoundly uplifting revelation of the process of inner awakening.

Circle Dancing
June Watts
Green Magic
The Long Barn, Sutton Mallet, Bridgwater, Somerset, TA7 9AR, England
0954723082 $16.95

Written by Sacred/Circle dancer and choreographer June Watts, Circle Dancing: Celebrating the Sacred in Dance is a spiritual exploration of the connection between the modern sacred dance movement as practiced by women today, and its ancient heritage. Chapter discuss how the dance affects mother earth, expressing oneself in consciousness and form, symbols and shapes incorporated into the dance rhythm, birthing dances, white magic incorporated into dances, and much more. As much as a metaphysical evaluation of circle dancing as it is a how-to guide, Circle Dancing is highly recommended for anyone intrigued by the practice and its implications for promoting wellness, connective bonds, and deeper spiritual awareness.

Susan Bethany

Buhle's Bookshelf

Kabbalah, Science And The Meaning of Life
Rav Michael Laitman
Kabbalah Publishers
c/o Shira Dicker Media International
438 West 116 Street, Studio 43, New York, NY 10027
0973826894 $9.95 1-800-462-6420

"Kabbalah, Science And The Meaning of Life" by kabbalist and scientist Rav Michael Laitman deftly shares with his readers the hidden aspects of reality long known to students of the Judaic mysticism known as 'kabbalah' and only now beginning to emerge from western scientific inquiries. "Kabbalah, Science And The Meaning of Life" demonstrates how by understanding the underpinnings of life, we can influence and affect the realities of life around us. Informed, informative, and highly recommended reading for anyone with an interest in Judaic mysticism, metaphysics, and personal spiritual development, "Kabbalah, Science And The Meaning of Life" is particularly accessible and appropriate for the non-specialist general reader, while holding immense interest and value for dedicated and experienced students of the kaballah as well.

Ice Age Civilizations
James I. Nienhuis
Genesis Veracity
PO Box 850, 5773 Woodway Drive, Houston, TX 77057
0972620621 $15.00

Written by James I. Nienhuis, Ice Age Civilizations explores evidence of ancient, technologically advanced prehistoric civilizations and city-states, some of which are suggested to have submerged when the Ice Age ended. Hypotheses range from Sea Kings that navigated the Pacific and settled in Ice Age Europe to evidence that ancient peoples measured and mapped the globe to possible astral extensions of mankind. Drawing upon both conventional and metaphysical science, Ice Age Civilizations reminds the reader of myriad mysteries that contemporary classroom education cannot begin to fully explain. The appendices clarify insights into a variety of topics, from the possible use of the Celtic Cross as a navigational tool to a thorough chastisement of the Darwinian theory of macroevolution (while acknowledging that microevolution, as seen through small species changes due to simple natural selection, does exist). An exciting addition to new age and metaphysical studies shelves.

Backyard Bigfoot
Lisa A. Shiel
Slipdown Mountain Publication
28151 Quarry Lake Road, Lake Linden, MI 49945
0974655368 $15.00 1-866-341-3705

Lisa Shiel founded the Michigan Upper Peninsula Bigfoot Organization in 2005 because of continuing interest in one of America's most indigenous and fascinating legends. A skillful and accomplished writer, Lisa' "Backyard Bigfoot: The True Story Of Stick Signs, UFOs, & The Sasquatch" introduces the reader into the complex and sometimes contradictory realm of theories, coutner-theories, and assumptions about Bigfoot. Whether novice or experienced researcher into the metaphysical subjects of stick signs (purposeful symbols), mane braiding (intricate braids appearing in horses' manes overnight), the predominant Bigfoot theories and why they don't fit the known facts, and the distortions of human history as they have affected our perceptions of Bigfoot, "Backyard Bigfoot" is as informative as it is entertaining, and most especially recommended to the attention of those with an interest in human evolution, lost civilizations, UFOs, ancient artwork, metaphysical studies, and the legendary Sasquatch known in the Himalayan mountains as the Yeti, and in our own North American forests as Bigfoot.

Astrology & Pain: The Keys To Freedom
Beverly A. Flynn
TLH Publishing Company
1845 Cambria Avenue, Landers, CA 92285
0975858343 $14.95

Written by practicing astrologer Beverly A. Flynn, Astrology & Pain: The Keys To Freedom addresses primarily mental and emotional pain - grief over loss, loneliness, hurtful memories, regret and humiliation - rather than physical pain. Exploring the relationship between such pain and astrology, Astrology & Pain offers tools to work through painful situations, through the use of one's astrological chart. Each chapter addresses a different facet of emotional pain, from anger, hate and ear to recognizing one's own negative traits, and the strengths and vulnerabilities each sign has with regard to such issues, as well as the influence of different planets. Tips for dealing with harmful energies within and without regardless of one's current astrological sign or the immediate planet alignment are also liberally sprinkled through this serious-minded guide written expressly for serious astrology followers and practitioners.

Moon Tides, Soul Passages, second edition
Maria Kay Simms
Starcrafts Publishing
PO Box 446, Exeter, NH 03833-0446
0976242214 $22.95

Written by artist and astrologist Maria Kay Simms, Moon Tides, Soul Passages: Your Astrological Cycles for Personal and Spiritual Development is a guide to understanding the lunar aspects of astrology, and how one's moon sign relates to insights of the soul and spirit. Chapters discuss the houses of one's birth moon, the significance of the phases of the moon, ways to experience the moon in spiritual rituals, and much more. An accompanying software CD allows for quick access to the in-depth material and guidelines for applying it accessible even to novice astrologers. A valuable astrological reference, written especially for women due to their gender's spiritual connection to the moon but of value to all in search of spiritual growth and development through astrology.

Willis M. Buhle

Burroughs' Bookshelf

Starting a Collection Agency
Michelle A. Dunn
Privately Published
PO Box 40, Plymouth, NH 03264
0970664508 $29.99

Michelle A. Dunn presents her fifteen years of experience running a collections agency in distilled form in Starting a Collection Agency, a no-nonsense, step-by-step guide to getting a collections business off the ground. Starting a Collection Agency does not waste effort on extraneous prose; each chapter is only a few pages long, yet each chapter condenses need-to-know information into key, easily memorized points. From the precise legal requirements, to recommended sample marketing plans, to a layman's language breakdown of exactly what the Fair Credit Reporting Act says, Starting a Collection Agency gives the reader the invaluable basics at a glance, along with lists of resources easily accessible from libraries or online for additional reference. Enthusiastically recommended for anyone seriously interested in starting their own collection agency.

The 90 Minute MBA
Arnold S. Grundvig, Jr.
A-Systems Corporation
4141 Highland Drive, Suite 210, Salt Lake City, UT 84124-2656
0978596811 $24.95 1-800-365-6790

MBA holder and successful business owner Arnold S. Grundvig, Jr. distills his thirty years of wisdom and experience in The 90 Minute MBA, a no-nonsense self-teaching tool written for especially for fledgling entrepreneurs. Anecdotes and personal stories embellish his practical, no-nonsense advice on everything from embezzlement, cost control, employee satisfaction, and banking to marketing versus advertising, management versus leadership, and what to watch out for the most when hiring personnel. A key guide to doing the right things to keep a business fully solvent, The 90 Minute MBA is enthusiastically recommended as either a preparatory or a refresher course for current and future small business owners everywhere.

John Burroughs

Carson's Bookshelf

The Killing Sun
Thomas Sanfilip
Ara Pacis Publishers
PO Box 1202, Des Plaines, IL 60016-1202
0962530646 $24.95

Author and poet Thomas Sanfilip presents The Killing Sun, an anthology that follows different characters in their quest to fill the emptiness in their lives. Each individual seeks an imagined prize that will be the answer to their doubts and lack of self-fulfillment; yet each will also confront a terrible price for the delusions they place upon themselves and their perceptions. A grim compilation of the dark side of the human experience, leveling close scrutiny upon the illusions and lies that people scramble for to give a hint of meaning to their lives.

Jungle Rules
Gaz Crittenden
Dan River Press
PO Box 298, Thomaston, ME 04861
0897542193 $16.95

Written by Viet Nam veteran Gaz Crittenden (served with 1st Cavalry Division Airmobile in the Viet Nam central highlands from 1966-67), Jungle Rules: A Novel of Viet Nam is a gripping debut novel about the brutality of war in a land where life is cheap. A vivid experience of daily life in the field and the ruthlessness of combat, as well as longing for the pleasures of civilian life while stationed far from its comforts, Jungle Rules pulls no punches in its description. A singularly powerful reading experience, dedicated to the memory of two soldiers who did not make it back from the jungle.

The 100th Human
Chris Fenwick
Sunbury Press
PO Box 178, New Kingstown, PA 17072-0178
0976092557 $14.95 717-422-1494

Set in December 2012, the final day of a 5000 year old Mayan calendar, The 100th Human is a novel about the discovery of a riddle about the "End of Days". A team of scientists seeking answers becomes embroiled in a journey that will bring them amid a war between good and evil; metaphysical and spiritual forces beyond human ken flourish with repercussions that no mortal can hope to guess. An overwhelming adventure of catastrophic yet also potentially enlightening transformations sweeping the human world.

A Family Gathering
Gene Cartwright
Falcon Creek Publishing Company
13504 Francisquito Avenue, Suite E, Baldwin Park, CA 91706
0964975629 $27.95

Written by Gene Cartwright, A Family Gathering is an extensive novel of tragedy, triumph, extreme hardship, bitter secrets, and one woman's long struggle to survive and overcome since a pivotal day in her girlhood. Set in the American South, across years in which racial equality was a dream to hope for but all too often dispelled by hate and violence, A Family Gathering explores such diverse subjects as black-on-black hatred, prostitution, family strife, and the mysterious comings and goings of enigmatic figures. A large cast interweaves their complicated tangle of conflicting desires, though the main focus is upon Deborah Yvonne Davis, the girl and later grown woman caught amid a shocking world filled with lies and betrayal, but also hope and love. Highly recommended.

In the Arms of Elders
William H. Thomas M.D
Vander YK & Burnham
PO Box 2789, Acton MA 01720-6789
1889242101 $14.95

Written by medical doctor and internationally recognized authority on longevity William H. Thomas, In The Arms of Elders: A Parable of Wise Leadership and Community Building is part memoir, part parable, and part fictional novel about a marooned young couple who become part of a new society organized through elders, then who must apply the wisdom they have gleaned to find their own place in life when they go home once more. A contemplative narrative about the ups and downs of life, and the leadership that comes tempered from experience, In the Arms of Elders is absorbing from cover to cover. Enthusiastically recommended.

The Vatican Knights
Richard L. Jones
2021 Pine Lake Road, Suite 100, Lincoln, NE 68512
0595386687 $14.95

Written by law enforcement worker Richard L. Jones, The Vatican Knights is a suspenseful novel about the kidnapping of a pope by a terrorist cell calling itself the Soldiers of Islam. The terrorists threaten the Pope's execution if their demands are not met; an elite op group of commandos known as the Vatican Knights is dispatched to bring him back alive. Caught in the middle is FBI Specialist Shari Cohen, who begins her duty seeking to track down the terrorist cell but quickly becomes embroiled in a greater conspiracy. A fast-paced, exciting read.

Michael J. Carson

Debra's Bookshelf

The Geographer's Library
Jon Fasman
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
0143036629 $14.00

When the story told in Jon Fasman's The Geographer's Library begins, Paul Tomm, a recent graduate of Wickenden University in Rhode Island, is working as a reporter at a weekly paper. Lincoln, Connecticut is a sleepy, two-policeman town, and Paul's job is consequently routine--until he is assigned to write up the obituary of a certain Jaan Puhapaev, a reclusive Lincoln resident who was also a history professor at Paul's alma mater. The more Paul investigates the obsessively private Puhapaev's life, the more unusual his subject appears to have been: Puhapaev was wont, for example, to carry a loaded gun to campus, and the University responded with unexpected leniency on the two occasions when he fired it from his office window. No one in Lincoln or at Wickenden seem to have known much about Puhapaev, the single exception being Puhapaev's neighbor Hannah Rowe, the pretty, young teacher with whom Paul becomes romantically involved. Paul's other hangers-on in the story include courtly Professor Abe Jadid, also of Wickenden University; Jadid's nephew Joe, a policeman; and Paul's supportive boss Art Rolen, who is eager to see Paul use the Puhapaev case as a stepping stone in his career.

The text of The Geographer's Library purports to be Paul's first-person account of his investigation of the Puhapaev matter, written at the behest of a mysterious "H." Interspersed throughout his account are sixteen historical chapters. Each details some episode in the usually blood-soaked history of an artefact of significance to alchemists (a playing card, a carved wooden triptych, etc.), and ends with a more formal valuation of the object. The artefacts so detailed do not figure directly in the story Paul tells, but they are connected with the secret of Puhapaev's death. The alternation between Paul's account and these intervening historical chapters makes for a schizophrenic novel. Unfortunately, the two different types of chapters differ from one another in more than subject matter. The historical chapters, perhaps surprisingly, are by far the more interesting in the book. They are well-written, vividly imagined self-standing pieces that quickly grab the reader's interest and very often end with a surprise buried in the formal description of the artefact under discussion. Paul's account, on the other hand--the meat of the book--is comparatively poorly written. The dialogue is often stilted and unnatural.

"I won't pry too much by asking you about this music teacher, but if you're fond enough to blush over her, it must be something indeed. Good luck."

"Thank you."

Certain details in the story don't ring true. (After knowing Jadid for years, for example, Paul has never asked him about, or heard about from other students, the origin of the Professor's unusual accent? History departments employ their own night watchmen?) Some passages in the book don't seem to have any point to them (Paul's stop at a Portuguese bar at which he's refused service; his four-page conversation with an old girlfriend). None of Fasman's characters is developed enough to inspire emotional attachment. And Paul is never placed in any jeopardy worthy of the name: he may be frightened at various points in the story, that is, but the reader is never frightened for him. Finally, Fasman's story is just not very interesting. This is a shame, because as the historical chapters of the book make clear, he can write well, and he's clearly done his research for the book. There is a kernel of a very good story here which I wish additional rounds of editing had brought further to light.

Prisoner of Trebekistan
Bob Harris
Crown Publishers
0307339564 $23.95

Bob Harris, a one-time "B-minus-list comedian" turned five-time Jeopardy champion, has written a memoir centered around his experiences as a contestant on the show. His Prisoner of Trebekistan--a title hearing which Alex Trebek is said to have "smiled inscrutably"--is everything you'd hope for in a comedian's Jeopardy memoir. Harris proves to be an affable, goofily amusing escort through the various stages of Jeopardy playerdom, from the tests administered to would-be contestants through the mind games played backstage in the green room to chats with Alex mid-game. Having lived it, Harris is able to describe the life of a Jeopardy contestant in training. The regimen of study he adopted makes for fascinating reading: notebooks filled with information to be absorbed (lists of presidents and Shakespearian plays and European rivers), innumerable cartoons, very often buttock-related, drawn as mnemonic aids; Harris's lifestyle and living room rearranged to facilitate his "state-dependent retrieval" of information once on stage. (Which means that he ate green-room-style food for months and moved his furniture around so it resembled the Jeopardy set.)

Harris is fascinating too when he analyzes Jeopardy play. He explains, for example, that the typeface the show uses determines a question's maximum length--just over 100 characters into which "they have to squeeze enough data to limit all possible responses to one, usually include a clear hint of some kind, and if possible even cram in a small dollop of humor." Elsewhere he writes about the speed of game play: "[T]he total time of an actual sixty-clue Jeopardy game (leaving aside the thirty-second fever dream of--p-TING!--Final Jeopardy): just under thirteen minutes. Sixty twelve-second cycles slowed only slightly by three Daily Doubles. As the game flies along, your total time-to-think period, as Alex reads each clue aloud: usually between two and seven seconds, followed by the wait-wait-now spasm of thumby buzzer-whacking. Twelve seconds, again. Twelve seconds, again."

Harris walks readers through his own Jeopardy appearances, explaining his thought processes and the difficulties posed by the game: knowing the right answer, it turns out, is often the least of one's worries. Harris also teaches readers something of what he knows about memory techniques. Suffice it to say that by the end of chapter nine, with virtually no work on your part, you'll be able to reel off the titles of E.M. Forster's six novels and the names of all seven U.N. Secretaries-General. But perhaps a humorous romp through mnemonic techniques is also to be expected from a Jeopardy champion's Jeopardy-centric book. What you probably won't have expected to stumble on in Prisoner of Trebekistan is a compelling, even wise account of the author's life, moving portraits of his family, failed relationships, chronic disease and cancer wrapped around Jeopardy tournaments and memory games, the manifold strands of Harris's account deftly woven together.

Harris is surprisingly insightful, introspective and likeable and sweet. In the end he finds, to his surprise, great joy inherent in small, familiar things, his Jeopardy-wrought education having changed his perspective in unanticipated ways: "Squirrels were cavorting with glee back and forth, their tails flicking and curling as if just for show. The word squirrel comes from the Greek for "shadowtail," skia oura, which descends to our very own word.Wait, I thought. Hold on. I'd seen Mom's backyard before, once or twice. Was the connection to classical Greece always here? This seemed new." I came to Harris's book at perhaps a disadvantage, not having seen his Jeopardy run on TV. Other readers may already be familiar with him and the great many players he mentions by name in his story.

It would have been a big plus if the book had been packaged with a DVD of Harris's appearances on the show. This would not only get people like me up to speed on Harris's play, but would be interesting even for readers who never miss an episode to watch given the author's play-by-play discussion of the games. The only substantial complaint I have about Prisoner of Trebekistan is that it goes on too long. Near the end of the book Harris details his post-Jeopardy wanderings, informed as they were by his new-found appreciation of things historical. I'm happy for his happiness, but I don't want to read about it: I would in fact omit the whole of chapter twenty-three and tighten up the last several chapters for a crisper ending that would leave readers wanting more. That said, make sure you do read Harris's index, as he clearly had fun drawing it up. Here's a sample entry: Mosquitoes, size of lawn darts, 18; bird-eating, 61; fighting with bare hands, 62; unlike any I remembered, 208 And don't miss the Merv Griffin and Alex Trebek entries while you're back there.

The Interview
King Hurley
Paandaa Entertainment
0977418804 $24.95

Forty-five-year-old Michael King is the sort of guy Harrison Ford would play in a movie: a loving husband and father, Michael is the intelligent, deeply ethical, physically fit CEO of a pharmaceuticals company. The company is thriving, but after five years of trying to please its stockholders, who are more concerned with their portfolios than the company's long-term health, Michael is ready for a change. When an offer comes, it seems too good to be true: privately-owned Panda Pharmaceuticals wants Michael as their next CEO and president, a job that would bring a five-million-dollar paycheck and a private jet, as well as numerous other perks. All Michael needs to do to land the job is charm Panda's Board of Directors, a task which includes flying to Thailand to meet with the company's reclusive founder. The pacing of King Hurley's debut novel is unusual. For more than 200 pages not very much happens. Michael is wooed by Panda Pharmaceuticals, he responds to crises in his current job, he jogs, he decodes the diplomatic remarks of Panda's Board members. We get to know him by his behavior toward subordinates and his direct statements about his philosophy of leadership. Still, there is an undercurrent of menace in the book, which may explain why it continues to engage the reader despite that little of significance seems to be happening.

Suffice it to say that the book's plot does pick up eventually, and that in those first 200 pages Hurley is preparing his characters for the ordeal to follow. (Unfortunately the hardcover lacks jacket copy, so one enters into the book without any sense of what kind of a book it is: 200 pages in and I was worried the story would end without incident, with Michael landing the job and relocating his family to Virginia. Happily, that's not quite what happens.) I had some problems with the book. Michael is the only character who becomes more than two-dimensional, and Hurley can be overly sentimental. The book, too, sometimes reads like a novelized manual for the enlightened CEO: "'Diplomacy is not my strong suit, I'm afraid.' 'Diplomacy is nothing more than nudging people toward your own way of thinking and making them believe it's their idea,' I told her. 'Giving ownership is the best motivator I know of.'"

The level of callousness displayed by Hurley's bad guys near the book's end is nearly impossible to swallow. But the biggest problem is with the book's first chapter. Hurley packs a lot of background information into its nine pages, and he is not very subtle about it: "I got up and trudged into the bathroom. I switched on the light, and my mind automatically began the mental gymnastics of a Chief Executive Officer in charge of a precariously successful pharmaceutical company with yearly sales of 500 million dollars and a pack of demanding stockholders growling for more." This is unfortunate, because it's the reader's first impression of the book. Happily, the problem is confined to the first chapter. The rest of the book reads almost as if written by another hand. But despite its flaws, I liked The Interview. The story is entertaining, and I was impressed with the author's ability to keep us interested during the long stretch before the bullets start flying. Besides, I really do think it would make a good Harrison Ford flick.

The Dream Sequence
Kate Hunter
Impetus Press
0977669319 $14.95

The protagonist of Kate Hunter's novella The Dream Sequence wakes up without her memory in a reality readers won't find familiar, a world in which seeking medical attention for one's amnesia apparently isn't the done thing. Instead, Hunter's character attempts to piece together her past through her dreams and through consultation with a witch doctor. The diagnosis: she's lost her memory because she's been cursed--a fate which seems to be fairly common in Hunter's world. Hunter's amnesiac tells her story in the first person, describing a reality that is not quite in focus and a series of dreams that are mostly incomprehensible. Other stories are nested within hers, primarily the witch doctor's account of a former patient's reported experiences. The book's prologue removes readers one step further from the events described in the book. Hunter thus explores the nature and limitations of memory while playing with the narrative form, her protagonist forced to navigate a world that doesn't quite make sense. The effect is something like Memento meets Alice in Wonderland.

There are things I liked about the book. Hunter has a talent for description: "I got up from the bed and walked over to the window and pulled it upwards and all of a sudden it wasn't quiet anymore--the sounds of the night had collected outside the window, pressing against the glass, and opening it made them fall inwards, into the room in a rush; the sirens and the rumble of traffic were taking shape and dispersing while pieces of conversation floated through the air into the room like falling leaves." And she has interesting things to say about the nature of memory. Toward the book's end her protagonist dreams of a man Borges might have concocted, whose memory runs in the wrong direction: he "remembers" the future, but once his memories are lived they are lost to him. Hunter's book contains a number of such worthy kernels, but I found the story as a whole too disjointed and hard to follow to be enjoyable. But then I don't like Alice in Wonderland much either. I'm sure Hunter will find more cerebral readers who will appreciate what she's doing in her novel better than I can.

The Last Secret
Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore
Midnight Ink
073870931X $14.95

Journalist Cotten Stone is back in The Last Secret, the second installment in Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore's series of religious thrillers. (Read my review of The Grail Conspiracy.) The book starts with a deliciously suspenseful chapter: the pilot of a Virgin Atlantic Airbus announces his suicidal intentions mid-flight, prompting scrambling on the ground as a criminal psychologist tries to talk the pilot out of it, and scrambling in the air as two F-18 Hornets prepare to shoot the aircraft down. But the pilot's death is just the first we hear about in a world-wide rash of suicides, a phenomenon connected with an age-old battle between good and evil: the Nephilim, the fallen angels who signed on with Lucifer back in the day, are preparing for the Final Conflict and attempting to bolster their ranks with the souls of suicides while they can. While the death toll mounts, Cotten Stone finds herself at an archaeological dig near Machu Picchu in Peru. An unusual artifact is unearthed, an elaborately incised crystal tablet which, evidence suggests, may have been inscribed by the hand of God.

Readers coming to the series for the first time will be curious as to what makes Cotten Stone so special, a woman who has destroyed her career and her credibility with a stunt on a par with Geraldo Riviera's opening of Al Capone's vault. The authors do fill in Cotten's back story eventually--let's just say she's unusually suited to the task of fighting evil--but they take their time doing so. Readers will have to wait some 150 pages to find out why Cotten is the Chose One. But that's one of the things I liked about the book, that information revealed in The Grail Conspiracy is dribbled into the new story rather than dumped on readers in chunks of explanatory prose.

The Last Secret is told from multiple perspectives, among them that of the intriguing Lester Ripple, a nerdy, obsessive compulsive scientific genius, whose story is woven through the book until it intersects with Cotten's. I'm hoping Lester figures somehow in the next book in the series, Indigo Ruby, which is due out in September 2007. Needless to say, I enjoyed The Last Secret. Like its predecessor in the series, it's a skillfully crafted page-turner with likeable characters. I hope that Cotten Stone and her demon-fighting cronies are in for a long run.

Reading Like a Writer
Francine Prose
0060777044 $23.95

In her book Reading Like a Writer Francine Prose, herself the author of some 14 novels as well as other works of nonfiction, advocates "close reading"--reading fiction "word by word, sentence by sentence, pondering each deceptively minor decision that the writer has made"--both as a means of appreciating literature and as a practical aid in writing one's own prose. After introducing her method in chapter one, Prose spends the next eight chapters showing us how it's done, focusing initially on individual words, then sentences, and broadening her focus eventually to consider characters and dialogue and narration.

Prose quotes extensively from a great many authors--Austen and Carver and Hemingway and Le Carre and a host of writers I'd not heard of before--and after each passage takes it apart for us, pointing out how the author establishes the nature of a relationship via dialogue, for example, or makes a story credible through the use of a well-chosen detail. There is much here to think on. Prose explains, for example, that dialogue in real life is rarely a simple matter of two or more speakers exchanging information, and so it is nearly always a mistake to make fictional dialogue merely expository: "...most conversations involve a sort of sophisticated multitasking. When we humans speak, we are not merely communicating information but attempting to make an impression and achieve a goal. And sometimes we are hoping to prevent the listener from noticing what we are not saying, which is often not merely distracting but, we fear, as audible as what we are saying. As a result, dialogue usually contains as much or even more subtext than it does text. More is going on under the surface than on it. One mark of bad written dialogue is that it is only doing one thing, at most, at once.

"She illustrates multi-layered dialogue with excerpts from Henry Green's novel Loving and David Gates's story "The Wonders of the Invisible World," among others. In the same chapter Prose criticizes the sort of writing one finds too often in historical novels: "This notion of dialogue as a pure expression of character that (like character itself) transcends the specifics of time and place may be partly why the conversations in the works of writers such as Austen and Bronte often sound fresh and astonishingly contemporary, and quite unlike the stiff, mannered, archaic speech we find in bad historical novels and in those medieval fantasies in which young men always seem to be saying things like, 'Have I passed the solemn and sacred initiation test, o venerable hunt master?'" Elsewhere Prose reminds us that characters don't have to be likeable, just interesting. In fact it is a greater achievement to make a character engaging if he is not someone the average person can identify with: Patricia Highsmith's sociopath Tom Ripley is a great example of the type.

In the book's final two chapters Prose writes, respectively, about Anton Chekhov--whose stories serve to remind us that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to literature--and about the benefits to writers of reading: reading allows one to see examples of prose done well, and it shows us that there are innumerable ways of going about writing well: "Reading can show you how capacious and stretchy fiction is, how much it can accommodate, and how far it has expanded beyond the straight and narrow path from point A to point B."Writers, that is, should have the courage to experiment with their own particular talents. Reading Like a Writer is not, strictly speaking, a "guide" for writers, as its subtitle asserts, at least not in the traditional sense. Readers--writers--should not expect to find in Prose's pages specific directions for creating characters and writing dialogue and so on. But what Prose has to say can certainly be a help to writers. Reading her book is probably very similar to sitting in on one of the author's reading seminars: we're invited to sample a bunch of great stories, and part of what makes them great is pointed out to us, and we can go on from this experience, presumably, to apply what we've learned to appreciating literature more fully on our own. Prose teaches well. And along the way she introduces us to a great many authors we may not otherwise have heard of. Readers will likely leave her book with an author or two whose work they'll want to read more of. Another service Prose performs in her book.

The End
Lemony Snicket
0064410161 $12.99

Lemony Snicket is back with the 13th and final installment (released, naturally, on Friday the 13th) of his Series of Unfortunate Events, simply entitled The End. When the book begins the orphans who are Snicket's unfortunate protagonists--Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire--are adrift in a small boat with their nemesis, the unibrowed Count Olaf, who's been trying to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune since the series began. Since he and the orphans are in the same boat, Olaf is certain the money is as good as his, and he imagines what he will do with it in a passage that demonstrates his wickedness and egocentrism as well as his creator's authorial playfulness: "'I think the first thing I'll buy for myself is a shiny new car!' Count Olaf said. 'Something with a powerful engine, so I can drive faster than the legal limit, and an extra-thick bumper, so I can ram into people without getting all scratched up! I'll name the car Count Olaf, after myself, and whenever people hear the squeal of breaks, they'll say, "Here comes Count Olaf! Orphans, head for the nearest luxury car dealership!"

Olaf and the orphans finally come to land on a coastal shelf and soon meet the nearby islanders, castaways themselves, mostly, who have come to embrace the simple lifestyle urged upon them by the island's enigmatic facilitator, a certain Ishmael ("Call me Ish"). Everything washes up on the shores of this island eventually--documents and kitchen whisks and batteries, people and serpents who've been lost at sea--so it is not surprising that the Baudelaires are reunited there with a couple of old friends. They are also able to find amidst the island's collected detritus some information pertinent to their own history. Considering the book apart from its role as the final installment in the series, The End is as good as many and better than some of Snicket's earlier books--better, certainly, than the tiresome, repetitious Penultimate Peril (read my review). Snicket continues to amuse with his verbal play: "As I'm sure you know, there are many words in our mysterious and confusing language that can mean two completely different things. The word 'bear,' for instance, can refer to a rather husky mammal found in the woods, as in the sentence, 'The bear moved quietly toward the camp counselor, who was too busy putting on lipstick to notice,' but it can also refer to how much someone can handle, as in the sentence 'The loss of my camp counselor is more than I can bear.'" And, delightfully, Snicket allows Olaf to become a more nuanced character.

It is interesting, too, to see the pattern of the Baudelaires' lives altered: for once they encounter adults who are not taken in by one of Olaf's disguises. Intriguing questions are raised in the book--about Olaf's role in their lives, about Lemony Snicket's relationship with Beatrice, about Mr. Poe. One reads on, eager for answers. The End being the end, however, one must consider how well the book functions as a conclusion. And here, alas, readers are apt to be very disappointed indeed. Granted, Snicket repeatedly makes the point in the book that all stories are interconnected and that no story ever really begins or ends: its threads reach infinitely into the past as well as the future. That is true in life, but we do expect authors to impose a neater structure on their stories. Fiction isn't real life, after all; it's life polished into something finite and graspable, with, usually, the boring parts removed.

Snicket has, unfortunately, failed to answer a great many questions in his final book, and has at the same time raised several more. What, for example, became of the elusive sugar bowl that motivated so much action earlier in the series, and why was it important? What was the giant question mark that appeared so menacingly on the radar screen of the Queequeg back in book eleven? What familial relationship is implied by the fact that, as we are told, Violet was going to be called Lemony if she were a boy? It may be that some of the answers to these and other questions can be found in The Beatrice Letters, which was released a month before The End and which I have not read. But even if so, readers shouldn't have to look outside of the series itself to find simple resolution. Mr. Snicket, I fear, has failed us. The End is another clever book from his drawing board, to be sure, but it is not enough for us to be told twelve books into the series that the author doesn't have all the answers.

Getting Stoned with Savages
J. Maarten Troost
Broadway Books
0767921992 $12.95

In his best-selling travel memoir The Sex Lives of Cannibals, J. Maarten Troost chronicled the two years he spent living in Kiribati in the equatorial Pacific with his girlfriend Sylvia. After the period covered by the book Troost spent another two years in Washington D.C. working as, of all things, a "hoity-toity consultant to the World Bank," a change in lifestyle akin to, say, giving up a job on Gilligan's Island to work for Donald Trump. Fortunately the suit and tie and dependable paycheck of buttoned-down life didn't capture Troost, and he and Sylvia left civilization behind again, lured by warmer climes and the laid-back tropical mentality: "Stuff happens, but tomorrow the sun will rise again."

This time the couple moved to Vanuatu--formerly the New Hebrides--a country about the size of Connecticut that's composed of some 80 islands and lies directly on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which is to say that it's geologically interesting: Vanuatu has nine active volcanoes and experiences frequent, even daily, earthquakes. But more alarming than the tremors and the lava and the frequent cyclones, more alarming even than the shark-infested waters that put a damper on life in paradise, are the foot-long, poisonous, carnivorous, child-killing centipedes that live in Vanuatu. That's right, killer centipedes. And if you should get up the nerve to take an axe to one of them and, say, chop it into five pieces, it doesn't mean you've done away with it: it means you've now got five killer centipedes running around loose. Paradise has its price.

In addition to recounting his harrowing adventures with the island wildlife, Troost writes about Vanuatu's history and culture and living conditions. He spends a good deal of time describing the experience of drinking kava, a muddy liquid--"to the uninitiated...the most wretchedly foul-tasting beverage ever concocted by Man"--that became Troost's drug of choice on the island. And, happily, Troost put considerable effort into researching the country's long--and relatively recent--history of cannibalism:

"The last officially recorded incident of cannibalism in Vanuatu was in 1969 on the island of Malekula. I was born in 1969, and while I am willing to concede that 1969 is rapidly receding into the dim mists of time, it wasn't that long ago. Humor me. It seemed to me that if people were still officially gnawing at human limbs in 1969, it was more than possible that, since then, there had been some off-the-books cannibalism going on in Vanuatu."

About two-thirds of the way into the book, Sylvia having become pregnant, the couple decided to move to Fiji, where delivery promised to be less nightmarish. Fiji, it turned out, was full of prostitutes, both male and female, and Troost recounts his adventures on that front with his usual good humor.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Troost's first book, was a laugh-out-loud funny, you-must-go-buy-it-now kind of read. (Really, go buy it now.) Getting Stoned with Savages is not quite as good a book. It drags a bit when Troost is talking about Vanuatu's government, for example. But it suffers in comparison only because the author set the bar so very, very high with his first book. Getting Stoned with Savages is a funny book, and Troost's a likeable, self-deprecating, witty guide through the cultures and countries of Vanuatu and Fiji. Since I'll never be going to either country, I'm glad Troost is around to write about them for us. And I hope he winds up writing a great many more books.

Debra Hamel, Reviewer

Gary's Bookshelf

The True Stella Awards
Randy Cassingham
A Plume Book
375 Hudson Street , New York, NY 10014
0452287715 $13.00

The case is the lady who sued McDonalds and won after spilling hot coffee on herself. Everyone remembers it. Few recall the name of the person who profited from it. Her name was Stella. The award the author made up is to show the frivolous court cases that go through the system. There are many of them and they really show how stupid people can be. For instance, a guy was netting his pool and found a tree limb on the power line. Instead of getting the power company to take care of the situation he did it himself with his net and was electrocuted. His family sued, among others, the power company and a pool supply company because the net pole had no warning label on it. How about the underage male who drank beer at a party, took his girlfriends car, and was killed when he hit a phone pole. His mother sued Coors Brewing Company, the girlfriend, and the person holding the party. Forget the fact her son was underage, did not have a license to drive, took the car without permission, and drove drunk. There are so many cases here that are just plain stupid. They are real and show how much the system has wasted in dealing with them. The author also tried to give ways to change the procedure so that many of them never come to pass. I had to laugh at how dumb these are. One that was missing is the Sea World case in which a guy was killed because he swam around in the "Killer Whale" tank after the park had closed. What the author shows is that many of these people have no common sense and just how greedy they really are. We hear everyday people are getting dumber and dumber; this book is a true reflection of that.

Sofie Metropolis
Tori Carington
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
0765350998 $6.99

Tori Carrington has a hit with this oddball mystery that is in the same class as Stephanie Plum. Sophie, like Plum, has had many different jobs until now where she is a private investigator. Beginning with Sophie finding her fiance with another woman in bed it races along with many interesting characters that I hope will show up in other titles. The novel is a delightful first installment that will have readers laughing out loud.

William Sleator
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
0765353490 $6.99

I really enjoyed this novel about two brothers who it seems try to put one over on the musical world. Humphrey is at a young age a master of the piano. At age 15 though he appears to be washed up. His mother and older brother have a plan to show the world he still has it. They give the appearance that he has written new pieces of music. They have a source from a dead composer's work. But very strange things begin to happen as they continue this elaborate con. I like the storyline and the characters with many twists and turns that kept me turning the pages.

Secrets at Pine Haven
Anne Bonner
Blue Note Books
400 Cocoa Beach Cswy, Cocoa Beach, Fl 32931
187839875X $12.95

Bonner does a very good job of showing that during the Civil War life continued to go on as best as it could in Jacksonville, Florida. The characters are very interesting and I really liked the description of the rural Florida. The novel is easy to read with a very quick pace.

The Bitter Woman's Guide to Dating
Antone Christopher
The Bitter Man Publications
Orlando, Florida
0978532309 $14.95

This second book of the series about dating is funnier than "The Bitter Man's Guide to Dating". It also has more color illustrations and true stories by women about weird dates they've had with men. The most memorable is the man who asked his date to take him to "Wendy's." I just loved his reason to have her take him there. Another remarkable one is the movie date when the guy showed his lack of concern for her when he told her "to stay in a lighted area," on her way to her car. The author has many interesting names for all types of different men women should watch out for. I'm sure females can relate to the numerous types of men. Christopher does a very good job of warning women on what to look for. I like this series and wonder what the author is going to come up with next. He has a very insightful eye on the world of dating.

The King
Rich Koslowski
Top Shelf Publications
1891830651 $19.95

What would the world do if the king of rock and roll came back? That is what the author reveals in his illustrated novel. The question everyone has is, "Is this really Elvis or a very good impersonator?" The book is a lot of fun that no Elvis fan should miss.

The Osha Answer Book
Mark Moran Inc
1536 Kingsley Ave Suite 126, Orange Park, Fl 32073
1890966657 $44.95 1-800-597-2040

Before I read this book I had no idea what OSHA does. I even thought it had something to do with oceans. Now I am aware that it is a federal agency that monitors business. It sets rules for construction and other companies. From the title I thought it would help me understand more. Instead I have less knowledge not because of the author. I could not grasp it because the federal agency is like any other one very complex in its language and it send out mixed messages. You really have to be a rocket scientist to really understand this book. Again, I find no fault with the author. He tried to explain it but it is just too complex for the average person.

John C. Krieg
Ivy House
5122 Bur Oak Circle , Raleigh NC 27612
1571974512 $15.95 919-782-0281

The author does a fine job of showing how our present society is destroying the planet with our wasteful practices. He also compares earlier times with now and shows how people were really conscious of the environment. The book is interesting and has a lot to say about human beings.

The Doorstep of Depravity
Noah Bond
Mission Investments Inc.
P.O. Box 7358, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33338-7358
0967355117 $16.95

A woman named Kay has a chance to inherit millions from a trust fund from a late uncle. There is one catch, she has to be married in a month. She has no prospects and there are other family members who don't want to see her get the money. They go out of their way to make sure she doesn't. She hires attorney Grace O'Higgins to help her. There are many conflicts here with writing that makes this a very good read. The story moves along with great imagery and well fleshed out characters.

Gunsmoke the Last Dog Solider
Joseph A. West
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
0451214919 $5.99

The classic TV show is now a series of novels that capture that same feel. This one has all of the main characters and like the show, is very fast paced. For those of us who are fans this is a perfect way to continue the legacy of the old west. The author has written a very good novel that would have made a great episode.

Phase II
Robert Shuster
PMB #325, 244 Shopping Avenue, Sarasota, Fl 34237-7125
097069898 $12.00

Shuster has once again told a really tense suspenseful tale of an alien attack of planet earth. The characters are believable with a pace that is very fast reading. Shuster is one of the new authors of horror and science fiction that I will read because he writes like the older authors who never forgot to tell a story with a beginning middle and an end. I highly recommend this author, for anyone who is looking for someone new to add their list.

Behavioral First Aid
Virginia J. Duffy PhD, RN
Blue Note Books
400 Cocoa Beach Cswy. Cocoa Beach, Fl 32931
1878398547 $24.99

This book is not really for a mainstream audience, but it has a lot of good information that writers and people going into the field of health care can find useful.

Gary Roen

Gloria's Bookshelf

Bloody Harvests
Richard Kunzmann
Thomas Dunne Books,
c/o St. Martin's Minotaur
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010
0312360339 $23.95 212-674-5151/646-307-5560

For the most part, the first several chapters of Bloody Harvests depict seemingly unrelated scenes, scenes of violence and terror taking place in and around Johannesburg, South Africa. It is shown as a world where superstition plays a big role in the lives of the Zulu, Zhosa, Yoruba and other tribesmen who live there. But the horrors which are committed are rooted firmly in the 'real' world.

The body of a young black child, a girl of perhaps 5 years of age, has been found, mutilated, with organs removed and her throat slit. Assigned to the investigation are D.I. Harry Mason and his partner, Jacob Tshabalah, both men haunted by their past histories dating back to their respective childhoods with which they are unable to come to terms. The murder is thought to be a muti ritual, and the deeply superstitious Africans are terrified of omens and witchcraft seemingly at play. One asks, rhetorically, "How long does a curse endure?" [Muti killings, more commonly known as medicine murder, involve the murder of someone in order to excise body parts for incorporation as ingredients into medicine.] These are dangerous times in the city – eleven fatal shootings in the space of just a few days, kidnapping of young children, a huge drug bust made by the police perhaps triggering reactions among the criminal underworld. And Harry, a white man, must try to understand the occultism and belief in witches that play such a large role. As he is told: "Occultism is about the irrational. What you haven't taken into account is that no witch doctor would risk exposing himself like this. They prefer working in the dark, manipulating people from the shadows."

Of the man the police seek, the author says "He brought them hope just as much as he brought them fear, two strong emotions that can inspire people when he needs them most." Jacob tells Harry, "My people have witnessed things that you whites don't understand – or don't want to understand. You still think our culture is primitive, that our beliefs are stupid, but you know…maybe Africa is just different." This is a dense and dark novel, filled with intensity, complex characterizations, and rich in sense of place of this fascinating culture and country. It is a very good read, and is recommended.

Still Life
Louise Penny
St. Martin's Minotaur
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010
0312352557 $22.95 212-674-5151/646-307-5560

The murder in Still Life is related in the very first sentence of this nonetheless gentle debut novel by Louise Penny. The body of Jane Neal is discovered in the woods outside the village of Three Pines, just south of Montreal, and the case is assigned to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec. Assisting him is young Yvette Nichol, working her first case since achieving her dream of working at the Surete.

'Gentle' is also an apt description of the victim, and Inspector Gamache has a serious challenge in attempting to discover 'whodunit.' Jane was a local artist, albeit one whose work she had never permitted anyone to see, with the exception of one called Fair Day, depicting the closing parade of the local county fair which she has, for the first time, entered into the competition for the village Art show. Her entry provokes strong reactions, many of them negative, but the piece had been accepted. Two days later she is murdered, in what at first appears to have been a hunting accident, as hunting season had just begun, but no weapon is found and no one comes forward to claim responsibility. If it is indeed murder the culprit, it would appear, must be one of the residents of the small village where Jane had lived for nearly all of her 76 years. Interestingly, the weapon appears to have been an old-fashioned wooden bow and arrow. The Inspector muses: 'Looking around he realized how much he liked this place and these people. Too bad one of them was a murderer," and again, "No one was who they seemed. Everyone was more. And one person in this room as very much more."

The novel follows the inexorable progress of the investigation; as the author says, referring to Gamache, "unhurried, unperturbed, unstoppable." The setting is beautiful and beautifully brought to life. The writing, at times, seemed to this reader lacking, to wit: "She knew she had a matter of minutes, maybe moments." [And the difference between those two words--?] And "He also used…, which were different to Jane's." [Different to?] But it was also at times captivating, e.g., "His magical thinking allowed him to be surprised that when such a good soul dies it isn't remarked. The bells of the church didn't set themselves off. The mice and deer didn't cry out. The earth didn't shudder. If he were God, it would have. Instead, the line in the official report would read, 'her neighbors noticed nothing.'" The characters are interesting, especially young Ms. Nichol, full of ambition and conflict as to proper professional behavior. The pace of the book, casual till near the book's conclusion, picks up quite a bit at that point until the identity of the murderer is revealed. An enjoyable read.

Four Kinds of Rain
Robert Ward
St. Martin's Minotaur
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY, 10010,
031235780X $22.95 212-674-5151/646-307-5560

Bob Wells, a liberal and social activist from the old school, is a practicing psychologist in Baltimore without much of a practice, known to his patients, some of whom even pay a fee, as Dr. Bobby. His ex-wife has dumped him for one of their old school buddies who now has a nationally syndicated radio show, he has gambled away his life savings [hastening the breakup of his marriage], and is deep in a state of depression and bitterness. He has now met a young woman with whom he has fallen in love, who tells him that she loves him too but fears repeating the mistakes of her first marriage to a complete loser, and he finds himself contemplating the previously unthinkable: Stealing a legendary and apparently priceless mask supposedly worth millions from one of his patients, a wealthy man who, Bob reasons, will collect the insurance anyway, leaving only the insurance company as a 'victim.' So ends Part One of this new book by Robert Ward, whose previous book, Red Baker, garnered excellent reviews.

The current novel has a protagonist with whom one can almost sympathize, but only 'almost.' Bob's thoughts go from very positive and upbeat, honest and unselfish, one moment, to the pits of self-pity and self-hatred and, for that matter, hatred of [most of] his fellow man, completely self-absorbed and cynical, the next. His changing moods and mind-sets fairly cry out for a shrink of his own. As Bob puts it, he no longer plays by the rules of the civilized world. Oh, and the priceless mask that started it all? It's an ancient Babylonian mask of the god of vengeance and justice. By turn comic, dark and disturbing, Four Kinds of Rain is an offbeat and interesting noir tale.

The Wrong Man
John Katzenbach
Ballantine Books
A division of Random House Inc., 1745 Broadway, NY, NY 10019
0345464834 $25.95 1-800-726-0600

In a tale as immediate and terrifying as any nightmare, John Katzenbach's new novel is the story of Ashley Freeman, a recent college grad about to enter a graduate program in art history in Boston who unwittingly invites a stalker into her young life. The protagonists, Ashley herself; her father, Scott, a college professor; Sally, an attorney and Scott's ex-wife, and Hope, a girls' soccer coach and a guidance counselor and Sally's present partner, are all well-drawn. And then there is Michael O'Connor, the stalker, an unnervingly bizarre, decidedly twisted and absolutely fixated creation, whose tentacles become enmeshed in all their lives to horrifying effect. What began as an ill -conceived adventure that led to an uncharacteristic one-night stand shortly leads Ashley to say to herself 'I am in trouble…this can't be happening." But of course it is, and on that same night the first act of violence occurs. And one is reminded in due course that other things can be done to a person than causing physical harm. As one character states: "You don't have to kill someone to kill them." And another: "…we like to presume that we can recognize danger when it appears on the horizon. Anyone can avoid the danger that has bells, whistles, red lights, and sirens attached to it. It's much harder when you don't exactly know what you're dealing with."

The chapters often have slightly enigmatic headings, and each end with a section of dialogue primarily between two participants whose identity is unknown to the reader. These unsettling devices set the tone for what is to follow. One reads this tale with a rising sense of dread of what is to come. And the sense that anyone can fall victim to such an unsettled mind, in all naivete, as the characters here find themselves initially unable to fathom what is to come: "Don't you imagine that you wouldn't want to believe the safest thing, when in reality the most dangerous thing was lurking right there in front of you." The Wrong Man is a real page-turner, gripping and frightening, and it had this reader's mental fingers crossed and breath held for the outcome and the safety and lives of its protagonists. I recall this author's first book, In the Heat of the Summer, as being equally well-written and nerve-tingling, and his newest offering is recommended.

A Dangerous Man
Charlie Huston
Ballantine Books
1745 Broadway, NY, NY 10019
0345481337 $12.95 800-726-0600

Calling Henry Thompson, the protagonist of the new novel by Charlie Huston, a dangerous man would be a major understatement. After being a baseball phenomenon as a kid, when those dreams for his future are crushed he has become a hit man for some predatory Russians, albeit a reluctant one – a running threat to his parents' lives ensures his continuing his role, which has also left him with a badly scarred and rebuilt face, and dependent on a drugstore's assortment of pharmaceuticals of every description just to get through each day's pain, both the physical and the psychical. Henry looks back at how he got to this place: "People threaten you and push you around and hurt you bad and try to kill you, and finally, they kill people you care about. Someone you love. And you kill back….A man saves you. A man saves your life and offers you a new one…He sees your talents. He sees the things you have done. He knows that you are better at violence than a human being has a right to be at anything. He has uses for a man like you…he spelled out our contract. My parents live, and I work for him for life. And I don't get to decide when that life is over." Brutality becomes the norm: "I look at the back of his head. I see what I usually see when I look at the back of someone's head, I see exactly how it would look if I put some bullets in it."

Henry's latest assignment is to 'bodyguard' a young man who he sees as the embodiment of his own dreams: signed by the New York Mets with a brilliant career ahead of him, starting out in the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones. Henry's job is to ensure that the boy, who has a major gambling addiction, stays out of trouble. But nothing goes as expected. Things Henry has done in the past come back to haunt him, literally and figuratively.

Charlie Huston has previously written Already Dead, the first of the Joe Pitt Casebooks [the second in that series, No Dominion, is due out January 1, 2007]. A Dangerous Man is the final book in his Henry Thompson trilogy, and it is a fast-paced, original, suspense-filled and brutal book. It's hard to root for a man like Henry, but he is living a life he did not choose and one can't help hoping he comes out of it without too many more awful things happening to him and those around him, things done to him and by him, but it's almost too much to hope for. Somehow the author manages to make the reader pull for this most unsympathetic of protagonists, no easy feat.

Gloria Feit

Gorden's Bookshelf

Bones Buried Deep
Max Allan Collins
Pocket Star Books published by Pocket Books
A division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
1416524614 $7.99

Collins is a writer who can walk the line between a screenplay and novel. In 'Bones Buried Deep,' he brings the feel of the 'Bones' TV show into the more measured format of a novel. He catches most of the characteristics of the actors in the show and brings in the personal details a novel format excels in. FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth has been working for months to arrest two Chicago Mafia bosses. His star witness is kidnapped from a safe house. Before he can find out what happened to his witness, a complete skeleton is left at the front door of the FBI building in Chicago. He requests that Dr. Temperance Brennan be sent to examine the skeleton. She immediately finds out that the skeleton is a mix of bones from multiple bodies. Before the detailed examination of the skeleton can begin, another mixed skeleton is discovered. Bodies, bones, suspects and clues come faster than they can be fully understood. Tempe and Booth must find a way through the mass of evidence to discover who is sending them bones. Those who love the 'Bones' TV show will love this book. Those who love Kathy Reich's character, Dr. Temperance Brennen, will love this novel. It is a perfect mystery/action novel to spend a short weekend with. It is light escapism at its best.

Map of Bones
James Rollins
Avon Books
An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
0060765240 $7.99

Rollins is a fresh writer in the action first historical mystery. As with other authors, some historical facts are woven into an action mystery. The result is a feel of possible reality to an otherwise all action high tech story. Rollins can be a little too much action but the blending of fact and fiction is worth the breathless read.In a German cathedral, a band of killers dressed as monks murder the congregation with guns and mysterious electrocutions. They steal the bones of the Magi, which were displayed at the cathedral. A mixed team of specialists from the US and the Vatican are assigned to find out why the bones were stolen and stop the killing. Grayson Pierce is the leader of the team and Lieutenant Rachel Verona from the Italian carabinieri is a key player in the upcoming investigation. The future of the world is at stake as well as the lives of the investigating team. They must solve the mystery of the Magi bones while dodging the murderous attempts on their lives by a secret group who seem to be everywhere.'The Map of Bones' is a fun action/mystery read with an even stronger history blend than many of the current popular writers. It is a fun romp into possibilities. It is highly recommended to any reader who has a strong enough heart to handle the non-stop action.

S.A. Gorden

Harwood's Bookshelf

The Night Is Large: Collected Essays, 1938-1995
Martin Gardner
St Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10010
031214380X $18.95

Martin Gardner, besides conforming to what Robert Heinlein defined as a synthesist, meaning a person whose conclusions synthesize his knowledge of practically everything, is also a brilliant satirist. The essay in which he "proved" that Dr Watson was the real author of the books for which Conan Doyle took the credit, and that Sancho Panza was the true author of the Don Quixote books for which Miguel Cervantes claimed authorship, produced a consequence when it was first published in a Sherlock Holmes anthology that could have been foreseen.

Yet Gardner expresses amazement that, "many readers took this seriously" (p. 183). His 1995 postscript about the exposure of similar hoaxes, such as spelling out such denouements as the perpetrators' confession that they had faked the "Cottingley fairies" photos, makes no mention of Jonathan Swift's satirical, "A Modest Proposal," that likewise was taken seriously. Only the best satire can be mistaken for nonfiction, and Gardner's piece puts him right up there alongside Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, and the liberal humanist who writes far-out, right wing, extremist verbal diarrhea under the pseudonym, "Ann Coulter." "Our Republican-controlled Congress, having learned nothing from the fate of supply-side Reaganomics, is now struggling to move us even further back to the days of Coolidge and Hoover." Gardner's book containing that observation was published in 1982. In 1996 he addended (p. 105), "It could have been written yesterday." And in 2006 it could still have been written yesterday.

Gardner's chapter on cultural relativism, epitomized in the assertion that, "No anthropologist had a right to say that culture A was more successful in meeting the needs of its members than culture B" (p. 149), makes clear that he is against it. Criticizing a Dutch social scientist who defended clitoridectomy and lambasted western feminists for regarding it as a violation of human rights, he declared, "I wouldn't be surprised to learn of some hardcore relativists who object to condemning female infanticide and the burning of widows in India, the binding of feet in the Orient, black slavery in the Confederate States, the German Holocaust, and the Spanish Inquisition" (p. 161). Does anyone today believe the atrocity of 9/11/2001 should be evaluated in the light of the Islamic culture that applauded it? Gardner would have said no, and so would everyone else whose moral evolution exceeds that of an AIDS virus.

Gardner's annihilation of the abysmally disinforming Close Encounters of the Third Kind, while reporting that the book and movie "reflect the extent to which ufology has become a pop religion" (p. 245), stops short of calling Steven Spielberg a prostitute. That is a pity. In an essay on the Klingon language, invented by a linguist specifically for the fourth Star Trek movie and regarded by its own creator as a joke (the Klingon word for "love" is "bang"), Gardner wonders if fanatics who plan to translate Shakespeare and the Bible into Klingon have nothing better to do with their time. He asks, "Is this all a put-on?" (p. 164) I consider myself a Star Trek appreciator. But on this point I am completely on Gardner's side.

Gardner's introduction to his chapters on pseudoscience states, "We (CSICOP) are often accused of being debunkers. I am proud of the term. Our role is to debunk, not the in-between claims that are hard to classify, but pseudoscience as preposterous as homeopathy, Scientology, orgonomy, ufology, creationism, astrology, and a hundred other absurd claims that lack adequate evidence and that damage science education and weaken our culture" (p.171). Anyone who does not know that Martin Gardner is the superstitious hogwash peddlers' worst nightmare has not read the five chapters in this section.

Of Sigmund Freud, Gardner writes (p. 207), "Since then [the publication of an essay reprinted here], I am delighted to report Freud's reputation as a scientist has continued its rapid downhill slide." Freud was temporarily rehabilitated when the raving fruitcake Tom Cruise denounced his discipline, raising the question, "With enemies like Scientology, who needs friends?" But Gardner's observation (p. 171) that, "In the long run, good science drives out bad," should eventually seal his fate.

The one area in which Gardner's ability to evaluate evidence and reach conclusions consistent with the evidence evaporates is religion. Despite his awareness that Intelligent Design is the desperate doublethink of the intestinally challenged; the Bible is an anthology of fairy tales comparable with Mother Goose; and the Argument from Design is fatally flawed; he cannot shake his conviction that the universe is produced and directed by a ruling intelligence that for convenience he calls "God," even though he sees it as analogous to Star Wars' "Force" rather than anthropomorphic. The essay in which he tries to justify his position, while simultaneously acknowledging that it "cannot be supported by logic or science" (p. 533), reveals a good deal about his self-hypnosis (for want of a better term), but nothing about objective reality. His belief in what The X Files would call "something out there" does not, however, diminish his ability to debunk specific religious myths. His 1995 Free Inquiry essay, "The Wandering Jew and the Second Coming" starts from the same interpretation of the myth's purpose as my 2001 paper of the same title for Freethought Perspective. But Gardner catalogues centuries of literary treatments of the myth, as I did not.

Not every chapter in The Night Is Large will interest every reader. Since the various papers were written for widely varying audiences, that is only to be expected. I personally skipped the entire section on philosophy. Persons who view those chapters as the book's main thrust will probably skip chapters that I enjoyed. That does not diminish the reality that this selection from Gardner's fifty years of essay writing identifies him as a science educator comparable with Isaac Asimov, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, and Carl Sagan. May he live forever.

The Trigger
Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Kube-McDowell
Bantam Books
1745 Broadway, NY 10019
0553104586 $24.95

Arthur Clarke has been writing moral philosophy encapsulated in science fiction even longer than Robert Heinlein, starting as far back as the short story that became Childhood's End. He has never been a fan of organized religion (or disorganized religion for that matter), and even while keeping his assaults on religion low-key, he usually managed to send a message through the mere fact that addiction to pie in the sky was restricted to his less discriminating characters.

But religion per se is not the only sacred cow that has felt the barb of Clarke's whip. The Trigger is an all-out denunciation of the Neanderthal Rednecks Association's determination to retain the right to kill their wives and children with the big guns that compensate for their small penises. The story begins with the invention of a device that, in its final modification, renders all explosive materials inert. And in case anyone doubts that this is a good thing, the narrative casually portrays a significant drop in the crime rate as a consequence of that invention. But the book's strongest message, that the gun advocates are not sparking on all neurons and will go to extremes to retain the power that only an imitation phallus can give them, is found in Clarke's delineation of what specific actions gun fanatics could conceivably take. One of the book's minor characters, the president of the NRA, to whom Clarke attributes characteristics intended to rebut any allegation that he is modeled on Charlton Heston, murders a senator who sponsors gun-control laws that an overwhelming majority of Americans, both in the novel and in real life, support. Since the book was written in 1999, the portrayal of the assassin as a suicide bomber is best viewed as coincidence. But it is no coincidence that the most paranoid, certifiable Wild West throwbacks are portrayed as unquestioning god-addicts to whom scientists who cannot be discredited must be vaporized because they are all atheists. And the parallel between the Redneck Right's heretic-burners and al Qaeda, even to the point of having women and children applauding their evangelists' atrocities, is so close as to be chilling.

There is a scene in which the physicist who designed the Trigger, after being captured by god-loves-guns terrorists, voluntarily participates in a hymn-singing ceremony in recognition that failure to pander to the fanatics' mythology could result in his immediate execution. And there is a full-page transcript of the preacher's chants and the congregation's conditioned responses. It is hard to escape the inference that Clarke's reason for forcing readers to plow through such superstitious drivel is to encourage them to despise persons who participate in such mindlessness as much as he does.

Clarke's worst is equal to most writers' best. And The Trigger is among his best.

William Harwood

Kaye's Bookshelf

Create, Sell and Grow Rich
Dr. Jan Cooper
Outskirts Press
Parker, CO
1598003690, $13.95

Create, Sell and Grow Rich is a self-help book which is well-designed and organized. It is divided into three parts, easy to read and inspirational. Dr. Cooper has an expensive background to assist you in your efforts. If you've read other self-help books, I don't think you'll find anything significantly new in this one. However, you may find that Dr. Cooper presents his motivational material in a way to which you can relate. As far as self-help books go, I have rated this one as good.

The Broadhurst Manor Curse
G. Graham Vago
Outskirts Press, Inc.
10940 S. Parker Rd - 515, Parker, CO
1598004964 $12.95

This is a novel about a young woman, Constance Martin, beginning when she lost her parents at age 14 and ending with her death. There's mystery, suspense, love and life. The chapters are very short and the story moves smoothly. It is a well-edited POD-published book. If you're looking for an easy read with some intrigue and light romance, this might be just the book. G. Graham Vago writes with a straight-forward, simplistic style, and this is her first novel. Good luck and congratulations!

Promises on a Ring of Stone
J. R. Campbell
2021 Pine Lake Rd, Lincoln, NE
0595392024, $14.95

David Llewellyn, an American writer vacationing on the Caribbean island of Grand Kirkmuir, quickly finds himself embroiled in bitter island politics, a new love interest and an ancient Celtic pagan rite for eternal youth–making for an informative, interesting read. J. R. Campbell is a consummate writer who tells his tale with an appealing style and adroitness. His talent for description adds considerably to the pleasure of this read. As there are many books out there these days, style and skill are paramount to compete for a reader's attention. His novel–well-written and well-edited–pulls you in and carries you along smoothly to the end, and I highly recommend it.

Allow me to share with you an excerpt from pages 1-2: "The wind rose up as he stepped across the age-worn threshold, slamming the door shut loudly behind him. The sound echoed strangely through the vast emptiness of the kitchen, causing him to take note of his surroundings. The housekeeper had been given the night off, leaving him alone in the old house. This was the oldest part of Buxton Hall, having survived more or less unchanged for the last one hundred and thirty years. From the hardwood cupboards on the white plaster walls, to the long oak table at which he'd been served breakfast every morning for the last few weeks, most of the kitchen's furnishings were held over from that time. All of a sudden he stopped his slow passage through the room, struck by a curious appreciation of that fact for perhaps the first time. He stood still in the darkness, listening to the silence, sensing behind the veil of nighttime's shadows the presence of lives long past. As he dwelled in the detached solitude of those moments, he had no doubt at all that Hannah once had stood where he was standing now." The back cover tells us that J. R. Campbell is a student of comparative religion and mythology, grew up in England and drew upon his ancestral Caribbean folklore for inspiration.

The Many Indiscretions of Arty Boyle
Gerard Shirar
2021 Pine Lake Road, Ste 100, Lincoln, NE
1595382924, $23.95

Quoting from back cover:

"Arthur "Arty" Garret Boyle is a master manipulator. With a sociopathic personality and an IQ of 175, he embarks on a career as an art dealer and popular musician. He associates with those in the criminal world as well as the elite of society, thereby mixing his legitimate art business with stolen and forged art. "Boyle finds himself hunted by FBI agent Terry Latimer of the bureau's Art Recovery Squad and is convicted of stealing paintings from the Robert Farmsworth estate. Boyle fails to appear for sentencing and a fugitive warrant is issued. While a fugitive, Boyle masterminds the theft of a famous Rembrandt painting. He reasons that he will help the authorities "find" the painting in exchange for leniency for his crimes. "But Arty expands on his original plan and exploits the stolen Rembrandt painting while being pursued by Agent Latimer. Can Arty successfully escape, or will Agent Latimer finally capture him?" Gerard Shirar is a good writer and has used his background and knowledge of the art world and law enforcement to create this page-turner of a novel. He's an artist of description with an appealing writing style. If you're interested in the multiple facets of the art world, you won't disappointed by The Many Indiscretions of Arty Boyle. Gerard Shirar served for ten years as the Director of Security for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and presently practices law in Everett, Mass.

Drizzle of Yesteryears and Other Stories
M. K. Ajay
Frog Books
4A, Diamond House, Mumbai 400 050 India
8188811424 $10.00

And I quote from the Foreword:

"This book is a collection of stories about the people of Pambunkavu, a fictional village situated in the Malabar region of Kerala, a souther Indian state. The twenty-first century Pambunkavu is a village which has lost its innocence, and the substantial diaspora of its people living in foreign lands has contributed to the integration and 'corruption' of this village with a sense of modernity. "The narratives capture the lives of these 'villagers' either 'at home' or 'in exile'– the former dealing with happenings within their native land and the latter following their lives outside their home state. Accordingly, the seventeen stories in this collection are organized in two sections . . . which treat the lives of the people of Pambunkavu separately, depending on their physical location." This book is well-written and well-edited. Many of the stories are simplistic to the extent that I wondered why they were written, but as I am not an authority on poetry, I thought possibly the significance was beyond me. There were two stories which particularly appealed to me: A Question of Morality and Fortunes of Circus–a dreamlike occurrence with interesting imagery–allow me to quote an excerpt: "These are moments when legends die, their words hanging upside down like the mangled knots of roots that drop from the branches of trees to the brown earth. Their words which you worshipped are buried, then exhumed, and the bones are flung into the primitive lands of metaphors–it is these moments, when the world has desecrated his legends, that a man faces his most difficult dilemma." M K Ajay's writings have appeared in many publications. He has a Master's degree in Psychology and is a post-graduate in Human Resources Management and currently lives in Kuala Lumpur.

Welcome to the Ahwahnee
R. E. Starr, Inc.
1591136075, $16.95

Welcome to the Ahwahnee is one of the most interesting books I've read in sometime. About the story, well, I'd have to say . . . it's about travel within a multiverse, as opposed to time travel within a universe. The concept of 'time' is a key factor, as is the 'multiverse.' It is a complex, intriguing mystery filled with historical facts, starting with WWII. R. E. Starr is an intelligent, knowledgeable writer with an extraordinary imagination who has woven historical reality into this fictional novel with an artistic flare. All his characters come to life–ordinary people dealing with difficult and challenging events. The complexity of this novel could be compared to the Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. The story is well-written, well-edited and definitely a page turner. Allow me to share several excerpts with you . . . from pages 184 and 185:

"Sabrina sat stunned. She had grown to believe Kurt visited another world when he melded his mind with another. She accepted the fact Natalia and Mika traveled through a portal defined by a painting. But this, this seems . . . what? She didn't know. Impossible was the only word that came to mind. She turned towards Kurt. 'It can't be. Mr. Rhodes is saying fifty years has passed in the last week. It's impossible.'"'I'm . . .' Kurt wasn't sure how to respond. He dropped his eyes from her questioning stare. Sabrina's words rang true to Kurt's rational mind until he considered all of his seemingly impossible experiences. Her words then transformed themselves into a falsehood. No, the photo is telling the truth. The four men lived fifty years in the last few days. How, Kurt had no idea. 'I'm afraid it's only impossible if you assume the laws of our classic physics hold throughout the multiverse. They don't. We're dealing with laws we don't understand.'. . . "Melvin Rhodes chuckled. 'Anyway. As I was saying, in your slice of the multiverse, time seems to pass second by second. In other slices, however, time can pass years or millenniums in one of your seconds, or it can pass seconds in one of your years or millenniums.' "'What are you saying?' "'I'm saying, to understand the riddle behind the paintings, forget time–it's irrelevant. All slices of the multiverse exist at all times. When portal travelers move from one slice to another, they're not altering time–they're only changing their I position.'" Even if you're not a science fiction fan, the succinct presentation of historical facts and events will be of interest–illustrative of Starr's extensive knowledge. For a POD published novel, Welcome to the Ahwahnee is an exceptional read, and you won't be disappointed. R. E. Starr is the author of three novels: Welcome of the Ahwahnee, Mounds and Retribution, which I reviewed in August 2006. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and lives with his wife, Doris, and their cats in Florida. He can be reached by email at or his website,

The Road Letters
Phil Ribaudo
Aventine Press
1023 4th Avenue, #204, San Diego, CA 92101
1593304293 $15.99

The Road Letters is a novel about love, travel, personal growth and recipes. Phil Ribaudo has presented this pot-pourri of life in a unique, interesting manner–including an audio journal of Nick Anthony's travels and thoughts, photographs, recipes and letters to Laura. The book is well-written and well-edited, and if you're interested in novels written with a unique twist, this story may appeal to you. If one aspect is not of interest, possibly another will be. If you are interested in travel and personal growth, I can certainly recommend this novel. Phil is a native New Yorker who now calls San Francisco and the Bay Area his home. He is a private chef which adds to the value of the recipes he shares. In addition to The Road Letters, he has written The Princess and the Servant Boy, an illustrated fairy tale.

Mommy Confidential: Adventures from the Wonderbelly of Motherhood
Melinda Roberts
Aventine Press
1593304358, $19.95

Melinda Roberts certainly has a gift, and it's wonderful that she's taken the time to share it with us. Mommy Confidential is a compilations of family stories including: her children's creative comments, a mother's daily challenges and frustrations as she raises three active children, pursues a career, and deals with divorce and health issues. The memoir is considerable in depth and divided into seasons over a three year period–2002-2005–and then into days with catchy titles. Allow me to quote from the back cover:

"Mommy Confidential: Adventures from the Wonderbelly of Motherhood is a naked, brutally funny, endearingly honest chronicle of family life beset by disaster on many fronts. Mindy keeps her family together through catastrophic illness, four bouts of postpartum depression, financial peril, familial Waterloo, and job instability. All through it her sense of humor and her sharp, edgy, witty writing keeps her together and upright. No, really."

That pretty much tells it like it is. It's a book you can pick up, open to any page and find something to make you laugh or to which you can relate. Mindy's sense of humor about life and living can't help but inspire and lighten our loads just a little. This diarylike memoir is well-written and well-edited but considerably long. I'm certain it will appeal to all parents . . . of all ages, but particularly to mothers.

Calling the Dead
Marilyn Meredith
Mundania Press LLC
6470A Glenway Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio
1594263523, $11.00

Quoting from the back cover:

Tempe Crabtree is a resident deputy of Bear Creek, a small mountain community in the southern Sierra. Her continuing interest in the spiritual side of her heritage often causes unrest in her marriage to his minister husband. "In Calling the Dead, Deputy Tempe Crabtree investigates a murder that looks like death from natural causes, and a suicide that looks like murder. "Putting her job on the line, she investigates the murder on her own time and without permission from her superiors. Jeopardizing her marriage, she uses Native American ways to call back the dead to learn the truth about the suicide." This novel is your typical mystery genre, following the formula. It's a good read, well-written, and the Marilyn Meredith is a good writer. The Native American legends included add something special to this story. Tempe and her husband, Hutch, come across as warm, caring people who live in a small mountain town. If you like mysteries which include Native Americans and their beliefs, you'll most likely enjoy this novel.

A Dog Called Leka
Willard Manus
Viveca Smith Publishing
3001 S. Hardin Blvd, McKinney TX
0974055131, $5.99

I often quote from the back cover as it tell so succinctly the essence of the story, and that is true here too. "A Dog Called Leka tells the story of Ben Edgeworth, an eighteen-year old American boy, and his remarkable dog Leka, as they sail among the Greek isles in a catamaran built by Ben himself. Leka came to Ben as a hungry stray, searching the shipyard for scraps of food. He quickly proves himself to be a faithful companion in an extraordinary journey that will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned. Join the two adventurers on their journey, as they face unexpected dangers, using their wits and skill to survive." Ben had lost both his parents to a freak storm while they were en route to Bermuda. He decided to follow their dream and, with the help of Lukas, built his own sailing boat which he sailed among the Greek isles, later to consider sailing across the Atlantic and into the Caribbean. There are many problems which both Ben and Leka must overcome. Willard Manus writes in a straightforward, honest manner and the story flows smoothly. Besides being a well-written fictional novel, the story contains considerable information about the Greek Islands, their history and the people. Considering the price of this book, it's well worth taking a chance on this writer. You'll learn something new while you enjoy the adventure.

Witch Ember
John Lawson
America House Publishing
c/o PublishAmerica
PO Box 151, Frederick, MD 21705-0151
1591290384, $29.95

John Lawson has created a magical world with its own language, not for the faint of heart. If you love fantasy, you'll most likely enjoy Witch Ember, as John tells this tale with imaginative flare and consummate writing skills. Follow Esmeree as she discovers her powers and seeks her destiny. As I am not a fantasy fan, I do not feel I can comment further; however, I can recommend this book based on the fine quality of writing. John Lawson is a technical writer and online help developer by trade and lives with his wife and son in the Silicon Valley.

Cracking Grace
Steven Stromp
Lulu Press
1847286860, $11.99

Cracking Grace is a short novel which delves into spirituality and grief, coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. Quoting from the back cover:

"Cracking Grace is a fantasy that explores the very basic concepts of religion and spirituality–through the eyes of Audry, a young girl who has just lost her mother–and through the eyes of Mary, a cemetery statue. As Audry questions the loss of her mother, Mary's inquisitive nature causes her to form her own questions. Aided by her faithful companion and information gatherer, a bluebird named Bluebell, Mary sets out on a mission to learn more about the world around her. As Audry's father spins out of control psychologically, Audry and Mary develop an unlikely friendship after discovering how to communicate." Steven Stromp has taken an interesting approach to communicate his thoughts on life's mysteries to us. If you enjoy books dealing with spirituality, you may enjoy this story as well. It is well-written and edited, and for a debut novel, I have rated it as 'good.' Steven lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and you can contact him at or visit his web site

Kaye Trout

Margaret's Bookshelf

White as Snow
Donna Westover Gallup
Cladach Publishing
PO Box 336144, Greeley, CO 80633
0975961942 $9.99 970-371-9530

Book One of the Mysterious Ways series, White as Snow: A Christmas Story is a novel for all ages about the power of miracles and the bonds of trust. An orphaned boy named Charlie cares for his dying grandpa, wondering how he will survive the winter; as the first storm of the season comes, so too comes help in the form of an unknown mountain man who appears at the isolated ranch. Though good things start to happen, dangers and uncertainty remain - Charlie must come to terms with himself and trust the stranger with his most deeply hidden secret. A transformational and heartwarming holiday story.

New Light
Annette Gilson
Black Heron Press
PO Box 95676, Seattle, WA 98145
0930773772 $23.95

When Beth Martin wakes up one day feeling she has wasted precious years of her life, she decides to visit her college roommate now living in St. Louis and take what time she needs to get her bearings. While at a party Beth experiences what she feels is a vision, but one that is both disconcerting even while it is also compelling. A chance meeting with a neuroscientist researching the vision phenomenon results in Beth accompanying him to 'New Light', a commune in the mountains with a charismatic leader. Here Beth encounters new possibilities and the need to address questions of faith, personality responsibility, jealousy, desire, loyalty, and tolerance. "New Light" by Annette Gilson offers the reader an original and compellingly written excursion into the world of utopian communal living that is a thoughtful, thought-provoking, and consistently entertaining and confidently recommended read.

The Legacy
Ellen Ekstrom
Trivium Publishing, LLC
PO Box 1831, Lake Charles, LA 70602
1017 Virginia Street, Berkeley, CA 94710 (author)
0972209123 $16.95

Francesco is not one of those shining knights of legend. He has made many a mistake and paid for each of them dearly. He's one knight that would rather make love than war. The problem is that Francesco is the count of Romena – and his legacy is contested. Meaning that Francesco is in the the fight of his life against his family, his church, and even himself. Set within the backdrop of fourteen century Italy where politics was a deadly game and losing was lethal, "The Legacy" is an engaging and strongly recommended historical novel by Ellen Ekstrom, a new writer who presents remarkable attention to detail, and who has deftly crafted a truly engaging storyline that holds firmly from first page to last.

My Magic Square
Arianna Snow
Golden Horse LTD.
PO Box 1002, Cedar Rapids, IA 52406-1002
0977230813 $13.99

The sequel to "Patience, My Dear", My Magic Square, which follows the adventures of Hiram McDonnally, debonair individual who returns to a small village in 1913 Scotland only to discover a tangled mix of dishonesty, intrigue, star-crossed love, and eroding trust among the villagers. A comedy of errors held together with taut suspense and biting dialogue, My Magic Square is a delicious pleasure from beginning to end. Naomi, the heroine of "Patience, My Dear", also returns in this "must-read" sequel for all who delighted in the previous volume.

Chance Encounters
Virginia Nosky
Treble Heart Books
1284 Overlook Drive, Sierra Vista, AZ 85635
1932695168 $12.95 480-948-5384

The second contemporary romance novel by Virginia Nosky, Chance Encounters (2005 Honorable Mention for Fiction by the Arizona Author's Association) is set amid the election for an Arizona governor. Charismatic candidate Chance Mallory clashes with the determined mayor of Phoenix Barbara Stafford and her indispensable staff lawyer and niece, Athena Kerr. When Athena and Chance come together, sparks fly - but more than political realities barricade their feelings, as another woman in Chance's past comes to the fore. An engaging romantic adventure between highly competitive and competent individuals.

Margaret Lane

Mayra's Bookshelf

The Pink Room
Mark LaFlamme, Inc.
PO Box 2399, Bangor, ME 04402-2399
1591138531 $15.95

Do you enjoy a good scary story that weaves elements of science and horror yet stays traditional without too much techno slang? If yes, then this is the book for you. In The Pink Room, talented author Mark LaFlamme takes cosmology, quantum mechanics, and the string theory and mixes them with the supernatural to create a compelling scenario that will both pull at your heart strings and chill your blood.

The story begins as the protagonist, well-known horror author Jonathan Cain, moves for the summer to a mysterious Second-Empire-styled house bordered by woods in the small town of Mulberry, Maine. Though most believe that the author is there to write, Cain has his own hidden agenda.

For a short time, the house used to be the home of the world's top physicist Theodore Currie, who had built it himself following some very detailed and strange specifications, complete with the turret tower - or the 'pink room' - which happens to be an exact replica of his little daughter's room before she died. Currie also had a hidden agenda - he believed he could bring back his beloved little girl. That is, until his dead body was found filled with bites in the woods nearby the house…

Now, Cain is sure he can succeed at what Currie failed, and that is to bring his beloved Kimberly back from the dead and make her stay….

The Pink Room is one of those books you won't like to read alone at night. It will make you look over your shoulder and go jumpy. The little town, the dense woods, and especially the house all add to create an excellent atmosphere of darkness and threat. The novel touches the reader intellectually and emotionally, making it all the more terrifying. Though LaFlamme uses the science to add depth, he doesn't let it get in the way of the story with too much heavy vocabulary. The pace is fast, the characters' motivations real, and the suspense doesn't let down. LaFlamme has a real talent for knowing what resides in the mind of the horror author. This novel will be thoroughly enjoyed by fans of the genre, as well as by horror authors themselves. Highly recommended.

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing
Mark Levine
Bridgeway Books
212 3rd Ave Suite 471, Minneapolis, MN 55401
1933538562 $16.95

Are you thinking of self publishing your book but feel confused and unable to choose between all the different companies out there? If yes, then this is the book for you. In The Fine Print of Self Publishing, author Mark Levine examines and analyses the contracts and services of forty-eight major self publishing companies and ranks them in order, from the most outstanding to those to avoid. In other words, he does all the hard work for you.

The book will explain you what to look for when choosing a POD publisher, how to negotiate a contract if necessary, how to make sure to get the best deal, and how to differentiate most of the biggest self publishing companies. Levine lists the nine qualities a good self-publishing company should have, and shows how to read 'behind' the contract. He also explains the method he used to rank the companies in order, from Outstanding, to Pretty Good, to Just Okay, to Publishers to Avoid. Not only does he ranks them, but analyses them in detail as well.

The only disadvantage with this type of book is that by the time it goes into print, some of the information is outdated, so some of the company services mentioned may not be available anymore. That said, this book is an invaluable resource if you're planning to self publish your book. It will open your eyes and make you decide which company works best for you and your book. Highly recommended.

Mayra Calvani

Paul's Bookshelf

Green Day: American Idiots and the New Punk Explosion,
Ben Myers
The Disinformation Company Ltd
163 Third Ave, #108, New York, NY 10003;
193285732X $19.95

This is an unauthorized, but very favorable, biography of Green Day, one of the world's biggest punk music bands. The trio that became Green Day grew up in small towns near San Francisco. Each coming from difficult family circumstances, they fell in love with punk music (the Dead Kennedys, the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, among many others). They formed a band, and soon became mainstays at a place called 924 Gilman. It was little more than a vacant building, but it quickly became a West Coast punk rock mecca. On any given night, veteran punk bands and bands playing their first gig would share the bill. In the early days, Green Day was constantly on tour. They played basements, squats, anywhere they could plug in their instruments. Some nights, their audience might reach double digits, and other nights they might actually get paid for their efforts. They were living the punk rock lifestyle, fueled by large amounts of alcohol. They were loose and slacker-like about many things, but they were totally serious about their music.

Slowly but surely, they were building a fan base. Their first two albums, on a small punk label, did really well, eventually selling in the hundreds of thousands. Their first major label release, Dookie, in 1994, was a blockbuster, eventually selling 10 million copies. Marriage, fatherhood and burnout became a part of their lives, so they cut back on the incessant touring. But they were now filling major arenas. While some punk music can be indistinguishable from very loud, random noise, a big influence for Green Day was 1960s British bands, so there was actual music in their songs. In 2004, they released a concept album called American Idiot, another blockbuster and Grammy winner, giving their view of present-day America. I really enjoyed reading this book. Of course, this book is highly recommended for those who own any of the band's musical output. It is also recommended for anyone, yours truly included, who has seen a video or two of theirs on TV, but who knows little or nothing about punk music in general, or Green Day in particular.

The Intellligence Files: Today's Secrets, Tomorrow's Scandals
Olivier Schmidt
Clarity Press
3277 Roswell Rd. NE, #469, Atlanta, GA 30305;
0932863426 $14.95

This is a collection of articles from a European online journal called Intelligence. They deal with that netherworld where national and international politics, the military and the spy business intersect. It sounds like a good thing for developing countries to put aside large tracts of land for "nature." Such a practice has now become required to receive Western aid. The poorer a country is, the more land they have to take out of production. How can a country dig itself out of poverty if large portions of their territory are no longer available for farming or livestock? To give one example of this new form of empire, 40 percent of the territory of Tanzania is now within strictly protected zones. An extremely sophisticated radar system, called Have Stare, is being installed in Norway, its official purpose being to monitor space junk. Its actual purpose is as part of the Star Wars missile defense system.

Ever since a passenger plane crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, in the late 1980s, the whole world has blamed Libya. They recently "admitted" responsibility, even though the evidence to prove it was flimsy, at best. If any one event can be said to have started "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, it was the shootings of more then 40 unarmed protesters by British troops in 1972 in Londonderry (Bloody Sunday). A government inquiry, which became dismissed as a whitewash, absolved the soldiers of responsibility, declaring that they fired in self-defense. An independent inquiry came to the conclusion that the protesters really were unarmed, and that the British troops fired first. I totally enjoyed this book, and learned a lot from it, but I am something of a foreign politics lover. More than the usual amount of knowledge of world affairs would help when reading this book, but it is very highly recommended.

I Am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick
Emanuel Carrere
Picador Books
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
0312424515, $15.00

This book is not just a biography of Philip K. Dick, famous science fiction writer; the movies Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report are based on his stories. It is also an attempt to find out what made him tick, to get inside his mind. And that is a strange place to be. Dick was born in 1928, near Berkeley, California, half of a set of twins. Evidently, his mother knew little or nothing about child rearing, because Jane, his twin, died at 6 weeks of age, possibly of starvation. Her death affected Dick for his entire life. He was a big lover of classical music, and a voracious reader, especially of psychology, philosophy, and later in his life, religion. Dick never achieved his dream of becoming a "serious" novelist, though not for lack of effort. Writing science fiction simply paid the bills, until he became successful at it. His first wife was a Communist sympathizer (having an FBI file in 1950s Berkeley was practically a badge of honor), he got his second wife sent to a mental hospital, and his third wife left him, and took their young daughter, when he objected to her getting a job outside the home.

Dick had a fear of being alone. Dick was a paranoid agoraphobic who was subject to panic attacks. He was, shall we say, well acquainted with the world of prescription drugs, taking them for all sorts of physical and mental ailments. On speed, he could write a novel in two weeks, without sleeping, though he knew that he would physically pay for it later. In later years, he was perceived as some sort of LSD guru, even though he took it only once. There were a couple of stints in drug rehab. As a youngster, during one of his rare trips to a movie theater, Dick was suddenly convinced that nothing existed outside the theater. The four walls and the pictures on the screen were the sum total of reality.

Another time, he wondered if he was really alive, or if he was simply an android who was programmed with false memories so that he would think that he was alive. In later years, Dick turned a couple of innocent fan letters from Eastern Europe into a plot to get him behind the Iron Curtain, and keep him there. Anyone who has ever read one of Dick's novels, or seen one of the movies based on his stories, needs to read this book. For those not familiar with Philip Dick, read this as a look into the mind of a very strange person.

Paul Lappen

Richard's Bookshelf

Taking on Goliath
Rob Marshall
Morgan James Publishing, LLC
1225 Franklin Avenue Ste. 325, Garden City, NY 11530-1693
1933596597, $ 17.95

Unleashing the Power to Defeat Our Personal Goliaths

Rob Marshall draws from personal experiences and from the life of David in this book of inspiration, practical tips, and sound advice. Taking lessons from the life of David, we learn about the characteristics of faith. We can begin to look for those same characteristics in our own lives as we face today's Goliaths.

Marshall puts it this way: "By learning what faith looks like, we will be able to examine our own faith in concrete ways. We will become aware of which characteristics are strong in our lives and which ones need work." These lessons help the reader establish goals and life dreams. In a natural progression from preparation to celebration, Marshall provides action steps at the end of each chapter to help you pursue your goals and dreams. Through examples drawn from business to politics Rob addresses the struggles common to all of us. These real life illustrations challenge the way we look at our faith and our abundance. Marshall is consistent in his premise. Throughout our lives we face our own Goliaths. There will always be battles that test our faith. David's victory over Goliath reminds us that no matter where we find ourselves in life and no matter what limitations we think we have, nothing can stop us when God is with us. God is the one who is mapping our lives and perfecting our faith. "Taking on Goliath" provides practical steps to unleash the David in all of us. Rob Marshall exhibits a gift for writing refreshing, challenging, insights into spiritual truth and offers an approach to tackle the individual "Goliath's" we all come up against. I am looking forward to the next book in this "Faith-Full Life" series.

A Speck in God's Eye
Lola (Bollom) Schroeder, and William J. Bollom
2021 Pine Lake Rd., Lincoln, NE 68512
0595379508, $21.95

Significant, Heartwarming, Thought Provoking

Co-authors Lola Bollom Schroeder and William J. Bollom have written this absorbing memoir of heartwarming stories, observations, and life lessons personally learned from their experiences. This is a book of nostalgic, homespun, humor, with some profound insights into facing life's challenges. In part one titled, "The First Nineteen Years" the authors share their remembrances of growing up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Their week-end visits to Spring Brook Cottage had a dramatic influence on their future lives. The experiences at the "Shanty" gave them a high regard for the wonders of creation. In part two, Bill recounts his memories. He has included some observations of his children. In part three Lola shares her memories. The book concludes with the authors' views on spirituality and other thought provoking principles to consider.
Bill raised his family in an academic University setting. Exposed to world travel and cross cultural experiences through various teaching assignments, his family took on global challenges. Lola's life is centered on the challenges of community living. Her family endured the rigors of Wisconsin farming and the influence of the church community. These contrasting lifestyles have influenced the diversity with which their children's values are expressed. The authors give emphasis to the uniqueness of the individual and the role each play in fulfilling their individual purpose in God's master plan. Lola impressed me with her question and response, "Is there a God? I am in awe that I should even ponder such a question. For I know that, among all humanity, I m but a speck in God's eyes. Bill's put it this way, "I marvel at our collective existence on this earth and the mystery associated with it. How lucky we all are to have been conceived and to have lived on this marvelous speck in the infinite universe."
The book is much more than a family memoir. It is an important book about life, its meaning, values, and struggles. This is a story about winning over adversity, about experiencing perseverance in trials, and about the joy of discovering self worth and accomplishment.

Latent Image
Jack Eadon
Eloquence Press
2092 Burnt Mill Rd., Tustin, CA 92782
0975330047, $ 13.95

Competition, Suspicion, and Surprise

Young Marcus Ramsey in this sequel to "Consequences of Greed" is an idealist, trusting, and naive, in business and relationships. After losing his job in a large corporate America food conglomerate, Marcus opens a specialty advertising photo studio in Tustin, California. Before he has even signed the lease on his studio, or officially opened for business, an unscrupulous group of competitive studio owners began a campaign to insure that Ramsey's business will fail.
Eadon uses dialog as a means to provide the reader with interesting background information on photography, photographic equipment, lighting techniques, and photo shoots. This feature adds to the authenticity and genuineness of Marcus, who again finds himself on the cutting edge in an enormously competitive cut throat market. Sabotage through, embezzlement, conspiracy, and arson force Marcus to consider giving up. Encouraged by advice from friends and peers Marcus accepts the challenge to rebuild his business. However, still feeling failure and loss in his earlier corporate career and distressed by his recent failed marriage, Marcus arranges to meet the twin sister of Jessica, one of his models. Her sister Suzanne is a Grand Canyon park ranger, who is knowledgeable in Hopi Indian lore, and ancient Indian healing tradition.

As the story unfolds and a unique cast of characters is introduced, Eadon generates a sense of romance, mystery, mistrust, and intrigue. His characters become real, complex, and at risk. Eadon skillfully weaves a question of motive, loyalty, and mistrust as Marcus openly avails himself to them exposing his vulnerability, while on the road to personal recovery.
Eadon has been greatly influenced by the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and has dedicated this book to him. Eadon has attributed the subtleties of plot structure and character to this influence and to the inspiration and examples learned from Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." Eadon's descriptions of the grandeur, beauty, and enormity of The Grand Canyon are breathtaking.
"Latent Image" is strong in plot and subplot, and includes all the elements of a good story. I took pleasure in every page as I joined Marcus Ramsey in his search for meaning and significance in his work and in his relationships. Eadon takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of romance, drama, and suspense, in this fast moving adventure novel. The many unexpected twists and turns culminate in a stunning climatic surprise ending.

Richard R. Blake

Slessman's Bookshelf

Sacred Cows
Karen E. Olson
Warner Books
1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
0446616850 $6.99

Karen Olson has already won awards for her new book, Sacred Cows. As the winner of the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award, it proves to be one of the season's best read. The main character is Annie Seymour is a veteran reporter for the New Haven Herald. She is roused out of bed to cover a story of a murder victim. Annie is what everyone thinks of when they think veteran reporter. Their language is colorful, their senses keen and curiosity – well, that comes with the territory, doesn't it? Annie endures a lot during her search for the murderer. She gets mugged, threatened and even intrigued during her search. Her own mother is somehow involved as well as her own employer. When her employer gives over her assignment to another reporter, Annie continues the search on her own accord. There are two romantic interests in Annie's life at the present time and one doesn't know just how she will choose until the end of the book. So the book has mystery, intrigue, romance all wrapped up with some really colorful language which makes for some very good reading. Karen Olson is the travel editor at the New Haven Register and is currently working on her next Annie Seymour mystery. This reviewer will be waiting in line to buy the first copy.

The Grays
Whitley Strieber
Tom Doherty Associates LLC
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10019
0765313898 24.95

In September 1988, I wrote a book review of Whitley Strieber's, Transformation, The Breakthrough for my local newspaper. In that review I stated that Strieber had only recently been able to recall the fact that he had been abducted by "aliens" on various occasions dating back to his childhood. While Transformation was written as an actual account of his first hand experience with aliens his new work, The Grays, is a book of fiction. The Grays brings to the forefront the belief that our government has formed two opposing forces within it's infrastructure to deal with this particular sect of aliens. The grays are ancients who have lost their ability to feel "emotions" and have bones made of metal and a skin that has a gray ting to it. They have large, almond shaped eyes (don't they all?) and hands that resemble claws with long black nails…ohhhh. The U.S. government has captured three grays when an alien aircraft failed in New Mexico. Only one, whom they have dubbed as Adam, remains. The cast of characters include Lauren, an empath (a person who has the ability to read the minds of aliens through pictures and direct thought) who has been engaged by one of the government forces to communicate with Adam and translate, if you will, his thoughts to the government entity. The cast also includes several families that work at the local university and their children. One of these children is of super intelligence and is being groomed by the aliens to take his spot as the "savior" of the grays and the human race. Strieber also offers a timeline for the destruction of the human race as we know it today. Wonder if he has inside information regarding this matter? Whether you believe in aliens or not, this work of fiction will keep you reading. Strieber is brilliant in his capacity to draw the reader inside the minds of the aliens and you can almost feel those long fingers and claw like nails. If you are looking for some entertaining reading, Strieber has provided it for you in The Grays. Strieber is a master at his craft and really shows his stuff in this work.

Annie Slessman

Sullivan's Bookshelf

Silenced International Journalists Expose Media Censorship
edited by David Dadge
Prometheus Books
159102305X $26.00

Dadge has collected fourteen true stories about journalists bumping up against and confronting the worst forms of government, political, and/or criminal censorship. They have occurred around the globe from Burma to Liberia, from Zimbabwe to Eritrea, from Mexico to Russia, and elsewhere. A couple of the cases happened in the U.S.; one in Missouri, the other in Texas. The stories all involve severe retribution for reporting the truth or the withholding of information from journalists through one or more of the following methods: stonewalling plus intimidation, beatings and other tortures, deportation, and, even, the murder of a broadcaster. Though not as physically brutal, the treatment of American journalists in their home country has still been rough and unfair. Jobs have even been lost.

Perhaps the chapter on Russia is the most unusual. When its Moscow underworld, referred to as the Mafia, doesn't like what journalists (or anyone else for that matter) are saying or writing, several strong armed men enter the press, magazine, TV, or radio offices, produce a faked sales slip for the property, and evict everyone and anyone in the building. Then the supposed new owners dismantle and demolish all physical equipment within the structure. Using the false bill of sale, the criminals immediately sell the building to some one else, also criminal, who, in turn, sells it to another entity, possibly criminal or perhaps legit. By this time, it really doesn't matter. Though selling something that isn't yours is against Russian law, when the trial comes up, if ever, it takes years to sort out who owned what and when. At that point, does anyone care who's declared the true owner? The damage has already has already been done. These happenings, unsurprisingly, tend to silence the press. And to read about it is quite depressing when one considers what hope the world held for the changes in modern Russia. Today, however, one can forget about Russia going from Communism to Capitalism. More accurately, it's already gone from Communism to Complete Corruption.

Each story in this volume is unique and located in a dramatically different place. Yet each tale is the same. All concern the bucking of the so-called free press. The book's lesson is quite apparent: the press in those nations mentioned and elsewhere is the only bulwark citizens have that can and does tell truth to power and money. These stories should be a wake up call for all Americans. The author writes, "[...] The real story behind the book is how the rest of the world censors the media. While American journalists most often face corporate pressure, there are other parts of the world where journalists are still fighting with governments to establish the truth. Indeed, if Silence can be best summed up it is the story of those four little words [from the U.S. Constitution]--'or of the press'--and how their absence affects media around the world." The editor at the International Press Institute in Vienna, Austria, David Dadge has written Casualty of War, The Bush Administration's Assault on a Free Press. Recommended.

God vs. Gavel Religion and the Rule of Law
Marci A. Hamilton
Cambridge University Press
0521853044 $28.00

"[This book] challenges the pervasive assumption," writes the author, "that all religious conduct deserves constitutional protection. While religious conduct provides many benefits to society, it is not always benign. The thesis of the book is that anyone who harms another person should be governed by the laws that govern everyone else--and truth be told, religion is capable of great harm." The United States' legal tradition is based on England's Common Law. That's logical considering the thirteen original states were once colonies of that country.

In earlier centuries, the English king ruled over his country's secular world. The Church of Rome, at that time the established church of the realm, ruled everything else. Convicted criminals were executed (beheaded, burned at the stake, or hanged) for murder if tried in the King's courts. However, if the Church gave that same person sanctuary and tried him or her instead in the Ecclesiastical (or Church) court, which was done for many people, sometimes for very flimsy reasons, that same crime might earn the criminals six months' sentence in a monastery or no punishment at all! Though inherently unfair, the Church had such power then. By the time the American colonies came into existence, however, the King's court, rather than that of the Church, had assumed primary legal jurisdiction over all subjects. That policy continued in the colonies. Of course, later, when the U.S. Constitution was adopted, a citizen could embrace, as desired, any faith or none. And every person was to be treated equally under the civil law. Faith, or not having such, had no bearing on justice. That is unless the particular belief caused harm to others. Then the law of the land could and would step in and put a stop to that harm.

One of the more notable legal cases involving a religion that was considered to be doing harm to citizens was that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly called the Mormon Church. They practiced polygamy (a man having many wives), claiming that it was divinely revealed church policy. But this, the U.S. law said, was doing harm to citizens, particularly women and children. So polygamy was outlawed in the U.S., and the Mormons complied. The Christian Scientist Church has had many legal cases brought against its practitioners who have withheld medical care in favor of healing through prayer from ill children who have subsequently died. Believers may follow the prayer-instead-of-medical-care policy for themselves, but the law considers that they do harm, in similar situations, to their own children who have no say in the matter. The Roman Catholic Church has run into serious legal problems when it allows priests who have molested children to go unreported and to merely transfer the offending clergy to another church location where they may repeat their offenses. Therefore, priests who commit these criminal acts must be subject to civil and criminal law. And the church, through its leaders, can be faulted, too. In other words, the church cannot trump the law of the land. Jehovah's Witnesses clergy have been found guilty of perpetrating sexual abuse with children, too. And so have some ministers in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Both faiths have been made subject to civil courts for the wrong doings.

Several religious faiths and their sympathizers are constantly attempting to change the law both nationally and in the states, according to the author. They, as imaginary underdogs in the ongoing church/state battles, want the law to give them the edge as it had in days of yore. But the law is supposed to be neutral. For the most part, the faiths have failed in their legal favoritism forays. But sometimes they do make strides and get favorable legislation passed. A few cases that either became law or came exceedingly close were the Religious Freedom Protection Act (RFPA), the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The specifics of each is spelled out carefully in the book. Suffice to say, initiators of those acts had been so clever in presenting and promoting the new legislation as neutral laws that groups such as the court-hardened ACLU was duped into supporting, even helping to draft, some of the new law. Only gradually did it and others come to realize that those acts, in reality, go against civil liberties.

Exceptions to neutral government laws, which give the edge to religions, have been made. But it hasn't been through the courts. Rather, courts typically refer such requests for exemptions to the legislatures. They, say court authorities, are better suited to determine if a law should have an exemption. Legislatures have allowed various religions some things that weren't deemed harmful even though contrary to the public law. An instance of his was when Jewish rabbi Chaplains in the U.S. military were given permission to wear their headwear (yarmulkes) when in uniform. This read is detailed and covers a multitude of situations concerning church/state relations, many seldom discussed and then only in glancing ways. To wit: the government bends over backwards to provide the military with ministers, rabbis, priests, imams, and others for various religious beliefs of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. Another example is how far the government goes to provide the wherewithal for people in prison to practice their faiths. Not only are chaplains made available but also sacred and/or prescribed diets, such as kosher foods for Jewish prisoners, communion hosts for Roman Catholics, no pork meals for Jews and Moslems, all prepared or provided on required religious timetables. Those accommodations go so far, in a few cases, as to seem absurd. Take the case of a newly created (while in confinement) religion. The Church of the New Song (CONS) decided that as a matter of religious dogma its members had to have steak and sherry served to them every Friday evening. And the prison officials provide it!

Marci A. Hamilton, the author, is a noted constitutional expert in church/state matters. The volume is hard to put down and, therefore, highly recommended.

Kwame Anthony Appiah
W.W. Norton & Company
0393061558 $23.95

The author writes about cosmopolitanism. It begins with the simple idea that in the human community, as in national communities, we need to develop habits of coexistence: conversation in its older meaning, of living together, association." Appiah goes to say, "...So there are two strands that intertwine in the notion of cosmopolitanism. One is the idea that we have obligations to others, obligations that stretch beyond those to whom we are related by the ties of kith and kind, over even the more formal ties of shared formal ties of a shared citizenship. The other is that we take seriously the value not just of human life but of particular human lives, which means taking an interest in the practices and beliefs that lend them significance. People are different, the cosmopolitan knows, and there is much to learn from our differences...." This professor believes in promoting a moderate or 'partial' form of cosmopolitanism. If certain human groups, for instance, prefer to live by and to themselves, such as the Amish, that's all right, too.

Throughout his ten chapters, Appiah, in an interesting and rambling manner, compares and contrasts various peoples, their societies, cultures, beliefs, and what have you from the local perspective and from the international, or cosmopolitan, viewpoint. With the advent of speedy transportation, the internet, and globalization the world has figuratively gotten smaller. Contact with others from another village, tribe, nation, continent, world has become commonplace, even unavoidable, today. How the different groups, meet and mesh, what should each hold on to, what should be given up, fills the brief, well-written, informative, and entertaining book. One of the most intriguing discussions within is on whether art and cultural objects that are not owned or held by people of the place those artifacts came from, such as the Elgin marbles in England, should be returned to their place of origin. The author doesn't think so in that case and in many more. However, in several situations he thinks the items should be returned.

The author's perspective is unique, and therefore quite useful, on the topic of cosmopolitanism: he is not only a philosophy professor, but born of a Ghanian father and an English mother. And he was raised in Africa then educated in England. Today he teaches at a premier U.S. university, Princeton. Truly he's a man of the world. One in a series on 'Issues of our Time' from Norton, this volume, along with others, such as "Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny" by Amartya Sen and "Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways" by Alan Dershowitz, is overseen by series editor Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard professor. Kwame Anthony Appiah has also written "Thinking It Through, The Ethics of Identity," and 'In My Father's House." Recommended.

Bound To Please
Michael Dirda
W.W. Norton & Company
0393057577 $35.00

This read, as stated on its cover, consists of "essays on great writers and their books." And is it ever! These essays, some grouped chronologically: 'Old Masters,' and 'We Moderns,' or by viewpoint: 'Romantic Dreamers,' and 'Visionaries and Moralists,' were written for the Washington Post Book World published every Sunday with the Washington Post newspaper where Dirda is writer, editor, and weekly columnist. They represent but a fraction of his published writing between 1978 to 2003. He has, herein, written about writers and their work ranging from Greek historian Herodotus to Umberto Eco, from Thomas Pynchon to Fyodor Dostoevsky, from Anthony Trollope to Madame Blavatsky, from T. S. Eliot to Djuna Barnes, from Avram Davidson to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and from Terry Pratchett to a host of others, some you've heard of and plenty whose names you've likely never even caught wind of, but now won't be able to wait to read. While reading the tome, with gusto and downright pleasure, this reviewer felt compelled, three times, to run to his public library's inter-library loan department and request that they find specific books for him. That's many fewer than the twenty-plus authors he'd like to read but couldn't find the time. The trio of books, from libraries around the state, has now arrived, and this reviewer has not been disappointed.

Michael Dirda deserves to be thanked profusely. The author of this reviewed book is a gifted writer. He's also well educated and widely read, which shows on every page. The depth of intimate knowledge of each writer's personal story and foibles will astound the reader. There's not a dry essay in the book. Yet each is but three or four pages in length, l,500 to l,800 words. Well over one hundred writers are covered in all, each to a satisfying depth. Several dozens more are touched upon, too. Dirda writes explaining about his book, "By only the loosest definition, then, can the contents of BOUND TO PLEASE be regarded as criticism. Instead, think of these articles as old-fashioned appreciations, as fan's notes, good talk. My primary goal is to describe q work accurately, to quote frequently when sentences are clever or memorable, and to convey something of each book's particular magic, strength, or excitement. By preference, I usually hint at the whole arc of a writer's career, or provide brief introductions to a life and work. Hence the pages that follow tend to be brisk, fact-filled, and anecdote-rich, sometimes stylistically playful (buried allusions, low-keyed puns) and enthusiastic about a wide variety of creative 'makers.' As an old newspaperman counseled me long ago, 'writing that isn't fun to read doesn't get read.' [Reviewer's note: This volume is a joy to read!]" BOUND TO PLEASE is the author's third book. He won a Pulitizer Prize for distinguished criticism in 1993 with READINGS: ESSAYS AND LITERARY ENTERTAINMENTS. Some have called Dirda, "...the best book critic in America." Highly recommended!

The View from the Center of the Universe
Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams
Riverhead Books
1594489149 $26.95

A tour de force from the beginning of life, through the scientific age of discovery, to the present day. This volume touches deeply on mythology, theology, philosophy, and science, mainly physics but also chemistry, biology, anthropology, astronomy, and more. The message: you who believe in a pre-scientific concept of who humans are, but have become despondent about all that science has revealed, from Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, can take heart. Science has proven that mankind is truly special, rare, made of stardust, and is the center of the universe. The authors are husband and wife. Recommended!

Jim Sullivan

Theodore's Bookshelf

Wild Fire
Nelson DeMille
Warner Books
1271 Sixth Ave., NY, NY 10020,
044657967X $26.99 1-800-759-0190

John Corey, retired NYPD detective, and his wife, FBI agent Kate Mayfield, both assigned to the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force at 26 Federal Plaza in NYC, who first appeared in Plum Island and The Lion's Game, reappear in this novel based on a somewhat far-fetched plot to set off suitcase-sized nuclear bombs in Los Angeles and San Francisco to precipitate Wild Fire, a secret government plan to retaliate against the setting off of mass destruction weapons in the United States. In retaliation, nuclear warheads from submarines and ICBMs are launched against targets of the perpetrators. Originally, Corey was supposed to be assigned to conduct a surveillance at a private meeting in upstate New York, but instead a friend and co-worker is given the job. He is intercepted at the property and murdered.

Enter John and Kate to solve the homicide, which blossoms forth into the discovery of the plot by the owner of the estate and his high-ranking government cohorts to perpetrate the bizarre plan. The mastermind is Bain Madox, an oil company billionaire with resources and friends in high places to carry out his mission to set off a nuclear holocaust and wipe out much of the Muslim world. John's wise mouth and Kate's cool head are matched by Madox' sharp mind and resources. Step by step, the pair uncover evidence of the murder, and logic leads them to some kind of further intrigue at the estate, protected by a private army and filled with all kinds of electronic equipment. In a somewhat improbable conclusion, of course, John and Kate face certain death at the hands of the villain. Will they survive? Will the plot be foiled, although many government officials want it to happen? Read it and find out. You'll be carried along to the final page to discover the conclusion.

Bleeding Hearts
Ian Rankin
Little, Brown & Company
1271 Sixth Ave., NY, NY 10020
0316009121 $24.95 1-800-759-0190

It's taken 12 years for this novel to cross the Atlantic, and the wait certainly was well worth it. Originally published in the UK under the Jack Harvey pseudonym, it is still Rankin, although not a Rebus novel. The Harvey books resulted from Rankin's publisher believing he could sell more than one novel a year, after the initial Rebus success, using another name. Current editions show the author as Ian Rankin, of course. Parenthetically. Rankin has been quoted in a Scottish newspaper as stating that he is going to end the Rebus series next year, so that there are only two new novels in that series to look forward to - one this fall and the finale. Say it isn't so, Ian!

He said he's thinking of writing children's books. Well, Bleeding Hearts is no children's tale. It's about an assassin who shoots his victims through the heart on the theory that it's humane. His latest assignment is a lady journalist, who he shoots as she is leaving a hotel with a lady politician. It is complicated by the presence of an Eastern European diplomat, and the question arises who was the intended victim. Was the hit a mistake? The plot then develops because the police arrive almost simultaneously and Michael Weston, the shooter, believes he was set up. He escapes capture narrowly through a ruse and decides to find out who hired him, something he usually never wants to know. The journalist was investigating a cult, and it appears they might be responsible. Michael chases all over England and the United States, where the main cult headquarters is located, before returning to England to discover the truth. In his wake are a lot of bodies, and in the end the question of his distaste for continuing his profession is raised. It may not be a Rebus Novel, but it certainly is a Rankin Book. There hardly is any better praise. A Rankin by any other name is still a Rankin.

One Good Turn
Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown and Company
1271 Sixth Ave., NY, NY 10020
0316154849 $24.99 1-800-759-0190

"A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen," states one of the main characters in this novel. And that observation pretty much sums up this intriguing book, which begins when a rented Peugeot stops short to avoid hitting a pedestrian on an Edinburgh street and a blue Honda slams into its rear. The driver of the second car jumps out with a baseball bat and bashes the head of the front driver. In the crowd witnessing this road rage are various people who play a vital role in the story, including a writer of banal crime novels who takes it upon himself to slam the second driver with his laptop to prevent him from killing his victim, among others. The novel slowly builds from that point with facts and stories and relationships and family histories intertwining as the tale begins to unfold in unexpected twists to a fitting conclusion. It is a story well-told. Highly recommended.

Motor Mouth
Janet Evanovich
10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
0060584033 $23.95 212-207-7000; 800-242-7737

Alexandra Barnaby and Sam Hooker return in this sequel novel and once again find themselves in all kinds of trouble, which stems from Sam's placing second in a NASCAR race at Homestead Miami Speedway. From her eye-in-the-sky spot as his spotter advising the driver, she sees some strange things going on in the infield and suspects hanky panky. After the race, in an effort to find out what has transpired, they steal a hauler, and strip down the winning car, discovering two computer chips suspected of governing traction control - which is illegal---as well as the dead body of the owner of the racing stable. In an effort to leave without detection, they leave Sam's St. Bernard in the hauler by mistake and it is later kidnapped by the bad guys and held hostage for return of the chips - as later is Sam.

The story progresses from that point, with the attempt to rescue the dog, but becoming more complicated with stolen technology, shady dealings, more murders and hiding dead bodies. Meanwhile, of course, there is also the side issue of Sam trying to get into Barney's pants despite all the dangers, including the police who are looking for them for multiple counts of grand theft and murder. Once again, the couple provide an amusing tale, fraught with danger, and are joined by their friends, cigar roller Rosa Florez and wholesale fruit seller Felicia Ibarra, who help bring the plot to a successful conclusion. Amusing and fast-paced, the novel lives up to the standards of its predecessor in this series, Metro Girl.

What Came Before He Shot Her
Elizabeth George
10 East 53rd St., NY, NY 10022-5299
0060545623 $26.95 1-800-242-7737

At the end of Elizabeth George's earlier book, With No One As Witness, Helen Lynley, wife of Scotland Yard Acting Superintendent Thomas Lynley, is shot dead on her doorstep. The new novel, which diverges from the author's accustomed series and its characters, has an entirely different focus. It concentrates, instead, on what led up to the murder. It really is a standalone, even if it is based on an event that took place in a prior series book. It is a sad tale of a very troubled 'half-breed' family in an impoverished section of London. Three children are dumped on the doorstep of their aunt by their grandmother who has been tending them before leaving for Jamaica. There is 12-year-old Joel, 15-year-old Vanessa and eight-year-old Toby. Their mother is in a mental institution. Their father was murdered years before. The youngest floats between fantasy and reality, while the oldest withdraws into drugs and sex.

Joel attempts to keep everyone together, protecting them from neighborhood roughs. Their aunt, while well-meaning, has no experience with children, and is busy with a full-time job and trying to establish her own business. In an effort to protect his siblings, Joel makes a pact with the devil, a neighborhood gangster and dope peddler, who has other plans for the family - like revenge for the sister who has spurned him. The outcome is tragedy for all. My only criticism would be the title. It seems while Joel was told to shoot the victim, he couldn't, and a confederate committed the crime. But this hardly detracts from this excellent novel, a study in poverty, helplessness and violence. The complexity of the plot, character depictions and issues of class, race and life without hope are so well written that the reader is overwhelmed. The novel is as fine as any work this author has written.

The Shape Shifter
Tony Hillerman
10 East 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
0060563451 $25.95 1-800-242-7737

This novel is all the legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, now retired from the Navajo Tribal Police and thoroughly bored, which the reader will not be as this unusual story progresses. His usual sidekicks, Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito (now Mrs. Chee), have just returned from their honeymoon and merely serve as the foils for the introduction and recap of the tale. Leaphorn is bothered by one of his first cases when he was first starting out and called away from an old Indian grandmother complaining about the theft of two buckets of pinyon sap to a fire at a trading post in which he had previously seen a unique woven rug. Fast forward to the present: an old friend sends the lieutenant a tearsheet from a magazine in which a copy of the rug appears. This intrigues both the friend and Joe who, along with everyone else, believe it was burned in the fire along with an FBI-most-wanted criminal. When Leaphorn's friend is found dead in an automobile accident, Joe suspects murder, and the autopsy shows he was poisoned. From this point, the story cascades into an investigation surrounding the death, the rug and the mysterious rich man who owns it. This is pure Hillerman, filled with Navajo lore and customs, set in the familiar territory and crafted subtly. Another pure joy to read.

Death at Victoria Dock
Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. 1st Ave., Ste. 103, Scottsdale AZ 85251, 800-421-3976
1590582381 $24.95

Well it took 14 years for this novel to reach these shores, but at least it is well worth it. The mystery, another in the Phryne Fisher series which PPP thankfully continues to publish, starts off with a bang. Phryne is driving by Victoria Dock, returning home from dinner, when gunshots blast out her windshield. Then she sees two men running away and they fire shots at her. Nearby the dock, a young man lies in a pool of blood, dying. Since she doesn't like to be shot at or see the loss of life in an attractive young man, much less find her clothes ruined, Phryne determines to find the killers and make them pay. Meanwhile, she is retained to find a rich man's daughter who has run away. Thrown into the mix are anarchists, a bank robbery, the kidnapping of her maid-companion. and even a seance to reveal a clue. The accustomed cast of characters - Dot, Bert, Cec and the Butlers - are supplemented by some new ones, including a police constable who appears to becoming a permanent boyfriend for Dot. Phryne's free spirit is given full range once again with the introduction of Peter Smith, a widely traveled revolutionary who assists Phryne in unraveling the mystery. It's all good fun and a welcome addition to the expanding availability of the previous novels in the series.

Puccini's Ghosts
Morag Joss
Delacorte Press
1745 Broadway, NY, NY 10019
038533978X $22.00 1-800-726-0600

Lila Duncan, at age 40, returns to the west coast Scottish seacoast town of her earliest years upon the death of her 85-year-old father, to bury him, thus setting off this psychological suspense story told in alternating chapters: one in sort of real time as seen by the 15-year-old Lila, the other in a series of combined memories and actual occurrences. The story begins with descriptions of Lila's dysfunctional family, slowly unfolding layer by layer its secrets and foibles. Against these revelations - is it fantasy or reality? - we are introduced to the creation of a preposterous amateur production of the Puccini opera, Turandot. As the chapters progress, we learn little pieces of background, which build to a shocking conclusion. While this reader found the novel slow reading, and oft-times plodding, this criticism is in no way meant to detract from the depth and subtlety of the narrative.

Love, Death and the Toyman
Robert S. Napier
Five Star, An Imprint of Thomson Gale
295 Kennedy Memorial Drive, Waterville, Maine 04901
1594144907 $25.95, 207-859-1000

For a debut novel, Love, Death and the Toyman is highly rewarding. The story flows effortlessly, with twists that unexpectedly turn, clues that veer off leading the reader to wonder what comes next. The author, of course, is an experienced writer, even though this is his first novel. Hopefully, it won't be his last. Jack Lorentz is a former investigative reporter who now specializes in collectible toys. Rather than bowing to pressure in killing a story, he resigned with his honor and reputation for honesty intact. He is retained - actually forced - to undertake an investigation by a wealthy Northwest family after the discovery of bones at their lakeside cabin property. It seems the potential scandal would put a crimp in the political plans of the husband of the woman, Amanda, who pleads with Jack to look into the matter. She was his college sweetheart 15 years earlier. As Jack investigates, he is confronted by the dysfunctional family members, each of whom could be the potential murderer. Actually, he discovers there were two murders to solve. Slowly, he accumulates facts and evidence and the reader is led to a conclusion that is highly unexpected. Along the way, Jack also has to face up to his relationship with Amanda and various other side issues. Professionally plotted, and well-written, the novel reads quickly and interestingly. It appears to be the culmination of many years of the author's experience as a writer and editor, who has published more than 500 fanzines since 1969 and many articles on crime topics.

The Sorcerer's Circle
Michael Siverling
Thomas Dunne Books
c/o St. Martin's Minotaur
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010
0312361921 $23.95 212-674-5151/646-307-5560

As this novel begins, Jason Wilder is healing from a knife wound suffered in the course of The Sterling Inheritance, the charming initial entry into this series. And, of course, he is banged up some more, with hurting ribs and the like, as this tale unfolds. As he is about to leave the office one day, a mysterious visitor introduces himself, saying the police have referred him to the investigation agency headed by Jason's mother, "Queen Victoria." He tells Jason he is going to be murdered. Jason believes the man to be off the wall and dismisses him.

The next morning two events occur. First, news of the man's murder, which, in fact, did take place. And Jason is called into his mother's "throne room," to find the mayor there seeking assistance in clearing his daughter, who had been involved with the murdered man, apparently a self-styled psychic and "devil worshiper." The murder took place during a ritual at which the mayor's daughter and others were participants. The more Jason's investigation progresses, the more it seems as though the girl is the guilty party. It is up to Jason to discover whether or not this is truly the case.

While this second book in the series lacks some of the cuteness of the interchange between mother and son present in the earlier novel, the book still is a first class suspense novel, well-written and -plotted to keep the reader from suspecting the outcome until it is revealed. It will be interesting to see if the next one - if one is in the works - will recover some of the mirth and entertaining dialogue encountered in the debut effort. Nonetheless, if it only lives up to the standard of this one, it should be rewarding enough. Recommended.

Lights Out
Jason Starr
St. Martin's Minotaur
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010
0312359721 $22.95 212-674-51515/646-307-5560

A more unappealing and unsavory cast of characters probably hasn't appeared in recent literature. First, there is Jake Thomas, superstar outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the morals of an alley cat and caring only about his own image. Then, there is Ryan Rossetti, now a housepainter after his hoped-for big league career was cut short by injury and so-so talent. Both were teammates on their Brooklyn high school team. And Christina Mercado, engaged to Jake for six years, but in love with Ryan. And then there are a couple of gangbangers who enter the picture. All these people come together in a complicated story which begins very slowly, with facts, background and circumstances adding up to an even more complex conclusion. The plot begins with Jake coming home for a weekend to his parents' home in Brooklyn, three doors from the Rossettis. Ryan and Christina have been having a torrid love affair, and agree she would break off her engagement to Jake at his homecoming party. Jake learns of a possible statutory rape charge and realizes setting a wedding date would be good PR to offset that negative publicity. From this initial situation flows a saga of wrong decisions, chance meetings and lost opportunities. Tautly written, with all the nuances of desperate people and poverty-stricken Brooklyn neighborhoods, the novel is full of surprises, especially at the end when it leaves the reader to wonder what comes next.

The Book of Lost Things
John Connolly
Atria Books
1230 Ave. of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
0743298853 $23.00 212-698-7000/800-223-2336

The subtitle of this review should be "Fairy tales can come true, If you're young at heart…" This inventive and very different novel obviously is an allegory on life and death, war and peace, and other aspects of this life and the next. It is the story of a 12-year-old boy in wartime England. His name is David, and one night he leaves his bedroom and ventures into the garden. A German bomber crashes, setting the stage for the rest of the story. David enters another world, populated by many of the characters he has read about - Little Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf, the Gingerbread house, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and others - each marking the passage of his travels through a strange land in his effort to return home. With the passage of distance and time, the boy learns many lessons, maturing as he goes. At this point, the summary of this book will have to cease, and the reader will have to learn the plot for him- or herself. It really would be very much worth the effort to do so.

The Drowning Man
Margaret Coel
Berkley Prime Crime, c/o Penguin Putnam Inc.
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014, 800-847-5515
0425211711 $23.95

The latest in the Wind River Indian Reservation Mysteries finds Arapoho lawyer Vicky Holden and Father John O'Malley in the midst of not only a seven-year-old murder and a stolen petroglyph, but a current theft of The Drowning Man, a petroglyph which apparently may be related Vicky becomes involved when the convicted murderer, who has already served almost half his sentence, becomes her client when she is convinced he either received inadequate representation at his trial or even is innocent. Father John, the Indian Priest, becomes involved when he is picked as the go-between of the tribes and the thief seeking $350,000 for the return of the sacred object. Separately, Vicky and Father John wend their way in their attempts to accomplish their missions - the rescue of Drowning Man and the freedom of her client. Along the way are a series of murders, obviously an attempt of the real culprits to cover their tracks, including several attempts on Vicky's life. This novel is up to the high standards of the earlier entries in this series, with a tight plot and excellent writing and descriptions. It moves ahead with suspense and is entirely enjoyable. Recommended.

Theodore Feit

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

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