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California Bookwatch

Volume 19, Number 4 April 2024 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Money/Finance Shelf Business Shelf
Photography Shelf Health/Medicine Shelf General Fiction Shelf
Historical Fiction Shelf Romantic Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf
Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Poetry Shelf Christian Studies Shelf
Religion/Spirituality Shelf Self-Help Shelf  

Reviewer's Choice

The Accidental Detectorist
Nigel Richardson
c/o Octopus Books
9781788403726, $14.99

The Accidental Detectorist: Uncovering an Underground Obsession evolved during the locked-down period of the COVID pandemic, when Nigel Richardson's search for a solitary and safe hobby lead into the world of metal detecting after he encountered an enthusiast of the art. His rising passion for the history and discoveries involved in metal detecting led to this travel writer to venture into new territory as he uncovered buried treasures of the past and received lessons on where the real treasure lies.

Readers seeking a blend of travelogue and hobby, paired with a road trip through new kinds of relationships, will welcome the multifaceted nature of this uplifting, revealing blend of memoir and experiential journey.

The Money/Finance Shelf

The Little Black Book of Tax Wisdom
Mike Kowis, Esq.
Lecture PRO Publishing
9781732863095, $9.99 Paper/$4.99 eBook/$6.95 Audiobook

Readers who expect that The Little Black Book of Tax Wisdom: Quotes, Quips, & Quiddities Every Tax Advisor Should Know will contain staid tax subjects and wisdom should be advised that the serious subjects of taxes are offset by quotes and quips designed to lighten the tax preparer's load in unexpected ways.

When arranged into logical categories, from tax liars and cheaters to Uncle Sam's oddities, they become even funnier -- and more pointed: "If Justice Holmes was correct that "[t]axes are what we pay for civilized society," then the question in this case is how much civilization the taxpayers will be required to purchase." - U.S. Representative Homer Thornberry.

Quotes come from a wide field of experts and intellectuals, from politicians and founding fathers to economists, media, and even the mob ("A good lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than ten men with machine guns." - Al Capone).

If anyone maintains that law and tax professionals are a dry and stale subject (and group), The Little Black Book of Tax Wisdom: Quotes, Quips, & Quiddities Every Tax Advisor Should Know defies that notion. It will make the perfect gift for one's tax advisor, and deserves a place on the bookshelf of any library appealing to humorists, taxpayers, or general-interest readers looking for reflective fun in their reading choices.

The Business Shelf

Spheres of Influence: How to Create and Nurture Authentic Business Relationships
Brad Englert
Fast Company Press
9781639080748, $23.95

Spheres of Influence: How to Create and Nurture Authentic Business Relationships represents a step above the usual business guide on networking to tackle the deeper issues and promise of a business relationship: creating a genuine bond that rests as much on mutual learning and support as it does on the personal connections that normally bring friends together.

By identifying, acknowledging, and understanding the properties of a business relationship fueled not just by goals and objectives, but genuine connections, business leaders and entrepreneurs have much to consider and grow from as they craft their influence and broaden its reach.

From understanding a new supervisor's challenges and responding to them in a supportive manner that accepts revised goals and expectations (and understanding that the bigger picture to this relationship involves promoting organizational health as well as profit) to the notion that "You don't always win, but you have to try," Brad Englert uses his own experiences and examples from the real world of business pursuits to illustrate the nature and changes of authenticity.

Much of Englert's experience drives this discussion, from how he implemented consistent incidence reporting procedures to identify and mitigate the causes and effects of power outages to "building customers into advocates" who work hand-in-hand to troubleshoot issues. These real-world examples offer concrete advice and insights that promote being curious, learning from people, keeping them in the communication loop, and more.

Where many business books promote the general concept of networking, Englert moves beyond to discuss the specific concept of forming deep, lasting, and motivational business relationships at all levels, from supervisors to customers. Englert deftly and effortlessly delivers these insights, often with a dose of humor - a true professional who deeply understands what he's talking about.

The result is a guide that leads business readers through various types of relationships, whether they be with bosses, leaders, reporting routines, or staff, discussing typical pitfalls and promises in each circumstance. Emerging and established business leaders seeking leadership books that cut to the chase with powerful, real-life examples of how to psychologically master the "critical hard skill" of building lasting business relationships will welcome this book.

The Photography Shelf

Photography - A Queer History
Flora Dunster & Theo Gordon
Ilex Press
c/o Octopus Books
9781781578698, $49.99

If only one book on queer photography were to be chosen for an arts collection, make it Photography - A Queer History. There's simply nothing as wide-ranging or nicely detailed on the market today.

Flora Dunster & Theo Gordon create categories that represent and expand the concept of 'queer' and arrange images by themes central to queer photography efforts. This allows readers interested in both the arts and social sciences an astute form of analysis connecting photography to LBGTQ+ aesthetics, political and social ideals, and artistic production and attraction.

The visual themes range from documentary to performance, landscapes, and more with examples drawn from some 140 photographers, ranging from famous names such as Robert Mapplethorpe to young Canadian JJ Levine, who works within a queer communal context that celebrates and profiles queer differences. The result is outstanding both artistically and in its portrait of the queer community and definitions that break the mold of traditional thinking.

The Health/Medicine Shelf

The Modern Apothecary
Brendan Murdock & Gabriel Weil
Kyle Books
c/o Octopus Books
9781804191408, $34.99

The Modern Apothecary: How to Harness the Power of Botanicals to Support Your Health and Improve Wellbeing reviews the nuts and bolts of an ancient art related to wellbeing. It considers the history of wellness literature and the ideal of the apothecary as an herbalist healer who can deliver on the promise of not just health, but happiness.

The authors provide a holistic survey of five basic wellbeing foundations, how roots of dysfunction and illness which are promoted in modern society by lifestyle and ideals alike, and why 22 selected botanicals featured herein offer new formulas for health and self-care. The result harnesses knowledge in a manner that re-envisions the role and tools of the apothecary, bringing them within reach of modern audiences.

The General Fiction Shelf

Fiona's Fury
Roxy Blue
Roxy Blue Publishing
9798989353309, $16.99 Paperback/$4.99 eBook

Smart, sexy Fiona has no time for men. She's the CEO of a successful flower shop who has remained on good terms with ex-husband Quade, but is too busy to search for a replacement. That is, until she finally decides to move on from him, and the beast within him is loosened.

Roxy Blue paints the picture of a feisty, determined, middle-aged woman in Fiona (who also happens to harbor a wicked sense of observational humor about life): "Remember to breathe...good work Fiona!" Clearly Celeste misinterpreted the sound of deep disgust that just escaped from my chest cavity. But at least, thank goodness, it was a sign that I'm remembering to breathe. I mean, God forbid what might happen were Celeste to forget to remind us to breathe! Lord...all dozen of us dying in a miserable, sticky, rainbow-slicked heap right here in the middle of Om Wellness Sanctuary. Can you envision how that headline would read? Twelve Middle-Aged Ninnies Collectively Forget How to Breathe During Tragic Art Movement Therapy Session."

Fiona's passion and her wry sense of life's twists and turns serve her well as she faces an unexpected control freak and the possibility that he will micromanage her life ... and maybe even her death. Steamy sexual scenes alternate with new discoveries and threats as Fiona finally meets her floral supplier, Bo Thompson, in person, only to find that the background threat in her life possibly means that she can't pursue love.

Author Roxy Blue's ability to weave Fiona's confrontation with a psychopath into her concurrent pursuit of romance and resolution creates a compelling saga that's hard to put down. Libraries and readers seeking a superior story that juxtaposes self-discovery with navigating two very different kinds of challenge will find Fiona's Fury just the ticket for a warm read with hot overtones of pleasure and pain.

A Flame Worth the Candle
Arthur Kevin Rein
Open Books
9781948598705, $19.95

A Flame Worth the Candle is a novel of growth and confrontation that swirls around Sam and Diane, who believe a family curse is finally broken, only to find that nefarious circumstances are coalescing to once again introduce family conflict, crime connections, and new challenges into their world.

It's been less than two months since the duo confronted the crime family Manticore, and seemingly won, but Steve Manticore is back; as well as the ghost of a father long imprisoned and suddenly, mysteriously, freed, who comes looking for his daughter Diane.

Associations between former convicts and friends introduce present-day dilemmas to past experiences as Sam and Diane struggle with family, the world, and one another in situations and reflections that Arthur Kevin Rein is particularly adept at bringing to life: "The next day, more silence between Diane and me. No phone calls, not even a text. None from me to her either, so there was that as well. The sadness of losing her was setting in. I was sick of everything, the resort, my clothes, my brothers and sister, even the summer. I was to the point that going back to school for my senior year looked inviting, and that had never happened at any point of my life. I was like a worker bee without a queen. Why collect pollen if there was no honey to be made. Why cut the grass or collect the garbage? Everything seemed pointless."

As the story evolves, questions and riddles permeate their individual and conjoined lives as Sam and Diane battle their psyches, adversaries that often stem from family connections, and each other. Rein creates a solid, powerful portrait of young lives in flux, buffeted by the special interests and adversity of outside interests.

Characters are strongly portrayed, past events reviewed in a seamless manner that allows for quick immersion in the duo's backgrounds, and escalating confrontations are realistic, growth-inducing scenarios that attract and hold reader interest with immersive first-person reflections. The result is a novel that will appeal to young adult and new adult readers alike. It represents a gripping saga of transformation and old and new habits and patterns that both entertain and lead readers to think more deeply about the ramifications of choices that separate the main players, then bring them back together in an unusual way.

Libraries will find the swirl of action, intrigue, and conundrums to be satisfyingly unpredictable, creating a story filled with subplots that make A Flame Worth the Candle hard to put down.

Candi Sary
Regal House Publishing
9781646033348, $18.95 Paperback/$6.49 eBook/$17.49 audiobook

'Heartwarmingly creepy' is not usually a label ascribed to either a romance or a ghost story, but the unexpected entwining of both subjects in Magdalena deserves not only this descriptor, but further acclaim.

Ghost story enthusiasts are well aware that formula writing abounds in this genre. But not in Magdalena, where a reclusive woman takes a fifteen-year-old neighbor under her wing, only to discover that the complicated relationship forces her out of her house, into the public eye, and into dilemmas she never saw coming.

Dottie finds herself in the eye of a historic mystery and superstition, battling different types of ghosts -- those which emerge from the past and others embedded in present-day affairs. The mystery piques reader interest as much as the heartfelt explorations of maternal connections, love, and loss.

Candi Sary opens her story of revelation with a gripping reflection: "In my dream, they're both still with me, the girl and the ghost." Shades of the classic Rebecca's powerful opening ("Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.") come to mind as Sary pulls readers into Dottie's world, packing it with literary reflection, emotional energy, and unexpected encounters. Sary is adept at moving readers through entwined scenarios as Dottie opens her story with reflections about how she wound up in this impossible place: "When I wake, I don't feel changed anymore. Not here in this sad room where they've put me. I prefer the lights out so I don't have to see what I've become. I just want to fall back asleep and close my eyes and dream again about the girl and the ghost, and how we were before I lost them."

As Dottie becomes involved with not just Magdalena but an ex-mobster and the aftermath of a miscarriage which has changed her relationship with her husband (and her life), readers become completely enthralled with events that lead in unexpected directions. Do miracles really happen?

Yes -- but they can come with a terrible price, as Dottie discovers.

Readers who choose Magdalena for its ghostly promise will find the spirited evolution of relationships offers far more than a singular form of horror. With every step that Dottie takes, that leads her in new directions of recovery and anguish, readers will find a powerful narrative of psychological and social revelations that create deeper-level thinking about grief, recovery, and new paths forward (some of which actually lead backwards).

Magdalena is highly recommended for libraries seeking literary ghost stories that function on a deeper and different level of horror and revelation, while readers attracted to mysteries and intrigue will find the story thoroughly engrossing.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

Flight of the Wild Swan
Melissa Pritchard
Bellevue Literary Press
9781954276215, $18.99 Paperback/$18.04 eBook

Flight of the Wild Swan is the fictional biography of Florence Nightingale, and dramatizes her life and times while staying true to the historical facts surrounding her world and her impact in it.

From the start, author Melissa Pritchard cultivates a sense of realistic psychological and social reflection of the 1800s, cemented by her use of the first person and vivid language that doesn't just draw readers into Florence 's story, but grabs them, shakes them, and compels them to listen: "She wakes in stale darkness, same nightmare, always. A common grave, hundreds of the sweat-soaked, freezing. The dead, their arms tightening around her, pulling her down. An indistinct murmur of voices. Some still in uniform, most writhing, naked. She cannot save them. Cannot save herself. This time the waking is different. This time she is dying. She is sure of it. The nurse, Anna, will find her in the morning. Then what?"

This end times introduction then takes a turn into the past to follow Florence's education, upbringing, her unusual entry into the male-dominated world of medicine, and the "zeal for reform" she cultivates and introduces to social circles in her life. While some might anticipate a prerequisite to enjoying this story would be a prior interest in either medicine, biography, or Florence Nightingale's life in particular; in actuality no such requirements are necessary.

As with any exceptional book, the author's ability to craft a story that is timeless and holds no interest boundaries creates a literary production that will prove appealing across the board to a wide and disparate audience who look for unique, transformative, and riveting life stories.

Markedly suitable for book club, women's, and history group discussions are the passages which candidly present the dilemmas of women of the times who would navigate systems not designed to recognize or use their abilities: "As you know, we are the first female nurses to ever work within the British army's hospital system. The French military have their Sisters of Charity, but our British military has had no medical help from women. We are the experiment. As such, it is imperative we proceed with utmost diplomacy. Because we are women, we may not be as welcome as you might expect. We will have to prove ourselves. How? First by obeying the orders of the medical officers and doctors. Second, by our efficiency, decency, and skill. We must take great pains not to offend."

The result will appeal to the biography enthusiast who appreciates the "you are here" embellishments of fiction, the follower of women's shifting roles in the 1800s, fans of Florence Nightingale who want to immerse themselves in a vivid portrait of her world and perspective, and any library or reader seeking an especially compelling, lyrical story of a rebel who defies the edicts of her times to make a difference in her life and in those surrounding her.

The Romantic Fiction Shelf

Moonshadow Over Red Moon Hill
Cynthia L. Clark
Outskirts Press
9781977268617, $19.95

Moonshadow Over Red Moon Hill is a novel of romance and unpredictability in which Brody Mars finds his staid and common life challenged by a letter which lures him to Red Moon Hill.

Tessa Mackenzie had been equally set in her ways until she, too, is drawn to Red Moon Hill by extraordinary circumstances that shake her world.

Sporting familiar and similar patterns, each character predictably encounters the other, feels an unexpected tie that grows as intrigue forces them together with shared reactions and responses, and comes to recognize new possibilities, both alone and as a possible couple.

Cynthia L. Clark satisfies readers who anticipate the romance component, but adds a side dish of self-enlightenment and growth that stems from sorrow and emotional transformations. This element of surprise works well as it dovetails with mystery and suspense. It draws readers into seemingly disparate lives forced to eschew patterns of predictability in favor of close inspections of how true love only emerges from self-reconciliation.

Brody and Tessa confront and navigate forces neither has ever chosen or experienced from life before, their shared objective changing their separate mandates to allow room for conjoined efforts. Murder, business partners in cahoots, and arson piques their interests and challenge their best intentions with further new approaches to life, death, and what lies in-between. Thus, Brody and Tessa come to realize and accept truths that motivate them to pursue each other as much as the truth.

Libraries and readers seeking a story in which suspense takes center stage alongside evolving romance and characters who come to embrace new, unexpected strengths in themselves (and in a possible partner) will find Moonshadow Over Red Moon Hill an astute study in grief and growth. It provides an entertaining backdrop to adaptation processes, offering many a surprise along the way.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

The Crooked Queen
Daniel A. Crane
DartFrog Plus
9781961624009, $5.99 eBook

The Crooked Queen follows a law school dropout who finds her education just enough to send her into the PI business. There, she discovers a quandary surrounding the murder of a fourteenth century noblewoman depicted in a work of art that has disappeared (along with the man claiming to be its owner). The man's concerned daughter draws Lacey into a search for the truth, where she learns about Portugal 's traditional azulejo art form, which is embedded into the mysterious events that happened both in the distant past and is occurring again in the present.

Readers will be surprised and delighted by the art discussions and Portuguese history which evolves from Daniel A. Crane's pen -- but these are not the only attractions of The Crooked Queen. Its characterization is powerful and the underlying mysteries strong as events test Lacey's investigative abilities against the backdrop of a threat that seems as mysterious as those of a vanished painting and man.

The atmosphere of Portugal is transmitted even during chase scenes such as this, where Lacey finds that Black Jacket has an uncanny way of making appearances and disappearances: "Without warning, he veered off to the right between two buildings into a tight alleyway. Lacey ran after him and made the turn. The alley fell toward the Rossio square in a narrow canyon of cobblestone flights sandwiched between shops and apartment buildings. Brightly colored streamers and awnings fastened from building to building formed a fluttering ceiling unable to contain the greasy smoke of a thousand roasting sardines. Revelers crowded the alley, scrunched in outdoor chairs drinking beer at hole-in-the-wall cafes, dancing gaily to accordions, or flipping sardines on grills."

Portuguese history and culture thus come to the forefront as Lacey makes discoveries about both and the art community, which foster her understanding of the nation and, ultimately, the influences behind this missing work of art.

The Crooked Queen is thus a delightful blend of education and intrigue. It will attract libraries and readers seeking more depth and lively insights from their mysteries. Libraries will be especially compelled to recommend it to book clubs interested in stories steeped in historical and cultural revelations that operate just as powerfully as the underlying mystery itself.

Lurk-Life Balance
Carrie Ann Knox
Xotolithic Press
9780999003244, $14.99

Lurk-Life Balance adds another book to the Sonic Sleuths series and opens with a mishap faced by the host of an event that almost nobody has attended. The narrator discovers that an announcement has been made about its cancellation just as confused attendees begin arriving, not sure they are in the right place. They are in the right place. But, at the wrong time.

Audiologist Quinn Bailey, the subject of prior cozy mysteries in the series, spearheads a failure and a revelation that turns into another investigative quandary as the dual disaster of a failed office opening and an accident involving the attending mayor place her in an unwelcome spotlight of attention. And that's just the opening salvo to events which keep on delivering one-two punches to Quinn as a business event turns into a psychological and political disaster.

Carrie Ann Knox's propensity for humor as she explores ironic disasters, weaving in events of Quinn's past (such as her involvement with the mafia sting a year earlier), creates a seamless story. Lurk-Life Balance will immerse newcomers just as readily as prior fans of Quinn's escapades and investigations. The disastrous event is explained using this wry, ironic observation about life's fallacies and failures as the story expands to embrace much more than a new audiology business's debut to the community.

The introduction brings with it murder, mystery, and mayhem which Quinn navigates with equally deft displays of observational skill and audiology savvy. This involves readers in a story that embraces murder accusations, hard sells, and a tinge of blackmail as Quinn ventures into unfamiliar territory despite her prior experience with problem-solving under extraordinary conditions.

Knox's ability to build a new story on the foundations of prior adventures that new readers might not have enjoyed, then making it accessible to a wide audience, is excellent. The allusions to past events, people, and circumstances are so well done that old fans will only be reminded via references; not put off by lengthy regurgitations of prior events. The result is a thoroughly engrossing and highly recommended cozy mystery that enhances prior Quinn adventures in the Sonic Sleuths mysteries. It expands the talents and problem-solving possibilities faced by characters willing to make hard deals to exact their freedom, with Quinn disarming threats as quickly as they emerge.

Libraries will be delighted to include it in their collections.

One Night Stand
Mukul Deva
Cernunnos Books Pte. Ltd.
9789811886157, $13.99 Paperback/$3.99 eBook

One Night Stand is set in Singapore and follows five disparate characters whose lives are changed by the events of a single night which reveals their innermost secrets, hidden characters, and quandaries that sent all five to the pivot point of a bar and a night to remember.

An especially notable, evocative beginning draws readers from the very first lines: "There are nightclubs, and there are nightclubs. And then there is me. Nostalgia." Is life "just another one night stand"? Ex-cop turned businessman Sayan Iyer (who faces struggles with an unfaithful wife), Singapore socialite and mother Christina Tang, who harbors a secret, and other characters are about to find out as inner horror dovetails with external events that test each character's political, social, and psychological mettle.

Mukul Deva creates a tense thriller packed with notable revelations and transformations as people who find themselves in the wrong place at the right time also find their lives and concerns simultaneously enriched and challenged by events they cannot control. As motive and opportunity questions play out, the close inspections of each character bring to light new revelations which, when taken as a whole, contribute to a series of unpredictable events that expands from personal to community concerns as persons of interest are identified and contrasted. Singaporean society and culture is the highlight at each step of the way, building both intrigue and understanding as the plot thickens.

Libraries and readers who enjoy their thrillers steeped in the logic, culture, action and psyche of atmosphere and place will find Singapore comes to life in a manner which gives the tension and intrigue a full-bodied flavor of revelation. This is why One Night Stand comes especially highly recommended as a thriller with stands not only on the collective and disparate psyches of characters, but on the sense of history, place, and purpose that brings readers off the streets and into the abodes and concerns of Singapore's world.

Pirate Trap
Matt Cost
Encircle Publications
9781645995081, $26.99 Hardcover/$16.99 Paperback/$5.99 eBook

Pirate Trap adds to the 'Trap' mysteries involving Clay Wolfe and Port Essex, presenting a new mystery to entice seasoned investigator Clay Wolfe with a promise that no serious P.I. would want to turn down. Who wouldn't want to uncover a long-missing pirate treasure? More importantly, who would want to prevent such largess from seeing the light of day?

Clay Wolfe finds out when he agrees to undertake a search-and-recovery mission somewhat outside of his expertise, only to find that, in fact, the assignment by an antiques dealer may be the only thing that shakes him from his intense depression over his grandfather's demise. Of course, other entities (many nefarious) are also involved in the hunt, from a sex doll businessman to a motorcycle gang and even Clay's fellow crew members.

Pitted against good guys and bad, Clay can't help but stumble into trouble, feeling that the endeavor is largely an individual pursuit (even if gangs with special interests are involved). As he struggles with visions of Grandpops, the involvement of lovely lasses from the past, and clients who are killed and found in his office, Clay fields blows from near and far, edging ever closer to a truth that will shake his trajectory and force him to hone new abilities to survive and thrive.

Because Matt Cost's story adds to a series, readers may think this would require familiarity with Clay's previous adventures. Not so. The characters are exquisitely drawn, the Port Essex setting realistic in its atmosphere and nuances, and Clay's past encounters are not a prerequisite for enjoying his pirate treasure hunt, here.

Libraries seeking stand-alone titles that excel in building tension over adults involved in a pirate treasure hunt on grown-up turf will find Pirate Trap a satisfying hard-boiled mystery that adds romance into the fires of truth and discovery to delight genre readers seeking twists and turns they won't see coming.

Running on Broken Bones
Will Pepper
Hustle Valley Press, LLC
B0C927PNY6, $4.99 eBook

As the follow-up to You Will Know Vengeance, this new Tanto thriller offers a compelling sequel that takes place a decade after Tanto was imprisoned by a secret government agency. Not one to take a back seat in prison, he finally has made his escape. Many things have changed in ten years ... including his health. Is he actually equipped to engage in the kinds of subterfuge, escapes, and escapades that he fielded in his youth?

Prior readers of Tanto who know him from You Will Know Vengeance will be delighted with a story that continues the high-octane intrigue, but with an added blend of savvy that comes from both aging and the wisdom of accepting physical limitations.

Will Pepper is especially skilled at opening his stories with bombshells that compel readers to move into the action: "While most Americans spend their Sunday mornings watching sports or listening to robed men tell magic resurrection stories, I schedule my day around an eighty-five-year-old prostitute who ensures I don't swallow my tongue. Sure, anyone can do this, but I am loyal to a fault. Plus, this bag of bones won't ask questions unless you pay her to, like I do."

One doesn't anticipate that the hero will be diaper-clad, or subject to therapies and madness that challenge the mind and lead into unexpected territory; yet Pepper creates a protagonist whose surprising choices and course in life forces him to challenge his own limitations. "How do I fix myself when I can't even communicate?" More importantly, Tanto escapes torturers, trackers, and his own barriers to discovery, only to be kidnapped as he faces impossible circumstances beyond his control.

As Pepper spins an intriguing cat-and-mouse game of survival, breakthroughs, and strategies for useful actions that can be used against one's enemies, the story evolves a satisfying tension powered by an aging character who has lost none of his ability to hack, manipulate, and problem-solve his way out of danger. "I'm not looking for a slow fix. I needed something, if not permanent, then drastic. Like the ice pick lobotomy, but hopefully with better side effects."

Thriller audiences shouldn't be looking for a slow fix to Tanto's problems, either. They will find that this simmering cauldron of adversity and challenge is packed with unexpected twists and turns that keep the protagonist and his readers on their toes. With a nose for trouble and survival, running on broken bones becomes not impossible, but achievable. Tanto's escape and latest trials will thoroughly engross readers and libraries interested in thrillers that push the boundaries of medical ethics, prison scenarios, and the scenarios of aging prisoners who just won't quit.

Ties That Kill
Deven Greene
Castle Bridge Media
9798987208397, $16.99 Paperback/$4.99 eBook

Ties That Kill is not your usual medical thriller, but is billed as a "Mid-Life Crisis Thriller." This translates to a story that takes a stroke and genetic blood clot risk to new levels as a patient not only discovers he has a host of half-siblings who may harbor the same internal killer, but has attracted the attention of an external killer bent on murdering them all. DNA may connect each of them, but it holds no ability to thwart an assassin.

That component of inherited risk must come from Dr. Martin Starling, a chemistry professor, who needs to overcome not only his own medical condition, but the threat to his siblings that tarnishes his reputation.

Deven Greene evolves an intriguing premise as the professor and patient also becomes the key suspect in a murder spree that targets his family. Revelations about his heritage are juxtaposed with the medical and murder mystery that emerges from it as he navigates unfamiliar relationships and questions how to incorporate them into both his life and his search for answers.

As his mid-life medical crisis turns into a midlife career change, Martin finds himself in a dangerous position, poised between life and death in a different way that challenges both his perceptions of family and self and his role as a chemistry professor. As a detective stalks him even as Martin pursues the truth, readers are treated to a satisfying series of twists that keep them guessing about outcomes, purposes, and evolving relationships.

Libraries and medical thriller readers seeking stories that operate well outside the realm of formula reading or predictable plots will find Ties That Kill a standout and a winner. It's every bit as engrossing as Robin Cook -- but contains a personal touch that brings its characters, as well as its changing dilemmas and ethical challenges, to life.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Baen Books

Two new arrivals from Baen are highly recommended for their military action, sci-fi foundations, and the plots they build to create exceptionally vivid stories.

Marisa Wolf's Beyond Enemies (9781982193218, $18.00) tells of members of the United Colonial Force's Artificial Intelligence Troops, who find themselves not at the center of battle, but regulated to a boring base where their incarnation as intelligent heavy tanks does little to contribute to any battles or engagements. Talinn and Bee find that their banishment leads to something bigger than anyone had envisioned when they discover underlying influences on their makeup, assignment, and potential to either uphold their mission or take dangerous risks that threaten themselves, their creators, and their edicts. Humor blends with powerful confrontations in this gripping saga of engagement that works on a different level than most genre reads.

Wil McCarthy's Beggar's Sky (9781982193188, $28.00) adds to the Rich Man's Sky series and portrays a final frontier of discovery affected by trillionaires who have privatized the space industry's efforts. Renz has constructed a starship capable of reaching Alpha Centauri, but before he achieves his goal, he is stopped in his tracks by a form of first contact that introduces the possibility of warfare over the corporate control of space. Fast-paced action and opportunities permeate a story filled with engrossing twists and turns to keep readers engaged on many levels, whether they come from military sci-fi reading or are seeking a story replete with powerful action and ideological confrontations.

Both of these new science fiction titles are exceptional reads and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists and community library collections.

The Poetry Shelf

Good Housekeeping
Bruce E. Whitacre
Poets Wear Prada
9781946116277, $18.00

Think 'good housekeeping' and the women's monthly magazine may spring to mind, but Bruce E. Whitacre's collection, Good Housekeeping, is about much more than recipes and cleaning house.

It also features poems that arrive with the delivery of a social inspection that is unexpected, if one associates the title with mainstream thinking.

Whether tackling gay marriage, midlife crisis, privilege, or issues of housekeeping, Whitacre's words are powerful, intellectual, and force readers to think: "I sing the body domestic in sonnets Hooveric/...Housekeeping is why/Greed is the root of evil yet it keeps us alive..." In many ways, these pieces are studies in contrasts between the "dispossessed" who "take the streets" and the inner sanctum of home, which is too often breached by the world ("Some days it is the only door that opens to you/or that closes on your mess./'I'll handle this.' Click./Words of a saint./Heavy Duty. Light China . Normal Wash. ProScrub/to Heat Dry or not is the only/decision I am up to today."). The light as darkness falls (as in the poem of the same name) can be cast from the household within, or the knock of the world outside that door; but whether forces come from inner turbulence or outer influences, they remain powerful portents of change, endurance, and transition in Good Housekeeping.

Libraries seeking poetry delivered with a social thrust of inspection and life observation will find that Good Housekeeping pulls no punches in either its subjects or delivery, traversing the pinnacles and apexes of mainstream and alternative homes and thinking with equal dexterity and force. This also makes Good Housekeeping an exceptional recommendation for contemporary poetry book club discussion groups interested in free verse that captures the outer limits of social decorum and artificial and real constructs of what makes life worth living. "Something is always coming."

The Christian Studies Shelf

Hidden Price Tags V. 6: Dissertations
C.J.S. Hayward
C.J.S. Hayward Publications
9798376521939, $15.00 Hardcover/$12.24 Paperback/$5.00 eBook

Dissertations adds to the eight-volume opus that is C.J.S. Hayward's masterpiece on Eastern Orthodoxy and technology, expanding the subject of technological allure and danger by discussing AI and dark patterns as they relate to Scriptural texts.

This discourse builds on his prior thesis subjects, which offered readers "...a theological critique that used theology to see things that are not seen in mainstream artificial intelligence research and for that matter are not seen in mainstream academic critiques of artificial intelligence." Readers might not anticipate the scholarly depths of an Orthodoxy approach to science, but it resides here, from theorems and hypotheses on boundaries and space to arguments and justifications that reveal Scriptural perceptions and analysis in a different light.

More so than many of his prior writings, Dissertations represents the scholarly, analytical brain of Hayward, who provides logic, arguments, and insights fit for a master's thesis. Two of the three were master's dissertations, and the other was regarded by his advisor as 'M.Phil. work done to M.Phil. standards'. These dissertations were written for UIUC (for the math dissertation) and Cambridge (for the theology dissertation). This volume also comes packed with footnoted references and quotes from other authorities and analysts.

From functionality arguments to optimality assumptions, Hayward provides readers with complex, enlightening insights into spiritual thinking that stem from three masters' thesis writings, cementing many of his prior books and insights with a heavier dose of analytical observation. The result ideally will be read in conjunction with his past 'Hidden Price Tags' series titles and his introductory The Luddite's Guide to Technology (which synthesizes the contentions expanded upon in the Hidden Price Tags works).

Libraries seeking scholarly contributions to subjects of faith, modern culture, and science's influences will find Dissertations a powerful piece; especially when read in conjunction with its other series siblings.

The Religion/Spirituality Shelf

The Truth Too: Lamentations and Woes
Mikah -- Co-Authored with the Holy Spirit
Red Letter Edition
9798989242825, $35.99

Readers of Mikah's prior work already know that this spiritual leader works in conjunction and through the Holy Spirit. The opening chapter explains how Mikah was appointed, during a spiritual cleansing of her mother's home, by Father to assume a ministry to the world: "Not only are you a sweet fragrance, but you are the aroma that goes before My throne constantly. I am calling you to a ministry to teach and evangelize. I am quickening your heart for one reason. I am going to make your heart strong and hard so when I talk with you, you will be able to teach with understanding and authority. I am taking the mantle off this family and putting it on your shoulders."

From how Mikah was moved to write to reach a wider audience, to reflections on the Word of God which too often are misinterpreted or fall on deaf ears, this treatise navigates the common pitfalls of belief, interpretation, and representation in religious circles to preach methods of deliverance, address spiritual defilements, and understand obedience, curses, and the trials of testing which require believers to step up to better understand the Word of God and the incarnations of God's presence in everyday life.

Photos capturing circumstances of this physical presence in Mikah's life reinforce the vision and focus of the narrative, presenting physical examples of God's incarnations in the world that support contentions made in the text.

Specific examples of spiritual challenges are accompanied by Scripture quotes that reinforce messages from God and perspectives of how they can be supported and applied to daily thinking. That only makes them more vibrant and accessible to spiritual thinkers and leaders interested in delving more deeply into the Word of God and how it appears in the world.

Christian libraries and discussion groups seeking controversial and enlightening material for discussion and better understanding will find The Truth Too: Lamentations and Woes a powerful study in possibilities and perspective that delves into Scripture, applies it to historical precedent and human habits, and guides readers on a journey of discovery and consideration that could only come from a close relationship between Mikah and God.

The Self-Help Shelf

Reimagining Success
Maureen Fallon-Cyr, LCSW
DartFrog Plus
9781961624283, $16.99

Reimagining Success: Manifesting Happiness and Fulfillment reinterprets the meaning of success, delving into the physical, cognitive, and spiritual aspects of that definition in order to guide readers into a deeper examination of the incarnations and cost of success.

From the start, author Maureen Fallon-Cyr presents some surprising interpretations and insights on the subject: "In today's world you can't escape the trappings of success. Media feeds, television, and self-help books continuously entice us to boost our success in finance, parenting, weight loss, exercise, fashion, aging, and even meal preparation. So why would I write a book that speaks to success? Because I was tired. Over the years, I worked hard to be successful in many arenas, only to feel unsuccessful and unfulfilled. No matter which success program I ventured into, I quickly slipped back into old habits, disheartened and let down -- I wasn't "changing for the better," I wasn't manifesting the "me" I wanted to be, and when I did achieve a goal, I often suffered from imposter syndrome -- I could barely own my achievements or was unable to savor the joy that came with the accolades. I was living a generally good life, but I wasn't feeling successful."

Her self-analysis also reflects on why a reader already motivated in self-help and self-examination areas would want to choose Reimagining Success over similar-sounding titles. One reason would include prior failures to achieve a feeling of success and an interest in finding new pathways, interpretations, and aspects of success that are more achievable and ultimately more (shall we say) successful.

In order to achieve this level of satisfaction, Fallon-Cyr creates and promotes a reinterpretation process that closely considers elements of different aspects of success, showing how to view and choose new visions for more effective results. Chapters delve into building support systems, releasing prior practices and formulations of success, and better understanding the foundations of achievement and their wellsprings of inspiration.

At every step, Fallon-Cyr provides supportive research evidence, case histories, and data that reinforces her reinterpretation of what constitutes success and its motivating influences. The result is a deeper inspection than many would anticipate, which eschews surface-level psychology in favor of alternative views of success, motivation, achievement, and satisfaction. This will encourage discussion groups from a wide range of sources, from psychology and business to self-help readers, making Reimagining Success a highly recommended, invaluable tool for change at personal, social, and political levels that libraries can encourage and recommend.

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