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California Bookwatch

Volume 18, Number 12 December 2023 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Biography Shelf General Fiction Shelf
Historical Fiction Shelf Literary Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf
Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Sports Shelf Christian Studies Shelf
Self-Help Shelf    

Reviewer's Choice

Creative Genius You
Patti Dobrowolski
Creative Genius Press
9780983985655, $21.99 Paper/$8.99 ebook

Creative Genius You: The Equation That Makes You Great! pairs drawings by Scott Ward with exercises and insights into the foundations of intuition, creativity, and choice. This encourages readers to think outside the box of expectation and set patterns to reach a greater level of creative insights. From the importance of cultivating inner dialogues to optimizing ambition by reviewing progress in a new light, Patti Dobrowolski creates an inviting set of easy routines and insights about how belief systems can combine with artistic drive to create new pathways of opportunity. While outlining a path forward, Dobrowolski admits that history and training too often must be set aside in order to let in a different approach.

Peppered with examples, case histories, and inviting methods of re-envisioning past and present to hone better future opportunities, the exercises and advice in Creative Genius You outlines a road map of new possibilities. Of necessity, of course, these involve restructuring one's expectations, ideals, and approaches to life. Interactive formulas throughout the book streamline and encourage this process of discovery. Libraries and individuals interested in revised growth opportunities will welcome this approach, but Creative Genius You will truly shine in group settings where opportunities for contrast, discussion, and success can be shared and fine-tuned. Books clubs thus will find it an inspirational, actionable set of new ideals for fostering and tapping creative roots.

The Biography Shelf

Found: A Veteran Story
Jack McLean
Huntington Bay Press
9798988539216, $17.00

Found: A Veteran Story chronicles the lasting impact and legacy of the Vietnam War in a memoir that charts Jack McLean's stint in the U.S. Marine Corps. The saga he began in Loon: A Marine Story is expanded in Found, which documents a wide-ranging series of experiences from McLean's service. From the start, Found reviews life events that open, here, with his discharge from service in 1968 and his enrollment in Harvard University to become its first incoming Vietnam veteran. McLean came home to a changed America because of the war. This is his story of that homecoming, which returned him to soil which felt at once familiar and alien. Many books have been written about Vietnam experiences overseas. Fewer embrace the extent of cultural and social changes Vietnam brought to America and the veterans who returned home to unfamiliar territory to confront them.

McLean cultivates a "you are here" series of insights about his homecoming and the connections between his tour of duty in Vietnam and his revised milieu, both of which tug at his heart. He also documents a common occurrence: "While several people had welcomed me home, no one had thanked me for my service. Americans, in the fall of 1968, did not regard service in the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War as being worthy of thanks." He continues then reflects upon the surreal atmosphere brought about by his return: "I felt like Rip Van Winkle, the fictional Washington Irving character who, in the late eighteenth century, fell asleep in the Catskill Mountains and awoke twenty years later to discover that he had missed the entire American Revolution. While I had only been gone for a year, it seemed that another American Revolution had occurred in my absence."

As he navigates a revised America and unexpected attitudes towards not only the war but those who fought it, McLean discovers that his place in this country has also vastly changed. As he navigates personal trails, new responsibilities and relationships, and educational and romantic pursuits, McLean reflects on how his tour of duty changed his capacity for connecting with others: "While the responsibility for her death weighed heavily on my shoulders, I had lost my ability to grieve during the afternoon of June 5, 1968, when Tom Morrissey and seven other boys were killed within minutes during a blistering rocket attack." His struggles with his revised abilities in the world are moving and engrossing reflections on how military service and conflict can permanently imprint upon veterans, changing their basic reactions to life and death.

McLean finds enlightenment in Found - and so do readers interested in stories of the Vietnam era and a changing world. His trace of the imprints and impressions of the times and reflections on his Marine Corps service and its lasting connections will particularly engage readers interested in the widespread process of service validation: "Vietnam veterans of all stripes were emerging from the holes within which we had buried our experiences. We were finally able to feel the catharsis that came with the understanding, acceptance, and acknowledgment, first among ourselves and then, over time, by the country. It was a time of widespread validation. For the first time, we were allowed to be proud of our service and unafraid to show it."

The result is a powerful story of individual and national transformation that should be made a part of any library strong in memoirs of the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Book clubs interested in debating the lasting psychological effects of these times will find many discussion topics embedded in Found: A Veteran Story. These will lend to attraction by any group pursuing social, political, and psychological revelations.

The Wrong Calamity
Marsha Jacobson
DartFrog Plus
9781959096931, $25.99 Hardcover/$15.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

The Wrong Calamity: A Memoir opens with Marsha Jacobson's birth "in the whoosh of baby boomers" in Indiana and then reveals her life with an abusive husband. It deftly answers the question of why intelligent women marry into such a situation, much less stay in it - and perhaps seldom in the literature is the answer so clear. Jacobson saw no other opportunities, and no way out. The irony lies in the fact that, more than many other women in her position, Jacobson fell into a form of business success that theoretically gave her numerous resources and alternative options. As she became more successful, however, her husband became more abusive. Only when she returned to familiar territory, leaving her sojourn in Japan for America, was she able to flee, two toddlers in tow, into a better life.

Also more vividly portrayed than most stories of abuse and freedom are the slow-simmering revelations Jacobson experienced as her relationship with Peter evolved. From his quick temper and jealousy to how she changed from a woman who gave her husband complete charge of their honeymoon plans to one who came to question her very presence in his life, the progressive realizations are nicely presented and compellingly written. Jacobson's ability to delineate the transformations, realizations, and influences that led her to revise her life and future will prove inspirational to other women facing the same situation. She documents an evolutionary growth that deserves equal discussion in psychology and book reading groups for its specific insights and realizations.

The impact of her progressive determination and contributions to the relationship is hard-hitting and eye-opening. From her re-entry into dating and the snafus that led to new realizations about those she chose and her moral and ethical foundations to business and personal growth choices, Jacobson creates a powerful story of calamity, discovery, and change. This will serve as an inspiration (and road map) to other women facing similar conundrums. Libraries and readers seeking stories of not just escape from abuse, but considerations of the financial, psychology, and social influences on their evolution, will find The Wrong Calamity enlightening, revealing, and hard to put down.

CK Sobey
Inner Harvesting
9781737506171, $19.99 Paperback, $29.99 Hardcover, $9.99 E-book

Outpourings is the second volume of CK Sobey's reflections (begun in Musings, Woolgatherings & Ghosts), but requires no prior familiarity with the first book in order to prove entirely accessible to newcomers. It features the same special blend of personal reflection, poetry, and philosophical musings that marked the first book, but carries these themes into wider waters as Sobey marks her life and heritage with passages of experience and growth that blend spiritual reflection with life inspection. Sobey often writes with an underlying philosophical view. This will attract a wide audience of thinkers who enjoy deeper-level inspections.

This collection begins with a consideration of impermanence and the impetus for writing and publishing one's thoughts for posterity: "Nothing is truly gone but can be so fleeting. I'm trying to capture the feelings a moment longer and put them into words." It then presents a series of surges and reflections that reflect both an appreciation for Japanese poetic structure and accompanying prosaic considerations of wisdom, spiritual dialogues, and the fabric of building personality and perspective over the years.

CK Sobey is particularly adept at capturing her life experiences and inspections in an interweave of reveries about marvels, mysteries, and miracles to reflect both an appreciation of what is known about life and aspects which are in flux or unknown, yet to be developed. Like a fine photograph, Sobey's work slowly comes to light in the darkroom of life, assuming clarity and form as readers either choose a progressive approach to reading or dip in and out at various points in her book, as desire dictates. It's unusual to find a work which offers dual approaches to readers who pursue either linear or non-linear paths of exploration, but Outpourings (and its predecessor) offers satisfaction to both kinds of readers as it embraces a "multiple passage of steps" to arrive at thought-provoking considerations of the human spirit and wisdom.

The intersection of haiku and prose works well in this pursuit, lending vivid imagery and possibilities to Sobey's work and strengthening her intention to reach as wide an audience as possible: "I think about things that touch me. Believe me when I say I am touched in countless ways every day. Not always in thoughtful, poetic ways. My life can be outrageously foolish, and sometimes it involves a great deal of shouting and disruption. Reaching some passionate and evocative altitudes helps me to turn up the heat when I need that. I'm not alone in this, just my version. I will do my best to share that authenticity with you in this book." Her special brand of memoir, literary inspection, and philosophical and spiritual reflection will delight libraries that look for evocative, accessible writings for those that appreciate prose, poetry, philosophy, and everything that goes into inspecting life.

The General Fiction Shelf

When You Read This I'll Be Gone
Anne Moose
Act Two
9798218955144, $16.00 Paperback/$6.99 Kindle

The title of Anne Moose's When You Read This I'll Be Gone achieves the goal of an excellent title - to compel readers to delve into the story. It supports the opening lines of the tale, which take the form of a letter Valerie Hawthorne writes to her loved ones: "I know there's nothing I can ever say or do to make up for the hurt I've caused you, but this book will at least explain what happened and why I did what I did. I don't expect forgiveness, but I do want you to know the truth. It's ironic that, with this book, I may finally achieve the success as an author I've always wanted."

As Valerie admits that the domino-tipping came as much from her actions as those of a handsome, tall stranger she encountered at a hotel, readers receive a compelling series of events that turns an illicit romance into a quest for redemption and revenge. A dinner invitation becomes something more - and then the terror begins as Valerie comes to understand that little was left to chance, and much that played out was intentionally plotted. From mistakes made both intentionally and inadvertently to the deadly results of dangerous choices, Moose weaves a thoroughly engaging story that winds through murder, a past crime the perp never realized had been committed, and racial prejudices which infect even a liberal university.

As the truth is revealed and Valerie is charged with telling the world, a riveting story plays out that intersects romance and danger in such a way that readers will not want to stop following its satisfying twists and turns. Its evolutionary process lies in developing truths and underlying motives that affect all the characters, and its strength lies in a plot for retribution that challenges Valerie to not just survive, but step up to life in new ways. Stark in its romantic interlude, which opens the saga with a slower simmer that then builds to a boil of intrigue and revelations, When You Read This I'll Be Gone lives up to its promises to be a powerful blend of mystery, romance, and psychological attraction. When You Read This I'll Be Gone is highly recommended for libraries and readers seeking exceptional titles supported by equally potent reading that keeps audiences thoroughly engaged and guessing to the end.

Freedom's Just Another Word
Len Joy
Independently Published
9798585924699, $12.95 Paper/$2.99 ebook

Freedom's Just Another Word opens in 2018 with the declaration "I used to be famous." Jake revels in the more minor fame of having a successful syndicated column until the newspaper is sold and his column is cut back, forcing Jake to become a part-time Uber driver just to make ends meet. Inspiration under adverse economic conditions seems unlikely, but Jake is wallowing, even though his adult daughter is on the cusp of realizing success at last, having been accepted to Stanford Law at age 31.

Jake is brutally candid from the start about the many questionable choices he's made in his life, all of which have led him to this point of uncertainty: "My fall from grace had been all on me. I fell in love with someone I wasn't supposed to fall in love with. She was 21, I was 35 and married. She was my intern. She had a baby. We named him Devante. I'm supposed to say I was wrong. That I made a mistake and I'm sorry. But I loved Monique and I love my son. My heart wanted something it couldn't have. I don't think that makes it wrong, just impossible. I have no regrets."

Len Joy cultivates a gritty form of self-realization in his character which makes him both flawed and likeable from the beginning. Although family unity seems unachievable, there are still life changes waiting to influence Jake and change his floundering course. These unfold in the course of a novel that follows his moves into adult son Devante's life and crazy woman Amanda's world, who represents yet another opportunity to either succeed or fail in relationship-building. Joy's ability to traverse the social and political tides of Jake's environment brings readers directly into contact with its disparate forces, from boxing and exes to adult children who are also finding their way in their lives. The heartbreaking, beautiful stories Jake is capable of writing change others' lives. Why not his own? But as he faces a son's dangerous stalker, an even uglier situation with his ex Tawni, and a job demotion that keeps him wondering about his future, Jake's search for others' stories becomes his own quest for a better outcome.

Readers who enter his life to absorb Jake's first-person revelations about his scattered relationships with job and life will find in Jake many of the components of their own psyches; especially in moments which teeter on the fine edge of failure or success. Jake's return to his writing prowess in producing a column which is both enlightening and highly controversial opens new doors of opportunity he and his readers won't see coming. The result is a commanding probe of old patterns, new beginnings, political entanglements, and relationship challenges reformulated under new conditions. Against the backdrops of boxing, fighting for identity, and confronting self and family lies the astute, vividly realistic story of a man who attempts to reveal and save others while making difficult choices to do the same for himself. Freedom's Just Another Word is highly recommended for libraries and readers looking for powerfully compelling fiction about middle-aged characters who face real-world danger, the impossibility of fairy-tale endings, and the promise that tomorrow will be different. Maybe.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

C.M. Huddleston
Interpreting Time's Past Press
9798985267228, $15.99 Print/$6.99 ebook

Esther is a highly recommended historical novel for all ages, from young adult through adult readers. It centers on American Revolutionary War history as seen through the eyes of 1800s character Esther, who experiences war, Indian attacks, movements through early American settlements, and shifting family relationships. The times come to life through her eyes and travels as C.M. Huddleston attends to capturing the atmosphere and motivations of late 1700s America and those who lived in these turbulent times: "As the war raged in the east, Indian attacks grew more frequent in the lands across the Appalachians. Despite knowing of and fearing such attacks, men, families, and the militia traveled the far western trails, for such was life in the wilderness. Besides the threats of Indian attacks, all frontier travelers heard tales of robbers, evil men, white like themselves, attacking and killing along the backcountry roads and trails."

The timeline of American history that introduces this milieu may prove daunting to those who want immediate immersion in fictional drama, but it does set the stage for the story's roots in fact. Readers who want immediate gratification and draw can easily look beyond the timeline introduction and refer to it later as Esther's life progresses. As relationships between men and women (and within families) unfold against the backdrop of early American journeys and trails, readers receive a "you are here" feel that cultivates a compelling immediacy and logic to the history embedded in Esther's story. Huddleston is particularly skilled at integrating thoughts and prayers with the routines and concerns of not just Esther, but the community and people she moves among. This creates a wider-ranging sense of place and purpose that helps drive the story line with satisfying psychological and historical insights. Ultimately, these dovetail within Esther's experiences and shifting perspectives about herself, her relationships, and the wider world at large.

As Joshua, Esther, Seth, Lovely, and a disparate range of personable characters come to light, readers will revel in the challenges and courage that also emerge from their experiences and interactions. Esther's ability to reach a wide age range with a compelling saga that's based on primary materials and published resources, yet incorporates the drama and action of fictional creativity, makes it a strong recommendation for libraries and reading groups interested in early American history and novels reflecting the times.

Welcome to Bellechester
Margaret A. Blenkush
Beaver's Pond Press
9781643436104, $27.95 Large Print

Welcome to Bellechester continues the medical story introduced in the novel The Doctor of Bellechester, which centered on a small village doctor who journeys to London in search of a mentor for his practice and instead encounters new possibilities in American woman Mary Elizabeth. The atmosphere of cozy mystery, suspense, and budding career and personal choices is furthered in this second book, which opens with different circumstances of intrigue and revised potentials, beginning with another confession gained by Detective Inspector William Francis Donnelly. Dr. Harold Merton is not a major figure here, but plays a more minor role, appearing mid-book long after the story has heated up and embraced readers with its special brand of Bellechester community interactions and concerns. As Dr. Basil Applegate and other characters profiled in the first book come to light, readers will find this second story of small village interactions and influences expands the psyches and situations of the first book while building an excellent stand-alone novel steeped in British atmosphere, detective work, and medical issues alike.

The pivot points of this novel opens the doors and definition of "cozy small town" to invite newcomers and prior fans into a read that excels in building relationships, connections, and conundrums stemming from mystery and medical treatments. As in her prior novel, Margaret A. Blenkush is adept at crafting a set of realistic circumstances powered by quiet, believable dramas that play out many different levels. This translates to a realistic feel that uses daily life encounters to build suspense, eschewing the lure of nonstop action in favor of a slower place that builds equally satisfying tension and attraction. Mary Elizabeth begins to feel that there should be something more in her life than her passion for becoming a rural doctor, involving readers in the opportunities, ideals, and issues facing women in the late 1950s.

The result is another fine cozy story that embraces and expands the atmosphere of Bellechester and its residents with an 'everyman', 'everywoman', and 'everytown' appeal that explores the challenges of adopting a foreign locale as one's home. Libraries and readers seeking a story that focuses on how a young woman moves into new possibilities that expand her future and perspectives will find Welcome to Bellechester delightful, pairing a deceptively peaceful countenance with moments of revelation and discovery.

The Rogue and the Jade: Part Two
Steven Clark
Independently Published
9798394683640, $7.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

The second part of The Rogue and the Jade odyssey continues the story of 1800s story of Amanda Breakfield, on a prison ship to Australia, who is taken by the ship's captain to be his concubine. In short order, she faces an assassin, increment weather, and challenges that include being captured by a queen who both covets Amanda's special form of magic and wants to adopt her as a daughter. Amanda's search for the truth and justice has landed her in precarious positions, but she must overcame everything fate has given her in order to survive and realize both freedom and vengeance.

Familiarity with Steven Clark's first story will lend a fine sense of continuity to Amanda's evolving life as she continues to move far from her life in Regency England to embark on a voyage of discovery and romance aboard the Jade and among peoples who both revere and revile her. As she moves to the opposite ends of the earth from all that she loves and all that is familiar, Amanda's encounter with powerful women gives her not only new opportunities for escape, but new revelations about women's relationships and belief systems. Her God is one of love. But some who encounter her are sure she is a demon.

Clark provides a rollicking good adventure and action story which cements its progress and purposes with strong female characters and interactions between native and White communities alike. These evolving connections and the new ideas that stem from them receive enlightening discourse as Amanda struggles against adversity and new ideas in different ways: "You are allowed your cross god. It is a god with much magic. But you are my daughter. You are one with the world, and have your home." The result is a vivid story of plots, survival methods, and the gift of magic and discovery which traverses impossible conditions to form new connections. Followers of Amanda's adventures in the first The Rogue and the Jade book will find the same attention to character-building detail, revelation, and growth builds further trails and new possibilities for Amanda, Jack, and the people they encounter on their journey.

The Rogue and the Jade Part Three: Mandee
Steven Clark
Independently Published
9798394683640, $7.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Picking up where Book Two left the door more than ajar for more is the third book in the Rogue and the Jade trilogy, which opens with Amanda's near-disastrous escape attempt. Jack Hobb rescues her and bears her back home, but she has not thoroughly escaped adversity yet. Waiting for her are the charges and influences which led to her world-hopping adventure in the first place. This time, she is forced to confront them in new ways as she reconciles the survival lessons of a captive that challenge her sense of home and place, leading her into uncharted waters. As Amanda and Jack face their love for one another against the hold of Mateah and impossible odds, readers swept into the magic of the trilogy from the first two books in the series receive a thought-provoking series of clashes in which Amanda must choose between her roots and the island clan that has adopted her as one of theirs.

Black and white line drawings pepper the story (as in the previous books) as Amanda finds her way through new circumstances and life "brushes away all confrontation and fury." Prior followers of the trilogy will be the best audience for this riveting conclusion to Amanda's adventures because characters and situations from the prior books continue to receive embellishment and enlightenment here. This leads to a satisfying conclusion that frays the tempers and purposes of a wide range of characters from different walks of life. Amanda's struggles over finally finding home and purpose power a novel that is multifaceted and as able to draw romance and Regency readers as it is those who look for swashbuckling action and vivid battle scenes.

Libraries seeing popularity with the prior two Rogue and the Jade stories will want to place this conclusion on their 'must acquire' lists. It's an inviting survey of power plays, women's evolving strengths, and the world-building choices men and women face as they seek to reinvent themselves.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

A Thousand Flying Things
Kathryn Brown Ramsperger
TouchPoint Press
9781956851649, $16.99 Paper/$8.99 ebook

Set in the early 1990s in Sudan, A Thousand Flying Things lives up to its title by being many things - among them, a romance story, a story of humanitarian aid and UN efforts, and a chronicle of the conflict that erupts between work and love when an opportunity of the past returns to present-day efforts to change the most well-meaning of intentions. The last thing UN worker Dianna saw coming was an opportunity to rekindle a romance that took place in Lebanon. Her efforts to help children in the Sudan have resulted in terrible realizations about the politics and abuse of foreign aid programs, the power of local tribal warlords to kidnap and train child fighters, and threats to her own life. Her presence in Africa is filled with idealism, practicality, and dangerous realizations. What she had no anticipation of was the return of a prospect she had long set aside for bigger-picture thinking.

The special value of this story lies in its exploration of UN protocol and moral and ethical issues that arise from these best intentions gone awry. Dianna's moments of realization and reinvention drive her story, keeping its insights and revelations on track and thought-provoking: "I would have realized he was just one more soul in a vast array of souls that all need our help. I would not have singled him out. Nor would I have if I'd enlisted team assistance. Acted according to U.N. protocol. Taken the appropriate steps."

She pauses and looks around the room. All eyes are on her but with looks of empathy, not disapproval.

"That is why I am requesting a less arduous position in Addis Ababa, where I will be a team member instead of a teacher. I would enjoy the camaraderie, brainstorming, and protection of a team. I will not ever allow this kind of circumstance to happen again. Never." Qasim's allure and her realizations about loves past and present feature a fascinating juxtaposition of subjects that keeps readers engaged on different levels.

The personal and political inspections that evolve from Dianna's ambitions and connections are astute and realistic: "Did love bring happiness? Did it bring power? Didn't Solomon's Biblical love song say that love was as strong as death? Now that was power." The resulting saga of shifting core values, contrasts between Dianna's white American Christian roots and how they will (or won't) dovetail with Qasim's Lebanese Muslim family, and focus on diversity and choice is highly recommended for libraries and readers seeking evocative works that will also fuel powerful book club discussions.

Josip Novakovich
Montreal Publishing Company
9781738654833, $18.95

Like a fine wine, Vignettes features a special blend of literary sketches that enhance and reflect on life and drinking. Josip Novakovich cultivates a taste of connections that blend spiritual, historical, and psychological reflections in a manner that is appealingly creative: "My wife is anemic, although she now and then flares up and throws things at me, and she doesn't look anemic to me, but the doctor says she is, and prescribes red wine. If something's wrong with your blood, you drink red wine. But just to relax and cool off, of course, you drink white."

Essays that swirl around experiences with wine range from a consideration of airplane wine to accepting a new job based on the quality and availability of local brew. Readers won't expect the pairing of life that occurs with these pours, such as the war in Croatia and the changing climate of the world, but somehow they all dovetail neatly and attractively in stories where booze runs like a river through disparate encounters: "Good wine, he said. Now, even local red wine is good. They used to make only good Riesling, but maybe the climate has changed, and the reds are excellent."

The diversity of these vignettes, connected as they are by relationships and drinking, is also notable. Threads of grief and death, encounters between Croatians during travels and the lingering aftereffects of and tastes for former Baptist teachings and influences, and the foundations of opportunities and strength give rise to tales notable in their ability to draw readers into the complexities and simmering emotions of daily life. Novakovich's social and philosophical reflections are compellingly revealing.

The result is a literary blend of social, oenological, and personal reflection that rests on peasant experiences, considerations of sin and redemption, and the rich wine of life that touches palate and psyche with booze-based stories. Libraries and educators seeking examples of creative literary works that blend memoir with other facets for a genre-busting result will find Vignettes is like a complex wine: difficult to categorize and entirely easy to enjoy.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

The Well
R. Chapman Wesley
High Top Publishing
B0CDMDC6NM, $9.99 ebook

Think bio-terrorist thriller, add a heavy dose of medical mystery intrigue, then polish it off with the world-hopping potential for a cure that will change mankind for a sense of the special style of high-octane, nonstop action that is The Well. The theft of such a possible promise combines with a murderous competition in which Professor Anatoly Popov, an esteemed virologist and Russian-born defector, steals the world's deadliest virus from a lab with the objective of altering it to produce a cure that will change the world. Unfortunately, his adversaries (which came from all walks of life) don't share his vision. A power struggle emerges which holds the dual prospect of either destroying humanity or altering it forever.

R. Chapman Wesley cultivates a special blend of mystery, myth, and hope for the future. These pose quandaries and questions as characters vie for control of a force that humanity has never faced before. Moral and ethical values collide with legend and science in satisfying ways that juxtapose the shifting realities of everyone involved. Readers will find their own ideals and values buffeted in the course of a story that reads like a mystery, holds the back-and-forth globetrotting tension of a thriller, and creates unusual associations between military and scientific special interests as new possibilities are pursued.

As if these elements weren't already enough to command a compelling read, Wesley adds the impact of an indigenous tribe into the mix who "... are the Keepers of the Secrets and the Protectors of "The Well." It is they who have discovered that the true "Well" lies within each of us, already an embedded perfection of ourselves, given by the One Universal Mind, simply awaiting a recognition to unleash the perfection." From inquisitive priests and cultural revelations to a search that leads Popov and his unlikely associate, ex-Seal medic and budding scientist Cmdr. Rex Lee, to probe the jungles of Brazil for answers, readers embark on a rollicking world tour of frightening power struggles and possibilities. These represent swift action and thought-provoking twists and turns throughout.

The Well is marked by a sense of discovery and the possibilities of miracles that evolve from unlikely associations and sources. This atmosphere lends it a tense aura of expectation that doesn't always lead in predictable directions. The result is an engrossing thriller that is dressed in a broad spectrum of metaphysical and philosophical reflections perfect for readers of The Jerico Manuscript, The DaVinci Code, and similar tales of resolution and revelation. The disparate, powerful favors of The Well will make it a main attraction for not just thriller collections, but libraries looking for exceptional book club recommendations: "He could understand the worthiness, even practicality of not judging others, but how could he not judge himself? His father had preached that the universe was filled with forgiveness. But he also taught a form of spiritual preservation; that each action provoked a reaction, like a reflection in a mirror; that the universe was just; and that one could not escape the consequences of one's actions... unless there was atonement."

Out of the Far North
Amir Tsarfati and Steve Yohn
Ten Peaks Press
c/o Harvest House Publishers
9780736986441, $14.95 Audio/$15.99 Paper/$11.99 ebook

Opening a story with a glossary of Hebrew, Arabic and Russian terminology (as well as a listing of characters from different nations) lends a sense of anticipatory complexity to Out of the Far North that thriller genre readers may not be used to, but that's not to say this story comes overly laden with demanding detail. From its opening lines, Amir Tsarfati and Steve Yohn present powerful international settings, reflections, and experiences that grab attention to keep readers thoroughly immersed in the specter of international confrontations and intrigue.

This third book in their Nir Tavor Massad series will benefit from prior familiarity from fans who appreciate the authors' special blend of contemporary political inspection and action, but it also stands nicely alone for newcomers. Thriller audiences will find the revelation of the Kremlin's plans for a major attack against Israel to be intriguing and engrossing. Hostilities that explode threaten to overtake Nir Tavor and Nicole le Roux, testing the latter's newly gained Christian faith as the two struggle to prevent global disaster. Amir Tsarfati and Steve Yohn specialize in a style of action and psychological immersion that juxtaposes romance, drama, and tense confrontations at personal, political, and global levels. Dangerous games played by opportunists come to light as forces from Russia, Israel, and the West intersect to face not only present-day danger, but ghosts from the past.

From issues of patriotism and profit to business and personal interests tested by bigger-picture altercations between nations as well as individuals, Tsarfati and Yohn supplement and support the work begun in Operation Joktan and By Way of Deception with a notable atmosphere of authenticity. Perhaps this reflects Amir Tsarfati's spiritual foundations and his position as a former major in the Israeli Defense Forces, which combines well with co-author Steve Yohn's experience as a pastor in the group Tsarfati formed, Behold Israel, which provides Bible-based teachings about Israel from a prophetic viewpoint.

The power of this story lies not just in its political maneuvers and action-packed tension, but in the revelations and growth individual characters experience as events unfold. Inspired by real events but steeped in the best trappings of fictional drama and the overlay of spiritual revelations and experiences, Out of the Far North is a multifaceted thriller about beliefs and actions that will attract libraries and readers seeking vivid stories featuring strong characterization and sizzling scenarios of transformation and adversity.

Marc Rainer
Rukia Publishing US
9798989108435, $16.99 Paper/$6.99 ebook

The thriller genre grows yet again with another Jeff Trask crime novel - but the drama here doesn't take place in the courtrooms or streets of America but overseas, where special operations specialist Buck realizes that he's being tailed through the streets of Athens in a vastly changed post-COVID world. Buck loves his job at the CIA, working in the Special Activities Division identifying the kinds of patterns that cause problems. His clandestine meeting with old friend (and agent of a foreign intelligence service) Yuri Gilfoy at the Acropolis introduces him to the dilemma of missing suitcase nukes the Russians lost track of, others that were sold to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and an emerging terrorist plot that involves Russian goals for Ukraine and nations beyond their western borders.

A highly-placed source of intel in Iran (codenamed Oracle) is in a pivotal position to either reveal information or further the danger over what the Iranians plan to do with their expensive secret acquisition ... which is: to change the world. Buck discovers that Athens may be a target of interest, placing him literally in the hotspot of destruction if the threat can't be located and nullified. In an intriguing twist, the Oracle can't safely give out further intel, effectively placing countermeasures in a blind spot that gives Buck only warnings, but next to nothing concrete. There's nothing an intelligence officer hates more than a dead end - particularly when it's his life that is heading for the brick wall, along with millions of innocent citizens.

What does Jeffrey Ethan Trask, Assistant United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, have to do with a situation that immerses Israel and Greece in a deadly game? As usual, he's busy in a courtroom in America laying a drug kingpin to rest in prison while on the cusp of going on a much-needed vacation. The destination? Greece, of course. A cat-and-mouse game evolves which places Jeff, Buck, and others in a dangerous place as a holiday in hell evolves, testing the perspectives, determination and survival traits of all involved. Jeff's wife Lynn has needed this get-away, too: "I was just beginning to like this world again. No emergencies for you to tackle."

As events heat up and Lieutenant Hamid Rashidi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and other characters perform reconnaissance and stake out territory and possibilities, tension ramps up as events move between Greece and Israel, with Buck and Jeff trying to save five million people from a nuclear holocaust. To further complicate matters, Lynn must not only be kept in the dark, but away from trouble. Marc Rainer crafts another powerful Jeff Trask novel, proving his prowess at moving the nonstop action away from American soil and onto the desks and grounds of operatives whose political and anti-terrorist objectives intersect in surprising ways. The tension is superbly developed, the motivations and secrets of opposing forces play off nicely to the point of revelations readers sometimes will see coming and sometimes will not, and the characters and their motivations come to life against a vivid backdrop of discovery and interpersonal connections.

Libraries and readers who have thoroughly enjoyed the numerous other Jeff Trask thrillers produced by Marc Rainer will find the action and international flavors of Oracle further expands the series while standing entirely alone as well-constructed, engrossing work particularly and notably powerful for its tense twists and turns.

Native Blood
Leonard Krishtalka
Anamcara Press
9781960462176, $22.99

Hard-boiled detective Harry Przewalski returns in another investigation that challenges his abilities in Native Blood, which mingles First American issues and struggles with the death of an academic researcher. When an Athabaskan native, archaeology student, and chancellor's son is implicated in the crime, Harry suspects that far more is going on (and at stake). His involvement will prove him right in unexpected ways as the puzzle unfolds.

Concurrent to the evolving murder mystery is a probe into Native American culture, genetics, and the conflicts that evolve from prejudice and the perception of all these elements and more. Harry has his hands full as he reveals these politics and influences and, especially, the mercurial and controversial conflicts between race and racial theory that embroils the science, academic, and outside communities in a struggle to discern truth from prejudice. The social facets and aspects of Native history and studies add an extra layer of value to the tale as Harry evolves a long list of suspects and begins to absorb facts and truths he never knew about before this latest case:

"Motives for murder are like weeds, Harry thought. They sprout adjacent to the dead...

'She's ... she's a difficult individual. Bitter.'

'Oh yeah? Bitter enough for murder?'" Good question. Even more important are the cultural and political revelations that emerge as the underbelly of university processes and politics are revealed, exposing new details about protests, historical precedent, and scientific pursuits. One facet of Native Blood that keeps it so thoroughly engrossing is the surprises that keep emerging from Harry's case. Readers receive a healthy degree of thought-provoking inquiry into racial theory, cultural and historical precedent and expectations, and the rationales of scientific method and prejudice that (in this case) justify murder as a resolution tactic (albeit a poor one, if one attracts the tenacious attention of an investigator like Harry, who is operates like a dog on a bone).

The writing is astute, revealing, and commanding. Leonard Krishtalka builds insights not just into historical and political influences, but Harry's evolving character and responses to dilemmas well outside his comfort zone. Creative chapter headings (such as 'White Guy History,' 'Dose of Derangement' and 'I Promise to Confess') add tension and reflection to the story, while a sense of comic relief emerges at unexpected moments to lighten the load of Harry's investigation. The result is a spirited, thought-provoking brush with death and racial issues that will attract both prior fans and newcomers. Native Blood is dedicated to using classic hard-boiled detective devices in modern social and racial inspections replete with scientific and history quandaries that (apparently) are worth killing for. Libraries and readers seeking engrossing stories packed with atmosphere and intrigue will find plenty to appreciate as Native Blood unfolds its extraordinary circumstances and revelations.

The Fourth Prisoner
Brandon Hughes
Tension Books
B0CGY449CW, $4.99 ebook/$16.95 paperback

The Fourth Prisoner is the second Barclay Griffith thriller in the series. It opens on Alcatraz Island in 1962, where a daring escape is being staged from the most infamously secure prison in the world. The fates of three prisoners is known, but the focus here is on a mysterious fourth prisoner whose story reaches from the treacherous waters of the San Francisco Bay to Alabama and the terrible massacre that changed a small town forever. As District Attorney Barclay Griffith navigates career-ending choices, small town history, murky family trees, and a cold case that unfolds to reveal a labyrinth of wrong turns and deadly consequences, readers receive a tense blend of detective investigation and thriller.

The story cements its problem-solving evidence and conclusions in the kind of unpredictable, fast-paced action that marks the thriller genre's finest productions. From insights into genealogy DNA to a search that leads to political bombs of dangerous realizations and history, Barclay discovers that the truth about murder is poised to release a concurrent tidal wave of controversy. Brandon Hughes links past and present events in a crime thriller that excels in both its descriptions of police procedures and in the dilemmas faced by a host of characters from different walks of life, from detectives and attorneys to politicians. His ability to bring these relationships and their simmering history to life makes for a story replete with twists and turns of discovery that many readers won't see coming, resulting in edge-of-your-seat reading and revelations.

Libraries and readers seeking thoroughly engrossing stories that pepper their murder puzzles with the influences and objectives of different characters at odds with not only each other, but themselves, will find The Fourth Prisoner both expands the character of the prior Barclay Griffith book but stands nicely alone for newcomers.

Boom Days
Montana Kane
Bird on a Head
9798986807447, $4.99 Kindle/Paperback $12.99

Thrillers usually don't present a sense of humor embedded into their action, but Montana Kane's special brand of wry inspection, demonstrated so adeptly in the first Brandy Martini book High Crimes, appears from the opening lines in Boom Days: "After the first explosion, most everyone in town spent the next few days announcing to anyone within earshot exactly where they were at the time it happened. Me, I was jonesing for my usual triple shot of espresso but the line outside High Country Bean on that fine summer morning wrapped clear around the corner of Main and 3rd and there was no way I was going to stand there on the sidewalk like an idiot and patiently wait my turn with all the others. And it was precisely as I was cruising past the tourists on my way inside to pour myself a drip at the DIY counter at the back of the coffee shop that Boomville went Boom."

Brandy's reaction to the explosion is instinctive - she hits the ground. Then she hits the streets on a search for explanations and answers, tapping her former experience as a big city cop to answer the questions that arise from the Boomville explosion. Readers quick to absorb the humor in the story's opening lines will also appreciate Montana Kane's creative descriptions, which supercharge Brandy's pursuits with a fine blend of astute insights and descriptions of place and people. It's no light achievement to dovetail an intense investigation with equally powerful examinations of disparate possibilities, from a "bomb-making vegan terrorist" to facing fellow investigators' feelings of frustration and anger. No matter Brandy's path, she weaves through personal and professional challenges with equally wry inspections and humor that keep the story on track and delightfully unexpected, filled with twists and turns even seasoned thriller readers won't see coming.

Brandy is a formidable character whose alter ego as Katie buries a truth she doesn't want to confront. But her readers do. These insights drive a discovery process that dashes hopes and raises new questions as Brandy pursues impossible answers and equally elusive relationships. The result is not just an explosion in crime-solving processes, but one of self-discovery as Brandy puts her life on the line, only to find unexpected support under life-or-death circumstances. Readers need not be familiar with Brandy Martini or her prior adventures in order to immediately immerse themselves in Boom Days. The fast-paced action, exceptionally strong characterization, and satisfying mysteries Brandy faces in all kinds of ways make for a highly recommended pick for libraries interested in multifaceted thrillers that go the extra mile to add humor and attraction to all their characters.

The Billion Dollar Sugar Cube
Charles Jacobs
DartFrog Plus
9781961624153, $17.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Fans of The Pangaea Solution (a thriller which excelled in nonstop action and fast-paced twists and turns that pitted protagonist and wealth advisor David Blum against a bizarre conspiracy) will find David's return here reflects a renewed battle against the Global Futures Alliance which continues to plot to reshape humanity with its special vision of technology and profit.

The story opens in Switzerland in 2019, where artificial intelligence's promise has resulted in a computer that can not only emulate emotions, but manipulate them in human beings. When such a technological venture melds with social media, it can prove just as effective a battle influencer as wars fought on the ground via conventional methods. Charged with preventing this next impossible war scenario, David Blum and his team embark on a world-hopping venture to confront and disable forces that would artificially reshape world order and the nature of reality itself.

One reason why The Billion Dollar Sugar Cube proves especially engrossing is that the crux of its possibilities lies in the impact and experience of modern social media which, today, is assuming a center role in directing not just the politics but the state of mind of its audiences. It's too easy to imagine the scenario which plays out in David Blum's world - and all too easy to realize that the forces at work, driven by technological advancement and manipulation, could become those underlying human choice and perception themselves. Jacobs pairs revelations with fast-paced action. This will please thriller readers looking for stories replete with satisfying twists and turns that are unexpected and thought-provoking.

As neurobiologist Mindy Tanaka's love for Angel Atash is threatened by events that drive them apart and David delves into questions surrounding sound and facial recognition patterns, the story's dual complexity of technological and social issues introduces a thoroughly engrossing adventure that evolves a whirlwind of challenges and choices. Libraries and readers seeking thrillers that both support prior writings yet stand alone, laced with emotionally vivid layers of discovery, will find The Billion Dollar Sugar Cube a winning, world-hopping story about the struggle for a power that will change everything.

Ana Manwaring
Indies United Publishing House, LLC
9781644566596, $16.99 Paperback/$3.99 ebook

Prior fans of Ana Manwaring's thrillers will find Backlash: Venom and Vengeance from 'Nam a welcome addition to and expansion of the JadeAnne Stone adventures set in Mexico. The story centers on JadeAnne's father Quint, who remains in Mexico to investigate why his former superior office in Vietnam is trying to kill him. By the time he realizes that not just he, but his daughter JadeAnne, who has gone to California with her new love Dylan, is in Nadar's crosshairs, the man could be well on his way to apprehending his daughter. And so the drama moves from Colorado to Mexico in a nation-hopping chase that features an explosive plot and many satisfying twists and turns as Quint struggles to survive political subterfuge and zealots that have Mexico's best interests at heart.

These special interest forces that coalesce and struggle receive winning, engrossing feature via dialogues that capture not just action, but underlying intentions. Clashes are vividly portrayed as the story evolves: "He met the fight at the pantry door. Trampoza's man had one hand grasping at Horacio's throat with a large can of tomato juice in the other. Quint batted away his hand quashing the thugs' attempt to bean Horacio with the can. Quint grinned as Horacio balled his fist, sending an uppercut into the man's chin. The thug flew backwards into his arms."

When married to a story steeped in Mexican culture and mayhem, with the lingering effects of Vietnam relationships injected into the present-day picture of adversity and vengeance, the result is a vivid portrait of traitors and a dangerous man whose wrath and cleverness threaten everyone Quint has believed in and loved. Ana Manwaring does an outstanding job of crafting a story that stands alone on both its psychological and thriller components. Prior readers will appreciate the plot while newcomers won't need an introduction to past relationships to appreciate the characters and actions that represent international relationships and survival efforts. The tension is nicely built, premises are logical and embedded into the story's action-packed scenarios, and readers receive a high-octane work well steeped in Mexican affairs. Libraries and readers seeking thrillers that center around themes that challenge individual and national interests will find Backlash: Venom and Vengeance from 'Nam seamless in its action and characters and hard to put down.

All Roads Lead to Murder
Stewart Bird
Independently Published
9798850121686, $35.00 Paper/$14.99 Kindle

All Roads Lead to Murder charts NYPD homicide procedurals, stems from Stewart Bird's working day (spent with NYPD Detective Sergeant Detective Vernon J. Geberth, who was investigating a homicide in the Bronx), and provides three murder stories based on his real-world experiences. The resulting novellas here (Murder at the Yeshiva, One Murder at a Time, and Go West Old Man) all feature explorations by NYPD homicide detective Mo Shuman, who is on the cusp of retiring, but never more involved in his profession. Rather than backing away from cases, Mo not only embraces them, but finds these cases reaching into his personal life as his last involvements involve hunting down murderers whose actions heavily impact his own future.

The progressive nature of these tales makes them perfect for presentation under one cover, linking Mo's shifting objectives in a manner that is uniformly appealing, logically presented, and compelling in their ability to move between murder mystery and personal impact. The trio opens with Murder at the Yeshiva, in which Mo and his partner Detective Dynaburski are charged with hunting down a murderer whose ability to affect Mo's future is dangerously powerful. Shuman has grown up on the Lower East Side and still lives there. His familiarity with the area, his Jewish background, and the nature of both murderer and victim leads him to dark examinations and connections a Shuman traces the pathways of past and present to find answers to seemingly disparate clues that just seem to lead to more puzzles.

Stewart Bird's ability to craft a winning story steeped in a powerful sense of time and place, where the savvy detective must tap these roots in order to both find resolution and resolve a murderer's real intentions, creates an especially intriguing set of circumstances as rabbis and rules coalesce to produce insights Mo struggles to weave together. One Murder at a Time sees Mo not retiring, but reuniting with former partner Mike Gallagher on a twenty-year-old cold case that turns hot once again, with new evidence and ideas fueling its continuing relevance. As the duo find their probe igniting simmering passions of the past, their families and lives are threatened by forces that still hold a vested interest in keeping the past subdued against all odds. In this case, the only odds for resolution rest on two dogged investigators whose noses for trouble uncover situations that lead them away from the Cold Case Squad and the NYPD to situations far outside their familiarity or comfort zones.

The answers lie in arenas that challenge both detectives on personal and professional levels as events provoke questions about connections between love, money, and the two detectives who draw ever closer to a dangerous truth. Bird crafts a simmering tone of investigative quandaries and interpersonal relationships in this story which further expand Mo's life and habits while adding the overlay of a case which reaches from New York to the New Jersey suburbs, Alexandria, Virginia, and beyond. His expansion of Mo's identity and processes from Murder at the Yeshiva to this very different challenge enhances an approach that personalizes the processes of investigators, perps, and the motivations and experiences that lead them down a deadly path of confrontation and trauma.

Go West Old Man brings the personal aspects of investigative prowess home as Mo once again finds any hopes of retirement thwarted - this time, by a gang war that destroys any ideals of peace. In trying to escape this life-altering experience, Mo instead finds himself embroiled in a different style of gang war far from his native New York and connections. Working with Deputy Sandoval in southwest Texas on the Mexican border, Mo finds he must employ his most savvy procedural processes in order to resolve not just this gang war's fits and starts, but the impact a similar situation has made upon his life.

Once again, Bird crafts a story of investigative strength that derives its main attraction from juxtaposing personal and professional challenges. It's unusual to have events evolve in a murder mystery from a series of progressive cases that also follow character growth. Receiving these three novellas under one cover gives readers the rare opportunity to better know Mo, the NYPD, and the cases that lead not to pat resolution, but life-changing lessons. Libraries and fans of detective procedurals who look for stories steeped in a gritty sense of place, an attractive lure of psychological growth, and questions about making it home alive from this kind of work will find All Roads Lead to Murder outstandingly realistic and compelling. Stewart Bird pairs thought-provoking drama with crime stories that feature, as their main attraction, a series of plots that lead to a greater result: a thought-provoking, involving story of a detective's ongoing evolution.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Shield and Scepter
K.M. Warfield
Creative James Media
9781956183603, $16.99

Shield and Scepter is the second book in the Heroes of Avoch trilogy introduced with Scales & Stingers. It continues the story of Jinaari Althir, who has sworn to protect half-Fallen Thia Bransdottir from the prejudices and fears of those who would have her and her race exterminated. Here, the Daughter of Keroys is healing from her prior confrontations while Jinaari oversees her recovery and tackles his own.

Conflict continues to simmer over Cirrain, which is in a strategic location that makes it a desirable acquisition for other side, while the legacy of Alesso's betrayal of Thia still brings pain that the characters struggle with. As Thia grows into the power she harbors (but doesn't yet understand), Jinaari faces further tests of his vows, his relationship to her and the world, and values that have cultivated his heritage and dictate his actions. At the heart of controversy lies Adam, whom Jinaari considers "the brother of my choosing" despite the deadly secret that he has kept from them all.

The social and political currents that keep Jinaari on his toes are compelling features of this story, which attends to contrasting action and revelation on different levels as events unfold. What is real and what is illusion? This is just one of the challenges K.M. Warfield issues in the thrown-down gauntlet of events that comprise Shield and Scepter. Readers familiar with the relationships and complexity of the first story's struggle will welcome the expanded adversity and discoveries profiled in this sequel. While prior events are recapped in the course of the opening chapter, readers who have already absorbed the vibrant scenarios in Scales & Stingers will be in the optimum position to understand the growth that takes place in a host of characters whose roles have shifted between books.

Libraries and fantasy readers looking for exceptionally vivid sword and sorcery tales that simmer with excitement, strong character development, and spiritual and social conundrums that shake a world's foundations will find Shield and Scepter a coming-of-age story that holds the power to reach well beyond fantasy genre readers into general-interest hearts and minds.

A Seat for the Rabble
Ryan Schuette
Independently Published
9798988598602, $18.99

Readers of epic fantasy that look for multi-volume works in line with George R.R. Martin's Game of Throne series will find similar attraction to the complexity, depth, and characters in A Seat for the Rabble - but with a few notable differences. Yes, kingdoms are falling; as are leaders who are buckling under the dual challenges of relentless war and struggles that bring a community to its knees. Yes, royalty, rulers, and commoners are struggling for control and a revised way of life and making choices. But, within these trappings of epic politics and clashes lies a closer attention than is given by most genre writers to the elements of class and privilege which play deep and lasting roles.

Ryan Schuette considers the impact of choices that cross political and social lines to resonate with changes that shake many a foundation of purpose and perspective. Schuette also cultivates an atmosphere which pairs high-octane confrontations with deeper-level thinking, juxtaposing characters whose roles would initially seem to lead in set directions, but who find themselves placed in extraordinary situations that test their moral and ethical mettle. These realizations assume both big and small proportions, beginning with Sir Damien's task of dealing with one of his people's determination to commit murder: "...would a knight sworn to serve a lord kill one of his peasants over a half-mad horse - a creature doomed to die, anyway?"

Questions of noble and improper behavior and responses arise from this unlikely scenario to impart a sense of wry irony and humor into a serious situation: "Devan sprinted after Damien, likely trying to discourage him from violence. If so, the squire was nobler in this moment than the knight he served." These opening scenes compel not just because they trace a battle within forces presumably on the same side of greater conflict, but because they represent an early taste of the style and nature of a series of dilemmas that force all types of characters to deal with moral and ethical dilemmas well outside of their comfort zones and usual responses. Will an executioner's blade be wielded over the (perhaps-misguided) love of a horse? This opening leads into a series of life- and role-changing possibilities as a son disobeys his father king to enter into battle.

Jason Warchild, a son returned from two years of battle abroad, enters into a competition that could place him on the throne (if he survives) as disparate individuals make life-changing decisions that throw into uncertainty the careening trajectory of the larger world and their futures. The history, politics, and battles which blend into and support these realizations and confrontations meld with daily lives and influences to create an impeccably forceful juxtaposition of war and peace. From king killers and traitors to trials that evolve to test not just life, but love, Schuette's story lives up to its promise of 'epic' not just in its confrontations, but in a myriad of characters that pursue their dreams against all odds.

Like Game of Thrones, this is no simple scenario with easy (or, sometimes, even obvious) conclusions. It's also the opening half of a novel (despite being some 900 pages in length) that will continue later in An End to Kings. Books of this length typically suffer from a key flaw - the need for editing to bring the account into a more accessible form. However, it would be a grave disservice to apply such a touch to A Seat for the Rabble; for as it exists now, it's a multifaceted, wide-ranging story that succeeds in bringing a kingdom's politics and its varied classes of individual concerns to life. Not a word should be cut; not an action scene slashed for the sake of brevity or succinct reading. This makes A Seat for the Rabble a top pick for readers who enjoy complex kingdoms and political scenarios. These are powered by disparate individuals who are sometimes heroes, sometimes villains, and sometimes make cameo appearances, only to be cut in the early stages of their development. Chivalry is also alive and well as men and women interact with and change one another by their very goals and ambitions.

Libraries and epic fantasy enthusiasts seeking well-developed writing that explores a variety of special interests and reactions on different levels will find A Seat for the Rabble suitable not just for individual pursuit, but fantasy book club assignment and discussion.

The Price of Rebellion
Michael C. Bland
World Castle Publishing, LLC
9781960076748, $21.99 Hardcover/$15.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook

The second book in the dystopian sci-fi 'Price Of' trilogy, The Price of Rebellion, takes place in 2047, where Dray Quintero has discovered that America's leaders have been hijacked, replaced with talking heads whose technological implants are controlled by forces that would influence and drive all political and social events in the nation. Ironically, Dray's own innovative creation has proved the impetus for this takeover, placing him on the side of rebel forces that know the truth and are determined to take back power.

Dray has joined the Founding Fathers, just one of the forces participating in this struggle - but he has yet to feel he really knows or can trust them. This places him in the uncertain role of dodging two battling forces as he considers his own choices, the consequences of his decisions, and the recklessness and desperation involved in confronting The Agency, an enforcement group designed to assure, via enhanced Agents, that no one discovers that a coup happened in Washington. Dray's determination to take back the country by any means possible, even if it involves sacrificing his remaining family, translates to an epic series of confrontations in a world populated by bots, drones, and technological enhancements that translate to warfare conducted on a very different playing field than ever before.

As he and his companions travel the countryside honing in on their destination while sharpening the skills that will lead them either into disaster or success, readers receive a fast-paced, technology-driven story replete with issues of family ties and questions of living, dying, and possibilities that lie between them. Michael C. Bland provides a timeline of events as an introduction to this setting, but the meat of the action lies in the story's attention to psychological depth and detail as Dray contemplates his choices and makes difficult decisions that will affect not only the world, but his relationships.

Prior readers of Dray's journey, in particular, will find his ongoing dilemmas and how he seeks resolution to be thoroughly engrossing, featuring many twists and turns that will feel familiar to readers because of the dual nature of the recent pandemic years and the political and technological drives of modern times. It's no light fete to represent a futuristic encounter replete with flavors of present-day angst, but Bland accomplishes this with an attention to drama and detail that contrasts motivations for rebellion with new opportunities for collective action.

Readers will appreciate the high-octane action and dilemmas Dray continually fields and faces. Libraries and readers interested in dystopian stories of the future which juxtapose issues of genetic engineering, social and political power plays, and intrigue with a powerful attention to psychological depth and detail will find The Price of Rebellion stands surprisingly strongly on its own, and is highly recommended for readers who enjoy compelling futuristic stories of confrontation and change. It provides a supplemental story to the first book and concludes definitively, but portends new experiences to come in the final book of the trilogy.

The House Of Duquesne
Micah House
Independently Published
9781736508664, $26.95 Hardcover/$15.95 Paper

Micah House's The Blanchard Witches paranormal fantasy continues with the fourth book in the series, The House Of Duquesne. Newcomers will find it a stand-alone attraction that focuses on the 100-acre Blanchard family refuge, the legacies passed down by a group of witches, and secrets that were revealed in the last book which continue to impact them all. The changes experienced by this coven of Southern witches expand with further challenges when they move from their Alabama roots to Charleston to confront the D'Angelo family's own legacy and connections to past and present trials.

There is a reason for keeping some secrets hidden. As the family faces transformations in its internal and external relationships, minds are influenced and warped, love and menacing beasts confront one another, and moral and ethical questions about the cost of immortality and power rise to challenge family members to make different choices. As in his previous books, Micah House presents a gripping saga of family connections, uncommon powers, and equally strong adversity that often arises from unexpected encounters. The battles continue, as do the growth and revelations of various family members as they battle their own psyches and connections as well as outside influences.

Unlike many paranormal fantasies, House more closely attends to unfolding the psychological pressures and perceptions of power and influence that motivate families and individuals to employ their connections in new ways. Readers thus will enjoy a deeper level of psychic inspection that works on many levels, pairing riveting action and paranormal encounters with witches and werewolves in a powerful struggle over life and death.

Libraries and readers looking for books that rise above formula productions to reach out and grab thinking readers who enjoy vivid action and moral dilemmas will appreciate The House Of Duquesne's ability to depict a war that unfolds on many levels: "Fate was a dastardly jokester. It had dangled something real in their reach, then snatched it away. They were foes now - each aligned to their own. Inside that fleeting stare, the two men said their goodbyes to whatever they might have had and resigned themselves to their positions."

The Gauntlet Runner
J. Scott Coatsworth
Water Dragon Publishing
9781962538015, $16.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The second book in the Tharassus Cycle series, The Gauntlet Runner, picks up the characters and themes of the first book and runs with them, further expanding upon the situation of Aik's love for his best friend, thief Raven. Another challenge is that Raven has just been kidnapped by a dragon. As Aik joins forces with Triya to find Raven and further the uncertain relationship between them, readers receive a gender-busting romp through domains of AIs, dragons, thieves, and devotees.

The story continues many of the foundations built in The Dragon Eater, crafting just as vigorous an adventure as its predecessor to add love and gender fluidity into the action-packed mix. It is recommended that audiences be familiar with the prior book in order to completely appreciate the developmental process that moves relationships and struggles into new arenas of realization in The Gauntlet Runner.

Moral and ethical issues continue to challenge Aik's chosen path ("How was he ever going to square being a guard with being in love with a thief?") as events force characters to confront their choices, from Silya's duties in her new role as Hencha Queen to a magical gauntlet that prevents Aik from his goal of reuniting with Raven. Even a mid-level guard such as Aik can prove powerful to others, although the lines between personal and professional interests blur repeatedly, forcing each character to reconsider their passions, values, and ambitions. Tharassas is also attacked on multiple levels involving physical forces and strange creatures, which lead to confrontations and struggles over not just ideals, but life itself.

These tides of geographic turbulence, magic, and personal interactions carry readers into a story where nothing is set in stone, little is predictable, and many seemingly-set actions and choices are called into question. As selfless action runs headlong into selfish choices, readers receive a thought-provoking story that flows well, builds additional complexity into the characters and scenarios presented in the first book, and represents the rich segue of characters and worlds worth not just saving, but loving. Libraries and readers seeking a strong companion volume to The Dragon Eater which also ends with the promise of more and a startling realization about one of the story's major players will find The Gauntlet Runner top-notch and compelling in both its character- and world-building creations and force.

The Dragon Eater
J. Scott Coatsworth
Water Dragon Publishing
9781959804277, $26.99 Hardcover/$16.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The first book in the Tharassas Cycle sci-fi series, The Dragon Eater, introduces an unlikely team and dilemma when thief Raven inadvertently consumes a small dragon, only to find it sparks a transformation that changes not just his life, but the world. The story is replete with humor from its opening lines as AI Spin advises his boss:

Spin's voice echoed in his ear. "This is a bad idea, boss."

"Shush," Raven whispered to his familiar.

"Seriously, boss. I'm not from this world, and even I know it's a bad idea to steal from the sea master."

Though only he could hear Spin's voice, Raven wished the little silver ay-eye would just shut up. As His Exalted Thiefness deals with his familiar and a best friend and guardsman whose ex is a priestess who hates him, a series of events draw them all into surprising confrontations with aliens, artifacts, and adversity. J. Scott Coatsworth cultivates and hones a sense of ironic inspections that accompanies a series of world-changing, challenging experiences as Raven and his disparate team face forces beyond their ken.

The story unfolds with a riveting blend of action, unpredictable twists and turns, and characters whose own special interests too often conflict with the greater good of the world around them. As initiate Silya faces a revised future revolving around the Hencha Queen and individual members of the trio face the choice to be either a hero or a killer, readers become immersed in a story of alien discovery. This leads them through darkness to a spore mother whose domain and purpose in the heart of a mountain is set to transform the greater world.

Replete with scenarios of individual ambitions, evolutionary processes, and complicated transformations, The Dragon Eater sports a rare blend of fantasy, sci-fi, and humor that keeps its characters multifaceted and unpredictable. It's part of a series, so the open-ended conclusion leaves the door well ajar for more adventures and misadventures while addressing the main points of each character's concerns.

The themes of transformation operate on spiritual, social, and psychological levels in a manner designed to attract a wide audience, from regular sci-fi and fantasy fans to readers of LGBTQ+ writings and the always-elusive forms of humor in sci-fi scenarios. Libraries seeking a series of adventures which test more than one character's role will find The Dragon Eater a fine opening series acquisition filled with satisfyingly surprisingly interactions between AIs, aliens, priestesses, and characters who shift between male and female genders.

McKinley Aspen
Muse Literary
9781960876249, $24.99 Hardcover/$9.99 Paper/$.99 ebook

The second book in the urban fantasy series begun in Praesidium furthers the Shadows in the Wind story of Kathryn Beck, recruited from college into a top secret organization whose members sport supernatural powers and the ability to employ them purposefully. Former readers will well recall that Kathryn's strong personality and drive, enhanced by her own special supernatural gifts, made her a proactive, powerful force in the group. Cogitatio furthers these connections and objectives, following Kathryn on a dangerous mission that separates her from her supporting team, forcing her to address a sinister conspiracy virtually alone.

The opening prologue places her not in a position of power, however, but in jail in Alaska. How she arrived at that point and what she does with this special challenge forms the nexus of a story that excels in both tension and mystery as she butts heads with a criminal justice system that is theoretically on her side and finds herself fighting for other women as well as her own ultimate freedom. Not just her abilities, but her instinct and fighting nature make Kathryn the only logical choice for this mission. Ironically, they also make her the pivot point in a conflict which tests her strengths and perceptions of the world and her place in it.

As Kathryn uses her uncertain entrapment to probe what is really going on in Alaska, she uncovers new possibilities and dangers that build and then test her relationships with Pauline, Ashley, and other strong women who are also forced to consider options and new ways out of their predicaments. The thread of humor which runs through Kathryn's encounters offers a wry overlay of fun to the enlightenment process: "Was there a sign on my forehead: Come tell me about the pending disaster? At least I now knew the when and the where. All I needed was a way to stop it."

There can be no greater mission than that of serving and saving humanity itself, as Kathryn is forced to realize after a series of mishaps and dangerous encounters. The result is especially highly recommended for those looking at blends of paranormal and urban fantasy thrillers that test the boundaries of categorization to reach audiences who appreciate powerful female leaders and the conundrums that evolve around them. Libraries and readers seeking vivid blends of mystery and discovery will find that Cogitatio stands nicely alone, but is even stronger as a companion to Praesidium.

The Sports Shelf

Texas Off-Road Racing 2
Mike Kowis, Esq.
Lecture PRO Publishing
9781732863071, $19.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Texas Off-Road Racing 2: The Battle for ATV and Side-by-Side Championships is the sports memoir of an amateur racer whose humor is embedded even in the reviewer comments quotes. These range from enthusiasm about a second book appearing on the subject to outright dismay

("Growing up, Mike had a promising writing career. So much for that!" - Mike's 8th grade English teacher). Readers needn't be members of the Texas XC racing community to enjoy this book (although it helps!). There are enough description and enthusiasm to allow newcomers to the sport to live vicariously through Mike Kowis's insights, history, and encounters on the racing circuit. The excitement of side-by-side racing is captured in moment-by-moment "you are here" descriptions that feature the vivid experiences of competition and the politics and processes which dictate its progression.

Of special interest are the author's descriptions contrasting different racing experiences over the years: " occurred to me how different it is to race both an ATV and SxS with TX4 as compared to the simpler routine of just racing a SxS with the previous series." Readers need not have familiarity with different types of racing in order to appreciate the exuberance and experiences described in Texas Off-Road Racing 2. All that's required is a basic interest in sports competition and moment-by-moment racing experiences that put the reader alongside the author in the driver's seat. Color photos punctuate and capture these vivid racing moments and the hard work of all involved who make such events happen. Libraries seeking books that capture this experience, outlining the allure and results of shifting racing opportunities over the years, will find these stories of racing, competing, and winning to be thoroughly absorbing.

The Christian Studies Shelf

A Pack of Cigarettes for the Mind
C.J.S. Hayward
C.J.S. Hayward Publications
9798394683954, $20.00 Hardcover/$20.24 Paper/$5.00 ebook

A Pack of Cigarettes for the Mind: Selections from the Hidden Price Tags: An Eastern Orthodox Look at the Dark Side of Technology and Its Best Use series differs from most other writings condemning technology because it's more than a critique of technology's alienating forces, but a package of solutions. Within the allegories, cautions, and remarks about technology's allure and dangers lies a series of strategies everyday readers can employ to counter and thwart many of the soul-diminishing threats technology poses (especially to current generations).

These specifics are wound into discourses that examine routines and roles for making important changes: "What is the advantage of having a phone then? Wouldn't it be simpler to not own one? I personally think there is much to commend about not owning a smartphone, but it is a socially mandated technology. You should be able to get along well enough to have a paper planner and pad and a standalone GPS to navigate by, but this is how to skim the cream off of technology and not hurt yourself with its murkier depths." Followed by eleven specific moves to achieve this goal of reducing reliance on devices and the lure of the screen, this example pinpoints the heart of this intention (" to skim the cream off of technology and not hurt yourself with its murkier depths.")

Admonitions and advice to "Trample technologies underfoot as much as it takes to have a life" are thus cemented by the heart of this book - how to get there - issuing a clarion call for change that also holds the promise of spiritual and social transformation. Hayward poses no simple task or singular solution. A mindset change over values and perceptions of engagement is required of readers. This may prove challenging to some, but is of utmost importance in any drive to reconnect with the world beyond the facades of modern technological devices. This book is a powerful introduction to Hayward's thoughts on the topic and should be consulted first, before Luddite's Guide to Technology or his other writings about technological impact and its mitigation.

While adults will likely be the pursuers of this discourse on how to put technology in its proper place, ideally (and, perhaps, especially) A Pack of Cigarettes for the Mind should be given to young audiences already mired in technological attraction, debated in their classrooms, and considered by book clubs and libraries devoted to discourses that challenge the concept of proper use of technology in everyday life. To bypass that life in favor of a screenshot is to also set aside too many spiritual and social connections. A Pack of Cigarettes for the Mind returns these facets to life through a series of insights that are concrete in their action plans and wider-ranging than most technology examinations in their opportunities for reflection.

Hidden Price Tags: Volume 4, Nitty, Gritty Ascesis
C.J.S. Hayward
C.J.S. Hayward Publications
9798376519646, $10.00 Paper/$20.00 Hardcover/$5.00 ebook

Hidden Price Tags: Volume 4, Nitty, Gritty Ascesis is the fourth volume in a seven-book series about technology's promises and costs. It builds on its predecessors, providing cautionary notes about how to eliminate unnecessary screen time and providing both thought-provoking and controversial condemnations of branding, socially accepted technological habits, and more. Controversial, because the discussions embrace alternative ideas of technology's appropriateness and applications which will go beyond many avid users' perceptions of what those benefits and possibilities could be. Hayward's cosmological and spiritual approach to better understanding technology and its impact on the soul is particularly well-developed and inviting, providing fodder for discussions and discourses among all kinds of spiritual thinkers about broader topics such as addiction, pain and pleasure, and bigger-picture insights.

Hayward's passion for his subject translates to discussions which may be identified as some by "run-on sentences" because they are laden with facts and emotional attraction: "I had earlier hoped to wind this down with the classic monastic advice given when one is tempted to escape: "Persevere in alternating prayer and work, and one can eventually emerge a victor," and with an anecdote that one of the times I repented of another layer of this vice I desired, instead of God putting me somewhere else as I sought escape, that a loving God had put me in quite an awesome place without escape, and that in the here and now where God has placed me I am in a very real sense in communion with the stars in the sky and the salt in the sea."

As personal experience and insight dovetail with historical precedent, God's intention, and spiritual reflection, Nitty, Gritty Ascesis becomes both an invitation and a demand, requiring of its readers an attention to deconstructing and revealing not only God's intention, but the foundations of the English language and human desire. The subject broadens to quite politically incorrect passages in Scriptures and the special challenges of interpreting the history of yesterday with the language and mindset of modern times. General-interest readers and religious scholars alike receive a series of in-depth, demanding, and enlightening works on Christian Orthodoxy's connections to efforts to glorify God outside of the murky confusion of human affairs and focuses.

What evolves here isn't just a treatise about technology or Orthodoxy, but a well-reasoned and passionate reflection on the processes and meaning of life itself: "This life is an apprenticeship, and even now, when we may be in situations we do not like, God is asking us to be apprentices, learning to be knights riding the warhorse he gives us even in the situations we might not like. The life of Heaven begins on earth, even in an economic depression."

Followers of Hayward's extensive writings who look for more depth and complexity in his works will find it in Nitty, Gritty Ascesis, which is recommended reading for Christian Orthodoxy members and, especially, for groups interested in wide-ranging material offering a thought-provoking blend of philosophical, spiritual, and social reflection.

The Self-Help Shelf

Climbing Bubbles
Patrick Sanaghan Ed.D.
Independently Published
9798862462838, $11.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Climbing Bubbles: How To Increase Your "Creative IQ" joins other self-help guides exploring the wellsprings of creativity, but arrives with a difference. The heart of this story lies in exploring not only supportive forces to creativity, but the obstacles that batter the creative impulse. Where other books would maintain that creativity is inherent, Patrick Sanaghan maintains that it also is learned and can be either supported or quashed. Almost anyone holds the potential to be creative, with daily problem-solving challenges creating opportunities to delve into more creative solutions or resort to mundane reactions and thinking.

Rather than exploring ethereal and philosophical ideals, as too many books do, Climbing Bubbles presents five concrete approaches for supporting and increasing one's "creativity IQ", from capturing creative thoughts from sleep and awake time to understanding different styles of learning and how to support and promote them internally and externally. Creative notes accompany each of these strategies with examples, supportive suggestions, and routines any reader can employ to support their own creative wellsprings in whatever form they may take. Supporting creative impulses of necessity involves identifying "creativity killers" and mitigating their impact. Sangahan shows how to hone creativity-enhancing tools and approaches to daily life situations, supplying real-life case history examples of not only creative individuals, but leaders who would mentor and foster creativity in their organizations and followers.

Readers will discover that Climbing Bubbles is no quick read, but presents a program which ideally will be slowly digested and applied to individual lives and goals. It demands an attention to detail and understanding that also deserves to be part of business and book club discussion circles: "When you use metaphorical thinking, you create the psychological space necessary to solve your existing problem. It takes you to a different level and different way of thinking. It naturally opens up your creative processes and provides a different perspective. It takes some practice but can have powerful results."

Long thought a subject for liberal arts groups, Sangahan demonstrates how the pursuit of increased creativity benefits all kinds of organizations, operations, and individuals at all levels of life achievement. Libraries and readers of Climbing Bubbles can thus come from all walks of life, from business and leadership roles to individuals looking to burst the limiting bubble of perception that creativity is an artistic pursuit alone. Its momentum and relevance comes not from a singular avenue to success, but from a carefully honed compilation of supportive references, statistics, case histories and specific discussions, making Climbing Bubbles highly recommended for a wide audience of already-creative thinkers and wannabes alike.

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

Diane C. Donovan, Editor & Senior Reviewer
12424 Mill Street, Petaluma, CA 94952
phone: 1-707-795-4629

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