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California Bookwatch

Volume 19, Number 2 February 2024 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice American History Shelf Parenting Shelf
General Fiction Shelf Historical Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf
Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Poetry Shelf Christian Studies Shelf
Money/Finance Shelf Business Shelf Relationship Shelf
Metaphysical Studies Shelf Self-Help Shelf  

Reviewer's Choice

Are You Ready?
Dr. Kimberly Harms
Muse Literary
9781960876188, $25.99 Hardcover/$15.99 Paperback/$0.99 eBook

Are You Ready? How to Build a Legacy to Die For is a self-help study in death and living legacies. It advocates a piece of the process too often omitted in books about dying and estate planning -- the emotional component of supporting those who will be left behind.

More than one kind of emotional legacy can be left. The possibilities include love, physical mementos, friendships, education, and coping methods for experiencing, expressing, and sharing grief.

The "death prepper" who would leave more than physical gifts will find that Dr. Kimberly Harms covers a surprisingly wide range of possibilities. These should ideally be an intrinsic part of death planning, from the gifts to be found in sharing grief at life's end to the lasting value of decisions on remains, and ceremonies.

Case history examples and family circumstances permeate the account, encouraging readers to assume a proactive role in planning their own legacies, from choosing a favorite obituary picture to expressing remorse or regret through an apology letter.

Dr. Harms presents these examples and choices in three parts of her book. Part 1 addresses the nuts and bolts of leaving behind a positive, meaningful legacy for survivors; Part 2 provides research and insights on different belief systems surrounding the death experience; and Part 3 is a workbook inviting readers to organize and prepare personal legacies to leave for loved ones. Are You Ready? How to Build a Legacy to Die For both embraces and far supersedes the typical book about death, dying, and funerals. It cements its insights with lists of supportive resources and case histories, building new avenues for discussion, reflection, and action.

These elements make Are You Ready? How to Build a Legacy to Die For both a resource-packed reference that should be in any general-interest library, and a workbook highly recommended to any involved in legacy planning.

The American History Shelf

The Doctor Was a Woman
Chris Enss
c/o Globe Pequot
9781493062928, $26.95 Hardcover/$25.50 ebook

The Doctor Was a Woman: Stories of the First Female Physicians on the Frontier is a women's history that profiles ten selected female doctors who made their marks and helped patients in the days of the Wild West. From Wyoming and Nevada to California, these women did more than treat gunshot wounds. They fought lung disease, pioneered dental techniques, often became the first women to practice medicine in their areas, and overcame much male resistance to the notion to achieve their goals.

Chris Enss outlines this history in a reasoned manner, presenting instances where women were as prejudiced about the notion of female physicians as their male counterparts: "Lillian had difficulties with female patients too. One elderly woman in town frequently asked Dr. Heath to make house calls but had no intention of paying her. The woman was a minister's wife, and Lillian felt her behavior should have been better than the average person's. She only responded to the woman's calls for help a handful of times. Eventually, she refused to continue seeing her because the minister's wife refused to compensate her for her services because she was a woman doctor."

Thus, personal biographical sketches weave into community and Western history in a manner that represents all the perceptions, reactions, and influences on female physicians of the times. Enss also includes footnoted references to source materials and notes to document this background, including a 1921 tuberculosis symptoms public health report and how women such as Dr. Sofie Herzog (who was employed by the railroad to treat its workers and patrons) made names for themselves against all odds.

The Doctor Was a Woman reads with the drama of fiction and the authority of well-researched nonfiction. Black and white vintage photos pepper the story, bringing these people and times to life. It is highly recommended for women's history collections, American history holdings, libraries attractive to medical students and researchers, and general-interest audiences alike.

Its powerful stories are sterling examples of early women who succeeded, yet are rarely mentioned in the chronicles of medical or American history. In the aforementioned Sophie Herzog's case: "Although Sofie was employed with the railroad, she continued to maintain her own practice. Not only did she treat those suffering with everything from deep cuts to pneumonia, but she was also intent on finding cures for more serious ailments such as smallpox."

The Parenting Shelf

Belonging Matters
Julie Ryan McGue
Muse Literary
9781958714812, $25.99 Hardcover/$15.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Why should readers not directly involved with adoption consider picking up Belonging Matters: Conversations on Adoption, Family, and Kinship? Because its subject is ultimately about the methods of bonding and connection that are created not just by adoption, but by the ideal of family closeness. This notion should be expanded upon and embraced in more than one way, fostered by the concepts touched upon in Belonging Matters.

From the mechanics of open and closed adoption opportunities and issues raised by locating a birth mother to advice to adoptive parents facing difficult questions (and answers) about creating kinship, Belonging Matters addresses all kinds of connection conundrums and issues that begin with adoption, but the book also expands outward into different kinds of family relationships.

Author Julie Ryan McGue packs her discussion with case history examples of adopted children, parents, birth parents, and her own experiences as she involved her adoptive parents in her search. These varied examples serve as touchstones of information and insight with all kinds of perspectives about the process of creating and maintaining bonds of kinship.

Candid revelations about this process illustrate how adoptive parents react in different ways: "While my adoptive parents did not issue any ultimatums, they did not offer me any assistance beyond handing over my adoption papers. When my birth mom denied my request for contact, my adoptive mother said, "That's unfortunate. I was looking forward to meeting her." At the time, I appreciated her show of support. It felt genuine."

Readers coming from personal experiences with adoption will find plenty of insights into all manner of psychological experiences on all sides; but it's those interested in how family bonds are actually maintained, the differences between blood and adoptive relationships, and the choices adoptive children and parents face at all stages of family bonding who receive especially thought-provoking and useful insights. These will attract and educate anyone interested in the foundations of strong family relationships, whatever their wellsprings of origin.

As adoptees (and the author) share reunion experiences here, readers receive many disparate insights into the emotional complexities of family connections.

Libraries and readers interested in a combination of memoir and insights on adoption and family will welcome the opportunity to discuss many of the contentions and experiences outlined in Belonging Matters. It can serve as a communication point for adoptees, adoptive families, birth parents, and anyone interested in the intersection of family bonds and love.

The General Fiction Shelf

A Young Woman from the Provinces
Jo Ann Kiser
Atmosphere Press
9798891320727, $27.99 Hardcover/$18.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

A Young Woman from the Provinces will appeal to readers of contemporary women's fiction who especially enjoy stories of maturity and friendships. It follows the experiences of Geneva, who moves from her home in backwoods Kentucky to the allure of New York City -- there to hone a career, friendships, and possible romance that lead her ever deeper into growth and change.

Jo Ann Kiser's poetic voice adds depth and metaphor to the atmosphere from its opening lines, which are captivatingly descriptive: "We had lived in the gray house on Sarvis Creek for a long time. A Golden Delicious tree grew in the backyard, a cherry tree at one side, and at the other end of the garden, near the toilet, a Red Delicious tree stood. To us savages on the back porch, spring meant nothing but itself. Suns ran across the sky. Blood scudded through our veins. Green buds festooned the trees. If the plowed earth in the garden was a somber brown, the rest of the world was composed of pastels."

As the senses of place change radically around Geneva's choices and living situations, readers follow her with this early influence in mind as she approaches big city living with the down-home sensibilities of her upbringing. As the family moves from place to place, Geneva assumes a flexibility of perception and purpose that do her well in adulthood, lending to her ability to navigate unfamiliar territory and people.

Jo Ann Kiser embeds her story with family influence and relationships. These follow Geneva for much of her efforts, adding contrast to the pivot points between childhood and adulthood. Excited by new work, surroundings, and opportunities, Geneva still is charged with better understanding her life's influences and trajectory even as she falls into and out of love, moving through different career opportunities and the myriad of people they introduce.

When her journeys carry her to foreign lands, Geneva reflects on her experiences and the growth opportunities they embrace: "In some sense now I was reimagining myself as an American, a traveler of the twentieth century, belonging to an era when humans had set foot on the moon, an individual belonging to no one place and yet to one place, the landscape of childhood, and, beyond that, to the landscape of the mind."

Libraries interested in contemporary literary novels that follow a young woman's journeys through different landscapes of family, friendships, and evolving choices will find A Young Woman from the Provinces a powerful narrative that ultimately considers the need to be loved and the movement from being a "hillbilly" to an active participant in a bigger life and world.

Glass Flower
David Procaccino
Atmosphere Press
9781639889129, $22.99 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 394pp

It's 1972, and veteran psychiatrist Jim Malory has lost his mind. Or so his wife believes. "Vietnam has come for its due," and despite the fact that Jim is far from the battlefield, some struggles of the mind have never left. Circling around the wagon of his discontent and disassociation are his worried pregnant wife Maria and daughter Ruthie. Ruthie really needs her father to prevent her careen towards disaster - not a Vietnam survivor still struggling with and immersed in his own demons.

It should be noted that the opening experiential lines of Glass Flower can (and likely will) be triggering for war veterans. The vivid you-are-here recollections and scenes are extraordinary even to those who never went to war; much less those who endured its graphic, soul-destroying violence and horror.

This note aside, there is much more going on here than a war story alone; because Malory's spiraling mental struggle receives the opportunity for redemption in the arrival of two new patients who mirror his veteran angst and the challenges of being a father in a disintegrating relationship with a needy daughter.

Glass Flower is a stunning portrait in recovery, PTSD, past and present life connections, and the wavering barrier that separates patient from doctor. It reveals the mindsets of not only Jim, but Maria and others who swirl around him. Its greatest strength lies in its ability to delineate connections between past and present mindsets, perceptions, strategies, and insights: "So what happened?" This is how Nilso begins his interrogations, just the facts ma'am. When Jim started at the VA, he was obliged to attend training sessions in which the chief expounded on the art of the psychiatric interview. A neutral, dispassionate stance was best to snatch the truth from the patient, Nilso said. In certain cases, the interviewer should even avoid eye contact, placing one's sightline perpendicular to the subject's. The goal was to exude a calculated mildness with just the suggestion of force."

As psychological forces entwine and definitions of wellness and recovery shift, David Procaccino excels in crafting an atmospheric work about going away and coming back forever changed. It's a story that embraces elements of history, psychology, intrigue, and discovery in such a way that it comes highly recommended for libraries seeking different stories about healing, redemption, and family transitions. Book clubs, too, will find plenty of issues to consider and discuss. "One part of his life had ended, and another had begun."

The Historical Fiction Shelf

Brighter Than Her Fears
Lisa Ard
Creative James Media
9781956183146, $18.99 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 356pp

Historical fiction readers interested in stories of post-Civil-War America in general and the changing status of women who rose to new power in the war's aftermath, in particular, will find this story of thirty-year-old Alice Harris (who marries a war veteran much older than herself) to be compelling, bringing these times and issues to life.

The setting is Asheville, decades after the war. There, Alice reflects on her life possibilities and future: "At thirty years old, I'd long since abandoned the idea of marriage. The War had ended when I was thirteen and with battlefields turned to cemeteries, the marriage prospects in the South had dimmed considerably. I didn't favor the title spinster, but I valued my independence. Especially now, as it slipped from my grasp."

A hastily arranged marriage may feel like her only (and last) option, but in fact it opens the doors to new opportunities that Alice grasps as times change and she comes to realize the real lasting impact of the Civil War: "The War ripped families apart in more ways than one."

From how women manage their households and lives to shifting priorities in both that lead Alice in unexpected directions, Lisa Ard captures the times and their impact on women's lives with an astute combination of historical analysis and social inspection. These draw readers into the families and connections that ultimately change America.

As Alice is drawn into contradictory ideals, support systems, and evolving business and political special interests, such as the railroad's development, the process of discovering her husband's family's secrets leads to new avenues of choice that she never saw coming.

As a novelist Lisa Ard is skilled at capturing the sights, senses, and conflicts of the Civil War era. Through Alice's educated eyes and newfound realizations, issues of women's freedoms and repression come to light, with the backdrop of shifting family relationships cementing all with a lively sense of purpose and possibility.

Libraries and readers seeking historical novels of American history that feature proactive women in the throes of personal and political transformation will find Brighter Than Her Fears a gripping story of a woman who faces both a lonely future and one more connected and powerful than she'd ever imagined. It's especially highly recommended for women who would absorb post-Civil War lives from a different perspective.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Blue Eyed Devil
MJ McDuffie
Palmetto Publishing
9798822917590, $24.99 Hardcover/$16.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Readers of paranormal thrillers who enjoy intersections between political confrontation and psychic mystery investigations will find Blue Eyed Devil a fine study in contrasts as it pairs a psychically gifted FBI agent with the conundrum faced by Widow Belle, whose husband's legacy is buffeting her life. The political winds of change are also turbulent as several presidential elections, a possible new miracle drug, and the special interests of competing forces coalesce on two disparate individuals who find their lives, interests, and abilities dangerously entwined.

The tale opens in 1944, which sets the stage for events that fast forward to influence lives in 2012, where Remy struggles with his gift of being able to perceive the auras that indicate adversity in other peoples' lives. The story's complexity embraces readers as Remy and Belle find they are facing a formidable adversary and evil force apparently able to undermine even their own special abilities. Just because Belle has a unique understanding of Remy's secrets doesn't mean she is willing to trust him completely. And yet, she must: "In her heart, Belle understood she could trust this man with her secret because the charming devil had trusted her with his. As a smile formed on her pretty face, she realized Mr. Remington Montgomery had not confessed all his talents. Also, willing to gamble he was a damaged man who had told no one in a long time about the colors he witnessed daily."

As secrets from the past come to light, Belle reconsiders what she thought she knew about Remy even as both face some of the biggest challenges of their lives. MJ McDuffie does an excellent job of weaving romance, paranormal intrigue, and mystery into the tale, keeping readers engaged and wondering about many different outcomes. A myriad of challenges direct and redirect the plot, keeping it satisfyingly unpredictable.

From overseas cartels and election influencers to the outcome of forces that seem impossible to curtail, address, or change, Blue Eyed Devil's ability to move between the personal and the political lends it an especially involving countenance that keeps its action fluid and the characters on their toes.

Readers will find themselves emotionally engaged in a way most political thrillers don't offer. Blue Eyed Devil is a top recommendation for libraries seeking stories that lure thriller and non-thriller readers with the added attraction of emotional connections and motivations. Its ability to move between political and corporate special interests and characters that display their own interests in hiding or using their abilities makes for a story that is hard to predict or put down.

Coded to Kill
Marschall Runge, MD
Post Hill Press
9781637589250, $30.00 Hardcover/$18.99 Paper/$7.99 ebook

Coded to Kill represents a play on medical terminology suitable for its subject as a medical/techno-thriller, inviting readers to enter a world steeped in ethical questions of medical breakthroughs and their ultimate costs.

At the heart of this story is Drexel Hospital's revolutionary new Electronic Health Records system, which sports the real-time medical records of every American for instant access through any medical system. Sounds good. But even the best of intentions can go awry. Hugh Torrence views the new system as an unprecedented opportunity for profit and power. Until patients begin mysteriously dying. As computer techies, physicians, and prominent administrators in positions of power vie for control of the new system and answers about its underlying puzzles, readers enjoy a compelling novel of espionage, intrigue, and unexpected ethical conundrums as an ideal medical scenario falls apart.

From chief technicians who can't seem to press the 'reset' button fast enough to investigators who are certain that someone is harming patients on purpose, the fast-paced action and swirl of competing special interests creates a compelling story packed with high-octane action. Its unexpected twists and turns keep readers guessing about perps, purposes, and outcomes. Marschall Runge's familiarity with the medical system and its administration lends a realistic atmosphere to a story peppered with red flags of warning as the characters confront IT, medical issues, and their personal ability to make problems vanish. At the heart of this adventure lie social and ethical conundrums that will lead readers to think about the ultimate impact of imperfect 'perfect' systems, and the process of managing and accessing patient care in a high-tech world.

Libraries and readers looking for medical thrillers with the atmosphere of a good Robin Cook production, the tension and feel of Michael Crichton's unexpected twists, and the ethical dilemmas of Patricia Cornwell's medical mysteries will find Coded to Kill a powerful juxtaposition of medical and personal ethics. Coded to Kill should ideally find its way onto the shelves of any library and reader serious about acquiring and imbibing the finest of medical thrillers.

Death Under the Deluge
C.M. Wendelboe
Encircle Publications
9781645994800, $16.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The sixth book of the Spirit Road mystery series (revolving around Lakota FBI agent Manny Tanno) again involves tribal interests in a murder scenario in which a body turns up too close to the Sioux Indian reservation. The age of the body makes it a historical mystery -- until Manny's probe reveals that the history might not quite reside only in the past. As a cold case turns hot, Manny finds that being in law enforcement offers no immunity to death when a fellow officer is shot and his own life is repeatedly threatened.

The murder may have taken place some seventy year ago, but its impact is still alive and kicking. C.M. Wendelboe creates another powerful mystery that sizzles with not only intrigue, but a surprisingly wry sense of humor that runs like a thread through the story from its opening lines: "Mel Peel brought the binoculars down from his eyes and handed them to Deputy Sam Christian. "I'm only a lonely diver hired by you guys now and again and who flunked anatomy class in school, but I suspect those five fingers are attached to a wrist down there somewhere." The body was supposed to stay buried in the murky waters of a submerged cabin under the Missouri River, but nothing stays hidden forever.

Manny's probe forces him into many uncomfortable positions, from facing bullets to encountering old flames that may hold not only clues, but equally well-hidden passions. He's armed with added-value abilities which also feel dubious, at times: " visions do not feel like gifts. Be different if my visions were . . . pleasant, but they're not. They're frightening." Neither his strong connections nor his savvy may be enough to prevent the re-emergence of a murderer from the past, as evidence points out to the perp.

Though Manny's expertise and processes received embellishment in many books before this, newcomers to Wendelboe's character should not be dissuaded from taking up the story as a stand-alone, despite its prolific historical precedents. It's easy to become immersed in Manny's persona and surroundings -- and just as easy to find his dilemmas and choices realistic and thought-provoking. Vivid action compliments insights into murderers, victims, and even love.

Libraries and readers seeking mysteries which incorporate Native American interests and procedural intrigue will find Death Under the Deluge a compelling, highly attractive story whose twists and turns make it hard for even seasoned mystery readers to predict.

One Icy Night
W.A. Pepper
Hustle Valley Press, LLC
B0CN5C9RHB, $4.99 eBook

Imagine waking up to a madman who is trying to kill you. Such is the opening scenario in the Rook thriller One Icy Night, where a drunk driver is transporting an equally drunk detainee, who is in handcuffs; careening through icy streets until an ax-wielding stranger stands before their car.

And that's just the opening scenario! As the story unfolds, Rook presents as a traveling female bassist in a band who confronts betrayal, a soon-to-be-ex boyfriend, and murder with equal competency and a "physical and mental thick skin" that serves her well, whether in a band or participating in bar brawls.

Another strength lies in the wry sense of humor that peppers vivid descriptions and action: "At first, I think I'm the one screaming like a gerbil in a blender. But no, the high-pitched yell comes from Riley. Everything in the vehicle bounces around and pelts us as gravity and momentum team up to beat our asses."

As a storm of physical and mental events emerges, the story moves between the "then" and "now' of last year and today, juxtaposing a series of confrontations and events which test Rook's ability to accept what she has done and how to move on.

References to the Quran and Bible pepper her journey. Characters who cherish a higher power and law intersect with Rook's self-examination to provide further moments of enlightenment, irony, and insights into her efforts to stop the bad guy and regain her power.

W.A. Pepper's ability to lead readers through Rook's actual hell and back lends to a thriller replete with unexpected moments of enlightenment and revelation. Libraries and readers seeking a story steeped in conflicts of interest and one event's lasting impact on a young woman's life will find One Icy Night a powerful study in psychological and spiritual contrasts. It takes a conflict with the law and moves it into arenas of psychological and philosophical inspection that are gritty, unexpected, and hard to put down.

Searching for Dali
Robert Lane
Mason Alley Publishing
9781732294578, $14.95 Paperback/$4.99 eBook

Fans of Robert Lane's Jake Travis series well know the supercharged nature of Jake's pursuits; but in Searching for Dali, Jake's efforts introduce the added value of characters such as Veronica Stafford, whose phone calendar includes mention of her projected death date. At the heart of her decisions are not only physical health issues, but the disappearance of an original Salvador Dali painting, The Lost Body, that she was mandated to protect for her husband.

From repressed memories that hold insights on many mysteries to degenerative conditions that spark questionable decisions, Veronica's choices instigate a series of events. These draw investigator Jake Travis into the art world and onto a journey that proves one of the more challenging in his career when he becomes involved in Veronica's life.

Robert Lane maintains the philosophical observations and tone that make the characters and their personalities come to life against a philosophical backdrop designed to keep readers engaged and thinking: "She'd miss her natural ability to orchestrate her surroundings. To bend the world to her purpose. Like Dali's clocks. She always felt she was gifted in that area, although now the value of the gift escaped her." Jack's background working with the special forces and as a CIA agent is exactly what seventy-two-year-old Veronica wants on her special case. Her insistence on his involvement with her husband and the missing painting draws him reluctantly into an alternative reality even he believes ("...the sweet spot of life was a few degrees off reality.").

From hot art, a painting's rightful owner, and the search to find it to the psychological motivations and reasoning of characters who are involved in the mystery on different levels, Lane returns to the first person when following Jake's footsteps into not just the art world, but the undercurrents buffeting his own life and choices.

Jake's duty embraces far more than uncovering a painting's whereabouts. He finds himself charged and challenged by those vulnerable to his decisions and their own involvement in the case: "I felt an obligation to protect Carrie. For, like the gecko in my pocket, she knew nothing of the world she had entered. She was alive only because Demos didn't know where the painting was, and his first brutal attempt to learn its location had, for some unknown reason, backfired."

Has his preoccupation with Dali led to his not listening to obvious cues about other events? Can Jake turn his back on the ten million dollars that's at stake in his choices? His family life with Kathleen and the children also become entwined with his mandate to locate the missing Dali and too many other pieces of the bigger picture and puzzle.

Lane captures this relationship and impacts upon it using compelling, descriptive language that leads to astute insights: "Kathleen was the conductor of our lives. The baton bearer who kept the disparate parts graceful, fluid, and in harmony. And I? I was a rover, the third-chair Wrecking Crew trumpet player who, in one note, could blare out the entire ensemble. Everyone knows when the trumpet player screws up."

The result is another Jake Travis mystery that adds additional layers of understanding for prior readers, but requires no prior familiarity with Jake's relationships and approaches in order to prove equally engrossing for newcomers.

Libraries and readers seeking stories of suspense that profile the art world's impact on private and public lives will find Searching for Dali as riveting in its exploration of self and moral values as it is in Jake's discovery of the real story behind a missing Dali piece that is literally worth dying for.

Cullen Scott
Papillon du Pere Publishing
9781915221131, $14.99 Paperback/$4.99 eBook

It's rare to see techno-thriller writing that can appeal broadly from young adult into adult audiences, but Stung is such an offering, promising a special brand of compelling appeal that hits hard from the start.

Set in 2047, it tells of a world where everyone has a chip implanted in their brain at age 16. Two fifteen-year-olds are about to enter favored adult status with their newly awakened chips. But, they are not happy about the mandate.

Talon is just entering his senior year of high school and is facing 'programming day', which will activate his chip implant and connect him to the government network. Yet, he has cause to worry about the event and his choices as his family history comes to light: "Three years ago, his brother wrestled with the same anxieties. Deciding not to be networked, Wilder headed for the depths of the surrounding mountains, where it ended badly. Talon was supposed to be able to acknowledge this. That Wilder starved to death. Starving was one of the many self-inflicted consequences awaiting those that fled. Through many counseling sessions, Talon came to understand Wilder had made bad choices.

The problem was, with Talon's 'special day' drawing near, he couldn't guarantee to himself he would choose differently."As confrontations, new revelations, and struggles emerge, the story of a kill-chip's influence and resistance moves between a disparate group of characters, from Talon and Sophia to Shadow, Drake, and General Stafford. Each represent a segment of special agendas that flow into one another. Conflicts and the consequences of killing force each individual to confront moral and ethical decisions that challenge both the status quo and their own life trajectory. Cullen Scott excels at contrasting forces of government control with those that opt for freedom at all costs, even if the choice involves death and retribution.

The fast-paced, action-packed story is designed to appeal to teen audiences, but will reach into adult readers with its further review of the philosophical and psychological ramifications. The chip supposedly will quash any intention of murder or killing, but comes with its own requirement to artificially control human instincts. Scott's choice of contrasting changing character perspectives lends a more full-bodied feel to her story than other works of dystopian fiction. It adds a depth of contrasting clashes that review the logic and thinking processes of a disparate group of individuals who come to question the logic of improving life by thwarting murderous impulses. Who could resist such an agenda? The 'why' is even more intriguing as the story unfolds its unexpected, delightful twists and turns.

All these elements make Stung highly recommended not just for teens and adult readers, but especially for libraries and book club discussion groups interested in stories of survival, individuality, and the ultimate cost of social control systems.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Ghost With Two Hearts
Michael R. French
Independently Published
9798370416842, $10.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

What constitutes happiness and satisfaction with one's life and choices?

In Ghost With Two Hearts, Adrian is nearly thirty and a successful software coder, but feels he has little to show for his age. Disillusioned in love, by his country's progression, and his place in the world, Adrian takes a leave of absence. He walks out of his familiar world and journeys to Japan to identify and return a stolen samurai sword to its rightful owner. Therein begins his transformation process as his search for self and redemption changes his outlook on life and its purpose.

Readers who choose Michael R. French's tale for its promise of ghostly attraction may be surprised to learn that, along with matters of spooks and spirits, are matters of the heart. The enlightenment process propels Adrian into an unexpected marriage between Eastern and Western perceptions.

From personal and political disillusionment and dissatisfaction to cross-cultural explorations and insights, the story traverses new discoveries and haunting old habits, employing an astute observational style that is compelling on many different levels: "Japanese priests, like the rest of their society, were supposed to strive for perfection. Mr. Watanabe, much like Emiko, had given up on that. I wasn't unsympathetic. I knew from software engineering how perfection could be a curse, if not an outright addiction."

As spirit Emiko interacts with Adrian and forces him into new definitions of life, death, and purpose, readers absorb a very different form of ghost story that is embedded with philosophical revelation and self-discovery: "He asked, "Mr. Green, are you familiar with the concept of wabi-sabi?" He answered his own question before I could hazard a guess. "The positive manipulation of light, space and all living things, in order to achieve balance and harmony."

"Balance and harmony," I echoed, with approval. "This is what you will find in Kyoto. This is what I always come for. Not to interact with a rambunctious ghost."

The result is a ghost story, a love story, a cross-cultural exploration, and a journey that will bring readers into alien worlds with its questions about moral integrity and personal objectives.

Libraries seeking literary ghost stories that operate a cut above the usual haunting display will find Ghost With Two Hearts cultivates a different sense of discovery via changing character perspectives and events that will prove transformational to all involved. It is an easy, exceptional recommendation to those who look for literary accounts of transformative encounters.

The AndroBiotica File: Nearly Human
David Gittlin
Entelligent Entertainment, LLC
9798985860542, $3.79 eBook ($0.99

The AndroBiotica File: Nearly Human is a sci-fi novella that marries the genres of crime story, sci-fi, and technothriller. Two notes forewarn readers: it's written in the present tense, and its science is, David Gittlin admits at the start, 'wonky' at best. Additionally, certain words are intentionally misspelled.

Why these features? The proof of their effectiveness is in the pudding of a plot that also introduces a wry sense of humor from its opening lines: "What have you got for me, Faulk?" Observing my supervisor, Clive Borinsky, I wonder, for the four hundredth time, why he only calls me by my last name. Despite the holes in my science training, I am Deputy First-Class Investigator Derrick Faulk."

The story of a stolen file containing the key to producing highly efficient, nearly human androids evolves within a story that considers AI technology's use in the wrong hands, the moral and ethical dilemmas of manufacturing nearly human machines, and how endless possibilities for production and misuse emerge in a conundrum that immerses investigators in far more than a missing document.

As questions of what constitutes humanity play out against the backdrop of a dangerous mandate and mission to retrieve the Androbiotica File, readers receive a vivid plot that moves from detective work to efforts to reshape the world. Libraries and readers seeking sci-fi stories that hold the added value of moral and ethical dilemmas and detective escapades will find The AndroBiotica File: Nearly Human replete with engrossing subjects and considerations that make it highly recommended not only for sci-fi readers looking for original writing but also book clubs that would discuss the moral and ethical boundaries of what makes us all human ... or not.

Baen Books

Three excellent new arrivals from Baen provide sci-fi readers with involving stories that are hard to put down.

Richard Fox's Light of the Veil: The Shattered Star Legacy (9781982193065, $26.00) tells of dock rat Jayce Artan, who ekes out a living that makes him scramble for survival until he encounters an ancient force, the Veil, that proves he is "Attuned" to his power. Here, he is given the rare opportunity to journey beyond the Veil into another dimension, where he's tasked with discovering a force equal to defying the Tyrant that threatens his world. Forced to confront different realities and consider their impact on his own, Jayce embarks on a journey that will change not just his life, but the universe around him. Fine characterization and swift action and battles make Light of the Veil an attraction to readers who seek action-packed scenarios.

M.A. Rothman and D.J. Butler's Time Trials (9781982193157, $18.00) is a powerful contrast in time whereby Marty, once a gifted scholar and now a small businessman, is drawn to a unconventional dig in Egypt which involves a time travel expedition for the truth. Excellent characterization tempered with engrossing time-travel trouble make this book a winner.

D.J. Butler's Among the Gray Lords: Tales of Indrajit & Fix (9781982193133, $28.00) is a compelling swords and sorcery story that will draw readers of mystery, adventure, and fantasy alike as it embeds intrigue with a high-stakes quest through an ancient city to return an old friend to life. Indrajit and Fix are heroes that move between competing, deadly milieus as they assess the price of friendship, death, revenge, and their own safety in an environment fraught with thieves and clashing special interests. Readers interested in action and intrigue in their sci-fi scenarios will relish Butler's embrace of drama and mystery here.

The Poetry Shelf

Visible Magic
Charles Dowling Williams
West Wind Books
9781737639534, $14.95

The haiku poetry of Charles Dowling Williams is actually reflected in the title of his collection, Visible Magic, which portends an experience even seasoned haiku readers will find extraordinary in its delicate interlacing of evocative reflections whose inspirational heart lies in decades of journal writing about the Kentucky rural experience. Perhaps no other poetry form other than haiku could have been chosen: succinct, nature-centric, and quietly evocative, the Japanese literary tradition comes to new life under American pen and observation, here. Take '19 December 2021', for example (the poems are arranged and titled by their journal date):

"this serene stillness
orange autumn afternoon -
maple leaves chatter"
or the Kentucky midwinter of '17 January 2022', observing:
"full Wolf Moon, wet snow
tracks of foxes and bobcats -
frozen fog by dawn"

All four seasons come to life, both animals and environment, with a sense of immediacy perhaps afforded by the ability to reference journal in-the-moment entries. Firmly rooted an appreciation of the sense of place that is West Wind Farm, the home of Charles Dowling Williams, Visible Magic translates the seasonal magic of natural Kentucky for the world to see.

Libraries and readers interested in the applications of haiku's strict form which go beyond Japanese environment and origins will find Visible Magic a celebration of the great American outdoors and the even greater ability of the American poet to capture its seasonal incarnations in a hard-hitting, beautiful manner. Ideally, Visible Magic will be chosen by literary teachers at the high school level and up as an example of contemporary American applications of the traditional Japanese poetry form.

The Christian Studies Shelf

Knights and Ladies, Women and Men
C.J.S. Hayward
CJS Hayward Publications
9781731239594, $20.00 Hardcover/$15.00 Paperback/$5.00 ebook

Knights and Ladies, Women and Men comes from the pen and promising enlightenment of C.J.S. Hayward, joining others in his 'Best Works' series that synthesizes his thoughts and Orthodoxy approach to life and spirituality into digestible contemporary subjects that ordinary readers can easily absorb.

"Vive la difference!" -- C.J.S. Hayward outlines this sentiment in his introduction to the survey, then celebrates and supports it in chapters that juxtapose seemingly disparate subjects, from archaeology and the works of C.S. Lewis to linguistic and moral discourses on inclusive and exclusive language, reading romance books, and devising fantasies about what life should be. Orthodoxy thought connects these seemingly disparate dots into a unified theory of spiritual reflection that will especially serve readers who seek religious, philosophical, and moral examinations in writings about everyday life events and experiences: "The idea of making plans for your life, and then trying to make life conform to your dreams, is inside and outside of romance a recipe for not enjoying circumstances where you can be truly happy. Part of the Orthodox understanding of Providence is that God gives his children situations of happiness that we would never even have dreamed of."

From theological reflections on the subject of contraception to women's perceptions, rights, and treatment, Hayward creates a wide-ranging inspection filled with thoughts both provocative and perhaps, among some circles, even controversial. This, in turn, provides opportunities for not just personal enlightenment, but group discussion and debate that also sheds important light on the connections between Orthodox thinking and daily living in general, and women and men in particular.

The result complements and elevates Hayward's writings as a whole, and is highly recommended for libraries seeing prior interest in Orthodoxy works in general and Hayward's discourses in particular.

The Money/Finance Shelf

Wall Street Lessons
James E. Demmert
New Insights Press
9798986016351, $30.00 Hardcover/$15.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Wall Street Lessons: Overcoming Fear, Greed, and Being Your Own Worst Enemy is a deep dive into investment strategies that takes a much different path to building wealth than the usual financial advice on investing. James E. Demmert offers an unusual insight in his book -- that the human brain is not wired for investing. This perspective contrasts boldly with the innuendos of most investment strategy books that seem to assume that the drive to invest is built into the human psyche.

Demmert supports his argument by reviewing how 12 psychological blunders are often made by investors, based on investment choices made with their emotions rather than based on a rational investment approach. The problem with typical investment decisions is that they are driven by either fear, greed, or both, which causes a shoot-from-the-hip response. Such blunders lead people to either take more risks than they can afford or reject opportunities to make good financial decisions.

For example, one of the blunders Demmert discusses is the "crowd effect," also called the "herd mentality." Although the market is generally efficient, the crowd effect can sometimes motivate people to follow what thousands or millions of others are investing in, creating a temporary market bubble due to "irrational exuberance." Such behaviors, assumptions, and errors that negatively impact investment choices are analyzed in detail in the book, along with a review of traditional investment theories on Wall Street that simply no longer work, such as modern portfolio theory.

To counteract fear and greed investing, Demmert offers comprehensive guidance on rational investing according to a set of fundamental principles and specific steps that investors need to take to minimize their risks while maximizing their profits over the long term. Packed with charts, examples from Demmert's work with clients, and keen insights into understanding how the stock market works in patterns aligned with economic cycles, Wall Street Lessons is filled with practical advice for better investment strategies. This makes it a top recommendation for business, novice investors, and financial discussion group audiences interested in improving their knowledge of stock market investing and wealth building.

The Business Shelf

The Blackbeard the Pirate Business Book
Carole Marsh Longmeyer
Let There Be Arrgghh Press
c/o Gallopade International
9780635141293, $12.99 (Paperback) $24.99 (Library Bound)

The Blackbeard the Pirate Business Book is highly recommended reading for anyone who thought business books to be dryly predictable. From highschool students to adults, readers will find this blend of business savvy and humor blend attractive and accessible. Traditional business books abound, but the real treasure lies in finding a book such as this, which cultivates a special blend of enlightenment and fun for budding entrepreneurs that results in lessons cemented by appealing examples and pirate-centric references.

Hard-core businesspeople may not understand the need for such a mix, but for an inkling of how this combination works, consider the links Carole Marsh Longmeyer makes here between Blackbeard and employee management: "Blackbeard did not always have an easy time getting the right people in the right seat on the right bus (or, rather, ship), but to stay afloat, move on, collect prizes, and do it all again and again, he had to ensure his crew was collectively competent enough to do the job. Everyone is dispensable; that's a hard thing to learn. You may love an employee, but they may love another company and a raise you can't match. There may be things you do not like about a particular employee, but the skills they have are essential and so you keep them on. With personnel, if it's not one thing, it's another. Blackbeard found the same!"

Managing an office or business is a lot like managing a pirate ship. There are rebels, political forces, good and bad employees, and the challenges of everyday routines and unexpected events.

Young readers, especially, will find this dovetailing of pirates and business to be enlightening. Equally unexpected is the blend of business savvy and business memoir which cements practical management advice with references of how the author and her co-pirate and business partner husband managed their own ship, navigating treacherous waters and making savvy decisions along the way: "When Gallopade was just a dinghy, we had no insurance. We knew we risked financial catastrophe each day if either of us, Captain Carole or Cowboy-Pilot Bob, got hurt, much less if anyone fell on our premises. When we finally cobbled enough loot together, the first thing we did was purchase health insurance. From then on, we added logical and needed insurance. We don't like insurance either, but it's a business necessity. Find a great insurance provider and listen to them."

Seasoned business managers who want predictable straight talk may eschew the pirate references here, as well as the appealing and fun designs and illustrations by Lee Barrow that pepper the book; but it's the wannabe entrepreneurs of all ages who dream high but balk at some of the nuts and bolts of practicality who will find most appealing this unusual and appealing format. Grounded in references that seem to appeal to a younger reader, yet married to the practicality of business experiences that will educate many an adult, The Blackbeard the Pirate Business Book is recommended for classroom and group discussion for any budding entrepreneur.

The Buffalo Bill Business Book
Carole Marsh Longmeyer
Let There Be West Press
c/o Gallopade International
9780635141125, $12.99 (Paperback); $24.99 (Library Bound)

Like The Blackbeard the Pirate Business Book, Carole Marsh Longmeyer's The Buffalo Bill Business Book crafts a unique approach to the usually-dry topic of business savvy, winding history and thought-provoking perspectives into a mix that proves excitingly, refreshingly different.

This notion is cemented by lively language that will lead many an adult businessperson to reconsider both business and history in a new light: "It was not hard to imagine Buffalo Bill as a boy of the West, hunter and trapper, Army scout, guide and Indian fighter. It was hard for me to separate the man from the myth. And even more difficult - after learning about his life as an aggressive, astute entrepreneur, businessman, marketer, and so much more - to imagine how he pulled off his globally successful Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Ok, you ask - how hard could it have been? I own a business. I run a business. It is one with lots of products, personnel and details out the kazoo. Oh, you say: "I do that, too." Well, I think Bill could run rings around Amazon, Apple, AI, and almost anyone else A to Z. YOU try [in the mid-1800s!] packing up and shipping out cowboys, sharpshooters, Indians and other performers, staff, plus all the paraphernalia they need (stages, lights, cameras, action, horses, horses, horses, bison and other critters, and all the tack and food and pooper-scoopers and what not) across the sea to London and Paris, not to mention traipsing non-stop around the United States."

Her links between the Buffalo Bill museum she toured and loved and the impact on her own business's challenges (which appeared diminutive in comparison to trials of the past) are thoroughly engrossing and will give even the most staid business manager pause for thought as Longmeyer brought her history lesson home to reconsider present company challenges: "It made me look at my own 40+ year old company (that I brag about so much) a little closer. "Hey, marketing: Where are our wild and dynamic graphics and larger than life headlines?" "Sales - you say you can't get to Ohio? Well, listen to this..." "Personnel, you think you got problems? Try keeping sharpshooter Annie Oakley in check!" "Shipping...really?...wrap a few boxes, call Fed Ex. What if you had to ship live bison, horses and camels across the Atlantic?"

Readers of all ages who would start, restart, form, or reform their own entrepreneurial effort will thus find in The Buffalo Bill Business Book an appealing, uncommon read that embraces the business book, memoir, autobiography, and history production in a new, refreshing manner. The lessons Longmeyer absorbed from this history museum and Buffalo Bill's efforts and examples prove just as enlightening and necessary to today's business environment, whether the business under discussion is starting out, small, medium, or already well-established.

From good business practices in handling debt to business performers, contracts, and rules and regulations, Longmeyer handles all topics with consistent and revealing references to Buffalo Bill historical precedents, adding her own reflective lessons. This bridges the gap between yesterday's efforts and today's modern perspective, adding her own business challenges and revelations. The result is a business book much livelier than most, embedded with Wild West history and the exciting flavors of discovery, and holding a chatty, appealing tone.

The Buffalo Bill Business Book is highly recommended for not just business library acquisition, but for interactive book club and business discussion among all types of readers, from would-be entrepreneurs to young adults just beginning to consider the business world's possible attractions.

The Relationship Shelf

Is He Ever Going to Leave His Wife?
Martess Dowling
Ultimate World Publishing
9781922828972, $21.95 Paper/$6.39 ebook

"As much as the evidence weighs heavily on him not leaving his wife and family, the aim of this book is not to pass judgment or tell you what to do. Instead, it is to give you informed choices to better understand the why of things and then help you decide what is best for you."

Is He Ever Going to Leave His Wife? The Answers to the Questions You Desperately Want to Know is written not for the wife, but for the "other woman" who may be grappling with her role and future possibilities.

Readers at a crossroads in their relationships with previously (or still) involved men need a book that is candid about all kinds of possibilities. Is He Ever Going to Leave His Wife? covers all the bases of possibility, from cheaters to polyamorous relationship realities, and how narcissistic behaviors affect everyone involved.

Chapters review the basics of relationship challenges with an eye to considering the attraction and detriments of an affair with a married man, reviewing common perspectives of all who become involved in such an affair. The idea is to probe the underlying motivations, expectations, and desires of everyone in a love triangle, offering realistic insights into what typically happens under such conditions.

Of particular note and importance are the focuses on "what to do" and "what not to do" that outline and identify complex issues readers may not have considered in the quest for love and connection. There are a myriad of concerns to be addressed when one becomes involved with a married man.

No other book outlines all the possibilities, options, and logical choices like Is He Ever Going to Leave His Wife?. Readers who still believe such a relationship is viable and important need to absorb the warnings and paths outlined in this book. Extensive research and interviews with women who shared their experiences creates a solid compendium of data that "the other woman" will find invaluable.

Libraries and book discussion groups revolving around women's issues and relationships should consider Is He Ever Going to Leave His Wife? a key acquisition. It's highly recommended for any collection or dialogue strong in relationship psychology and women's growth and healing.

The Metaphysical Studies Shelf

Being Medicine
Juliet Trnka
Muse Literary
9781960876317, $25.99 Hardcover/$15.99 Paper/$0.99 ebook

Being Medicine: A Shamanic Guide to Mystical Wealth + Manifestation is recommended for libraries and readers seeking books about spiritual and entrepreneurial leadership processes; especially those collections strong in consciousness and applications. Juliet Trnka discusses a range of subjects that are important to this process, from considering a life lived in surrender to eschewing compulsory action and reaction in favor of deeper, more meaningful excitement: "To live in surrender is to live a life of true audacity, because most of humanity is still living out the stale routines and habits of lack. Living in the frequency of surrender allows you to become truly generous, because you are tapped into the limitlessness of the Divine. The foundation of your life is no longer one of loneliness, struggle and anxiety. You are enfolded in the riches of this moment."

Although it embraces philosophy, psychology, and spirituality, Being Medicine is not a book for those unwilling to also embark on the transformative journey of self-actualization. It accompanies its admonitions in the above areas with practical applications that readers on a path to change will find specific and useful: "By strengthening your skill and intimacy with receiving, you awaken and catalyze your inborn capacity to make ceremony anew, to curate proper refuge. You contribute to the full metabolization of your life."

Poems pepper the passages on dreams, life-embracing possibilities, and daily insights on manifesting a life more loved and vivid than the usual step-by-step progression of followers who do not reflect: "Gradually you will allow yourself the grief of recognition that others will not choose to live this way. You will remember that you can love them anyway. You will remember that you can love you anyway. You will move like thunder across the land of your life, and you will also become the thirsty soil sated by the rains the storm brings."

The resulting reflections offer opportunity for not just debate and discussion among book club, psychology, and health and healing groups, but for those on personal journeys on the path to creating a better life. This is why Being Medicine is highly recommended for those looking to take a more active role and part in living their lives to the fullest -- and why it also should be part of any general library seeing popularity with book group reading and leadership efforts.

The Self-Help Shelf

Sacred Celebrations
Elizabeth Barbour
Empower Press
c/o GracePoint Publishing
9780972468695, $22.95 Paper/$9.99 eBook

Sacred Celebrations: Designing Rituals to Navigate Life's Milestone Transitions comes from Elizabeth Barbour, a life coach who first makes the case for why rituals are needed to celebrate and reinforce transitional points in life, then outlines the types of rituals that are possible for all forms of change.

From birth and death to moving, divorce, and daily living, these rituals, big and small, she offers readers opportunities for connecting in celebrating and sharing moments of life. Initially charged with creating the ritual for her mother's passing, Elizabeth Barbour made not one, but two ceremonies, and in them found the strength, inspiration, and healing from her efforts to be transformative.

With clarity, honesty, and revealing tenderness, Barbour translates her experience for readers who can then glimpse the actual impact and meaning that rituals hold and promise to those who organize and participate in them: "We have access to ministers and rabbis and other holy people to help facilitate funerals because it allows space and time for the family to grieve and feel all their emotions. But for some crazy reason, I had decided that Mom's first send-off should be fully planned and executed by me, her only child. What was I thinking? Slowly, my circle started gathering and my jangled nerves calmed down with each hug I received. More than thirty women arrived from all aspects of my life in Houston, neighbors, church friends, book club members, networking colleagues, clients, and Zumba dance buddies -- only three or four had actually met my mother. They all gathered for me. This diverse group of women all enjoyed meeting one another, and my home and my heart overflowed with the rich sounds of women talking and laughing together."

Each example in her book outlines the possibilities ritual can introduce to virtually any facet of life. They are opportunities for connection and healing that only come from organization, purpose, and spiritual and psychological intention, and apply to many surprising life changes that readers initially won't associate with ritualistic applications, such as divorce:

"I proceeded to move through my condo one room at a time and I lit a ceremonial fire in each. There is something deeply primal and oh-so-powerful about fire as a tool for transformation. Using a large Pyrex bowl, I put in a little bit of Epsom salts and rubbing alcohol, and then I lit a match. I had a bowl of water nearby in case the fire got out of hand. With each tiny fire, I forcefully spoke out loud the things that I was ready to release from my marriage."

The result is a lesson plan for life that does more than outline ritual possibilities, but embraces them as part of the act of letting go, moving on, or releasing negative energy to make room for the positive forces of support and healing. Ideally, Sacred Celebrations shouldn't be limited to spirituality or new age collections (which will be its most likely audience), but will be incorporated into general-interest libraries and selected for book club and discussion groups from all walks of life, from spirituality to psychology circles.

More so than most books about celebrations, Sacred Celebrations translates the act and ritual of healing to everyday life, making it a top recommendation for libraries seeking a wider-ranging approach to better living.

Thought Leader Academy
Sara Connell
Muse Literary
9781960876386, $33.99 Hardcover/$15.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Thought Leader Academy: 10x Your Impact and Income Through Your Mission and Message isn't just a book: it's a program developed by Sara Connell to guide fellow coaches and entrepreneurs to make the most of their leadership abilities.

Now, Connell's message isn't new. There are many other coaching books and guides on the market that boast of doing the same. What differentiates Thought Leader Academy from many of its peers is an approach to the process that offers proven strategies and tips for honing one's ability to increase impact and income in an exuberant, uplifting way, as a thought leader. "Have you had a Resonance moment? Felt the tingling, demanding, that won't let you go no matter how hard you try to push it away, this is my destiny? Was there something you came across that grabbed you by the spine and said, "You will follow me, you must follow me. For this you have come!"

From childhood trauma to her first book deal that landed her on Oprah, being published in the New York Times and founding Thought Leader Academy to help others overcoming inner blocks to become the leaders they are meant to be, Thought Leader Academy is more than a memoir or self-help guide. It's a strategic program to help readers publish books, speak on stages, build communities, and monetize their missions.

The journey is powered by Connell's own life experiences as well as those of others: "I knew this transformation was not going to be subtle. I could feel that, like recovering from an addiction or summiting a high mountain, it would require radical new thinking, behaviors, habits, and action. What I found is that it required an uplevel of my identity. I went for this work from every possible direction, investing in coaching, mindset work, spiritual practice, new styles of meditation, neuroscience techniques."

The uplifting nature of her subject is tempered by realistic assessments of what makes thought leadership difficult work, ultimately challenging and productive. Her assessments of these pivot points of transformation and new possibility creates a dialogue of step-by-step approaches to giving, learning, and pushing the boundaries of success.

Readers of Thought Leader Academy should, like AA members, be "willing to work the program" presented here. The roadmap is proven, but the work itself is up to the reader who takes action on Connell's Thought Leader Academy.

Libraries seeking inspirational self-help guides to leadership will want to highly recommend her approach to various discussion groups, from entrepreneurial circles to book clubs interested in not just ideals, but programs that hold both the promise and the nuts and bolts of active change.

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
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phone: 1-608-835-7937

Diane C. Donovan, Editor & Senior Reviewer
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phone: 1-707-795-4629

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