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California Bookwatch

Volume 19, Number 3 March 2024 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Philosophy Shelf Biography Shelf
General Fiction Shelf Literary Fiction Shelf Western Fiction Shelf
Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Poetry Shelf
Christian Studies Shelf Religion/Spirituality Shelf  

Reviewer's Choice

The Diabetes-Free Cookbook and Exercise Guide
Dr. John M. Poothullil, Md, Frcp, with Chef Colleen Cackowski
New Insights Press
9798986016344, $24.95 Hardcover/$9.99 ebook

"A marriage made in heaven" feels like too exuberant a description for a book, but the combined expertise of a doctor and notable chef who collaborate on this cookbook and exercise guide is a remarkable boost for diabetics who usually receive the exercise-and-diet admonition in separate volumes.

The integrative promise of The Diabetes-Free Cookbook and Exercise Guide is that it dovetails these two paths towards diabetic health under one cover, offering a complete program designed to supplement a Type 2 diabetic's medicine regimen with self-help guidance to create a healthier lifestyle, overall.

Another important note is that the meals and recipes presented here can easily be integrated into regular daily meals, requiring no special ingredients or prep in order to appeal to the entire family. The supporting medical insights provided by this retired doctor offer enlightenment about why many routines and approaches to diet fail, for Type 2s: "The key is to eat foods that do not cause your blood sugar to spike so high that it takes hours to return to the normal blood sugar range. That is how you begin moving away from being prediabetic or fully diabetic."

He also suggests that "...our modern diet high in grains and grain-flour products is the most likely trigger for the development of prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes. It is because the typical diet that includes more than 50% of one's daily caloric intake in the form of complex carbohydrates produces a voluminous amount of glucose that the body's cells cannot use on an immediate basis."

Armed with the knowledge of how food digestion can lead to diabetes, while different choices lead eaters away from it, readers can more effectively tailor their diets to make choices that make more sense. From flavor-packed vegan dishes to garlic greens, Apple-Ginger Gluten-Free "Scones" with Cashew Cream Icing, and other recipes not to be found in other cookbooks, readers receive a wide variety of flavor bursts that encourage and support these healthier choices.

Paired with easy do-at-home exercises and a wealth of inviting color photos that accent the delicious attraction of the dishes, The Diabetes-Free Cookbook and Exercise Guide stands apart from many similar-sounding competitors for Type 2 attention with a format, presentation, logic, and attraction that portends a better, more active involvement in refining diet for optimum results. This is why The Diabetes-Free Cookbook and Exercise Guide should be in the collections of any Type 2 diabetic interested in making reasoned, appealing changes to their lifestyles; and libraries catering to them.

The Philosophy Shelf

Anthony Bourdain and Philosophy: An Appetite for Life
Scott Calef, Editor
Carus Books
9781637700396, $24.95

Anthony Bourdain and Philosophy: An Appetite for Life joins others in this publisher's 'Pop Culture and Philosophy' series to link modern icons and their dilemmas with philosophical inspections of their lives, beliefs, and presence. This melding of subjects promotes the idea that philosophy will appeal to and is relevant to modern audiences who are interested in society themes and broader applications than those limited to scholarly debate alone.

Chef Bourdain's life and culinary work is examined in a series of essays that explore the philosophical issues surrounding his reflections on food, culture, and life. From Bourdain's antisocial perspectives to his ability to represent candid authenticity in a world riddled with 'bullshit', this collection features lively essays suitable for debate among many circles, from culinary history and food fans to contemporary students of philosophy. Its reach will prove much more appealing, and thus much broader, than the usual philosophical discourse.

The Biography Shelf

Embracing the Shadows
Marlene Dunham
Hudsongarden Press
9798989507504, $16.95

Embracing the Shadows: Navigating a Family's Mental Illness is an important contribution to both memoirs and literature on family mental illness.

Marlene Dunham explores not one, but a family pattern of mental illness that included a bipolar father, a sister with schizophrenia who committed suicide, and a severely mentally disabled brother who spent 15 years at Willowbrook State Hospital on Staten Island . Her survey of her childhood, family relationships, and the overlay of mental illness which affected her and other siblings not diagnosed with such ailments makes for a thought-provoking, revealing account of how families can struggle with multiple mental health challenges.

From the start, Dunham embraces a frank tone about how she and her siblings were raised and, as adults, faced their past differently. Her intention of 'doing justice' to their lives via this story does more than validate their connections and experiences. It educates readers about the impact of multiple mental illnesses under one roof, revealing many insights and facets of adaptation and survival that most singular mental health memoirs do not hold.

This results in a guide that not only enlightens as to the presence and clashing differences between mental conditions, but profiles the unique and individual survival tactics each surviving sibling adopted to come to terms with life and illness.

The family's dynamics are related not just from Marlene Dunham's perspective, but from the experiences of her surviving siblings. This lends a multifaceted perspective to the family dynamics and their perception, making the narrative especially wide-ranging and valuable. Medical considerations of DNA, family legacy, and the promise of future technology in helping families suffering with inherited mental illness round out the personal reflections, adding value with their insights and considerations of the future.

The story opens with an especially powerful reflection: "Why not me? This question has plagued me for years. It's been the unspoken punchline of many a conversation about my family history: Suspended in midair like that final silk thread from a spinneret. Hanging fragile and vulnerable. My comeback, always: "But I'm fine," and we all would laugh. The conversation would move on, but I would always wonder why. Why not -- me?"

From the irony of genetic rolls of the dice to the sadness of a broken family with siblings lost that will never know each other, Dunham pulls no punches in revealing the realities of coping with family mental illness. Black and white photos that pepper her story add visual touches to personalize the family members.

Libraries and readers seeking memoirs steeped in the personal experience of not just one mental challenge, but a host of them, should place Embracing the Shadows at the top of their reading lists. Hauntingly passionate, its study in contrasts of how different family members coped offers invaluable insights: "Claudia does say that she was always aware that she was different from other kids. She lived in fear daily but never told any of us -- Mom or Dad or sisters. She would look at people walking their dogs or going to the mailbox and think, "I'll be normal like that one day." I never saw this. I wasn't aware. At that point, I had kind of dissociated from the whole family."

The General Fiction Shelf

"Did You Find Everything You Were Looking For?"
T.W. Bristol
Quixote Publishing
9798988783008, $18.99 Paper/$6.99 ebook

"Did You Find Everything You Were Looking For?" is a novel that fully lives up to its subtitle promise of being about " Hollywood, Love, and Your Neighborhood Grocery Store."

In many ways, Hollywood screenwriter Tess Bristol has achieved her goals. She's traveled far from her small-town origins in Bobby, Texas to achieve a degree of fame and fortune in Hollywood . In other ways, she chafes at her life and successful career -- so much so that she considers a summer job at a famous food market as an opportunity for meaningful change.

Her epiphany ("How we spend our days is how we spend our lives ... most of all, I want to be happy. I want to be brave enough to be happy.") drives the bullet points that redefine success, happiness, and risk-taking in her life.

Tess takes in the "nice feeling of soft excitement and camaraderie" from unusual sources, embarking on a journey that brings with it new revelations about life, death, and everything that lies in-between. The rollicking ride of Tess's life and decisions immerses readers in a milieu in which Tess moves through the sweet and sour worlds of retail service, customer relationships, and stunning contrasts between Hollywood shows and daily life.

T.W. Bristol provides a sojourn through romance and life that is evocative, lively, attractive, and thought-provoking, all in one.

Readers and libraries who join Tess in her romp will find "Did You Find Everything You Were Looking For?" a powerful play on life that holds everything important for a read both compellingly thought-provoking and entertaining. The title alone should attract libraries and readers who may not ordinarily be drawn to novels about Hollywood, retail service, or love; but who will find this mix of life observations and encounters to be thoroughly absorbing.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

A Dry Heat
Gregory D. Williams
Grand Canyon Press
9781951479947, $16.99

A Dry Heat: Collected Stories presents literary short stories that revolve around individuals of all ages, from teenagers struggling with coming-of-age issues to middle-aged men and widowers. Gregory D. Williams crafts these vignettes from his own life experiences, which are steeped in the culture and arid environment of Phoenix, Arizona .

If some plots sound familiar to Arizona literary short story enthusiasts, that's because many have been previously published in literary magazines and journals.

The collection is presented in three parts. The first opens with "Call of the Wolf." No, it's not a mammal reference, but a wolf spider which is the object of attention here, the first-person narrator, obviously a shut-in with plenty of time to observe, reflecting that "I could research the legend, but I might be wrong and I need an ally."

This short piece serves as a predecessor and introduction to "Rounding the Bases," in which narrator Willie is absorbing fundamentals about the games of baseball and life. As he learns hard lessons about sports, love, and death, Willie's evolution comes to life in a succinct yet hard-hitting coming-of-age story that moves from talks of strike zones to contemplations of friendships, sexuality, and more.

Each short piece dovetails nicely with its companions, leading the way into the evolution of life and events that carry readers through different stages of growth, realization, and life experience. From a physician who faces a birth mother's vast disappointment that her daughter is a boy and not a girl to moments of connection between strangers, each story grasps a different moment in time and life encounters, narrowing its lens of inspection to revelations that can even emerge between strangers.

A Dry Heat: Collected Stories should be in any literary short story library interested in works that capture a sense of place and purpose; particularly Arizona holdings. Sadly, there won't be more from Gregory D. Williams, who passed away before this collection was revealed to the world. It will have to serve as his zenith of creation and a tribute to its dual worldly vision and microscopic consideration of how lives evolve.

Echoes from the Hocker House
Virginia Watts
Devil's Party Press, LLC
9781957224176, $15.99 Paperback/$4.99 eBook

Echoes from the Hocker House is a literary short story collection that offers 15 short experiences of family dynamics, dysfunction, and chilling contrasts in nature and community.

It opens with 'Aerial View', in which Hannah Fisher faces her husband Rex's hostile behavior towards one of her few efforts to preserve her sanity over the dead end her life and marriage have become. Virginia Watts blends evocative emotional reactions with 'in the moment' descriptions that bring Hannah's perspective to life: "Rex twirls around, faces Hannah with a sneer followed by a blank look, as if he's never seen his wife before, a wife before, or anyone sitting at this Formica table inside the kitchen where he was born and raised...Hannah rests her forehead down on the cool table. The table smells like toast, raisin toast. It smells of happy kids, a pure, fresh-air life on a prosperous Hereford cattle farm..."

As Hannah's situation emerges, readers enjoy a tense story of struggle, adaptation, and survival tactics that introduce the types of changes that have moved Hannah from comfort in her situation to the feeling that "It's all killing around here now. There's nothing left." In contrast is 'Homecoming,' which introduces Jillian Reese, who is sipping a latte at Nordstrom while looking forward to welcoming her fiancee Kyle home from his three-year deployment in Afghanistan . Kyle's return as an injured vet forces Jillian to re-imagine her future with him as the waiting unfolds into new realizations.

Each story captures a moment in time, place, and experience to provide an evocative contrast between past and present realities. Each excels in a sense of place and purpose that places each of these women in a special position that readers will appreciate.

Literary and women's libraries seeking exceptionally powerful short stories will welcome Echoes from the Hocker House to their collections as an outstanding representation of women's lives, hopes, and dreams.

Mother Knows Best
Lindy Ryan, Editor
Black Spot Books
c/o Independent Publishers Group (dist.)
9781645481393, $15.95 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Mother Knows Best is a literary horror anthology of poems and short stories that center around the 'bad mother' persona and image. The eeriness of these works lies as much in their contrasts of approaches and personas as in each powerfully rendered production.

Take Laura Cranehill's 'Cookie Baby', for one example. Here, young baker Maddy attempts to help her grieving mother with a culinary achievement unprecedented in its incarnation of a child to replace the baby her mother lost. The first cookie baby is consumed by the starving mother. Perhaps it was too beautiful. So Maddy makes a plainer version, only to discover her ravenous mother doesn't need embellishment to be hungry for its love.

Cranehill's absorbing story of consumption and loss is chilling: "There's a lesson splayed raw right on the hot meat of Mom's face, the lesson that says some things were never meant to be made, and some things were not meant to be loved, and Maddy better know now, better figure it out now."

Contrast this with another digestible horror piece, Brooke MacKenzie's 'The Tired Mom Smoothie.' Here, the rhythm of a mother's life that is defined by her daughter is interrupted by the promise and arrival of a Tired Mom Smoothie that promises to inject newfound energy into the weary new mother who consumes it. As the real makeover horror of the drink emerges, readers receive a thought-provoking set of insights into consumption, energy, and transformation.

Each story provides a different flavor of horror that redefines and reconstitutes the mother's figure and actions. Each represents a diverse interpretation of maternal horror, settling on the hearts and minds of readers who will find the literary horror component deliciously evocative and revealing. The result is a collection not for the faint of heart, because reconsiders the ideals of motherhood, family relationships, and the relationships between girls and mothers.

Libraries seeking horror anthologies which spark conversations and shuddering intrigue among patrons will find Mother Knows Best a winner for its diversity and creative considerations of the roots of family horror.

The Western Fiction Shelf

Rawhide Jake: Westward Ho!
JD Arnold
Hat Creek/Roan & Weatherford, LLC
9781633738140, $31.99 Hardcover/$26.99 Paperback/$6.99 ebook

Fans of Western and detective fiction will find the marriage of both to be powerfully rendered and attractive in Rawhide Jake: Westward Ho!, which blends mystery and history in a delightful tale. Because it concludes the Rawhide Jake trilogy, it's especially recommended for prior fans of JD Arnold's saga, filling in more details and adventure surrounding Jake, a former Texas detective turned blacksmith who struggles with a reputation that spreads through the Wild West frontier to attract dangerous men like flies.

His mission of personal redemption leads him to California, where he confronts forces that mitigate his physical healing process, forcing him to assume the role of a detective in Los Angeles .

Amid all the gunfights and confrontations, Jake remains in thrall to his talents and reputation, struggling to enact a different kind of life even while being inexorably drawn to make use of talents he can't help but wield.

Arnold 's ability to bring the Wild West to life is evident in the time taken to capture not just Jake's psyche, choices, and confrontations; but dialogues and movements through this world: "'Wal, that'd make sense. Clanton'd hole up with another outlaw. Best watch real careful like.' They rode on up and said howdy. Up the creek about three hundred yards there was a small meadow where they staked the horses on long tethers. They would have hobbled them but Peg Leg said that every once in a while a bear'll come down the creek and there were cougar around too."

The attention to atmosphere and environment brings Jake's world to life above and beyond his personal trials, creating a vivid story that branches out into other states and achievements as Jake's story evolves. Indeed, it's the dialogues and interactions between characters that cement this tale with a sense of reality and historical accuracy that too many Westerns omit in the haste of capturing action: "My name's Jonas V. Brighton. And yours, sir?" Jake smiled pleasantly and made himself to appear as a friendly fellow.

"Jack Sprat," he said with a deadpan look as he held out his hand for a shake.

"Ha, ha. That's funny."

"No. That is my real name. Jackson Wayne Sprat at your service."

"Well, I'll be. Your ma and pa must have had a particular sense of humor."

The result is a fitting and fine conclusion to Arnold 's trilogy of discovery and frontier justice. Rawhide Jake: Westward Ho! should find a home in any library strong in contemporary Western writers, appealing to patrons that hold an interest in history, mystery, and problem-solving stories.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Dark Protection
Willie Mae Jackson, MD
Independently Published
9781735426235, $15.95 PB, $0.99 Kindle, 348pp

Forensic investigator and profiler Donovan Montgomery is used to bodies and questions, but in Dark Protection, her normal modus operandi and duties are thrown into doubt by a supernatural overlay of possibilities. These drive her from her familiar forensic environment to the unfamiliar streets of Chicago 's psychic community.

Donovan is an inherent loner, but her job as Chicago 's top forensic psychiatrist forces her into all kinds of interactions that threaten her secret -- that she is a killer.

Explicit sexual scenes pepper the story, but reinforce Donovan's relationship choices, passion, and unusual ways of seeing her world. Dr. Montgomery also struggles with OCD and keeping even her lover Tristan at arm's length. Her passion for forensic psychiatry allows her a degree of distance which is challenged by her latest case.

Willie Mae Jackson delves into this life and its challenging case with a close attention to medical and psychological realism. Under her hand, medical community and crime-solving departments dovetail and come to life in the form of a brilliant woman who has not a few secrets of her own to keep hidden.

The dual efforts of problem-solving, navigating unfamiliar black magicians who come to target Dr. Montgomery, and contributing to the police's efforts come home to roost in a cat-and-mouse game in which the seasoned investigator becomes absorbed into a milieu even she barely can comprehend.

Crime thriller readers who seek astute blends of medical mystery and psychological inspection will find the fast pace, changing scenarios, and realistic settings and characters in Dark Protection to be especially compelling and well-done. Libraries interested in a story that contrasts outer and inner demons will find Dark Protection a powerful winner, highly recommendable to patrons who enjoy medical mysteries and solid suspense stories well steeped in a sense of place, character, and purpose.

Death in a Gilded Frame
Cecilia Tichi
Independently Published
9798985121681, $3.99 ebook

Nobody expects death when posing for a portrait, but such is introduced to wealthy heiress Val Mackle DeVere in Death in a Gilded Frame when a series of astonishing art gallery events not only involve Val in a murder, but make her the primary suspect.

Predictably, Val embarks on a mission to find the real perp and clear her name. Less predictably, she finds herself at odds with her husband Roddy, the artists and hoi polloi of 1899 Newport high society, and the history and legacy of wealth acquisition which has given her privilege and status, but now threatens her tenuous position as an investigator over her head in the murky waters of murder.

Cecilia Tichi weaves historical facts into her mystery. These will delight historical fiction readers, while enticing mystery fans with a sense of place, purpose, and events that are rooted in real-world details and art world foundations.

From Jacquard elegance and detail to murderous crimes of passion, Val navigates undercurrents she'd never suspected about her world and role in it as she moves closer and closer to a strange and deadly truth. The mystery and history components that are the highlight and foundation strength of this story cannot receive higher praise. Each contributes to an atmosphere that will appeal to a wide range of readers who need not have any prior background in Newport events, politics, or society in order to appreciate the education and enlightenment they receive in Death in a Gilded Frame.

As confusion gives way to revelation and the surreal feel of residing in another world replete with unknown currents and roles, Tichi's story proves a compelling creation. It is thoroughly steeped in the give-and-take of special interests, criminal lovers, and art portrait proceedings that also contribute, unexpectedly, to the problem-solving approach of this novice mystery-tackling protagonist. The result is a hard-hitting, deeply involving story that is deliciously woven with elements of truth and real history.

Death in a Gilded Frame is a highly recommended pick for a wide audience seeking many surprises, artistic insights, and historical flavors in their reading choices.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

The Return
Laurie Stevens
FYD Media
9780997006841, $5.99 ebook

The Return is both a futuristic novel and a survival story that takes the collapse-of-civilization scenario a step further than most, exploring the importance of qualities such as imagination and creative thinking, which seem lost to technology in this modern milieu.

Aiden Baylor is a strange individual who somehow preserves these hallmarks of humanity against all odds. But he remains a loner whose neighbors think he is crazy -- until a global war destroys power sources and threatens to send humanity into a Stone Age darkness they are ill-equipped to cope with.

In this scenario, Aiden's abilities blossom with the promise of being the only one who can rebuild a new humanity with tools that don't depend on technological prowess. As Aiden takes big steps away from his role as a loner to become a leader, humanity finds that, in the absence of one form of power, a mental acuity begins to emerge which offers the potential to link people in new ways. WeConnect may be kaput, but new connections are possible.

However, there is always an enemy who would profit from adversity. In this case, it comes from within; from one who would resurrect AI in order to control the surviving population. As the story of evolving human spirit and connections unfolds, the possibilities of choosing either a recreation of Eden or a return to the forces that led to humanity's downfall emerge, with powerful themes that provide much food for thought.

Of particular note is the evolution of an ancient form of communication that could only have risen anew when the technological allure and promises of advanced civilization ended.

Laurie Stevens captures many thought-provoking insights and moments about what it would mean to support such long-lost skills, making these mindsets a priority over other choices.

Libraries and readers seeking a story that embeds spiritual contrasts with its survivalist features will find The Return a top recommendation for individuals and book clubs seeking tales that link human objectives with choices that offer either enlightenment and growth or repression: "The pixels represent us, the soul of every human being. We're not connected with each other, not how we should be.

All of us are part of the Great Source, part of a big picture, but we can't see it clearly, so we don't use it."

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Hex Publishers, LLC
9798986219486, $31.99 Hardcover/$22.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Jason is a Codis employee in New York in 1979. He lives for sci-fi reading and far off worlds while, in reality, he is stuck in a life he doesn't relish.

As a virtual reality machine tech, he installs new realities for customers every day. EmuX holds the allure and promise for others who, like him, eschew their daily realities for something different. When that reality seems to shift around him, from friends' changing personalities to memory deficits, it takes Jason a while to figure out that his sci-fi scenarios may be taking the form of an impossible new reality, affecting the everyday world he once considered so mundane.

Are the changes due to the Progress Pilgrims (a cult whose members can travel microseconds into the future), or are they leading him to a self-improvement service which masks a deeper threat to reality itself?

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro creates a thoroughly engrossing story with the persona of an ordinary tech employee who finds himself a victim of his own interests as he faces a bigger world and a threat which portends to transform it. Physical and mental changes begin to affect and redirect Jason's life as events unfold.

Zinos-Amaro also injects a wry sense of dark humor into many of this story's serious moments, providing a satisfying juxtaposition of emotions that will keep readers thinking: "Dr. Mencher scribbles down my new prescription and hands it over to me. Then he opens his file and makes some notes. 'What day is today?' Is he really this absent-minded, or is this an attempt to distract me at the end of my consultation?

'The second worst day of my life,' I reply." Jason needs to begin anew -- but first he has to consider how his life evolved into something so very wrong. Contrasts between the classics and world of sci-fi and the ordinary world that Jason navigates are satisfyingly rendered, contributing to a sense of action and urgency that will keep readers wondering if the story itself is sci-fi or a novel. Elements of both intertwine to create a tale that unfolds with unexpected twists and turns as Jason's challenges keep changing into bigger and more impossible realizations. Are there boundless possibilities? And where does wonder end?

Libraries seeking books that skirt the boundaries of sci-fi genre reading and fictional approaches to daily life will find Equimedian a solid acquisition. It promises to reach many different types of reader with its invitation to traverse high tech, how reality is defined and represented, and the forces that would compromise, alter, or control it.

The Sellout
Andrew Diamond
Stolen Time Press
9781734139297, $12.99 Paper/$.99 ebook

The Sellout combines a murder mystery with a time-travel story and quasi-fantasy in which writer Joe McElwee, at the cusp of fame and fortune at last, finds that a curse placed upon him forces him into another, despised author's plot. There, he experiences the dual challenges of poor writing and a mystery that threatens to embroil him in an alternate universe's inconsistencies.

If there's one thing that's annoying to a writer, it's to view the fallacies in a fellow genre author's writing style. But, it's even more challenging to actually enter a world that style has created, with all of its recognizable flaws.

Faced with surprising a milieu which makes no logical sense, and with a murder charge that his character must struggle to overcome, Joe is in the worst possible position to rise to his best abilities in a universe dominated by another, hack writer.

Andrew Diamond crafts an intriguing premise, cements it with the thriller and mystery components intrinsic to superior genre productions, and adds a sense of ironic, wry humor to Joe's predicament. This sets his story apart from anything in the thriller or mystery genre. The attention to writing efforts and critical analyses (which have everything to do with Joe's ultimate survival) introduces fun, thought-provoking reflections that are perfect for would-be writers: "If he had written this scene, he would have put a phone number on the note and skipped the big red kiss, which was over the top. However pretty the women in this world were, the exposition sucked. He was beginning to think he knew who the author was. A perennial bestseller whom he particularly disliked. If he was right, this scene would end with some clunky device containing just enough information to get him to the next chapter."

Curse-placer Veronica has a motive and goal in placing Joe in this impossible position: " rub your nose in the Turnerverse, so you can see what you're becoming." Will Joe evolve to overcome his circumstances and his writing direction, or will he follow in the failing, faltering literary footsteps of his peer?

The result is a creative, fun, and thought-provoking story especially highly recommended for wanna-be novelists and mystery writers who may see a bit of themselves in Joe's extraordinary dilemma. The Sellout will also attract libraries interested in acquiring lively, original works of fiction that will engage a wide audience of literary-minded readers.

The Poetry Shelf

Here It Comes... and It's Gone
Richard Sipe
Atmosphere Press
9798891321151, $16.99 Paper/$7.99 ebook

Here It Comes... and It's Gone is a poetry collection celebrating the mercurial ebbs and flows of life, presenting images and thoughts that capture the processes of change these circumstances indicate:

"Bladeless, deckless
Reckless, feckless
Here comes the age
Here comes the rage
Here turns the page..."

From haunting reflections on evil figurines that dominate a night room to equally powerful literary images that equate everyday love, loss, and adversity with the philosophical and cultural indicators of life transformed, Richard Sipe captures a host of ethereal and evocative imagery that juxtaposes everyday experience with nearly supernatural overlays: "I should thank Brunhilda for suddenly flying off to Philly and breaking that secret lunch date of ours."

Small color photos pepper and bring forth the items that inspire reflection; yet equally present and prominent are the arts allusions that will especially be appreciated by readers immersed in all kinds of philosophical, artistic, cultural, and political references:

"The older I get, the more I think
that the Sibelius 7th symphony
is my favorite. Listen.
There is a crepuscular resign
in the French horn section,
searing strings resolved
in that final chord in a nordic forest."

This collection winds through macroscopic and microscopic portraits of life and its flavors with a surreal diversity of characters, subjects, and observations. Libraries seeking contemporary poetry collections whose art lies in capturing the elusive nature of life's encounters and juxtapositions will find Here It Comes... and It's Gone a particularly notable recommendation to classrooms and book clubs with an interest in modern poetry.

Barry Vitcov
Finishing Line Press
9798888384435, $15.99

The poems in Barry Vitcov's Structures represent a throwback to Shakespearean forms and times, and will delight literary readers seeking not the typical free verse offerings of modernity, but the rhythms and discipline of a form that, today, is rarely utilized and seems largely forgotten.

The collection opens with a section of sonnets before moving to haibuns, one-sentence poems, haiku, triolets, and other forms. The intersection of person, place, and poem is excellent no matter which form Vitcov employs: "You hiked up a rocky, snowy mountain,/stopping to pause at a tall cairn-like shape./Water flowing like a welcome fountain/over green mossy rocks, an opaque drape/of misty memories. A guiding light/bent by thin air and a tender sweet scent,/while gently remaining out of my sight/as your love was always silently meant."

Reflections represent the progression of life encounters and transformation, whether the opportunity lies in a thunderstorm or loss, as in 'It Took Many Years to Lose Her': "It took many years to lose her/and an hour to find her again,/fearful some issues might recur./It took many years to lose her/before longing began to stir."

Perhaps most importantly, Vitcov provides carefully structured poetry that can be used to illustrate contemporary approaches to form, making Structures as invaluable for creative writing courses as it is for poetry readers seeking technical organization and structure in writings that combine traditional forms with contemporary themes and observations.

The haiku form Vitcov follows, for example, is the classic style following the 5-7-5 syllabic structure, injecting the poems with a sense of rhythm not usually seen in modern works.

Succinct, hard-hitting, and structurally accurate, these poems are especially recommended for contemporary creative writing students, holding strong examples of modern experience linked to classic methods of interpretation and representation.

The Christian Studies Shelf

Hidden Price Tags Volume 5: Longer Works
C.J.S. Hayward
C.J.S. Hayward Publications
9798392667024, $15.00 Hardcover/$10.00 Paper/$5.00 Kindle

Hidden Price Tags Volume 5: Longer Works is based on the contents of The Luddite's Guide to Technology, but joins others in the Hidden Price Tags series in breaking down the main volume into more manageable and specific topics.

Here, the subjects in the original work are expanded upon and embellished with further reflections for those who found Luddite valuable, but wanted more discourse on the topics of Orthodoxy. This reviews such contemporary topics as what constitutes "woke" in spiritual circles and what elements could comprise modern sainthood.

Each chapter in Volume 5 takes one of Luddite's contentions many steps further, opening the door for discourses that marry traditional Orthodoxy thinking with modern social issues and concerns: "I see plenty of precedent for this kind of heart-rending plea in Margaret Sanger's wake. Ordinarily when I see such a line of argument, it is to some degree connected with one of the causes Margaret Sanger worked to advance. I am more nebulous on whether the Fathers would have seen such "compassion" as how compassion is most truly understood; they were compassionate, but the framework that gave their compassion concrete shape is different from this model."

Also woven into these discussions are step-by-step tips on how to set aside the distancing technology which often interferes with theological objectives: "If your priest is willing, ask for pastoral guidance in slowly but steadily withdrawing from technologies that hurt you. (Don't try to leap over buildings in one bound. Take one step at a time, and one day at a time.) A good book for this is Tito Colliander, Way of the Ascetics: The Ancient Tradition of Discipline and Inner Growth. But better than any book knowledge is the living heart of someone who can guide you out of the Tradition."

The resulting expansion of Orthodoxy considerations, interpretations, and controversies as related to modern conditions and times is highly recommended both for Orthodoxy holdings and spiritual libraries and book reading groups strong in debate and discussion.

The Religion/Spirituality Shelf

The Great Being
Bill Harvey
The Human Effectiveness Institute
9780918538215, $16.99

The Great Being adds to the wealth of wisdom and informational explorations by Bill Harvey, opening with the specter of creation that may challenge religious traditionalists with its reincarnation of new beginnings: "The Nothingness waited. Nothing happened. Being infinite, The Nothingness had infinite patience. Eventually, The Nothingness decided to explore. Is there anything I can do to liven things up here in this emptiness?

The Nothingness experimented with willing something to see what would happen. It visualized a creature, kind of like a red starfish. Suddenly everything lit up. Intensely bright light streaming out of a central point that was Him. Well, not exactly Him, for He had He and She inside of Him. The light flooded out very, very far in all directions. To His right, the red starfish hovered close by, undulating its limbs. This is delightful, He thought aloud to Himself."

As the Creator takes changes and absorbs new ideas about his creations, so readers take baby steps into the making of life and risk-taking that permeates The Great Being and its experiences. The affront to traditionalist methods of viewing God, creation, life purpose, and the universe continues in a manner designed to awaken and introduce new interpretations of spirituality and life meaning.

As readers who may not have expected such nuances come to absorb the greater gift of The Great Being's message, they will find the radically inviting nature of this story brings with it the opportunity to view life and God in an entirely different light: "The Great Being decided He did not want to tamper with the Lucifer experiment, but felt He owed it to Himself and to everyone else to create the best conditions within which all avatars could ripen and learn their gifts and Mission. Someday, He planned to bring the most evolved ones back inside His own omniscient and omnipresent view, as personality traits -- sides of Himself that He could consciously consider a part of Himself, of The Original Self at the beginning of all things."

The story evolves with a reinterpretation of myths, events, and concepts that doesn't just invite, but demands discussion and insights on the parts of all kinds of spiritual thinkers as the story evolves a unique and compelling flavor of discovery. New methods of thinking are accompanied by new challenges and delightful stories as groups, memories, God, and Agents evolve to assume their roles in higher-level thinking and the scheme of things.

One of Bill Harvey's great talents lies not just in his storytelling ability, but his focus on translating life events and history with new interpretations of a wide spread of myths, from Atlantis to Salem and the evolutionary process of belief and faith itself.

Readers interested in transformative reading who are not afraid of or affronted by reinterpretations that challenge traditional ways of viewing life and faith will find The Great Being's message to be one of hope, discovery, and new ways of viewing the universe. Libraries seeking stories that are impossible to categorize, wide-ranging in their characters and events, and suitable for group discussions ranging from spiritual circles to book clubs will find The Great Being a standout.

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