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California Bookwatch

Volume 15, Number 11 November 2020 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Travel Shelf Parenting Shelf
Biography Shelf General Fiction Shelf Historical Fiction Shelf
Romantic Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf
Religion/Spirituality Shelf Poetry Shelf  

Reviewer's Choice

How to Get Disability Benefits: What You Need to Know
Don Sloan
Bunker Hill Press
B08GL3M8QY, $7.95 Kindle

Anyone who has tried to get on disability for any reason well knows what a challenge it is to qualify for benefits. More so than most assistance programs, disability has been identified as having the most potential for abuse - and therefore, is one of the most challenging programs to understand and qualify for.

Don Sloan's How to Get Disability Benefits: What You Need to Know offers a solution to successfully gaining benefits through this program. It does the hard footwork of covering the system and how it operates for newcomers who may have little clue about how to achieve their goals. It opens with a foundation series of chapters that define disability, discuss benefits, and help readers determine if they are eligible for the program. This in and of itself is a winning approach, because the law is quite specific about what constitutes the kinds of disability that qualify for benefits. It's essential that applicants properly prepare for first contact and understand the different responses that lead to winning approval for disability status.

Again: there are very specific routines and approaches to this process that, without Don Sloan's book, would be overlooked or misunderstood by the typical applicant who holds little prior familiarity with the disability system. Under another hand, it would have been all too easy for this book to end at this point. Perhaps the greatest asset to How to Get Disability Benefits lies in its wider-ranging coverage of the aftermath of placing an application, from an invaluable chapter on 'Making Ends Meet While Waiting' to a listing of 'Top 10 Disabilities' and discussions of how much one can receive from the disability program, and how long benefits typically last.

Over the years, the complicated disability structure has become a quagmire of confusion. This often prevents legitimately disabled applicants from navigating the system enough to successfully gain what is owed to them. Don Sloan walks readers through any confusion, presenting sample experiences, letters, social welfare, and legal insights alike. These represent especially essential keys to navigating the waiting period, encouraging cultivating financial resources that can be tapped before benefits kick in. This approach sets this book apart from any other. The waiting periods, which can evolve into years and involve more than one period of time, are particularly insidious aspects of the disability system that Don Sloan navigates with specific insights and advice.

How to Get Disability Benefits: What You Need to Know is a practical primer that should top the reading list of anyone newly disabled. It tiptoes through a minefield of potentially confusing routines and processes which will likely be alien to most new applicants, employing case histories, examples, and insights that successfully gain disability benefits. No other book on the market holds such specific, clear advice; and none include the practical considerations of income generation both on and off disability that are keys to long-term survival. How to Get Disability Benefits is very, very highly recommended as a key acquisition for applicants and reference, healthcare, and individual libraries alike.

The Travel Shelf

Savoring the Camino de Santiago
Julie Gianelloni Connor
Bayou City Press, LLC
9781951331016, $17.99 Paperback
9781951331009, $9.99 Ebook

Travelers interested in pilgrimages and memoirs will find Savoring the Camino de Santiago: It's the Pilgrimage, Not the Hike an unusual armchair journey in several ways. First, it wasn't written in a specific period of time, but evolved over different writing methods and time frames, from blog posts produced while on the Camino; back home (for Julie Gianelloni Connor, 'home' is Houston); and years later. This reinforces the feel that this particular account is a journey with lasting memories and impact, not the fleeting, momentary experiences of a limited period of time. The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage destination. And if you don't know the difference between 'travel destination' and 'pilgrimage', this is the place to find out.

The title holds one hint of this different approach as it chooses the descriptor 'savoring' over the less powerful, more general 'traveling'. The goal in writing this account was not just to offer a "you are there" experience of every step, but to provide a bigger-picture perspective on the lasting impact of a choice to walk the Camino. Connor succeeds in meeting her goal in a story that is powerfully written, capturing adversity and revelation alike. Her descriptions blend personal experience with history and cultural, social, and travel observations. Black and white photos and images liberally pepper the book, bringing these experiences to life, but Connor's descriptions hold the meat of the story, recounting each stop, town, and the personal and spiritual growth that they introduced.

Some may wish for more of a spiritual emphasis than is provided. This is not a spiritual story per se, but a pilgrimage that embraces the impact of different locales and churches, museums, and towns and cities along the Camino. The difference between being a pilgrim versus a tourist is clearly outlined (you need to read Savoring the Camino de Santiago to enjoy the full extent of this difference). As Connor and her family explore, they invite readers to join them through this book.

Those who want a satisfying blend of spiritual and travel revelations which use the Camino as a road to understanding and enlightenment on many levels will find Savoring the Camino de Santiago the perfect item of choice. It covers the emotions, reactions, and insights of a pilgrim who cultivates a slower approach to viewing the world than most travel accounts offer. More importantly, it takes the 'you are there' feel to another level. It is especially highly recommended for fellow pilgrims, either armchair travelers or destination-oriented, who would take the slower, more reasoned approach to discovery.

The Parenting Shelf

The Addicted Child: A Parent's Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse
Richard Capriola
9781098327231, $3.99

The Addicted Child is written for parents of adolescents who are abusing substances, and differs from most parental guides in that it doesn't cover prevention, but handling what already exists. The focus is on how these substances affect the child's brain and actions, how medical assessments and treatments work, and what is being offered by the best treatment programs.

Parents are educated about what substances are likely to be available and abused, how to recognize symptoms, how to understand remedial approaches, and how to contrast different programs for maximum benefit. Most of all, they'll receive a guide based on the author's own practice working with addicted children, which results in many practical insights. Most hopeful of all are the passages which outline strategies that got through to teens reluctant to stop or confront their addiction.

The Addicted Child is based on Richard Capriola's experiences working with teens and treatment programs. It provides a satisfying synthesis of medical explanation and psychological understanding that assumes no prior knowledge in either discipline. Parents who have already been through often-futile approaches to reaching out to an addicted teen now have a guidebook that addresses many common experiences, obstacles, and paths to success in overcoming addition's allure.

It's straightforward, not overly technical, and specific enough that concerned parents can easily consult it for answers. There is no single treatment that is right for everyone, and no single book that holds every answer. But Richard Capriola's The Addicted Child, more so than most, provides a starting point for parents to understand not just their teen's addiction and why it's happening, but how to offer them something better than drugs.

The Addicted Child is very highly recommended as a mainstay reference for parents, health library, and general lending collections alike.

The Biography Shelf

Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife
Elizabeth C. Haynes
Warren Publishing, Inc.
9781735302331, $14.95

Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife is an autobiographical collection of personal stories of true grit, survival tactics, and the process of establishing boundaries, independence, and individuality. It comes from a woman who faced abuse at an early age and confronted many choices that stemmed from it. She reaches middle age hauling the baggage of trauma, poor decisions, and evolving chronic illness. Life seems to be one obstacle after another, and yet something special happens when midlife is reached. Elizabeth C. Haynes finds herself reassessing her values, goals, and life experiences for the lessons they hold not for validating her past, but justifying her future intentions and actions. This process offers a learning experience not just for Haynes, but for those who read about her approach to life in general and midlife in particular.

From cutting ties with toxic people to creating a new perspective on life, Haynes reveals the mechanics of a process which both challenges and invigorates her. While autobiography lies at the heart of these explorations, so does an assessment of revised strategies at midlife. This will particularly interest self-help readers who look to change their own self-assessments about how to better live the remaining years of life.

Embedded in these experiences are strategies readers can follow to success. For example: Haynes has been a life-long insomniac. Her simple strategy of turning her clock around also changes her perception of night, sleep, and frustration. Her long road to rediscovering joy in life will delight readers who look for blends of life experience, uplifting new takes on positivity, and clues on how to recapture that burst of energy and excitement that drives the days with meaning. Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife is more than one woman's struggle to reconcile her life. It's a blueprint for how to revamp and revise perspective and objective for maximum results, and should be on the reading list of any self-help reader facing middle age.

Judy Garland & Liza Minnelli: Too Many Damn Rainbows
Darwin Porter & Danforth Prince
Blood Moon Productions
9781936003693, $39.95

At first glance, Too Many Damn Rainbows would seem an entertainment guide to the careers of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli (which it also is), but actually, the book is so much more. It's a survey of their evolving relationship, of the rigors of mother-daughter acts in show business, and a gossip expose tell-all in keeping with other Blood Moon productions that ladles previously unknown (or underpublicized) revelations with a wealth of black and white photos. Fans of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli will appreciate that the extensive interviews with both friends and those who criticize them range from personal connections to professionals and peers who worked with them in the entertainment business.

While the primary focus is on Judy Garland, the insights on their relationship, the psychology of Minnelli's journey in her famous mother's footsteps, and the fierce blend of competition and love that drove their relationship and dual successful careers create an in-depth survey that will especially delight those who like their gossip served hot.

Many of the interviews are as passionate as the authors are about their subject. Here for the first time is a complete overview of Judy's troubled, scandal-soaked marriages to five men, three of whom were gay. Husbands were not her only problem: Her beaux were memorable and varied, many of them show-biz stars and in some cases, political lions in their own right. They included John F. Kennedy, bandleader Artie Shaw, avant-garde filmmaker Orson Welles, billionaire Prince Aly Khan, matinee idol Tyrone Power, Yul ("The King and I") Brynner, and James Mason, her co-star in A Star Is Born. Also prominent (and notorious since she was underaged at the time) was her teenaged dalliance with the much older actor, Spencer Tracy. Because so much information is included, it would have been too easy for Too Many Damn Rainbows to have become weighty and overloaded. The information is complimented (and the weighty feel of over 700 pages is countered) by the book's inviting structure and its obvious admiration of Judy Garland as the greatest entertainer in show-biz history. Sidebars of information, photos on nearly every page, and an attention to lively, controversial, appealing details makes this read a delight.

Whether it's the lovers who got away or the reams of insights and anecdotes associated with Judy's bruising Opera House, Las Vegas, and European Tours, prior fans of either Judy Garland or Liza Minnelli are in for a real treat with Too Many Damn Rainbows. The only prerequisite to enjoyment is some basic familiarity with or interest in either or both women.

The General Fiction Shelf

La Chimere of Prague, Part II
Rick Pryll
Foolishness Press
9780974505695, $18.99

Part II of La Chimere of Prague is set in the late 1990s and follows the life of Joseph, who is set to move on in this sequel to La Chimere of Prague: The Gap Year. The former book reviewed womanizer Joseph's approach to life, his dysfunctional relationships, the evolution of his reconciliation with the alluring city of Prague, and the equally alluring presence and memory of love in his life. Readers of Rick Pryll's first story will find this latest probe picks up where prior events left off.

Joseph is about to "leave this fairy tale flat behind" and accepts the risk that he might never be able to return. It's hard to leave paradise. It's even harder for him to begin anew, where Karina might not a different place, with new possibilities. His move introduces new sexual adventures and new self-examination. Some of those who swirl through his life have no illusions about romance and love, such as Benny, a "rationalist to the core" who doesn't believe in romance, love, or heaven. He seems the least likely person to understand Joseph's journey and his mercurial relationships with Camila, Ilona, and a host of females. And yet, he becomes an important part of Joseph's evolutionary process.

Joseph wants to tell a woman he loves her, or explore the effect she has on him. But something prevents him from accepting a deeper form of emotional intimacy than he's prepared to give. Set against the backdrop of the city and culture of old Europe, Joseph's journey continues to unfold in the form of journal entries that capture the immediacy and complexity of his friends and lovers. Rick Pryll excels in capturing both the culture and the history of old Europe, injecting a modern young man's growth into this backdrop. Psychological depth and detail offers an exceptionally well-done blend with the history. Readers looking for a story of historical and psychological entanglements will find the second book of La Chimere of Prague an outstanding survey that follows Joseph's ongoing choices, consequences, and evolving perceptions of life.

Its deep psychological inspection of romance, ideals, and realities provides a powerful story that eventually comes full circle back to Joseph's strongest connections as he rejects the past, only to find it intrinsically wound into his future.

Prior readers of La Chimere of Prague will find this continuation of Joseph's exploits and realizations just as powerfully wrought as his introductory experiences, and will welcome the ongoing struggles and journey he takes.

Hotel Chelsea
Jeremy Bates
Independently Published
B083TXWDH3, $4.99 Kindle

Hotel Chelsea is the 6th book in the 'World's Scariest Places' series and follows a reporter's experience as he investigates a hotel's continuous renovations and comes to realize that its reputation for being a haunted place may be entirely well-deserved. Fans of spooky stories and ghostly encounters will relish the atmosphere of the Chelsea Association Building's Hotel Chelsea, with its dual magnificence and slowly-building terror.

As Malcolm, a magazine reporter for City Living, takes stock of the iconic New York City landmark's reputation and strange modern incarnation, he becomes increasingly caught up in a series of events that surround the sad state of the hotel and the odd characters who reside in it. Bloodbaths ensue, but Jeremy Bates is careful to keep them tasteful and in keeping with the main point of the story, which is the evolving horror and truths that Malcolm unearths as his relationship with the odd building and its eccentric inhabitants (both living and dead) evolves. From ghosts on the roof to images of those long dead, more is going on than a wily developer who wants to make life as difficult as possible to force the hotel's residents to move out.

Part 2 is introduced with a series of black and white photos documenting famous personalities associated with New York City's iconic hotel. Real figures associated with the hotel in the 1980s and 90s are linked to this strange mystery in an evolving story that moves between fiction and reality in a very satisfying manner. Ghost story readers are in for a special treat because of this unique approach, which neatly juxtaposes fiction with real (and dead) people, as when Malcolm shares a drug experience with dead punk rocker Sid Vicious. Is Hotel Chelsea a bastion of creative forces that can never die? As Malcolm moves deeper into the hotel's history and spirits, he comes to believe something dangerously different than he'd initially envisioned.

Jeremy Bates does a stellar job of bringing the hotel's history, odd characters, and mystery to life. The blend of nonfiction and fiction is nicely done, and the story is riveting whether readers turn to it as a quasi-history or as a modern-day ghost story. Its ability to build fine tension, explain New York City's iconic atmosphere and culture, and inject intrigue into the ghostly encounters makes Hotel Chelsea a highly recommended read for mystery, ghost story, and New York-centered fiction fans alike.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

The Soul of a Stranger
Phillip Otts
D.X. Varos, Ltd.
9781941072783, $18.95 Paperback
9781941072790, $6.99 Ebook

Brothers Martin McCrary and John Harvey are Union spies hiding in their South Carolina home under different identities. Martin is a newly-commissioned militia officer privy to information invaluable to his Union contacts, while his secret half-brother John, a former slave, is organizing his own response to help the Union in its battle. The Soul of a Stranger is the second book in the The Harvey & McCrary Adventures series, and explores what happens when war changes everything for these brothers, from their political stand and commitments to their relationship with each other. It provides a powerful story that winds not just through the Charleston area's politics and leaders, but the lives of businessmen, naval officers, and others impacted by evolving events.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this story lies in the fact that it takes time to explore special interests, interrelationships, and the kinds of struggles that both unite and divide people. As murder and arson evolve from such struggles, leading to deaths that change relationships and social and political trajectories, the two brothers find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of conflict that threatens their hearts as well as their ideals. From ruses to disarm the rebels and buy time to decisions that change life forever, Phillip Otts provides a hard-hitting set of encounters, confrontations, and mercurial circumstances that test the convictions of the brothers and everyone around them.

Many novels about the Civil War focus on battle strategies, changing ideals and relationships, and the struggle for achievement and success. The Soul of a Stranger differs from most in that it includes a variety of special interests and perspectives in the form of characters who interact with, change, and support the brothers in different ways; and who themselves are twisted and changed by the tides of war and division. Thomas Wolfe wrote "you can't go home again," and that is certainly true for brothers who make irreversible decisions. But if you can't return to what is familiar and comfortable, where then can you go? As Martin and John face the consequences of their actions and choices, readers are given more than a series of battles over different sides in the Civil War in a thoroughly examination of matters of the heart and soul that linger in the mind long after the final salvo.

While the open-ended nature of the story's conclusion, which gives obvious room for a sequel, may frustrate those who like stand-alone stories with solid conclusions, most of the threads are neatly tied up during the course of The Soul of a Stranger, and so the presence of a door ajar should lead to more delight than angst. The Soul of a Stranger is highly recommended reading for those who want their Civil War stories firmly rooted in social change and struggle, and who like tales that go beyond obvious points of contention to examine the ethical, moral, and psychological challenges of survival during a war that embraces everything...including family connections.

The Romantic Fiction Shelf

Beverly Tiernan
Independently Published
9781539121619, $15.63 Paper, $2.99 Kindle

Yield opens with a flashback on life that implies illness or death as narrator Marley Cover considers her life decisions, the impact of marrying for other than true love, and the challenges she faces in the aftermath of meeting her ideal of romance (who is not her husband-to-be) on her wedding day. The Vietnam War's effects on America serve as the backdrop for her struggles, offering its own special brand of struggle over concepts of loyalty and dedication. The country mirrors Marley's confusion as things begin to fall apart and circumstances test her ability to remain true to the path she's chosen. What do you do when the right man shows up at your wedding to the wrong one?

Marley was raised in an era during which women were taught to remain committed, often sacrificing happiness for a greater moral and ethical purpose. As Marley is tested emotionally and politically, she comes to question the roots of her decisions, upbringing, and her future. As she considers the perils of war and those left behind, her evolving relationship with Warren and her husband Peter's absence in the military, and the confusing choice she'll face when Peter returns, readers follow not only Marley's special dilemmas but the changing sense of time and purpose that was America during the Vietnam War. An unexpected tragedy changes everything yet again, leading Marley in yet another direction that holds the power to both resolve the situation and muddy it further.

Readers will find Yield a powerful story of social, political, and personal change that keeps readers thoroughly engrossed in Marley's dilemma and challenging times. The incorporation of politics, song lyrics, and quotes throughout capture these times in a story that is hard to put down, realistic, and especially notable in its very human protagonist who must choose between right and wrong approaches to life - and who doesn't always make the 'right' decision. This approach gives readers a compelling story highly recommended for anyone who would relive the 1950s-1970s era through the eyes of a young woman's changing world.

The Magic Ingredient
Lindy Miller
Rosewind Books
9781645480396, $14.95 Paper, $4.99 Kindle

The Magic Ingredient is a holiday novel set in Bar Harbor and features the challenges Eve Silver faces as the tourist season's end leaves her with barely enough money to get by, at what should be the most profitable time of the year. Her family business, Mount Desserts & Tea, needs to win a coveted catering bid to continue. Herein lays the catch, because the annual harvest festival and the survival of her family business aren't the only things pulling at Eve's heartstrings. So is the presence of newcomer Jeff Parish, a widower who has moved to town with his young daughter in a desire to start over.

Eve already has her hands full with the business and fall preparations. Can she handle a budding romance in the midst of all this? And then there's Jeff and his daughter, who are still recovering from loss. Is this really the time for either of them to become involved? And yet, sparks are flying. Sometimes life takes over when matters of the heart appear stalled. Lindy Miller crafts an excellent, clean romance which revolves around the atmosphere of Bar Harbor, Maine. She captures the sights, sounds, and smells of the region, along with its holiday celebration preparations, and thus injects the romance's evolution with a sense of community, personal atmosphere, and change. Her attention to exploring the lives and emotions of all involved, rather than just Eve or Jeff alone, gives a full-faceted feel to the story that keeps readers involved in the roots of all the choices and the origins of connections that turn into love.

The underlying theme of fighting for what is wanted in life is a positive thread that connects Jeff, Eve, and their readers.

These thought-provoking, emotion-driven moments are another reason why this novel is so provocative, realistic, and compelling. Romance readers who enjoy cozy stories of small towns and changing emotional and financial scenarios will relish Eve and Jeff's revised lives as they consider their options. The holiday overlay in The Magic Ingredient lends it a warm flavor that lingers in the mind and heart long after Eve and Jeff tackle their personal obstacles and the potential promise of love.

When the Wind Chimes
Mary Ting
Rosewind Books
9781645480471, $14.95 Paperback, $4.99 ebook

An invitation to spend Christmas with her family on Kauai arrives just in time for Kaitlyn Summers, who is recovering from heartbreak in Los Angeles. When the Wind Chimes follows this interlude during which Kaitlyn recovers, finds new life meaning, and encounters family and new friends just in time to make new connections in her life. Mary Ting does a fine job of creating an atmospheric first-person read that brings readers along on the journey to Hawaii and new opportunities. From an unexpected job interview "an ocean away from home" to her increasing involvement in the fabric of not only Hawaii but her own life and future, Kate's recovery involves growth and new opportunities which come to life under Ting's hand.

When the Wind Chimes excels because of this growth process. It's much a story of discovery and change as it is an evolving romance as Kate meets local celebrity Leonardo Medici and finds herself unexpectedly entranced. The sound of wind chimes that indicate each new possibility is a gentle device that reflects hope and expanded perceptions as Kate evolves. As she considers the things that truly make her happy in life and how they may be cultivated, Kate's journey involves her readers and encourages self-consideration. Her expanded experiences with men who include her new boss provide food for thought about the nature of her choices and perceptions.

When the Wind Chimes is easy reading: a journey of romance and self-examination which comes to life in the first person to bring readers to Hawaii and a young woman's recovery and growth. It is highly recommended for women who like their protagonists strong, flexible, and engaged in creating a new life.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Joseph Lewis
Black Rose Writing
9781684335725, $20.95

Fifteen-year-old brothers George Tokay, Brian Evans, and Brett McGovern thought they were going on a hunting trip on the Navajo Reservation. They didn't anticipate that they would turn out to be the prey and would be stalked by strangers determined to kill them, and that the decisions they make could lead to a different outcome.

Brian is no stranger to violence. His twin brother died in a stranger's arms and his mother shot his father, then herself. He alone survived to be given a home by Jeremy, who took in five other boys. Now his life is set to change, once more threatened by violence. This time, he's determined to not only survive, but help his brothers escape their mysterious adversary. Strangely, the serial killer and a missing boy in the Navajo Nation threaten more than their family structure or reservation life.

These events leave a question in Brian's heart about survivor guilt and whether he is ruining his adopted family by being a member of it. These questions reverberate in a mystery that challenges Brian's values, life, and experiences in an unexpected way. He feels they are at war as he and his brothers search for safety and answers, violence hot on their trail.

Joseph Lewis does an excellent job of crafting and entwining the politics and process of confronting reservation violence, and the efforts of a group of boys determined to find answers about their conflicted lives and disparate backgrounds. He paints a realistic, involving portrait of reservation life and the FBI's involvement in shootouts and confrontations that threaten to change not only lives, but ways of life. This satisfying cat-and-mouse game challenges Brian and his brothers on many levels, from Brian's relationships and adopted family to the level of trust he puts in others. When the truth about his closest friendship comes to light, everything changes in an unexpected way that neatly ties up loose ends and keeps the story line realistic, compelling, and emotionally charged.

To call Betrayed a thriller alone would be to do it a disservice. Its social inspection of Navajo reservation culture and life and its probe of the roots of love and connection are wonderfully woven into a story of adversity and a struggle to survive on many levels. These elements make Betrayed particularly highly recommended for readers who look for psychological depth and complexity in a story of violence and evolution.

Dangerous Crossing
R. Douglas Clark
Speaking Volumes
9781645401742, $15.95 Paper, $6.99 Kindle

Journalist Eddie Maez is used to tough investigations, and has won acclaim for his efforts in the past. But his probe into what appears to be a simple blackmail case drags him into a treacherously unfamiliar underworld in Dangerous Crossing.

Readers of murder mysteries and intrigue will find R. Douglas Clark does an outstanding job of pairing the frontier atmosphere of south Texas border country with the politics, policing, and illegal activities of an underworld that has a firm grip on this region. Maez is used to uncovering facts, not confronting perps. But in this case, poor people fall into the only income-generating routes they can afford, and the shadowy realm between good and bad people and decisions makes it difficult to define the two in black and white terms.

Whether it's a poor young mother's choice to enter a dangerous world of sex trafficking or dangerously close connections between love and death, Maez finds himself too often confronting ambiguous scenarios in which there is no clear definition of right and wrong. The overriding danger of his investigations, however, is frighteningly obvious, and leads him into ever-darker lives and choices. Seeking companionship through an online dating service, Maez meets ambitious young bookkeeper Raelynn Weeks. As his relationship with her becomes more personal and more dangerous, his fallback plans become complicated. Can he trust anyone? Clark's attention to detail, whether it's building relationships or probing the associations that lead people down dark paths, is very nicely done. The characters, their motivations, and their logical decision-making skills are clear and realistic, lending a powerful atmosphere to the overall intrigue and evolving dangers.

From Raelynn's struggle to escape Brownsville and her past to decisions to either hide or expose different involvements and influences, Dangerous Crossing excels in juxtaposing hair-trigger action with surprisingly deep psychological inspection that's often missing from suspense thrillers. The result is a full-flavored, multifaceted read that takes no predictable path towards its outcome, which will engage and engross readers with its surprising conclusion of Maez's investigation and Raelynn's choices.

Mind in the Clouds
Bruce M. Perrin
Mind Sleuth Publications
9781732083554, $11.99 Paper, $3.99 Kindle

Mind in the Clouds is the second contribution to the 'Mind Sleuth' series and tells of Dr. Sam "Doc" Price, whose new job involves evaluating a two-person team's training. But only one team member is human. The other is an artificially intelligent killing machine constructed for battle...and it defies the usual cognitive evaluation process that is Doc's specialty. The timeline, clearly outlined by chapter headings, begins two months before 'The Day' and continues in its aftermath. Especially intriguing is Doc's personal confrontation with the different approaches to artificial intelligence and how they differ from human thought. His internal debate injects satisfyingly complexity and intriguing dilemmas into the thriller. Doc is not only confronting technology, but his own concepts of intellect. He'll also soon confront his own mortality as he becomes involved in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game in the desert, against an impossible adversary.

Perhaps Doc's newly conferred degree (which means that he still has flexibility to adapt to unusual and impossible situations) gives him an advantage in his fight to survive. Bruce M. Perrin takes time to build this peril. While this doesn't result in the usual high-octane approach of the thriller genre as a whole; in this case, the buildup will delight readers who value depth and complexity over the facade of fast pace alone. The in-depth technological discussions are requirements for the thorough enjoyment of the premise and action, and neatly set the stage for the steadily-increasing confrontations to come.

Is artificial intelligence truly superior to human cognition? Who will determine its nature? Are the basic premises of psychological and cognitive processes applicable to machine intelligence? And what happens when analysis and practice go awry? Sam comes to question the moral and ethical outcome of his own involvement in these experiments. These and other thought provoking questions are wound into an absorbing story that may not hold the staccato pace of some of its technological thriller competitors, but that more than makes up for it with a deeper foundation and the logical and psychological revelations it produces. Thriller readers who like more than a casual dose of high tech in their story lines will find Mind in the Clouds just the ticket for an involving, compelling read.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Warrior of the Stars
Elle Lewis
Black Rose Writing
9781684336333 $17.95

Warrior of the Stars is the last book in the Glass Star Trilogy and nicely completes the blend of romance, supernatural intrigue, and adventure created in its predecessors. It's recommended reading for prior fans who have waited for this conclusion with baited breath, following the Earthly and cosmic journey of Sloan in her final incarnation and battle with evil. Previous books depicted Sloan as being caught in the middle of an intergalactic war, facing a dangerous adversary and an uncertain romance that each tests her special abilities and choices.

Warrior of the Stars continues this saga, opening with a deadly struggle between Sloan, enemy Darrow, and the powerful icy inner wolf, the deity Genesis. Although she awakens from this nightmare beside James, she is never far from its gripping reality, continuing to struggle with the certainty that her dreams are actually warnings from Genesis. It's unusual to receive a fantasy story that includes talk of chakras and new age concepts melded to an intrinsic cosmic battle, but that's just one of the strengths Elle Lewis cultivates in her story. It's a mixed sense of influences, powers, and confrontations that stem not from a singular source, but a blend of confluences both earthly and intergalactic. As Sloan hones her skills, love, and strength for a final confrontation, readers are swept into her world of Warriors - one which, she is just beginning to realize, embraces the truths and lies of adversaries and those who would effect change.

Sloan's powers rival those of the strongest Warriors in the Universe, especially since she is now one with the Genesis Energy. But even these may not be enough to bring her into the life she is meant to lead - one of love and freedom. Elle Lewis's world-changing saga is best imbibed by prior fans of the Glass Star series, who will find this final adventure replete with action, powerful characters, and blossoming powers. Lewis devotes time to not just building but redefining Sloan's psyche and mission as she crosses universes and battles warrior and personal interests alike.

The first-person perspective and descriptions of battles and struggles make for a gripping story filled with action and personal experiences, adding a "you are there" feel to events. Fans of the prior series books are in for a real treat as Sloan exposes wrongs, solidifies her place in the universe, and comes full circle to identify what is important to her world. The action, characterization, and multifaceted challenges create a compelling read that's hard to put down.

The Shadow War
Steven Cortinas
Independently Published
9798671735451, $13.99 Paper, $3.99 Kindle

The Shadow War is set in the turbulent world of 1969, when a group of genetically enhanced teens, 'Shadows', begin to confront and change the already-tenuous politics of the world in strange and violent new ways. Erin Escalante is at the heart of these changes, but is an unlikely heroine. She's a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking teen with a reputation for trouble and a growing reluctance to fulfill her destiny as an assassin. Also meet her contemporary, Matthew Mutantes. The obsessive-compulsive son of a drug lord has grown into the top killer for Mexico's competing Latin X Program. He, too, has goals and visions beyond what he's been destined for. Mature teen to new adult readers will relish the confrontations, spicy personalities, and clashes between Shadows who are created to both heal themselves and rip apart the world around them.

From family abuses of power in this Legacy Universe to memories of an idyllic childhood shattered by violence and trauma, Steven Cortinas crafts a compelling story. It looks at the world through teen eyes and the training of young killers who could evolve to become something more than destructive forces in the world. The rise of non-human species and the lure of alternate and more advanced worlds influence 24-year-old Matthew's changing role as he shines above his peers and attracts the attention and new assignments for Latin X. The Shadow War thus cultivates a changing scenario of good guys and bad guys that keeps readers on their toes. As teammates face battle and changes, Cortinas excels in crafting a world in which new adults navigate a series of personal, political, and social obstacles to gain the freedom they envision.

Replete with bloodshed, confrontation, and personal growth, The Shadow War is a fast-paced series of confrontations that is highly recommended both as an addition to the Legacy Series and as a stand-alone story that holds the power to capture and retain attention to its unexpected conclusion. Mature teens and new adult readers of sci-fi and social issues are in for a treat. This story is strongly powered by well-built characters, constant confrontations, and the evolution of a Shadow War that draws everyone in and challenges this world's uncertain course.

The Religion/Spirituality Shelf

Coming Home
Margaret Wolff
White Pearl Press
9781735508306, $16.95 Paperback
9781735508313, Ebook

Coming Home: Finding Shelter in the Love and Wisdom of Paramahansa Yogananda is recommended for new age and Eastern religion readers, who will find it a lovely survey of Paramahansa Yogananda and his followers. It's a personal exploration of faith and discovery that brings to life the experience of 'coming home' to a spiritual life, capturing this feeling through insights into the personal lives of Yogananda's disciples. This personal connection between belief, spiritual leaders, and life experiences and choices sets Coming Home apart from many other books which present either autobiographical or analytical perspectives.

Margaret Wolff blends this tone into her perceptions and discoveries for a different approach that will prove particularly welcoming to newcomers to Eastern spirituality, following her changes and revelations. As Wolff seeks a Living Guru and incorporates lessons into her life perspective and objective, she reflects the kinds of lessons and insights that help her draw connections between daily experience and higher-level thinking. Her insights and reflections about this process carry readers beyond the teachings themselves and into their incarnation and lasting impact. It's rare to find a new age or spiritual memoir that allows the reader to 'spiritually exhale'. Coming Home: Finding Shelter in the Love and Wisdom of Paramahansa Yogananda offers an opportunity to breathe and discover, and is highly recommended reading for those who would understand what is involved in leading a spiritual lifestyle.

The Poetry Shelf

Black ≠ Inferior
Tolu' A. Akinyemi
The Roaring Lion Newcastle
9781913636067, $2.99

Poetry readers interested in works that make a passionate plea for social justice and a more positive Black image and power will appreciate the works in Black ≠ Inferior, a poetry collection that is presented in two parts: linked poems exploring Blackness and the different issues it attracts; and more general life themes affecting Black lives. Tolu' Akinyemi's passion is evident in works written to Black people which entreat them to develop self-respect, self-love, and power: "I wish you can rise above the tides of hate,/and the contraptions of oppression./I wish you can see through the dawning of each day/that you're black and unique."

His use of free verse means there are no artificial limits or constructs to the cadence of his writing, translating to poems that are far more accessible to non-poets and ordinary readers than the usual intellectualism associated with poetic efforts. In addition, Akinyemi employs a steady hand and heart to capturing Black lives in various nuances, from political and social arenas to personal experience: "Equality is a forgotten child. The blood of the innocents/soil the World. Racial Injustice walks tall,/the graves of our ancestors quake in anguish/at this perpetual ignominy." This juxtaposition of the personal and the political makes Black ≠ Inferior a particularly important read. It holds a compelling, accessible message to the Black community in the form of hard-hitting poems which offer emotional observations of the modern state of Black minds and societies around the world. Poetry readers interested in the fusion of literary ability and social inspection will appreciate the hard-hitting blend of both in Black ≠ Inferior, which is recommended reading for a wide audience, especially students of Black experience.

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