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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 19, Number 4 April 2020 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf Diane Donovan's Bookshelf Gary Roen's Bookshelf
Helen Dumont's Bookshelf John Taylor's Bookshelf Mary Cowper's Bookshelf
Micah Andrew's Bookshelf Michael Dunford's Bookshelf Nancy Lorraine's Bookshelf
Paul Vogel's Bookshelf Richard Blake's Bookshelf S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf

Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning
Oswald Campesato
Mercury Learning
c/o Stylus Publishing, Inc.
22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166-2012
9781683924678, $59.95, PB, 300pp,

Synopsis: Offering a comprehensive introduction to programming concepts related to AI, machine learning, and deep learning and including material on Keras, TensorFlow2 and Pandas, "Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning" by Oswald Campesato begins with an introduction to AI, followed by machine learning, deep learning, NLP, and reinforcement learning. Readers will learn about machine learning classifiers such as logistic regression, k-NN, decision trees, random forests, and SVMs.

Critique: "Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning" is especially recommended as a curriculum textbook and a core addition to both college and university library Artificial Intelligence collections and supplemental studies reading lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $41.95).

Editorial Note: Oswald Campesato specializes in Deep Learning, Data Cleaning, Java, Android, and TensorFlow. He is the author/co-author of over twenty-five books including TensorFlow Pocket Primer; Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning; Android Pocket Primer, Angular4 Pocket Primer, and the Python Pocket Primer (Mercury Learning).

A Gazelle Ate My Homework
Habib Fanny
Thorntree Press
9781944934941, $17.95, PB, 264pp,

Synopsis: Sick of living in the shadows of a corrupt post-colonial Ivory Coast, intrepid gazelle hunter Habib Fanny schemes to see the opulence of America for himself, with naught but rudimentary raft-making skills and his trusty spear to aid him. Well ... that's one version of the story, at least.

In truth, Fanny's story takes him on an adventure across continents, around dangerous political intrigue, into the depths of poverty, and through the complicated systems that provide him with a medical education. His journey to become an American is beset not by lions and man-eating sharks, but rather by persistent internal questions, which he attacks with the same rigor he brings to his schooling. What does it mean to be a Muslim, a Christian, an agnostic, or possibly, maybe, an atheist? What does it mean to be African in America, but not yet Black? And how on earth do you deal with the dating scene?

As he navigates the shifting waters of cultural identity, he's forced to confront his own colonialist prejudices. Habib Fanny (that's Doctor Habib Fanny, M.D., actually) doesn't find gold-paved streets in America, but with humor and curiosity, he finds a path all his own.

Critique: An inherently interesting blending of memoir and social/analytical commentary, Dr. Habib Fanny's "A Gazelle Ate My Homework: A Journey from Ivory Coast to America, from African to Black, and from Undocumented to Doctor (with side trips into several religions and assorted misadventures" is an especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary American Biography collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "A Gazelle Ate My Homework" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

The Revolution that Failed
Brendan Rittenhouse Green
Cambridge University Press
One Liberty Plaza, Fl. 20, New York, NY 10006
9781108489867, $32.00, HC, 290pp,

Synopsis: The study of nuclear weapons is dominated by a single theory - that of the nuclear revolution, or mutual assured destruction (MAD). Although such theorists largely perceive nuclear competition as irrational and destined for eventual stalemate, the nuclear arms race between superpowers during the second half of the Cold War is a glaring anomaly that flies in the face of this logic.

"The Revolution that Failed: Nuclear Competition, Arms Control, and the Cold War" is a detailed historical account in which Brendan Green presents an alternate theoretical explanation for how the United States navigated nuclear stalemate during the Cold War. Motivated by the theoretical and empirical puzzles of the Cold War arms race, Green explores the technological, perceptual, and 'constitutional fitness' incentives that were the driving forces behind US nuclear competition.

In "The Revolution that Failed", Green also hypothesizes that states can gain peacetime benefits from effective nuclear competition, reducing the risk of crises, bolstering alliance cohesion, and more. He concludes that the lessons of the Cold War arms race remain relevant today: they will influence the coming era of great power competition and could potentially lead to an upsurge in future US government nuclear competition.

Critique: Offering a thoughtful and thought-provoking descriptive analysis, "The Revolution that Failed: Nuclear Competition, Arms Control, and the Cold War" by Brendan Green is a seminal work of outstanding scholarship, and an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library collections. It should be note for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Revolution that Failed: Nuclear Competition, Arms Control, and the Cold War" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $24.49).

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

The Magdalene Lineage
Reena Kumarasingham
c/o John Hunt Publishing
Paperback 13.99 Brit. pounds, $21.95 USD
Ebook 6.99 Brit. pounds, $10.99 USD

Books have been written before about The Divine Feminine, but The Magdalene Lineage - Past Life Journeys into the Sacred Feminine Mysteries holds a different focus than most, seeking to integrate the spiritual concepts of The Divine Feminine and Sacred Masculine with the traditional religious portrait of Mary Magdalene.

Two thousand years of subjugation have virtually buried Mary's real story. Past life regression techniques here combine with research to reconstruct Mary's life from six to sixty, placing it in a broader context of the evolution, representation, and growth of The Divine Feminine in spirituality.

No Christian or spirituality reader should be without this analysis, though it should be noted that staid, traditional thinkers who don't accept regression concepts will likely find too many barriers in place to readily consider the ideas of this remarkable survey. And that would be a shame, indeed.

The Magdalene Lineage is no casual biography, but a journey that links Biblical lives to God's greater purpose. That Reena Kumarasingham is both a regression therapist and a researcher lends to a blend of academic authority and personal involvement that enriches and enlightens. The Magdalene Lineage focuses on Mary's life through her eyes from before, during, and after her association with Jesus, then follows the lasting impact of her teachings and life through the experiences of Sara, the daughter of Mary Magdalene and Jesus.

By tracing the changing presence and nature of the feminine in Christianity, The Magdalene Lineage crafts a journey that blends new age techniques and concepts with traditional Christian knowledge and beliefs to create an expanded history documenting the separation of the Feminine and Masculine.

Because this event has resulted in innumerable suffering over the eons, it's important to define, understand, and address on more than one level, if peace and solidarity is ever to be achieved. This makes The Magdalene Lineage a far more important revelation than any traditional analysis or biography could achieve.

It's a remarkable, astute analysis of the evolution and lasting impact of the schism between two worlds, tracing significant events in Mary and Sara's lives as it uses the interview form of regression therapy to consider daily lives and broader implications of decisions and choices that create the roots of anguish in today's world.

Dead Lions Don't Roar
Tolu A. Akinyemi
B074V2VFZ5, $10.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Given the numbers of modern readers who are experiencing radical social, political, and psychological changes in recent years, inspirational collections such as Dead Lions Don't Roar assume an even greater importance and promise for helping individuals examine and confront life's daily struggles.

Dead Lions Don't Roar is a poetry collection that, quite simply, embraces and promotes life. Whether it's addressing financial issues, mother-in-laws, or domestic violence, it organizes works by symbolic entreaties which demand that readers "...find their own roar as individuals and take the walk of glory while we are here."

Each section holds poems with a particular focal point. 'The Deads', for example, focuses on situations, people, and dilemmas that suck the life from people; 'The Lion' profiles life-affirming qualities that serve as models for emulation and achievement; 'The Don'ts' profile habits and perceptions that are negative barriers to living which need to be identified, addressed, and overcome; and 'The Roars' takes the collection's lion theme a step further by lending it a passionate voice.

The poems are free verse accomplishments designed to carry readers through waves of emotions and different life realizations stemming from them.

From times in which demons must be exorcised to achieve sleep and thwart depression in 'Moments' to the loss of love explored in 'Who Will Wake Me Up?' and a tribute to the author's beloved mother in 'My Mother', these pieces are succinct, hard-hitting. They often point a way out from the clutches of angst, depression, and life-disavowing habits.

The overall impact of Dead Lions Don't Roar is that of a passionate entreaty to embrace life. This message, delivered in a series of poetic reflections steeped in Tolu A. Akinyemi's life experiences, provide important lessons on better living in a digestible form that poetry readers will find inspirational and clear.

The Philosophical Detective Returns
Bruce Hartman
Swallow Tail Press
9780999756447, $13.99

Picture a character who is a little like Nero Wolfe and Socrates put together: a literary analyst who uses a blend of bookish and criminal inspection to solve his cases. The Philosophical Detective introduced the blind poet genius Jorge Luis Borges and followed his intricately detailed cases, which revolved around not just literature, philosophy, and criminal affairs, but his association with Nick Martin.

Readers who appreciated his engrossing introduction in the prior book will welcome Borges's return, while newcomers will discover that no previous familiarity with his character or exploits is necessary in order to appreciate this rollicking romp through literature and the streets of New York alike.

As Borges confronts an investigation into family history that reveals a missing heirloom ring connected to Solomon, suicides and death threats, and murder, he and Nick find themselves unraveling the difference between fact and fantasy as they navigate danger using Poe's detective stories as a formula for understanding the murders of Bernhard Netzer, Dr. Peter Netzer and Colonel Richard Gimbel.

It should be cautioned that The Philosophical Detective Returns is not a casual, quick read. Bruce Hartman takes the time to detail these literary adventures, quoting from various books and drawing connections between them and the investigation at hand.

One might expect such passages to be weighty and to perhaps impede the story, but they are one of the strengths of the tale, adding depth, insight, and a literary flavor readers will relish: "For Borges, as I had to learn over and over again, it was impossible to separate life from literature. Sooner or later everything he thought about took the form of a story. A murder involves three stories, he told me later - the victim's story, the murderer's story, and the detective's story - each of which has a beginning, a middle and an end. The victim's story and the murderer's each has its own cast of characters and its own plot, which overlap at one critical moment. The detective's story begins where the victim's ends. Its only purpose is to reconstruct the other two stories and find the point where they converge. And the narrator is the godlike intelligence who grasps these stories in their manifold divergences and weaves them together into a coherent representation of reality. And all of this, Borges told me, was invented by Edgar Allan Poe. The great mystery, he said, was why? Why did Poe invent the detective story?"

As a series of conundrums test even the genius-level mettle of the two (and other detectives, as well), mystery and detective fans will find Bruce Hartman excels in crafting the kind of intrigue that is unpredictable, involving, and multifaceted.

The interactions between Borges and Nick add a complex, involving flavor to observations and encounters. In his role as the documenter of events, Nick assumes a level of responsibility for interpretation that affects his choice of emphasis and representation: "In the event that I ever wrote the story down - which is what I'm doing now - I would control the narrative, which to some extent was the narrative of my own life. I didn't have to come across as dim-witted. No matter how the case turned out, I'd be able to make myself look smarter, wittier, more prescient than I really was. I could manipulate events and appearances so that I, and not Borges, would get credit for the brilliant insights, the witty aphorisms, perhaps even the solution to the crime."

The result is not only a thoroughly satisfying continuation of the philosophical detective's adventures, but creates a supportive, involving stand-alone read that newcomers and old fans will equally relish. The Philosophical Detective Returns is highly recommended for classic detective story enthusiasts who look for complexity and intellectual challenges in their characters and stories.

Once is Never Enough
Haris Orkin
Imajin Books
9781772233988, ebook: $4.99, Paperback: $14.99

Once is Never Enough returns wannabe spy James Flynn to the limelight in a new standalone adventure and satisfying sequel to You Only Live Once. Think James Bond, but with the added flamboyance and mental inspections reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

As the story open, Flynn is now "cured." Heavily medicated, he's put on fifty pounds and lost all his confidence now that he no longer thinks he's a secret agent. He's living in a halfway house for mental patients and working part time at Hot Dog on Stick.

An old enemy after revenge plunges him back into his delusion and a brand new adventure. Once again he believes he's a Double-O working for Her Majesty's Secret Service.
He and hospital orderly, Sancho, uncover a mysterious new plot as they play a game of cat and mouse with another unhinged super villain. This makes for an intriguing set of insights into the nature of delusion, reality, and a world spinning out of control.

The exquisite juxtaposition of mental illness insights, intrigue, and adventure create a tour de farce which is thoroughly engrossing, often hilarious, and replete with psychological insights.

Readers looking for a blend of intrigue and comedy in a story of psychosis and real-world threats will find Once is Never Enough creates an outstanding multifaceted blend of action and fun designed to keep readers engaged and guessing to the end.

Bucking the Artworld Tide: Reflections on Art, Pseudo Art, Art Education & Theory
Michelle Marder Kamhi
Pro Arte Books
9780990605737, $18.00, Paper
9780990605744, $9.99, Kindle
9780990605751, $9.99, Epub

A collection of essays representing more than three decades of writing and speaking on the visual arts, Michelle Marder Kamhi's Bucking the Artworld Tide: Reflections on Art, Pseudo Art, Art Education & Theory expands on the author's prior critique of the contemporary artworld in Who Says That's Art? A Commonsense View of the Visual Arts.

This volume again shakes the foundation of today's art establishment, challenging its basic tenets. Kamhi devotes particular attention to the field of art education - from grades K - 12 to museums and universities - documenting the alarming extent to which it has adopted what she regards as the artworld's dubious assumptions and practices.

Highlighting the glaring disparity between old and new forms of artistic expression, Kamhi points to fundamental differences in how (and whether) the viewer can understand and appreciate works on their own terms, without "expert" explanation. In so doing, she makes her case for what qualifies as genuine art, and for reconsidering whether much of the work promoted in today's artworld instead belongs in another category, such as anti-art or pseudo art.

From her reviews of exhibitions (some dismaying, some inspiring) to her deconstruction of purported new forms of art, Kamhi pulls no punches. This is certain to disturb readers who believe that any attempt at artistic expression should be considered worthy.
It is crucial to note that Bucking the Artworld Tide does not deal in vague generalities. Kamhi offers countless references to particular works and artists that support her contentions about the true nature of art. For example, she argues:

"One of the most absurd and destructive notions in today's artworld is that of so-called 'conceptual art.' It is an entirely spurious category, which falsely implies that earlier art did not deal with ideas. In contrast, [philosopher-novelist Ayn] Rand correctly understood that all works of art, properly speaking, embody ideas. A telling instance of truly and profoundly conceptual art is a work by the seventeenth-century French painter Nicolas Poussin entitled Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion."

Kamhi then explains just how the imagery in Poussin's painting represents complex ideas related to heroism, injustice, and life's tragic disparities.

On the role of metaphor in art (a topic that has attracted much attention in art education and elsewhere) Kamhi argues:

"[Art education professor emeritus Arthur] Efland wrongly suggests that metaphor is, or can be, as central to the visual arts as it is to literature. True, images in art should not be viewed merely literally: they should, as Efland argues, be regarded as embodiments of meaning beyond the concretes represented. But the primary means by which they convey such import is directly representational and mimetic, not metaphoric. In fact, metaphor is rarely involved in painting or sculpture. In contrast, it is fundamental to the literary arts (as to verbal expression, in general) because literature employs the abstract medium of language. Metaphor lends sensory immediacy and concreteness to verbal expression."

In that context as well, Kamhi cites examples to buttress her argument. In addition, her website offers a complete list of links to all works cited in the book.

In a multi-faceted analysis of her view of the nature of art, as contrasted with modernism and postmodernism, Kamhi offers the following insights regarding the role of emotion:

"Contrary to postmodernist theory, emotion has always been deemed a crucial factor in both the creation of art and the response to it. But equally contrary to modernist notions, it cannot be expressed directly in abstract form. It must be suggested through objective forms. Centuries ago Chinese poets and sages wisely spoke, for example, of the need to 'embed feelings in an object.' Every genuine work of art represents something the artist cared enough about to have gone to the considerable trouble of representing it. Whether a direct interpretation of observed nature, or an imaginary re-creation of reality, every true work of art reflects what its maker regarded as worth remembering or reflecting upon."

Thanks to numerous insightful analyses like the foregoing - coupled with her vigorous critique of the contemporary artworld, buttressed by ample scholarship, extensively footnoted - Bucking the Artworld Tide constitutes a worthy successor to Kamhi's prior book. It merits a place in any collection of books of interest to visual artists, art lovers, and art educators.

Logo Design Theory, second edition
A. Michael Shumate
Elfstone Press
9781777016807, $27.95

The second edition of Logo Design Theory: How Branding Design Really Works connects the dots between identity, branding, and logo creation, going beyond the fine arts approach of creating a visual attraction that embeds an underlying business message to consider the ten best visual techniques that translate to a superior design.

Logo Design Theory isn't a review of killer designs. It's a consideration of the underlying principles that separate top-rung winners from the mundane, and explores underlying myths about the source of creativity, historical snafus in logo design theory and teaching, simple techniques that can transform an ordinary logo into something unique and special, and how identity images translate close up, at a distance, or in different sizes.

Logos by the great logo masters of design are used as examples to illustrate each of these concepts, with discussions including not just what makes a logo great, but what contributes to its failure or lesser value.

Designers may be surprised at some of these principles, such as the discussion of essence which revolves around the identity design question "What can I remove? How can I simplify it, reduce it? How can I show the essence of this subject?"

A good logo is a symbol that holds ongoing visual, psychological, philosophical, and cultural connections to create desirable associations in the viewer. As much as it is an art form, working with space, color, and balance, it also is a set of principles that reflect long-term business identity.

A logo shouldn't be a flash-in-the-pan. It should last the lifetime of the projected business, continuing to effectively reflect and promote its basic image. Logo Design Theory's ability to break down common problems into Seven Deadly Sins teaches designers better approaches to style and composition, keeping in mind the purpose of constructing a contemporary identity that lasts.

Abundantly packed with color and black and white logo examples that reflect these ten basic principles of branding design, Logo Design Theory should be the basic go-to primer introducing the topic to any designer who would either enter the foray of production or better absorb the basics of why logos work and persevere, or ultimately fail to deliver their underlying messages.

The Empress of the Clouds
Desiree Ultican
Independently Published
9781087859378, $11.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Ordering Link:

The Empress of the Clouds is alternate sci-fi history at its best and is set in 1896, where widow Evaline "Evvy" Amstel has been saddled with her husband's debt and his dream of building an amazing airship, confronting a Southern millionaire still fighting the Civil War against the Yankees in his mind.

Was the airship just a dream on paper, or a half-constructed reality? And why would Evaline involve herself in her husband's madness and an angry rich man's quest for revenge?

It turns out that many have a stake in resolving this mystery. And so Evvy finds herself at the helm of an impossible adventure she'd never asked for, assuming control of her husband's struggling airship company and handling an angry billionaire's demands with little experience in each.

As mines are established around Joplin (thanks to the millionaire's influence and investments) and Evvy uncovers more evidence of her husband's creativity and intelligent planning, she inadvertently crosses the line of the rich man's insanity and finds herself imprisoned in more ways than one.

Her struggles with unexpected widowhood, a new business, and a dangerous adversary lends to a steampunk adventure story that is powered as much by a feisty young woman's personality and spunk as it is by the dilemma of a missing airship and its promises to different characters involved in its creation and vision.

As history, mystery, and fantastic encounters coalesce, readers are treated to a lively alternate history powered by not just an airship's social and political promise, but a widow's search for meaning, a new life, economic security, and her place in the world.

Sci-fi readers and many a newcomer to the idea of either steampunk or alternate science fiction will find The Empress of the Clouds lively, accessible, and satisfyingly, engrossingly unexpected.

Misadventures of a Magician's Son
Laurie Smollett Kutscera
Blue Whale Press
9781732893535, $16.99, hardcover
9781732893542, $10.00, paperback
9781732893559, $TBD, ebook

Misadventures of a Magician's Son will reach middle grade readers with the story of Alexander Finn's connection with magic, first through his famous father, who taught him much, and then with his father's real magical legacy, which emerges after his death.

Alex's story of grief is typical: his father's demise leads him to be uprooted from everything familiar when he's sent to another state to live with relative strangers. He resists all attempts to help or change him until his discovery of a strange set of magic cards (his father's bequest) introduces yet another revelation into his life and imparts challenges to his twelve years of wisdom.

Fine pencil drawings throughout by Laurie Smollett Kutscera emphasize the fact that Alex, too, is an artist, supporting the storyline with drawings that provide compelling visual embellishment.

Alex is not shy about performing his magic tricks in public, but he is tired of being mocked. A competition demands that he set aside this teasing in favor of a professional approach to a contest that challenges his abilities, and he steps up to the task: "Determined to put his fears aside, he took a deep breath, flicked his wrists and launched into a series of fans. Not a sound could be heard except for those of the cards gliding through his fingers. In rapid succession, they flew and snapped and spun at Alex's command. One after the other, they popped open like bursting fireworks and then just as quickly, disappeared. The cards moved so fast it was as if his fingers had a mind of their own."

When his determination and skills transforms a skeptical audience into a cheering crowd of supporters, Alex discovers within his magical training and ability a different kind of courage that embraces an unusual band of supporters that only a magician could appreciate.

Laurie Smollett Kutscera weaves a strong story of personal struggle and achievement into a tale that takes some unusual twists and turns as Alex continues to learn about the magic of human emotion, recovery, and resiliency from his unusual mentors: "Isn't it possible everyone would appreciate you for who you are?" What could have been a singular story of a boy's special talents thus evolves into an unusual exploration of the roots of magic, ability, and support systems that come into play when loss changes one's familiar life patterns.

Alex is forced to constantly reassess his perspective, mission, and relationships. Middle grade readers thus receive a powerful story not just of magic, but relationships between magicians and their art.

Readers who choose the book anticipating a dose of magical encounters will not be disappointed, while those who like interpersonal relationships, intrigue, and growth as subplots in their stories will find Misadventures of a Magician's Son holds an action-packed touch of all three to keep readers guessing about Alex's future and incredible adventure, right up to the end.

The Fifteen Percent
Terry Giles
Skyhorse Publishing
307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018
9781951934279, $24.99

The Fifteen Percent: Overcoming Hardships and Achieving Lasting Success begins with the author's own success story building one of the largest criminal defense firms in Southern California by the age of 30. But his success didn't stop here: Giles left the legal profession to become a successful serial entrepreneur, as well.

The Fifteen Percent represents both his autobiography and his road map for success, examining why some people are resilient, creative, and turn hardships into learning opportunities for success while others cave under life's blows and retreat into failure.

Other business people have written similar-sounding blueprints for success, but The Fifteen Percent differs from others in its discussion of a wider-ranging phenomenon than a singular success story or the foundations of its evolution. Giles discusses the "fifteen percent" of people who succeed against all odds, using examples from his life and those of others to define and explain the skill sets that are common to this group of achievers.

From acknowledging that opportunities exist in life in multiple ways and rejecting the messages that obscure or deny the equal opportunities available to all to retaining faith in one's ambition against naysayers who would attribute it to selfishness or singular ego drives, chapters survey all the processes that lead to success. More importantly, they also highlight both internal and external messages that inject doubt into the success formula.

Terry Giles cultivates a refreshing perspective honed from self-examination and honesty, delineating these patterns, messages, and the types of thinking that can lead to complicated and negative situations: "...I've learned the hard way that I get into the most trouble after a string of successes...Thinking you are bulletproof is ignorance, and ignorance is fueled by arrogance."

Candid, sometimes self-critical, and always filled with insights and lessons designed to support the upward path to achievement, The Fifteen Percent is especially refreshing for this special brand of self-examination, bigger picture thinking, and specifics about the psychology and methodology of success. This approach encourages creative, positive thinking - often, against all odds.

Entrepreneurs will be the most likely audience for this message, but it should not be neglected by anyone who would cultivate a better life philosophy, and actively pursue it.

The Will to Die
Joe Pulizzi
Z Squared Media, LLC
9780985957674, $17.95, Paperback

Will Pollitt's deceased father was a liar. And his lies not only killed him, but lead to a series of deaths in Will's small town that threaten to leave a blossoming legacy long after his demise. All this challenges his son to investigate matters far beyond his abilities.

This suspense thriller dishes out high-octane intrigue at its best, from vivid descriptions narrated in the first person through Will Pollitt's experiences to Will's growing involvement in his father's funeral business and his revelations about what that really means for the small town's survival.

Will moves from thinking that his father didn't have many secrets to wondering if he ever knew the real truth about his family's heritage. Readers embark on a rollicking series of revelations about the real cause of Will's father's demise, gambles taken (literally) by both father and son, and revelations about his father's racism and its ongoing impact on the town's psyche and values.

At each step of the story, Will uncovers a new truth about his father and about himself in a powerful series of insights. These evolve over the course of a threat to the entire city that embraces behavior analysis, IT developments, and the ultimate price of a mission to transform the urban environment.

As a death in the family moves into murder mystery territory and beyond, suspense readers will relish Will's many discovers about himself, his family, and the precarious future of his small town. Will can't even save how can he save a whole city?

The Will to Die excels in nonstop action and revelations, creating a slow, simmering buildup of purpose and events designed to keep readers on their toes and guessing. Joe Pulizzi teases out the suspense with the deft manipulations of an expert, slowly building the story of how a funeral home director becomes mired in danger well beyond his experience and ability to handle.

Characters, motivations, and plots are all believable and well done, but most of all, they reach out and grab readers with an attention to detail that makes for a story hard to put down, infinitely changeable, and riveting right up to its unexpected conclusion. This approach pits Will against not just a dangerous adversary, but the values and processes of his own life.

The Will to Die is very highly recommended for its satisfying, just-right blend of personal motivation, intrigue, murder mystery, and techno-thriller, all rooted in powerful psychological cat-and-mouse games.

A Boy Called Preacher
Cheryl Schuermann
Intense Publications
9781947796355, $11.99 Paper/$19.99 Hardcover

A Boy Called Preacher will reach 8-12 year olds as well as older reluctant readers with the story of Johnny "Preacher" Wilcox, a boy who struggles to be the man in his family when his father leaves them. Running a farm is a lot to place on a twelve-year-old's shoulders in 1943 during war, but Preacher also faces the usual friendship conflicts and coming of age with too much confusion and too little adult guidance.

As the story progresses, young readers will find Preacher a believable character whose encounters with everything from a grumpy tractor repairman to his former friend capture life's ups and downs and, most especially, the challenges given to a precocious, determined boy who has little support in his life.

Belaying the serious subjects touched upon is a sense of whimsical childhood fun that influences Preacher's encounters with peers and adults alike. Preacher does not operate in isolation. His best friend, Earl Floyd, and his dog Deke, provide many fun moments and both enhance his life and fortify him to deal with its pleasures and pain. Preacher has lots of farm work to do, but Earl Floyd doesn't understand why he can't go fishing. They have a close bond of friendship sharing numerous adventures, including turning in jackrabbits for the War Effort, until their friendship is threatened.

Artistic, compelling line drawings accompany and enhance the story line as Preacher navigates his new responsibilities in a world where his mother is harried and his little brother needs his help. He has too many things he needs to do - the mystery of a trap set in the walnut grove and a stranger asking questions about his father, among other worries.

A Boy Called Preacher is steeped in World War II community atmosphere, fun characters, adult grudges, and children trying to fill the shoes of missing parents. Preacher is determined, realistic, and filled with quiet courage as he navigates these adult concerns to learn some hard lessons about trust, friendship, and changing interpersonal connections.

Young readers will enjoy this realistic first-person story of a young man struggling to do the right things for himself and his family, and will find the mysteries wound into these events offer many compelling insights into small town life and secrets.

The Elizabeth Walker Affair
Robert Lane
Mason Alley Publishing
9781732294523, $4.99, ebook/$14.95 Paper

Jake Travis returns (for the seventh adventure) in The Elizabeth Walker Affair, this time confronting an old friend's visit and odd request to act as a go-between in his rekindled romance with former beau Elizabeth Walker.

There are many initial problems with this plan, not the least of which is that Andrew is in the midst of a divorce and was never really a close friend. So Jake turns down the opportunity to fall into a quagmire and, in so doing, finds himself stuck in unexpected and different ways, trapped in a strange affair that tugs at his ex-military experience and heartstrings alike.

There's something compellingly honest and human about Jake's character and approach to life that draws readers into the thriller with more than a casual dose of psychological inspection. This is nicely paired with high-octane action.

This marriage of psyche and danger permeates all the Jake Travis adventures, but is especially seasoned and well-developed in The Elizabeth Walker Affair, which excels in not only a fast pace, but an added dose of humor juxtaposed with Jake's innate tendency towards "hard opinions and quick judgments."

When Andrew turns up dead, Jake pursues leads (including Elizabeth) for answers. Each thread he pulls leads in a seemingly different, more complex direction. From a rendezvous gone wrong to a distant relationship that suddenly assumes an unprecedented importance in his life, Jake uncovers a host of strange situations that seem to lead nowhere.

With six prior books to the Jake Travis series, a newcomer might anticipate that The Elizabeth Walker Affair would require prior familiarity with these stories. It doesn't. While his various confrontations are equally compelling, and though they enhance and expand Jake's psychological profile and character here, The Elizabeth Walker Affair is a satisfying stand-alone story. It requires no experience with Jake's adventures in order to appreciate his struggles, courage, ethics, and his latest involvement with Andrew Keller, who nearly stole a man's fiancee, was involved in a peace coalition that confronted the NRA's rule over Tallahassee, and paid for it with his life.

There are many possible choices for who would have wanted to murder the "Sofa King of Sarasota." As events move from past to present, from Lizzy's involvement with Andrew to the choices that lead to this deadly conclusion, readers receive a vivid, multifaceted, changing story designed to keep them guessing about its outcome up to a satisfying bombshell conclusion which questions choice and freewill and their ultimate impact.

Emotionally charged to envelop readers from the start, The Elizabeth Walker Affair combines the best elements of romance, mystery, and thriller formats and is a top recommendation for readers of all three genres.

The Witch Princess
Brittney Geleynse
Starlmp/Mesii Developments, Inc.
9781950445011, $25.00

The Witch Princess excels in gorgeous full-page drawings by Adrienne Silva, who brings to colorful life the story of a young princess who is also a witch, but who can't get any of her subjects to acknowledge her powers. Everyone views her beauty, but they don't think of her as a powerful wielder of magic.

When she decides to convince a group of children by demonstrating science disguised as a magic spell, the children react in an unusual way.

Young readers may not anticipate the Girl Scout theme woven into this fantasy, but Desiree's story is about more than witches and magic. The Witch Princess reviews the nature of magic words, drawings, magic's connection to science, and the types of behaviors and perceptions that differentiate witches from princesses.

Kids with good reading skills or adult assistance will relish this tale's progression, which also includes healthy insights on female empowerment as its young females adeptly handle scientific processes and investigations.

All ages will find The Witch Princess far more than just a story about a wannabe witch or princess. The underlying messages about strength, courage, and achievement are solidly embedded into the tale of a girl searching for her real identity.

A View from the Borderline
Charles Souby
Independently Published
9780578591698, $14.95, Paper
9780578591735, $8.69, Ebook

A View from the Borderline gathers short stories that have appeared in such diverse places as The Saturday Evening Post Online and E-Magazine which run the gamut from love stories and slices-of-life vignettes to fairytales about mayhem and poker plays. The connection between them lies in a literary hand that deftly captures ironies and experiences with the fullest-body experiences in the shortest period of time.

Each short story excels in characters with a sense of place and purpose, even if those descriptions don't always lie in the human realm.

Take 'Attack of the Poker Face', for one example. Here, a rare and unexpected afternoon off leads the narrator to discover his that wife Camille is seeing another man. Confronted, she avidly denies his perception. The only "tell" that she is lying is the same twitches and tells from poker. Or, is it? Can his prowess in poker and his years of beating Camille at the game really translate to solving a relationship crisis?

Then there's 'The Durschlag Twins', who are the precocious scourges of their neighborhood. The protagonist in this tale "...nearly flattened the girls and their little rag toys." Again, an undertone of grotesque humor spices some of the descriptions and lends a tone of irony to the descriptions as a panicked mother accuses him of carelessness: "I was, in her words, driving at a madman's clip - in reality, almost fifteen miles per hour. Any slower and I might as well have pulled out a leash and walked my car home."

Or, take 'The Doberman Affair'. Freddy Haskin likes dogs, in general. His wife does not...and, again, the humor seeps out of even the serious experience of a dog bite: "Freddy knew the story well - a poor little girl reaches down to pet a pretty doggie on the top of its head, and it suddenly snaps at her like a whip. The next thing you know, she's got puncture marks and blood leaking out of her hand. "You don't get over a thing like that," Donna said many times. "No, you don't," Freddy would respond in kindness. But the truth was, there comes a point when a person has to rise up and transcend life's great injustices. Gandhi tried to teach the world that, and he was also a great animal lover."

Each story excels in a quiet, idiosyncratic slice-of-life presentation which comments on interpersonal relationships and small strifes, such as (in this case) the neighbor's new Doberman pinscher, which is " changing the layout of Fred-dy's happy campground."

Charles Souby's superpower lies in his descriptive hand and paradoxical satire as he creates close inspections of ordinary lives challenged and changed by small adversities.

Readers who enjoy succinct stories that linger in the mind long after their reading will find A View from the Borderline just the ticket for an engrossing literary pursuit.

The Day We Went to the Park
Linda Stephen and Christine Manno
Handersen Publishing
9781647030032, $19.95, Hardback
9781647030025, $11.95, Paperback
9781647030049, $4.99, E-book

The Day We Went to the Park is an origami picture book for ages 3-9 that offers the unusual pairing of colorful origami pictures and a rollicking rhyme that explores a community park.

Author Linda Stephen studied Japanese art extensively. This contributes a unique approach to illustrations crafted from hundreds of handmade Japanese papers and more than 1,000 origami paper sculptures.

Teachers interested in promoting outdoors-based educational opportunities to the very young will find The Day We Went to the Park the perfect read-aloud introduction to this experience. As its fun rhyme reviews the sounds (gravel crunching underfoot), creatures (squirrel), and insects to be found outdoors, kids will enjoy the rollicking rhyme's encouragement of an inquisitive attitude towards nature: "Now, let's watch the inchworms scale that purple feathery flower./Did you have any idea inchworms had that much power?"

Any adult who wants to engage a youngster with promises of fun and delightful discovery to be gleaned from a trip into the great outdoors will find the artistic representations, enthusiasm, and observational invitation in The Day We Went to the Park to be just the ticket for cultivating an early appreciation of nature.

The Omicron Six: The Next Generation of Superheroes
Endy Wright
Independently Published
9781676824961, $14.99 paper/$9.99 Kindle

Also available through Ingram

The Omicron Six: The Next Generation of Superheroes tells of a friendship between disparate children who each have their own special needs issues - and special superpowers. Cooper is supported by loving adults, while Coupe has been abused and is on survival mode. Both have cultivated strengths and independence apart from outside influences, but more importantly, both begin to acknowledge the presence and strength of the other as a possible ally in a noisy, confusing world.

The Omicron Six: The Next Generation of Superheroes provides the initial lure of being a superhero story, but actually, it's much more. Endy Wright probes the emotions and motivations of his young heroes and considers the world which continually challenges them in many ways. This approach imparts psychological depth and a component of self-discovery that goes beyond the revelation of superpowers to probe the evolution of close connections that begin with shared adversity.

Coupe is a quick healer, a generous person, a trickster, and the victim of sexual assault. As his relationship with Cooper begins to unlock both their barriers to let in a few adults who want to help them both, their connection gives rise to another superpower.

Those who choose The Omicron Six for its promise of superhero action may initially feel disappointed because the story is about a different kind of hero, not a caped flyer who saves the world, nor even a Harry Potter who comes into his own powers.

Both kids are in the process of realizing their abilities to interact with the world and save themselves while making a (for them) rare connection with another person. This is the heart of a story that revolves around hidden secrets, special abilities and disabilities, and a healing process that could destroy everything.

It's a superhero story on steroids, holding different forms of action, bad and good guys, and encounters that defy the usual image of a superhero as being a relative loner who doesn't let anyone in on his secrets.

An evil man is jailed after getting away with abuse with the help of well-meaning adults such as the police chief. As the boys become freshmen in high school and continue their long journey towards adulthood, missing pieces begin to come together. Their discoveries continue to push the boundaries of good and evil and normalcy and abnormality, drawing teen to adult readers into a series of close encounters with extraordinary circumstances.

As the lure of a 'safe place' away from well-meaning community and parents draws Coupe and Cooper from relative safety into a different kind of danger, the two must hone new abilities to survive.

Multifaceted, peppered with social issues and fantastic scenarios, and representing a gem far beyond the usual superhero cliches, The Omicron Six: The Next Generation of Superheroes cultivates a blend of social inspection, superpower evolution, and psychological draw to keep all ages thoroughly engrossed in an unexpected saga that involves the creation of something that may ultimately destroy them all.

Potty Professional
Melissa Sue Walker
Running Hills Press
9781951673000, $7.99 print/$2.99 ebook

Parents of kids who are reluctant to use the potty will find a good motivator in the fun read Potty Professional, which begins The Secret Skills of Margo Pargo series for the very young.

Here, baby Margo uses a chatty, confiding voice to a friend (the reader) to explore what happened to her the day before, when she got potty trained.

Margo has thought of herself as a growing "big kid" with many abilities...but using the potty isn't one of them. She wears a diaper, so why should she bother? But there are several motivations for ditching the diaper. The only real obstacle to success proves to be her overprotective mother, who thinks she's just a baby too young to learn to use the potty. Potty Professional thus takes an unexpected turn as little Margo explores these obstacles to success and her methods for overcoming them.

Lovely drawings by Winda Mulyasari compliment the process whereby Margo assesses the kinds of skills that demonstrate she's growing up and becoming more capable of caring for herself in some very basic ways.

While this encouraging primer doesn't advocate a trick or method that suits all young readers or their parents, it does provide both audiences with an encouraging, positive viewpoint about different developmental timelines.

Kids and parents who use Potty Professional as a read-aloud guide to success will find its message may revolve around potty training, but embraces higher-level thinking about growing abilities and changes they bring not just to kids' lives, but the adults who care for them. This different approach encourages acceptance and growth, and is very highly recommended reading for the young and their caregivers.

The Godfather of Green
Jerry Yudelson
Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
9781948018722, $22.00

The Godfather of Green: An Eco-Spiritual Memoir pairs two subjects usually seen in different kinds of books: an ecological activist's blossoming and a spiritual follower's journey. As such, it offers an intriguing foray into environmental conservation and spiritualism in an approach rarely seen under one cover.

Readers of both subjects will find Jerry Yudelson's memoir a fine account of his struggle to integrate social, political and spiritual objectives. Yudelson studied meditation and mindfulness practices from two Indian spiritual masters, but these concepts didn't translate readily to the demands of activism.

He came of age during the turbulent 1960s and his pursuits reflected the dual interests of his generation, which sought Eastern wisdom even as they became steeped in political revolts and ideals and social struggles.

He journeyed to a Bombay ashram and absorbed its wisdom and Indian culture, then returned to the U.S., where he struggled to translate these spiritual insights into everyday American life, whether it be business or marriage: "Even though I considered myself Baba's student, I hadn't yet assimilated or implemented certain core teachings very well into my life. I experienced too many conflicts such as I had with Ron in organizing SolarCal or in arguments with Elle over personal priorities, such as where to go on vacation. One of Baba's core teachings is See God in each other. Sounds easy enough, but I had difficulty practicing it consistently, especially with people who (I thought) didn't have advanced spiritual knowledge. I found it hard to admit that maybe I was the one who wasn't advanced, or whether I could determine who was a spiritual adept."

This process of blending two very different worlds and ideals makes The Godfather of Green a standout production. As Jerry Yudelson moves through government and private industry jobs and constantly seeks to refine and translate his spiritual ideals into daily life, he becomes more and more involved in political circles that would enact real change.

It's rare to find encounters with political and spiritual figures side-by-side in a memoir, but here, they do. Yudelson uses both poetry and prose to capture these insights and experiences, discussing the challenge of implementing social and spiritual change as it relates to environmental quandaries in particular.

The result is a well-done memoir that holds far more insight and meaning than an exploration of one man's singular life. It charts the rise of spirituality, idealism, and their practical impact on one's environment as it follows the choices that led Yudelson on a life journey that resulted not only in happiness and satisfaction, but a more engaged life that made an impact on those around him.

The Matriarch
Frank Dravis
Six Factors Publishing, LLC
9780999688618, $3.89/Kindle

The Matriarch: Dianis, A World In Turmoil will reach fans of space opera sci-fi (especially those who enjoyed the first book in the series, The Foundary) with a focus on the evolution of a primitive world rich in rare resources the galaxy needs.

When the world is stripped of all but one of its investigative/protective teams, competing forces vie for control and more when the team vanishes. The Dianis sect, the Paleowrights, search for the forbidden technologies brought to their world, and a battle emerges on a local and cosmic level over free will and self-determination.

When Princess Marisa discovers that her lover Achelous is not the man she thought, and that he's involved in a plot that threatens her world, tension erupts on a personal as well as a political level.

It should be mentioned that there's quit a bit of back story in The Matriarch. This isn't a casual account of individual struggle, but a world-spanning romp that builds not just a planetary group, but a galaxy.

Maps, a cast of characters, and discussions of relationships and the special purposes of the Matrincy and the Auro Na (among many other forces and groups) require an attention to detail and complexity along the lines of Dune.

Such a reader will more than welcome the complex social and political structures that continue to evolve in the second story in the series. Armed with the backdrop of the first adventure in The Foundry, prior fans will relish how these well-developed worlds continue to expand.

As turmoil swirls around extraterrestrial incursions and special interests on Dianis, readers will find this complex world grounded in not just adversity between a number of groups both native to and outside the planet, but a romance challenged by special interests.

Frank Dravis employs a vivid hand to his descriptions of these worlds and encounters between very different creatures: "The expedition rode south much of the morning, catching glimpses of straggler troglodyte bands making their way back to the Great Latitude swamp from which the Paleowright clergy had enticed their chieftains with pouches of sage-rose. Addicted and high on the opiate, the troglodyte leaders were easily manipulated into joining the Paleowrights in a Kurchka against their old neighbors, and now enemies: the Timberkeeps of Clan Mearsbirch."

What is demanded of the reader in a character-packed series of confrontations and political realignments is rewarded amply by atmospheric action and satisfying twists and turns to keep readers not just guessing about motivations and outcomes, but involved in Dianis' evolving sixth sense phenomenon.

From genetic evolution unique to Dianis to the real value the planet represents to the universe, readers are treated to a gripping story that holds many intriguing subplots and struggles.

Fans of space opera who look for epic world-building stories akin to Dune will find The Matriarch: Dianis, A World In Turmoil fits the bill for a rollicking good read.

Out of the Basement
James Rourke
DartFrog Books
9781951490423, $TBA
9781951490430 $TBA, E-book

Out of the Basement tells of Michael Tanner, who is on a book tour for his unexpectedly successful new release Bruce and Buddha: How Rock and Roll and Ancient Wisdom can be your Guide. At forty-five years old, he's well versed in his own habits and issues, including sleeplessness and nightmares which appear to stem from the stress of touring, but actually hold their roots in something much deeper.

As insomnia prompts him to consult his own book and review its words of wisdom, Michael embarks on a journey through Bruce Springsteen's music and Buddah's revelations that "...cut through the false dichotomy of individual or community concerns."

Michael's self-examination, confrontation with demons and nightmares, and the possibilities of love evolving alongside an effort to include honor and truth in the promotional drive for his newfound career coalesce into a story that is marked by one step forward (into his evolving new life) and one step backwards (into the nightmares that grip him off-hours).

Michael's road trip and author appearances prove the perfect backdrop for him to confront his life's purposes beyond the success of his book and its concepts. As he gives talks and considers his options with Sara and others, Michael finds his growth process continues on an upward trajectory even as his nightmares take hold and impart a different kind of message.

His speeches are passionate examinations of this process, linking literary acclaim and inspection with personal evolution: "Words have power. But only so much. They're not omnipotent. Words without action eventually ring hollow. They become bitter reminders of shattered dreams and halfhearted efforts. Of our failures. "The key, therefore, is combining great effort with our words in the pursuit of goals and dreams. It has been said that the whole point of, um, the spiritual life, for want of a better term - and of spiritual words - is to bear fruit in your life. There should be some manifestation of certain words in your life."

Michael is often at a loss, even given the lure of booze and his attraction to others. His spiritual discussions with others eventually lead him to revelations that hold much meaning for his future as a writer and his self-discovery process: "We don't always understand why we go certain places or reach out to certain people. Sometimes we just need to surrender to our present circumstances and see what's what."

As he probes the real connections between music, pain, and spiritual meaning, Michael moves beyond personal limitations and fears and into a realm that embraces his own revelations about ancient wisdom, modern music, and the small victories of friendships, growth, and insight. All these keep his world rocking and changing.

Out of the Basement is not an easy story to categorize. Its blend of spiritual, cultural, and psychological inquiry will attract a unique audience interested in philosophy and spiritual growth alike. These readers will find Michael's journey and questioning reflects not just a road trip or a departure undertaken in mid-life, but a longer-ranging quest for satisfaction and answers.

As he descends into a personal abyss of angst, readers travel with him down the rabbit hole and back again in a story of self-discovery that is intriguing, psychologically and spiritually astute, questioning, and thoroughly engrossing.

Echoes of Another
Chandra Clarke
Fractal Moose Press
9780973039580, $15.99, Paper
9780973039597, $4.99, Ebook

Echoes of Another. A Novel of the Near Future is set in near-future Toronto where idealistic young scientist Kel Refferty's new invention, which can promote effortless high-performance activity in humans, proves a danger when it falls into the wrong hands. Predictably, this group views the process as a means of changing and controlling the world.

Faced with a terrible threat to the positive future she'd envisioned from her creation, Kel is prompted to recover her stolen prototype, entering a dangerous world of competing powers far beyond her ken.

As chapters move between Kel's observations, her assistant Meike Bergholtz's efforts, and society's drive for experiences that lead them ever further on paths away from humanity itself, readers are treated to a technological thriller that incorporates social and ethical dilemmas into its story line. This creates a fast-paced series of encounters that runs from bar scenes to lab experiments and beyond.

Chandra Clarke's ability to paint a futuristic overlay into this story makes for an engrossing blend of thriller and hard sci-fi that will delight readers looking for crossovers that pepper social issues and developments into the story line.

She's especially adept at synthesizing experiences with the sparsest language possible to deliver the biggest impact, as in the scene where a technological implant received in a bar seemingly goes awry, delivering some unexpected results: "She needed more money. More of this. More alive."

Readers may not anticipate the philosophical inspection added into the mix, but this further enhances a story that traverses popular culture and changing threats to Kel and Meike's world, values, and purposes.

Echoes of Another. A Novel of the Near Future is unpredictably familiar in many ways, yet futuristically surprising in others. Its tension and exquisite dilemmas on the parts of individuals and society as a whole will linger in the mind longer after the story's concluding year of surprises.

The Broken Shade
Michele Poague
Bent Briar Publishing L.L.L.P.
9781942665175 SC, $TBA
9781942665120 HC, $TBA
9781942665137 EPUB, $TBA

When she became a cocktail waitress at a men's club in order to earn a few extra dollars to help in her home renovation, Freja O'Connell didn't suspect this innocuous job would open the door to new realms. But strange encounters can evolve under the oddest of conditions, and The Broken Shade reflects this experience as Freja explores a strange new world and considers her revised place in it.

The first strength to note here is Michele Poague's employment of atmospheric descriptions: "September heat radiated through the window glass where I was holed up at my sister's house, discussing last summer's discovery of the Titanic after seventy-five years at the bottom of the ocean. There is an eeriness to raising the dead, be it an old ship or my love life."

These contribute to an approach that takes time to describe not just action, but Freja's observations of and feelings about her course in life and the usual turn it takes. There's also a salty sense of humor in the background of many moments as Freja adjusts to her new role working in a strip club and the special challenges it brings to her sensibilities and objectives: "Dealing with drunken men wasn't new to me, but the added testosterone of a man surrounded by naked women was more of a challenge. The occasional shot of whiskey helped, but I noticed my tips went down when I imbibed. Not because I made less money; more that I tended to drop it on the floor. I only know this because

Ginger retrieved it for me on several occasions."

From the mechanics of her DIY remodel job and the complexities of facing home invaders and possible ghosts to struggles with a libido that responds to an unusually sexy man, Freja's Colorado sojourn brings with it promises and otherworldly encounters that continue to hold a sense of fun as a spirit entity observes her rebuild struggles: "Julianne stood in the loft, watching me. It would have been extremely convenient for her to have been more than fog at that moment. "You appear to be in trouble." "You don't say." "Is there some direction you can give me?" I thought about it long and hard but couldn't come up with a damn thing. I tested the balance and weight of the bathtub. Nope. If I let go, it would slide the rest of the way down the stairs."

Between the lessons learned from her new waitressing position (which holds elements of old, familiar routines while introducing new challenges), those learned from her acceptance of Julienne Parker in her house, and others which stem from her evolving house renovations and romance, The Broken Shade excels in creating an evolutionary story that is thoroughly engrossing.

A jazzy note plays throughout the story, which is set in 1986 and incorporates the flavor of music, intrigue, and love. Readers who like their romances tempered by engrossing life dilemmas with a dash of the supernatural added for good measure will find The Broken Shade a powerful and fine story of bittersweet endings and new beginnings.

Ockham's Razor
William Barrett Burton
Cresting Wave Publishing, LLC
9780988904842, $14.95 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Ockham's Razor is highly recommended, edge-of-your-seat reading for detective story enthusiasts who enjoy strong female leads. It introduces pharmaceutical scientist Dagney Hamilton, whose research uncovers a new approach to thwarting obesity. When her employer quashes the results and cancels her project, Dagney suddenly faces adversity not just from an unexpected career change, but a string of murders that begin to eliminate everyone associated with the project.

Her pursuit of justice takes on a personal touch as Dagney uses her past skills as a decorated police detective to follow the clues that wind through business, political, and crime special interests alike.

Why would a promising new approach to curing obesity result in such a massive retaliatory response? As Dagney and fellow detective friend Mark Stone pursue the perps behind this murder spree, they uncover deeper connections to the politics and money behind drug therapies that challenge her new career path's moral assumptions.

Ockham's Razor is especially strong in peppering succinct social observations about bigger-picture truths and thinking into its mystery: "Dagney would soon learn how little privacy the digital age offered."

As partner Mark also pursues the cases related to InVao Pharmaceuticals, they both tread on dangerous ground as they draw ever closer to a startling truth that holds the power to challenge both of their lives and careers. Are deep cover operations being conducted by black ops out of InVao? Since the military is probably not involved, it's increasingly evident that Dagney has stirred up a hornet's nest that will stop at nothing - even murdering a planeload of people - to achieve its objectives.

Even the FBI gets involved...but whose side are they really on?

Readers looking for a well-written, involving mystery that moves from murder to business, political, and social issues embracing moral and ethical dilemmas as well as corporate greed and subterfuge will find Ockham's Razor a top pick for many reasons.

Its characterization is wonderfully done, its cast of characters supports the action and clarifies the story line, and the spotlight on Dagney's efforts is strong and centered on her personal challenges as well as her savvy investigative background and rocky career moves. The story neatly concludes with a refreshing new revelation while leaving the door open for further Dagney escapades.

Hidden Paths to the Creator
George M. Santamarina
AMDG Publications Inc.
9781733451604, $15.95 paper/$9.99 ebook

Hidden Paths to the Creator fills the gap between science and spirituality with a survey of the many scientific findings that would point to the existence of a Creator, using simple language to explain and synthesize complex scientific processes into an easily-accessible discussion anyone can access.

The central issue is: can science either prove or disprove the existence of God? The explosion of recent information from various scientific disciplines have muddied those waters and this question, but George M. Santamarina strives to make his text informative and concise as he evolves a refreshingly different approach to questions created with the faithful believer in mind.

Chapters cross disciplines and incorporate both the microcosm and macrocosm of scientific thinking, from the microscope to the telescope.

From factors that contribute to the development of life on Earth to discussions of different forms of evolutionary processes and the role God plays in all of them, readers receive a survey that moves between disciplines, offering many quotes and reflections on scientific research as it incorporates scientific insights into the God/science question.

From the formation of proteins and the requirements for life to flaws in common theories of "proven science" and inherent assumptions in evolutionary theory, Hidden Paths to the Creator goes beyond dispelling illusion, perception, and illogical paths of process to draw important connections between scientific findings and evidences of God in many different disciplines and manners.

The result is a slim, succinct, information-packed survey that will enlighten and encourage those who believe that a dual belief in God and scientific investigation should support one another.

Dear Folks, Love Orlie
Orlie Meskimen
Orlie Meskimen Book LLC
9780999134702, $15.95, Paperback
9780999134726, $3.99, Digital

Orlie Leroy Meskimen's letters home from service began shortly after his arrival at Camp Claiborne in early December of 1940, shortly after he enlisted in the Army. Dear Folks, Love Orlie gathers and reprints these writings, saved by his parents for over forty years and resurrected for posterity by his children when they cleaned out their grandparents' home.

One of Orlie's dreams was to write a book. Although he returned home from war, family obligations interfered with this goal. Yet they led, in a different approach, to his becoming an author in an unexpected way, through these writings.

Transcribed exactly as they were written, the letters describe a young man's evolution from small-town Iowa life to becoming a soldier, a leader, and surviving one of the most brutal wars in human history.

The change in tone in this chronological story is intriguing, from short introductory letters confirming safe arrival at Camp Claiborne to later battles, their aftermaths, and frustrations ranging from unreliable communications channels to losing track of fellow soldiers during conflict: "I don't think I ever hated anything so much in all my life as I did losing Tom from the outfit. I don't know just how I will get in touch with him again. I wrote to the hospital I think he is in but I'll never know for sure if he is there until I hear from him."

It should also be noted that the visual presentation of these letters changes from regular type (when Orlie sent handwritten notes) to typewriter style (when he had the ability to type his letters). This may initially seem a small point, but this visual display captures the changing conditions, experiences, and approaches to communication that soldiers had to adjust to as one of the many conditions affecting their lives and connections to others.

From courtship and relationships conducted from abroad to family affairs and daily concerns, letters move from reflections on battle, love, and struggle to everyday concerns. Each illustrates a slice of life moment that, when taken together, captures the soldier's experiences at home and abroad in a manner few war recaps achieve: "I've had lots of letters from LaVonne lately. I believe she's set on hooking me for sure. She surely talks like it at any rate. She's a darned good kid - I think an awfully lot of her. Not the same feeling I had for Diane. Guess I really don't know just how I do feel. It's been a long time. All my ideas about everything have changed - for the better though, I believe."

The progressive changes Orlie experiences, which will frame the rest of his life, are outstandingly documented in the course of these writings: "Too many people are finicky about religion these days. I have my own religion and no one will ever change my ideas. I've seen too much in the past year not to believe. No matter whether a person is a sinner or the best Christian, when God figures our time on earth is up it's all over. I've seen both fall over here. I'm fully convinced that something more than my own battle prowess has been with me - I've had too many narrow scrapes for it to have been coincidence."

The result is much more accessible to audiences who want a discussion of the war experience which is immediate, wide-ranging, and moves from family connections at home and abroad to conflicts which cause the soldier to revise and solidify his values, morals, and perspective on life.

Dear Folks, Love Orlie's homespun blend of chatty writings and thought-provoking, life-changing experiences should be in any collection strong in World War II documentaries. It's far more accessible, immediate, and revealing than most, juxtaposing the everyday with wider-ranging thinking and reflections.

Deep Living with the Enneagram
Dr. Howe-Murphy, EdD
Enneagram Press
9780979384738, $32.95, Paperback
9780979384745, $9.95, Ebook

Deep Living with the Enneagram: Recovering Your True Nature explores personal growth and self-help strategies, blending spirituality with psychology using the Enneagram model for enlightenment and as a tool for fostering change.

The Enneagram can explain not only behavior and patterns of choice, but life's progression. It's traditionally been used as a personality identifier by those who promote self-awareness, but Dr. Howe-Murphy offers a different, transformational approach that supports users in integrating a deeper connection with themselves in their daily lives, and which has the potential for greater positive impact in the larger social environment.

Personal change and evolution isn't approached from the perspective of 'repair' so much as taking the next step to alter one's responses to life in a completely unexpected way. In effect, this forges a new way of perception and response that results in revised, revitalized relationships to oneself and others.
Self-love is at the root of this different approach, but so is building on the reader's inherent capacities for coping with fast-paced social change, new ideas, and new demands made both internally and externally.

As these requirements for daily living can foster destructive patterns and reactions, individuals may come to feel trapped in circumstances they subconsciously helped tailor for themselves.

Deep Living appears in an expanded, revised edition that embraces bigger-picture thinking. The author states her objectives clearly from the start: "The expanded purpose of this revised and updated edition is twofold: first, to provide ways to build on our innate though often unrecognized capacities for developing a strong core foundation to serve as an anchor in today's uncertain times; and second, to enhance awareness that our personal level of presence - freedom from compulsions of the habitual self and receptivity to new ways of being - makes a difference not only in our own lives but to the well-being of others and the planet."

This objective is achieved in chapters that survey the Enneagram's applications in everything from the mechanics of expanding one's awareness about choices made in life to identifying one's gifts and circumstances when one is approaching life in the best, healthiest possible manner.

From detriments to being attached to one's personality's narrowed focus to identifying core beliefs, coping strategies, and underlying motivations and messages, Dr. Howe-Murphy identifies the processes and qualities that lead to growth-inducing change.

The only real prerequisite for the successful use of Deep Living isn't a prior understanding of the Enneagram model - that's thoroughly introduced, here. What is required is a reader who is truly motivated to self-analyze, understand bigger-picture thinking, and apply the Enneagram's teachings to their lives.

This audience will find that the charts, discussions, and numerous examples point the way towards a more engaged, positive, involved, and emotionally and spiritually fulfilling lifestyle. Deep Living will thus serve as a blueprint for fundamental transformation on a new level. It is highly recommended for personal growth readers who want psychological and spiritual change better entwined in and aligned with their daily lives and choices.

Blossom - The Wild Ambassador Of Tewksbury
Anna Carner
Unicorn Editions Publishing LLC
9781732653610, $3.99, Ebook
9781732653634, $17.95, Softcover
9781732653603, $27.95, Hardcover
9781732653641, $7.49, Audio

Blossom - The Wild Ambassador Of Tewksbury is set in New Jersey and tells of a connection between a wild deer and the author who saved her life. It's the perfect match for anyone who enjoyed Bambi in childhood, evolved to enjoy stories of adults who developed relationships with wild animals, and who appreciates stories replete with atmosphere and description.

Take, for example, Anna Carner's initial observation of the wild world around Tewksbury: "I grinned at the playful awkwardness of a couple of long-legged fawns vying for the attention of a mature buck. He stood tall and vigilant, dark eyes missing nothing, snorted a small alarm, and stomped his foot. In one intuitive swoop, four flared white plumes and two slender feather-like tails played catch-up into the trees, and out of sight. Life was there for all to enjoy; except of course, if you lived life as a target. The earth smelled clean and alive. Vintage Tewksbury. My saddle squeaked with the sounds of well-cared-for leather as I urged my horse near the trunk of a gnarly old tree loaded with floral rosettes, the first in a long row hugging the southern slope of the old orchard. The rich musky aroma of damp earth mingled with a slight scent of apple blossoms."

Her language isn't just about the deer, but the environment of rural Tewksbury and its daily life, capturing the richness of in-the-moment experiences, such as a bubble bath: "As afternoon turned into evening, the promise of a relaxing spa-like atmosphere beckoned from the picture on the Lemon Fantasy bubble bath bottle. The bathtub was built into an alcove, with a picture window facing a tiny secluded garden where Blossom sometimes napped, curled up on the pachysandra ground cover. She wasn't there. I lit a row of candles on the glass shelf next to the windowsill and turned on a meditation tape. Total relaxation had become an indulgence, and I allowed my thoughts to drift within the mellow, spiritual tones of wooden flutes, my body soaking under a thick layer of scented lemon meringue suds. A snort and a splash of suds put an end to my tranquility. Who knew Blossom liked bubbles?"

These two passages are just small examples of the lyrical language, evolving relationship between woman and deer, and lovely observations of the sights, smells, and warmth of not just the deer, but the entire environment. Even the aged, warped wooden floors of Oldwick General Store are juxtaposed with the foundations of Carner's caring concern for her new charge: "You are who you are - caring comes from losing those battles you still dream about. Blossom is who she is because you're in her life. You're both better for that."

From self-healing and terrifying publicity about their relationship that endangers Blossom to discussions of the boundaries between wildlife and humans and the dangers that stem from crossing them, Blossom - The Wild Ambassador Of Tewksbury creates a gorgeous interplay of images and words that will keep readers engaged, engrossed, and educated about the plight of wildlife in growing human habitats and deer in particular.
Readers seeking a thoroughly endearing story that holds much food for thought about a woman healing from her past and transmitting that process to her relationship with an injured wild deer will find Blossom - The Wild Ambassador Of Tewksbury just the ticket for a cold night and a warm cup of cocoa.

The Good Stranger
Dete Meserve
Lake Union Publishing
9781542004701, $3.99 e-book, $10.99 paperback, $14.99 Audio CD

The Good Stranger opens with Kate Bradley's new job as a national TV reporter just as a massive blackout hits New York City. Welcome to Manhattan. The event may pose the perfect introduction to her job of juxtaposing facts with high drama, but Kate's investigation takes an unexpected turn from disaster reporting when she follows the clues from random acts of generosity that result in a mysterious scavenger hunt through the City.

It turns out the Stranger's acts are somehow tied to bigger events, and every gift comes with its price...a price that may become too terrible to pay as Kate and fellow TV host Scott Jameson deflect threats that escalate into violence.

Dete Meserve's ability to juxtapose idyllic scenes with sudden violence is one of the attractions that keeps The Good Stranger fast-paced and filled with staccato action. Good and bad events serve as bookends to engrossing moments: "This was how I'd always imagined the idyllic wonderland known as Manhattan. Glorious blue skies and puffy white clouds on a summer morning. Smartly dressed people heading to do important work after grabbing breakfast on an outdoor patio bustling with waiters bringing trays of inspired dishes. Then a sudden whoosh of movement and the scrape of tumbling metal. The next thing I knew I was flat on my stomach, hit by a force so hard it knocked the wind out of me."

Time is taken to capture the atmosphere of Manhattan and the personalities and perspectives of those around Kate. This lends a compelling touch to the mystery, keeping readers engaged in a realistic story firmly set in a sense of place as well as purpose: "As we watched the water jump and dance in a carefully choreographed water ballet, the sound of the rushing, splashing water drowning out the city noise, Manhattan felt kind of spellbinding. I could see why people might fall in love with this city."

When Kate's father proposes a remarriage that leaves Kate feeling like he's ruining their family by his decision, readers become engrossed not only in Kate's evolving career and life, but in the choices of those around her.

These subplots add a full-flavored dimension to the story that offsets its intrigue and mystery, inviting readers to care about Kate's life changes and those around her.

The result is a story that's hard to put down - a tale not just of mystery, but of urban life, women's friendships and relationships, and a feisty news reporter who often finds herself in over her head both emotionally and professionally.

This combination is just the ticket for a compelling, well-rounded read.

Selah's Stolen Dream
Susan Count
Hastings Creations Group
9780997088380, $12.45 Paper/$3.99 ebook



Today is the day dreams come true in Selah's Stolen Dream, Book 4 in the Dream Horse Adventures series. Today is the day thirteen-year-old Selah will show her horse Sweet Dream at the biggest horse show in Texas. She imagines her horse will become a big star, widely recognized as a winner. But her dreams turn into a nightmare when Sweet Dream is stolen and everything changes.

The opposite side of this adversity lies in ten-year-old Emma's experience when an unexpected deal at a horse auction fulfills the biggest dream of her life.

As an underlying subplot, Selah suffers from anxiety, and Emma has a hearing issue. These disabilities contribute complexity and a realistic feel to the story of two very different girls who find their lives paralleled in unexpected ways.

While the story at first centers upon two horse-crazy girls and how they pursue their goals, it evolves into a set of moral and ethical concerns about subjects ranging from sharing and ownership to unexpected connections in life.

Emma hates groups and clubs and never fits in...but Velvet (aka Sweet Dreams) changes this. Selah's other interests fall by the wayside, in contrast, as she spends all her time trying to find her horse. Dream was a big part of her and she didn't even have the closure of a goodbye, so she pursues all possibilities well beyond the time everyone thinks she should be moving on.

Her investigative prowess leads to a truth that continues to challenge her. Who really owns this horse? What happens when something much coveted and loved by two different people is indivisible?

Selah's Stolen Dream is especially powerful not just because of its attraction to readers of horse stories and farm girls, but because its underlying message about compassion and sharing teaches kids lessons broader than those of achievement and ownership.

Its compelling dilemma will thoroughly involve middle grades, but will also reach advanced elementary readers with a lively, emotion-powered story that is hard to put down. Selah's Stolen Dream trots well beyond the girl-loves-horse scenario, and is reminiscent of some of the best of Dorothea Lyons' classic horse stories for youth.

Stay, Daughter
Yasmin Azad
Perera-Hussein Publishing House, 2020
9789558897324, $15.00

Stay, Daughter recounts the life of Muslim girl Yasmin Azad, who faced different challenges growing up as a Muslim in Galle Fort in Sri Lanka in the 1950s. In her memoir, she provides a rare account of the microcosm of community and evolving social challenges in a changing world.

Her story highlights generational transition points in the Muslim community, providing an engrossing inspection of Muslim religious and social traditions that pinpoints many changes: "And stay in your houses, and do not display yourselves. - The Quran. We did not stay in our houses. Not in the way our grandmothers had, or our mothers. We went out a little more and veiled ourselves a little less.

Casting off the heavy black cloaks that had once shrouded females from head to toe, we covered ourselves, instead, in flimsy veils. Draped lightly around our heads, the silks and voiles fell casually from our shoulders, and in the minutes it took for us to get from front door to car, a stranger walking on the road could make out the features of our young faces, the curves of slender waists and hips."

From a father facing the "alien trends that were overtaking tradition" to a daughter who grows to question how her relationship with her family is being influenced and is changing, Stay, Daughter delves into the specifics of Muslim tradition and life that other Muslim memoirs only lightly touch upon. Perhaps this is because of Azad's ability to hone in on and capture those moments that create doubt and change, such as this: " stomach tightened when Wappah called me to write his letters not just because he got impatient and yelled. It was a reminder of something that I did not allow into full consciousness but was nevertheless there: that few other fathers relied on their children for such a thing. Mothers yes, but not fathers. Not in the Galle Fort anyway. I could read and write this foreign language in ways he could not; I had moved away to a culture he could not negotiate - a culture, moreover, that thought less of him for this inability. Was I in danger of thinking less of him too? If that question sometimes flickered up, it did most strongly during these letter-writing episodes."

Or perhaps it's a concurrent sense of humor that runs like a constant stream through her descriptions, lightening events and keeping readers engaged by featuring both the dark events and lighthearted moments of her life and encounters.

By now, it should be evident that Stay, Daughter's language, focus, and descriptions are more than a cut above the usual memoir of Muslim females experiencing vast challenges and changes to their family ties and faith. Because of her specific and detailed reflections on Muslim belief systems and cultural tradition, Azad's story is a riveting tale contrasting new and old worlds not just at home, but in the schools and on the streets of Galle Fort. All these places come to life under Azad's hand.

Azad takes the time to review generations of attitudes and perspectives, adding solid historical background to her modern-day experiences. She also discusses love as much as the oppression that Westerners use to interpret familial situations in Muslim communities. This latter emphasis, particularly, lends to an understanding of cultural and social changes that offers far more depth than a cursory story could have achieved.

From caste differences (her family belonged to an especially educated tradition) and the impact of colonial traditions on the culture as a whole to the community ties between different Muslims challenged with preserving their traditions in the face of conflicting modern influences, Stay, Daughter is an outstanding example of how a memoir format can be used to promote cultural understanding with thought-provoking insights.

It should be in every collection strong in Muslim community stories and explorations of Sri Lankan society, representing a strong and personal contrast between orthodox ties and the paradoxes which arise from changing women's roles and family traditions.

The Stargazers
James McKee
Atmosphere Press
9781646693467, $17.99

The Stargazers blends poetry and philosophy in a strong collection of half formal, half free verse emotional observations designed to pull the heartstrings and pique philosophical interest.

It should be warned that these range from quiet moments of eroticism to complex slices of life. Take, for an example of the latter, 'Horace: Carmina 1.9'. From aging to anticipation, James McKee admonishes readers to pause for thought: "Come, my convivial friend, close out the cold,/and let the fireplace never want for wood;/uncork that twenty-five-year-old/single malt. Two fingers: that's good./Forget all the rest, let what is to be/be: not long will this violent wind, that thrashes/to a vaster violence our sea,/trouble your cypresses and ashes."

Astronomical observations often pepper these reflections, connecting the microcosm of human experience to the broader telescoping lens of astronomical inspection, as in 'A Very Short Trip to a Very Dark Place': "They've left their city/cloaked in a blaze/that cottons its sky/like breath on a pane,/for this least-peopled place/in a thousand miles,/their blind on a starfield/no wastelight will hide./...Where the simmering wake/of the Milky Way floats,/a gold like San Marco's/in a blue like Van Gogh's/limns without lightening the opaque uncolor/that joins their silhouettes;/then a noise, and it's over."

The return to ordinary life is surprising and well done, and is a repeated theme in reflections that often come full circle in delightfully unexpected ways.

James McKee is no newcomer to publication. Most of the poems in this collection have appeared in magazines. 'A Change of Sky', for one, provides a series of compelling images from another world: "Far down a slope of drone-prowled sand/scabbed with outcrops,/a sea - /yes, the Dead one - /flares back at the sky like a sheet of pitted steel."

The stark contrast between these alien images and his presence as an outsider comes full circle in a story that moves towards familiarity and home when the bus arrives: "I hear the heave and grind of my bus lurching up the switchbacks./Any minute now, the doors will open with a hiss and a clunk,/a gush of air conditioning and Mid-Atlantic English will blur the/desert glare..."

There's frequently a sense of struggle to these discoveries, as in 'El Cortito' which captures migrant fieldworker experiences against the backdrop of a prejudice which was deemed banished, only to re-emerge in new generations and new countries.

There's also a sense of intense, artistic inspection that creates a running stream of scholarly references. These are explained in a welcome glossary of notes. James McKee's decision to include these notes at the collection's conclusion lends perfectly to an understanding not sullied in the original works by footnotes or explanations that would have interfered with the structure, presentation, and underlying feel of each poem.

Philosophical, metaphorically powerful, and emotionally compelling, The Stargazers is an excellent representation of human experience and meaning that will appeal to free verse and formal poetry enthusiasts looking for heartfelt literary expressions.

Pool of Life
Pete Trewin
AIA Publishing, Australia
9781922329011, $TBA

Liverpool P.I. Jack 'Flash' Gordon's business is in trouble. The drop in income and threat to his career is somewhat mitigated by a strange case in which Sarah Gladwyn, threatened by a stalker, wants Gordon to become involved not only in protecting her and mitigating the threat, but in addressing the stalker's obsession with her family's history and politics.

This is far more than a case of individual obsession. Somehow, events evolve in complexity and danger to where Gordon is attempting to mitigate not an individual conundrum, but a terrorist threat to Liverpool's water supply.

Technology and business changes aren't the only circumstances that stymie Jack's pursuits. His emotional connection to death, adversity, and even the plights of strangers keep him less strong than he imagines his job would benefit from: "He hated how he always wore his heart on his sleeve like this. In his line of work, you were supposed to be the tough guy. It wasn't as if this kind of stuff didn't happen all the time in a city with a waterfront like Liverpool. The going gets tough? No, you don't get going, you jump in the water. Like that other girl all those years ago."

The emotional overlay Gordon brings to his investigations and life encounters is one of the factors that sets Pool of Life apart from other P.I. stories of investigative challenges.

Jack is well used to the politics and problems which plague Liverpool: "Jack didn't respond. In Liverpool you often heard conspiracy theories involving the people in power." But perhaps he's too familiar with these issues, because he misses some important clues and finds himself in a quagmire revolving around Oliver Gladwyn's business activities.

There's also Melanie Gibson, who appreciated his help until she stumbled upon information that would indicate Jack Gordon is perhaps not all that he appears: "She'd always taken Jack Gordon as a pretty straight guy. Okay, there was all that Flash Gordon and Jumping Jack Flash stuff, but he'd given her a job in her hour of need and had been the total gentleman when she rebuffed his advances. But if even a small percentage of what they were saying on the website was true, then he was just another bullshit merchant."

With not only this case but his career and reputation on the line, Jack must employ all of his investigative savvy to rescue not just one woman and her family, but an entire city.

From a soldier recovering from PTSD to wild parties, jealousies, stormy relationships, family connections, and disappearances that lead to murder, Jack has his hands full juggling more than one dilemma.

These draw readers into a case replete with quirky, strong personalities and changing relationships that keep readers on their toes. The dialogue and encounters excel in interactions designed to keep readers both guessing and immersed in the lingo, atmosphere, politics, and influences of Liverpool's residents in general and Jack's life in particular.

The result is a rollicking good thriller that juxtaposes intrigue and murder with a detective's own personal evolution in a story that will keep readers engaged right up to its unexpected conclusion.

The Big Book of Small Presses & Independent Publishers
Marylee MacDonald
Grand Canyon Press
9781951479190, $20.99, Paperback
9781951479046, $9.99, Kindle

The Big Book of Small Presses & Independent Publishers is packed with listings of small presses, contests where book publication is one of the prizes, university presses, and others accepting works from authors. It should be the reference of choice for would-be authors who don't want to self-publish, but who find themselves stymied by the lack of an agent.

Marylee MacDonald avoids the pitfall of listing vanity publishers (those who publish for a fee) and features a wide range of presses who publish in all genres of fiction and nonfiction.

It should be noted that these listings are alphabetical, not segregated into genre. But lest an author think they have to read every description to arrive at a list of, say, romance publishers, it should be noted that the 'find' search approach in the e-manuscript works fine for skipping through the listings to locate publishers accepting work in a specific genre.

Each listing includes an assessment of the submission process, contact information, a web link for writer's guidelines, and special notes about what a cover letter should ideally hold to attract them. Listings also include company history (where available) and any special notes about the publisher's philosophy, backlist, and interactions with authors.

This isn't the only book to provide lists of publishers (Writer's Market is the most extensive such reference, for one example), but it's been well-researched to include publishers especially open to new authors and manuscripts, who have a reputation of doing good work.

As a basic reference of publisher contacts in the small-to-medium press world, The Big Book of Small Presses & Independent Publishers can't be beat. It holds all the basics necessary to appeal to authors who eschew self-publishing and agents, and who want to approach that segment of the publishing industry particularly willing to work with new authors.

Writing Through the Muck
G. Elizabeth Kretchmer
Dancing Seeds Press
9780996103886, $14.95
9780996103893, $4.99, Digital

The concept of wellness journaling isn't a new one, but what sets Writing Through The Muck: Finding Self and Story for Personal Growth, Healing, and Transcendence apart from other how-to or self-help guides is its focus on using writing to heal from physical as well as mental trauma.

This approach is not just for writers and those used to putting pen to paper, but encourages non-writers to explore the cathartic healing process that can come from 'writing through the muck of life'.

Chapters provide concise instructions, easy exercises, and a wide range of writing formats. There are even graphic visualization exercises. They also pair such writings with the kinds of analysis, criticism, and growth opportunities that come from sharing and interactions with others, using other writings as examples. For example, in the chapter about managing your inner critic, readers are introduced to Tara Brach's work and then prompted to write a love letter to self in which they start by acknowledging and embracing their self-judgment: "Those first two parts of the letter are the mindfulness that Brach wrote about. You acknowledge the criticism, and you embrace what should be embraced. You even show gratitude for the relationship you share with your inner critic. Next comes your commitment to a healthier future together, written with the compassion necessary to honor your mutually acceptable intentions. And this is key. Being on the same page with your inner critic can be as difficult as being on the same page as your co-parenting partner, but it's just as important. If you can't be on the same page, then at least try to line up as closely as you can. By the way, if you find it difficult to recall an inner critic moment, you're not off the writing hook. It might be that you've built up such a solid defense system that criticism can't filter in. If you find yourself blaming others for all the obstacles you encounter rather than accepting your share of responsibility, this could be what's going on. If so, you might sneak outside your personal fortress and peer back in through the arrow-slit windows."

From how to capture visual images using words to using non-human voices to express pain, G. Elizabeth Kretchmer offers a variety of insights, approaches, and tips to help non-writers and writers hone in on the types of journaling processes that translate to new revelations, growth, and change. This reviewer especially enjoyed and appreciated the wide-ranging scope of Kretchmer's coverage, which makes it especially recommendable to fellow writers seeking a multifaceted approach to creativity.

Extensive footnoted references to science, research studies, medicine, literature, and more back up the contentions and history presented and create a firm foundation for this book.

Writing can be a powerful anecdote to life's challenges, if employed consciously and deliberately. Kretchmer uses examples from many types of writing to demonstrate just how this is achieved. Writing Through The Muck is highly recommended for anyone who would turn to the written word for better understanding and personal transformation.

Guesthouse for Ganesha
Judith Teitelman
She Writes Press
9781631525216, $17.95

Guesthouse for Ganesha is an unusual story of magical realism that blends Hindu mythology with modern-day dilemmas. To achieve this, it tells of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha's visit to 1920s Koln just as Esther Grunspan leaves her native Poland for a new life in Germany.

The story of the strange union of a jilted, grieving teenager and Ganesha opens with a fervent dance with the elephant god which leads to Esther's arrival in Germany, hardened and alone after her love, Tadeusz's, public rejection of her at the alter.

Judith Teitelman writes with a lyrical, evocative hand from the start, drawing out Esther's emotions, the wellspring of her newfound determination to forge a new life in a strange country, and her youthful ability to reconcile the pains of the recent past with an analytical determination to move forward: "In the only way anguish can be subdued, if not entirely vanquished, Esther never stopped moving during those first self-exiled months. She couldn't. She could not allow herself to sit idle, not even for a few minutes, for if she did, memories of him, of them, of what was, would deluge her mind. Emotions that she now strained to destroy or deny ever existed would take over, and she would be rendered helpless, powerless, as she had been and as she promised herself she would never be again."

She gains employment and lodging and begins to learn a new language, but the real darkness in her heart from foregoing love and community threatens to end everything until something changes on "...a bitter Friday twilight with the promise of snow four months after Esther's arrival in this city."

Intoxicating colors from a strange, makeshift stand grab her attention and lure her into a bizarre, captivating world overseen by an elephant-headed man who holds the ability to transcend time and space.

As Esther embarks on a dance through life with this strange deity, she must confront the rise of Nazism coupled with the responsibilities of motherhood which forces her, once again, to consider abandoning everything familiar to build a new conclusion to a story that is speeding towards inevitable, predictable disaster: "A scene must be shaped; a story must be developed; a tale must be told with the barest of information, as though this place, their lives, were part of a play, a scene in a production, and tonight were the culmination. The story's sad but banal conclusion. No questions could be left to ponder; their whereabouts never questioned. It must appear as though everything - absolutely everything - had been left behind."

Facing a dangerous future, Esther finds herself planning a different kind of journey: "This exit was different from the preceding two times, for in each of those instances, Esther had been running away from all things known and familiar: the first, to secure her soul; the second, to save her life. Now, she headed toward the indefinable, a place beyond description - an enigma of choice."

Spiritual, socially astute, politically chilling, and psychologically gripping, Guesthouse for Ganesha is the kind of novel marketers hate and readers love because it challenges simple categorization. Its evocative descriptions, connections between Jewish experience and Hindu beliefs, and exploration of how Esther at first grasps her life with both hands to control it fully, only to find it slipping from her clasp with greater promise than she could have envisioned or created in her dreams, makes for a fully engrossing story that is hard to put down.

Neither a Holocaust story nor Hindu legend, Guesthouse for Ganesha blends elements of both with an exceptional attention to vivid detail and transformation that results in a thoroughly unexpected, delightful dance through life.

Maximum Rossi
Paul W. Papa
HPD Publishing
9781734405736, $9.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle


Maximum Rossi: A Las Vegas Crime Noir is set in the 1950s and follows the struggles of a man who came to Vegas to escape his past, only to find it reincarnates in his new world in an unexpected yet familiar way.

In true noir style, Rossi is a hard-boiled detective whose methods and approaches to life and crime have been seasoned by the streets and perps he's encountered and survived.

Also in classic noir style is Paul W. Papa's method of describing the action, which jumps into a scene with the sights, smells, and sounds of daily living and crime's quick injection into it: "I was two eggs into a three-egg omelet when my breakfast was interrupted by a man who slid into my booth across the table from me. He wore a gray broadcloth sack suit, loose at the waist with narrow shoulders. His shirt was white and his collars button down. He sported a striped, straight-point tie and the wisp of a white handkerchief tucked into his top pocket. The man brought two goons with him. One was just shy of a mountain, the other a molehill."

The 'fat city' enamored Rossi, but it's about to test every investigative skill he's honed back in Boston and throughout his life. Paul W. Papa's sultry blend of description and noir action brings readers right into the interplay between P.I. and perp with a style of action that is edgy, compelling, and steeped in Las Vegas culture and atmosphere.

Papa's ability to capture this sense of place, time, and purpose drives the story, keeping it fast-paced, realistic, and thoroughly involving. Fans of Dashiell Hammett and classic hard-boiled detective noir fiction will readily recognize all the trappings of the genre in this story's approach and descriptive choices, but Papa's ability to add the feisty, determined, gruff personality of Rossi into the bigger crime picture is what sets his story apart from many who delve into the hard-boiled mystery genre.

Massimo "Max" Rossi is no ordinary struggling detective, but the seasoned son of mob "fixer" Boston Rossi. He's in the perfect position to be the chief suspect when a rival Chicago hit man is murdered and his girlfriend kidnapped. Caught up in a struggle between police and Vegas mob forces which have ties to other cities, Rossi finds that the break he was seeking in Vegas, trying to get away from his family's influence and lifestyle, only draws him into more danger from all sides.

From descriptions of gambling and bluffing to his realization that he's the patsy in a game being played by a wide range of special interests, Rossi finds his every move and decision challenged. This leads to what he does best - problem-solving - but on a scale that places his life constantly at risk.

The cat-and-mouse games, revelations, intrigue, and gritty determination of a protagonist who only wants to leave the dangerous playing field, but can't, creates a compelling, thoroughly engrossing noir mystery that's hard to put down. Good character development, a fine sense of place and mystery, and Vegas gambling backdrops craft a story that sizzles.

Paul W. Papa has not only thoroughly researched his subject, but weaves Vegas history and culture into the kind of hard-boiled mystery that is supercharged with the protagonist's personality, choices, and observations. The result is a compelling probe into an investigator who only wants a different kind of life...but can't get one.

Her Dark Matter Necklace
Robert Albo
9798606867424, $15.00, Paperback
B084DGX6L8, $6.99 Kindle/Free on Unlimited



The last thing Midwest orphan Alice Blair expected was to be accepted into an exclusive high school, but when an unknown benefactor encourages her to apply, promising her a very different future than what life has given her to date, she enters a puzzling world in Her Dark Matter Necklace.

The necklace referenced in the book's title refers to a gift from the school's headmaster - one which affords her the extraordinary ability to enter the dark matter universe of Thronos in her dreams. Tasked with bringing beauty into her world, Alice discovers herself increasingly challenged by and connected to a world she'd never known existed. As she attempts to integrate this newfound dream world with her school life, Alice struggles to either prove or disprove her dreams.

One doesn't expect the addition of San Francisco Bay Area culture, a Russian spy who sees promise in a professor's research, and discussions of dark matter in the universe and different laws of nature to coalesce with Alice's dream and journey, but Robert Albo deftly weaves these facets and more into the story to make for a strong blend of visionary sci-fi, coming-of-age story, and encounters not only with other worlds, but other cultures and countries.

A killer, Russian intrigue, and different kinds of journeys move Alice from "just being a kid" into adult pursuits and contribute to a story that is captivatingly unpredictable and unique.

Her Dark Matter Necklace doesn't end up where it opens, as a work of metaphysical or fantasy exploration. Instead, it diverts into other genres and grabs the highlights and lessons from the best of mysteries, stories of political entanglements, the hard science of science fiction, and a girl's maturity to create something entirely different.

If the objective is to bring beauty into the world, how can Alice handle so much adversity in the process? Alice's bold journey and call to action skirts the edges of supernatural and religious inspection, providing a multifaceted tale that is realistic, engrossing, and hard to put down.

While its intended audience is young adult, Her Dark Matter Necklace will reach well into adult circles with its mercurial, intriguing story of passion, purpose, and a mission.

Doctor Pluss
Rob Couteau
Dominantstar LLC
c/o Ingram (distribution)
9780996688864, $13.95
9780996688888 , $9.99, Ebook

Rob Couteau describes Doctor Pluss as "...fiction based on actual dialogues with schizophrenic patients, diabolically 'sane' psychotherapists, and well-meaning yet unerringly destructive social workers. It chronicles the descent of an eccentric, sardonic, and witty psychiatrist into what appears to be a state of complete madness."

His intention to metaphorically and realistically portray and contrast the madness of psychiatric process as well as its patients is powerfully wrought in a story about patients "surviving this holocaust of forgetfulness." During this process, their identities and personalities are lost in the institutional morass of a center purported to excel in rehabilitation, but which actually contains many ethical and personal challenges to the new psychiatric resident at the Walt Whitman Asylum for Adults, Dr. Pluss.

It's a place of rage and despair, of ambiguity where hope and horror run close together, and daily gives Dr. Pluss pause for thought about his patients and his role in their lives: "In her own unwitting way, Pluss mused, Evelyn personified the dual aspects of the godhead: horror and joy; awe and fascination."

Novellas typically are hard-hitting but often artificially succinct in their brevity. Often, one is left wanting for more. The best of them (of which Doctor Pluss is one) excels in taking this succinctness to its most logical conclusion, creating slices of life which are narrow enough to receive full-bodied flavor as the plot and characters develop.

One does not wish for more in Doctor Pluss. It's complete unto itself, exceptionally well developed, and emotionally compelling, connecting metaphorical description with experiences that often challenge the traditional roles of doctor and patient, linking them in unexpected ways.

Each patient has their own special struggle with perceptions and illusions that influence reality. Rob Couteau's descriptions are often long and detailed, demanding a slower, more contemplative reading style than is usual in novels in general and novellas in particular. These long sentences are packed with description that grabs heart and mind: "It was tragically convenient to blame her uncontrollable obesity and fierce primal appetite upon this crazy cat of the fleshy sphinx, this lazy Egyptian feline entombed within, lost in a drifting, timeless time of metempsychosis and crocodile gods, of the loopy eye of the ankh - the cross with a teardrop on top - mystic symbol for who knows what. Into the loop one entered and never again returned, adrift with the sacred crocodiles and lost in a thick bed of reeds asway in a warm, mosquito breeze, the muddy Nile lapping you along to your mother's teat which is the grand fan of the delta: lush black earth of Moses and Nefertiti and Alexander and Akhenaton, all had wet themselves in her deltoid lap - let me wash you clean with my dirty waters and raise your material soul to a vast glittering realm of death, death, death - great Egyptian fantasy that delivered us to Hades, where we left this paltry life of the living and gladly marched to the everlasting realm of the deceased."

Run-on sentence, or beautiful metaphor for a mental condition? Couteau is not afraid to push the literary boundaries of convention in pursuit of a different form of descriptive truth, bringing readers along in a rollicking ride through schizophrenic experience that ultimately questions the foundations of reality and perception from both sides of the therapist's couch.

His interpretations and descriptions of the schizophrenic experience are particularly astute, astonishing, and evocatively described.

When Pluss vanishes, a ripple of effects on doctors and patients alike threatens to change everything. A regression process takes place that questions both convention and traditional roles.

Readers who choose Doctor Pluss are in for a treat. It's like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest on steroids: a thought-provoking examination of sanity, insanity, and the crossover process that leaves readers thinking long after this therapeutic slice of life is consumed.

St. Francis of Dogtown
Wm. Stage
Floppinfish Publishing Company, Ltd.
9780578524627, $12.95 Paper/$4.95 Kindle

St. Francis of Dogtown is crime fiction at its best and opens with Special Process Server Francis X. Lenihan on the job, driving the streets of St. Louis while recording a monologue on the unique nature of his profession, prepping for an upcoming talk to a class at the community college: "As I say, the job is not normally one perilous situation after another but it does have a component that is not at all pleasing. That component is frustration. Frustration is part and parcel of the job. People not coming to the door or lying to your face. Driving fifty miles to find no one home, driving to another town to find that the address they gave you is non-existent. You have to be super-persistent to overcome the frustrations encountered in this job. Today is no exception." An exception does evolve in a dramatic series of encounters with those trying to evade service.

In a quiet rural subdivision Francis walks into trouble in trying to serve a paper on a dead woman. There's nobody home, just as the "caretaker" had told him, and he leaves his card on the door. Before long, homicide detectives are at his door in St. Louis. Francis helps the police all he can, but they need more. If only he could sort through his beer-soaked memory and recall the vanity plate on the muscle car he saw. His desire to help the homicide detectives investigating a suburban woman's death reveals some surprising auxiliary strengths in his profession, lending a different, more effective approach to crime-solving than those who professionally investigate for a living.

Armed with a special dogmatic technique and an ability to confront obstinate personalities, Lenihan's brand of questioning runs him afoul of the detectives on the case. LaRocca, in particular, finds Lenihan a nuisance and a problem: "I think he's involved in this. He knew about Jackson before we did and he didn't say a word. I'm not saying he's in with the killer. I'm saying he's acting on his own or someone hired him - and I have a hunch who - to dig into this separate from our investigation and he's found out some things. Long and short, he's withholding information pertinent to a criminal investigation, and you know the consequences of that."

As crime connections, hijackers and housebreakers, and kidnappings evolve, Francis finds his abilities challenged by both sides, in more ways than one. The temptation to return to the quiet comfort of an Irish neighborhood bar, there to steep himself in drink far from the streets of despair and danger, is juxtaposed with a steely determination to follow through to the end, in typical process-serving form.

Wm. Stage excels at crafting the culture and atmosphere of St. Louis's Irish neighborhood and takes time to cultivate and grow not just different personalities, but the many kinds of forces that reside there. His attention to detail and description are wonderfully cemented by the process server's modus operandi and approach to life, adding a refreshing twist to the criminal investigation portion of the story. As petty criminals become prey in their own mileau, a series of deaths and confrontations between them keep readers guessing about who will be left standing in the end.

Detective story readers who like their tales steeped in a blend of history, culture, and action will find St. Francis of Dogtown fits the bill in producing a story that captures love, danger, and controversy in a town Francis loves, which is filled with Irish flavor and ribald encounters.

Seduced into Darkness
Carrie T. Ishee
Terra Nova Books
9781948749480, $23.95

Seduced into Darkness: Transcending My Psychiatrist's Sexual Abuse is a memoir about the sexual abuse suffered by a vulnerable college student at the hands of her psychiatrist, who carefully manipulated their secret affair using psychology and tactics designed to keep Carrie Ishee dependent and subservient.

Psychiatric codes of conduct prohibit any such relationship, but there are always those who would abuse and use their position of power to dominate another. Carrie descended into mental hell, but the process of regaining her freedom, strength, and mental health didn't begin until after a suicide attempt landed her in a famous psychiatric hospital, there to begin a healing process that would lead her to court to confront her aggressor.

There are many surprising moments during the story where Carrie's course in life is altered by her psychiatrist's suggestions, including a session with her concerned parents, where he advocates a big change in her life: "Well, Mr. and Mrs. Tansey, I strongly feel that Carrie needs intensive psychotherapy," he said with utter authority and confidence. "And she should take a break from college. Healing needs to be her top priority right now." The three of us sat there stunned. Leave college with only six months until graduation? Can't a pill lift me out of this? Or some good psychotherapy? I sat like a flower frozen by a sudden springtime snow."

Under the guise of putting healing first, Carrie is actually guided to a dark place where healing is last. Readers follow her into this rabbit hole of abuse and control, absorb the techniques that lead her to feel powerless and mentally ill, and learn how this man led her to feel both special and vulnerable as she tries to please him and earn his respect.

Religion and family are strong parts of her life - but not strong enough to lift her up from the relationship that slowly grows to dominate everything in a secretly insidious manner. When her psychiatrist explains that his spiritual epiphany may be attributed to her own explorations in religion, she develops a sense of heightened connection in a way that continues to ensnare her on a spiritual level, as well: "Time stood still. We both sat in his office basking in the feeling that

God had indeed touched him, and that my prayers and intuition had been the conduit. I realized I might have something valuable to offer the world. What if I'm some kind of healer? What if I can bring him to God, and this is the reason we've met?"

As trust is cemented by God but ultimately betrayed, readers come to understand just how a vulnerable, God-fearing young girl can succumb to manipulation and a predatory relationship. Therein lies the crux of both the message and importance of Seduced into Darkness.

Its exploration of the boundaries of professional propriety and how they can be broken provides invaluable insights to others in therapy.

Anyone involved in the healing process, especially young women and men who embark on this healing path, need to learn from Carrie's lessons. It's a hard-hitting coverage of how secrets and secret relationships begin, are fostered, and eventually rise to crisis, offering a blend of powerful lesson plan in a cautionary story for others who struggle with mental challenges and consult professionals for help.

Deciphering Shakespeare's Plays
Cynthia Greenwood
Calpurnia Press
9780998897806, $24.55 Print/$9.40 ebook

Deciphering Shakespeare's Plays: A Practical Guide To The Twenty Best-Known And Enduring Works is a manual for students and enthusiasts of the Bard, and comes from a performing arts journalist and drama critic who revises and expands a 2008 publication, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Shakespeare's Plays.

More than just another interpretation of Shakespeare's language and meaning, Cynthia Greenwood's survey delves into the history of drama, stage production, and London theater in the 1590s. It considers not just the plots and intentions of each story, but how actors and directors make choices in staging and performing Shakespeare's plays.

It's packed with interpretations of famous soliloquies and discussions surrounding the original script versions, as well as highlights of stage performances throughout history that illuminate Shakespeare's comedies, tragedies, and histories. These illustrations paint the bigger picture of his time and offer approaches that playgoers might consider before delving into individual plays. This full-faceted exploration provides literature and performing arts students with a powerful background necessary to gain a better understanding of Shakespeare's intentions, influences, and the changing nuances of stagecraft over the centuries.

From a study of how Shakespeare's playwriting evolved to blend prose into poetic structures to his part ownership in the Globe, as well as the a heady Elizabethan theater business that cultivated a lively interplay between audience and performance, readers receive far more than another recap of Shakespeare's literary prowess.

It would have been all too easy to narrow the focus to Shakespeare's time, but Greenwood follows the trail of changes in Shakespearean drama into the modern era. Her account surveys notable screen productions in a chronology that also looks at our understanding of controversial plays that have challenged directors trying to remain faithful to the Bard's approach, while also addressing, say, sexism in plays like The Taming of the Shrew, which today invites hostile audience reactions.

Opening chapters that offer a general historical, sociological, and political analysis of Shakespeare's life, times, and playwriting career are followed by specific segment-by-segment analyses of his major works, leaving no stone unturned.

Readers (especially college-level students in literature and the performing arts) seeking more than a casual investigation of the Bard's ongoing relevance, impact, and meaning in past and present stage works will relish this outstanding survey.

If only one book were to be chosen for a collection that desired to include an analysis of Shakespeare's works, stagecraft, and times, Deciphering Shakespeare's Plays should be the item of choice. Its technical, analytical, yet lively enough to make for thoroughly absorbing reading to many different levels of Shakespearian and actor enthusiasts.

Arterial Bloom
Mercedes M. Yardley, Editor
Crystal Lake Publishing
9781644693108, $13.99 Print/$3.99 ebook

Arterial Bloom injects the 'literary' piece into the horror genre with works that excel in well-crafted surprises, powerful senses of place and character, and works that stand out from the crowd. Contributors to this anthology are diverse in their approaches, plot development, and themes, and so under the general 'horror' umbrella there is no unifying purpose other than to gather works that are truly exceptional.

Take, for example, Linda J. Marshall's 'Kudzu Stories'. In the hot, stifling heat of summer, Jenny can hear the kudzu growing (it's an invasive species known for its lightning-fast development, but here, that attribute assumes new forms). The meat of the story lies not in kudzu's reputation for astonishing expansion, but Jenny's magical connection with it, which leads to some deadly surprises and a strange interpretation of love.

But, note that this promises kudzu stories, not a singular production. Kudzu thus plays a role in the dark purposes and perceptions of not just Jenny, but Clarice (married to suffering war veteran Roy) and Trish (who lives on the wrong side of the levee in a house on stilts).
The atmosphere of the South is captured by poetic references to kudzu and the weighty feel of a night in which "...that old alligator...goes boom all night long. It thinks it's singing." (Or, is the kudzu making that deadly noise?)

Another example of the literary prowess of each of the contributors to this blossoming anthology is Dino Parenti's 'Blue Was Her Favorite Color'. Abby is mourning the loss of her little brother, whose birth cost her mother's life, as well as the death of her mother, Larissa. Her father lets her cope in her own way, which involves bringing flowers to the gulch that washed Justin away from their home. The watchful father observes this ritual and acknowledges its value for his daughter, but there's something deeper at work in this story, which evolves from a quiet tale of a broken family's recovery to a dark account of barbs cast from beyond the grave.

When the concerned father decides to investigate just where his daughter is going, a truth emerges which is frightening and deadly.

Each story excels in the unexpected. Each provides powerful plot, solid character development, and, most of all, a sense of place that reaches out and involves readers in the hidden corners of the mind, soul, and often supernatural encounters between human and nature. Dark and haunting black and white illustrations throughout further capture the atmosphere for visual impact.

For a horror anthology that represents back-to-back literary prowess and diversity, filled with stories that are brooding and beautiful, Arterial Bloom more than fits the bill.

The 10 Greatest Gifts We Give Each Other
Barbara Lynn-Vannoy
Admont Press
9781733395212, $16.99

The author of The 10 Greatest Gifts We Give Each Other: A Memoir on the Magic of Marriage Vows was a divorced single mom and first grade teacher living in a tract home and struggling to make do when she met the unlikely love of her life, Steve Vannoy. He was an affluent globetrotter who lived a wealthy lifestyle more than a cut a above hers: "His house reminded me of The Addams Family mansion, a gabled monolith, set apart from surrounding homes on top of a foothill ridge, which offered a commanding view of Denver. Nearby houses - palaces, really - begged for apologies due to their sheer size, sporting waterfalls and coiffured lawns."

From nearly the beginning, it's evident that this couple is mismatched in more ways than one. Experience, social standing, and many other things would seem to indicate this is not a match made in heaven...but a sense of humor and determination on both their parts creates a foundation based, surprisingly, on marriage vows that they struggled to make into a living promise. As an award-winning educator, Barbara Lynn-Vannoy learns that the goodness she brings out in her zany classroom has real potential with an unsuspecting man.

This promising debut is the heart and soul of a memoir that is an unexpectedly fun, delightful read. Stories of marriages are not usually replete with elements of irony, let alone hilariously vivid moments juxtaposed with seriousness, as when Steve sings his marriage proposal to a jet-lagged potential bride who falls asleep before the punch line.

Barbara's descriptions capture these moments, offering fun observations and reflections with a blend of sassy description and chagrin: "I popped my eyes open. My dream - was real. In front of me, I saw Steve, his eyes welled with tears, a man unable to utter the next life-changing lyric. In front of him was a woman who snapped to attention like a matador facing a charging bull."

Within these fun encounters are serious lessons about marriage and staying dedicated to keeping its vows. This focus often imparts succinct revelations about the process to offer much insight: "When you see someone's sacredness, everything changes."

As the author and her husband decide to revisit their vows, displaying them in a prominent place and reconsidering their meaning in light of changed events and spiritual insights, readers are given more than a romp through lives newly entwined. A generational story of family in the making, a Renaissance mother-in-law who can't be tamed, it's a revealing probe of the heart of commitment, flexibility, love, and life's realities.

The vows themselves become more than promises, but guideposts for living a better life together. Realizing that they had just spent two years practicing only the first vow, they move through the list and provide accompanying revelations about each vow's intention, ultimate meaning, and impact on their marriage.

Readers undertake this journey with the couple in a rollicking journey that includes not just world travels and shared experiences, but an evolving sense of spirituality, acceptance, identifying different kinds of values in life, and creating revitalized connections. This encourages them to add a final vow to a space intentionally left blank for that shared purpose when the other ten were originally crafted.

With a sharp eye for detail and vivid prose, Barbara Lynn-Vannoy is at once revealing, fun, serious, and wise. The 10 Greatest Gifts We Give Each Other is a gift unto itself for a wide variety of readers - aspiring teachers, single moms, caregivers - and will make an ideal wedding shower present to any couple joining hands and lives.

Diane C. Donovan, Senior Reviewer
Donovan's Literary Services

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

The Couple Next Door
Shari Lapena
Penguin Books
c/o Penguin Group USA
9780735221109, $16.00,

"The Couple Next Door" opens with a dinner by Cynthia to celebrate the birthday of her husband Graham. The only other parties to attend are Anne and Marco who live next door. Cynthia, has made it clear with strict orders, adults only. Marco and Anne take turns, going back and forth to their residence, through the night, to check on their six-month-old baby Cora. The evening wears on until finally Anne and Marco return home to find the front door ajar and an empty crib. From then on "The Couple Next Door" proceeds along with twists and turns to the final surprising ending. Along the way there will be deeply held secrets revealed, of all the characters as the story unfolds. Shari Lapena showed with "The Couple Next Door" her first novel, why she is at the top of the list of suspense authors.

Girl At The Edge
Karen Dietrich
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Book Group
9780316274036, $15.99

"Girl At The Edge" is a page turner from the very first one to the very end. The statement "an author has to capture the reader from the very first line," is a perfect fit here with My father is a murderer." Evelyn Hayes opens the novel with that statement about her father Michael Joshua Hayes who mass murdered 11 people in a mall in St Augustine Florida. Something about her dad on death row in Florida, spawns a quest to learn the provocation behind his evil acts. On her foray into his life, she joins a support group of other children of incarcerated parents that she hopes will help her answer the burning question of what was his motivation to do what he did. "Girl At The Edge" takes readers into a dark and sinister universe that most of will never have to encounter.

The Dragon Grammar Book: Grammar for Kids, Dragons, and the Whole Kingdom
Written by Diane Mae Robinson
Illustrations by Breadcrumbs Ink
Privately Published
9781988714011, $14.99,

Abuse to the English language happens every day in so many forms, that most offenders are unaware of their guilt. The crime conducted is by all ages who continue to do so. "The Dragon Grammar Book" hopes to correct the situation in a most ingenuous way by the use of dragons in storylines to show people the proper way to write and speak. Some of the things covered are what are nouns, verbs, adverbs, when to use quotation marks, periods, commas, and a lot of other cautions for correction. Here is an example I have heard many times by news anchors and sports casters. "He could have came down the street." The Dragon Grammar Book" locks in on all forms of the English language to teach the proper usage to be used by everyone to communicate more effectively

Simple Beautiful Food Recipes and Riffs for Everyday Cooking
10 Speed Press
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
9781984857347, $22.99

"Simple Beautiful Food" entices all of us from the tempting cover to want to try all of the tantalizing recopies contained inside. Here are some of the concoctions Herby Turkey Meatball Pitas, Vegetable Wontons in a Coconut Thai Curry Broth, Lasagna With Chicken Sausage and Spinach. There are all types of foods for all occasions and for the health-conscious minded person the foods are healthy because of the ingredients. "Simple Beautiful Food" confirms the statement "Something wonderful is going on in the kitchen."

Taking The Titanic
James Paterson's BookShots with Scott Slaven
Little Brown and Company
c/o Hachette Book Group
9780316504096, $4.99

"Taking The Titanic" is an intriguing premise of two thieves who plan to rob the passengers of the world's most famous cruise ship. The story races along to the dreadful day of the sinking of the Titanic that is more than a good mystery caper. Fans of Patterson are sure to be pleased with "Taking the Titanic"

I Survived The Sinking Of The Titanic, 1912
Laura Tarshis
9780545206945, $4.99,

George Calder grows up very quickly when he, his sister and their aunt are faced with the life or death situation of the sinking of the Titanic on the fateful night of April 14th 1912. "I Survived The Sinking Of The Titanic, 1912" through the children's perspective unfolds the events of that fateful event in history. The I Survived series is a great way to teach history through the eyes of children in a fictional manner to all ages.

I Survived The Sinking Of The Titanic, 1912 The Graphic Novel
Laura Tarshis, author
Art by Haus Studio
97801338120912, $10.99,

"I Survived The Sinking Of The Titanic, 1912 in graphic novel form tells the prose version but adds much more depth to the events that unfold for ten-year-old George Calder and his sister and their aunt as the Titanic goes down. For so long comic books have been maligned but through the ages they have also been a way to get many people to read. "I Survived The Sinking Of The Titanic The Graphic Novel" is for all ages to enjoy with it beautiful artwork and unfolding story.

Magic Tree House # 17 Tonight on the Titanic
Mary Pope Osborne, author
Sal Murdocca, illustrator
A Stepping Stone Book
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
9780679890638, $5.99

"Magic Tree House #17 Tonight on the Titanic" takes Jack and Annie to the night of the sinking of the Titanic. The two children who have seen firsthand other historical events, now find themselves on the deck of the world's worst sea disaster to ever happen that was never supposed to even occur. Now they are faced with a challenge, what are they supposed to do with a person they encounter when they are there. "Magic Tree House # 17 Tonight on the Titanic" is a great story in the long running series.

Pete Comes To America
Violet Favero
Create Space
9781733439312, $12.95,

"Pete Comes To America" tells the story of six-year-old Panagiotis and his family who leave their home on the Greek island of Lesvos, in the Aegean Sea, to come to America in 1910. Through his eye's readers experience the journey of one family to the land of opportunity that is waiting for them. "Pete Comes To America" is brilliantly told of one emigrant kinfolk that exposes the plight that others have also faced, revealing the true backbone that has made this country the great one that we continue to be.

Gracie's RV Mis-Adventure
Violet Favero
Create Space
978152359052, $8.95,

"Gracie's RV Mis-Adventure "brings back Silly Yaya with her dog Gracie on an RV journey throughout the world. They discover a chocolate factory, going abroad, cowboys in Texas, discovering new foods. The two characters enjoy their journey discovering lots of things throughout the planet. "Gracie's RV Mis-Adventure" is a wonderful tale told from a canine's perspective that is enjoyable fare for all ages.

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

Coming Out As Mentally Ill
Jason Blake
Laki Press
9780997711653, $13.99, PB, 84pp,

Synopsis: Most of us have never thought that we or a loved one might suffer from mental illness. But approximately one in five adults in America will experience a mental illness in any given year. Yet we rarely talk about it.

Mental illness gets spoken about with ignorance by many and is a subject mired in stigma and shame by so many of us. "Coming Out As Mentally Ill" is the personal story of one person's coming to terms with mental illness and leading a successful life. But it is also a basic primer on the basics of mental illness and how to get help when it is needed. If you've ever wanted to know more and understand more about mental illness, "Coming Out As Mentally Ill" is the 'go to' informational resource for ordinary people having to deal with an extraordinary condition whether within themselves or understanding what is happening to a friend or loved one.

Critique: Thoroughly 'reader friendly' in tone, commentary, organization and presentation, "Coming Out As Mentally Ill" by Jason Blake is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to all community library Mental Health & Psychology collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Coming Out As Mentally Ill" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

Life Design for Women
Ariane Burgess
Findhorn Press
c/o Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
One Park Street, Rochester, VT 05767
9781620559154, $16.99, PB, 192pp,

Synopsis: When we choose to live more consciously, we benefit not only ourselves but all of life. In these turbulent times of transition and healing, women in particular are being called to reevaluate their lives and redirect their passion and actions toward purpose and meaning. By consciously redesigning our lives, we can reclaim our life force, connect more deeply with Nature and all life, and bring positive change to the world around us. Thus we become the true sovereign of our lives.

"Life Design for Women: Conscious Living as a Force for Positive Change" by Ariane Burgess engages you in a simple, reflective visioning process to help you redesign your life to be more satisfying, meaningful, and aligned with your goals. Step by step, you will examine your life as it is, the influences of your past, and the future you envision for yourself. You will survey the domains of your life -- from how you create "home" to your relationships with loved ones, food, your body, the Earth, and even Death.

Applying the regenerative principles of sustainability to life design, "Life Design for Women" provides reflective exercises and practical tools to help you examine each of these domains, engage with natural systems, honor the feminine life force, and design your future. "Life Design for Women" also shows how deep work in these areas gives you the resources needed to cut ties with the past and redirect your energy and passion toward your authentic purpose. You will learn to consciously weed out the thoughts and activities that get in the way of your resonant heart, take full responsibility for being the creator of your experiences, and make decisions that nurture your authentic self, rather than living your life through the dreams and fears of others.

A practical hands-on guide, with "Life Design for Women" you can reclaim your power through the Life Design process and choose to live more consciously. Gaining clarity on how you want to be, you bring well-being into your life and become a force for positive change, contributing to a thriving, regenerative future for life on Earth.

Critique: As informed and informative as it is inspired and inspiring, "Life Design for Women: Conscious Living as a Force for Positive Change" is exceptionally well written, organized and presented -- making it an especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Life Design for Women" is readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Ariane Burgess is a regenerative designer. She is constantly designing and implementing regenerative projects, which include the Labyrinth for Contemplation in Battery Park, New York, and the Findhorn Food Forest in Scotland. She is passionate about facilitating transformative learning spaces for people who want to embrace regenerative design as a response to the crisis points currently converging on Earth. She lives in the Findhorn community, Scotland.

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

Nick Redfern
Visible Ink Press
43311 Joy Road, #414, Canton, MI 48187-2075
9781578596904, $19.95, PB, 400pp,

Synopsis: Ruthless killers and murderers for hire: they are here, there, and everywhere. They lurk in the shadows, ready to pounce. They terminate on command. And, in the process, they change the course of the world. They are among the world's most cold-hearted, deadly, and emotionless figures. They are assassins, and they have a long history of grievous deeds.

From the cunning, calculating, government-trained warriors to the psychopathic, homegrown freelancers, they are all identified in the pages of "Assassinations: The Plots, Politics, and Powers behind History-Changing Murders". Also exposed are the hidden agendas as well as the open warfare the were a part of. The cynical preparations and devastating aftermaths are laid bare in a world that is filled with killings made to seem like suicides, murders that were designed to look like heart attacks or overdoses, and accidents that, in reality, were carefully orchestrated deaths.

Critique: An absorbing, astonishing, expertly organized, and impressively presented compendium on the subject of assassination as a political and economic tool used for individuals, organizations, and governments, "Assassinations: The Plots, Politics, and Powers behind History-Changing Murders" is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library Political Science, Organized Crime, and World History collections and supplemental studies reading lists.

Choosing Jewelry Made Easy
Jenny Butterfield
Jenny Butterfield Designs LLC
9798607172480, $19.95, PB, 164pp,

Synopsis: "Choosing Jewelry Made Easy: How the Right Piece of Jewelry Changes Your Life and Leaves a Lasting Legacy" was written for the specific purposes of helping non-specialist general readers learn: How to choose jewelry that not only aligns with your personal style and that you LOVE wearing but choose jewelry that fits your lifestyle. (This one concept will save you hundreds - even thousands - of dollars over your lifetime.); How to choose the best jewelry designs and materials as well as the right jeweler for you, so you get exactly what you want at the budget you determine; The secrets that the majority of the jewelry industry doesn't want you to know and how to confidently walk into a jewelry store, shop online, or talk to a local jeweler and get exactly what you without overspending or getting the wool pulled over your eyes -- and so much more!

Written to take the guesswork and experimentation out of jewelry buying, after reading "Choosing Jewelry Made Easy" anyone will be able to effortlessly choose good, well-designed jewelry that they will love, feel confident wearing, and be able to pass down to their kids and grandkids.

Critique: Impressively informative, expertly written, organized and presented, "Choosing Jewelry Made Easy: How the Right Piece of Jewelry Changes Your Life and Leaves a Lasting Legacy" is an ideal and unique DIY course in jewelry. Unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, and community library collections, "Choosing Jewelry Made Easy" should be considered a 'must' for anyone investing in the acquisition of a work of jewelry for themselves or a loved one.

Sacred Mountains
Andrew R. H. Thompson
The University Press of Kentucky
663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, KY 40508-4008
9780813165998, $60.00, HC, 212pp,

Synopsis: On a misty morning in eastern Kentucky, cross-bearing Christians gather for a service on a surface-mined mountain. They pray for the health and renewal of the land and for their communities, lamenting the corporate greed of the mining companies. On another day, in southern West Virginia, Andrew Jordon hosts Bible study in a small cabin overlooking a disused 1,400-acre surface mine. He believes his efforts to reclaim sites like these represent responsible environmental stewardship.

In "Sacred Mountains: A Christian Ethical Approach to Mountaintop Removal", Andrew R. H. Thompson highlights scenes such as these in order to propose a Christian ethical analysis of the controversial mining practice that has increasingly divided the nation and has often led to fierce and even violent confrontations. Thompson draws from the arguments of H. Richard Niebuhr, whose work establishes an ideal foundation for understanding Appalachia. Thompson provides a thorough introduction to the issues surrounding surface mining, including the environmental consequences and the resultant religious debates, and highlights the discussions being carried out in the media and by scholarly works. He also considers five popular perspectives (ecofeminism, liberation theology, environmental justice, environmental pragmatism, and political ecology) and offers his own framework and guidelines for moral engagement with the subject.

Thompson's arguments add to the work of other ethicists and theologians by examining the implications of culture in a variety of social, historical, and religious contexts. A groundbreaking and nuanced study that looks past the traditionally conflicting stereotypes about religion and environmental consciousness in Appalachia, "Sacred Mountains" offers a new approach that unifies all communities, regardless of their beliefs.

Critique: Exceptionally well written and insightfully presented, "Sacred Mountains: A Christian Ethical Approach to Mountaintop Removal" showcases extraordinary example of a practical Christianity in action. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, inspired and inspiring, "Sacred Mountains: A Christian Ethical Approach to Mountaintop Removal" is an impressive and meticulous work of scholarship that is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Sacred Mountains: A Christian Ethical Approach to Mountaintop Removal" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9780813179117, $30.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $28.50).

Editorial Note: Andrew R. H. Thompson is the Assistant Director of the Center for Religion and Environment and postdoctoral fellow in environmental ethics at Sewanee's School of Theology. He has contributed chapters to The Changing World Religions Map: Sacred Places, Identities, Practices, and Politics; Life-Widening Mission: Global Anglican Perspectives; and Edinburgh 2010: Mission Today and Tomorrow.

John Taylor

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

Dreams Never Dreamed
Kalman Samuels
Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.
c/o Toby Press
PO Box 8531, New Milford, CT 06776-8531
9781592645251, $19.95, PB, 254pp

Synopsis: Kalman Samuels and his wife Malki couldn't have foreseen that their smiley, alert baby boy would be rendered blind and deaf, and that their lives would be forever changed.

"Dreams Never Dreamed: A Mother's Promise That Transformed Her Son's Breakthrough into a Beacon of Hope" is the intensely personal story of Kalman Samuels, his son Yossi, and the founding of Shalva, one of the world's leading organizations in the field of disability care and inclusion.

Critique: A very special and emotionally moving memoir that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book has been finished and set back upon the shelf, "Dreams Never Dreamed: A Mother's Promise That Transformed Her Son's Breakthrough into a Beacon of Hope" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as community and academic library Contemporary Biography collections.

Rosalie Gardiner Jones and the Long March for Women's Rights
Zachary Michael Jack
McFarland & Company
PO Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640
9781476681160, $39.95, PB, 278pp,

Synopsis: In February 1913 young firebrand activist "General" Rosalie Gardiner Jones defied convention and the doubts of better-known suffragists such as Alice Paul, Jane Addams, and Carrie Chapman Catt to muster an unprecedented equal rights army. Jones and "Colonel" Ida Craft marched 250 miles at the head of their all-volunteer platoon, advancing from New York City to Washington, DC in the dead of winter, in what was believed to be the longest dedicated women's rights march in American history.

Along the way their band of protestors overcame violence, intimidation, and bigotry, their every step documented by journalist-embeds who followed the self-styled army down far-flung rural roads and into busy urban centers bristling with admiration and enmity. At march's end in Washington, more than 100,000 spectators cheered and jeered Rosalie's army in a reception said to rival a president's inauguration.

"Rosalie Gardiner Jones and the Long March for Women's Rights" is first-ever book-length biography detailing Jones's indomitable and original brand of boots-on-the-ground activism, from the 1913 March on Washington that brought her international fame to later-life campaigns for progressive reform in the American West and on her native Long Island.

Consistently at odds with conservatives and conformists, the fiercely independent Jones was a prototypical social justice warrior, one who never stopped marching to her own drummer. Long after retiring her equal rights army, Jones advocated nonviolence and fair trade, authored a book on economics and international peace, and ran for Congress, earning a law degree, a PhD, and a lifelong reputation as a tireless defender of the dispossessed.

Critique: Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of an eight page Bibliography, twenty pages of Chapter Notes, and a three page Index, "Rosalie Gardiner Jones and the Long March for Women's Rights" is the extraordinary story of an extraordinary woman in extraordinary times. Meticulously researched, impressively well written, exceptional in both organization and presentation, "Rosalie Gardiner Jones and the Long March for Women's Rights" is an especially recommended addition to personal, community, college, and university library American Biography, American Political History, and Women's History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Zachary Michael Jack is a professor of English at North Central College, in Naperville, Illinois, teaching courses in public writing, leadership, ethics, and values. A member of the board of directors of the Midwestern History Association (MHA), he leads Writing to Change the World workshops nationwide.

Why Women Read Fiction: The Stories of Our Lives
Helen Taylor
Oxford University Press
198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016-4314
9780198827689, $18.95, HC, 304pp,

Synopsis: Ian McEwan once said, 'When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.'

This book explains how precious fiction is to contemporary women readers, and how they draw on it to tell the stories of their lives. Female readers are key to the future of fiction and--as parents, teachers, and librarians--the glue for a literate society. Women treasure the chance to read alone, but have also gregariously shared reading experiences and memories with mothers, daughters, grandchildren, and female friends. For so many, reading novels and short stories enables them to escape and to spread their wings intellectually and emotionally.

"Why Women Read Fiction: The Stories of Our Lives", written by an experienced teacher and scholar of women's writing, and literature festival director Helen Taylor, draws on over 500 interviews with and questionnaires from women readers and writers. It describes how, where, and when women read fiction, and examines why stories and writers influence the way female readers understand and shape their own life stories.

Professor Taylor also explores why women are the main buyers and readers of fiction, members of book clubs, attendees at literary festivals, and organisers of days out to fictional sites and writers' homes.

"Why Women Read Fiction" goes on to analyze the special appeal and changing readership of the genres of romance, erotica, and crime. It also illuminates the reasons for women's abiding love of two favourite novels, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.

Professor Taylor offers a cornucopia of witty and wise women's voices, of both readers themselves and also writers such as Hilary Mantel, Helen Dunmore, Katie Fforde, and Sarah Dunant -- and reveals why (in Jackie Kay's words) 'our lives are mapped by books.'

Critique: An inherently fascinating, thoughtful and thought-provoking work of insightful and seminal scholarship, "Why Women Read Fiction: The Stories of Our Lives" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary Literary Studies collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Why Women Read Fiction: The Stories of Our Lives" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Helen Taylor is the Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Exeter, an Honorary Fellow of the British Association of American Studies, and the Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow 2016-18. She has taught English and American literature at the universities of the West of England, Bristol, Warwick, and Exeter, where she was Head of the School of English. A specialist in literature and culture of the American South and women's writing, she has published widely in both areas. Her books include Scarlett's Women: Gone With the Wind and its Female Fans (1989, reprinted 2014), Circling Dixie: Contemporary Southern Culture through a Transatlantic Lens (2001), and The Daphne du Maurier Companion (2007), as well as a BFI Film Classic on Gone With the Wind (2015). Curator, Chair, and participant in many literature festivals, she was also the first Director of the Liverpool Literary Festival, 2016 and 2018.

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

Genealogies of Art, or the History of Art as Visual Art
Astritt Schmidt-Burkhardt, et al.
Fundamacion Juan March
c/o teNeues Publishing
350 Seventh Avenue, Suite 301, New York, NY, 10011
9788470756610, $75.00, HC, 450pp,

Synopsis: "Genealogies of Art, or the History of Art as Visual Art" analyzes the visual representations of art history made by artists, critics, designers, theorists and poets alike, from the genealogical trees of the 12th through the 15th centuries and the Renaissance to more recent information graphics, including paintings, sketches, maps, plans, prints, drawings and diagrams.

The conceptual core of this massive study is the famed chart that Alfred H. Barr, first director of the Museum of Modern Art, composed for the cover of his landmark exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art in 1936, which sought to trace the origins of abstract art from 1890 to 1936. Around this paradigmatic chart is gathered a tremendous pageant of works by great polymaths and thinkers, including Guy Debord's situationist maps; the Guerrilla Girls' "Guerrillas in the Midst of History"; Athanasius Kircher's baroque-era trees of knowledge; George Maciunas' Fluxus diagrams; Andre Malraux's Museum without Walls; Otto Neurath's charts and isotypes; Ad Reinhardt's collaged histories of art; Ward Shelley's Who Invented the Avant-Garde?; Maurice Stein, Larry Miller and Marshall Henrichs' Blueprint for Counter Education; Aby Warburg's legendary Mnemosyne Atlas; and many others.

Across "Genealogies of Art" deftly reproduces more than 500 images. In addition to these, Astrit Schmidt-Burkhardt contributes an essay titled "The Diagrammatic Shift," following by Manuel Lima's "Trees of Knowledge: The Diagrammatic Traditions of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance," both of which contextualize the relevance of this form throughout history. Uwe Fleckner explores the use of diagrammatic visualization in curatorial and collecting activities, as in the cases of Carl Einstein or Aby Warburg; and the Picasso specialist Eugenio Carmona looks at Alfred H. Barr's conception of Picasso's work, in his text "Barr, Cubism and Picasso: Paradigm and 'Anti-paradigm.'"

Critique: A complete course of study, "Genealogies of Art, or the History of Art as Visual Art" is an impressively informative, expertly organized, and thoroughly 'reader friendly' history of exceptional collective scholarship that would well serve as a curriculum textbook and is unreservedly recommended as a core addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Art History collections and supplemental studies reading lists.

Collecting for a New World
John W. Hessler
c/o Giles D. Limited
9781911282396, $30.00, HC, 176pp,

Synopsis: The history of the early Americas is a story of before and after, defined and divided by a pivotal moment of contact between two distinct cultures. On the European side it is a tale of exploration, high-stakes treasure-seeking, and conquest. For indigenous Americans (including the Maya, the Nahua, the Taíno, and the Wari) it is the beginning of the end, a violent saga of disease, enslavement, and the loss of languages and rituals.

This collision of cultures comes to life in the manuscripts, maps, archaeological objects, and rare books that make up the collection of early American treasures in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. "Collecting for a New World: Treasures of the Early Americas" by John W. Hessler (who is the Curator of Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Archaeology and History of the Early Americas) relates these encounters through vivid illustrations and interpretive descriptions of more than sixty rare and priceless items.

In describing for the first time the journeys of the objects themselves (via African shipwrecks, secret meetings on airstrips, discoveries in castle libraries, and journeys into unknown archaeological sites hidden deep in the jungles of Guatemala) curator Hessler reveals the role played by private collectors, whose knowledge, vision, and (in many cases, philanthropy) contribute so significantly to the collective understanding and interpretation of history and culture.

Critique: Beautifully and profusely illustrated throughout, "Collecting for a New World: Treasures of the Early Americas" is an original, extraordinary and impressively informative work of exemplary scholarship and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Aztec/Mayan/Caribbean history collections and supplemental studies reading lists.

The Nuclear Crisis
Christoph Becker-Schaum, et al.
Berghahn Books
20 Jay Street, Suite 512, Brooklyn, NY 11201
9781785332678, $135.00, HC, 392pp,

Synopsis: In 1983, more than one million Germans joined together to protest NATO's deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe. International media overflowed with images of marches, rallies, and human chains as protesters blockaded depots and agitated for disarmament. Though they failed to halt the deployment, the episode was a decisive one for German society, revealing deep divisions in the nation's political culture while continuing to mobilize activists.

"The Nuclear Crisis: The Arms Race, Cold War Anxiety, and the German Peace Movement of the 1980s" provides a comprehensive reference work on the "Euromissiles" crisis as experienced by its various protagonists, analyzing NATO's diplomatic and military maneuvering and tracing the political, cultural, and moral discourses that surrounded the missiles' deployment in East and West Germany.

Critique: Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by the team of Wilfried Mausbach (who is the Executive Director of the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA) at Heidelberg University), Marianne Zepp (who was Program Director for Contemporary History at the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Berlin), Philipp Gassert (who is a Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Mannheim and a past deputy director of the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC), Martin Klimke (who is the Associate Dean of Humanities and Associate Professor of History at New York University Abu Dhabi), and Christoph Becker-Schaum (who is the Director of the Green Memory Archive at the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Berlin), "The Nuclear Crisis: The Arms Race, Cold War Anxiety, and the German Peace Movement of the 1980s" is comprised of nineteen erudite and informative contributions by an extraordinary series of contributors -- making it an unreservedly recommended for college and university library Nuclear Weapons & Warfare History, War & Peace, and Political Advocacy collections and supplemental curriculum reading lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Nuclear Crisis" is also available in a paperback edition (9781789205091, $34.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $31.62).

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

Going Om: A CEO's Self-Discovery Behind Bars
Michael D. Huggins
Hawkeye Publishers
9781946005434, $20.00, HC, 202pp,

Synopsis: Michael D. Huggins is the Founder and Executive Director of the Transformation Yoga Project. After receiving an undergraduate degree from Villanova University and an MBA from Wharton, he worked his way up to being the Chief Operating Officer, President, and Chief Executive Officer of several medical device firms.

In 2009, Mike pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor as a Responsible Corporate Officer for actions that happened under his watch but that he did not know about, which landed him in prison for nine months. The high-profile case drew national media attention, and Mike's world unraveled in the blink of an eye as he was whisked to the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia.

"Going Om: A CEO's Self-Discovery Behind Bars" by Higgins is a behind-the-scenes look at life in a men's correctional facility, complete with alarming and surprisingly funny stories. Huggins shares letters he had written from inside, lessons he had learned along the way, and how he discovered his true calling and ultimate sense of purpose.

Yoga gave Huggins the strength, direction, and tools he needed to shift from his role as a corporate executive on the outside to sharing a cell in our often-corrupt prison system. Before long, he started teaching incarcerated men breathing exercises, anger management, and how to take yoga off the mat to be spiritually free.

Critique: Candid, erudite, informative, and ultimately inspiring, "Going Om: A CEO's Self-Discovery Behind Bars" is an extraordinary, unique, and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Going Om: A CEO's Self-Discovery Behind Bars" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781946005427, $15.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.99).

Architecture as Measure
Neyran Turan
Actar D
c/o Actar Publishers
355 Lexington Avenue, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10017
9781948765299, $39.95, PB, 300pp,

Synopsis: "Architecture as Measure" by Professor Neyran Turan presents a set of unconventional collisions between architecture and climate change, which all extrapolate broader concerns of the city, environment, and geography through the lens of specific architectural questions such as form, representation, and materiality.

In addition to the introductory essay, "Architecture as Measure" consists of nine separate chapters, each of which contains an essay by Neyran Turan and is coupled with a project by her architectural practice NEMESTUDIO. Inherent in the premise of this study is the proposition of a new conception of architecture's engagement with the wider world through a specific focus on architecture's capacity to boost its planetary effect from within.

Critique: An impressively organized and presented study of seminal and deftly written scholarship, "Architecture as Measure" is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to professional and academic library Sustainability & Green Design, Architectural Criticism, and Architecture Project Planning & Management collections and supplemental Architectural curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Neyran Turan is an Assistant Professor at the University of California-Berkeley and a partner at NEMESTUDIO, an architectural office that has been recognized with several awards, most recently the 2016 Architectural League New York Prize for Young Architects, multiple citations at the 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 The Architects' Newspaper Best of Design Awards, a Notable Award at the Core 77 Design Awards 2017, an ACSA Faculty Design Award, and multiple Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts awards.

NEMESTUDIO's work, ranging from installations to buildings and landscapes, has been widely published and exhibited internationally at the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, Storefront Art and Architecture Gallery, Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Aedes Architecture Forum Gallery in Berlin, Betts Project in London, and Istanbul Design Biennial, among other venues.

Professor Turan's work focuses on alternative forms of environmental imagination and their capacity for new aesthetic and political trajectories within architecture and urbanism. Her book Architecture as Measure has been awarded by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. Turan has recently been selected to curate the Pavilion of Turkey in the 2020 Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition.

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World
Tom Holland
Basic Books
c/o Perseus Books Group
250 W. 57th St., Suite 1500, New York, NY 10107
9780465093502, $32.00, HC, 624pp,

Synopsis: Romans believed that crucifixion was the worst and most degrading fate imaginable. It was this that rendered it so suitable as a punishment for rebellious and disobedient slaves. How astonishing it was, then, that people should have come to believe that one particular victim of crucifixion-an obscure provincial by the name of Jesus-had been a god.

"Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World" by historian Tom Holland explores the implications of this shocking conviction as they have reverberated throughout history.

Today, the West remains utterly saturated by Christian assumptions. Our morals and ethics are not universal. Instead, they are the fruits of a very distinctive civilization. Concepts such as secularism, liberalism, science, and homosexuality are deeply rooted in a Christian theological and historical seedbed. From Babylon to the Beatles, Saint Michael to #MeToo, "Dominion" tells the story of how Christianity transformed the world.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and impressively informative study, "Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World" is exceptionally well written, organized and presented. While unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Christian History and World History collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World" is readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9781549154966, $55.00, CD).

Editorial Note: Residing in London, Tom Holland is an award-winning historian of the ancient world, a translator of Greek classical texts, and a documentary writer. He is the author of six other books, including Rubicon, recipient of the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History and short listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize, and Persian Fire, winner of the Anglo-Hellenic League's Runciman Award. He contributes regularly to the Guardian, the Times of London, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.

Michael Dunford

Nancy Lorraine's Bookshelf

We're All Not the Same But We're Still Family
Theresa Fraser and Eric E. W. Fraser, authors
Loving Healing Press
5145 Pontiac Trail, Ann Arbor, MI 48105
9781615994786, $15.95 PB, $4.95 Kindle, Ages 4-8
9781615994793, $26.95, HC, 42pp,

"We're Not the Same But We're Still Family: An Adoption and Birth Family Story" is a compassionate book for adoptive kids and families that embraces the concept of exploring a sense of family that is inclusive of both adoptive and birth parents and relatives.

Deshaun is a 13 year old adopted boy who was curious about his birth father. He had some memories of his birth mother, but they were not all positive. He asked his parents if they would help him seek information about his birth father. The search was successful and Deshaun was able to communicate with his birth father using Skype. Eventually Deshuan was taken by his adoptive parents on a long trip so he could meet his father and more members of his birth family.

This openness to an expanded sense of family led to added security and expanded love between Deshuan and his biological family as well as his adoptive family. Some questions that are suggested for exploration by other adoptive families include the following: Discuss feelings about adoption. Imagine what openness might mean for both the child and the family.

Acknowledge similarities and differences among family members. Discuss if an expanded sense of family is possible for their circumstances. "We're All Not the Same, But We're Still Family: is a positive, exploratory book that helps children and families confront some of the issues included in adoption. Illustrations of mixed race parents and families add to the richness of the adoptive child/family's exploration of the child's birth family and history.

"We're All Not the Same But We're Still Family" is recommended for children age 5-6 years and up.

Brother Lorenzo's Pretzels: Prayer and the Holy Trinity
Cornelia Mary Bilinsky, author
John Joseph, illustrator
Pauline Books & Media
50 St. Paul's Avenue, Boston, MA 02130
9780819812421, $12.95, PB, 40pp,

"Brother Lorenzo's Pretzels" tells the story of a faithful Italian monk in the seventh century who taught hungry children the meaning of the Holy Trinity by making pretzels for them and using the pretzels to illustrate the concept of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, three in one, linked in love to all through baptism and the love of Christ.

Father Lorenzo had to teach hungry children this lesson, and he also helped the monk who was a baker in his monastery. They prayed to God to help him teach especially little Angelo, who had difficulty understanding and remembering the concept of the Holy Trinity, the three in one. Using some leftover bread dough, Brother Lorenzo shaped the traditional knotted pretzel which shows three spaces within a circle and the crossed arms that children folded when they prayed.

When he taught Angelo and the children their lesson about the Holy Trinity, he held up a pretzel to illustrate the lesson, and after the end, he gave the pretzel to Angelo to eat. Each child studying the lesson received their pretzel that day in the same way.

"Brother Lorenzo's Pretzels" also contains a recipe for traditional soft pretzels for young readers to make with help. Charming, colorful, comic illustrations show Brother Lorenzo and his students with the pretzels, happily learning about the love of God. "Brother Lorenzo's Pretzels" is ideal for explaining the Holy Trinity to children age 4 to 7 years.

Also very highly recommended is the following title from Pauline Books is "The Legend of the First Valentine: A Story of God's Love (9780819846051, $12.95)," by which is also by Cornelia Mary Bilinsky and illustrated by Andrea Tripke for young children.

The Adventures of Pook and Boogee: The Boys Meet Mr. Jones
Eric R. Anderson
Too Dang Happy
9781732987722, $17.99, HC, 48pp,

Synopsis: There are many people whose life's work made a big difference in the world, but who did not receive recognition equal to their achievements. How many of us have ever heard of the African-American inventor, Frederick McKinley Jones? Our lives would not be the same without him, but his name has been lost to history.

In "The Adventures of Pook and Boogee: The Boys Meet Mr. Jones", two boys (Pook who is a precocious inventor and Boogee, his lovable brother) who go back in time to meet Mr. Jones, and see how his intellect, perseverance, and his desire to help people resulted in amazing inventions and taught Pook and Boogee some important life lessons. Also included are additional facts about Mr. Jones and Boogee's dictionary of words Pook uses and he pretends to understand until he looks them up.

Critique: This is the first book in a picture book adventure series by author and illustrator Eric R. Anderson, "The Adventures of Pook and Boogee: The Boys Meet Mr. Jones" will engage young readers ages 7-10 with a very special appreciation for unsung heroes who are a force for good. While especially and unreservedly recommended for elementary school, middle school, and community library African-American picture book biography collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Adventures of Pook and Boogee: The Boys Meet Mr. Jones" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781732987739, $15.99).

Editorial Note: Eric R. Anderson believes education should challenge the mind and uplift the spirit. His first foray into children's literature included classics like The Frog Who Cannot Jump and The Untidy Teacher. Both earned him high marks from his first and second grade teachers. Eric began painting in his teen years and still finds joy in putting a brush to paper.

It's Just a Plant
Ricardo Cortes
Akashic Books
232 Third Street, #A115, Brooklyn, NY 11215
9781617758003, $17.95, HC, 48pp,

Synopsis: Now in a newly updated edition, "It's Just a Plant: A Children's Story about Marijuana" by Ricardo Cortes is a children's picture book that follows the journey of a young girl as she learns about the marijuana plant from a cast of characters including her parents, a local farmer, a doctor, and a police officer.

Marijuana can be hard to talk about. Many parents have tried it, millions use it, and most feel awkward about disclosing such histories (often ducking the question), for fear that telling kids the truth might encourage them to experiment too. Meanwhile, the "drug facts" children learn in school can be more frightening than educational, blaming pot for everything from teenage pregnancy to terrorism. A child's first awareness of drugs should come from a better source.

"It's Just a Plant" is a story for parents who want to discuss the complexities of pot with their kids in a thoughtful, fact-oriented manner. "It's Just a Plant: A Children's Story about Marijuana" also features an afterword by Marsha Rosenbaum, PhD, founder of the Safety First Project for drug education and director emerita of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization working to end the war on drugs.

Critique: Absolutely 'kid friendly' in tone, organization and presentation, "It's Just a Plant: A Children's Story about Marijuana" is especially recommended for family, preschool, elementary school, and community library Contemporary Social Issues & Health/Medical Issues collections for children ages 4-8. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "It's Just a Plant: A Children's Story about Marijuana" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Ricardo Cortes has written and illustrated many books including Sea Creatures from the Sky and A Secret History of Coffee, Coca, and Cola. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, and on CNN, Fox News, and the Late Show with David Letterman. Those interested can see his work at, or on Twitter and Instagram at @Rmcortes.

Norman Grubb: Mission Builder
Janet Benge & Geoff Benge
YWAM Publishing
PO Box 55787, Seattle, WA 98155
9781576589151, $9.99, PB, 208pp,

Synopsis: Norman Grubb read the first sentence of the letter again: The whole country round seems to be really greedy to hear the Word of God, many are deciding for Christ. As he read, he heard a clear voice inside his head say, That's where you are to go. A shiver ran down Norman's spine. He was positive God had just directed him to join C.T. Studd and his mission in the heart of Africa. That was where his life's work lay.

As a boy at boarding school in Great Britain, Norman would never have guessed where his life's work would take him. After serving in World War I, he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he played a key role in the beginnings of InterVarsity Fellowship. Following in the footsteps of C.T. Studd, Norman then answered God's call to join the Heart of Africa Mission in the Belgian Congo.

A passionate yet humble evangelist, missionary, and teacher, Norman went on to lead the Worldwide Evangelistic Crusade (WEC) and helped found the Christian Literature Crusade. Pouring his heart into teaching the Bible and writing numerous books, he strengthened the faith of thousands.

Critique: An exceptionally well written, impressively informative, and wonderfully inspiring Christian biography for readers ages 10 to adult, "Norman Grubb: Mission Builder" is the newest addition to YAMM Publishers simply outstanding "Christian Heroes Then & Now" series. While unreservedly recommended for school and community library Christian Biography collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Norman Grubb: Mission Builder" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.50) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (9781576586815, $21.99).

Editorial Note: Janet and Geoff Benge are a husband-and-wife writing team with more than twenty years of writing experience. Janet is a former elementary-school teacher. Geoff holds a degree in history. Originally from New Zealand, the Benges spent ten years serving with the Youth With A Mission program.

This Is the Church
Sarah Raymond Cunningham, author
Ariel Landy, illustrator
Beaming Books
PO Box 1209, Minneapolis, MN 55440
9781506445328, $17.99, HC, 32pp,

Synopsis: Offering a whirlwind tour through all the wonderful things church can be and do and mean is "This Is the Church" is a collaborative project by the team of author Sarah Raymond Cunningham and illustrator Ariel Landy.

"This Is the Church" is an update to the classic children's rhyme and an introduction to church for a new era for children ages 4-7. From megachurches to little chapels to underground meetings, from welcoming to helping to feeding the hungry, church can be and do a lot of things. But ultimately that old rhyme said it best: the church is the people!

Critique: Highly recommended for family and Sunday School picture book collections, "This Is the Church" is an ideal gift book for baptisms, confirmations, or any occasion in which children are welcomed into the life of the body of Christ.

God Loves Little Things
Sandra Harmon, author/illustrator
Sandy's Shelf Books
9780998038780, $18.95, HC, 34pp,

Synopsis: The clear and engaging message for children in artist and writer Sandra Harmon's "God Loves Little Things" picture book is that all of God's creatures, great and small, are miracles. God loves little things just as you do. But most of all, He loves you. Children will see that they can share the love of God all year long. Of special note are the beautiful watercolor illustrations that will captivate young readers as they learn about God's love.

Critique: Thoroughly 'kid friendly' and inspirational in tone, commentary, and presentation, "God Loves Little Things" is unreservedly recommended for family, church, and community library collections.

The Blockbuster Bible: Behind the Scenes of the Bible Story
Andrew Prichard
Lion Hudson
9780745977799, $19.99, HC, 144pp,

Synopsis: Lights, Camera, Action...! Young Christians ages 7-14 will enjoy joining 3D Freddie and Popcorn Sally for the Bible story, retold as never before in "The Blockbuster Bible: Behind the Scenes of the Bible Story". There they will meet the Bible's best-loved characters through scripts and storyboards, movie posters and social media, acceptance speeches, and interviews with the stars.

Young readers will discover a wide range of passages from Genesis to Revelation, written in a lively way but staying very close to the original text, complete with cast list, glossary, maps, and timelines. The will also follow scene selection cards as a kind of visual guide through the Bible story, and track the theme cards as the three big storylines unfold. They can use flashbacks and flash-forwards to see how one Bible event links to another.

Critique: "The Blockbuster Bible: Behind the Scenes of the Bible Story" is unique, fun, informative, thoroughly 'reader friendly' throughout, and highly recommended for family, Sunday School, and community library collections for young readers.

Editorial Note: Andrew Prichard is an author and teacher living in Oxford. He teaches the Bible to 7-13-year-olds in the classroom, in school assemblies, and on Christian summer camps. Originally set on working in the film industry, he now combines his love for the movies with his love of the Bible story in The Blockbuster Bible and The Blockbuster Bible: The Teacher's Cut. Andrew is passionate about bringing the Bible to life with simple, clear and visual teaching.

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

Tahoma and its People
Jeff Antonelis-Lapp
Washington State University Press
PO Box 645910, Pullman, WA 99164-5910
9780874223736, $27.95, PB, 265pp,

Synopsis: In "Tahoma and its People: A Natural History of Mount Rainer National Park", by Professor Jeff Antonelis-Lapp, we have a passionate science educator presenting a natural and environmental history of Mount Rainier National Park and the surrounding region.

"Tahoma and its People" deftly identifies and explains the geologic processes that create and alter landscapes, interrelationships within and between plant and animal communities, as well as weather and climate influences on ecosystems, and what linked the iconic mountain with the people who traveled to it for millennia.

In "Tahoma and its People" Professor Antonelis-Lapp intersperses his own direct observation and study of organisms, as well as personal interactions with rangers, archaeologists, a master Native American weaver, and others. The topics covered include geology, archaeology, indigenous villages and use of resources, climate and glacier studies, alpine and forest ecology, rivers, watershed dynamics, keystone species, threatened wildlife, geological hazards, and current resource management.

Critique: An inherently interesting, impressively informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented work of seminal scholarship, "Tahoma and its People: A Natural History of Mount Rainer National Park" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community and academic library Natural History collections in general, and Mount Rainier history and ecology reading lists in particular.

Editorial Note: Jeff Antonelis-Lapp holds an M.Ed. in science education from the University of Washington. He has been a classroom teacher and drug prevention presenter, and has held several positions in adult and continuing education for the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. For ten years he taught writing and Native American studies on western Washington Indian reservations for The Evergreen State College, and then worked as an on-campus environmental education, natural history, and expository writing instructor. He retired in 2015, and is now an emeritus faculty member.

Torah and Nondualism: Diversity, Conflict, and Synthesis
James H. Cumming
Ibis Press
c/o Red Wheel/Weiser/Conari
65 Parker Street, Suite 7, Newburyport, MA 01950
9780892541874, $35.00, HC, 368pp,

Synopsis: "Torah and Nondualism: Diversity, Conflict, and Synthesis" by James H. Cummiong is a commentary on the Torah, or Pentateuch, meaning "five books," written in the form of five essays - one for each book. It reconciles modern biblical scholarship with the Jewish hermeneutical techniques recorded in the Zohar and shows that the meanings these interpretive techniques reveal are so consistent and illuminating throughout the Bible that they must have been intended by its redactors. By combining these traditional methods with modern insights, the book uncovers hidden themes in the Bible that other commentaries have overlooked.

Specifically, "Torah and Nondualism" discovers a syncretistic subtext in the Pentateuch aimed at reconciling two religious cultures: one rooted in Egyptian esoteric tradition and the other in Canaanite mythology and practice. In later times, these two religious cultures corresponded roughly to two rival kingdoms, Judah and Israel. The Torah ingeniously harmonizes this spiritual and political rift. When this subtext is fully appreciated, it is recognizable in all the Torah's most obscure rituals. Even those priestly rites associated with temple worship are understandable. The bitter rebellion against Moses and Aaron's leadership is presented in terms of the Torah's effort to harmonize conflict, sometimes by demanding great personal sacrifice.

Illustrated to make the complexities of scribal hermeneutics readily accessible to the non-expert, Torah and Nondualism requires no prior knowledge of Hebrew and introduces the reader to an esoteric level of Bible interpretation previously known only to a small group of trained Hebrew scribes. Its intelligent and well-supported analysis promises to change the way you think about the Bible.

Critique: Impressively informative, insightfully detailed, exceptionally well written, organized and presented work of seminal scholarship, "Torah and Nondualism: Diversity, Conflict, and Synthesis" is an extraordinary study that is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of two Appendices, a twelve page Bibliography of Cited Works, and an eleven page Index. While especially recommended as an addition to community and academic library Torah, Zohar, Hermetism, and Rosicrucianism collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of Judaic Studies students, academia, and non-specialist general reader with an interest in the subject that "Torah and Nondualism: Diversity, Conflict, and Synthesis" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.25).

Editorial Note: James H. Cumming's religious scholarship began in 1981 with Kashmiri Shaivism. In the 1990s, his studies included the Mahabharata and the Upanishads. In the 2000s, he taught himself to read Hebrew and undertook a comprehensive study of Jewish mysticism that included the multivolume Zohar and the leading texts of Lurianic Kabbalah. After studying Hebrew scribal techniques, he closely reread the Hebrew scriptures, applying the hermeneutical methods described in the Sifra di-Tzni'uta and the Idra Rabba.

Paul T. Vogel

Richard Blake's Bookshelf

Jumpstart Your Happiness - Your Jolts - to Prosperity, Motivation & Living with Intention
Shawn Doyle CSP
Sound Wisdom
978640950764, $16.99, 232 pages

Motivational, Success, and Extraordinary Living

Shawn Doyle CSP has done it again. His new book in the Jumpstart series is sure to be a winner. "Jumpstart your Happiness" provides steps to prosperity, motivation, and living with intention. Thirty fast-moving chapters called "jolts" are chockfull of exciting motivational ideas that can help you, the reader, create your environment and become the architect of your own life, pursue happiness, and find joy.

The developing your hobbies, avoiding distractions, facing adversity, and expanding your expectations are just a few of the exciting steps to living with Intention that Shawn presents.

I found the Stress Management Worksheet to be a helpful tool. I also want to call to your attention the essential reasons for and steps to take for expanding your expectations - hints on expanding language; powerful.

I love the format of the book, including the thought-provoking questions, the myriad of challenging quotes for reflection and suggestions for online learning.

Shawn Doyle, CSP, knows his field, is an articulate communicator, and has his pulse on current expectations from potential leaders of tomorrow in industry, finance, and education. He also understands how people are motivated and a passion for helping others live with intention while fulfilling their purpose and finding happiness by living with intention.

I am committed to transforming my dreams into reality and celebrate my victories.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

A View from the Top Action Guide
Zig Ziglar
Sound Wisdom
9781640951020, $24.95, 2019, 112 Pages

Turning Dreams into Realities, Motivational, Relational

The ten stimulating action steps contained in the Action Guide follow the chapter applications from the book "A View from the Top - Moving From Success to Significance" challenge the reader with practical, proactive steps to set and reach goals, and to reinforce and realize their dreams.

The introduction and first three chapters establish what it means to live successfully, the importance of balance, and the challenge to move from success to significance. The chapters include action steps for maximizing your gifts and potential and a life-changing procedure.

The stories of well-known individuals from the past and present who have dealt with disappointment, overcome challenges - physical, financial, and psychological - that dreamed big worked hard, and made an impact on their world are very inspiring.

I took a close look at the unique challenges of chapters four through seven, which introduced the importance of building winning relationships, understanding freedom, dreams, imagination, and motivation.

At this time in life, I am taking an inventory of my life values and how I have used the opportunities and passion that motivated my "Life Mission" or purpose. Chapters nine and ten helped me appreciate more fully the significance of spirituality and finishing well.

I am grateful for earlier exposure to Zig Ziglar and his principles for success. I am also appreciative of the collaboration of the Nightingale-Conant and Sound Wisdom in making these available to a new generation of success-oriented readers.

Powerful writing, outstanding the organization, and formatting, highly recommended.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

FTI. Failure to Implement: The 10 Principles of Phenomenal performance
Howard Partridge
Sound Wisdom
9781640951488, $16.99, 2020, 240 pages

Business and Economics, Entrepreneurship, Success Principles

In his book FTI. Failure to Implement: The 10 Principles of Phenomenal Performance Howard Partridge explains why people don't reach their biggest goals. He then challenges the reader to examine each of these principles and integrate or implement them in their business and personal life.

Howard's writing brings freshness and a contagious excitement to his writing. I find the format of the book to be especially helpful in reading, visualizing, and reviewing. Power-packed chapters fill with instructions, suggestions, significant instruction, and action steps.

I became intrigued by the quips and quotes, challenging principles, and illustrations.

I am ready to take action, to give it all I've got, committed to "Implement the ten principles of phenomenal performance for success" in every area of my life. In the weeks ahead, I plan to explore more fully the POD Principle introduced in Chapter 13, a plan to foster more communicative communication through Life Support Groups. Two valuable appendixes contain a 13-week outline for POD meetings and a useful list of Phenomenal Productivity books. I want to join other readers who have provided rave reviews for Howard's writing and the life-changing importance of these principles.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

We Need to Talk - Building Trust When Communicating Gets Critical
Phillip Van Hooser
Sound Wisdom
9781640951556, $15.99, 2020, 98 pages

Customer Relations, Consumer Behavior, Marketing

Before I had finished the foreword and the acknowledgments, I knew I was in for a good read, a great story. By the fifth paragraph of the first chapter, there was no question about it: Philip Van Hooser had me hooked. I did not want to miss one word of We Need to Talk - Building Trust when Communicating Gets Critical. As a parent of four boys myself, I identified with Philip's dilemma.

Van Hooser describes a 6 step Split Chin communication process in a unique storytelling technique that held my attention for the full nine chapters. I have been challenged to become a better communicator, to work hard to exceed expectations, and never to give up.

Original drawings by Kevin Van Hooser brilliantly brought insight into key characters in Philip's story.

I set out to read and enjoy every word of the book and have fulfilled my goal in reading as well as accomplished the author's goal of helping me "find value on every page."

We Need to Talk - Building Trust When Communicating Gets Critical is a book I plan to keep readily available on my ready reference.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

101 Prophetic Ways God Speaks - Hearing God is Easier Than You Think
Hakeem Collins
Destiny Image Publishers
9780768450668, $18.99, 2019, 324 pages

Discernment, Revelation, and Intimate Obedience

Dr. Hakeem Collins introduces the reader to 101 Prophetic Ways God Speaks in his book by this title. Chapter One defines the power of discernment by the Spirit, through faith, and the written Word.

Our part is to listen, respond, and obey. The Spirit will distinguish, decipher, and discern. From themes of discernment and divine revelation, 101 short, fast-moving chapters, Dr. Collins illustrates how the witness of the Holy Spirit brings specific knowledge, confirmation, and affirmation.

Each subsequent chapter contains life-changing ways God the Father uses the Holy Spirit in unique and amazing ways to speak to Christians today. Prayer, Fasting, Worship, Praise are familiar, often neglected, examples. Signs, wonders, and miracles are also existing opportunities regularly overlooked.

The Gift of Prophecy, the gift tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, and the working of miracles, are only of few of the gifts God speaks through today. Prophets, pastors, evangelists, and teachers each have a specific ministry gifts, speaking on God's behalf.

I have been challenged anew to allow the Holy Spirit to quicken my Spirit in the small details of my life, an inner witness that awakens my Spirit confirms God's message for me, whether, spoken, heard, sensed or discerned, and expression from God the Father.

I can heartily join others who have benefited from Collins book 101 Prophetic Ways God Speaks.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Uncopyable - How to Create An Unfair Advantage Over Your Competition
Steve Miller
Sound Wisdom
9781640951709, $15.99, 2020, 172 Pages

Sales, Marketing, Customer Relations

Steve Miller's book "Uncopyable - How to Create an Unfair Advantage over Your Competition" is unmatched in practical lessons on gaining a competitive advantage in marketing your product or company.

Page by page, I thumbed through the book to view the illustrations, read the bold pull-outs, and catch a glimpse of the wealth of information and take away potential available in this fast-moving eight chapters of "Uncopyable." I wanted to discover the secret of How to Create an Unfair Advantage Over (my) Competition.

Incredible stories and significant personal narratives illustrate and reinforce Steve's well facts and relevant, actionable principles.

The book contains three sections:

1. The Uncopyable Foundation

2. The three Uncopyable Strategies

3. Uncopyable Tools and Rules

The book is filled with outstanding innovative, practical strategies and tools for increasing your market share. I discovered I had a crash course in marketing in my hands - a new slant on principles about to change my preconceived ideas to proven facts waiting to be put into action.

Corporate Leaders, Entrepreneurs, Personal Coaches, Consultants, and Service-Related Business Owners will benefit from Steve Miller's incredible book "Uncopyable."

Leaders in business and industry describe Steve's strategies as innovative, extraordinary, and as a marketing guru. I want to add my "Highly Recommended" to this list of accolades.

A copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Leadership Mastery, Growing Your Capacity to Lead Yourself, Others, and Your Organization
Billy Epperhart
Harrison House Publishers
978680314212, $16.99, 2020, 240 pages

Professional Growth, Leadership, Success

"Leadership Mastery, Growing Your Capacity to Lead Yourself, Others, and Your Organization" is written in three parts:

1. Leadership and You

2. Leadership and Others

3. Leadership and Your Organization

Billy Epperhart challenges the reader to: Find your identity, establish your purpose, and fulfill your destiny while preparing yourself for bigger, better things. and, finally, to communicate your vision to others. Billy then goes on to equip the reader with the leadership tools and strategies to lead others in their organization.

A look at Billy Epperhart's career accomplishments will convince you that he has a passion behind his message and that his message is worthy of your attention. I found the chapters dealing with the leader in change, the leader and the family, and the leader provides direction to be uniquely insightful and personally beneficial.

Epperhart's writing is well organized, hands-on coaching, with applicable principles for implementing.

"Leadership Mastery, Growing Your Capacity to Lead Yourself, Others, and Your Organization" is written for "anyone at any level," corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, life coaches, church leaders, pastors, mentors, parents, and college students.

A copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Good Man, Great Family: Leading Men to Be the Fathers God Called Them to Be
Dr. Bill Moore
Harrison House Publishers
9781680314632, $16.99, 2019, 112 pages

Family, Christian, Spiritual Growth, Parenting, Father

In his book Good Man, Great Family, Dr. Bill Moore provides the reader with practical steps and practical suggestions for accountable are fathering and being men of character and integrity.

Dr. Moore establishes some guidelines from the Scriptures for readers to set as guidelines for becoming the fathers God called them to be.


Moral Uprightness

A life union in a relationship with Jesus

Standards and Values from the Scriptures

Always speak truth

A glimpse into the life of David reveals several essential elements in David's character that resulted in being a man after God's own heart.

Page after page, Dr. Moore relates real-life stories and examples from men of the Bible to inspire the reader to work at becoming the husband and father and men of vision, and mentors to other men.

As the father of four sons, and the grandfather of eleven, I understand the journey of fatherhood and the importance of example, heartache, and victory. Lessons I learned along the way have shaped my life. I only wish I had Dr. Moore's principles and models found in Good Man, Great Family during those crucial formative years of my boys. I am pleased to say, they passing along their Christian heritage to a new generation.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

A Life Ablaze: Ten Simple Keys to Living on Fire for God
Rick Renner
Harrison House
9781680314236, $17.99, 2020, 434 pages

A Fresh Approach to Exercising Spiritual Disciplines

Rick Renner's book A Life Ablaze: Ten Simple Keys to Living on Fire for God offers a fresh approach and motivation for exercising essential spiritual disciplines.

Rick's writing is dynamic, commanding, thought-provoking, and passionate. Rick encouraged me to live a life consistent with God's Word, to be alert for the Holy Spirit's leading, and to embrace God's Word as the focal point in my walk with Him.

I aspire to be intentional about maintaining an attitude of prayer communing with the Father, to consciously offer praises and thanksgiving in a spirit of adoration for Him. I am committed to inviting the Holy Spirit to do in-depth work in me, relying on Him for the power to be an effective witness as I obey His promptings.

I want to prioritize generosity, cultivate a passion for giving to the furtherance of God's work. I am praying that I might walk daily in the reality of holiness, in the spirit of humility, under His divinely appointed authority. It is my utmost desire to keep my life ablaze for God by knowing Him more intimately and becoming conformed to His ways.

Rick Renner's A Life Ablaze is a book I can highly recommend for anyone eager to fulfill God's purpose in their life: a book I want to reread and then read again, and again.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Closer than You Ever Imagined: Experiencing the Deep Relationship with God, You Always Wanted
Karen Jensen Salisbury
Harrison House Publishers
9781680314137, $15.99, 2020, 200 pages

Spiritual Growth, Christian Growth, Christian Life

Karen Salisbury's book Closer Than You Ever Imagined challenged me to experience an awe-inspiring emergence into a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Lord and the Holy Spirit's indwelling power.

Karen's personal story of grief helped me to exchange my pain of mourning for the joy of hope. God has given me a new glimpse into His divine purpose. My soul craves a deeper fellowship and closeness with God.

A conversational writing style, deep insights, and practical tools, all add to the enjoyment and take away the value of Karen's message. The declarations and discussion questions at the end of each chapter activate the power of God's Word in the life of the reader.

I found the chapter Quality Time, particularly helpful in practical ways I can make my devotional time with the Lord, more vibrant, more consistent, in prayer, praise and meditation. I read with a pen in hand as the Holy Spirit opened my spiritual eyes to fresh insights, reinforcing my faith, relying on His strength, and absorbing God's love.

Closer than You Ever Imagined is highly endorsed by Christian leaders. I join them in encouraging you to read Karen's story.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Moving from Sword to Scepter
Wanda Alger
Destiny Image Publishers, Inc.
9780768451795, $16.99, 2020, 252 pages

Moving from Sword to Scepter: Rule Through Prayer as the Ekklesia of God

Prayer, Spiritual Warfare, Pentecostal, Charismatic

"Moving from Sword to Scepter" is a dynamic guide book for church leaders and Christians at all levels of maturity.

The book contains two sections: Part One looks at the Government of God. Part Two introduces the Intercessory Commission.

Each of the twelve chapters provides strategies and guiding principles for individual, group, and public prayer. This instruction emphasizes the meaning of prayer and describes its various forms.

Examples from the early church, taken from the Book of Acts, illustrate essential principles of Spiritual Warfare.

Throughout the whole book, you will find that each chapter prepares for the challenge of the following section.

The chapters close with prayer declarations for our Nation, and our leaders, God's government on earth, prayers for pastoral leadership, for unity among believers, for establishing prayer in the city, and for Christian's engagement in the public arena.

Wanda Alger's book "Moving from Sword to Scepter" is a book to be read, studied, digested, shard, and applied.

The pages are filled with Biblical examples and real-life stories, a powerful teaching tool for preparing prayer warriors for our Nation and the Nations of the world.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Richard R. Blake
Senior Reviewer

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

In the Line of Duty (Detective Madison Knight Series Book 7)
Carolyn Arnold
Hibbert & Stiles Publishing Inc. Services LLC
B01HZVSQPW, $5.99, ebook, 2016, 290 pages
9781988353302 paper

In the Line of Duty, on the surface, appears to be a detective murder mystery but it is actually a character study about the emotional effects of a murder of a police officer and friend on those investigating the incident. The mystery portion of the tale would make a good novella. The other half of the book is about the emotional toll on the investigators.

Detective Madison Knight wakes to the realization that she might have accidentally moved in with her boyfriend Troy. As she ponders the wave of emotions they both get calls. A friend and fellow police officer has been shot and killed. Both try to navigate the flood of emotions from this double psychological hit and still find the killers.

In the Line of Duty is a solid detective mystery and character study but it suffers from a balance problem between the two different storylines. Arnold is a good writer so the bones of both narratives are solid. If you can handle the dichotomy between the two storylines, the book is an easy recommendation. Pure mystery readers might have a problem with the pages of emotional issues the characters work through.

Holy Ghost
John Sandford
G.P. Putnam's Sons
9780735217348, $9.99, 2018, 402 pages

The two best known series written by Sandford are the Prey novels and the Virgil Flowers stories. Holy Ghost is a Flowers story. Flowers is a Minnesota state investigator. Small towns across the state don't have the staffing to investigate major crimes so the state runs a detective division (BCA) to help them. Flowers is called to Wheatfield, Minnesota after someone has started shooting pilgrims to a small local Catholic church where an apparition of the Virgin Mary has occurred.

What makes a Sandford detective tale different than most other stories is how well he builds the scenes. You get the feel of the small town politics, characters and locations that seem real. The accuracy isn't there but the feeling is. You become immersed in the local gossip and unusual characters that are both extreme and yet seem authentic.

When Flowers starts investigating the shootings in Wheatfield, he has no leads. The shootings continue and people are dying. Even with no leads on the shootings, Flowers investigation turn up other crimes and his investigation is soon stretched thin as the cases build up. Flowers has to find the shooter before the town of Wheatfield shrivels away from the economic aftermath of having a serial killer stalking its streets.

The Holy Ghost is an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoys the detective genre. You get a solid detective mystery with great characters in a bucolic location hiding all of the tawdriness found in any major city.

S.A. Gorden, Senior Reviewer

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

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