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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 4 April 2022 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 S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf  

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf

Sixteenth Street NW: Washington, DC's Avenue of Ambitions
John DeFerrai, author
Douglas Peter Sefton, author
Georgetown University Press
3240 Prospect Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
9781647121563, 304pp

Synopsis: Sixteenth Street NW in Washington, DC, has been called the Avenue of the Presidents, Executive Avenue, and the Avenue of Churches. From the front door of the White House, this north-south artery runs through the middle of the District and extends just past its border with Maryland. The street is as central to the cityscape as it is to DC's history and culture.

With the publication of "Sixteenth Street NW: Washington, DC's Avenue of Ambitions", collaborative authors John DeFerrari and Douglas Peter Sefton depict the social and architectural history of the street and immediate neighborhoods, inviting readers to explore how the push and pull between ordinary Washingtonians and powerful elites has shaped both the corridor and the city.

This highly illustrated volume features notable buildings along Sixteenth Street and recounts colorful stories of those who lived, worked, and worshiped there. Maps are included to offer readers with an opportunity to create self-guided tours of the places and people that have defined this main thoroughfare over time.

What readers will find is that both then and now, Sixteenth Street NW has been shaped by a diverse array of people and communities. The street, and this book, feature a range of sites ranging from Black Lives Matter Plaza to the White House, from mansions and rowhomes to apartment buildings, from Meridian Hill (Malcolm X) Park with its drum circles to Rock Creek Park with its tennis tournaments, and from hotels to houses of worship.

Sixteenth Street, NW reveals a cross section of Washington, DC, that shows the vibrant makeup of our nation's capital.

Critique: An absolutely fascinating, impressively informative, and specific local history that includes a community roadway's history, architecture, land use planning, politics, social issues, and people responsible for making it what it is today, "Sixteenth Street NW: Washington, DC's Avenue of Ambitions" is a work of meticulous and documented detail. Enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of twenty-eight pages of Notes; a twelve page Bibliography; and a twelve page Index, "Sixteenth Street NW: Washington, DC's Avenue of Ambitions" especially recommended for community, college, and university library American History collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Sixteenth Street NW: Washington, DC's Avenue of Ambitions" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $26.49).

Editorial Note #1: John DeFerrari is a native Washingtonian with a lifelong passion for local history, which he writes about on his blog, Streets of Washington. He is also the author of Capital Streetcars: Early Mass Transit in Washington, DC; Historic Restaurants of Washington, DC: Capital Eats; and Lost Washington, DC.

Editorial Note #2: Douglas Peter Sefton is an architectural historian, creator of the preservation website Victorian Secrets of Washington, DC, and a member of the board of trustees of the DC Preservation League.

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

Tolstoy & the Checkout Girl
Lis Anna-Langston
Mapleton Press
9781957730011, $14.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook, 179pp

The literary short stories in Tolstoy & the Checkout Girl represent award-winning pieces that have earned acclaim elsewhere, but when read together, under one cover, they emphasize powerful, diverse structures that use the short fiction format to best advantage.

From 'flash form' quick vignettes to works such as the opening "The End of the Century," in which roommates grow and change, Lis Anna-Langston excels in capturing attention with descriptions that are hard-hitting from their opening lines: "Stuart was my favorite roommate. Once he discovered gin our apartment was a revolving door of busted romantic encounters." Contrasts between adversity and appreciation; between love and struggle; between propriety and risk-taking are all delightfully outlined in these unique observations: "His kisses were like a good bottle of scotch. I never got enough of them. Never loved kissing anyone but him, not in my whole life. No one trueness in his voice lured me in. Lonely, consumed out under the bright, blue sky a fierceness in his eyes swept me across the landscape. In the last fading rays of twilight we disappeared into the shadows of the parlor, far from my napping aunt."

As Anna-Langston graphically captures these experiences, readers are treated to a wealth of imagery and psychological insights presented with a literary twist in wordplay that both tantalizes and delights: "A naked searching for feelings just below our skin exposed our layers to the world. Our hands were a wild catalog of exploration."

The result is a series of stories fueled by references to alcohol, changing senses of place and people, and relationships that move from family to lovers and friends. From the magic of childhood to the inspections of adulthood, Anna-Langston creates a medley of feelings superimposed on experience to delight the mind and heart.

Tolstoy & the Checkout Girl needs to be in any literary short story collection where psychological and social observation intersect with literary inspection: "I didn't exactly need a feeling, nor did I have any idea where I'd put one."

Not Your Child
Lis Angus
Wild Rose Press
9781509241187, $17.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Not Your Child will please suspense story readers looking for tales about children who represent the heart of conflict.

The prologue opens the story with the aftermath of a head-on collision. The vehicle, found in a snow bank with two dead people inside, sports an empty baby car seat in back, while the remains of footprints tell investigators that someone was at the scene before they arrived.

Chapter One introduces another conundrum: Daniel, a sixty-three-year-old man, is captivated by a young stranger who looks like the spitting image of his daughter Kelly. Could this girl be his lost Hannah, who vanished all those years ago?

As Daniel follows his obsession with Maddy and Ottawa and psychologist and single mother Susan Koss deals with the threat to her daughter, this story's progression seems evident.

When Maddy vanishes, Susan faces her worst nightmare as Daniel awaits DNA test results that will prove his suspicions are correct, only to find the results mercurial. He doesn't need proof to know what his heart feels about the missing Hannah's link to Maddy. Or, does he?

As each character pursues their dreams and nightmares, readers receive a tense story of abduction and obsession from portrayed two different perspectives.

Lis Angus goes beyond depicting a desperate search for the truth, investigating the impact of the quest on all involved: "She was carrying on as if nothing had changed - and for her it hadn't. But for him, everything was different. Yesterday he'd taken her love of drawing as something she'd gotten from Kelly. Now he knew he'd been fooling himself."

Angus portrays events that move beyond black and white depictions of victims and perps to examine the gray area in which no singular character is completely wrong or evil.

Her story moves into deeper waters by investigating how family ties, unresolved mysteries, and unexplained events lead to overwhelming realizations that affect everyone.

The impact of DNA testing on an unsuspecting child; of kidnapping, confusion, and change; and of seemingly good people turned dangerous in the eyes of a young girl makes for a tense story that moves through different lives and generations.

Not Your Child embraces issues of ownership and questions about truth. It's a hard-hitting thriller that will keep readers engrossed to the end, adding unexpected twists and turns to provide delightfully intricate inspections of motive and reality, and deserves a place in any collection where suspense stories and tales of abduction and family ties are popular.

American Faust
Rick Brown
Ibex Press
9781957510019, $16.95

American Faust is a novel about evil's manifestation in modern times. It incorporates the influences of heaven and hell's deadly wager over human decision-making processes, and tells of an entrepreneur whose need for cash to foster his world-changing technology leads him to intercede in a relationship between a beautiful, hapless woman and nefarious demon lover Lawrence ("Worthy").

As James enters a place that was abandoned and burned years ago (but rebuilt to house this strange couple), he also enters into a relationship that evolves into a three-way dilemma.

Rick Brown moves history back and forth through time as events unfold. Readers move from a cocktail party in Henry Miller's Cabin in the year 2000, where we meet the protagonist James Harris, to Hearst Castle, where James meets a mysterious investor known as the Chairman. Then to World War I on the Italian Front, where German Baron Memphis von Topheles and demon/soldier Lawrence P. Worthington confront one another. The Baron informs Lawrence that he is a "darker version of The Wizard of Oz" as they debate the spoils of a war between good and evil which includes wealth, love, lust, and more.

In modern times and circumstances, the heroine of the story, Sharon Peters, a suburban housewife in Connecticut, innocently attends a party with Lawrence at Club Heaven and Hell in Greenwhich Village only to wake up and find herself living on a Country Estate under the thumb of Lawrence, where she faces unpredictable changes as she involves James in her dilemmas on many different levels. Through their ordeal in a timeless world, readers receive a close inspection of sins and redemption and good and evil as James, with the aid of a wise 'spirit of the statue', navigates and questions his motives in an effort to overcome greed, hate, and the Devil's influence on their lives.

Will James live - and how will he live? Is his idea that "God is not enough. I must rely on the devil's advice too" really a suitable way of juggling life? Is a partnership with the devil an issue of control, or an opportunity for salvation?

As readers move back and forth through times, perceptions, and conclusions of Worthy and James, they receive a thought-provoking story that takes the classic Faust tale to another level.

Filled with engrossing interplays between past and present, the devil, and a soulful spirit, American Faust juxtaposes literary allusion with modern-day inspections, weaving fantasy and reality into a layering of events that keep readers not just engrossed, but thinking.

While general-interest audiences will be the likely readers of American Faust, it's especially recommended for literary students of the classic story, who will find this modern take an intriguing perspective. Classes who study Faust's dilemmas and choices will want to include American Faust in their debates.

A Message in Poison
BJ Magnani
Encircle Publications
97816459903254, Hardcover: $26.99/Paperback $16.99/ebook $4.99

A Message in Poison provides another Dr. Lily Robinson thriller to delight both prior readers of her medical and political exploits and newcomers. It adds to the original short story collection, Lily Robinson and the Art of Secret Poisoning, as well as the novels The Queen of All Poisons and The Power of Poison, and will especially attract prior fans of these stories as Dr. Lily faces yet another crossroads and choices that will change the trajectory of her life and vocation.

The story opens with Beibut Khan, President of the Republic of Jokovikstan, who is comfortably ensconced in front of a home fire, reading a weighty economics book, when he begins to feel ill.

A world away, in Boston, toxicologist Dr. Lily Robinson reflects on the purpose and price of her vocation, which has been taken over by government special interests: "I've spent much of my life taking care of patients as a physician and taught a generation of medical students. But it was this very expertise in toxicology that captured the attention of our government. They seduced me and then orchestrated a transformation from consultant to assassin."

Her transformation has led to closing her eyes on the Hippocratic Oath, using her expertise in poison to assassinate potential threats to the world.

Newcomers to the good doctor's transformative process receive a fine recap of past events in Chapter 2, which sets the stage for her latest confrontation. Here, Lily faces the intersection of truth and deception (as do Adrienne and medical student Rose Moreau, Lily's birth daughter and Adrienne's adopted daughter) as the truth unfolds about Adrienne's other daughter Bella and how Rose wound up adopted.

BJ Magnani does a fine job of weaving imagery into powerful passages that capture Lily's life and perspective: "I lost my memory, and my little girl, and didn't find out she was alive until recently. Nature has a way to fool your brain when the facts don't add up, and you only see a fraction of life, like seeing the world through a prism. All the spectrum's bright colors dazzle you; maybe you only focus on one particular wavelength and therefore miss the fact that together, the colors form a single beam of white light illuminating a path forward."

As Alexis Popov (nee Bella) is captured by the Russians and finds her world transformed yet again, Lily, Rose, and Adrienne are all drawn into a struggle involving a Russian poison plot when connections are made between the deaths of a U.S. Senator and the President of Jokovikstan. As in the previous novels, the action takes place around the globe (here, primarily in Boston, D.C. and the fictitious Jokovikstan).

Under the onslaught of life-changing events, can her romance with lover JP survive? Adding a romantic component to the action creates a satisfying connection between personal and political conundrums as the story evolves.

The fast-paced action juxtaposes nicely with the personal dilemmas Lily faces as she uncovers a new plot that forces her to reconsider her talents and place in the world.

Adrienne, Rose, Bella, and JP are all powerful characters whose influences and lives are also explored during the course of a story that traverses international plots and personal confrontations alike.

Readers who enjoy medical thrillers will find that A Message in Poison holds more political suspense than the usual medical-world-based story, but adds satisfying interpersonal dilemmas to bring these events to life.

The result is another engrossing tale that is highly recommended for political thriller readers. A Message in Poison ends with the promise of more stories to come, while neatly resolving Lily Robinson's latest predicament.

Li Na Is My Name
Lisa Wee
Dixi Books UK
9781913680374, 7.99 Brit. pounds, PB, 32pp

Li Na Is My Name is directed to young audiences who deal with bullying and teasing. Yes, there is a difference, as Lisa Wee outlines in a picture book that depicts both adult and child methods of teasing.

Li Na is somewhat of a tomboy, as many adults disarmingly comment. She likes soccer, rollerblading, and activities which earn her the title 'tomboy'.

"Dad says kindness makes us beautiful," Li Na notes, but ongoing prejudice from others about her tomboy ways seem to refute the idea that kindness is being shown to her.

She muses that it simply doesn't make sense when people make comments that imply that a boy is somehow better than a girl - or that their interests should be very different.

As Li Na explores what it means to be a boy or a girl and why these attributes and pastimes don't make one superior to the other, she refutes the tomboy label that has been applied to her activities, emphasizing that she has a name and special abilities that should both be celebrated.

Kids receive a strong message not just about kindness and teasing, but about personal strengths that operate beyond gender identity alone.

While adults looking for empowerment stories to counter bullying and teasing will find that Li Na Is My Name more than fits the bill for this purpose, those who want to open discussions about girls and their abilities and possibilities should also include this story on their reading list.

Li Na Is My Name is a fine introduction to personal empowerment that is lively, thought-provoking, educational and fun, all in one.

Dark Obsessions
Marie Sutro
Pismo Press
9781735748818, $17.00

Fans of police detective Kate Barnes who found her a riveting, effective problem-solver in Dark Associations will welcome her return in Dark Obsessions, which is set in the small town of Eagle's Nest, Washington.

Here, Kate navigates worlds that move from her hard childhood to adult events that test her abilities. Marie Sutro takes the time to succinctly portray this sense of place and past: "In addition to being Kate's mother, Chloe Barnes had also been a corruption of nature. She was a mother who had not given a damn about her two daughters - a mother for whom prescription drugs had trumped maternal instinct."

Until six weeks ago, Kate had excelled in her position as a detective in the San Francisco Police Department's Special Victims Unit. Her encounters with the Tower Torturer, who exploited Kate's vulnerabilities before she finally overcame them to win the dangerous game, has resulted in her leave of absence from the department to track down the mother who traumatized her in childhood.

Sutro's neat summary of these events in just a few paragraphs helps newcomers easily enter Kate's world without prior familiarity with her recent trials, armed with the full knowledge of the wellsprings of her past successes and failures.

As Dark Obsessions unfolds, readers are treated to an intriguing story that contrasts Eagle's Nest with San Francisco's culture as Kate pursues a murderer and a conundrum: "Eagle's Nest isn't like San Francisco. We are a tight community. People don't walk around with sticks up their asses here!"

Sutro moves the story from Kate's perspective to mother Chloe's, employing a multifaceted approach to expand Kate's experiences and influences. Her attention to creating a fast-paced story is based as much on psychological interplays between an estranged mother and daughter as it is on a murder whodunit. This creates a vivid scenario that demands Kate more closely examine circumstances she'd spent years purposely avoiding.

From Washington's rugged natural beauty to the "necessary killings" that emerge from it, readers receive a heartfelt exploration that juxtaposes detective work with criminal activities that force an entire community to confront serious truths.

The result is a gripping thriller that rests firmly on both psychological and social examination. Dark Obsessions will delight both prior fans and newcomers to Kate, adding depth to her background and responses to crime with a powerful story of heroism and new choices.

Mystery and thriller fans are in for a real treat.

Sacred Mounds
Jim Metzner
Phir Publishing
9781737062738, $20.99

Sacred Mounds is a historical novel based on the Natchez tribe's myths and heritage. It tells of modern-day Lewis Salvador Samuels, who "didn't believe in demons and other realms. Or homeopathy." That is, until he was sent into the distant past where all these elements (plus telepaths) are real to the Indian whose body he inhabits.

Lewis also harbors the conviction that "We live our own mythology." This sentiment is about to be proven true in an unexpected twist he never could have predicted as he becomes involved in a rescue effort.

Jim Metzner moves back and forth in time in a manner that makes for smooth transitions between characters and past and present events and influences.

As Sacred Mounds builds the thriller components through suspense and unexpected events that influence Lewis and all those around him, readers venture into paranormal and fantasy realms which remain firmly rooted in action and intrigue.

The maelstrom of events that challenge two very different personalities to adapt to impossible circumstances and revised lives creates a complex, involving scenario that centers upon chance and a sacred Mound's ability to transpose two individuals who happen to sleep upon it at the same time.

As Lewis and his counterpart, Natchez Indian Skyfisher, struggle with their alien environments, bodies, and lives, readers are fully brought into the dilemmas that mark their experiences as strangers to themselves.

Are they insane? Are they hallucinating? Each must answer these questions as they confront different bodies and cultures separated by centuries of time.

The blend of social, spiritual, and psychological insights works well with the metaphysical mystery and journeys that each undertake. Readers who look for action-centered fiction that drives its characters to reconsider the realities of their world will find much to like in Sacred Mounds.

The blend of fantasy, historical backgrounds, lives detoured from their main trajectories during a body swap, and the special feel of being a soul in another's body are all captured with evocative, compelling language : "They set out at first light, Skyfisher's stomach grumbling, Lewis's mind vainly trying not to listen to it. In the forest canopy, a wood thrush trilled, their footsteps muffled by the forest growth. Every now and then a twig snap would startle a resting bird."

Steeped in a sense of place, revised purpose, and impossible circumstances that dictate new life approaches in order to survive, each character demonstrates a resilience and flexibility that revises their alternate reality and sense of themselves.

Metzner's ability to weave so many elements into a action-packed story is evident in a tale which proves hard to put down. It's anchored by both unexpected twists and turns and the psychological insights on two lives charged with revamping not just their trajectories, but their perceptions of reality itself.

Fans of metaphysical adventure firmly cemented in Native American mythology and culture will relish the remarkable blends of fiction and nonfiction reflected in Natchez and Native American traditions in Sacred Mounds.

The book is highly recommended for fans of Tony Hillerman, Dan Brown, and other fiction which walks the line between metaphysical and real-world experience.

Alycat and the Cattywampus Wednesday
Alysson Foti Bourque
Pelican Publishing Company
c/o Arcadia Publishing
990 N. Corporate Dr., Suite 100, New Orleans, LA 70123
9781455626489, $17.99, HC, 32pp, Ages 3-8

Alycat and the Cattywampus Wednesday tells of a day where everything seems 'upside down', from the dinner Alycat gets to eat for breakfast to a school bus which is full when it reaches her, even though she's supposedly the first stop it makes.

In fact, everything is backwards, from her locker number at school to the order of her classes. Isn't it fun to do things differently sometimes? Not if everything is different, all at once!

Alycat responds in the best way possible. Her assessment of the day's special challenges and how she can confront them gives picture book readers insights into the ways in which attitude can make a big difference in outcomes.

From problem-solving and positivity to friendship revelations, Alycat and the Cattywampus Wednesday gives many enlightening insights during the course of a zany day's experiences, mixing an entertaining read with thought-provoking moments.

Parents who choose this simple story for its read-aloud value will find Alycat and the Cattywampus Wednesday filled with opportunities for discussions about adaptation and how to handle difficult days when they seem to go all cattywampus.

Chiara Civati's engaging cat drawings bring Alysson Foti Bourque's fun characters to life in this whimsical, Louisiana-based story about kitties who confront a very different world.

Lucy and Dee: The Silk Road
Kirsten Marion
Common Deer Press
9781988761640, $13.95 HC/$12.95 PB/$8.49 Kindle, 214pp, Ages 9-12

Lucy and Dee: The Silk Road is recommended for middle grade readers who enjoy stories of adventures and quests. It follows the excitement two children face when they enter a land of magic and dragons to befriend a querulous young emperor who proves a royal pain.

Lucy Banks lives a conventional life with too-predictable parents. Neighbor Dee, on the other hand, injects surprises into her life via "silly experiments" her parents deem undesirable, and so he is her best friend - and the perfect companion to accompany her into this other world.

Kirsten Marion injects elements of reality into Lucy and Dee's life which gives their perspective a solid grounding in real-world dilemmas: "Her parents never even tried to make things any better. They just sailed along, telling each other stories about how the next job would be the one to make them all rich. All the while their house quietly collapsed around them."

She also provides surprising insights as the children encounter these magical and strange creatures that ask questions about their possible evolution: "Are there female Xami? Are you able to reproduce?"

"Dee! Personal question!" Lucy looked shocked.

He felt a flush creep up his neck. "Sorry, it's just that where we come from, mules, the product of crossbreeding between horses and donkey, are sterile."

"A Xamu can be either male or female. But we have to be individually made." Zi sighed. "Unfortunately, the learning for that was lost four centuries ago. No more of us have been made since. It's becoming a worry."

What happens when a royal figure that is supposed to be protected turns out to be so annoying that his saviors just want to dump him? Lucy's dilemma over Yidi and her duty is clear: "I know the kid is in danger. And I know our mission is to protect him." Lucy angrily stripped plump blackberries from their branches stopping to suck her thumb when a thorn pierced it. "But right now, his greatest danger is me. I could strangle him."

A further test is Dee's efforts to locate his missing parents.

Middle grade readers who choose Lucy and Dee: The Silk Road will find that its action and adventure operate on several different levels. It's a satisfying story of growth, understanding, courage, and friendships which also examines danger, embarrassment, disastrous choices and their consequences, and evolving maturity.

All the questions aren't neatly answered by the story's end, leaving the door ajar for more Lucy and Dee adventures; but many keys to success are achieved in a manner that will delight fantasy readers looking for a story more firmly rooted in psychological growth than most.

Libraries that cater to young patrons who like adventure fantasy quest stories will find Lucy and Dee: The Silk Road an excellent addition.

The Math Kids: The Triangle Secret
David Cole
Common Deer Press
9781988761626, $11.95 Paper/$8.99 Kindle, 184pp, Ages 10-12

The Math Kids: The Triangle Secret is the sixth book in the Math Kids series. It tells of fifth grader Jordan Waters, who is just starting to feel that the school year may not be a complete disaster after his posse of friends find themselves divided into different classrooms.

The Math Kids have used math to solve many cases, in the past. When an FBI investigation of a plane crash leads to a kidnapping, they are once again called upon to demonstrate their problem-solving skills.

Intrigue and adventure spice a story which outlines and uses mathematical patterns to solve mysteries. Examples of math problems and solutions both inside and outside the classroom spice a story that sprinkles math throughout, whether it's counting ice cream scoops, considering a sports coach's formula for success, or tackling a puzzling will.

Illustrations by Shannon O'Toole pepper David Cole's engrossing tale, building a sense of adventure and excitement that pairs math concepts with problem-solving mysteries.

The intrigue is nicely developed, the characters are enthusiastic and interesting, and the math formulas and concepts are clearly explained - but it's the mystery that drives the story and holds reader interest throughout.

No prior familiarity with the Math Kids series is needed in order to appreciate this latest adventure. Adults seeking to strengthen math concepts and applied learning skills in the young will find The Triangle Secret a great way of reinforcing mathematics through an appealing adventure that asks questions of readers to test their own problem-solving abilities.

For the Love of Laxmi
Bijal Shah
Mascot Books
620 Herndon Parkway, #320, Herndon, VA 20170
9781637552032, $18.95, HC, 38pp, Ages 6-8

For the For the Love of Laxmi: Everyday Desi Biases and the Imprints They Leave is a study in Indian multigenerational interactions. It presents a whimsical, fun series of dialogues between family members as they pose for a family portrait, argue, and love one another.

At the heart of this family encounter is Laxmi, a child who receives the loving attention of uncles, aunts, parents, and siblings.

Each family encounter causes Laxmi to question the nature of love, family support systems, and understanding not just between generations and the sexes, but in her role in her family unit and the world around her.

Fine illustrations by Alexa Carter personalize Laxmi's family and their experiences, bringing her encounters and questions to life. But it's the warm dialogues between family members leading to questions in Laxmi's mind (outlined clearly in sidebars that illustrate her thinking) that make Bijal Shah's story so compelling.

Shah, born in India and raised in the U.S., has always been fascinated with being raised in two cultures. Their contrasts (and little Laxmi's growth and evolution) receive center stage in a study in differences and independence which embraces both worlds and the choices Laxmi faces living in each as she grows up and moves to college and life away from home.

Picture book collections looking for multicultural reads that contrast different thinking, parenting styles, and a bi-cultural child's concerns between them will relish the lively and clear interactions in For the Love of Laxmi, which ultimately is a study in love.

Gordo Goo
Ruth Neikirk
Mascot Books
620 Herndon Parkway, #320, Herndon, VA 20170
9781645435952, $16.95 Hardcover/$4.95 ebook

Gordo Goo uses a rollicking rhyme to power the picture book story of a team of basketball players who face a particularly challenging game. It's time to bring in Gordo Goo, who "Missed his lay-ups by a lot;/Now is his chance to show he's hot."

Gordo has a solution to his problem. Literally. It's Magic Potion #2, a Big Blue taste that packs a punch and gives Gordo the confidence to become a winner. What is Magic Potion #2? It's an injection of positivity that Coarch Harris "makes for the team/Every night;/It keeps our bodies/Ready and right."

While adults may initially balk at the idea of a magic game-changing formula for enhancing sports ability, it quickly becomes evident that the drink is not a drug, but a dose of self-confidence that taps strengths that originate from the heart.

As Gordo proves himself and the magic potion is considered by others, readers gain insights into the real origins of achievement that stem not from magic, but from its perception.

Adults who choose this fun story for read-aloud discussion will find appealing not only its premise, but the fun drawings by Remell Segovia, which bring to life the efforts of a basketball team and a savvy coach who develops a formula to ensure it does its best.

Savage City
Donald Levin
Poison Toe Press
9780997294187, Paperback $19.95, Kindle $4.69

Savage City is set in 1932 Detroit during the Great Depression and tells of political and social unrest that affects and interconnects the lives of four characters during a week of labor unrest.

Detective Clarence Brown is a Black police officer searching for the killer of a young Black man. Ben Rubin's main ambition in life is to join a notorious gang. Elizabeth Waters has turned away from her privileged background to enter the fight for workers' rights. And unemployed worker Roscoe Grissom has a new job, spreading hatred.

As the lives of these four disparate individuals intersect, Donald Levin creates an intriguing milieu in which various Detroit ethnicities clash and face the rising tides of social change at a low point in America's economic history.

From changing concepts of what is perceived as opportunity to a plot to kill the mayor and the corruption that emerges at various levels to challenge moral, ethical, and personal belief systems, Levin outlines a realistic scenario that holds both familiar and new connections to modern times.

As changing relationships are influenced by different challenges, it becomes evident that these four individuals represent important trends and choices based not just on a sense of place, but the influences of their times.

The 1930s world of organized crime comes to life in Levin's writing, which succeeds in personalizing these encounters with characters. At first they seem to operate on different playing fields, but their special interests, backgrounds, and experiences eventually form the nexus of a tide of social change that sweeps over them all.

Library collections strong in novels about the Depression years, organized crime, labor history, or Detroit will find the intrigue, relationships, and challenges come to life in Savage City.

Tricking Power into Performing Acts of Love
Shepherd Siegel, PhD
Morgan James Publishing
11815 Fountain Way, Suite 300, Newport News, VA 23606-4448
9781631957307, $19.95 Papeer/$9.99 ebook

Tricking Power into Performing Acts of Love: How Tricksters Through History Have Changed the World is a recommended read for mythology and drama enthusiasts. It provides a close inspection of fun and confrontations with power structures that are based on trickery and play.

This method of analyzing life results in not just archetypal examples, but the presence of adults who employ the energy of the Trickster to confront and affect the world around them. It's an approach that invites not just laughter and comic relief, but offers serious contrast to the structures of power and angst that influence social developments.

Dr. Siegel is clear about his intention and subject from the start: "...this book is about the role of the trickster (human), and the Trickster (demigod, archetype), in opening our eyes and our minds to the tangible possibility of a more perfect and playful society, a utopia if you will."

As he surveys gags and tricks by such icons as the Marx Brothers, he adds contrasts between different cultures and ethnicities throughout history: "Trickster god Eshu Elegba plays a part in the New World experience of enslaved Africans, just as Trickster Wakdjunkaga does for the Native American Winnebago tribe. And just as Tricksters Til Eulenspiegel and Bugs Bunny influence Western culture. Playfulness and Trickster spirit have deep roots in all cultures and are especially prominent in the Afro-Atlantic (the southern United States, the Caribbean and Brazil)."

His survey of the archetypes surrounding the Trickster image and its operations within and effects upon cultures is a satisfying study in contrasts that covers everything from racist stereotypes and biases to mythological history.

While mythology readers and ethnic studies students will be the top fans of Tricking Power into Performing Acts of Love, it should also appeal to social science students and those interested in connections between mythological archetypes and contemporary society.

Dr. Siegel includes situations and quotes that emphasize the connections between Trickster myths of the past and their present-day appearance: "When the trickster speaks truth to power, power's first reflex is to dismiss." Lennon, in Bed Peace, confronted this dynamic directly: "Yoko and I are quite willing to be the world's clowns if by so doing it will do some good. I know I'm one of these 'famous personalities.' For reasons only known to themselves, people do print what I say. And I'm saying peace. We're not pointing a finger at anybody. There are no good guys and bad guys. The struggle is in the mind. We must bury our own monsters and stop condemn-ing people. We are all Christ and we are all Hitler. We want Christ to win."

The result is a powerful blend of scholarly analysis, mythology study, and social inspection that will appeal to readers of drama, mythology, and social issues on many different levels.

Tricking Power into Performing Acts of Love's ability to move fluidly through those scenarios makes it an unusual, highly recommended pick especially recommended for discussion groups.

The War of the Woods
D.E. Night
Stories Untold
c/o BCH Fulfillment & Distribution
9708985378214, $12.99 PB, $8.99 Kindle, 336pp

The War of the Woods is the fourth book in the Crowns of Croswald young adult fantasy series, and will be especially appreciated by prior fans of Ivy Lovely's adventures.

Her search for the Kindred Stone, the final piece of the puzzle she's tried to put together in the previous books, leads her towards the Dark Queen and new struggles as she faces evil and the changing friendship with Fyn, who supported her prior encounters.

The strong fantasy elements Night built in previous books are still present and are expanded upon in The War of the Woods, where Ivy faces her final battle and questions how she can help the world if she can't even succeed in helping one individual.

Ivy's friends also return and come to her rescue in a big way - but not before everything they've built and believe in is threatened.

As in the other books in the Crowns of Croswald series, Night cultivates action-packed adventure, interpersonal interactions, and a host of fantasy elements, from dwarfs to evil queens.
Night also refines Ivy's ability to absorb life lessons and insights as she confronts her deepest fears and strengths: "Pure fear cannot touch or own pure magic."

As a dark army rises and a vortex of magical spells emerges on both sides, young adults are treated to vivid battle scenes, changing relationships, and a final goal which is rocked by internal and external struggles.

The characters developed in the previous books grow into their full-faceted abilities in a manner that is sometimes familiar and yet often surprising, as main characters and new personalities rise to the occasion.

Ivy steps into a revised role that, in many ways, was meant to be: "Just because something always has been, doesn't mean it should be."

These characters combine with a vivid quest adventure through fantasy realms to create a delightful conclusion to a series especially recommended for prior fans and library collections seeing interest in the Crowns of Croswald books.

All You Need
Sheela Word
Independently Published
9798480875676, $15.00 Paper/$3.99 Kindle, 348pp

All You Need represents coming-of-age historical fiction at its best, and will appeal to young adult and adult audiences alike. Set in 1968, it follows the life of twelve-year-old Terry Morales, who lives in Southern California with her Mexican mom.

Revolution is in the air with Dr. King and Kennedy's assassinations and the rise of protests against the Vietnam War, but Terry is more affected by the sudden appearance of an absentee father who invites her to spend time with him at an Oregon commune.

Terry looks forward to this transition: ", she thought, a very worthwhile summer was about to happen. A summer with her dad, who was not like anyone else's dad, he was so funny and original and had such unusual things to say."

Idealistic about the opportunity and its impact on her young life, Terry has yet to understand her independent mother's concerns about her future.

As she absorbs her father's unusual off-grid lifestyle and comes to realize that his invitation does not necessarily mean they will become closer, Terry begins to understand more about her mother Luisa's life and worries, her questionable role in her father's new life, and her own ability to handle her father's distance, intoxication, and choices.

When tragedy strikes and further changes happen, Dirk begins to understand his failings as a parent...which do not necessarily lead to him improving. Can men really change?

Sheela Word presents a powerful story of a young girl who grows to better understand her parents' personalities, choices, and her own best interests. As she encounters different family structures and faces new options, Terry's inherent sense of optimism is challenged.

The flavors of Mexican culture injected into this story give it an unexpected atmosphere filled with revelations, with details showing how Terry's background influences her perception and future.

Middle grade readers will be the most likely audience for this novel; but adults, too, will appreciate this story of a preteen's evolution as she faces two very different cultures, parents, and the social whirlwind of the 1960s that affects everything around them.

Impeccable psychological and social inspections make All You Need a riveting saga for all ages. It should earn a place in discussion and reading groups interested in multicultural accounts that operate on social and ethnic history levels.

The First Unibear
Kathleen J. Shields
Erin Go Bragh Publishing
9781956581003, $19.95 Hardcover/$9.95 Paper/$4.99 Kindle. 48pp

The First Unibear by Kathleen J. Shields is a picture book story decades in the making. The hardcover is illustrated in lovely full color by Aashay Utkarsh, while its paperback coloring book version is presented in black-and-white so kids can also enjoy a coloring book experience.

The vivid story lends to read-aloud as a playful little bear cub explores his world. The tale is presented in rollicking rhymes accompanied by spiritual and psychological inspections as the cub stumbles upon a sad horse in the forest:

"Hello Mister Horse, are you feeling okay?
Why look so sad on such a fine day?
The birds they are singing, the flowers in bloom,
why Mister Horse, do you show so much gloom?"

It takes a kind heart to reap the rewards of helping another, and when little bear is given insights (which he shares with others) about the horse, unexpected changes take place.

Parents who choose this inviting fantasy story for kids will be able to not only embellish the rhymes and enjoy the colorful forest animals, but can explain the bear's discoveries, dilemmas, and choices as well as the special form of magic which evolves when the tables are turned.

Lessons about kindness, giving, rewards, sharing magic, and appreciating spiritual components in life abound in the guise of a fun fantasy story that kids and read-aloud parents will appreciate.

There is nothing in the children's picture book world that's quite like The First Unibear. Its winning messages offer much food for thought in a detailed, fun story that will keep young listeners engaged and thinking and read-aloud parents delighted by the numerous opportunities to discuss lessons about the many types of gifts received from helping others.

Salt & Light: The Complete Jesus
Jonathan Geoffrey Dean
Friesen Press
9781039131439, $TBA

Salt & Light: The Complete Jesus is recommended for readers who seek to understand the "authentic Jesus." While it holds many academic references that scholarly students of the Bible will find satisfyingly authoritative, it also presumes that its readers have little in-depth technical foundations in either scholarly Bible studies or academia, making it accessible to an especially broad audience.

This and the tone of this historical and religious review makes Salt & Light accessible to a wider audience than most Christian research pieces, melding disparate research from academia (complete with footnoted references and bibliography) with an engaging focus and tone that lends to easy understanding.

The survey begins with a consideration of the existence of Jesus, which has been debated in different circles: "The idea that Jesus is merely a myth certainly stands as a minority position in the academic arena; however, I do think I should examine it first, since if Jesus did not exist, there is nothing to investigate. Perhaps I can save myself (and you) a lot of work by making this project pointless. And it is always a good thing to challenge the majority view!"

Jonathan Geoffrey Dean presents an unusual comparison between Jesus and Betty Crocker to draw connections between figures that seem real but are myth, or, conversely, which seem like myths, but were actually real: "Betty Crocker is a myth, yet many people, Carrier argues, believe she is just as real as Jesus. Other widely circulating myths include the 1947 Roswell UFO crash, the notion that Sherlock Holmes was a real detective, the idea that the US government destroyed the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, the cargo cults on Pacific islands, and the Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith's story of the golden plates. These all illustrate how quickly people can come to believe unexpected things, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Carrier does an excellent job presenting evidence to show how unsurprising it would be if Jesus were only a myth."

His discussions strive for reasoned analysis and accuracy as he delves into the heart of controversies surrounding Jesus, employing impeccable logic, footnoted historical references, and arguments to validate his considerations of what Jesus did, said, and who he was.

Those who expect a dry analytical approach will be delighted to find there are many linked references between present-day circumstance and culture and the Jesus of yesteryear, all presented in lively discourses that encourage easy reading and understanding, yet remain true to scholarly techniques.

It's rare to see a discourse that will satisfy both audiences with a lively tone and well-researched documentation, but

Salt & Light succeeds in doing so with an easy candor that melds supporting evidence with popular arguments, conclusions, and insights about Jesus.

Not only are Biblical and outside references consulted and revealed, but Dean is astute in explaining his methodology's underlying foundations: "I have shown that Peter-Mark, John, and Q are, by far, the richest and earliest sources for facts about Jesus. Luke and Matthew are early sources as well, although unreliable. It is now profitable to apply the Repetition Rule to see if the information in any potential source, or a source already in my Source List, is simply a repetition of information we already have in earlier sources. If so, the source is redundant and can be discarded. For instance, if a source's only fact about Jesus is that he was crucified, and Peter-Mark, being an earlier source, states that he was also crucified, then according to the Repetition Rule, the source is redundant and can be excluded from my Source List."

Controversial inspections also offer much food for discussion groups, as Dean points out discrepancies and issues with traditional analytical approaches: "In any case, Jesus did not follow Judaism himself. We have no explicit mention of him following Jewish customs. He did not abide by the Jewish purity laws when he ate with sinners (Mark 2:14 - 17), he entered tombs and touched corpses (Peter-Mark 10:34b), he did not fast (Mark 2:18), and he famously and repeatedly disregarded the Sabbath."

While Salt & Light: The Complete Jesus will undoubtedly be chosen for Christian collections, it would be a shame to limit its appeal to this audience alone. More so than most other discussions of Jesus, Salt & Light holds the rare opportunity to more deeply understand the figure, message, and purpose of Jesus, and thus should be considered by libraries interested in biographical, academic, or social histories of Christianity's presence and impact in the world.

It's a very highly recommended and unusual work for its rare ability to appeal fully to both scholarly and lay audience, and is packed with researched and footnoted information, appendixes, and a special brand of analytical inspection designed to address common perceptions and misconceptions of Jesus and his times.

Jade, Daughter of the Wasteland
Stephen J. C. Andes
Apotheosis Press
9781953366603, $12.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Jade, Daughter of the Wasteland provides a speculative story set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It depicts a world in which an Event has altered the environment that, fifteen years later, houses Jade, who faces a pack of Feral children at the story's opening.

This is a post-plague milieu of virally-deranged Twitchers, Anti guard patrols, and survivor efforts which hinge on finding safe places in a wreck of a world. Jade is an 'Older' in the eyes of the Ferals around her, but unlike most, she isn't intent on controlling or manipulating them. Her brother, Samuel, is committed to non-violent methods of survival that embraces methods learned during their time with the Sisters of the Way of Absolute Hospitality,

During one of her house searches for safety or survival tools, Jade finds a mounted saber in a glass case. It just so happens that her father had taught her how to fence. And so Jade holds her first real tool to navigating and surviving her world: "I've been without a weapon too long. Finally, once again, a part of me has been restored. I'm a woman with a sword."

Jade evolves as the story moves between past and present experience to consider her uncertain future survival in the wastelands of Baton Rouge as it falls apart.

Stephen J. C. Andes does a fine job of creating powerful characters who move through this revised environment surveying different options for survival. Jade is not the only main character making decisions about how to control it. Others, including a fifty-five-year-old woman who is somehow immune to the Twitch, also consider how to finish what they have begun in revamping their lives and interacting with others.

A lesbian Librarian central to the developing plot presents an alternate set of experiences, motivations, and choices that contrast well with Jade's evolution. As betrayal, nightmares, and violence threaten both of their dreams, Andes creates a vivid story of a future world that's falling apart in different ways.

The Librarian is rebuilding her Library. Jade is building a reputation for herself in The Wasteland. Both are on similar trajectories that cause them to rely on one another to bring their families together and build new safety into the world, post-virus.

Given COVID-19's presence today, there is no better time for choosing the evolutionary adventure that is Jade, Daughter of the Wasteland. It's a hard-hitting story of survival and transformation traverses different cultures and social elements in a vivid manner that keeps readers guessing about the nature of survival and that new world vision until the end. It is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in dystopian survival tales.

The Trouble with Murder
Vanessa A. Ryan
DX Varos Publishing
9781955065214, $18.95 Paper/$4.95 ebook

How does a slim woman decapitate a large, barrel-chested man? In The Trouble with Murder, Hetty Carson is being accused of killing Gerry Delaney. She didn't do it. But the cops think that she did.

Hetty is a part-time private investigator when she's not working as an account manager. This professional role is about to serve her well as she tries to juggle a sales route while assembling evidence to support her innocence.

Vanessa A. Ryan takes the time to not only explore the crime and its evolution, but Hetty's personality as she interacts with her environment: "For the first time in a while, I felt peaceful and safe. Although I wished I could live on a street like this, I didn't feel envy or sorry for myself. Maybe it was because no one knew me here, or because I realized I didn't gain anything from wallowing in self-pity. I just enjoyed the moment."

As she faces shooters, accidents, and choices she neither thought of nor wanted, Hetty finds herself accused of interfering with an investigation even as she draws closer to a strange truth. The effort of simply living her life without getting shot at, mugged, or involved in a murder seems to be linked to solving a crime she had nothing to do with.

As she considers Officer Ed Malone's dubious connections and a scheme designed to make her believe that the bad guy is the good one, Hetty is challenged both by her desire to run away and the consequences of her choices.

Ryan's story takes many unexpected turns as Hetty follows the clues into a trap. As she purposely places herself in danger, readers receive a surprise outcome that culminates in a terrible shock that tests her ability to stay focused in the midst of a traumatic encounter.

Forced to save her own life through her investigations, Hetty finds herself facing several conundrums that test her skills and her problem-solving abilities.

If this first book in a Hetty Carson series is any indication, murder mystery and detective fiction readers are in for an ongoing treat. Hetty is both proactive and reactive as she considers who she will trust with her life and who is telling the truth.

Readers will find The Trouble with Murder a compelling exercise in reason and reaction which considers how a series of increasingly close brushes with death give Hetty the strength to survive.

A Deux
Alexey L. Kovalev
Atmosphere Press
9781639881468, $16.99 Paper/$7.99 ebook

A Deux provides a literary, philosophical inspection of God and the phenomena surrounding a deity's presence and influences. It probes both the concept of God in general and the specifics of Christian belief systems in a manner that is thought-provoking, controversial, and revealing.

Alexey L. Kovalev's historical, social, and spiritual inspection pulls no punches: "I am not talking of Second Coming. I often think there was no First one either, at least in a way it has been rendered. God's sons come all the time. I am not for miracles, but for honest cooperation. I would take it to be inconspicuous if you wish."

It presents a give-and-take dialogue between the narrator and probable readers which questions, replies to, and raises further ironies and insights about God and the literary, philosophical, and religious sentiments that have risen around the concept over human history.

As these inspections evolve, it becomes evident that they are presented in a unique blend of free verse poem and literary discussion that runs the gamut between essay, drama, and poetry.

Kovalev questions status quo in many different ways, as the prologue to this venture points out: "A name needed to be found. So, he acquired quite a few since none of them fully embraced all his estimated features. But his existence was still indubitable, at least his participation in creating the Universe, in which a man discovered himself living. The Creator, Demiurge - these were some of the names. Equally unquestionable seemed to be his might and therefore power, so they also called him the Master, the Lord. However, the most popular and widespread became the generalized name, God, yielding a plethora of interpretations, but in its core meant abundance, good, and the ability to dispense it."

As hard as it is to neatly peg the literary wellsprings of these reflections, one thing is certain: readers who enjoy literary, religious, and social considerations of mankind injected with a subtle sense of irony and rebellion will find A Deux appeals to the literary, psychological, and spiritual components of the soul with a penetrating, thought-provoking, and unique voice.

A Deux may defy easy categorization, but what it demands of readers in the way of intellectual prowess is more than rewarded by a powerful, wide-ranging consideration of subjects that move from God to chaos: "You should not be afraid of chaos; it is full of living force and waits for your will to organize it one way or another. But instead of rational analysis, employ vivid, sensible concepts of Behemoths, Leviathans, rejoicing morning stars, and forego following the laws of a formed, artificial, problematic system. Do not fight it, just quit developing it."

Libraries strong in literary, religious, or philosophical inspections will find A Deux a fine intellectual journey.

The Boy Who Loved Boxes
Michael Albanese
The Weight of Ink
9781732898738, $9.95

The Boy Who Loved Boxes: A Children's Book for Adults is an inviting picture book story that tells of a child who wants order and organization in his life. The story begins at this point, but its main focus is on when he grows up to become a man who loves and employs the same sense of order to his life, using bigger and bigger boxes to organize his belongings and keep his life together.

The boxes, too, have moved from physical belongings to psychological containers of emotions that he uses to neatly file daily experiences, from faith to family.

The boxes give him a sense of control...until the pandemic hits and everything falls apart.

As he empties his boxes and discovers many broken, unneeded things have been tucked away, the nameless man struggles to find a different kind of box that will work better for him.
Can anything give him a sense of peace and completion, with everything falling apart when his previous boxes seem worthless?

Michael Albanese creates a picture book story that will especially appeal to adults in pandemic times whose paradigms for understanding, coping, and love have all been buffeted by the winds of social isolation and change.

While it might have once been questionable to choose the picture book format for an adult audience, during these stressful years where people have very short attention spans and limited coping capabilities, it's just the ticket for an encouraging, stress-free read.

Its underlying message offers particularly hopeful insights during this trying period in history. While it is tailored for pandemic times, it's easy to see that The Boy Who Loved Boxes will retain relevancy (and its message) long after the world has changed yet again, as it inevitably will.

Libraries should file The Boy Who Loved Boxes in the adult section, so it isn't lost among the kids' books. Readers of graphic novels and those who enjoy psychological coping strategies presented in a picture-embellished, lively collection of digestible concepts will relish The Boy Who Loved Boxes.

Deadly Declarations
Landis Wade
Lystra Books & Literary Services, LLC
9781736305584, $18.95 Paper/$1.99 ebook

Followers of historical intrigue fiction will find Deadly Declarations just the ticket, with its blend of mystery and history revolving around a retirement community resident's missing study about the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.

The colonial mystery lies at the heart of both a will that's being contested in court and a legacy that involves a truth that has been hidden for decades.

Landis Wade opens with an Author's Note that clarifies the historical facts and controversy surrounding this document ("If the Meck Dec did exist, who copied from whom?"), reviewing its history in a satisfying manner. This opens with John Adams' Letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1819 and continues to probe modern-day retirement living in an evolving situation that intersects the lives of historical conspiracy enthusiast Chuck Yeager Alexander and banished trial lawyer Craig Travail (among others).

Readers who wonder at the relevance of history to modern-day life will find the connections between the two are prominent and involving as Deadly Declarations evolves.

Wade creates both a cast of characters who interact with and view the mystery from very different perspectives and a historical backdrop that demonstrates how past decisions have lasting impacts on the future.

As Travail finds himself being used as 'live bait' and tackles the mystery of a handwritten will which suddenly disinherits a beloved granddaughter in favor of a widely-hated retirement community resident, Deadly Declarations creates a cat-and-mouse game that is delightfully unpredictable.

With so many subplots and characters involved, readers might expect this story will be complex and demanding. Not so. Deadly Declarations is a fine example of how historical precedents can neatly weave into modern times to create a dilemma that is captivatingly contemporary.

The puzzle is interlaced with a dash of humor and strong psychological profiles and inspections which make for a compelling read indeed. Deadly Declarations is highly recommended for readers of historical fiction, who will find the mystery component of added value; and for fans of legal fiction and intrigue, who will find the history surprisingly relevant and involving.

A Trail of Vengeance
Marvin Levine
Independently Published
B09PKGVNDN, $4.99 ebook

"Where do you think you'll be when you die?"

A Trail of Vengeance opens with a discussion between high school sweethearts who embark on a conversation about last wishes. These come frightening, suddenly true when Ben dies in what appears to be an accident.

Or, is it murder? And why did Beth's friend Shannon vanish in the midst of this event?

Fast forward seventeen years, when Shannon returns with a new name, identity, and a thirst for revenge which results in more bodies piling up.

The atmospheric South Carolina Low Country is a backdrop for these events as Beth uncovers new truths about not just the past, but her husband Jake. She comes to realize that her choices and relationships are part of a complex situation of ongoing deception and angst.

Marvin Levine not only places his characters in solid scenarios of intrigue and discovery, but takes the time to describe the Low Country culture and build the psychological profiles of Beth and everyone around her: "Beth drifted off and wondered what exactly comfort was - did she ever really have it? Could she ever find it again?"

These moments create a strong mystery that evolves on both a personal and an intrigue level to grab reader interest, weaving a story of revenge into that of a woman struggling to maintain equilibrium while overcoming past crises.

As her lifelong relationship with Shannon McKay is revealed, readers come to realize that Beth's involvement in this dangerous game embraces a traumatic association with an evil that emerges from the past to affect everyday affairs.

Readers who embark on Beth's journey towards realization and redemption will find much to enjoy about her processes of discovery, from her analysis of her marriage to Jake to her growing understanding of the special form of malevolence that Shannon represents.

The result is an engaging story of love and monsters that unfolds many surprising twists and turns before Beth's shaken world rights itself in a satisfyingly definitive conclusion.

Mystery libraries and those appealing to women's fiction readers will find A Trail of Vengeance spins a fine yarn not just of vengeance, but evolving truths and interpretations of them.

Blood in the Low Country
Paul Attaway
Linksland Publishing
9781735401621, $28.99 Hardcover/$18.99 Paper/$8.49 Kindle

Blood in the Low Country captures the Low Country atmosphere of South Carolina and angst faced by a successful middle-aged man, Monty Atkins, when everything suddenly changes in his life.

Murder and betrayal affect time-honored traditions such as dinner at the Atkins house, with its family routines of food and interpersonal interactions, even reaching into his successful business life to threaten everything he's built and the foundations of these achievements.

The messages of perseverance that used to work so well in the past now are stymied by Monty's exhaustion ("Don't let your hard work go to waste. Don't lie down.") This tiredness stems as much from his battles with himself as in the outside influences that have changed his life's trajectory: "Monty, on the other hand, was struggling in part because he couldn't define what ailed him. His battle was with himself."

Even his faith in God is rocked. As Paul Attaway carries readers through the life-changing series of events that lead Monty to question everything he's ever done, a fine mystery unfolds that is steeped in Southern traditions and religious perceptions. The thriller thus hits hard, on many levels.

As he pursues a real killer and reopens a case that turns into a can of worms, Monty discovers new purpose and approaches to life that, in turn, further challenge and change his perceptions.

Part of why Blood in the Low Country works so well is because it's steeped in a sense of community and place as it reveals the psyche of a hard worker who has spent his life cementing perceptions that are all called into question at once.

Many satisfying twists and turns emerge from the story as a young man is accused of murder and the press and FBI become involved. Attaway is adept at placing Monty's life and evolving concerns within the wider scope of a community rocked by a series of unpredictable events as Monty's underlying family dysfunction and attitudes affect everyone around him.

Readers who choose Blood in the Low Country for its mystery and intrigue will be especially delighted to find that it's equally well rooted in these insights on family dynamics, and will find the psychological interactions between characters involving and compellingly depicted.

Library collections strong in tales of intrigue that are firmly rooted in a sense of place, Southern culture, faith, and identity will find all these elements and more as the characters and situations in Blood in the Low Country are brought to life.

Light Giver
Mike Slade
Independently Published
9798795339542, $14.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Light Giver, the first book in The Chaos Apostles series, gives sword and sorcery fantasy readers a fine story about Kaine, who is the only one of his generation to inherit healing powers. His quest for direction leads him to the Kingdom of Yanasu, where he falls under the tutelage of a priest and meets princess Na'Serra, who is also on the cusp of evolving her magical abilities.

Given instruction, both will ease into their revised roles to make the most of their abilities; but underlying their transition is community pushback and questions that each have about their place in the world and the purpose of their lives: "Twice already, Kaine had observed actions that he could not explain. Moments where he felt they were just pieces on a King's Gambit mat, that the Gods were moving them around for their desires."

Part of this self-realization process is the ability to guide, follow, and understand the paths of men, Gods, and their revised roles in their communities. The other half of the equation lies in how well they learn their lessons about their powers and how best to wield them.

As Kaine moves within the court circles of King Tristin and learns to navigate political and social conflicts (as well as his abilities), he receives wisdom from its rituals and tests: "My only alteration to the second stage was the burning rocks underneath. The hand climb is exactly the same otherwise; it is only the fear of falling that is making these men fail." His lessons involve training himself how to attune to Na'Serra's energy as he hones his talents and considers the possibility that he will step into the role of becoming the next Light Giver.

Those with magic are being hunted. It's time for them to leave. The journey begins with Light Giver, setting the stage for a quest that embraces coming of age rituals, empowerment, and issues of social and personal transformation.

Mike Slade creates a winning introduction to battles both lost and won and events that both challenge and prepare Na'Serra and prompt Kaine to reach inside himself to unleash a force neither anticipated.

Mike Slade's attention to building the details of both this fantasy world and the particular bonds that link two disparate young people creates a story that is invitingly appealing to fantasy readers from young adult into adult circles.

Book One set the stage. Future books will follow this journey as both characters, individually and together, set out to confront and change their world and themselves.

Light Giver's ability to weave a fine tale based on two strong characters' evolutionary processes makes it a highly recommended fantasy pick suitable for a wide audience of genre readers and libraries catering to them.

When Love Sticks Around
Danielle Dayney
Belle Isle Books
c/o Brandylane Publishers
5 South First Street, Richmond, VA 23219
9781953021205, $14.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

When Love Sticks Around is a memoir shrouded in transition points that are presented as a series of essay vignettes.

This format allows for a back-and-forth fluid movement through Danielle Dayney's life as she brings forth childhood and adult recollections based on themes, presenting them in a literary inspection that feels as much like a literary story as a memoir.

The result is that readers will enjoy a memoir that feels like a picture-in-picture representation of a life's ups, downs, and movements in-between.

The background is set in "What's in a Name?," a concise review of her father and mother's histories, their meeting, her birth, and the reasons behind her parents' separation and her mother's journey as a single parent: "She had no money, no furniture, no husband - just me: Danielle Renee Ruth. She promised to give me the best life she could."

This vignette segues neatly into "Space Heater," in which child Danielle provides a vivid memory of her first calamitous encounter with fire.

Each story builds an evolving life as viewed through the prism of memories and experiences. Each piece is a building block to a stormy search for normalcy in a life buffeted by change, circumstance, and the repercussions of an era replete with racial violence, which reaches into her life: "Transplants (like myself ) don't get it at first, but the people born and raised in Detroit have hot blood coursing through their veins, fifty years later."

Danielle Dayney's memoir thus assumes the aspect of a ballet dance of survival that recalls her mother's support and choices and the social and familial influences that direct her life both with and without her mother.

Read as a memoir, this story is delightfully evocative, calling forth memories (such as a beach day with Mom) using a concise precision that captures the moment.

Read as a literary inspection of short stories, though, When Love Sticks Around especially shines as a representation of how life's moments may be captured in a blend of evocative imagery and bigger-picture thinking to juxtapose personal revelation with social observation.

Libraries strong in memoirs will, of course, find this collection invitingly appropriate. But, literature readers who enjoy short story formats will find especially inspiring the vignette form, which captures the author's life experiences in a moving documentary of the highs and lows of interactions with her family and the world.

Randy & Ron & Cindi & Zeke
Keith Thye
Classic Day Publishing
9781598493191, $16.95 Paper/$2.99 ebook

Randy & Ron & Cindi & Zeke follows teens who become involved in a murder mystery and is set in a 1950s small town where murder is not a normal part of the community's experiences.

Randy grew up in San Francisco and received early lessons on the importance of honesty. Mostly. In 1953, the family moves to Oswego, to a home on a lake. Trouble follows him as circumstance brings Randy and his friends to confront a death which may be either an accident or deliberate.

Keith Thye creates a compelling story that will appeal to mature teens into adult circles. Its coming-of-age saga marries a story of evolving friendship with an investigative piece that features a death by drowning and its impact on various local lives.

As an interconnected trio of perps considers their influences on the outcome of the fatal evening and face constant fears of discovery, the teens consider murder motives, foster relationships beyond one another, and find the event haunting their footsteps as time passes and nothing is definitively resolved.

As the influence of young Charles Manson evolves, readers receive a fine fictional story based on Manson's history. The career criminal changes the teens' lives forever, his influence reaching into Oswego's culture and their own evolution.

Thye is especially adept at probing how the unsolved circumstances of a past death serve as the impetus for all kinds of changes in the lives of perps, bystanders, and victims alike.

As his story evolves, far more than the four kids are profiled in an involving story of one murder that portends others.

The result is a saga that examines each of the teens' changing lives and the influence of a single event that changes their futures.

Thye's ability to weave facts about Manson's involvements and 'family' into these lives creates a realistic, involving murder mystery that moves well beyond a singular whodunit and into the foundations of what makes or breaks individuals and social norms.

Those who readily recall Manson's reign of terror and activities will find this fictional survey of a night's murder to be thoroughly engrossing. Libraries strong in murder mystery and true crime history books will find the fictional representation of Randy & Ron & Cindi & Zeke thought-provoking, made all the more powerful for its connections to the real world.

Living Grieving
Karen V. Johnson
Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
9781401963446, $14.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Living Grieving: Using Energy Medicine to Alchemize Grief and Loss is both an autobiography and a study in techniques for employing energy medicine to recover from loss, and offers a different perspective than most books about grieving.

When Karen V. Johnson's son died from an overdose of heroin, she abruptly retired, sold everything she owned, and embarked on a two-year journey of self-discovery and travel around the world, searching for keys to building a more meaningful life after such a devastating loss.

Part of the book discusses the special form of grief that comes with losing a child to a heroine overdose (Karen's son tried heroin for the first time with friends at a party. He was the only one that died. The drug dealer didn't call 911 - instead, he was getting rid of drugs), while the rest of the story moves to life after loss and the process of learning about, accepting, and employing energy medicine.

Johnson's evaluation of her past life lead to new discoveries about possible alternative future paths: "I needed to change my ways to grow and be resurrected into this new life. I needed to learn to open up and become available to people. I needed to become a healer. I wanted to become a teacher."

From how she used a pivotal month of self-discoveries to enact these changes to the exact science and approaches used to re-envision her world, Living Grieving covers all aspects of this journey: "The practice of no time is seeing time as an infinite loop, bending backward and forward, rather than a straight arrow. It's a practice of stepping outside of ordinary time into sacred time, where the future and past reach out to inform present events. When we see time as an infinite loop, we learn to look for synchronicities, or the serendipitous occurrence of events, to guide us. Before Death Day/After Death Day - sometimes life seems irrevocably divided into before this and after that. Could I reawaken to excitement and inspiration and possibility?"

From analyses of psychological insights from Jung and others to how Johnson was motivated to develop a course on living with grief and became a shaman, inspiring others on similar paths, Living Grieving offers uplifting insights and solid inspections. It even includes sixteen exercises to move people through their journey of grief.

These simple inspections, cemented by Johnson's own experiences and perceptions, make for a book highly recommended not just for memoir libraries, but any collection strong in self-help, new age medicine, or psychology.

The Family Curse
Derek and Tyronza Waithe
J. Kenkade Publishing
9781955186148, $16.99 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 220pp

The Family Curse is a study in what happens when a family curse affects family interactions and relationships. It's also a study in streetwise affairs and revenge as Jake, head of the Johnson crime family, embarks on retaliation after his wife and son are shot by (he presumes) his long-time rival.

Cousin Shannon Johnson is also caught in the crossfire in a different way as Jake proceeds down a dark path that only reinforces the family curse and brings further trouble to them all.

Derek and Tyronza Waithe embed their story with streetwise observations and encounters that move from inner family circles to the world which surrounds and cements the notion of a family curse.

The dialogue is rich in this crime culture and family affairs and reinforces the family's movements through their community and lives: "They just lied to our faces." Ruby nodded in agreement. "I don't know what's going on Sis, but the devil is a lie. He is trying to tear our boys apart. I can feel it in my spirit. So, we're going to the Chapel, put on our spiritual armor, touch, and agree according to the word of God, and bind this devil."

As Jake faces earth-shattering revelations about those he loves and has chosen to trust, Shannon steps up as a force who operates effectively in the center of gangster and family angst alike.

Jake's ability to receive the truth about not only his enemies but his family and friends, as well as the presence of God (which operates as a backdrop of influence on the evolving situation), makes for a gripping story that will especially appeal to readers of urban fiction who want a real-world, streetwise, church backdrop to a tale of curses, evil, and redemption.

The Black Lives Matter Movement adds thought-provoking passages about belief systems and violence as Jake struggles with the idea that rival Tone may not be the cause of all this pain and sorrow.

The Waithes create a strong story firmly embedded in the culture and experiences of the Black community with a crime story that considers different personalities and their struggles.

The result is a study in war and peace played out on both the streets of competing gangs and in their inner circles, where loyalty, faith, and love are tested by uncertainty.

Readers seeking a crime story that departs from the usual white bias and experience will welcome The Family Curse's ability to depict a different crime family's community and interpersonal experiences.

The Family Curse is especially recommended for library collections strong in urban fiction and mystery.

Little Girl Can Dance - the Tale of Andromeda in Six Smashing Movements
Tricia D. Wagner
Independently Published
9798792150133, $8.99 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 49pp

Little Girl Can Dance - the Tale of Andromeda in Six Smashing Movements features young adults and a literary study in magical realism as it follows the story of little dancer Andromeda, who moves through an extraordinary world of her own that adults don't understand.

Evocative imagery permeates the tale from the start: "Andromeda lifts her teacup the way it's done if you're filthy rich, fingers reeking of dollars, the teacup itself costing a father's fortune. "These gardens on the Isle of Messina are nothing short of spectacular," she says faux posh, like Grandmother. The creature Blunder hums from across a table clustered with delicacies, tight as the grapes overgrowing Grandmother's garage; corpulent savories like what they ate at the reveling in Grandmother's Shakespearean play. There are rare cuts of beef, and flutes of white wine, and cheeses torn, and croissants steaming warm."

From Blunder, a creature who "sings like a nightingale" and who "fights the moonlight to reach her" to the nature of love for another that connects the two with the bonds of siblings, Andromeda makes her way through a place that prohibits her beloved dancing, finding ways to survive on many levels after losing her family. Her journey is presented as a series of adventures that lead her past grief via dance and other evolving relationships.

Although the feel and direction of the novella seem to direct it to a young audience, adults should not consider this book to be limited to kids alone. Its startlingly original, lovely mechanisms of description place it in an ageless realm that will be enjoyed by all: "A shade crosses inside the dark kitchen window. Andromeda snatches her teacup and cradles it. "Creatures are rarely invited to reveling luncheons, you know." 'Luncheon,' another word belonging to Grandmother. It has the right sort of feel, but it stinks of pimento and cauliflower. Andromeda sips tea and tries to think of a better one."

Andromeda's art gives her the strength to endure cruelty and loss, producing some surprising side-effects: "...the girls, all bright, seem changed. Some of them watch her with eyes full of joy. Their stares feel like bridges."

Little Girl Can Dance is a lovely study in magic, recovery, and new possibilities. Through its lyrical and metaphorical visions, readers of all ages move past the specter of grief and angst and into new possibilities: "The voice of the headmistress carries power and manages to stop their feet dancing. But not their hearts racing. Not their lungs drawing air that tastes of adrenaline. Not their eyes meeting each other and knowing they've found a way to dismantle the machine."

This powerful novella is very highly recommended reading for literary readers, fans of magical realism, and those who want a short piece that doesn't just introduce a different world, but immerses readers in visions and observations which are truly unique and amazing.

Libraries would do a disservice to place Little Girl Can Dance in the kids' section. It should ideally be placed on display to attract all ages to its magic.

The Amazing Martika
Martika Daniels
KC Entertainment Services, LLC
9780578597324, $12.99 Paper/$5.00 ebook

The Amazing Martika provides picture book readers with a series of adventures that revolve around a little girl's fascination with the circus and its tricks and her increasing involvement with this environment as she becomes a performer.

Although Martika's story is captured with the drama and passion of fictional description ("Magically moving in the streets of Rome, Italy, the performer was throwing flame torches from one hand to the other with effortless grace.

People gathered around to oooohhh and ahhh at the amazing spectacle!"), it's actually the autobiography of a modern day circus and sideshow entertainer. It represents a study in achievement as it surveys the history and presence of African Americans in circus and sideshow history.

Damian Blake provides dynamic illustrations of Martika's journey that bring the traveling circus and its performers to life. Fun sidebars of description accompany these vivid, colorful drawings as Martika grows into her priorities and achievements: "When it was time to leave the nest, I didn't run away and join the circus. I went to college first! Even in college I was no stranger to adventure."

Any terms particular to performance are defined during the course of the story, so kids are educated about colloquial expressions and performer events alike ("A busker is an entertainer that performs on the street.").

The ideas that determination and perseverance can result in all kinds of experiences and adventures, and that dreams can be achieved in adulthood in different ways, permeates a story filled with captivating revelations and experiences.

The Amazing Martika lends to adult read-aloud and young picture book reader pursuit alike, imparting a message that captures the circus world, its history, and its modern-day opportunities as it follows a young girl's dreams.

Adobe Daze
Tom Tatum
Wolfpack Publishing, LLC
9781647347376, $16.99 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 252pp

Adobe Daze features an unusual format: it's a Western story set in modern times (2019), focusing on a family's struggle to save their ranch.

Because of its modern setting, the Western story features contemporary social trappings that appear alongside horses, cowboys, and ranches: "Trey Stuart's hands were on the leather covered steering wheel of his father's very nimble and dangerously fast black Maserati 650 GT coupe as the pump jacks in the New Mexico San Juan Basin's natural gas field flew by on Highway 550 north. The Ferrari engine's three hundred and ninety horsepower V-8 Atom motor sling shot the 650 GT to a 130 miles per hour."

As in old-style Western novel environments, " was in balance in the big empty western United States. Freedom still flowed like a raging river under the forever-blue sky, which was still punctuated with snow-capped mountaintops in spring."

At stake is more than a family heritage. Also on edge is the survival of Native American tribes and the legacy of white settler achievements, evolving threats between these forces and rival cartel drug gangs as the bullets fly in rural New Mexico.

From early Pueblo history to modern-day rehab and rebellions, the contrasting milieus of white and Native American worlds and the special interests of different peoples operating within these cultures come to life against a Western backdrop. Few others Western incorporate this feeling and these nuances of past and present.

Tom Tatum is particularly adept at capturing the social and political contrasts and conflicts between different people who all have visions of what opportunity, freedom, and achievement could look like in the West. Equally appealing are the contrasts between characters as Trey faces the equally appealing Maria Duran ("M"), a formidable force in her own right who drives a restored Shelby Mustang, drag races, and rides fast horses.

Tatum also builds intrigue over the possibilities of secret colonial Spanish gold mines, fosters a romance, and acknowledges cultural differences: "Too many white boys play with pretty Apache girls and disappear once a parent finds out."

The result may be billed a Western, but to view Adobe Daze as a traditional story of the past would be to do it a disservice. It's both a contemporary examination of the roots and results of long-standing cultural attitudes and interactions and a story of love, struggle, and intrigue as modern-day issues in New Mexico and Colorado come to life.

Adobe Daze is recommended for libraries strong in contemporary cultural stories of struggle, Native American experience, or Western fiction. Ideally, it will also be chosen by book reader groups that look for contemporary stories that redefine the Western genre.

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Elections
Lois Ann Nicolai
Independently Published
9781098387600, $15.28 Paper/$3.99 ebook

Book 2 of Lois Ann Nicolai's memoir trilogy, Ordinary People, Extraordinary Elections: A Memoir of International Democracy Builders captures history in the making. It follows the life and times of Nicolai as she traveles to developing European countries, helping the OSCE/PAE create new democracies.

Many insights into the challenges faced during these efforts are provided in a lively, personal inspection that follows Nicolai's adventures, encounters with other cultures and people, and her observations of social and political processes during her official role as an International Democratic Election Supervisor and observer.

The first book, Ordinary People, Extraordinary Times: The Memoir of One Citizen Activist, focused on her political work as a nuclear disarmament activist.

This survey of her role as an OSCE supervisor includes thought-provoking inspections of the evolving political processes in new democracies. Nicolai interacts with government and people, faces corruption and obstacles to democratic process and her own freedom to move within these nations, and involves readers in learning about the foundations of social and political transformation.

Photos throughout the book personalize these experiences as Nicolai makes astute observations that educate readers about conflicting interpretations of democracy, nationalism, and other trends affecting the outcomes of elections and freedom: "It is horrible what has happened here. It is real madness, all in the name of "Nationalism." And for the first time since my initial assignment here in Kosovo in 2000, I am very pessimistic of real stability ever coming to the Balkans. The Nationalism is just too strong."

The blend of "you are here" inspections into social and political processes and the analysis that comes from a seasoned observer and participant makes for a story that is enlightening and personal, all at once.

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Elections is especially recommended for library collections strong in politics, international trends, and memoirs that embrace world travel experiences. Discussion groups centering on democratic principles and their translation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Moldova, Republic of Georgia, and Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan will especially want to place this book high on their reading lists.

Its eye-opening, enlightening surveys provide the rare opportunity for better understanding not just from a reporter's eye, but from the efforts of an embedded professional who was active in overseeing and guiding the political evolution of nations.

Church and School Days
Charlie Green (originally authored by his father, Clifton Bullock)
Mountain Arbor Press
c/o BookLogix
9781631836619, $12.95 paperback, $6.95 eBook

Church and School Days continues to publish the fiction of Clifton Bullock (Charlie Green's father), who wrote this story of a young gangster's coming of age in the '60s and adulthood in the 1970s.

Clifton's story follows a youngster's movement through community and family influences as he grows from childhood to adulthood to absorb values, cultural shifts, and challenges unique to his community and the times.

Clifton Bullock excels in crafting first-person observations that capture this young man's sentiments and passion. Even the language reflects this culture; not being the precise grammatical rhythms of literature, but fully embracing the lingo of the streets: "I began learning things long before I knew what learning was. If I wasn't picking it from Momma or Daddy, my oldest brother Junior or sister Geraldine or my young brother, a year under me, Raymond, was teaching me one thing or another. Then there was much I learned while roaming the streets. My keen observation of all that was happening around me, families who had plenty of everything and families who struggled from one day through the next, like mine. How language varied from the homes which was harmony, into the streets where vulgar ruled. Home and the streets were two different worlds. One of love, peace, and concern, and the streets, a million and one nightmares. Entrapping us all, closing every door of escape. But it would be years later for me to learn how I got trapped, and how slim my chances of ever escaping would be. Yet I will never stop trying."

As the boy grows to be a "strong man" and grows into new roles, values, and opportunities, readers will find themselves immersed in church, family life, and culture which captures the logic, obstacles, and success stories of a different era.

Bullock's writing is astute and realistic, and is especially strong in using dialogue which is powerful and true to its culture: "Oh, man, my stomach 'bout to bust open," I said out loud.

"Nigger, ain't nobody force you to eat all that chicken."

"Yeah, you right. Since you was so nice about going to get it, why don't you go out there and find two young call girls and bring 'em back."

As readers move through this life, they will come to realize that gangster and street action aren't the story's only focus. It's equally adept at depicting the treacherous choices that buffet the protagonist, both building character and luring him with dubious opportunities - some of which could lead to disaster.

Its ability to capture the social influences of a community which lead a young man to form new goals and values in his life makes for a thought-provoking read which will reach out to those interested in urban fiction. This story of a life's progression also offers a surprise conclusion one does not see coming at the beginning of this experience.

Readers of urban fiction, whether they be mature teens or adults, will find Church and School Days a powerful reflection on Black culture and influences which come from a variety of directions.

Burning Bridges
Frank F. Weber
Moon Finder Press
9781638213567, $18.00 Paper/$9.49 ebook

The line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every person.

Burning Bridges will appeal to readers of crime thrillers, with its investigative probe into a missing biological father who turns out to be a psychopath who has vanished after a rampage.

When Harper Rowe discovers the truth about her father's past, she finds herself probing and uncovering numerous secrets about her father Billy Blaze and the trail of devastation he's left in his wake.

More so than most crime stories, Burning Bridges holds a solid foundation in real-world events. This lends it an authentic touch as Harper works with the first-person investigator and narrator of this story. Her search begins in modern times, where "My mom had the dubious distinction of being one of the first coronavirus deaths in New York. My heart ached for Harper. She was in the same boat as the loved ones for the victims of homicides I'd investigated..."

The investigator Harper has hired, Jon Frederick, has a firm knowledge of professional boundaries that doesn't temper either his empathy or his acknowledgment of politically correct approaches to relationships and female clients: "It bothered me that there were so many books about adult women, Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc. that referred to women as girls. I never used girlfriend or boyfriend when discussing adult relationships. When I was with the BCA, and an offender would talk about his girlfriend, I would respond, 'Isn't it illegal for you to date girls?'"

As the story unfolds, Frank F. Weber labels his chapters with each character's name (the point of view changes to embrace multiple perspectives) and the timeline of events. This provides a clear progression as readers absorb a changing investigative milieu and revelations that move through a Minnesota replete with COVID restrictions and the Minneapolis riots of 2020.

These contemporary backdrops root these events in a sense of place and purpose that embraces not just past lives, but present-day challenges.

Harper faces her own mortality at the hands of sex trafficker Riezig "Zig" Ziegler as she and Jon face a case that strains their concept of good and evil and their ability to survive. Readers will enjoy a compelling set of insights that weave ethical and philosophical inspections into the revelations that each character confronts.

Jon is a family man who also navigates his relationship with his wife and evolving duties as a father to their baby. This adds a personal dimension to the crime story, which is also a delightful feature.

Burning Bridges is a detective story that will neatly move beyond the mystery shelf to attract readers who want contemporary inspections of social dilemmas, crime, and, ultimately, the choices everyone faces on where to draw the line: "We are left to our own accord to determine the people we are going to be, which makes expressions of gratitude and grace even more amazing! We choose to express heartfelt kindness and love, despite our demons, and that makes it so much better."

Bone Deep Bonds
B.G. Arnold
Atmosphere Press
9781639881802, $18.99

Bone Deep Bonds features a child's kidnapping and a father's determination to rescue his son. It will appeal to readers of Girl Missing and other fictional accounts of vanished children and efforts to find them.

A father's conviction in both his ability to find his son and in the Spirit who guides him in this endeavor forms the foundation for his determined pursuit, fueling a journey that many around him try to discourage.

B.G. Arnold creates a fine interplay between past experience, present-day events, and a father's entanglements of faith and perseverance as he attempts to find the truth about his twelve-year-old son's disappearance.

The truth is stranger than a simple abduction as the wealthy kidnapper adopts the boy as his son and teaches him sensual and scientific lessons about life and the world around him...teachings that his real father may not be able to undo, even if he does find him.

The roots of Bone Deep Bonds lie deep in a story about family relationships, anxiety, faith, and recovery as son Brian navigates his new life and learns very different lessons about the world.

The story also delves into what happens when Brian confronts the reality of his capture and experience: "No, he just couldn't make sense of it all. It was like that artist's school Phillip had taught him about. Yes, that explained it. He was caught in the middle of a surreal picture that was being painted around him. None of this was really happening."

Bone Deep Bonds is as much a story about the psychology of abuse as it is a novel about a father and son relationship threatened by forces that introduce different values to each.

While it's a gripping tale that will be chosen by readers of detective fiction, it would be a shame to limit Bone Deep Bonds to this audience alone. Thriller readers as well as those interested in evolving parent/child relationships and outside threats will find its psychological revelations both involving and thought-provoking.

Libraries interested in adding books that are a draw both for their intrigue and their psychological evolution will find Bone Deep Bonds a winning acquisition.

Sea Creatures and Poems: Plus Some Other Fish Rhymes
Richard Merritts
Independently Published
9798404601664, $25.88 Hardcover/$15.10 Paper

Sea Creatures and Poems: Plus Some Other Fish Rhymes illustrates the fun that poetry can embrace, providing a zany collection for all ages that is both ocean-focused and whimsical. The operative description for both poems and pictures is "silly," and the book fulfills this promise with a series of engaging observations that belay the usual staid approaches of too many poetry books.

Art combined with poetry is "a delicious combination," as Richard Merrits reflects in the collection's introduction. The poems inspired the author to add illustrations which are just as whimsically touched...and, also, quite artistically rendered.

These aren't demanding works. Take "Pompano Pompano Pompano," for example. Its very short observation concludes with an ironic twist after identifying the "flat fish from Florida" outside of its normal sea environment. Succinct? Yes. But the poem really...snags readers, landing a winning insight on both the pompano and its ultimate fate.

Readers trawling for humor will find plenty in this book. Even the poetry titles present original, fun observations, as in "By Jove, I Hooked a Snook."

Aside from its delightful observations, the poems represent diverse structures, from free verse to rhyme: "From the depths of the sea;/Came a fish that could be;/From a prison did flee;/Dressed in stripes, so you see..."

From redfish and ahi to the anglers who long for them, Sea Creatures and Poems will appeal to a wide audience, especially those who do not view poetry as an opportunity for philosophical and psychological analysis alone.

Its blend of natural history info, inviting color illustrations, and accompanying fun insights is recommended for those who fish to those who enjoy eating or studying them, as well as poetry lovers who will appreciate the very different approaches, poetic variety, and whimsical inspections within.

Libraries catering to these audiences will want to include it in their collections, but Sea Creatures and Poems will prove a delightful choice for adults who seek to instill in the young an appreciation for poetry's capability for fun and its diverse structural representations.

The Nosferatu Conspiracy: The Sommelier
Brian James Gage
KDK 12, Inc.
9780578989631, $6.99 ebook

The Nosferatu Conspiracy: The Sommelier is the second book in the series, but allows newcomers easy access through a succinct two-page summary of events in the first book. This neatly sets the stage for the ongoing struggles which evolve here, in a paranormal thriller centered on the Battle of Arras in March of 1917.

Part of the strength of The Sommelier lies in the flavor of reality it's based on. The historical events surrounding World War I and the involvement of individuals and nations throughout Europe is expanded upon through a survey of the occult activities of Kaiser Wilhelm II and his pursuit of immortality. In this story, this takes the form of a supernatural army of the undead, with an evil demon/Hungarian land baroness involved in the outcome of events.

Brian James Gage evolves these tenuous relationships and battle-charged scenarios with the same attention to depth and detail as in his previous book.

The prerequisites for enjoying his unique style and high-octane occult drama include an affection for historical detail, a cursory familiarity with the backdrop and influences of World War I, and an ability to appreciate a paranormal battle which here evolves to contrast with "traditional history" and its take on what happened before and during the conflict.

Vivid aerial battle scenes with the Red Baron are just one example of how the action drives the story in a compelling manner.

Gage's story is replete in Hellhorses, hexes, demon's spells, and more. From efforts to raise a Black Sun to shine over the realm to an unholy alliance between the creature Elizabeth has become and Wilhelm's special interests and lusts, outsanding imagery and action keep paranormal history readers thoroughly engaged and on their toes.

Gage takes the time to craft striking details, both gruesome and graphic. These feel like an accident one cannot look away from: "Brodeur cried out as he felt the blunt pierce of human bites rip into his hamstrings and calves - the monsters chewing his muscle clean from the bone with their dull, rotten jaws. "Help, Mother!" were Brodeur's last words as his face was pushed into the muck and he began drowning in a puddle of mud. Another bite tore into the back of his neck and his vision fell to black. Brodeur would reawaken moments later - starving, rabid, and thirsty for human flesh."

The a wide cast of characters, political interests, power plays, and shifting alliances require of the horror reader a prior interest in historical evolution and detail. This focus is richly rewarded by dialogue and twists and turns that readers won't see coming.

Those who enjoy complexity and lavish detail and descriptions will relish the course taken by Gage in The Nosferatu Conspiracy: The Sommelier.

The result will, of course, appeal to its primary audience of occult action horror story readers. But, it also holds attraction for historical novel readers (even though the history under consideration here has been vastly re-imagined) and thriller enthusiasts who can accept more than a light touch of paranormal events throughout.

Gambling With Murder
Lida Sideris
Level Best Books
9781685120863, $16.95

The fifth book in the Southern California Mystery series, Gambling With Murder, will especially appeal to mystery fans who enjoyed entertainment attorney Corrie Locke's previous stories and their Southern California setting. But it will also reach those who have little prior familiarity with either, who just want a compelling story.

In her latest escapade, PI Corrie goes undercover to locate a missing senior citizen who has vanished from a wealthy community.

Both the community and her investigative choices are somewhat unorthodox and add an unexpected sense of wry humor to many of her endeavors: "Ninja One, see anything yet?" Veera Bankhead's voice sputtered through the walkie-talkie cinched onto my belt. Dressing up like ninjas had been Veera's idea. To help us blend into the night. We wore matching black tunics over black slacks. The hood hid my long hair. A facemask rendered me incognito. Only the slit across my eyes kept me from tripping. Veera was posted in the parking lot outside to discourage unwelcome visitors. "Looks like a hoarder's paradise." I stepped over a pile of well-used sneakers."

The insights about gambling and investigative information provide delightful interplays between characters and revelations about their approaches to gambling, life, and each another: "Dom baked his dice in the oven long enough to melt a small portion down to weigh them in his favor."

Veera sucked in her breath. "That legal?"

"If you're playing for fun, it is. Other players will get mad if they discover it, but that's a big if." Seniors wouldn't be paying close attention, so he probably got away with it. "Playing for money could get dicey, pardon the pun, if he got outted."

Veera passed the dice to me. "I figured weighing a little more or less wouldn't matter. See what you do? You make me think about stuff I'd never think about. You're making me productive. How come nobody figured out what Dom was doing?"

Readers need not have any familiarity with gambling in order to enjoy the nuances of this story, as it unfolds. Corrie's discoveries about the art of gambling and the crime surrounding a senior community present intriguing facts and unexpected revelations that keep readers guessing.

The humor replete throughout this story provides a satisfying backdrop as characters interact over everything from a bombing threat to responses that defy Corrie's inherent pacifist tendencies.

Lida Sideris's fast-paced series of encounters challenge her characters on more than one level. This is a story of gambling, redemption, and attempted murder that not only challenges her protagonist's life, but those she loves.

Readers who enjoy murder mysteries steeped in both threats and wry observations will find Gambling With Murder a winning pick that's also steeped in Southern California culture and the dilemmas a senior community faces when they try to effect a cover-up that tests their loyalties and ethics.

Murder mystery libraries will find this multifaceted story a fine selection.

Traveling Freedom's Road
John J. Hanrahan
Freedom's Road Press
9798985501001, $24.95 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Traveling Freedom's Road: A Guide to Exploring Our Civil Rights History is a study in American patriotism and achievement. It provides all ages with a road trip of a different nature, surveying not only civil rights history locales, but the insights and new discoveries to be gained from such a travel focus.

John J. Hanrahan chose to make this journey and, in the process, came to realize that "The trip would be much more than standing around restored homes of civil rights legends and walking through new, information-rich museums. It became a collection of places and experiences that triggered strong reactions and difficult questions."

Some of the places where history was made looked much the same as in the past. Others had been completely transformed so as to be unrecognizable. So, also, was the sense of what had happened, as Hanrahan came to realize during the course of his explorations, and as readers discover while reading his story.

The author and his wife weren't raised in the South. They came from the white suburbs of two large cities, grew up with civil rights activism and events in the sixties, and are now retired. He undertook this special journey because "I wanted to learn more about the people who advocated for change those many decades ago, to experience the places where triumphs and tragedies occurred, and to grow in my understanding of this important era. In short, there was a reversible imbalance between what I knew about the civil rights movement compared to the impact of that movement on the country's history."

That he not only made this trip but also created a blueprint of travel tips and engaging, factual revelations is testimony to the powerful events that continue to resonate through time and history. Those who journey in history's footsteps will benefit from this book whether they do it by car or from their armchair. The benefits are particularly meaningful for those who did not come of age during this period of some of America's deepest struggles.

The book is packed with social, political, and cultural observations that examine locales and the atmosphere of historical impact and change that are associated with them: "If you combined one of the sacred places of the civil rights movement with an incredibly comprehensive museum on that movement and its antecedents, you would have the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM)."

This approach provides both a 'you are here' feeling to the narrative and emphasizes why each civil rights landmark (be it an address, a structure, a museum, or a memorial) continues to be relevant and important to modern audiences.

Sidebars on civil rights history and many footnoted references provide scholarly readers with the source materials documenting civil rights events, politics, and their interpretation.

The lively tone of this sojourn invites even non-history readers to imbibe, creating an important survey that's very highly recommended to audiences of American history buffs and travelers alike.

The book's profits will be shared by the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville and the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery. This is yet another reason to choose Traveling Freedom's Road above others, whether for libraries specializing in civil rights history or those seeking travelogues and guides to America which adopt a very different, more educational perspective than most.

The Christmas Curse of Krampus
Devin Arloski
EurownAmerica Publishing
9780578952390, $9.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

The Christmas Curse of Krampus is a children's book that will appeal to pre-teens. Eleven-year-old Max follows a light in the forest away from the Christmas festivities in Germany and into a world that contains the unexpected. There, he confronts a terrifying beast, is rescued by a friendly stranger, and is challenged to more closely examine his own beliefs about Christmas and family as he ventures into a strange world of curses and threats.

These are not the traditional trappings of a holiday story, but provide a storm of confrontation and accompanying wisdom that test Christmas beliefs, faith, and the underlying chemistry of Christmas in unusual ways.

As Santa and others interact and Max comes to realize the real power of Christmas, advanced elementary to middle grade readers receive a vivid story that is anything but the usual holiday feature.

While some might believe the Christmas spirit could be lost within the angst and struggle that this story embraces, one of the pleasures of The Christmas Curse of Krampus lies in its unique ability to blend the trappings of a horror story and German backdrop with a holiday atmosphere: "His mom had always taught him to help those in need, and he often found himself agreeing to things he didn't want to do. It didn't matter anyway; there was no turning back now."Are we going to take out your sleigh?" Max asked, a little excited at that thought.

"No, I only take the reindeer out on Christmas Eve. It's too risky to endanger the reindeer on Krampusnacht when Krampus and his Darklings are at their most powerful."
As Max learns new spells and faces his darkest fears, the Christmas spirit burns ever brighter in a story that will attract kids both for its holiday and horror themes.

Its underlying messages about family and love (based on the folklore of the alpine regions of Germany and Austria) and its depth creates a standout in Christmas literature. This warm, uplifting story is highly recommended for kids and read-aloud parents who look for vivid, original tales the entire family can share and discuss.

The door is left more than ajar for a sequel, which is forthcoming. The stage that's been set for this event promises another involving story.

Kaylin Mcfarren
Creative Edge Publishing LLC
9781685640569, $18.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Readers of occult fantasy will find Annihilation a revealing tale that explores the stuff of nightmares. It opens with a prologue that recaps past events affecting protagonist Samara Daemonium, explaining why she keeps a demon-killing knife in her bedside drawer and why this threat still looms over her world.

It reviews her relationship with Legend and the current nightmare she lives with day and night: "For whatever reason, guilt was eating her alive, making her believe she was responsible for killing her best friend, a conniving slut, and the amber-eyed demon she wasn't supposed to love anymore."

Although the prologue is unexpectedly long and detailed for a recap introduction, it segues neatly into the next scenario, in which demons from Hell assemble to mount their latest surge, presenting quite a different milieu in which Queen Lucinda and Hecate discuss awakening dormant powers to find a path to freedom.

As the story moves between human and demon realms, it develops powerful characters on both sides, whose intentions and perspectives are revealed against the backdrop of violent confrontations both psychic and physical.

Kaylin Mcfarren does an excellent job of juxtaposing these special interests in a way that makes both adversary and angels feel realistic and even relatable, melding both with a sense of unexpected humor that emerges at different points in the saga: "As the car rolled down the street, Samara rocked from side to side in the back seat, overwhelmed by what she was seeing. "I can't believe I'm really here. ON EARTH! None of my friends will ever believe this! A REAL CAR!"

Eliza glanced at Damian. "Yeah, good idea, Bro. She'll have no problem fitting in... if we're going to a sanitarium."

From horrible mistakes and efforts to change attitudes set in stone to Samara's encounter with Lucifer and the false promises which lure her, Mcfarren crafts a winning chronicle that holds many subplots, twists and turns, and inspections that keep readers not only on their toes, but wondering about the ultimate definition of good and evil intentions.

Eventually, Samara comes to question her family roots and the transformations that have affected them all: "Tyrus closed his eyes and bowed his head, breaking her heart. What had happened to her strong, brave uncle? To the remarkable creature that protected their family for years? They had laughed and joked, despite their differences in age. He would never say that he loved Ariel, but he felt happier in her presence. And as for her father, they were closer than brothers. Where in Hell were they? How could they allow this to happen?"

Readers seeking more than a classic good-versus-evil scenario will delight in the complex psychological streams of thought in Annihilation. Its danger doesn't just come from outside, but from within.

As changing hearts bow to adversity and the weight of new realizations, Annihilation evolves a fine personal focus that will keep readers engaged in the outcome of more than just primary protagonist Samara and her choices.

It's unusual to find an occult fantasy title that touches psychological revelation readers, but Annihilation achieves this and more, providing not just an engrossing foray into courage and self-realization, but an investigation of the foundations of good intentions gone awry and the gray area that exists between good and evil.

Readers seeking more than one-dimensional action will relish the questions and answers that arise in the course of the rollicking good read that is Annihilation.

Get Your Career in SHAPE
Dr. Candace Steele Flippin
Wise Ink Creative Publishing
9781634895019, $25.99

Get Your Career in SHAPE: A Five-Step Guide to Achieve the Success You Need, Want, and Deserve should be on the reading list of anyone who seeks to not just revamp a career, but revitalize it (there is a difference). Dr. Candace Steele Flippin outlines the road to success in a book that shows how a career may be reinvented for optimum success.

Perhaps there's no better point in history for making this effort, or for reading this book. With COVID forcing many to re-envision their professional futures, the program promoted in Get Your Career in SHAPE arrives at a time when more people are questioning tried-and-true routines and directions towards personal and professional success.

The SHAPE framework for making these changes is presented here as an accessible series of five interlocking steps that involve saving for the future, working harder and smarter, getting noticed in the right way, knowing when to stay on course and when to make adjustments, and making ongoing education a life pursuit.

The book's introduction notes that "Women's careers are held back by cultural norms, gender bias, sexism, and self-policing. And too often, their self-efficacy - the belief in their ability to be successful - is at risk." That's why the SHAPE program is especially directed to women (even though everyone will benefit from its approach).

Research insights blend with the author's personal experiences and examples from other women, as well, to discuss new steps towards leadership and personal fulfillment.

This advice is part of what makes Get Your Career in SHAPE so accessible: "I am also fortunate in that at the beginning of my career, my men-tor challenged me to take risks. I've had lots of practice in getting my thoughts past silence or whispers and speaking up on my point of view. If speaking up or speaking out is new or challenging for you, I encourage you to try. Even baby steps are a path forward. And if you find yourself in a place where your voice can't be heard, consider whether you are in the best place for you - and do something about it."

The tools provided here are also specific, from self-assessment charts that encourage honesty to keys to help identify what is holding the reader back and how to move forward from these barriers.

Charts that include 'red, yellow, and green' career zones provide a visual reference to the steps involved in moving from self-defeating paradigms to changes that support positive momentum.

Changes happening in the employment world are also discussed to encourage women to think about their SHAPE pursuits differently: " workspaces grow increasingly diverse, we see lead-ers around the world rethinking how they value employees in terms of education and experience. This is great news for people who sim-ply cannot afford the degree they have always dreamed of, as well as business owners who need more flexible ways to stay at the top of their game while meeting their day-to-day demands. So take heart as you embark on this last, never-ending path of your SHAPE program. Your continual education is an investment in your work and your well-being. Be curious and take advantage of all opportunities you can that will fill you with purpose!"

Get Your Career in SHAPE is especially highly recommended for women's issues reading lists, business collections, and book groups discussing the mechanics of personal and professional transformation.

There's no better time in history for the concepts and action points presented in Get Your Career in SHAPE. The business environment and the world is changing. Get Your Career in SHAPE prepares female workers for the next step by showing readers how they can empower themselves, hone new goals, and achieve maximum success.

Lost Coast Literary
Ellie Alexander
Sweet Lemon Press LLC
9781737391524, $16.95 Paper/$9.99 ebook

"Eyre or Austen?" There are many choices open to those who love literature, whether they lie in books or real life.

Women who like family stories overlaid with magical realism will find Lost Coast Literary a fine choice.

Emily receives a strange bequest when she inherits a mansion that comes with strings attached (she must edit a manuscript in order to take ownership of the old Victorian, located in California's remote lost coast community).

Why would she inherit both a house and a task from a relative who was a virtual stranger? Emily's love of literature is tested when she discovers that editing the piece involves introducing a revised reality to the world. Who wouldn't want to make the world a better place?

But Lost Coast Literary becomes a study in good intentions gone awry as Emily discovers that her best skill turns out to be her worst attribute, changing the small community around her in ways she hadn't intended.

Ellie Alexander explores not only these newfound powers, but their effect on Emily as she is forced to acknowledge their presence and her role in changing this already-idyllic part of the world: "My stomach dropped. An impending sense of doom came over me. My heart raced in my chest. I tried to take long and slow breaths, but I couldn't seem to fill my lungs with enough air. My breathing felt shallow and forced. This couldn't be a coincidence. Not twice."

She realizes that her legacy is far more demanding than she thought as she comes to regret her good intentions for meddling, which are placing her in the middle of many social and political challenges growing within the community: "If only I had left the forsaken manuscripts alone, I wouldn't be in this position."

Once a creator, can an influencer undo bad decisions?

Emily finds herself pulled deeper and deeper into more conundrums, and readers receive an involving story of literary passion, community interactions, and her ongoing determination to do the right thing even when facing bad results from her actions.

Alexander does a fine job of portraying Emily's immersion in both classic literature circles and in the community as a whole. The small town comes to life as much as the fantasy elements driving its changes in an engrossing read that celebrates literary foundations and present-day growth alike.

Characters and conundrums feel especially realistic because of Alexander's own familiarity with the architecture and communities of California's Lost Coast region.

The characters and story came to Alexander in a dream. That it is brought to vivid life here is a tribute to the author's skill at reaching those who love literature and enjoy viewing it from both a magical realistic perspective and an influencing editor's eye.

Women's literature readers as well as fans of magical realism and California settings will find Lost Coast Literary thoroughly engrossing, uplifting, and unexpectedly delightful.

Dark Horse at Oak Lane Stable
Kerri Lukasavitz
Three Towers Press
c/o HenschelHAUS Publishing
9781595988874, $13.95

Dark Horse at Oak Lane Stable, the third book in a series of horse stories for middle-grade readers, will attract enthusiasts of the prior stories and newcomers alike.

The tale opens with the first-person reflections of Cassie, who is about to participate in her first horse jumping competition. She's only been training a few months, but her hard work is paying off. Still, she is forced to admit that she may have bitten off more than she can chew by choosing feisty Night Hawk as her ride.

Facing divergent romantic interests and fielding a horse that may ultimately prove too much for her, fourteen-year-old Cassie finds her life lessons converging in unusual ways in Dark Horse at Oak Lane Stable. Challenged in different arenas and forced to reconcile her heart with her logical assessment of the world around her, Cassie is faced with new growth experiences.

Middle-grade readers who like horse stories will find much to enjoy about Cassie's learning process, whether in the stable or the world.

Cassie doesn't always win or get what she wants, but these failures lend to the realistic tone of a story that reviews life's ups and downs and the problems young people face in assessing themselves and those around them.

Readers who choose this story for its horse foundations will find much more going on than competitions and horse encounters alone. Cassie encounters life issues as she moves outside her comfort zone, and these efforts give young readers fine insights into influences on growth and attitudes which evolve not just from caring for horses, but caring for others.

Middle grade libraries strong in stories about horses and coming of age will find Dark Horse at Oak Lane Stable a multifaceted, compelling tale that lures leisure readers with entertainment value, but offers so much more.

Man on Mars: The Wake
X. Quinn
Independently Published
9781737856405, $14.95 Paper/$5.99 ebook

"We all have things we hold dear and we all have our reasons." Even aliens.

The Wake, the first book of the Man on Mars series, provides a satisfying hard sci-fi story set in 2057, when Earth overrun by a virus. Survivors fled by escaping to Mars, but new confrontations arise when an alien race that has terraformed the planet to make it habitable for their interests confronts the human immigrants who seek to call Mars their new home.

An Alien War has left some with lasting injuries...including the protagonist of this story, Don, who lost his memory and now leads a human resistance movement against the aliens, called the Wake.

The alien Gatti harbor their own heroes and fighters, and these are also profiled in the course of emerging action between alien and human factions.

X. Quinn is adept at portraying various conflicts that emerge between individuals and races which embrace both military engagements and genetic engineering challenges. The science and military aspects of the story are cemented with strong characterization from both sides of the picture.

This lends to a plot that is vivid in its imagery and unpredictable in its twists and turns, which add intrigue and problem-solving mystery into the evolving situation that brings the two races into conflict.

Don's missing memories may be the key to understanding not just the past, but his relationship with the Gatti and his role between the two opposing forces...if he can recover them in time.

Quinn creates a large cast of characters whose special interests play out on Mars. The struggles, triumphs, and failures of all involved contribute to an engrossing story that operates on different levels: psychological, scientific, and sociologically.

The personal interests and feelings of Aria and other supporting characters makes the stakes in the battles more personal and engrossing than in most military sci-fi stories.

The result is a Martian conflict like no other. Man on Mars is highly recommended for sci-fi readers who like their military battle action tempered by both hard sci-fi and social and psychological inspections. It will keep them both engaged and educated about the diverse perspectives and purposes of all involved.

"We all have things we hold dear and we all have our reasons."

These interspecies revelations and struggles contribute to the greater good of the story, making The Wake a powerful, strong recommendation for sci-fi libraries seeing interest in either hard science or military alien/human encounters.

Free Dancing: Random Stories from an Accidental Life
Ken Brigham
Secant Publishing, LLC
9781735995717, $28.00 Hardcover/$8.99 ebook

Free Dancing: Random Stories from an Accidental Life is a memoir from a physician and academic researcher who reflects on the evolution of his life and his inquiries into its meaning and progression.

It captures circumstances of inquiry, discovery and change in chapters that bristle with powerful descriptions of life's happenstances and educational encounters: "Upon this first introduction to India, I was assaulted with the mind-bending reality of intimately juxtaposed contrasts so enormous that stepping across the threshold of the Taj Mahal Hotel felt like taking Alice's hand and passing, in an instant, through the looking glass. Such shocking juxtapositions came to define my experience of India."

Readers anticipating a staid story focused on the medical world will find the insights into other cultures and academic circles is especially lively, unexpected, and well-done: "As the consequences of consumption of the generously supplied wine and champagne took hold, conversations gained volume and intensity. Interesting conversations, not all amiable. That's what happens in a crowd of university folks. Strong minds, boundless confidence, compulsions to play to the audience, and often extreme opinions, sometimes clash in repartee that is less than friendly."

Brigham's ability to capture these experiences with metaphorical description and mind-catching detail sets this memoir above and beyond from most others: "Breathlessness and leg cramps aren't so important when you stand on top of the world. I was reminded of my first view of the Taj Mahal, confronting suddenly the devastating beauty of the place on passing through the marble gate. But this was different. The power and delicate beauty of this Earth Dragon floated off into eternity reflecting sensations that were difficult to fully comprehend and impossible to describe. Ghosts of pagan hordes from times past whose acquisitive ambitions were thwarted by the structure must still hang around to shake their spears in frustration at the gawking tourists. If only, they must echo ceaselessly into the vast ethereal space. As trite as the reaction is, it is impossible not to gawk."

His focus on capturing and bringing to life all kinds of encounters, from social, cultural, and paradigm-defying moments, creates a memoir that examines life with the seriousness scholarliness of an academic and the whimsical inspections of a traveler.

Whether he's considering the physical impact of his journeys or the mental challenges of aging and maintaining relevance and a presence in the world, Brigham provides succinct, hard-hitting inspections that readers will find thought-provokingly intimate and revealing: "When I age, present me with a sinecure and I will either take it, relinquish any vestige of intellectual curiosity, park myself out of the way and get about the business of dying, or I will refuse to accept the notion that I am worthless and look for something productive to do. Neither does much to protect the integrity of the academy."

Free Dancing's multifaceted examination of what it means to be a changing force in the world results in a memoir that stands out from the crowd. It deserves a place not only in libraries strong in autobiographies and memoirs, but looking for books that resonate on many different levels.

Mom and Dementia and Me: A Caregiver's Journey
Leona Upton Illig
Secant Publishing, LLC
9780999750384, $12.00 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Mom and Dementia and Me: A Caregiver's Journey offers an especially poignant story with facets not seen in many competing books about either dementia or caregiving. It addresses denial, evidence, coping with different stages of dementia as it progresses and changes, and life "after the crowd goes home."

These considerations juxtapose both personal revelations and practical tips for navigating the complicated world of dementia, providing readers with a blueprint of what to expect and what to do as it tells of Leona Upton Illig's experiences caring for her mother during the throes of evolving Lewy body dementia.

Many dementia memoirs cover its devastating effects, providing the same focuses that will be familiar to those experienced in reading the literature. Mom and Dementia and Me explores a daughter-turned-caretaker's perspective as she navigates the special caregiving challenges of this condition, documenting a journey that presents knowledge the author wished she'd received earlier.

Unexpectedly, it also contains humor. One doesn't expect humor from such a serious subject, but Illig's mother enjoyed laughter, and her intentional (and unintentional) humor, as well as her family's ability to support and maintain it against all odds, is yet another facet that makes Mom and Dementia and Me special.

From the necessity of obtaining legal documents to support Illig's efforts to care for her mother as her mental condition declined to a daughter's early (impossible) promise to her mother that they would never place her in assisted living or force her to leave her home (a promise that became increasingly difficult to keep as her mother's dementia evolved), Illig explores all the decision-making, options, challenges, and changes that dementia brings to sufferers and the entire family.

The advice given along the way is the information Illig would have benefited from, had she the opportunity to receive it earlier. Readers of Mom and Dementia and Me now have a chance to learn from her experience to better understand the kinds of decisions dementia brings to caregivers and families.

This is why Mom and Dementia and Me should be in any library strong in stories of illness, health, mental health, and family interactions. It's much more than another story of dementia. It provides a road map for caregivers struggling to find answers and understand what kinds of options face them, both now and in the future.

Few dementia surveys on the market offer such specific insights into these choices, making Mom and Dementia and Me a winner.

A Wife in Watercolor
B.B. Shamp
Secant Publishing
9781944962975, $26.95 HC, $16.95 PB, $4.49 Kindle

A Wife in Watercolor is set in 1747 and tells of a widowed mother who decides to accept a practical marriage to wealthy shipping tradesman and slaveowner Robert Morris, Sr. This, despite her observation that he's cruel to his slaves. After he brands her, Sarah comes to realize that she'll more likely be just another one of his human possessions.

Yearie, in contrast, is already a slave, with limited opportunities for improving her life. At odds with the master/slave system that imprisons her, Yearie is determined to change the world around her even if it means sacrificing what she loves.

As Sarah and Yearie, freewoman and slave, find their lives bound by circumstance and oppression, sharing an increasing camaraderie over mutual values and objectives, they embark on a journey to challenge and change not just one man, but the world.

B.B. Shamp's account of pre-Revolutionary America closely examines the roots of not just patriarchy and control, but the efforts of two very different women who come to share similar dreams of empowerment and freedom against impossible odds.

Shamp captures the perceptions of these times and characters using language with also reflects their cultural backgrounds and times. One such example lies in Yearie's observation: "He set out in dawn's shadow, his breath smoke the air. So cold not even a dog bark as he scurry round Front Street, and the back of the warehouse where the barque be sittin in the water. He load the furniture. There be a strong wind and I help him set one sail against it. His barque take off like a shot of lightning. Then we wait."

These dialogues and dialects are presented in many of the other characters, as well: "I started, remembering from whence I'd been - the outside world of men and hate. 'Eat the food, wear the cloth, open the window to breathe the air,' I recite to get their attention. They look at me like a donkey vere sitting on my head. 'Stand or fight. Which it going to be?' I ask."

Perspectives change, and so labeled chapter headings would have more clearly identified these transition points to readers who move between them. That said, the language of the narrators and the story's evolution lend to an engrossing tale that readers will find enlightening, thought-provoking, and educational, with its backdrop of social and political observations of the times.

Libraries strong in novels about early America, slavery and the roots of civil rights, and women's struggles for identity in a repressive and restrictive patriarchic society will find A Wife in Watercolor a strong study of different women who rise to the occasion.

Its survey of Maryland women who struggle against both slavery and their own status captures the experience of women in 1600 and 1700s America, bringing history to life as black and white women confront and loosen their bonds and shackles.

You and Me in the Trees
Amoris Walker
Mascot Books
620 Herndon Parkway, #320, Herndon, VA 20170
9781637552117, $17.95, HC, 38pp

You and Me in the Trees follows families that celebrate being in the forest and in nature. It provides a fine picture book story embellished with full-page, lovely illustrations by Alyssa Gnos as it explores children and adults who interact with each other and nature.

Diversity is also celebrated as characters of all ethnic origins explore the forest backdrop. Even the dress changes, from the old-fashioned attire of a girl who climbs a tree to enjoy the view to a modern mountain biker who enjoys "whooshing by" on a mountain road.

"Aren't we lucky to enjoy all the beauty that abounds?"

The question and presentation not only capture nature's beauty, but the equally beautiful diversity of a range of people who enjoy a walk in the woods and the gorgeous landscapes of Mother Nature.

Any picture book library looking for stories of nature encounters and diverse characters will find You and Me in the Trees a winning standout from the usual child-in-nature approach.

Laddy O'Luck
Mac Kennedy
Mascot Books
620 Herndon Parkway, #320, Herndon, VA 20170
9781637553190, $16.95, HC, 38pp

Mac Kennedy's Laddy O'Luck enjoys engaging drawings by Jack Cocker as it presents an Irish folk story of one of the first leprechauns in Ireland, telling how Laddy was tasked with bringing luck into the world.

Laddy doesn't just distribute luck willy-nilly. He "leaves his luck only in places it is meant to be found."

As a wise grandfather narrates a story that embraces shamrocks, pots of gold and rainbows, ladybugs, and horseshoes, young listeners and readers receive a vivid tale of many legends of good luck and how they came to be associated with the Irish.

Mac Kennedy spins a fine yarn. It's a winning folk story picture book that is perfect for read-aloud, highly recommended for anyone looking for a whimsical Irish tale about one man's desire to spread fortune and happiness throughout the world.

Libraries seeking more Irish picture book stories will find the whimsical survey of Irish concepts of luck to be appealing and colorful, both visually and in the course of a whimsical narrative.

A Family for Riley
Tammy Knudtson, author
Robert Sauber, illustrator
Mascot Books
620 Herndon Parkway, #320, Herndon, VA 20170
9781637550571, $17.95 HC, $6.99 Kindle, 38pp

Dog lovers, Welsh corgi enthusiasts, and picture book readers and read-aloud parents will all appreciate Tammy Knudtson's A Family for Riley. It features realistic, fun illustrations by Robert Sauber as it explores a puppy and his family, who live idyllic lives playing on the farm.

Sauber's full page, lovely paintings capture the farm, the puppies, and the activity that surrounds them, and will delight parents who look for artistic renditions.

Different kinds of families arrive to adopt the litter of puppies, until Riley finds himself alone with his mother.

Young readers learn about love, separation, adoption, and different family personalities and makeups as they pursue Riley's story.

The connections between all these themes are kindness and love, as each puppy goes to a loving home and a supportive puppy mother reminds them that she will always love them no matter how far they travel.

There are many important lessons here that read-aloud parents can discuss with a young picture book reader, making A Family for Riley both educational and engaging on levels beyond its choice as a leisure read for young dog lovers.

The lovely illustrations deserve repeated mention for their ability to highlight the story in an artistic, engaging manner. Both story and illustrations make A Family for Riley a top recommendation over most books about animal adoption, kindness, puppies, or love.

The Art of Fearless Living
Shirin Alavi Goodarzi
Mascot Books
620 Herndon Parkway, #320, Herndon, VA 20170
9781637551240, $34.95

"Live a life so that years later you don't wonder about all the would haves, should haves, and could haves." That's the message Shirin Alavi Goodarzi both imparts and reflects via this book and her own life, and it's why readers interested in the process of self-help and transformation need to follow her journey here.

The Art of Fearless Living: A Glimpse into My Heart is both a memoir and a call to action for women to lead a fearless life. It captures the spirit of one woman's resilience and determination as she navigates the obstacles to leading such a life and cultivates a bold leadership style with an important message.

Raised overseas in a "family of fighters" and transplanted to New York at age sixteen, Goodarzi grew up to advocate a process of learning, growing, and gratitude that guided her life, and which she embraces to this day.

In keeping with the vibrant nature of her words is an attention to photos of her life which are equally packed with color and enthusiasm. These pair well with instructions that teach readers how to approach life with hands and hearts wide open to receive its joys: "Magic isn't something that just happens - it's what you create."

Gorgeous portraits of nature juxtaposed by those of her modeling poses are accompanied by insights on love, friendships, mentors, support systems, and advice on how to identify and stay true to oneself while moving through life's adventures and influences.

While acknowledging that feelings and life experiences can be overwhelming, Goodarzi seeks to cultivate and maintain an upbeat tone throughout her admonitions: "I'm reminded every day that 'change' doesn't have to mean an ending but simply a new way to pile on top of the amazing that already exists...Regardless of the experience, the ups and downs, the little detours and minor pauses, may we learn to always value them and to never stop dreaming, transforming, and creating...I can choose to see hate and systemic discrimination, or I can choose to see what binds us together. As a human, I choose to love and to build."

Many books provide memoirs, self-help admonitions, and inspirational daily edicts, and some even include visual representations to encourage positivity.

The appearance of all these facets in a book that focuses on juxtaposing supportive imagery with equally positive thinking makes for a gift that deserves top placement on any reading list and in any library where personal transformation and positivity is of special interest.

Wisdom: A Very Valuable Virtue That Cannot Be Bought
Jason A. Merchey
Values of the Wise, LLC
9780578316796, $15.00 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Wisdom: A Very Valuable Virtue That Cannot Be Bought is a study in not just philosophy, but psychology and personal growth. Its purpose is to examine and connect wisdom with happiness and life improvement strategies.

Jason A. Merchey provides an inspirational look at gratitude, aspects of wisdom, how the wise perceive the world, and the components of wisdom that are associated with overall personal and life improvement.

One might anticipate the quotes and references Merchey employs to solidify the definition of and presence of wisdom in the world, but also included are unexpected scientific references and research that enlighten readers about wisdom's features and attributes: "If wisdom isn't merely a function of age, then something must act as the leavening agent to turn the flour of experience into bread (wisdom). The jurist O. W. Holmes said that "wisdom is the abstract of the past." Holmes is proposing that accurately perceiving what has happened in one's own past - and in the history of humankind as contained in books, myths, and stories - is tantamount to an accurate understanding of what the true state of affairs currently is and what it might be in the future."

From a focus on the future and the values inherent in present and future thinking to how to be open-minded while staying true to one's psyche, Merchey provides solid reflections that examine both the promise and pitfalls of pursing wisdom: "If I tried to become a triathlete, it would be a poor fit between my capacity, my desires, and the required lifestyle; I would encounter much more frustration and embarrassment than I would experience flourishing."

The delicate balancing act between ideals, values, and enlightenment is considered in many ways throughout Wisdom, juxtaposing personal experiences with added-value reflections about the nature, role, and presence of wisdom in daily life.

The ultimate message expands the pursuit of wisdom into social and political circles, which readers will find especially inviting and thought-provoking: "Much of this book dealt with the here-and-now: what wisdom looks, feels, and smells like - and how it can potentially and practically be put to good use by an individual. However, wisdom transcends the concerns of any one individual and can provide a roadmap or a toolkit, not only for individuals, but also for communities, nations, and the entire planet."

Those looking to add value to their lives through the goal of attaining wisdom would do well to start here. Wisdom: A Very Valuable Virtue That Cannot Be Bought's messages, inspections, and connections to science, philosophy, and psychology create a discussion that will appeal to a wide audience, from self-help and new age readers to those interested in modern philosophical and psychological examinations.

Baseball Immortal
Roland Colton
Evergreen Press
9798985961409, $9.99

At the heart of Baseball Immortal lies a dilemma which sports fans have long debated: How would an immortal superstar from the past perform in today's game? Well, Roland Colton's novel answers that question... or does it? Is the man who awakens in a present-day Georgian hospital, after suffering a nearly fatal hit-and-run accident, truly the legendary Ty Cobb (who has been inexplicably thrust forward in time), or is he a man suffering from a severe psychosis and delusions of grandeur, who has hijacked Cobb's identity as his own?

Roland Colton presents compelling, moment-by-moment replays of baseball's past and present, blending descriptions of the game's drama with vivid imagery that will delight baseball enthusiasts: "Burly catcher Ed Sweeney crouched in front of home plate, preparing to snare the horsehide sphere surging his way. In the corner of his eye he glimpsed the speedy Bush's cleats plowing up dirt, bracing for the impending collision. Bush went airborne feet first, just as the ball struck the catcher's glove. Bush slammed into the catcher's feet as Sweeney shoved the gloved ball into the charging runner. The force from the collision knocked the catcher onto his back, but the ball remained lodged in his glove. In triumph, Sweeney raised the ball in the air for the third out, an instant before the arbiter thrust both hands out wide, signaling and shouting "Safe." The crowd ignited in a deafening roar. Tie game."

The accident victim claiming to be Ty Cobb awakens in the modern world in a state of bewilderment and suspicion. Having made enemies during his career, he wonders if a conspiracy has led to his present predicament as he befriends Savannah Cain, a sports journalist who rescues him from the hospital just hours before his commitment to a psych ward. Baseball is Savannah's first love. Is there room for more?

Within the auspices of a historical probe of baseball history melded with the present day lays a provocative, unexpected story of baseball history and uncommon encounters that will delight those who expected just the custom recap of sporting history in novel form.

The romance, claims of time-travel experiences, underlying conspiracy theories, and psychological issues wrought by these unique challenges test the man who believes himself to be Ty Cobb even as Savannah uncovers clues that he may actually be Chase Ripley, a supremely-talented college star who recently disappeared. But, even more importantly, Colton includes many psychological self-inspections that consider the emotional impact of sports and life challenges alike: "All Cobb wanted to do was leave the room, run away. He had to get as far away from this suffocating, humiliating world as possible. He couldn't bear to show his face; he couldn't bear to face the media, not after the way he had performed during the past few weeks. He would devote all of his energies to finding his way back. Suddenly his mind seized on an idea - he would contact the parapsychologist he had encountered on the Jason Coventry talk show - Dr. Sterling. Maybe he could help. After all, there were apparently others who had experienced a similar time displacement."

Because Colton creates a story of intrigue surrounding the sport, Baseball Immortal will attract more than just baseball enthusiasts. It's a full-bodied tale of strange attractors, challenging scenarios, and a struggle for mind and identity that keeps baseball's reality in flux as Cobb struggles for his sanity and Savannah tries to help her friend.

Readers who want more than a taste of baseball that embraces the trappings of intrigue and a growing relationship will find this first book in the series compelling and hard to define. Yes, sports fans will enjoy its baseball details...but so will those interested in conspiracies and time-travel stories.

It should be noted that the tale ends in a cliffhanger, readying readers for the second book in the trilogy.

Baseball Immortal will prove especially compelling reading for sports enthusiasts starved for both vivid depictions of the game and engrossing intrigue surrounding it.

Stardust by the Bushel
Brent Lewis
Secant Publishing
9780999750339, $30.00

Stardust by the Bushel: Hollywood on the Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore is the first in-depth focus on the region's attraction to Hollywood stars who were born, lived, or are buried in the area, and provides a vivid survey of Eastern Shore history that embraces these many famous personalities.

The biographical sketches range from profiles of Linda Hamilton, Robert Kearns, and James M. Cain to surveys of Harriet Tubman and the films Misty of Chincoteague and Failure to Launch.

It's difficult to envision an effort that blends cinematic history with actor biographies as well as the culture and lure of the Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore, but Brent Lewis captures all these facets in every chapter, showing how (and demonstrating why) a land cultivated by farmers and fishermen has lured Hollywood directors, movie stars, and screenwriters over the years.

As the introduction states, "...the Eastern shore is a state of mind. Its historic remoteness from the mainland and all these meddlesome state bureaucrats in Annapolis and Richmond lent the Shore its distinctive character. Eccentric. Independent. Even a bit gnarly."

Stardust by the Bushel is a whimsical, fact-filled survey of the region's culture and allure that celebrates its famous visitors and residents while imparting a sense of place that is lively and personal: "Eastern Shore folk talk different. Where on the Shore a person comes from influences their accent, but as a whole, local speech patterns tend to come off as part Southern, part Northern, and part lazy Shakespearean."

Any library collection interested in Hollywood biographical sketches and Eastern Shore history will find Stardust by the Bushel a fitting tribute to the place, its people, and the personalities who called it home.

Pioneers and Refugees
Ernst Fischer
Archway Publishing
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
9781665715164, $45.95 Hardcover/$34.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Pioneers and Refugees: A Danube Swabian Saga is a historical novel based on true events that tells of two very different families motivated to become part of the great Danube Swabian trek.

It would seem unlikely that an orphan boy living with his uncle in Stuttgart and a family in Kelheim, Bavaria (newly struggling after a father's death) would be joined in an effort to not just survive, but make better lives for themselves; but the Danube Swabian trek offers the perfect allure, and comes at the right time for them all.

Stock imagery provided by Getty Images pepper this fictionalized representation of events to add a sense of real history as the characters evolve and choose paths designed to keep their ambitions, dreams, and families alive.

Ernst Fischer's story of the two families whose ancestors participated in the great migration of the late 1700's also includes facts about their descendants who lived in Yugoslavia during the years leading up to the Second World War, outlining the impact the trek and war had on their lives.

One of the features that sets this story apart from many historical novels based on real events is that Fischer takes the time to include reflections on the personalities and actions of the characters as they navigate their changed worlds and positions in it: "Everyone was polite and respectful of each other's space and although some children had a difficult time understanding the concept, no one was bothered by it. They understood this trip would be uncomfortable and demanding, but the hope of a better life would be worth the temporary inconvenience and lack of privacy."

The focus on these shared experiences and the forces that drive a disparate group of people both together and, sometimes, apart makes for a story replete with various forms of survival and social change: "She and two of her friends were on their way home from school when they walked past the two men going the other way. The two men were talking and laughing when they passed each other. She heard one man say to the other, "Let's have some fun with these girls", he then turned around and shouted, "Heil Hitler," Jana paused then continued to say, "We all heard him, but we just kept walking on our way. Then the bigger man ran back to us and said in a nasty voice, "Don't you know you are required to respond when someone in authority says, "Heil Hitler?"

"We all just looked at each other, Papa. We didn't say anything at all. The man looked mad, so finally Helga said, "Heil Hitler," then Marta did too. But I did not say anything. I just kept walking home."

As adults and children learn not just how to survive but how to confront or live with the cruelties that buffet their lives, readers receive a powerful saga that winds through changing times, World War II Europe, and the social and military forces that connect Germany and Yugoslavia.

Readers might anticipate that Pioneers and Refugees would require prior knowledge of the history of these times, but Fischer weaves plenty of social and political background facts into his evolving story, so no in-depth familiarity with the times is required in order to absorb the events surrounding the Danube Swabian trek that affected its descendants.

The story's ability to personalize the experiences of these characters to bring alive their decision-making processes and choices in interacting with one another (and their adversaries) creates a winning account that is both educational and engrossing.

Pioneers and Refugees: A Danube Swabian Saga is highly recommended for historical novel libraries, those strong in World War II experiences, and collections that feature stories about the legacy passed to future generations.

Its strong characters bring these experiences to life and the accompanying history becomes not just a collection of dry facts, but a vivid, vigorous exploration of survival against all odds.

Chasing bin Laden
Barbara K. Janik
Independently Published
9781734978902, $29.99 Hardcover/$23.99 Paper/$9.99 Kindle

The title Chasing bin Laden: My Hunt for the World's Most Notorious Terrorist feels like an incongruity because, at one time, many disparate forces were chasing bin Laden, and these usually didn't include individuals. It builds upon an unusual "secret truth": that in 2006, bin Laden was arrested in Brooklyn, NY by the New York FBI terrorism task force based on a tip that came from historian Barbara Janik, the author of this book. With that fact comes an authority and special perspective that no other book can claim, making Chasing bin Laden a "must read" for anyone interested in not just bin Laden history, but lay investigations conducted by those outside the usual criminal task forces.

Barbara K. Janik opens the story by admitting that writing this book exacted an emotional toll she still pays today. No research piece or emotionally guarded search through public records, Chasing bin Laden is a very personal foray into the heart and mind of terrorists that involved the author's six-year journey of reliving the events from 2006 and beyond.

Some may believe this memoir a work of fiction, but luckily, Janik obtained copies of all the phone conversations between herself and authorities, which support the timeline of events and facts in Chasing bin Laden. This evidence has been placed on a website, along with documentation of the author's conversations in an online forum.

Readers receive more than a focus on bin Laden, here. The process of calling in anonymous tips, interacting with authorities, and conducting independent research that supplemented FBI activities and investigations makes for revealing reading about how lay investigators can add their research savvy to the efforts to track down even the most seasoned criminals.

Readers who expected a focus on police procedurals will find that this memoir embraces Janik's life and relationships as much as it does her methodology and interactions with authorities. This gives her story a personal tone as it not only explores her life and its influences, but the special challenges of juggling family and outside forces: "In a moment of panic, I regretted all the long hours I'd spent looking for Osama bin Laden and others. I was neglecting my children. They needed their mother, and they needed easy access to sustenance. Why was I such a bad mom?"

The constant focus on breakthroughs took a toll on her family and relationships, and yet she persevered, always feeling like she was on the cusp of locating a terrorist who actually remained one step ahead of her.

These personal life stories add professional and social reflections to round out this decade-long story of pursuit. Even more ironically, Janik did not receive the promised reward for the arrest that was based on her tips. Even worse, bin Laden's arrest was not widely known public news, placing her role in it in a questionable light: "I had found the most wanted man on the planet, and it looked like no one would ever know about it. My efforts may have saved lives, but bin Laden would still be out there as the "boogie man" fanning the fires of war. Meanwhile, I was left trying to prove he was no longer out there."

The events of 2006 and Janik's successful efforts to chase down the most wanted terrorist of modern times should not be forgotten. Nor should the sacrifices made and emotional toll she took and endured during the pursuit of her convictions.

While Chasing bin Laden: My Hunt for the World's Most Notorious Terrorist fits into the memoir label with its focus on Janik's life and family, it's also a powerful testimony to the lasting impact of lay investigators on providing the tips and information that can lead to a safer world.

This book didn't just ask to see the light of day. It demanded it. It provides a compelling, riveting story that will encourage others to stay the course in following their research and convictions to fruition, even if the rest of the world can't listen, doesn't know, or has a vested interest in burying that information.

Chasing bin Laden: My Hunt for the World's Most Notorious Terrorist deserves to be featured in library displays strong in true crime and terrorist activities, and should be a part of discussion groups about lay investigators, family life, and following one's dreams against all odds.

Daddy Issues
Camisha Broussard
Camley Publishing Company
9781737534501, $19.99 Paper/9.99 Kindle

Daddy Issues is a memoir about the author's life growing up in Chicago sans a father, and opens with the "two things" the author loves most in her life: dancing, and her father.

From the first paragraphs, it's evident that this memoir holds and projects a special form of strength as Camisha Broussard traverses love, loss, and life's adversities. This is evident in the passage about her youthful observation of older dancers: "The young women moved with the strength of African queens and the grace of God's angels, each one in step with the sister next to her. They were a well-refined machine, carefully exhaling in unison. They were beautiful, strong, and flawless. I admired them. I wanted to be just like them. I wanted to be beautiful too. I wanted to be strong too. I wanted to be flawless too, but I wasn't them. I didn't have what they had, and life made sure that I never forgot that fact."

At this point, it should be said that if only one book were included in a library interested in the impact and ramifications of father/daughter relationships, it should be Daddy Issues. More so than most books about absentee fathers, it points out the lasting impact of a parent's absence on a child as it traverses Broussard's life both with and without her dad.

Even when he was part of the family, her father would come and go before divorce separated them. She astutely charts her mother's attempt to adapt to his mercurial ways, then organize their family life without him.

As Misha loses her father and his gift one post-Christmas day, she includes many philosophical, social, and personal reflections about this process: "All hard endings have soft beginnings. The beginning of my life is no exception."

She also presents a seasoned and surprising acceptance of her father's failures, acknowledging that "Dad tried to be a good man. Youth is full of promises that life might grant, and it might not."

Her mother is not left out of the discussion, despite its main focus on "daddy issues": "I did more "changing" that year than any young girl should ever be allowed to do alone. But I wasn't alone at all. I had my mom. She knew what I didn't. Although she knew that she wasn't who or what I wanted, still, with what little she had, she truly tried to be there for me."

With these passages it's evident that Broussard cultivates a sense of not just experience, love, and life challenges, but forgiveness. Perhaps this is the most important lesson of all as her memoir explores love, anger, and the resolutions her father's return, sick with cancer, introduces to her mother and herself.

The passion and conundrums presented by both his presence and absence are captured in vivid language that will educate men, especially, about the impacts they have on their daughters' lives whether they are present, absent, or coming and going: "After everything he'd done to her, how could she still be good to him? How could she feed him? Nourishing someone is such an intimate thing. How could she give up her bed for him and plan to sleep downstairs on the couch, right beneath her bedroom, so she could hear him if he woke up in the middle of the night and needed her for something? What was it about her that still cared? I had no idea how she functioned in whatever space she was in that allowed her to move around him so freely and peacefully. I had no idea what ailed her. I was also now certain that I didn't want to catch it."

The language and descriptions are vivid portraits of a community, an era, and lives that are focused on family connections in various ways.

Through the years, the author faces her fears, embarks on a lifelong healing process, and eventually comes full circle about her daddy issues and life. Unerringly truthful about her own choices, failures and successes in relationship-building, Broussard's command of the language and her ability to express conscious and subconscious feelings and messages pulls no punches as it embarks on a journey to forgive and love him.

Readers interested in absentee fathers, the life impacts, and a young woman who grows into a more conscious adulthood will find the social, psychological, and cultural inspections in

Daddy Issues makes for a powerful very highly recommended for a wide range of audiences and library collections, from those interested in family makeup and analysis to others who just want to learn about the process of healing, recovery, and forgiveness.

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

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

Call Me A Cab
Donald E. Westlake
Hardcase Crime
c/o Titan Publishing Group
9781789098181, $14.95 pbk / $8.99 Kindle

"Call Me A Cab" possibly the last new Donald E. Westlake, is a departure for the author because, there is no crime throughout the work. Katharine Scott hires cab driver Tom Fletcher, to drive his taxi across the country to California, where she will make a life altering decision that will affect several other people. "Call Me A Cab" moves along at a brisk pace with a wonderful journey through America in a very different time from today that is a crowning achievement of an authors body of work has always been a pleasure to read.

The Hot Rock
Donald E. Westlake
The Mysterious Press
c/o Open Road Integrated Media
978044667035, $16.99 pbk / $8.99 Kindle

"The Hot Rock" the first Dortmunder novel, is a laugh out loud caper, of John Dortmunder, Andy Kelp, and Stran Murch where they are commissioned to steal a diamond, that two nations fight over its ownership. The gang figures out how and when to nab the jewel but continually find, they have to lift it, that proves to be hilarious high jinks. "The Hot Rock" is a great title for new readers to discover Westlake.

Bank Shot
Donald E. Westlake
The Mysterious Press
c/o Open Road Integrated Media
9781504068116, $21.99 pbk / $8.99 Kindle

The Dortmunder Gang is back in "Bank Shot" and this time they are stealing the bank. Yes, that is the plot and I will not say how, but Westlake handles it all, in typical laugh out loud style. In fact, a chapter alerts police to be on the lookout for a red, white, and blue bank. "Bank Shot" races along with fantastic plotting with wonderful lovable characters on another comic caper.

Jimmy The Kid
Donald E. Westlake
The Mysterious Press
c/o Open Road Integrated Media
9781453234808, $13.99 pbk / $7.99 Kindle

"Jimmy The Kid" rachets up the laughs to new heights in the third Dortmunder escapade. Kelp has decided to follow the details of a kidnapping, laid out in a book he read, by author Richard Stark of the Parker mystery series. To begin Stark and Parker are Westlake writing under another name while the laughs come early and never let up and Westlake introduces a new character who adds so much to the odd ball criminals. "Jimmy The Kid" is one of the best of the entire series that is a gem of storytelling magic

Drowned Hopes
Donald E. Westlake
The Mysterious Press
c/o Open Road Integrated Media
978147245205, $TBA print / $10.99 Kindle

"Drowned Hopes" takes off and never lets go as the Dortmunder gang is back in action. This time Dortmunder is recruited by a fellow criminal recently released from jail. He tells John he wants to dig up monies he stole. He tells the location and that its an easy task for John and the gang. But in typical Westlake style there is a complication. Since the time the thief was incarcerated the state of New York built a damn creating a lake that covers the location of the cash. Westlake introduces several new characters who add to the mad cap adventure that races along to its final wonderful end. "Drowned Hopes" continues the series of inept criminals as they attempt another escapade

The Busy Body
Donald E. Westlake
The Mysterious Press
c/o Open Road Integrated Media
9781504068109, $21.99 pbk / $7.99 Kindle

Westlake the master of the comic mystery universe, once again proves why he was the best in the genre with the "Busy Body" Al Engle's life gets complicated when he has to steal the drugs in a suit of the dead man Charlie Brody. A further complication is that Engle must become a grave digger to find the drugs. As the story unfolds the stiff somehow is constantly misplaced where Engle must locate it to complete his task. Westlake takes readers on a madcap adventure of sidesplitting proportions to the very end. A movie was made but like many of the others of the works Westlake it falls short. In the case of Westlake, it is always best to read the novel because he was the modern master of this type of mystery. Even though written so many years ago "The Buys Body" is a very entertaining novel that is sure to please readers.

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

Filling in the Black: One Woman's Journey Of Re-Education
Joan Kantor
WovenWord Press
9780578252803, $15.00, PB, 66pp

Synopsis: The George Floyd trial was a tipping point for author and poet Joan Kantor. After four years of unleashed racism, she instantly knew what her first trip, outside the isolated bubble of Covid, would have to be. During the Covid pandemic she had plenty of time to process what she had been witnessing from afar.

The experiences typified by the murders of blacks at the hands of whites (including the police) were not, as a white woman, hers directly, but had nevertheless touched her deeply. She knew that she needed to dive into history, to explore and better understand how we had gotten to this place. She needed to come face to face with truth, to stare into others' pain without looking away. She needed to fill in the missing pages of the textbooks from her childhood. Over the years, she had learned some of what she hadn't been taught in school, but there was still so much that she didn't yet know.

She felt that she needed to immerse herself in the details, to experience the hammering repetition of a story she had never been fully or truthfully told. As best as she could, she traveled back in time in her little RV and her physical journey to know and to understand began in Selma, Alabama.

Critique: The story of an awakening with respect to the racial issues that have torn our country apart for the past 300+ years, "Filling in the Black: One Woman's Journey Of Re-Education" is a deeply personal account that is augmented for the reader by author and poet Joan Kantor's genuine flair for language and keen observational skills. An inherently fascinating, thoughtful, and thought-provoking read, "Filling in the Black: One Woman's Journey Of Re-Education" is a timely, welcome, and impressively informative contribution to our on-going national discourse regarding race relations and its history in America. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99), "Filling in the Black: One Woman's Journey Of Re-Education" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Social Issues collections.

Editorial Note: An award-winning poet Joan Kantor residing in the village of Collinsville, Connecticut, her formal training is in education as well as marriage and family therapy, and she was a college counselor and Learning Disabilities Specialist for many years.

She actively promotes poetry in the community and is a member of the International Academy for Poetry Therapy. She has been a featured reader for the public television series Speaking of Poetry as well as for several art museums; additionally, she leads workshops, has mentored for Poetry Out Loud, and judged and mentored for the Hill-Stead Museum's Sunken Garden Poetry Festival Fresh Voices Poetry Program.

To fulfill her inclusive vision of the arts, Joan collaborates with both visual artists and musicians and currently performs in Stringing Words Together, an interactive program of poetry and violin music.

Joan Kantor's first published collection, Shadow Sounds, was a finalist for the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award in 2010. Her work has been published in numerous literary journals, in 2013, she won first prize in The Hackney Literary Awards poetry contest and in 2015 she took First Place for Poetry for her book Fading Into Focus, in The Writer's Digest Annual Self-Published Book Awards.

A Complicated Choice
Katey Zeh
Broadleaf Books
510 Marquette Avenue N, Minneapolis, MN 55402
9781506473499, $26.99, HC, 200pp

Synopsis: Too often, the public abortion debate depicts the experience of ending a pregnancy in falsely simplistic terms. Anti-abortion activists falsely contend that abortion is always emotionally damaging for the pregnant person, while pro-choice activists focus on honoring bodily autonomy and personal conscience without always giving voice to the nuances of abortion itself. In particular, the pro-choice movement fails to acknowledge that some people experience abortion as a kind of loss.

With the publication of "A Complicated Choice: Making Space for Grief and Healing in the Pro-Choice Movement", Baptist minister Katey Zeh addresses the fact that abortion stigma is ubiquitous, even among those who identify as pro-choice. We have not been supportive of people who have abortions, especially those whose experiences are complicated and involve grief and loss.

Bringing the reader along the journeys of those who have had abortions, "A Complicated Choice" reveals the complexities of our reproductive lives, giving voice to the experiences of grief, loss, and healing surrounding abortion experiences. "A Complicated Choice" weaves these personal stories with key insights from the fields of psychology, theology, and public policy to illuminate the systemic injustices that undergird the conditions that shape a person's decision to end a pregnancy.

"A Complicated Choice" goes beyond the falsely simplistic terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice" that define the public abortion debate and centers the real people making the decision to end a pregnancy in the context of their full lives and circumstances. A call to people of faith and to all people to examine our judgments about people who have abortions, we are invited into the act of sacred listening to the real stories of those most impacted. By focusing on these experiences, we will be drawn away from the stalemate of debate and into a spiritual response rooted in compassion for those who end pregnancies.

Critique: Eloquently informative, exceptional insightful, and inherently engaging, "A Complicated Choice: Making Space for Grief and Healing in the Pro-Choice Movement" is impressively well written, organized and presented, making it an ideal and timely contribution to our on-going national debate over one of the most inflammatory domestic social issues of our time. While highly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academicians, political activists, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "A Complicated Choice: Making Space for Grief and Healing in the Pro-Choice Movement" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.99).

Editorial Note: Katey Zeh is an ordained Baptist minister and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She is the author of Women Rise Up and the co-host of the Kindreds podcast. She is also a member of Planned Parenthood's Clergy Advocacy Board. Zeh has written for many outlets including the Huffington Post, Sojourners, Fidelia's Sisters, Religion News Services, Rewire and Religion Dispatches, and her advocacy work has been featured in The Washington Post, The Nation, and VICE News.

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

Social Entrepreneurship: A Practice-Based Approach to Social Innovation
J. Howard Kucher, author
Stephanie E. Raible, author
Edward Elgar Publishing
9 Dewey Court, Northampton, MA 01060-3815
9781788974202, $199.95, HC, 320pp

Synopsis: Collaboratively written by the team of J. Howard Kucher (Associate Professor of Social Innovation, The University of Maryland, Baltimore, US) and Stephanie E. Raible (Assistant Professor of Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, University of Delaware, US), "Social Entrepreneurship: A Practice-Based Approach to Social Innovation" is a fully accessible textbook that provides a comprehensive guide for both aspiring and practicing entrepreneurs to the building blocks of sustainable social enterprise, exploring how core elements contribute to either the success or failure of the social venture. It also analyzes the key skills needed to synthesize effective business practices with effective social innovation and points out both what works and what does not. Taking a practical approach, "Social Entrepreneurship" demonstrates how big ideas can be transformed into entities that produce lasting change.

The critically important features of "Social Entrepreneurship" include: Discussion questions and activities to aid student learning and debate; A multi-part case study that helps students see social enterprise in practice; Recommended resources sections that encourage students to explore the topic further; Readable, real-life anecdotes, examples, and analogies that illustrate how social entrepreneurship initiatives operate.

Learning objectives and chapter summaries to guide MBA students and entrepreneurs through key topics that include product development, idea generation, social change theory, marketing, and operating structures

Making the case that social entrepreneurship may be the most effective way to bring about positive changes in society, "Social Entrepreneurship" is a textbook that will be an essential resource for introductory courses and electives in social entrepreneurship.

Critique: Enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of an Appendix featuring an eleven page Sample Business Plan, and a five page Index, "Social Entrepreneurship: A Practice-Based Approach to Social Innovation" is extraordinary and thoroughly 'student friendly' in organization and presentation. While highly recommended for college and university library Business/Entrepreneurship collections, it should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Social Entrepreneurship: A Practice-Based Approach to Social Innovation" is also available in a paperback edition (9781788974226, $55.00).

John Taylor

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

Nina and the Really, Really Tough Decision
R. Karl Hebenstreit, Ph.D, author
Amina Yaqoob, illustrator
Independently Published
9798776199097, $10.00, PB, 32pp

Synopsis: "Nina and the Really, Really Tough Decision: An Introduction to the Enneagram through the Lens of Decision-Making" by Karl Hebenstreit follows the journey and process of a young girl named Nina in making a difficult decision.

She meets each one of her closest eight friends to ask for their advice and input on how they make decisions, so she can learn from them and then better make her own decision.

"Nina and the Really, Really Tough Decision" is designed to teach young readers and listeners about the nine different archetypal personality orientations inherent in all of us, and the understanding that while each approach is valid, bringing them all together is even more powerful and enlightening.

Important messages about diversity and inclusion are also woven into the story line as Nina speaks with each of her friends. And the beautiful illustrations by Amina Yaqoob present a rich opportunity to explore a deeper understanding of each perspective and type presented through Nina's questioning each of her eight friends.

"Nina and the Really, Really Tough Decision" increases children's emotional intelligence, specifically through their awareness, understanding, and the importance of diversity of perspective and motivation, using the powerful Enneagram model without explicitly introducing it as such.

Critique: An enneagram is a compound word derived from the Greek neoclassical stems for "nine" (ennea) and something "written" or "drawn" (gramma). With the publication of this large print paperback edition of "Nina and the Really, Really Tough Decision: An Introduction to the Enneagram through the Lens of Decision-Making" children, parents, and teachers are provided with a thoroughly, informative, effective, entertaining, and thoroughly 'reader friendly' approach to problem solving. While highly recommended for family, school, and community library, college, and university library Education Theory collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should be noted for home-schooling parents, classroom teachers that "Nina and the Really, Really Tough Decision: An Introduction to the Enneagram through the Lens of Decision-Making" is also available in a digital boo format (Kindle, $4.99).

Editorial Note: Karl Hebenstreit 's 20+ year career spans the areas of HR and OD in the biotechnology, clinical diagnostics, life sciences, healthcare, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, professional services, high-tech, and real estate services industries, having worked at Merck, Bellcore, AT&T, Lee Hecht Harrison, Cushman & Wakefield, Kaiser Permanente, EMCı, and Bio-Rad Laboratories.

Karl is currently a Principal Organization Development Consultant at Genentech. His clients range from individual contributors to SVPs being coached in interpersonal effectiveness/EQ, strategic thinking, professional growth/development, team-building, and new leadership role integration. His PhD is in Organizational Psychology from CSPP and his MS is in HR Management from Rutgers. He is also the author of "The How and Why: Taking Care of Business with the Enneagram - A Practical Framework to Drive more Effective, Efficient, and Sustainable Business Results and Relationships".

Jewish Women's History from Antiquity to the Present
Frederica Francesconi, editor
Rebecca Lynn Winer, editor
Wayne State University Press
4809 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48201-1309
9780814346303, $99.99, HC, 520pp

Synopsis: Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by the team of Professor Frederica Francesconi and Professor Rebecca Lynn Winer, "Jewish Women's History from Antiquity to the Present" is broad in geographical scope as its twenty-one contributors explore Jewish women's lives in what is now Eastern and Western Europe, Britain, Israel, Turkey, North Africa, and North America. The focus of this extraordinary volume is on reconstructing the experiences of ordinary women and situating those of the extraordinary and famous within the gender systems of their times and places.

The erudite contributors analyze the history of Jewish women in the light of gender as religious, cultural, and social construct. They apply new methodologies in approaching rabbinic sources, prescriptive literature, and musar (ethics), interrogating them about female roles in the biblical and rabbinic imaginations, and in relation to women's restrictions and quotidian actions on the ground. They also explore Jewish's women experiences of persecution, displacement, immigration, integration, and social mobility from the medieval age through the nineteenth century.

For the modern era, this unique volume's contributors deftly assesses women's spiritual developments; how they experienced changes in religious and political societies, both Jewish and non-Jewish; the history of women in the Holocaust, their struggle through persecution and deportation; women's everyday concerns, Jewish lesbian activism, and the spiritual sphere in the contemporary era. Contributors reinterpret rabbinical responsa through new lenses and study a plethora of unpublished and previously unknown archival sources, such as community ordinances and court records, alongside autobiographies, letters, poetry, narrative prose, devotional objects, the built environment, illuminated manuscripts, and early printed books.

"Jewish Women's History from Antiquity to the Present" is significant within the field of Jewish studies and beyond; the essays include comparative material and have the potential to reach scholarly audiences in many related fields but are also written to be accessible to all, with the introductions in every chapter aimed at orienting the enthusiast from outside academia to each time and place.

Critique: With the useful inclusion of a complete listing of the contributors and their credentials, "Jewish Women's History from Antiquity to the Present" is impressively informative, exceptionally well organized, and a highly recommended core addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Jewish History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Jewish Women's History from Antiquity to the Present" is also available in a paperback edition (9780814346310, $49.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $37.49).

Editorial Note #1: Federica Francesconi is assistant professor of history at the University at Albany, State University of New York, where she also directs the program in Judaic Studies.

Editorial Note #2: Rebecca Lynn Winer is associate professor of history at Villanova University.

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

Straight No Chaser Sound Bites: A Cappella, Cocktails, and Cuisine
Straight No Chaser Inc., author
Red Lightning Books
9781684351725, $22.00, HC, 200pp

Synopsis: With 15 years in the music business, eight albums, and more than 1.5 million concerts tickets sold, Straight No Chaser treasures two things: family and food. "Straight No Chaser Sound Bites: A Cappella, Cocktails, and Cuisine" features a collection of their favorite food and drink recipes combined with behind-the-scenes stories as they welcome their fans into the family.

Formed in 1996 at Indiana University, Straight No Chaser's story has been replete with twists and turns. Sound Bites deliciously recounts members' memories of moments from an unlikely yet wonderful cascade of events that propelled forward their career of creating music, touring, and becoming part of countless family traditions.

Steve, Jerome, Charlie, Randy, Walt, Mike, Jasper, Seggie, and Tyler each offer their own (sometimes contradicting) stories of their adventures, as well as sensational recipes for cocktails, such as the Honey Lavender Greyhound, Grapefruit Jalape¤o Cilantro Shrub, and SN-Tini, and foods, including "Choose Your Own Adventure" risotto, Great Grandma Erma's Apple Crisp, SNC M&C, Momma C's Fried Chicken - and many more.

Straight No Chaser Sound Bites invites the group's many fans, old and new, to celebrate the harmony of music, food, and drink in their own homes.

Critique: Fun, informative, and an absolute 'must' for the legions of Straight No Chaser fans, and an inherently fascinating browse for menu planners, "Straight No Chaser Sound Bites: A Cappella, Cocktails, and Cuisine" is a unique combination of cookbook and band history that will be an enduringly popular and unique addition to personal, professional, and community library collections. It should be noted that "Straight No Chaser Sound Bites: A Cappella, Cocktails, and Cuisine" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.47).

Editorial Note: Straight No Chaser is a musical phenomenon with a massive fan base and a long list of accomplishments, including two RIAA Certified Gold albums, more than 1.5 million concert tickets sold, 1 billion streams on Pandora, and 1 million albums sold worldwide. Straight No Chaser is the real deal: the captivating sound of unadulterated voices making extraordinary music that moves people in a fundamental sense -- and with a sense of humor!

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

Lily Hoang
Red Hen Press
P.O. Box 40820 Pasadena, CA 91114
9781636280042, $16.95, PB, 264pp

Synopsis: Over a five-year period, Martha Johnson murders her four children, one by one, in order to punish her husband when they argue, but Martha is no ordinary serial killer. She murders her children by using the bulk of her 250-pound body to suffocate them. Unlike other fictionalized true-crime novels, "Underneath" by novelist Lily Hoang neither valorizes nor focuses on the specific acts of violence. Instead, as a work of fiction, it attempts to understand how feelings of powerlessness, the residue of trauma, and the need to find justice in a world that refuses to give a fat body justice finds its only respite through murder.

Critique: A memorably chilling, compulsively engaging, deftly crafted and thought-provoking read from an author with a genuine flair for originality and the kind narrative driven storytelling is the foundation literary excellence, "Underneath" is especially recommended for the personal lists of mature readers and for community library Contemporary Crime Fiction collections.

Editorial Note: Lily Hoang is the author of five books, including A Bestiary (finalist for a PEN USA Nonfiction Book Award) and Changing (recipient of a PEN Open Books Award). She has been a Mellon Fellow at Rhodes University in South Africa, a Distinguished Visiting Writer at Cornell College, and a Cultural Exchange Faculty Fellow at Wuhan University in China. To date, she has taught creative writing on five continents. She currently teaches in the MFA Program at UC San Diego.

Michael Dunford

Nancy Lorraine's Bookshelf

Betty Crocker Simply Delicious Diabetes Cookbook
Sara Kwak, editor
Tony Kubat, photography
Mariner Books
c/o Harper Collins Publishers
9780358659075, $24,99 PB, $12.99 Kindle, 352pp

The "Simply Delicious Diabetes Cookbook: 160+ Nutritious Recipes For Foods You Love"from Betty Crocker is a jam-packed collection of healthy new recipes that are diabetic friendly. It is divided into 6 chapters including basics, breakfasts, light meals & snacks, salads and veggies, dinners, and sweet treats & refreshing drinks.

Recipes are presented with ingredients first with standard measurements, and carb choices highlighted at the top right, plus simple numbered sequenced steps for preparation. Nutritional information per serving is also listed at the end, to make conscientious dieting easier. Excellent, tempting color photos of nearly all recipes are provided, adding to flavor appeal.

Some tasty recipes include Sheet Pan-Roasted Summer Vegetables, Loaded BLT Avocado lettuce Wraps, Beef-Veggie Burgers with Honey-Horseradish Sauce, Gingersnap Apple Crisp Yogurt Bowl, Thai Peanut -Coconut Sauce, Coconut Curry Chicken, and Peach ice Cream. An emphasis on fresh fruits and veggies permeates recipes, plus different international flavors. A particularly delicious dessert recipe is the Banana-Cardamom Snack Cake, which has no added sugar. Unusual veggie treatments include the Parmesan Carrot Fries, and Roasted Asparagus with Mushrooms and Walnuts.

For international audiences, there is a handy Metric Conversion Guide on page 346. Home chefs and families adapting their menus to the needs of diabetic consumers will greet this "Simply Delicious Diabetes Cookbook" with unmitigated delight. Happy menu exploration and healthy cooking to all readers and fans!

Life Beyond Sight: Theatre Arts Festival for Youth
Val Smalkin, Project Director
Maryland School for the Blind Songwriting Project
Silly Goose & Val, publisher

Available for streaming April 18, 2022, the CD edition of "Life Beyond Sight" is a collection of four amazing songs and one perfectly stunning performance of the Bach Invention in C Major performed by 14 year old blind pianist Alex Kern.

Produced by a collaboration of a group of blind youth performers and a collective of music educators and songwriters, "Life Beyond Sight " includes four original songs by blind artists: the haunting "Not With My Eyes, I and II" by Smalkin et. al, the inspiring, energetic "Dance of Freedom," performed with the addition of the West Los Angeles Children's Choir, and the "Lifeboat to Sanity," performed by Lynne, Everett, and Smallkin.

This original creative music will take the listener on a hazardous journey of enlightenment through empathy with the blind co -creators. Described as "courageous, powerful, and joyous," these songs will also challenge the listener to stretch beyond known comfort zones to realize common experiences shared by both sighted and unsighted persons.

Each song has its own special message and gift, but my favorite is the "Lifeboat to Sanity." Lyrics include: "I feel your stare as you stand on the shore./ Darkness takes over I feel so insecure/ The walls close in, the shadows grow long./ But I save myself with the words of my song."

Recently I heard John Baptiste, famous jazz/classical pianist of the Stephen Colbert Show, describe his experience performing a 90 minute jazz improvisation concert at Carnegie Hall as 'sharing the music of the world, that is always there, with a live audience,' or words to that effect. That description also applies to the experience of listening to the music of "Life Beyond Sight."

I feel humbly enriched beyond measure by the music of these powerful children and their supporters. It is an experience that must be shared to fulfill its own innate power of empathy.

"Life Beyond Sight: Theatre Arts Festival for Youth" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, family, community, school, and community library CD music collections, Tatyanna Ditzenberger, Alex Kern, Raiven Everett, Grace Zuarte, and Val Smalkin are the performers with the assistance of the West Los Angeles Children's Choir, Barbara Klaskin Silberg, Director

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

Ultimate Supernatural and Philosophy
Richard Greene, editor
Open Universe
c/o Carus Books
9781637700105, $19.95, PB, 232pp

Synopsis: Two brothers going out on the road, traveling from town to town, doing what they do best: fighting demons, monsters, ghosts, and other strange creatures. Across the fifteen seasons of the show, Supernatural has thrilled audiences with the story of two mortal men who move from hunting supernatural monsters to defeating everyone from Satan to the Archangel Michael -- and, ultimately, God Himself.

Now for the first time, "The Ultimate Supernatural and Philosophy" brings together twelve contemporary philosophers and scholars to dissect the themes, adventures and anarchy that made this series a fan-favorite. Join us as we explore and discuss the nature of man, the problem of evil, existentialism, immortality and the philosophical implications that lie between them all.

Critique: Expertly compiled and edited by Professor Richard Greene, "The Ultimate Supernatural and Philosophy" is especially recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Popular Culture & Philosophy collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and fans of the 'Supernatural' television series, that "Ultimate Supernatural and Philosophy" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Editorial Note: Richard Greene is a Professor of Philosophy at Weber State University, the Director of the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, and the Director of the Richard Richards Institute for Ethics. He co-hosts, along with Rachel Robison-Greene, the pop culture and philosophy podcast 'I Think, Therefore I Fan'. He has also edited The Sopranos. and Philosophy: I Kill Therefore I Am (2012) and Orphan Black and Philosophy: Grand Theft DNA (2016).

Paul T. Vogel

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

Death After Evensong (Masters and Green Book 2)
Douglas Clark
Lume Books
9781719847650 $5.99 pbk
B07GDSVF7V $2.99 ebook, 150 pages

Death After Evensong is a very good British police procedural. The clues are hidden and the setting is unique. The solving of the crime is satisfying. My personal problem with the tale is that the characters feel a little flat to me. Others will have no problem with the characters.

Detective Chief Inspector George Masters is sent to a small village Rooksby-le-Soken in East Anglia. The local vicar has been found murdered in a closed room. Everyone in the town has a motive to kill the vicar. Except for a few people, everyone in the town doesn't want DCI Masters or his investigative team there. The locals just want the murder forgotten.

The detectives on Masters' team resent his success in investigations. Their personalities clash both between themselves and the locals. These personal conflicts are as much a part of the story as the actual crime.

If you enjoy a good procedural, where you have to pay close attention to the clues, Death After Evensong is a great recommendation. The personal animus between the detectives can be grating but the mystery is good.

Potions, Poisons, and Peril: A Witchy Paranormal Cozy Mystery
Shea MacLeod
Sunwalker Press
9781089557333 $12.99
B07W76F3PN, $3.99 Kindle, 162 pages

Potions, Poisons, and Peril is a weekend escape for the cozy mystery reader. The world building for the mystical town of Deepwood and its mix of normal and magical residents is fun and different.

Emory Chastain, owner of Healing Herbs, a potions and herbal tea shop in Deepwood, has a man walk into her shop and drops dead. He has been killed by magic. She knows what might happen to her and her shop if the locals find out about the death. She calls for help from her friends to hide the body and find the killer.

Strange things and more deaths begin appearing around the town. Can she find out who the killer is or will she be too distracted by the hot new man in town, Noah?

Potions, Poisons, and Peril is a light cozy magical mystery. It is an easy recommendation for an escapist read but it lacks enough depth for the more serious mystery reader. Readers who are looking for a first novel in the cozy magical mystery genre will find the tale a solid introduction to the writing style.

S.A. Gorden
Senior Reviewer

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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