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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 1 January 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

Lifecycle IoT Security for Engineers
Kaustubh Dhondge
Artech House
685 Canton Street, Norwood, MA 02062
9781630818036, $129.00, HC, 215pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Lifecycle IoT Security for Engineers", Kaustubh Dhondge (the founder of Glaukes Labs) reveals that as more and more manufacturers seek to make products that can connect to the internet, security of the Internet of Things (IoT) remains one of their leading concerns.

"Lifecycle IoT Security for Engineers" deftly summarizes recent developments and the current status of the issue, writing for all the professionals working on IoT. The topics covered include lifecycle of IoT security, IoT security attack vectors and actors, preventative and defensive measures to counter IoT security threats, regulatory guidance for the IoT industry, and recovering from IoT security incidents.

Critique: Exceptionally well organized and presented, "Lifecycle IoT Security for Engineers" must be considered essential reading for all professionals having to deal with internet and website security and privacy issues. "Lifecycle IoT Security for Engineers" is an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, corporate, college, and university library Computer & Internet Technology collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, internet security professionals, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Lifecycle IoT Security for Engineers" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $104.77).

Dear Bob
Martha Bolton, author
Linda Hope, author
University Press of Mississippi
3825 Ridgewood Road, Jackson, MS 39211
9781496832658, $28.00, HC, 328pp

Synopsis: For five decades, comedian, actor, singer, dancer, and entertainer Bob Hope (May 29, 1903 - July 27, 2003) traveled the world performing before American and Allied troops and putting on morale-boosting USO shows. Deftly written and collaboratively compiled by Martha Bolton and Linda Hope, "Dear Bob: Bob Hope's Wartime Correspondence with the G.I.s of World War II" tells the story of Hope's remarkable service to the fighting men and women of World War II, collecting personal letters, postcards, packages, and more sent back and forth among Hope and the troops and their loved ones back home.

Soldiers, nurses, wives, and parents shared their innermost thoughts, swapped jokes, and commiserated with the "G.I.s' best friend" about war, sacrifice, lonely days, and worrisome, silent nights. The Entertainer of the Century performed for millions of soldiers in person, in films, and over the radio. He visited them in the hospitals and became not just a pal but their link to home. This unforgettable collection of letters and images, many of which remained in Hope's personal files throughout his life and now reside at the Library of Congress, capture a personal side of both writer and recipient in a very special and often-emotional way.

"Dear Bob: Bob Hope's Wartime Correspondence with the G.I.s of World War II" heralds the voices of those servicemen and women whom Hope entertained and who, it is clear, delighted and inspired him.

Critique: An absolute 'must read' selection for the legions of Bob Hope fans, "Dear Bob: Bob Hope's Wartime Correspondence with the G.I.s of World War II" is a memorial and testament to what he accomplished with an in behalf of a generation of American service men and women during and after the dark days of World War II. Especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Dear Bob: Bob Hope's Wartime Correspondence with the G.I.s of World War II" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.99).

Editorial Note #1: Martha Bolton was the first woman staff writer for Bob Hope, helping to write his television shows, personal appearances, and military shows for approximately fifteen years. She is an Emmy-nominated writer and author of eighty-eight books of humor and inspiration. She has received nominations for a Dove Award, WGA Award, and a Golden Scroll Merit Award for Fiction.

Editorial Note #2: Linda Hope is the eldest daughter of Bob and Dolores Hope. She is the producer of the Emmy Award-winning TV special Bob Hope: The First 90 Years. She also wrote My Life in Jokes, a collection of jokes honoring her father's one hundredth birthday. Linda produced his TV shows for over twenty years, ran Hope Enterprises, and has spent the last two decades perpetuating her father's legacy.

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

Jenny Jaeckel
Black Rose Writing
PO Box 1540, Castroville, TX 78009
9781684338610, $19.95

Eighteen-year-old Talia is searching for her place in the world, and speaks to readers about this process. Her story opens on a gray day, as she rides the Green Tortoise bus into Washington to begin her new life.

From the start, her first-person discussion is evocative and compelling: "The thing I wanted to tell you about, the thing I forgot to tell you about, was that time two years ago I saw seven rainbows all in one day, and I thought it was a good sign, but of what exactly I didn't know. It was before I started college, before I met Renee, and before I met George and messed things up with George, and my days started feeling like I was climbing over mountains made of a thousand sharp peaks."

As she confesses that "the idea of home was one which has always slipped through my fingers" due to her hippie parents' commune journeys and their break-up, the origins of her nomadic existence and longing for a home she never knew become engrossing realistic and poignant.

From the start, Jenny Jaeckel's character is straightforward, savvy, and cognizant of the impact of this past on her search for a future. She's also candid about her fear of change and new things, despite the fluidity of her background and life.

As she moves into a relationship with George, who harbours a passion for sailing and life, she begins to explore something also new to her - love: "I could feel his beating heart, and my own heart pressed up against his back, and I wondered about liking and I wondered about love."

Just as she's formulating these new ideas, however, George is offered an opportunity that takes him on a different path, challenging Talia to identify her course in life in a more definite and different manner than she's ever had to do before.

Jenny Jaeckel's story of the legacy of being a child to parents who are rootless and separated, and the struggle to find a place in this world that feels firm and true, is thoroughly engrossing. It will especially appeal to those raised under similar circumstances, who will find Talia's efforts to move on from both her childhood and adult decisions to be compellingly realistic: "And even though I was supposed to be moving on, even though he'd made things pretty clear, I was still thinking about George."

A year later, Talia is still in love. And she doesn't know what to do about it. Her decision to move ahead without moving on changes everything.

This coming-of-age story is sweet and inviting. Talia comes across as a three-dimensional character because Jaeckel draws together all facets of her life: past, present, and future. Her ability to capture Talia's dreams and memories and weave them into the process of making important decisions about the rest of her life are convincing and gripping.

Readers of all ages who enjoy coming of age stories will appreciate Talia's efforts to move beyond her upbringing and into a different future that brings her closer to a sense of belonging and connection than she's ever had before.

Linda Lee Blakemore
Leonella Press
9781736994702, $29.99 Hardcover, $21.99 Softcover, $14.99 ebook

Entrenched: A Memoir of Holding On and Letting Go is about one woman's experience entering into, surviving, and letting go of a destructive relationship. It depicts a series of failed relationships that revealed similar patterns of choices in men and their attitudes towards her.

Many autobiographies take a similar approach to revealing these issues, but what differentiates Blakemore's story from others is her attention to underlying issues of her familiarity with and attraction to abuse and, even more importantly, the lasting impact of abandonment.

Her story acknowledges and embraces a basic contradiction and psychological quandary...she came to see that "staying with a man who left would keep her forever entrenched in the very thing she needed to move beyond."

Blakemore realized that stories have more than one perspective, and took the unusual approach of inviting her exes to read her drafts and provide their own stories of what had happened between them. Some declined. Others accepted, adding a focus on honesty and clarity that is evident through the trials and processes Blakemore endured to survive.

From prenups and business interests to coming together and separating, Blakemore charts the promises and pitfalls of relationship-building with an astute eye to exploring the illusions, influences, and choices that often lead to bad decisions.

When a child is hurt, Blakemore faces one of the hardest decisions of all, parsing various behaviors to get at the heart of which should be forgiven and which hold long-term dangers not just for herself, but others.

Entrenched is more than a memoir about holding on and letting go. It's about considering the long- and short-term consequences of relationship choices and influences not just on oneself, but the world at large.

Women who live in, tolerate, or struggle with abusive situations will find Blakemore's descriptions thought-provoking, familiar, and revealing.

The conclusion of her story of life lessons holds hope for all who find themselves in her position - which is, sadly, likely to be an unexpectedly wide audience.

The Devil's Heart
Robert Rapoza
9781732391239, $13.99 paper, $3.99 ebook

The Devil's Heart opens in the southern Argentinean jungle where Professor Jim Grady and his archaeological team are on the verge of a great discovery. Grady is called away from his team and returns to find they have vanished without a trace.

Desperate for help, he calls upon fellow archaeologist Nick Randall and daughter Samantha, who are charged with tracing the team's steps through the jungle to locate both them and their find.

When they enter a chamber and fall into the clutches of a deadly adversity, Nick and Sam discover they've stumbled into a legendary mystery that threatens not only the relic they've discovered, but their lives.

A Nazi stronghold, military engagements and battles, and efforts to free themselves profiles Sam's strengths and cunning as much as her father's abilities. That's one of the strengths Robert Rapoza hones in this vivid adventure.

Think Indiana Jones, but in a jungle setting where a female character's push for both the truth and her own survival are just as powerfully depicted as the efforts of her father. Add nonstop confrontations and actions which turn a jungle foray into a series of revelations that tests Nick's ability to respond to military tactics and battles and his daughter's ability to survive. Then, top all these events with a romp through international affairs and special interests, for the ingredients of a solid action story that intrigues on many different levels.

As The Devil's Heart moves from the jungles to Germany and Sam and Nick uncover a dangerous plot and truths, the story crafts a sense of purpose beyond survival that tests both the father/daughter relationship and each individual's unique expertise.

Robert Rapoza's special brand of nonstop, staccato action will especially please thriller audiences who like their stories spiced with ongoing confrontations. These encounters keep emerging from different and changing circumstances, and will also attract readers who will appreciate the specter of a strong young woman as determined to participate in her own survival process as her father is to rescue her from danger.

Readers will find the psychological inspections just enough to support the plot's action and mystery, and will appreciate the political intrigue that emerges as one of the surprises.

Fast-paced, unexpected in its twists, and engrossing...what more could one ask for from an action adventure story?

La Esmeralda Imperfecta
David Carroll
Camino Alto Publishing
9781956705003, $10.99 Paper, $2.99 ebook

From its title, one might assume that La Esmeralda Imperfecta: Paradise Lost in Costa Rica will either appear in Spanish or be the nonfiction story of a move to Costa Rica gone awry.

Neither supposition is true. This novel is in English, with Spanish words added throughout to reflect its Costa Rican setting; and the events that unfold are fiction, even though the prologue provides a short history of the country's evolution.

Part of this evolutionary process is the drug trade, one of the focuses of this novel. Readers are forewarned of the story's likely direction in the prologue's concluding words, which lead directly into the first chapter, in which a pilot crashes and a country begins to stir to life one early morning - a life not always appreciated by those new to its rhythms: "Juan Carlos didn't need to wake up early, and he valued sleeping into the mid-morning, but no way was that happening. Country living is gonna take more time getting used to than I expected, he admitted to himself with annoyance. "First one rooster, then another, and the next - to fuckin' infinity. The whole damn town cockadoodlin' with roosters. And right behind the roosters come the birds screechin', monkeys howlin', dogs barkin', and bitches bitchin'."

As events move into the cocaine trade, set against the backdrop of volcanoes and action, readers receive an adventure story that traverses the underworld of Costa Rican society as it probes both the country's underbelly and the pulse of its wonders.

David Carroll takes the time to capture the sights, sounds, and smells of a nation; whether it's the physical beauty of the area or its civilized attractions: "They ordered shrimp cocktails, conch drenched in butter and garlic, and grilled mahi-mahi. The meal was delicious. Macho paid and handed the waitress a fat tip. She passed him her phone number."

From how lucrative incomes evolve outside of conventional circles to relationships built upon "powder sales associates and close friends," Carroll's ability to probe the lesser-known (but equally vibrant) world of Costa Rica will feel authentic to those well familiar with the country's heartbeat as well as newcomers to Costa Rica who might only have heard of its tourist attractions.

From family matters and uncertain, mercurial friendships to how Juan Carlos and Rafael (Rafa) manage adverse situations in a risky business, the dual processes of life and love unfold in a manner that reaches out to not just embrace, but immerse readers in Costa Rica's culture.

This explosive story of the pursuit of wealth, happiness, and love reveals all aspects of Costa Rica's worlds, which exist in layers alongside one another. The plot does a fine job of mingling a sense of place and purpose with cultural and social insights. The resulting tale of intrigue and action keeps readers absorbed as well as wondering about the ultimate outcome of family men involved in dangerous ventures.

La Esmeralda Imperfecta will reach a wide audience; but especially those already interested in Costa Rica. It holds thriller components, but should be described as something more, because its psychological and social inspections are just as central as the intrigue. La Esmeralda Imperfecta also holds cultural insights, but with a twist that focuses on Costa Rica's lesser-known milieu.

Readers of stories steeped in other countries who want a vivid and candid inspection of Costa Rica's motivations, business, and society will find La Esmeralda Imperfecta outstanding.

Anne Pfeffer
Bold Print Press
9780578346298, $0.99

Binge tells of Sabrina Hunter, whose goal in life is to become a best-selling novelist. Now twenty-seven, she works at a dead-end job under demanding boss Josh and is no closer to her goal of being a full-time writer.

Her life is made tolerable by binging on candy, and as she puts on more weight, Sabrina ("Bree") acknowledges that the failures in her life are causing stress and promoting binge eating responses.

Alone in her life without a partner, but fixated on the romantic writing she produces that envisions better possibilities (if not for herself, then for her fictional characters), Sabrina embarks on new routes that bring her to the cusp of realizing one of her greatest dreams.

As she struggles with diets, spirituality, and new options in career and love, Sabrina questions her motivation for losing weight and the changes this effort will introduce to her life.

Her concerns expand to broader inspections of her world as she questions why God seems so unfair, why she appears incapable of getting what she wants, and how new revelations about family and loyalty are affecting the patterns of her life.

Anne Pfeffer crafts a fine women's read about life changes, transitions, and sacrifice. As Sabrina's focus on weight loss transforms to bigger-picture thinking, her life shifts and her relationships and ideals bring with them new opportunities.

Pfeffer is especially adept at capturing the flow between Sabrina and family and love matters, keeping her character fully engaged in both her own pursuits and her interactions in business and personal worlds alike.

While stress-eating is one theme of the story, Pfeffer carries these habits into a broader spectrum of psychological examination that makes for an involving story of one woman's determination to "live the dream."

Fiction readers who appreciate portraits of contemporary women who forge their own roads to success in different ways will find Sabrina and her upward trajectory realistic, satisfying, and memorable, all in one.

A Kiss for Maggie Moore
Micki R. Pettit
Black Rose Writing
PO Box 1540, Castroville, TX 78009
9781684338382, $19.95 Paper, $6.99 Kindle

In A Kiss for Maggie Moore, protagonist Margaret Emma Moore is sassy, brash, and forthright. Her first-person story represents this personality from its opening lines as Maggie confronts a pretentious competitor and his statement that she is "just a girl".

Fast forward a few years in the future. Maggie and Bucky are best buddies and have evolved a close friendship since that day on the hill when she defied his pat perception of her. A beautiful new neighbor girl enchants Bucky with her countenance and attitude, which are far different from Maggie's assertive persona.

Melinda Thomas becomes their best friend in an unlikely trio of opportunity and angst that changes them all.

As a perhaps-predictable romance emerges, Maggie is faced with a moral and ethical conundrum that tests not just her courage, but her heart.

While A Kiss for Maggie Moore is a coming-of-age story that might seem destined for young adult readers alone, it would be a shame to limit its audience to this group.

Maturity brings with it small prices to pay and large costs for bad decisions, which Maggie discovers during her growth process. From new responsibilities and new reactions to revised lives, Micki R. Pettit crafts a memorable saga of a small town and individual lives facing changes.

From drugs to love, Maggie is "beginning to understand self-loathing."

As she moves through revised relationships, threats, and small town experiences, her experiences will delight readers of all ages who look for feisty, strong young women willing to do battle not only with the world outside themselves, but with their own inclinations and reactions.

Pettit's story is vigorous, enlightening, and filled with strong characters who cultivate different visions of their futures. This memorable read deserves repeated consultation and a place on the bookshelves of any reader of coming-of-age stories and small-town life.

Hot Air
Charlie Suisman
Independently Published
9780578993287, $12.99

Hot Air is a series addition to the introductory story Arnold Falls that will delight both prior readers and newcomers who are interested in upstate New York scenarios.

The story of Arnold Falls picks up where the first book left off, with a series of fun local conundrums and dilemmas which bring a smile to the face from the prologue's introductory lines: "The fact of the matter is, somebody stole the statue of Hezekiah Hesper, and for months nobody noticed...The old rogue had then languished in a corner of Benjamin Arnold Park, ignored by all except the dogs, fine judges of character, unwavering about the sort of tribute Hesper deserved. When the statue was removed from its stand one moonless night in March 2018, Hesper was in people's thoughts the same as he ever was, which is to say, not at all."

Will and narrator Jeebs have been together since last fall. Now is the sleepy summertime when nothing usually happens. But change is in the wind for this small town, and as events unfold, "living in the present tense" becomes a thing of the past.

As two gay men reflect on how everything seems warm and peaceful in their summertime world, Chapter 2 introduces more characters and a sense of transformation from the third person perspective as things change.

Judge Harschly faces a not-so-antisocial hermit in his courtroom and senses something is off in his jurisdiction: "Over the years, Judge Harschly's ears had become highly reliable tuning forks, sensitive to the merest wisp of a tendril of off-note prevarication. A Rolls Royce of b.s. detectors, as his wife says."

Marvin the Hobo and others bring with them a discordant bag of possibilities that evolve to challenge the small town's traditions and façades.

In a world both bent on staying the same yet facing changes from outside forces not always understandable or under its control, can the small town's residents preserve what they value most in life?

Charlie Suisman crafts a fun story of a different kind of small-town milieu. He spices his tale with strong dialogue between disparate characters, laces events with a wry sense of humor and observational irony, and weaves a dance of confrontation and change that embraces hot-air balloons, fraying feelings, and new lives.

Small town events permeate this wonderful romp through life to provide ongoing whimsy, while serious inspections of evolving times keep these disparate individuals realistic and emotionally moving.

From mystery and turmoil to performances that entice audiences to become involved in various characters' choices, Hot Air is a delightful tour de force that juxtaposes serious messages with light-hearted inspections. Just the ticket for a warm read on a cold winter's night.

Brant Vickers
Atmosphere Press
9781637529447, $18.99

Young adult historical fiction readers will find Fedor an intriguing story based on the true life of Fedor Adrianovitch Jefticheff (aka JoJo the Dog-Faced Boy), an exhibit subject of P.T. Barnum's Circus in the late 1880s.

More than a circus curiosity, Fedor was an intellectual, an avid reader, and encountered many notable, famous individuals during his time. From his vantage point in a cage as a circus attraction, Fedor's life unfolds to prove richly attractive even to young adults who likely will not have heard of him before this story.

Brant Vickers creates a vivid fictional survey that is narrated from Fedor's first-person perspective, bringing events to life: "They didn't believe the stories told about us by our manager. They were smart. Young Nicholas kept looking penetratingly at me. I smiled, but he couldn't make it out, and didn't react. I think the empress recognized somehow that I could understand, so she switched to German, not knowing that I speak three languages. That made me smile. Again, I don't think they could tell I was smiling."

Choosing a delivery that moves from the perspective of the main attraction to observations of the impact that circus displays have on viewers creates a particularly thought-provoking series of interactions. These provide much more than one individual's story, but probes the politics and approaches of the circus world and its place in 1800s society.

The political, literary, and intellectual discourses enjoyed by Fedor, who speaks three languages and is well-read, outline not only his abilities, but a sense of the cultural, political, and social forces of the times as readers are introduced to this world.

These juxtapose with candid psychological inspections about being the subject of curiosity rather than a human being capable of experiencing emotional depths and desires like anyone else: "He didn't really get to know me at all, and I realized he never intended to. He only wanted to be able to say he met me."

Under another hand, it would have been all too easy to maintain a focus on circus life, the prospect of being a curiosity on display to the world, or the social interactions between circus people and others. But Vickers provides a full-faceted inspection that reflects changing times and opportunities as others in positions similar to Fedor's find their lives changing: "I think we're a curiosity for towners. They don't see us purely as freaks or blacks, but we bring in the kids and locals accept us now. Mille and Christine speak several languages and can help teach the little babies, too," Krao said."

The result is a vivid display that operates on many levels. Fedor is highly recommended for young adult collections strong in not just historical fiction, but social inspections that move between psychological and cultural insights.

Populated by realistic people, plans, and experiences, Fedor's bid for freedom lingers in the mind long after his story ends.

Risky Restoration
E.F. Dodd
Warren Publishing
9781954614666, $17.95

Risky Restoration is a novel about dating, revenge, attraction, and moving forward from failed relationships. It is a story designed to delight women, who will readily recognize themselves in the obsessions of Kez Walsh, who can't quite move on from her ex-husband (he is remarrying while she remains mired in a sense of romantic failure).

The world of online dating and the quagmire of becoming involved in friends' romantic dilemmas while continuing to support them makes for not just familiar-sounding problems, but fine reading. Kez navigates her world and brings her besties along for the ride into new relationships that hopefully don't mirror what she's tried to leave behind.

E.F. Dodd is especially astute at pinpointing the patterns and associations which both keep Kez stuck in the past and finding new ways to move on with Jackson...methods that involve confronting her ex once and for all: "Leaning down so we were face-to-face, I said, my words like chips of ice. "Look at yourself, Miller. Take a good, long look in the mirror, once you regain feeling in your testicles, and think about the man you see looking back at you. I wonder if you'll even recognize him because I sure don't." I walked away, holding out my hand to Jackson. He looked over at where Miller was still crumpled on the ground, then down to my outstretched hand. The anger in his eyes eased off a bit, and his lips tipped up into a smile. His palm engulfed mine, and he led me back down the hill, neither of us wasting another look at Miller. "And here I was going to be your knight in shining armor," he said blithely. "That guy usually turns out to be some asshole wearing tinfoil. I like you much better in jeans."

As humor, irony, evolving friendships and old ties intersect; Dodd creates an inspection that comes steeped with romance and revised ideals of Mr. Right.

A road trip, an attraction, and a final accounting bring everything into perspective as Kez contemplates moving on at last. Dodd masterfully juxtaposes all these ideas and special interests in a story that maintains a fast pace as it moves through events both funny and pointed.

Risky Restoration probes a dating game that women will find captivating and recognizable. It's an exploration of love, friendship, and growth that leads to a steamy conclusion and unexpected revelations.

Readers of women's literature and romance stories that embrace growth processes are in for a treat.

Rising Star
Michele Kwasniewski
Rand-Smith Publishing
9781950544165, $20.00 Paper, $8.99 ebook, $17.46 audio

Book One in the Rise and Fall of Dani Trueheart series, Rising Star, reaches young adult girls interested in stories of struggle and achievement. It documents the story of fifteen-year-old Dani, who is being pushed by her mother to use her musical talents to become a pop star. Dani seems just as driven towards reaching this goal. Or, is she?

Ironically, just as she's beginning to reconsider her scheming mother's influence, Dani achieves her dreams and leaves familiar circles to enter a world filled with new influences and people who push her in different directions.

Sporting a new legal guardian, a new manager, and dubious new friends, Dani moves into the music industry and her singing career without benefit of the forces that have supported her all her young life.

One strength to Rising Star is Michele Kwasniewski's attention to capturing Dani's evolving feelings as she butts heads with her parents and the world: "So much has happened in the past few days. Everything is changing except for the fact that my mom cannot stop making everything about herself. I feel horrible because I said some terrible things to them. But I gotta be honest, Martin. I really meant what I said. I just wish...I don't know..."

"That you'd said it differently?" I nod at the phone. "Yeah."

Dani's first-person observations, analysis, and insights drive the tale of a talented young woman's first forays into the professional world, the challenges this world poses to the young and uninitiated, and what happens when she leaves not just family, but all her familiar support systems behind.

Dani may be moving on (and moving upward), but at heart she's still an impressionable, naive teenager. And her desires and abilities are still fluid.

Kwasniewski is also skilled at capturing the emotions and motivations of everyone around Dani. While Dani still gets to tell the story from her perspective, her growing maturity and ability to understand what drives others to achieve creates moving dialogues between parents, friends, and new influencers alike: "I never asked to do all this in the first place. I was just a little kid who wanted to take tap. This was all her idea!" I shove my hands in my pockets. "I just wish she loved me for who I am. That's all I've ever wanted."

My dad stares down at me, listening and chewing his lip. "I know it'd mean more coming from her, but she does love you very much. I'm sorry she doesn't express it as well as she should, but you and Geena mean the world to her. Maybe if I let her know how you're feeling..."

"No! Dad, please don't. It'll only make things worse. You know every time someone says something that isn't positive, she takes it personally and gets all upset. Then she'll somehow turn it into something to be mad at me for, like I was bad mouthing her or something..."

Sometimes you don't know what you want, but have to accept that life brings the best you'll get.

As Dani moves into, through, and past her new life, young women who read her story will find themselves taking a second look at their own life trajectories and influences.

The result is a moving story not just of achievement, but coming of age. This rising star shines brightly. Collections strong in young adult fiction for young women who reach for their own goals will find Rising Star examines the foundations of achievement in a satisfyingly complex, different manner that doesn't eschew the concept of success and stardom, but looks at them in a different, life-changing light.

Burning Bright
Michele Kwasniewski
Rand-Smith Publishing
9781950544349, $20.00 Paper, $8.99 ebook

Burning Bright continues Dani Truehart's story (introduced in Rising Star) and follows her dream of stardom. A year has come and gone, and Dani has had a string of musical hits during that time. Now sixteen, she's touring the world and making new friends, hobnobbing with the stars.

And she's still considering her roots, influences, and who her friends truly are. Are they the fans that spearhead her movement, The TrueHart Nation, who follow her shows like Grateful Dead groupies?

Are they the people she left behind in her rise to fame?

Or is the real challenge of stardom to deal with not the love, but the underlying greed of those who would take advantage of her revised position, using past connections to build future wealth by hanging on to her shirttails?

Michele Kwasniewski builds on the first story, continuing Dani's self-examination and considerations of the world around her.

From encounters with the paparazzi in London to the ability of her fans, the TrueHarts, to destroy those who threaten their image of Dani in any way, Dani must reconsider her personal impact in order to find a way through and past a hectic, demanding career that leaves little time for personal space or contemplation: "There is not one minute of the day when I'm not expected to be somewhere, fulfilling a publicity obligation for MEGA, preparing for an upcoming event, or learning something new. I'm exhausted, harried, and constantly annoyed."

Her compelling story works best when read as a follow-up to Rising Star, but also stands well on its own as a portrait of a successful young woman who considers the end results and impact of her talents on herself and the world around her.

Young women who would undertake their own bids for fame and fortune will find Burning Bright (and its predecessor) a powerful examinations of culture, community, friendships and motivations that keeps both Dani and her readers guessing about her choices, their consequences, and the ultimate outcome of her life.

The cliff-hanger conclusion of Burning Bright portends another addition to the series as Dani continues to field challenges beyond her control.

Collections strong in young adult novels about young achievers (especially those who already have Rising Star) will find Burning Bright a powerful saga of strength, adaptation, and ongoing life challenges.

The Friendly Bookshelf
Caroline and Katherine Brickley
Blossom Children's Media Group
9780997782714, $18.99

In The Friendly Bookshelf, a picture book for young readers, Bibli is introduced as a bookshelf who was the very first bookshelf in his library. As the library grew, Bibli found himself surrounded by other bookshelves, and is relegated to the back of the children's room. Only Ms. Grammar, the head librarian, visits him regularly to choose a book from his aging shelves.

One day, Bibli begins to wonder about the existence of a story about a bookshelf like him. Surely, in this now-expanded library, there must be such an autobiographical representation!

And so Bibli sets out to find that story, but is quickly censured by the other shelves. "Bookshelves are meant to hold stories, not have ones of their own." they tell him. So Bibli tries to "be the best bookshelf he can be," but continues to carry his question. One day, he can't help but reach out to a little girl who similarly feels excluded and unseen. And everything changes, as a result.

Daniela Perez-Duarte provides whimsical drawings that nicely capture the little bookshelf's personality and world.

The Friendly Bookshelf contains fine messages about loneliness, inclusion, meaningful connections, and friendships. Its ability to create a story that eventually answers his question in an unexpected way makes for a tale that provides readers with a gentle message about representation, being true to who you are, and making space for everyone - no matter how different they may seem on the outside - to feel included.

Etta's Fishing Ground
Eva Pasco
Independently Published
9798495162594, $19.95

Readers of contemporary women's fiction who look for evocative stories will find Etta's Fishing Ground an inviting read.

The story is set in Rhode Island, where Etta's fishing ground is located in the remote southeastern corner of Providence County, bordering Connecticut. It captures the atmosphere of the small town of Foster, which has a history of low crime and Klan rallies. Nothing much ever changes there - but nothing stays the same forever.

Obie's wife's best friend Etta is a real catch. And he should know since he's a stickler for details - as a former police officer used to documenting facts.

As Obie, wife Muriel, and others navigate the changes in their lives in later years, shattered psyches and discordant notes introduce new perspectives, challenges, and events.

Etta's "pageant-perfected poise" leads her to offer uncommon advice to Muriel as humor, revised purposes and lives, and small town dilemmas enter into the picture.

Eva Pasco is adept at capturing these scenarios with an astute eye to detail: "Etta stepped aside for Muriel to cross the threshold into the great room and forge on ahead to the kitchen while she shut the door behind them, closing them in for a kill. Preoccupied with unzipping the carrier she set on the counter, and removing an object of pretension, Muriel found her tongue. "Thought you and Keith might enjoy my cheesy sausage-and-croissant casserole for tomorrow's breakfast." Any footing she thought she'd regained for striking up a conversation on the subject of Keith slipped away."

As legal and criminal proceedings enter the small town's relationships picture to further entangle its residents, Pascoe provides a compelling portrait of gambles, absurdity, and irony that embrace the town's residents with an overlay of unsolved murder and muddled feelings.

Pasco's background as a lifelong native Rhode Islander enhances a story that captures community interactions, culture, and a specific sense of place.

As murder, sexual contention, looming divorce and the promise of a fishing hole refuge coalesce, readers should break out the cheesy sausage-and-croissant casserole and settle in for a warm romp through Foster that leads to Etta's fishing ground's real impact and meaning.

Etta's Fishing Ground proves a delightful novel of small-but-growing town pains that keeps readers involved in a myriad of disparate, delightful lives and motivations. It is highly recommended for any collection where novels about simmering love and hate reside alongside small town trappings of family, connection, and angst.

The Second Death of E.A. Poe and Other Stories
Jack Matthews
Personville Press
B09GJ95753, $4.00

The Second Death of E.A. Poe and Other Stories is a fun gathering of odd and insightful inspections. It opens with "Trophy for an Earnest Boy," which tells of a college sophomore football player who harbors a "wildness of spirit" and dreams about his future success.

Only a nineteen-year-old could take a game that is a miserable experience for a "...gullible, earnest nineteen year old boy who went out on a soggy field and struggled in the icy mud for two exasperating hours" and turn it into a lesson on winning, losing, and an ethical dilemma over a trophy's assignment.

Contrast this with "Indispensable Ghosts," in which a collector of 16th century devotional literature considers a fellow collector who is "...grimly possessed, frying like a rasher of bacon in a chrism of bibliophilic madness."

Everyone needs someone or something to push against, as the narrator's wife observes: "...some people need that sort of tension, don't they?" "What sort?" "Somebody to push against. To feel their presence against." Waldo Kiefer serves that function in this story, which juxtaposes literary collectors of devotional material in a competition which erupts into a professional war between competing bibliophiles, where more is at stake than ownership.

Readers of these literary examinations will find Jack Matthews cultivates a diverse set of scenarios, voices, and experiences that especially stand out with metaphorical representations.

His language is bright, original, and refreshingly startling. This is one reason why each short story is a standout - that, and his attention to capturing different details in disparate lives and experiences.

Each story is refreshingly unique. Each captures the nuances of choices which often embrace betrayal, loyalty, and passion.

Literary readers seeking a collection that embeds whimsy and fun into its life inspections will find The Second Death of E.A. Poe and Other Stories is filled with unexpected moments and revelations that shine.

Enough to Make the Angels Weep
Ernesto Patino
Black Opal Books
9781953434234, $15.99, $5.99 e-book

Imagine you're a professional P.I., hired to solve a murder that completely stymies your best investigative efforts. There are simply no clues, no suspects, and only the body of an elderly woman that reveals nothing. When historical examination unfolds a strange plot to murder the descendants of an elite Mexican unit of Irish fighters, Joe Coopersmith finally hits the investigative jackpot. Or, has he just become mired in the quicksand of past events?

Enough to Make the Angels Weep is a story that, on the face of it, is about the death of Dorothy Delaney. Four years later, the relative who hires Joe to solve this mystery seeks answers that will force the police to re-open the case. What she and Joe uncover are answers that actually open a world of trouble connecting past to present, introducing new threats and perceptions that might best have remained buried.

Ernesto Patino creates a progressive series of inspections that add heat to a cold case and bring into question ongoing efforts to quash the truth.

How a battle from the past reaches out to take the life of a woman in her eighties (and, more importantly, why this matters) makes for a riveting journey through the past as Joe seeks closure for Carolyn, money for Cecilia's project, and answers about his own moral compass: "Had he struck a deal with the devil? He wondered. And he wondered if he'd let him off too easy."

Vivid in its mystery and historical inspection and thought-provoking in Joe's journey through disparate lives and their influences, Enough to Make the Angels Weep takes many satisfyingly complex twists and turns as the mystery unfolds.

While readers anticipating a simple whodunit may find some of these directions unexpected, they are always intriguing, and fit nicely into a story that holds many layers of inspection. These elements make Enough to Make the Angels Weep highly recommended both for avid genre fans and those who only occasionally choose mysteries (and, when they do, who seek more depth and development than the usual mystery story.)

Enough to Make the Angels Weep belays the usual formula approach to produce a story more creatively powerful than many in its genre.

The Actual Dance
Samuel A. Simon
The Actual Dance, LLC
9781737909705, $14.99

Many, many books have been written about and by cancer survivors; but The Actual Dance didn't begin as the usual memoir of experience. It was a one-act play written by a husband whose wife struggled with breast cancer.

More than a testimony of struggle, however, The Actual Dance is a love story that follows how two individuals meet, fall in love, and grow into their lives with one another.

The story is not fiction, but a memoir/play that has seen hundreds of performances at dozens of venues. Another difference is that it's more than an account of love and health challenges. It's a story of how the author became a LovePartner™ and a caregiver, how his role grew and evolved during the course of wife Susan's illness, and how he came to new spiritual and psychological realizations because of this.

The Actual Dance could have been titled 'How to Be a LovePartner(TM), because its instructions ultimately provide guidelines and paths for others facing the illness of a loved one and the threat of their loss. Why, then, is this story called The Actual Dance? Samuel A. Simon explains his choice in a lovely tribute to life's energy: "There is a dance, a dance that one day each and every one of us will dance. The dance takes place in a grand ballroom with a fabulous orchestra. The orchestra, I think, plays whatever song the dancers themselves want to hear...The Actual Dance...can be wonderful, and intimate, and beautiful. As the breathing slows and becomes shallow, the sound builds, and the dance intensifies. The breathing slows and softens even more, and the dance becomes more intense, and even more intense, and then even more intense! And then it stops. The dance ends. The music ends. It is as if the world itself has ended."

Simon found himself in this envisioned ballroom at the pivot point of his thirty-fourth year of a good marriage. It was the "perfect time of our lives," when everything was smooth and stable. Until it wasn't.

As The Actual Dance evolves, it lives up to its name, providing a breathtaking series of steps and movements that lead Simon into new and unfamiliar territory as the spouse of a critically ill wife.

How he handles the fear, loss, and struggle forms one aspect of this dance: "Unlike any other period in my life, I wrestle with who I am and what I am supposed to be. For nearly twenty-five years...I've received significant recognition and experienced enormous pride in my children and family. Now I walk deep in the valley of the shadow of loss. Who am I? What am I supposed to be? Where am I supposed to be?"

As the "new normal" becomes a blur for him and he journeys into unfamiliar territory, his faltering steps turn into a different kind of dance as he ventures into being a partner and friend who gains clarity into the process of living and dying.

Caregivers and those charged with offering love and support receive specific insights into this changing process and its promises and pitfalls as Simon navigates unfamiliar territory and grows from his experiences.

Simon cultivates a powerfully descriptive voice throughout that captures this world in a manner that is thoroughly compelling: "Every day, I listen. I listen with my heart where my love sits for any indication that a new orchestra has been called to play the song that only Susan and I can hear. Is that them playing? Is that the orchestra playing our song?"

The result is not a staid "how to" book, but a journey that is, indeed, a dance. Metaphorically displayed and beautifully presented, The Actual Dance is an invitation not to mourn or accept defeat, but to take the first moves into a different series of actions, reactions, and understanding.

Any collection strong in memoirs and books about cancer survival and caregiving, as well as surveys of family relationships and changing connections, will find The Actual Dance a standout in its approach and ability to inject a celebratory, positive tone that reinforces love connections against all odds.

She-Wolf in the Shadows
F.B. Nobles
Crystal Publishing, LLC
9781942624721, $15.95

She-Wolf in the Shadows describes Doctor Ava Wolfe, who has it all: intelligence, a career, and wealth. So much so that she attracts the attention of wannabe lover Sean "Mac" MacIntosh, who envisions riding on her coattails of success.

Ava's intelligence keeps her from falling prey to his plot. Indeed, HE becomes the victim when he vanishes and involves the community and Ava in finding out the truth.

F.B. Nobles keeps the action fast-paced as both Ava and Mac's perspectives are presented: "Threaten me, will she? Take away my clubs? How can I get and keep this bitch I had to marry off balance? Mac thought. She may be beautiful, but she is also conniving, cunning and mean."

Ava's mission of revenge has made Mac persona non grata in Halifax. But just-as-clever Mac fosters his own schemes and connections, so the cat-and-mouse game of revenge is elevated by the plays each make (financially, psychologically, and socially) to discredit one another in the community.

Readers who like stories of control, manipulation, and unexpected developments will appreciate the chess-like strategies Mac and Ava employ to deal with one another.

As each extend (and overextend) their influences, readers are treated to a rollicking ride through clashing special interests and intelligence tests that keeps them wondering about outcomes and changing perspectives.

From investigations and counter-moves to romance and how Ava moves from thinking to feeling, Nobles crafts a story of intrigue and love that is both entertaining and in which gold-diggers and lovers get what they asked for, albeit in unexpected ways.

Neither fully a mystery nor a romance, She-Wolf in the Shadows excels in creating a sense of intrigue and psychological inspection that pits two agile and savvy contenders against one another.

It seems unlikely that an acrimonious divorce will lead to true love, but somehow this happens, in an unanticipated manner. This will delight readers rooting for Ava's goal of living 'happily ever after.'

Those who seek an equally powerful pairing of fiery personalities and purposes and elements of intrigue and self-examination will relish She-Wolf in the Shadows, which should be on the shelves of any romance or mystery library, recommended for readers who look for unexpected twists and depth in both genres.

Romancing the Darkness
Tyler R. Snyder
Crystal Publishing, LLC
9781942624622, $19.95

Book 1 of a young adult fantasy series, Romancing the Darkness, leads readers into a rich milieu in which Tristan defies the rule which governs his life (that royals and commoners cannot mix) and finds himself in trouble. Rayna is a princess. He is her half-elf guardian. And he's something more, to the headstrong princess.

As a guardian, Tristan has heard and believed in these guiding words all his young life: "Protect the royal family members with your very being. And protect each other."

But as the edicts of his duty fade and fall under siege from forces of destructive Dividers, Tristan learns that he may be the only force that can save them.

One discovery Tristan makes is that, despite his upbringing, his world is always changing...and so are the roles of royals, guardians, and others. In order to maintain his place and purpose, he must adopt a brand of flexibility, in turn, that was never part of his training.

Rayna doesn't want to be protected. She wants to fight the evolving battle. And Tristan finds that his purpose and efforts are changed by her attitude and the rise of forces that may prove undefeatable by the strengths that either of them holds.

Tristan finds himself in prison, separated from Rayna and Morgan and his charge to keep them safe. He manages to overcome this and other obstacles, noting wryly that "saving everyone does have its perks" while he fights a war in which winning is the goal. Or, is it?

Tyler R. Snyder crafts a young adult fantasy replete not just in action, but moral and ethical issues as Tristan seeks to redefine his goals, his loyalties, and his purposes in life.

Snyder adds social inspection to this story as the characters evolve, from protected princesses who become fighters for a surprising cause to guardians who must accept their revised roles.

The characterization and interplays between Tristan and those around him are nicely done, filled with unexpected twists that keep young readers engaged and wondering, while the action and fantasy elements are solidly compelling.

The result is a fine story of personal and social evolution that will delight young adult fantasy fans looking for an exceptional adventure story.

Hot House
Lisa Towles
Indies United Publishing House, LLC
9781644564219, $12.99

Last year, P.I. Mari Ellwyn was shot. This year, she's recovered and is looking for a partner to back her up. In Hot House, she taps ex-cop and former detective Derek Abernathy to watch her back.

The story opens with a cryptic text from Sophie, moves to a quick roundup chapter in which Mari admits her limits ("...whomever was threatening Appellate Court Judge Conrad McClaren was somehow threatened by my investigating the matter, and that finding the "who" and "why" now held more significance than I thought. But there was a third reason, one I'd barely even acknowledged to myself, about why I had to find these answers. The fate of my family and my heart depended on it."), then provides a succinct but hard-hitting impression of her new partner: "Unmistakable Beantown accent. Light hair, gap-toothed smile - I always liked that - bad skin, and earnest green eyes. My mother would say drug use from the bad skin, and she thought gap-teeth were indicators of a big heart. I'm usually wrong about first impressions. We'll see."

These two quotes capture Lisa Towles's ability to employ strong descriptions with hard-hitting, sharp jabs to heart and mind which immediately draw readers in and waste no time in outlining characters, action, motivations, and reactions.

A sense of humor threads through serious confrontations to and examinations of Mari's personality, which comes to life as she encounters new people and situations, Towles provides a story as notable for its powerful psychological interactions as its plot.

Mari is a savvy P.I. who leaves no stone unturned. She even investigates her potential partner's likes and dislikes: "All right, fine. How'd you know I like Sweet'n Low?" he asked with an attitude now that wasn't there a minute ago. "And not only that but three. Where do you even buy that shit nowadays?"

"I'm a private investigator, Mr. Abernathy. It's my job to know stuff about the people I work with." "Oh, is that what we're doing? Working?" He didn't hide that he was both amused and flattered."

As she surveys people of interest and influence, the life of charming Sophie (who was used to getting anything she wanted), and a bullet journal that holds an unusual approach and secret, Mari and new sidekick Derek find their skills challenged. Their controversial investigation culminates in vanishing journalists and a clever spy's secret notes which include Mari's family as part of the focus.

Between the contrasts between seemingly disparate cases and the investigative team's foray into dangerous political waters, Towles keeps the tension high and the mystery componenet solid.

But, it's her exceptional characters that really drive the tale, leading readers into a page-turner that's hard to put down. The moral and personal conundrums provide hard-hitting personal and professional challenges to the new P.I. team as they learn more about their cases, each other, and their own hearts.

Fans of investigative thrillers and mysteries will be the audience for Hot House, but its ability to craft a sassy, fun series of dialogues and inspections, its portrait of capable, savvy protagonist Mari, and its ongoing mystery of Sophie Michaud's logbook creates an exceptional read with a powerfully unexpected conclusion, leaving the door more than ajar for a follow-up. This will attract audiences both within and beyond the thriller and mystery genres.

The Trouble with Belonging
Magdalena Stanhoff
Independently Published
9788396242600, $3.99 ebook

The Trouble with Belonging is a novel of street kids, strangers who become family, and struggles for survival. It tells a story of Chen Kehuan, a "lone wolf" who has no friends or family, and whose accidental meeting with the street kid Nikki at the age of eight creates an unusual and uncertain bond formed by coincidence and necessity.

Nikki is also a loner with no sense of belonging to anyone or anywhere. Kehuan seems an unlikely defender or parental figure for her; but as the two develop connections from very disconnected lives, they traverse unfamiliar territory as they grow older.

Taiwanse, Polish, Korean and other cultures come to life as Nikki and Kehuan's story evolves. Magdalena Stanhoff brings these worlds to life with an attention to psychological and social descriptions that form solid backdrops for the events that move the two into more social situations.

As caretaker Anna observes her young charges, she uncovers cultural and psychological clues about their backgrounds: "Then there was also Korean. It had taken Anna some time to realize that when the Soengs came over, they weren't talking with her stepson in the same language which Kehuan and Veronica used between themselves. When she'd finally worked it out, she became curious, since these kids were supposed to be Kehuan's relatives. It would be simple to ask Veronica about the language, but she wanted to get to the bottom of it all, and so she found that box with old photos and a few letters and documents in her husband's closet."

The discussions of racism, Anna's mystery, and how Nikki and Kehuan evolve a relationship makes for a powerful story of psychological and social revelation.

Stanhoff creates a wonderfully evocative tale of two children whose connections turn their lives upside down in unexpected ways.

Her story illustrates third culture experiences, issues of abandonment, trust, and love, and the sense of "inescapable necessity" that keeps Kehuan firmly connected to Nikki against all odds.

Readers looking for novels replete in cultural experiences, identification, and social inspection will find The Trouble with Belonging compelling, warming, and thought-provoking, all in one.

War in the Mountains
J. L. Askew
Covenant Books, Inc.
9781644685761, $23.99 Paper, $9.99 ebook

War In The Mountains: The Macbeth Light Artillery at Asheville, NC 1864-1865 belongs in any military history collection strong in American battles and strategy, documenting a mountain conflict that precipitated a special kind of crisis during the War Between the States.

It gathers experiences of the mountain war in North Carolina and East Tennessee, exploring raids, skirmishes, and battles that challenged leaders and fighters to adapt military operations and approaches to a different kind of environment and battle milieu.

As Union raids, confrontations, and new laws challenge both sides, J.L. Askew provides a military history that is especially pointed in its step-by-step examination of these struggles: "Before the Yankees could recover and replace the losses suffered that evening, the Confederates wanted to complete the destruction of the railway bridge. The following night, another set of rebel scouts, members of Henry's Battalion, descended on Mossy Creek and this time were able to set the bridge afire, completely destroying it. This action forced the Federals from their stronghold at Bull's Gap, which they abandoned two days later. With these successes, General Vaughn began implementing plans to drive them even further west."

Askew's focus provides many insights that the typical, wider-ranging Civil War story doesn't offer: "Hardened veterans of Second Manassas and Antietem, the Macbeth would see a different face of war in the mountains, fighting a different kind of enemy, often not in any uniform, native Southerners disloyal to the Confederate cause, conscript evaders, and deserters." The focus provides perspectives that compliment other Civil War military coverages, filling in many gaps about the special circumstances, conditions, and challenges facing fighters on both sides.

Mountain warfare is unlike other types of battle environments. Askew captures these experiences using a narrative style that reflects the drama of fiction reinforced by the researched facts about these battles.

The result is a foundation study highly recommended for any military history collection strong in Civil War events.

Long Live the Night
Brandon Collier
Xanetik Entertainment
9780989520386, $14.99

Long Live the Night is a novel about slaves and pirates, struggles for survival, and adventure. It is recommended reading for those interested in stories of pirates, politics, and kings.

From swashbuckling fights involving leader Prince Ade from the Gold Coast to a treasure hunt that tests loyalty and alliances alike, Brandon Collier crafts a tale that embraces both nautical and landside adventures.

The characters are often "like ships in the sea with nowhere to go" as an island economy changes, international relationships and special interests are tested, and new alliances are forged, from Nassau to Spain and beyond.

Many have Ade to thank for their changes in fortune. Others curse his name. Rodrigo and his sister Selima are among those whose lives were changed for the better, having grown up very poor on the streets of Marbella, Spain. Rodrigo was a thief who often got caught until he changed his life, first by working at a local inn catering to sailors and then by becoming a cook for a ship tasked with bringing slaves to the new world, as ordered by King Philip the Fifth.

Each of his decisions changes his life and that of his sister. Each leads them into a world far different than street life in Europe.

Brandon Collier presents a wide-ranging story that moves around the world and through disparate lives. Having a sense of the time of these events would have been helpful, but the focus on each character's background, interactions, and revised purposes creates a lively journey that carries readers from land to sea and back again.

Long Live the Night is a moving story of battles, struggles for treasure and survival, and the intersecting lives of disparate people who find their interests and purposes aligning in unusual ways.

It's a novel highly recommended for historical fiction readers and those who look for satisfying blends of action and adventure, and social and political inspection.

Malik's Magic African Alphabet Hat
Malik and Oni Adunni
Mascot Books
9781645439912, $16.95

Malik's Magic African Alphabet Hat pairs a rollicking rhyme with a geographic survey of Africa. This picture book story will delight those seeking to teach kids about Africa's diverse cultures and peoples: "One day Malik's dad, Abdullar, promised/that they'll travel to see/landmarks and places and do things/in African countries from A to Z."

It also offers an unexpected lesson about grief, recovery, and the magic in a hat that allows Malik to fulfill the travel plans his father wished for him.

Lovely, colorful illustrations by Rashad Malik Davis accompany a story that captures the festivals and peoples of the Ivory Coast, Burundi, South Africa, Rwanda, and other African nations.

As Malik fulfills his dream journey via magic and his father's vision, he not only learns about other cultures, but develops a "state of awe" about his father's shared dreams and how to achieve them.

Educational and evocative, the story will resonate with any who look for picture books combining adventure with a collection of multifaceted discoveries about African heritage.

Beyond the Human Realm
Gene Helfman
Luminare Press
9781643886596, $4.95 ebook/$16.95 paper

Given that the key character in this story is an orca, one might be tempted to think that this book's audience will be young people who relish animal-oriented fiction. It would be a shame to make this assumption, because Beyond the Human Realm's special brand of environmental mystery lends to its appreciation not only by literary readers, but adults who look for vivid stories steeped in and powered by conservation issues.

The story opens with a captive whale's experience of daily life: "Each day was a replica of the one before. And the one before that, as far back as he could remember. His routine only changed when they wanted him to perform silly tricks, before they gave him food. A split-tail got into his pool (he hated that). She blew a whistle twice, pushed a ball with her nose, and threw the ball to another on the hard land. It was obvious what they wanted him to do."

This whale was captured very young, and has no memory of freedom. Everything changes when another, very different whale, Nan, is introduced. She has had quite a different life: "I imagine I'm escaping," she said, matter-of-factly. "I know it's a fantasy, but, for a brief moment, I'm away from here." Her response hurt his feelings, knowing that she would rather be somewhere else than with him. But she had known freedom, while he had been a captive essentially all his life."

As the story evolves the whale's life changes. And, not for the better.

Gene Helfman introduces Dr. Rudy Laguna next: a scientist whose new home in the Pacific Northwest lends to his studies of fish behaviors and his growing fascination with orcas.

From encounters with Cassie, who is equally fixated on the whales and chooses them over romance, to scientific curiosity which leads to data-collecting and new revelations, it's evident that Beyond the Human Realm represents a special brand of eco-fiction. It offers mystery, twists and turns of plot, evolving insights about ocean creatures and their natural history, and solid science set against the backdrop of a compelling story of human and whale evolution and interaction.

Helfman excels at interplays between these two disparate worlds, profiling the dilemmas faced by human and whale interactions. From romance to responsibility in freeing an aggressive captive whale, Helfman's story touches upon different moral and ethical conundrums, outlining contrasting perspectives of human and animal worlds.

Beyond the Human Realm is a vivid, engaging work of fiction that's especially recommended for readers who like strong natural history and science injected into their stories, cemented by human and animal concerns.

One Hit Wonder
Kevin R. Kehoe
Izzard Ink Publishing
9781642280715, $22.95

One Hit Wonder: The Real-life Adventures of an Average Guy and the Lessons He Learned Along the Way is a memoir that delivers its message with a blend of humor and thought-provoking inspections. Its story of one who faces both success and challenges on different levels will intrigue anyone who feels that their life story is just 'ordinary'.

A foreword by best-selling author and Kevin Kehor's friend Robert "Cujo" Teschner perhaps best sums up the intention and presentation of Kehoe's life: "If you ask him what his mission is, he will tell you that it is to leave the planet a better place than he found it... in some small way. If you ask him about his personal values, he can rattle them off quickly and with a description of what each means to him - excellence; service; sacrifice; integrity; responsibility; and generosity. Finally he's a guy who - as one friend put it - takes you to places where you might not go on their own."

Indeed, if the purpose of One Hit Wonder is to lead readers to "places where you might not go on your own," this goal is more than filled as Kehoe's life unfolds.

From Kehoe's Catholic roots and Irish heritage to his business successes, his struggles with cancer, and his humble attitude about living a good life, readers receive a vivid story of adventures, escapades, and thought-provoking moments: "I'm not the smartest guy on the planet, and I've been around long enough to know that, and keep trying anyway. I don't know famous people, but I like the people I do know. I'm an average guy with some thoughts about how to live and maybe even be happy in a world where, too often, by the time you're my age, you've either exhausted all patience with people and want to buy a cabin far out in the woods, or you've learned to accept people for who they are and live with that."

Why read a memoir by an "ordinary guy?" Because, within this cloak of ordinary life lies nuggets of wisdom and experience that serve as inspiring models for those who also seek to live better, more engaged, effective lives.

With advice on everything from health to approaches to divorce for the "good-deed doers and nice guys of

the world" to interpersonal relationship decisions that support the morals, ethics, and positive approaches Kehoe honed in his life, readers receive a vivid portrait that juxtaposes his life experience and lessons with pointers for "doing life better."

From the nuts and bolts of hiring and working with landscapers and other business people to Kehoe's thought-provoking consideration of his life results ("Have I made the most of what God gave me, and have I contributed and done enough to make my own little world better for everyone around me?"), One Hit Wonder serves up inspiration in a digestible form that makes it a hit not just for memoir readers, but those seeking self-help inspirations presented in a form that is easy to read, understand, and apply to their own life trajectories.

Collections strong in memoirs, self-help, and inspirational as well as business guides will find plenty of real-world experience and accessible information in Kehoe's thought-provoking memoir.

Howard Butcher
Deep Reef Books
9781737960300, $29.95 Hardback, $4.99 ebook

Razormouth: A Novel of Blood in the Sea is a nautical thriller that is as much about marine life and natural history as it is about a collision between intellectual scientists and a vicious cartel.

Two marine biologists conducting research in the Bimini Islands discover evidence of a new deep-sea threat. Simultaneously, a dead man appears on their dock to involve them in a Colombian drug cartel's actions and direct confrontation with the sadistic "Queen of Cocaine," Concha Dores.

That's the basic plot; but Howard Butcher's ability to craft descriptions that capture the exotic marine world and human intrigue alike supercharges the tale from its opening lines: "Cael Seabrook took the morning flight from Miami to Bimini in the Bahamas, early summer 1983. It was his first time flying, his first time leaving the USA, and his first time seeing an ocean from the sky. The world was fresh and new and extraordinary; he felt higher than the airplane he rode in. Like he'd hit the mother of all jackpots. He was a twenty-eight-year-old ichthyologist flying into the best future he could imagine."

The "you are there" feel to the story doesn't just draw readers in; it immerses them in a world regulated not just by research aspirations and findings, but the rapacious nature of mankind.

Thriller readers used to staccato action may not be surprised at the story's high octane events; but Butcher's attention to metaphorical description adds a lyricism that is unusual in the thriller genre: "A mile beneath the wings of the plane, hazy blue radiance spanned from horizon to horizon. There was no land anywhere - just deep, boundless ocean, liquid brilliance shining back the sun, etched with tiny waves and ribbons of foam."

Also compelling, as events evolve, is the blend of intrigue and international concerns as scientists Seabrook and Aja, dedicated to the rigors of research, become embroiled in a plot that involves big money, special interests, cartel killers, and a new discovery in the "hungry, deep sea."

Bahamian police, politics, and deadly danger converge as the story unfolds, with many surprising twists and turns marking its progression. For instance, Seabrook's conflict with Reverend Bastareaud leads to a murder investigation that implicates him, while struggles on local, national, and international waters emerge to immerse a range of characters in a harrowing conflict that unfolds on many different levels.

Butcher is a master at crafting believable characters, scenarios, dialogue, and scenes that crackle with tension and keep readers thoroughly engrossed. Why is this story especially believable and vivid? Perhaps this is due to the fact that author Howard Butcher has worked as a shark researcher in the Caribbean Sea and as an apprentice commercial diver in the Gulf of Mexico. His experience gives authenticity and real-world description to his thriller.

Seabrook can't believe what he is facing... or what he must do to try and stay alive and rescue his true love, Aja. Readers will find his struggles and decisions both believable and thought-provoking.

Set against the backdrop of a scientific world rocked by more than one discovery, Razormouth is the kind of thriller that will attract both readers of international intrigue and those who like blends of science and murder mysteries with truly formidable villains.

An Apology to Lucifer
Wayne and Sean Haley
D. X. Varos, Ltd
9781955065306, $4.99 ebook
9781955065290, $18.95 Paperback

An Apology to Lucifer is a paranormal thriller that delights with intrigue, and opens with a story of fallen Angels and an eternal pledge for redemption. The prologue sets the metaphysical stage for the tension that evolves as Wayne and Sean Haley pursue the story of a precious book the Vatican will do anything to get their hands on, the real story behind Lucifer's fall from Heaven, and a Boston psychoanalyst, author, and atheist who becomes involved in the mystery of why his good friend Albert, a controversial exorcist, took his life.

The answers to many disparate special interests' questions lie in a book that will change the world. It's a book that should not exist, and its presence represents a threat to social and spiritual order that leads a host of contenders to want it for their own purposes.

As book authenticator Lorenza Pellegrini, atheist David Wright, and Father Thomas Morelli find their lives unexpectedly joined by a dangerous purpose and pursuit, readers enjoy a chase through different worlds and possibilities as the investigations revise history and reconsider the impact of belief systems.

The Haleys inject a sense of wonder into their story that considers the impact of an ancient war and decision and antiquarian special interests on present-day lives: "All of those old books and people acted like they were made of gold when they saw them, Carlos thought. So many words printed on pages. Knowledge that made people crazy, happy, or angry. It was not something that Carlos wanted to worry about."

Their story is replete in vivid descriptions of world-changing events that keep readers spellbound: "The wind was howling up there. She believed she heard screams from across the city. The storm had intensified significantly in a very short period. The reverberation from the thunder nearly knocked her to the ground. The wind was ripping at her clothing and hair. Unholy sounds were coming from the black cloud - like the screaming of a thousand demons. She could feel the blood starting to drip from her ears."

Those who enjoyed The DaVinci Code and other stories of metaphysical intrigue and inspection will find the thriller component is strong, here; as is the inclusion of demonic forces that influence mortal affairs.

While An Apology to Lucifer will appeal to thriller audiences, it will prove equally engrossing to those who like supernatural and metaphysical inquiry. These readers will find this story replete in both nonstop action and solid ethical, spiritual, and moral examination.

Black Truffle & Spice
Mathis Bailey
Independently Published
9780995919341, $19.99

Black Truffle & Spice is a novel celebrating food, cooking, and modern living. It joins Confused Spice and Brown Sugar & Spice with another story of LBGTQ romance and urban living.

Half Indian/French food critic Darshan Singh is observing prep cook Anushka in action in her restaurant kitchen. It's obvious that author Mathis Bailey knows his food, because delicious descriptions are part of this story's allure to foodies: "Darshan watched her over stuff a crêpe with tandoori chicken, green peppers, and onions; their edges charred to a crisp. Gooey Camembert cheese was added last, with a thick dollop of spicy crème fraiche to finish it off. The dish was an Indian dosa spinoff, this was what the Indo-French fusion bistro was all about."

More than culinary aromas are in the air. Romance, too, simmers steadily on the stove with a come-on scent that lures readers into a vivid kitchen scenario with a full pot of relationship potential and promise. But wait...something tastes different.

Even though the man of her dreams has walked into Anushka's life, exhibiting an intoxicating allure of "pink peppercorns and burnt leather," something else is actually simmering beneath the surface.

As the story moves from this opening scenario to the main feature (chef Pierre Jackson, owner of the new Spice Cafe, whose sexuality lives up to the name's alluring promise), readers are treated to a different kind of romance that embraces personal and professional ambitions alike.

Mathis Bailey infuses his story with special interests, private lives, backburnered passions, and business partners.

As Pierre's partner Zola begins to tread on dangerous grounds and romantic competitions escalate on the culinary playing field, Bailey provides an astute examination of hearts and kitchens at war, and ethnic roots that are tangled and complex.

Darshan is Indian. Zola is black. He's a chef. She's a cook. He's rich. She's poor. And Pierre has not known much of this information about Darshan's background - or his latest business pursuit.

Zola is flirting with more than unrequited love and cultural bias. Her actions are coming home to threaten Pierre's own beloved cafe and, fueled by Anushka's information and conniving, all involved are about to face crashing and burning both in their love lives and their careers.

Bailey's ability to move readers from kitchen to bedroom and back again, his attention to exploring culinary and social bias, and the interactions between ex-husbands, potential future husbands, and lovers who operate in different worlds makes for a steamy, alluring story.

The descriptions of foods and how they add layers of intrigue and surprise to the romance set Black Truffle & Spice apart from the usual one-dimensional romance focus, making it an exceptional read: "She set the macarons and coffee on the table. The smell was rich and intoxicating. He took a bite of the rose-flavored macaron. It crumbles under his teeth. The cream melting on the roof of his mouth and tongue. It was baked to perfection. Her father ate it in three bites and washed it down with French coffee, which left a thin layer of froth on his lip. It took him a moment to lick it off and start on another macaron. This time saffron. He gobbled it up. His favorite so far. He wondered would they ever do paan flavored."

As Anushka and Zola face heart-shattering confrontations over their love, readers are treated to a story of choice, consequences, and food world conundrums that explore a milieu beyond the usual romance focus on passion and promise alone.

The resulting multifaceted story will simply delight culinary fans, whether they are romance genre enthusiasts or novel readers looking for an involving, delicious read.

You Speak for Me Now
Sandy Graham
Independently Published
9798536818060, $17.00

You Speak for Me Now introduces young Emma Simon, who is trying to fit into a normal classroom environment after years of attending a school for the deaf. She's entering her teens as a stranger and oddity in a classroom filled with students have shared hearing abilities, but she's also a minority girl of color navigating a sea of possible prejudice.

However, class leader and kind extrovert Johnny McEwan recognizes her as a fellow soul, right away: "Humility came from an empathy that invariably led him to stand up for the less fortunate. That first day, Emma struck him as one of them. Discussing her with his mother introduced him to the world of sign language and like learning to play the piano, he made mastering it a project."

Therein lies the key to changing not just class dynamics, but Emma's life, making it both inclusive and connected in ways she couldn't have envisioned in her years in a school for the deaf.

As Emma traverses 11th grade and grows into adulthood, the support and struggles she experiences in childhood blossom into unexpected controversy as she becomes embroiled in social and racial issues.

Did she deliberately plot to have a US citizen murdered, or was she the victim of a man who tried to kill her?

You Speak for Me Now holds many unexpected twists and thought-provoking moments that move beyond a story of prejudice or a young deaf woman integrating into society - and that's part of its charm.

Sandy Graham could all too easily have made this a predictable story about integration issues. Instead, he creates a masterful inspection of "the American Way" and various challenges to its institutions that arise from clashing perspectives and social strife.

As violence escalates and issues of moral and ethical choices enter the picture, readers are treated to a milieu in which Emma becomes the focal point of social controversy.

Graham's ability to depict his character as representative of the tragedies that divide Americans and challenge hearts, souls, and values creates a story that operates on many levels.

His ability to begin with the nexus of personal experience and perspective and work outward to embroil Emma in the types of social issues that confront Americans today makes for a thought-provoking novel that is thoroughly involving and enlightening.

Collections strong in fictional representations of American cultural and social struggles will find in You Speak for Me Now a powerful story of interconnected lives, ironic twists, and democratic challenges that move from the personal to the political and back again in a compelling, thought-provoking manner.

Max Goes to Town
Cynthia L. Clark
Outskirts Press, Inc.
9781977244390, $15.95 Paper/$3.99 ebook

Max Goes to Town is based on a true story, and will warm the hearts of young picture book readers who like tales about cats.

Paintings by Blueberry Illustrations are beautifully rendered and provide a warm and alluring scenario that captures the sassy personality of cat Max. His adventure is presented in a rollicking rhyme that reflects Max's ongoing presence and importance to the humans who live in his house.

When the family decides to go to town for dinner without him, Max takes matters into his own paws.

It's hard to keep a determined cat from wandering, as his family discovers after his first foray into the wider world.

A surprise ending shows how the family handles their little stowaway's determination to join them. Max Goes to Town is a delightful story that kids with cats will find especially inviting and fun.

Max and the Isle of Sanctus
John Peragine
Crumblebee Books
9781735389691, $24.99 Hardcover, $14.99 Paper, $5.99 ebook

Max and the Isle of Sanctus adds the second fantasy story to John Peragine's Secrets of the Twilight Djinn series for young adults. It is especially recommended for prior fans, who will find Max's latest challenges thoroughly engrossing action reading.

As Max confronts a fire-breathing dragon and the rising powers of an evil Djinn, his nautical world comes to life in a first-person presentation that immediately involves readers in its atmosphere: "As I opened the cabin door, I had to hold my hand up to shield my eyes from the bright sun reflecting off the water and the pristine white walls of ice that surrounded the bay. Horns blasted from the Ice Palace far above the bay."

Can Max's magical powers cope with the onslaughts and threats he faces from multiple sources? Add the fact that his beloved mother faces a terrible curse, and it's evident from the start that Max more than has his hands full.

While prior Max readers will find his latest experiences thoroughly engrossing, it should be noted that newcomers receive references to past events and settings that allow them, too, to enter Max's latest story supported by knowledge of past events: "I remembered reading about ice giants in the book my father had given me, Secrets of the Twilight Djinn. They had dominated the tundra and had ruled most of Arctus before Agus the Just, my dad, had created the snow bears to drive them out. No one had seen them for centuries, and it was assumed that they were gone forever."

The problem is that Max's magic is unpredictable. He must rely on friends and helpers to achieve his goals.

From explosions and potions to a desperate search for a missing mother and a dubious reliance on a form of magic that "lies in the heart" and is not always on tap when needed, John Peragine offers another adventure-packed saga that will delight young adults interested in tales of transformation, discovery, and courage.

The strong characters, from Max to Annalinda and other supporting people in his life, compliment encounters that continually test Max's abilities and courage: "...the infection of the Djinn had spread across the high seas. Nowhere was safe."

While young adults from middle grades to high school will be the main audience for this story, many an adult fantasy fan will be equally delighted by the dilemmas and history of a struggle for magic and control.

Max's ongoing ability to learn and grow from each impossible task creates a delightful interplay between adventure and education, keeping readers thoroughly engrossed.

Fueled by a character challenged by his unreliable abilities and changing life, all ages will find much to enjoy as Max and his Spice Thieves continue to confront the Twilight Army in new ways.

Zulu the Pupa
Joyce Y. Taylor
Independently Published
9781956202007, $17.99 Hardcover, $12.99 Paper

Zulu the Pupa is the first picture book in the 'A Tale of Dung Beetle' series and features an unusual protagonist in the form of Zulu, a beetle pupa who lives in the 'land of the rainbow nation, South Africa.'

Zulu was told by his parents early in life that he will grow to become the greatest, best dung beetle of all. Then they move away from Zulu, leaving him all alone. He begins to doubt himself...and the smelly world he's inherited.

All the other creatures around him, from ants to fireflies, operate in a supportive community and do great things. Nothing Zulu does seems either amazing or helpful to the world, in comparison.

Zulu makes friends, but their skills do not match his. He finds himself unable to dig with the ants, sing with the crickets, or fly with the ladybugs. In fact, he seems to have no useful skills at all...

Until everything changes.

To support her uplifting story of adversity, individual achievement, and life objectives, Joyce Y. Taylor crafts especially bright, gorgeous, large-size color drawings of Zulu's world.

From early lessons on self-acceptance and transformation to insights about cultivating positivity and achievement, Zulu the Pupa introduces an unusual little character who doesn't seem to fit into the productive environment around him.

Natural history facts about the dung beetle, a glossary of pronunciation for the South African names, and discussions of envisioning present-day and future purpose in contributing to life in an uplifting manner create a picture book which is especially vivid and unexpectedly thought-provoking for its focus on the dung beetle.

Read-aloud parents and adults looking for early lessons about change and positive perspectives will relish the opportunity to reinforce these messages with Zulu the Pupa, the first in a series. The story concludes with a mystery, creating a smooth introduction and setting the stage for a follow-up story.

Popper and Friends: Popper Finds a New Home
IL Ritchie, author
Yulia Potts, illustrator
Mascot Books
9781645439929, $16.95

Popper Finds a New Home introduces the first book in the 'Popper and Friends' picture book series, and enjoys whimsical, delightfully appealing drawings by Yulia Potts as it presents a little woodpecker who grows out of his bed and his familiar life.

Not only is he no longer a baby, but it's time to leave his parents' home and build his own nest.

As Popper enters an unfamiliar outside world filled with possible locations that don't really work well for woodpeckers, he's charged with learning all the elements that make for a good woodpecker home.

His new nest must not be near water or low to the ground and it must be outside, where he can "create his home in the fresh air." Indeed, there are so many requirements for the perfect woodpecker abode that Popper wonders if he'll ever find the perfect locale.

Kids learn about woodpecker natural history, problem-solving, independence, and growth as Popper navigates this new world, makes new friends, and faces his first real dilemma in life.

Popper Finds a New Home introduces these concepts for the young, cultivating an encouraging voice that, in the end, leads to Popper's unexpected choice and a successful outcome.

Read-aloud parents will relish this early lesson on maturing and achieving goals, supported by the observations and help of those who become unexpected new friends.

Happenstance Farms: A New Home
S. McMichael
Ek-9 Solutions & Services LLC
9798985032802, $11.99 Paper, $4.99 Kindle

In Happenstance Farms: A New Home, young horse rider Savanna faces change when her trainer moves away and she is brought to a new horse farm to work with someone different.

At the old farm, she had lots of friends. Here, she is a stranger. Her horse, Coffee, has also been brought into this new environment, and both must adjust to different situations.

S. McMichael provides an appealing picture book story of horses, young riders, and change. The vivid color illustrations which capture Savanna's new world and the people in it are strong draws complimenting a story of finding new connections at Happenstance Farms.

Read-aloud parents will want to use this story to warm young horse enthusiasts to the idea that change and new experiences can be welcoming.

The affectionate approach, which adds adventure and interest for picture book readers, will best benefit by adult discussions of how to welcome change.

The beautiful drawings reinforce a message of embracing rather than confronting life changes, offering many opportunities to absorb important lessons about growth.

Knights of The Air, Book 1: Rage!
Iain Stewart
Atmosphere Press
9781639881314, $18.99

Knights of The Air, Book 1: Rage! blends a military story with aviation history to create a thriller story replete with nonstop action. It is recommended for audiences who like their stories multifaceted.

Discussions of piloting challenges and friendships weave real-world military events with a backdrop of impossible scenarios. Add a dash of old demons (which character Lance keeps deeply hidden even from Arthur and Clayton, until they can remain a secret no more) for an involving story that takes military aviation and World War I encounters to different levels.

Readers who anticipate a World War I fictional piece alone will be surprised to find that Rage! represents a powerful intersection of military and aviation history. This novel is replete in military confrontations, strategies, and clashing political alliances based on real-world events, while military or aviation history readers will find satisfying the different directions the story takes as it toes the line between fact and fantasy.

The aviation encounters and air battles are vividly portrayed, which will delight readers who look for action in the skies: "Lance scanned the sky - still no sign of Jasta 6. There wasn't much point in providing high cover if the ground fire shot down Arthur and Ball's flights before Jasta 6 even arrived, so Lance led his flight down in a curving dive to ambush the defending machine gunners from behind. They never saw C Flight before Lance fired his Vickers. Bullets kicked chunks of turf and flesh into the air, catapulting bodies out of the machine gun emplacement like a giant threshing machine."

Military-minded readers will take special interest in specific descriptions of battle strategy: "Lance is right. The high-altitude Huns will come over in droves, and Lance is our best high-level hunter. On the other hand, the letter is signed by Petain. Who outranks even Trenchard by a very long way."

The result is an action-packed saga that covers elite pilots who struggle to keep their relationships, lives, and battle approaches intact.

Military history readers who like their stories couched in the drama and psychological examinations of fiction will find Knights of The Air, Book 1: Rage! a story of combat, unexpected romance, friendships tested by war, and a rise to leadership commanded by events that test even the most seasoned of pilots. The language and consideration of lasting impacts of decisions is riveting: "Hawker, Leefe Robinson, and now Albert Ball were brave and popular leaders who deserved their Victoria Crosses. But their brainless tactics caused men to die who should have lived. We need to become smarter. To beat the Circus on a consistent basis, we need better tactics, better training, better discipline."

Marriage Minded
Marcia Naomi Berger, LCSW
She Writes Press
9781647421793, $16.95 Paper/$19.95 Audio/$8.49 ebook

Marriage Minded: An A to Z Dating Guide for Lasting Love is recommended reading for women who want to embark on constructive dating routines with a solid goal in mind: locating the best marriage prospect.

Inherent in this effort is the knowledge of what makes for a good match and self-knowledge of one's needs, aspirations, and blind spots. That's where the dating advice in Marriage Minded comes into play. It helps readers set the stage for dating approaches that lead to the best results by identifying and overcoming obstacles early in the game.

An A-Z chapter arrangement allows readers to jump to sections about everything from kindness and hookups to identifying compatible values and keeping expectations realistic.

This unique format lends to easy browsing by subject for those who want to delve into specific dating and marriage issues, but so many of these subjects are interconnected that Marriage Minded is best digested in an orderly manner in its entirety so that no topic or approach is neglected.

The onus for locating and creating the framework for a lasting marriage isn't just on the potential partner, but the seeker, as Berger points out: "A man might seem to have all the basics. He could be good-looking, caring, and share your values and some interests. But is he fun to be with? While it's not realistic to expect to be continually entertained or excited by him, if you often feel bored in his presence, move on. The exception to this guideline is feeling bored or depressed because of your own life circumstances. You can't fairly expect someone else to make a life for you. Make sure to do this for yourself. Cultivate your interests and try new things. You'll be happier and more appealing."

Tips move from dating to what makes a successful marriage: "It's not the presence of conflict that stresses the relationship; it's how the couple responds. Coping with differences positively and respectfully can keep a marriage thriving."

Marriage Minded encourages readers beyond the initial realm of dating and selection and into the marriage itself, creating a thought-provoking review that will appeal to women (and also men) who are both single and looking, and married and seeking to improve their relationship.

Marriage Minded thus is recommended reading for a wide audience of women (and men, too): daters of any age, and also those who are already married and who want to make better choices and decisions that support the relationship.

Finish the Story! Harriet Tubman's Secret Raid
Jeffrey Bensam
Storyopolis Ventures LLC
9781737336136, $13.99

Finish the Story! Harriet Tubman's Secret Raid tells of two children who are watching TV when a storm knocks out the power. What is there to do? Grandma has a story to tell them; but it's not your usual tale. It's a time-travel adventure that involves two kids in Harriet Tubman's secret mission for the Union army.

As it evolves, this story attracts readers who may not know the history of this part of her life, using fictional components to invite kids to not just read and learn, but participate in the plot's development through a format embedded with interactive elements designed to keep kids both engaged and thinking.

Jeffrey Bensam creates a platform upon which the young reader joins characters Danny and Kenna in exploring Tubman's real story. It tells of "a military mission that took "General Tubman" from a famous conductor on the Underground Railroad to the first woman to lead an armed military assault in U.S. history. On your Civil War adventure, you'll need to help Danny and Kenna steer their way through mazes, find hidden clues, and solve puzzles. Finally, you'll need to help Danny and Kenna decide which of three paths they should take to finish this story."

From free downloads of challenges and puzzles that can be shared with a group of friends to critical thinking encouragement to be found in hidden inconsistencies within this story, young people are invited to engage not just in history, but in decision-making, problem-solving, and considering history's mysteries.

More than just an individual pursuit, Finish the Story! Harriet Tubman's Secret Raid can be used by adults for children's groups to guide them to learn in an exciting new way that builds not just history knowledge, but critical thinking skills.

With its bright, colorful illustrations and activity-reinforced story, Finish the Story! Harriet Tubman's Secret Raid is in a class of its own as a fine learning tool designed to engage even the most reluctant young history learner.

John A. Daly
BQB Publishing
9781952782503, $19.95 Paper, $8.99 ebook

Restitution is the fifth book in the Sean Coleman thriller series and opens in 1970s Mexico, where a young boy taught to handle a gun at an early age faces a violent confrontation. He assumes that his mother is involved in turning tricks for drugs, and the violence comes from a drug cartel looking to eliminate competition; but this isn't quite the truth. And ten-year-old Alvar receives restitution money for his actions, which involves his mother's death and shakes his family's foundations.

Fast forward to present-day 2003 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Security guard Sean Coleman has come here to attend a bachelor party. Romance is also on the wind - but so is adversity, as Sean faces the rise of past threats and future possibilities.

John A. Daly crafts a suspenseful thriller replete in desert encounters, crime cartels, and a struggle to deal with soulless individuals.

As Sean faces gunfire, interstate chases, and moral and ethical dilemmas, he is reminded by others that "...You are a good man. I've seen you with the weight of the world on your shoulders, and I've seen you lift that weight. When I look in your eyes, I don't see bitterness. I see kindness. I see sincerity. I see a man who wants, and tries, to do the right thing. I see a man who others should aspire to be."

Will this sense of propriety and commitment remain intact against the onslaught of criminal forces?

Part of the reason why Daly's latest book works so well, both for newcomers and prior fans of Sean's world, is that it closely considers the elements of crime that affect not just the psyches of criminal decision-makers, but those that fight against them.

Replete against the developing plot is a moral and ethical interplay of emotions that juxtaposes fast-paced action with serious character development and changing perspectives.

Restitution may be the fifth book in the series, but its solid attention to detail and action makes it a powerful read on levels that move beyond suspense alone, providing an especially satisfying story for those who like their thrillers multifaceted, operating in arenas of personal assessment as well as physical struggles for survival.

Crystal Skull
Daniela Valenti
Independently Published
9798499893852, $6.79 Paper, $1.29 Kindle

Thriller readers who enjoyed Desert Rose will appreciate the follow-up story in Crystal Skull, which blends elements of suspense with the genre trappings paranormal and romance genre trappings. Familiarity with Desert Rose will provide a smooth transition to this story of Amanda Griffith, a Sentinel 10 psychic who is still struggling with the death of her first love and soul mate Alain Proctor while trying to build a new relationship with James.

Someone is killing Sentinel 10s. And it's someone only Amanda's extraordinary powers can stop (even though she proved powerless to stop the forces that led to Alain's death).

As Amanda faces the cartel of death, premonitions of possible futures underlie her past and present decisions. Her search for stability shaken, Amanda must decide on her priorities in life, syncing her memories and dreams with real-world challenges and threats that shake the foundations of her world and choices.

As in Desert Rose, Daniela Valenti develops tension from two areas: romance and paranormal confrontations. As Amanda and James embark on a new life together, her abilities are tested in new ways that keep them on their toes and growing together.

Vivid descriptions spice the action throughout: "She raised her arms and poured her psychic pulses into her shield. It was an entirely novel approach for her, and she hoped it would work. The force-field greedily absorbed her energy, growing stronger but also storing it. The demonic vortex of debris continued its dance, occasionally slamming into her shield. She bided her time, preparing for the final blow."

As the specter of Alain re-enters her life, Amanda is charged with deciding whom she really loves and how to move on and survive: "She still loved him. Yet...he was leaving her again! Forever lost to her. So close, and forever out of reach. Love could not save him then, and it could not bring him back now. And she'd better get over it fast because she was about to enter a fight for her life, and that of every Sentinel in her cohort."

The balance between paranormal confrontations, love, and changing life decisions creates a delightful interplay between suspense and romance that will attract audiences not normally familiar with thriller/paranormal reads.

Newcomers will find that Valenti weaves past and present events in a manner that makes Crystal Skull accessible and inviting.

Challenged with resetting her priorities and interests not just twice, but multiple times, Amanda's conundrums and unexpected confrontations are thoroughly engrossing and completely unpredictable contributing to a story that is hard to put down.

The Wolcott Circus
Michael Snarr
Gatekeeper Press
9781662907715, $24.95 Hardbound, $15.95 Softbound, $10.99 Ereader

The Wolcott Circus provides memoir readers with an intriguing story of a college frat exploit in 1965 that turned out to be more than a prank. It's a story that evolves beyond a single semester or year to depict a "sneak" that moves from 1965 to 1971, involving and re-involving the members in an exploit that keeps them connected beyond the usual college fraternity years.

Set against the backdrop of an "amazing world" of bygone years in which these events held unique opportunities to grow, Michael Snarr's descriptions also capture the 1960s era, experiences that "transformed my life and changed it forever," and connections which kept resonating, posing new challenges and satisfying moments through the years.

Anything seemed possible in 1965. In 1974, the author's frat house and home, the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house at 51 North Wolcott, burned down. With it went a "golden era" which Snarr reflects on from the vantage points of time and hindsight: "I didn't think about this being the demarcation of my life on campus, or a symbol of how the world would be different going forward, having just passed through one of the most tumultuous periods in US history. Looking back, though, it was both."

As readers embark on this journey through bygone times, they absorb the lessons learned from a frat boy's life and the ongoing "sneaks" which result in life-changing events.

Along the way, the sights, sounds, smells, and circumstances of the frat experience come to life in amazing stories that readers will find thoroughly engrossing and eye-opening. As Snarr recalls and shares these vivid memories, he acknowledges that "Boy, were those good years. Every one of them."

How and why they evolved this way forms the nucleus of a story which will thoroughly engross future generations as it captures both the nuances and frat culture of bygone times and their ongoing moral, ethical, and psychological impact.

Snarr often told his buddies that "someone needs to write a book about all this." But, he didn't know that he was destined to be the chronicler of the past, bringing to life the shared destinies and efforts of a special group of new adults. At a recent fraternity reunion dinner he reminisced " lucky I had been to be part of something that was dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others. So, I just took it all in, letting the spirit emanating from the men around me just linger. Even though I didn't know everyone there, I felt a connection. I was glad I had become part of something bigger than me."

Life is a whirlwind of choices. Reading this memoir should be one of them.

As Snarr concludes: "Luckily, the only thing that burned up that night was the house." The memories remain forever, captured neatly for future generations in The Wolcott Circus.

Open Eyes, Happy Heart
Carolyn Thompson
Independently Published
9781735440118, $24.99 Hardcover, $9.99 Paper, $2.99 ebook

It's rare to see a subject embracing sexual abuse and childhood trafficking arranged in such a way that teen audiences can absorb the details without graphic, inappropriate descriptions, but Open Eyes, Happy Heart: A Story of Healing from Sexual Abuse and Childhood Trafficking is designed for this audience. This is an even more important note because, of all the age groups of reader for this subject, teen audiences are the most vulnerable to these threats and need to read about them - albeit in an appropriate manner, represented here.

Spiritual questions about God's intentions and purpose (in allowing Carolyn Thompson's childhood abuse) intersect in a memoir that presents her hidden history sans the graphic descriptions that usually keep this subject far from teen hands.

The Biblical references and religious foundations of this book thus will appeal to Christian audiences who want materials appropriate for young adults.

Broader issues of God's purpose, forgiveness, and finding not just freedom but joy from life after such experiences are addressed in the course of reflecting on these religious questions: "That Scripture started life change. I was now sure of my Heavenly Father's purpose: my childhood suffering wasn't for nothing. While He grieved it because He loved me, He could also see the path that presented the greatest opportunity to minister to others. If I was willing to share my testimony, He could use that to save lives. That rocked my world down to its core. When the dust settled, I had a completely new perspective on the Holiness of God."

Through adult experiences of love and divorce, Thompson searches out and presents discussions of patterns of behavior that "create a positive loop," both in interactions with others and through self-analysis and processing trauma.

Open Eyes, Happy Heart provides specifics on healing on many different levels: psychologically, spiritually, and socially. As Thompson reviews her life's ups and downs, she creates the connections between Scripture and God and adversity and joy that allow the entire family to come together to consider how life challenges may better be absorbed.

The result is highly recommended for a variety of collections, from those geared to teen audiences to religious, psychology, and self-help holdings.

The Sweet Shrub Inn
Hilah Roscoe
Atmosphere Press
9781639880966, $17.99

In The Sweet Shrub Inn, Cora Graham is training to be a therapist, but finds it difficult to help herself as her life falls apart. Dumped by her boyfriend and called back to her small-town home to help an estranged father diagnosed with Alzheimer's, Cora is pulled into a conundrum involving handling the Sweet Shrub Inn, which her father has purchased.

It's hard enough to handle a parent's slow mental decline without adding in lost loves from the past, but Cora's move forces her to do both. These unresolved issues form the nexus of conflict and transformation that make The Sweet Shrub Inn an involving story.

Hilah Roscoe employs the first person to capture Cora's emotions, responses, and interactions with others. This creates a depth and familiarity that makes the twenty-four-year-old's life vivid and understandable on an intimate level.

As a romance with Jenson (who once rejected her overtures) evolves, Cora wonders if she's simply repeating past mistakes and patterns, or truly breaking out of them to create something new for her future.

Readers who look for romances tempered by the pulls of daily life and family relationships will find The Sweet Shrub Inn a satisfying story that excels in self-reflection as Cora considers the changed course of her life and her wish for a different future outcome from romance: "I want to tell him that, in a perfect world, we would live in the same place and get to see each other more often than every few weeks. But the truth is, I don't know that he's prepared to hear me say these things. He's got feelings for me, sure, but that doesn't mean he's contemplating what it would be like if I were to be back here in Taloowa full time. And I'd be lying to myself if I didn't admit that a big part of me is scared of being too honest with him again. I know things are different now, but just how different, I don't actually know."

Anyone who has struggled with returning to the past to right wrongs and make different choices will find Cora's dilemmas involving and revealing.

The result is a compellingly delivered story about running away from heartache, only to come full circle.

Women who relish tales of self-discovery and change will find The Sweet Shrub Inn hard to put down.

Bride of the City, V. 1
Acharya Chatursen
Translated by Pratibha Vinod Kumar and A.K. Kulshreshth
Cernunnos Books
9789811495502, $22.90 Paper, $3.99 ebook

Volume 1 of Bride of the City introduces an Indian story set in Vaishali. The tale first appeared in the 1940s, written in Hindi, and here receives a new translation that brings with it the opportunity for Westerners to appreciate this classic.

Its author, Acharya Chatursen, was one of India's most prolific writers, producing some eighty volumes spanning the genres of fiction, drama, politics, literary criticism, poetry, and medicine.

Here, he tells of an abandoned infant found in an orchard who is destined, by her extreme beauty, to become a courtesan (a Bride of the City) under Vaishali's laws, which maintain that such beauty must be shared.

Many women in her position would have been broken, but the determined Ambapali decides to instead hone a position of power from her circumstances, building an unexpected strength that enables her to not just survive, but flourish.

Western readers might think that the subject and origins of Bride of the City require prior familiarity with Indian culture and history, but Chatursen excels in capturing these elements, along with the atmosphere of the times and this nation, in an evocative manner that requires no previous knowledge of or special interest in India, from his readers: "Spring was beating a retreat. Evening had descended, but the lights of thousands of lamps lit the city of Vaishali. Throngs of people were on their way home after the day's work, on horseback, in chariots and on foot. Some people, dressed in bright colours, were clearly out to socialise. Slowly, the bustle subsided, and the lights became fewer and farther between. Then darkness descended on Royal Avenue. There was a wine shop on the southern fringe of the city. A single oil lamp bathed it with a flickering light in which the large pots of wine seemed to perform a drunken dance. The old shopkeeper sat slumped on his bench. The roads outside were mostly deserted by then. The remaining trickle of pedestrians consisted of the poor - fishermen, butchers, boatmen, barbers, potters. These were the trades that dominated this part of the city."

Under his hand, the perceptions of men and women's roles in this society are explained and defined: "Bhardwaj spoke without standing. 'Are we to understand the wife is not her husband's life partner? And that she is not inseparable from her husband for rituals?'

Angiras said, 'They stay life partners, but on the clear terms I have mentioned earlier. The husband and master has more rights.'

Vaishampayan said, 'So, men and women are not equal?'

Aitreya stood and interjected: 'No. And I wish to add here that my contribution to the code of conduct specifies a man may have many wives, but a woman may not have many husbands. I also wish to codify that for four generations from a paternal viewpoint, there may be no marriage within blood relations.'"

From soldiers to interactions between castes, friends who help princesses and kings, and the cycles of a spiritually rich life challenged by change, Chatursen captures the legends and facts of history in a fictional survey that explores changing lives and the choices that dictate not just individual futures, but the evolution of a country.

From depictions of piousness and beauty to how very different lives intersect to change each other and their world, Chatursen cultivates a powerful story that historical fiction readers will find involving and educational.

Readers interested in stories of changing personal and political empowerment, status quo challenges, and the influence of a beautiful young woman destined for more than a sanctioned life as an obedient courtesan will find Bride of the City thought-provoking, enlightening reading.

Collections strong in Indian history and women's issues will find Bride of the City a powerful literary and historical acquisition.

Bride of the City, Volume 2: Vaishali Ki Nagarvadhu
Acharya Chatursen
Translated by Pratibha Vinod Kumar and A.K. Kulshreshth
Cernunnos Books
9789811495533, $18.90 Paper, $2.99 ebook

Bride of the City, Volume 2: Vaishali Ki Nagarvadhu is recommended reading for readers who have absorbed the introductory events of Book 1. It continues the story of Ambapali, who was forced to become a courtesan (a 'Bride of the City') under Vaishali's laws, which dictate that a woman as beautiful as she cannot be only one man's wife.

In this continuation of her saga, Ambapali thirsts for revenge. Having built herself an unexpected and unusual position of power, she is still constrained by the many rules that dictate her actions in this position. She also seeks revenge.

Acharya Chatursen builds social, political, and spiritual components into her ongoing story as he captures Hindi society and interactions between castes in what can only be described as a sweeping epic that spans hearts and minds of all levels of Northern Indian society in 500 BCE.

From soldiers and generals to common men and women, Chartusen's story embraces a wide range of disparate special interests as Ambapali continues her journey.

Readers traverse a wide range of communities and experiences in the course of this story. The spiritual components are particularly well done as beliefs, shadow threats, and spiritual foundations are revealed.

The story is delivered from many different perspectives, so readers should cultivate the ability to absorb a wide cast of characters and different levels of concern and reactions as the characters interact.

From divided rules and debts to decisions that ripple out to translate into social and political changes, Vaishali's war and battles to recover its glory are brought to life as Ambapali's Palace of Seven Worlds foundations are shaken to their roots.

Historical fiction readers, especially those with a particular interest in Indian events or women's roles, will find this (and its predecessor) exceptional reading.

Collections interested in Indian literature and women's issues, who look for stories thoroughly steeped in historical fact and social inspection, will find both volumes of Bride of the City essential reading.

SOL: Still Our Lions
Gary Evans
Cresting Wave Publishing
9781956048063, $18.95

SOL: Still Our Lions provides a sports history of the Detroit Lions that is highly recommended for sports collections and those with an interest in Michigan sports.

From the roots of the Lions and the birth of the Spartans to the NFL's interactions in Detroit and its influence on Detroit culture as a whole, readers receive a concurrent history of sports and Detroit.

Gary Evans weaves social and political observations and influences into this story. This may surprise readers who anticipated a play-by-play description of great games alone. Those who choose SOL: Still Our Lions anticipating this approach will find that the coverage reaches out to fully embrace the cultural changes which affected both Lions fans and the city as a whole.

Aside from great wins, epic failures, and playoff history, the story of the Lions is much more than that of a single team. It's a story of Detroit's evolution and the influences on its growth. This wider-ranging approach creates an absorbing history that will initially attract sports enthusiasts, but holds the potential to reach beyond this audience alone.

Blending the formats of a sports examination, a memoir, and a social history is no easy task. All these elements are to be found in SOL: Still Our Lions, which crafts an interplay between personal experience and team efforts to personalize the sports history facts: "The original Tecmo Bowl, released in 1989, was a smash hit, at least in my neighborhood, even though most teams, including my Lions, were not represented. The team featured only a handful of teams. And because the first Tecmo Bowl software didn't have a license with the NFL, they couldn't use team names - a game might be Chicago versus Miami, but not the Bears vs. the Dolphins."

Behind the story of wins and losses are changes that affected players and fans alike. All these and more come to life in a sports history that holds information for a wide audience; from those with a special interest in Detroit's bygone era to NFL enthusiasts and readers who hold an affinity for the Lions.

The Polar Bear and the Dragon: Dawn of an Alliance
Debbie Watson
Mission Point Press
9781954786059, $14.95 Paper, $7.95 ebook

Whitney is thirteen, and this summer was supposed to be filled with plans and excitement. But what evolves that year, described in The Polar Bear and the Dragon: Dawn of an Alliance, is anything but a good time as she faces terrifying nightmares and the emergence of strange new abilities and develops unexpected longing for a father she's never met. He perished trying to save a family from a burning building the night she was born.

Faced with all these challenges, Whitney's first instinct is to confide in her mother Susan, whom she feels close to. But even that reliable rock of strength is thwarted when Whitney senses that doing so could put her mother's life in danger by those who now threaten her.

Whitney feels entirely alone until a circle of new friends emerges from an unexpected place to help her face a life that's becoming far different from anything she's ever encountered.

Traveller, a visitor from Yagdi, has returned to Earth in search of young Whitney. She soon discovers that traveling long distances, especially with a little dragon named Aiden in tow, is a difficult task and regrets having closed her portal between the two worlds.

It turns out that Whitney's destiny is far stranger than she could have imagined as she faces these impossible beings, learns about her early charge to be a Protector Warrior (the 'Chosen One'), and grows into her abilities and a heritage far outside what she has always known.

Whitney's unique perspective on life, as well as her powers, hold the key to saving not only her life and her world, but the lives of her new acquaintances and their distant world.

Even at age thirteen, Whitney's experiences and upbringing help her understand others: "Whitney felt a new resolve building inside her. Knowing how difficult this would be for her own mother helped her understand the depth of concern Aiden's parents must have to send their young son away to keep him safe."

Her empathy, changing perspectives, and connections to family, friends, and new possibilities keep The Polar Bear and the Dragon: Dawn of an Alliance a riveting read on more than one level as Whitney figures out how best to help herself and those around her. She and new friend Edward find themselves in training for the struggles to come.

Debbie Watson has crafted an engaging fantasy for young adults. It operates on different levels as it explores personal transformation and renewed connections between self and the world.

As magical realism combines with a coming of age story with a twist, readers become engrossed not just because of its fantasy elements, but by their influence on young Whitney's evolving persona.

Having the psychological growth factor an intrinsic part of not just realizing new powers and stepping up to use them appropriately, but re-drawing perceptions of and connections to the world, results in a read that is captivating both for adventure-oriented readers and those seeking stories of young women on the cusp of personal empowerment.

The Polar Bear and the Dragon: Dawn of an Alliance opens a series that is highly recommended for middle grade and young adults, whether they are interested in fantasy or coming-of-age sagas. It should be noted that this is the first book in a two-book series, so readers who appreciate this story have another to look forward to.

The Polar Bear and the Dragon: Dream Jumper
Debbie Watson
Mission Point Press
9781954786394, $22.95 Hardcover, $14.95 softcover, $7.95 ebook

The Polar Bear and the Dragon: Dream Jumper, Book Two of a two-book series, is recommended for prior fans of Book One who want to continue the ongoing story of teens Whitney and Edward, newly charged with protecting young Aiden, the future dragon ruler of Yagdi.

Aiden awaits his own transformation into a powerful force; but until that time, Whitney and her friends must keep him safe. And threats abound from a dangerous potential ruler who would take over Yagdi before Aiden comes into his powers.

What's a good way to attack one's enemies? Divide them. Whitney's alliance has been divided as some must return to Yagdi to battle their enemy while Whitney and Edward remain on Earth. They must protect the young dragon, Aiden, just as communication between alliance members becomes increasingly difficult.

Middle grade readers and teens ages 10 and older will find the dilemmas Whitney faces captivating on many levels as she struggles to thwart forces that would take over and quash the banished wizards who have created a nightmare.

As new "amazing assets" to their cause step up, Whitney and Edward face an impossible mission that tests their resolve, their perceptions, and their blossoming abilities.

As in her prior story, Debbie Watson focuses on the alliances, growth opportunities, and revised visions of life that drive the characters onwards and upwards in their mission.

Fear forges alliances to a "hideous boss," but something with much greater powers motivates those who defy him.

As the dream jumper/wizard and young Whitney summon their powers for the final confrontation, readers receive an epic series of encounters that reflect an underlying belief that "everything happens for a reason."

Even disaster?

Watson's story is a powerful fantasy that will appeal to middle graders and young adults into new adult audiences.

As both Traveller and Whitney cultivate new directions in their lives ("I plan to surround myself with those who give me happiness."), readers receive a vivid adventure that reflects revised values and visions of the future.

Collections strong in epic fantasy sagas will find this series a fine acquisition that operates as both entertainment and psychological education.

An Indelible Event and Detour Through a Global Childhood
Henry M. Silvert
Independently Published
9781098356996, $28.99 Paper, $7.99 ebook

More so than most memoirs, An Indelible Event and Detour Through a Global Childhood represents a vivid account of survival, transformation, and a journey through other cultures. It is highly recommended reading for those who look for travelogues blended with life-altering events.

At age six, author Henry M. Silvert was a creative, gifted child who played violin and bridge and approached life with a "can do" attitude. A life-threatening car accident may have changed his trajectory, but it didn't defeat his attitude; because Silvert grew into a political activist, employing a social inspection that embraced both his South American experiences and childhood and a growing optimism undaunted by the rigors of adversity.

The juxtaposition of personal life interests and experiences with bigger-picture thinking about social issues and personal impact on the world contributes to a story that moves at a fast pace from childhood to adulthood.

From outings to Parque Rivadavia where he was charged with interacting in Spanish, a language he barely knew ("...this was a new country, whose people spoke an unfamiliar type of Spanish, and I didn't know anyone. Besides, I had hardly spoken with anybody but my family since we arrived in the city. However, my father encouraged me to do all the talking.") to going to undergrad school in New York City and moving from Latin America to the U.S., Silvert provides an uplifting journey that traces his footsteps of evolution and experience.

The contrast between these different worlds is one of the most enlightening parts of this memoir: "City life excited me because of the fond memories I had of living in many cosmopolitan cities in Latin America. Yet, I had never lived in New York City, and many of my friends in Hanover and Norwich had told me that the city was very dangerous. I knew that these people rarely if ever visited the city, so I didn't believe them, but their admonitions stuck in the back of my mind. They warned me not to walk outside after four in the afternoon and, never, under any conditions, to take the subway after five. As soon as I arrived in the city my experience completely contradicted these warnings."

Like anyone else, Silvert has worries and concerns about entering the world. What stands out here is his childhood influences and attitudes about approaching these worlds. These make for enlightening moments as he approaches social issues in America and abroad with a background that at times clashes with his educational ambitions and perspectives.

These insights contrast different cultures and attitudes to elevate his memoir above that of individual experience, offering insights on life and social conditions that keep readers thinking about not just his experiences, but global interactions and differing interpretations of political and social worlds alike.

Whether An Indelible Event and Detour Through a Global Childhood is chosen for its memoir foundations or its cultural inspection, it's an engaging read about physical and mental challenges, how worldviews are shaped, and how adversity and dark times can be offset by attitude which moves from a childhood accident to an identity relearned and re-envisioned.

Readers seeking a memoir embracing a global perspective are in for a treat.

The Man Who Transformed Africa
Peter D. Cimini
Halo Publishing International
9781637651162, $19.95 Paper, $8.99 ebook

The Man Who Transformed Africa: The Rebirth of a Continent appears in a second edition to provide a political and religious thriller centering on Vatican intrigue and influences.

A clash between liberal and conservative cardinals leads to a different kind of pope, who uses his position to conduct a Catholic war on poverty, the likes of which shake the foundations of his church.

Can he really sell Vatican treasures to fund and prop up the middle class in Africa? As the first two years of his project unfold, interactions between the pope, an ex-president of the U.S, and an African nationalist bring the nation's conflicts to the forefront, using a fictional backdrop to examine the real-world dilemmas in modern Africa's social and political choices.

The strength of this novel lies in its ability to weave suspense into a story that highlights Africa's unique scenario of wealth existing side by side with extreme poverty. This approach offers a solid, close inspection of Africa's nations and their approaches to everything from infrastructure to healthcare and production.

Peter D. Cimini has long been interested in Africa's contradictions, injustices, and possible futures. The Man Who Transformed Africa represents a different way of exploring how its ongoing dilemmas may be addressed, considering how middle-class elements are injected into a milieu in which a powerful religious force becomes proactive in paying more than lip service to addressing poverty.

Especially intriguing are the legal and political interplays between this pope and elements of social order challenged by the mandate to change.

From his carefully planned objectives to the unforeseen forces that work against them, Cimini creates an interplay between special interests and long-range planning that considers how economic status and social order can change (or not).

Cimini's novel is filled not just with intrigue and evolving, changing political structures, but close inspections of motivations, processes, and how can church officials influence these through the management and distribution of papal wealth.

No light read, this dense, educational, involving story will best be enjoyed by those with some prior interest in Vatican processes and the history of social dilemmas in Africa.

This audience will welcome the close inspection Cimini provides during the course of his story, and will find that this fictional survey of the Build Africa Together program holds not just a good read, but much food for thought.

Set in the near future, it's a tale of conflict, redemption, and a long-term visionary project that shakes the foundations of many engrained beliefs and approaches to poverty, which makes a riveting and thought-provoking read.

Cloud Monsters
Francine Piriano-Davila
Mascot Kids
c/o Mascot Books
9781645438212, $14.95

Cloud Monsters is recommended for advanced elementary to middle grade readers, who will find its action-packed fantasy story just the ticket for an involving leisure book choice.

The story is narrated in the first person from the perspective of Jack, Charlie's older brother, who is ready to help his sibling celebrate his birthday. But, it's a day filled with more than gift surprises when the cloud monsters invade and begin to carry away everyone he loves.

It's not unusual to have a storm in the middle of spring, but this one comes out of nowhere to change a bright, sunny day, and heralds the arrival of monsters.

When aliens force Jack's family to flee the party, they stick together even when the impossible happens.

It's unusual to see an alien invasion scenario in which the entire family is involved. Typically, the teen protagonist operates outside the family unit in struggles with monsters; but here, the entire family becomes involved in an impossible adventure. That's one of the strengths of Cloud Monsters. Jack is not operating alone, and his entire family faces the prospect of threat and a new life together.

Both alien and humans share an ideal: "We are all family, and we help each other."

The expansion of the concept of interconnected lives that grows to embrace alien experience and a changed concept of home results in a vivid story that carries its characters and the reader far beyond the usual alien invasion scenario.

Young readers who enjoy stories about monsters that may prove to be otherwise, will find Cloud Monsters thought-provoking. Its unexpected twists and turns keep them thinking about who the monsters really are, and how survival and a better life can emerge from seemingly insurmountable adversity and strife.

This novel approach to the alien invasion theme is refreshingly different.

Searchers: The Irish Clans
Stephen Finlay Archer
Manzanita Writers Press
9780990801931, $14.95

Searchers: The Irish Clans is the first book in a series of novels about the Irish revolutionary wars between clans. It's especially recommended for historical novel readers who want an in-depth touch of the military, social, cultural, and religious history of Ireland's clans, politics, and Celtic heritage.

It's a fictitious epic that presents the premise of a secret Clans Pact that hides wealth from the British, crafting an engaging series of clashes and scenarios from real-world experiences.

In this opening story, a death in 1915 Ireland fuels the flames of revolution while concurrently, in America, Irish immigrants who remain connected to the Old Country become immersed in the conflict. Three very different characters are drawn into this fray: Claire, an Irish girl who has amnesia after surviving the Torpedo sinking of the Lusitania ocean liner, and is renamed Morgan by Tadgh. She has connections to the past that could influence future choices; Tadgh, a rebel sea captain who becomes embroiled in a decision that will lead to his validity as a Clan Chieftain; and Collin, a Canadian husband faced with an impossible choice.

This story operates on many levels as it outlines a search for identity, wealth, redemption, and validity which captures disparate personal transformations.

Irish peoples around the world became embroiled in the revolutionary clashes that emerged between 1915 and 1923. Searchers displays an attention to detail that captures these events as they evolve on more than the home soil of Ireland.

From growing commitments to the cause displayed by Morgan and others to relics, secrets, and emerging political battles with the British, Stephen Finlay Archer crafts a story replete in the special interests, that's both personal and political, centered on and reflected by characters who stand up to each other to support their ideals of the Irish identity.

Dialogue between these characters neatly sum up and outline many of these dilemmas: "Don't ya be throwing Denis McCarthy's words back at me, Sean," Tadgh protested. "Parnell tried the pen, and the British bastards spoke with forked tongue. Look what's happening to the Home Rule Bill to finally integrate our homeland. These demons are allowing for the buildup of arms for the Ulster Volunteers to stop the bill by force if necessary."

Readers might think they need prior familiarity with Irish history in order to appreciate the evolving scenario in Searchers, but the only prerequisite is an interest in Irish culture and affairs.

Archer takes care of the rest, personalizing the simmering politics of the nation and times by creating a host of characters who display special interests and values. These take on new meaning under the changing, volatile political environment that affects the world.

The result is a fine introduction to the series that successfully crafts a series of encounters and scenarios to set the stage for future stories of each individual and Ireland as a whole. Historical fiction collections and any interested in Irish heritage will welcome the detailed survey introduced in Searchers: The Irish Clans.

Stephen Finlay Archer
Manzanita Writers Press
9780990801955, $14.95

The ancient clans' pact and influence that was outlined and developed in Searchers expands in Entente, Book Two of The Irish Clans series.

Here, Irish revolutionaries involve Germany in their cause as World War I emerges, challenging Irish Republican Tadgh McCarthy and his lover Morgan to continue their battle for Irish freedom, albeit under the cloak of a wider-ranging war.

As these events take place, Irish-Canadian Collin continues to agonize over his vanished sister Claire's fate and his own failing marriage.

The interplays between politics and personal lives and family clans and world events, that began in Searchers broadens and continues in Entente, where the overlay of war changes everything in a blend of fact and fiction that keeps readers involved not just in politics, but personal lives.

Stephen Finlay Archer's ability to weave history into a gripping, action-packed story line that captures disparate characters' special interests and dilemmas keeps his series absorbing even for readers who may harbor little initial interest in the historical fiction genre.

Morgan and Tadgh's relationship and concerns were introduced in Searchers, but here the two really blossom as world events expand to encompass and challenge their beliefs and objectives.

From blockades and risky confrontations to preparations for a Rising that operate within the confines of bigger conflicts, Archer creates another thoroughly engrossing story that contrasts Irish interests and perspectives with events going on in the rest of the world.

His ability to keep these developments moving swiftly on both a personal and political level makes Entente a powerful story. It builds on its predecessor's events, but also stands nicely alone as it weaves a tale of Irish forces continuing their struggles under the atmosphere and outside conflicts of other nations during World War I.

Readers who like historical fiction infused with the lives of ordinary people turned revolutionaries will find Entente's ability to craft believable characters and scenarios based on historical truth spiced with fictional events makes for riveting reading that, once again, is hard to put down.

Stephen Finlay Archer
Manzanita Writers Press
9780998691008, $14.95

Book 3 of The Irish Clans, Rising, continues the evolving story of Irish rebels Tadgh and Morgan, and Irish-Canadian Collin, whose sister is still missing. Here, Tadgh and Morgan participate in the Dublin Easter Rising while Collin makes the decision to leave his wife and newborn son to continue his search for his missing sister in Ireland.

As the Clan continues to look for the Clans Pact treasures and faces many opponents, the tides of war rise. The 1916 era is brought to life by Stephen Finlay Archer's attention to not just historical detail, but interpersonal relationships.

As events move from Canada to Ireland and characters move beyond their comfort zones to tackle new problems and possibilities, readers gain a vivid sense of the times, its influences, and the conundrums faced by all as the world changes: "This is only the beginning, Sean. You mind me. We will exterminate the British here in Ireland." O'Casey pretended not to hear.

From a battle on the Irish Sea at Dublin, Ireland to terrible situations experienced by those devoted to the Cause in that city, and clues provided in the Clans Pact, readers receive a combination of treasure hunt, evolving social and political challenges, and changing hearts and minds. Each character is charged with operating outside of their experience and expectations, growing from their decisions and world influences alike.

Between dangers on the waters to intrigue on shore, Archer juxtaposes disparate journeys of life and death and brings tension to a riveting new level as each character searches for answers, lives through atrocities, and uncovers answers to their personal and political conundrums.
It's hard to say what is more compelling: the intrigue and plots evolved by rebels Tadgh and Morgan as they struggle to uncover the Clans Pact secrets, or Collin's desperate attempts to find his missing sister against all odds.

Sometimes, the love for one's life and country clash. Sometimes the characters despair of any kind of resolution that will allow them to live in freedom, health, and happiness.

The intrigue and questions keep Rising fast-paced as Archer highlights the ideas and actions that lend to an inevitable clash, personalizing Irish and world politics in a manner that will keep even readers without a ground in Irish affairs engrossed and wondering what will happen next.

That's because each character's individual perspective, efforts, and convictions shine in a story replete with action, unexpected twists, and ongoing challenges.

Historical fiction and Irish readers are in for a treat.

McCarthy Gold
Stephen Finlay Archer
Manzanita Writers Press
9780998691046, $14.95

Book 4 of the Irish Clans series takes place after the Easter Uprising chronicled in the third story, and follows The Clans' search for the McCarthy gold treasure and the ongoing efforts of Collins to find his sister.

Containing more of a treasure hunt atmosphere than the previous books, McCarthy Gold will engage readers with a different tone and flavor that retains the historical backdrop while moving into puzzles and problem-solving scenarios to intrigue those interested in hidden treasures and suspense.

Each character continues to develop as new dilemmas affect their choices. Will Collin permanently abandon his wife and their newborn child in Canada to pursue the truth about his sister's whereabouts? Can Tadgh and Morgan keep their activities secret from the Protestant Times and other forces like rogue policeman Boyle that would interfere with their mission?

From the historical religious significance of the O'Donnell Clan to Boyle's hunt for treasures (now likely in possession of the McCarthy Clans Pact), Stephen Finlay Archer provides a story that entwines politics, passion, and intrigue with an edict to fulfill forefathers' noble plans: "We are the generation chosen by God and destiny to recover the treasures of our Clans so that they can be used to fuel our glorious revolution."

Once again, history and mystery entwine with cultural revelations that probe the foundations of social and historical change in Ireland.

Because the Clans and their stories and books are interwoven and build upon a foundation established in Book 1, it's highly recommended that readers adopt a sequential pursuit of this series. The rich development of characters, perspectives, and missions of transformation and discovery could not be gained from reading just one of these books, while the progressive action and adventures that build upon one another to further the story are nicely constructed.

McCarthy Gold introduces new considerations about the affects of heritage, wealth, and the attitudes of traitors and believers on events that unfold here.

Its development further intrigue and suspense keeps the action vivid as the historical backdrop expands, making for a fine series addition that continues to grow its characters and purposes against a historically accurate, rich backdrop of action.

All these books should be standard acquisitions for any library interested in Irish history and culture.

Stephen Finlay Archer
Manzanita Writers Press
9780998691091, $14.95

While it may seem that revolution already fuels the atmosphere in the first four books in the Irish Clans series, Book 5 takes a closer look at the unfolding events that opened the series in 1915 and moves towards a civil war in 1922 - 1923.

Once again, the lasting legacy and rekindled growth of the McCarthy and O'Donnell Clans add fuel to the fire of anti-British forces and internal debates that threaten to tear Ireland apart.

Hidden treasure and new possibilities again play a major role in the uprising as individuals pursue both personal goals and wider-ranging ideals. But the heart of Revolution lies in its ability to depict connections between historical events, the 1900s challenges that affect Morgan and Tadgh's lives, and the forces that bring them to the brink of drowning.

From puzzles and their connections to quaffing drinks in pubs that foster the plans and rudiments of war, Morgan and Tadgh navigate an increasingly dangerous atmosphere that's on the brink of exploding. Readers are introduced to Irish culture and sentiments in a manner that brings these times and perspectives to life.

As Archer builds his series, it's evident that its foundation of solid historical facts (reviewed in the back of each book, to provide history buffs with detailed information) lends to the evolving story.

It's easy to absorb medieval Irish history, myths, and culture when these elements are presented through the eyes, hearts, and experiences of memorable characters whose individual concerns and pursuits become embroiled in Irish politics.

Revolution both enhances the series and, once again, concludes in a cliffhanger designed to set the stage for the next addition to the series.

Archer's ability to build intrigue, incorporate a secret pact and treasure hunt into Ireland's evolving struggles, and present all events through the eyes of characters who each hold personal strengths and ambitions creates a story that is engrossing, hard to put down, and another strong compliment to the series as a whole.

Collections strong in historical fiction, treasure hunt intrigue, and Irish culture and history will find each book in this series a sterling example of the ability of historical fiction to educate in a lively, compelling manner.

Garin Cycholl
Atmosphere Press
9781639881444, $18.99

First, do no harm. But, can this edict be followed in modern times? There's only one problem with assuming your dead father's identity as a doctor. You may be called upon to operate outside your skill level, and your venture may come to light even if a small town is your base of business.

That's what happens to a clever con man who reflects the disintegration of America around him as he comes to suspect that a new and virulent virus might be coming from a local chicken coop.

Presenting the specter of a new civil war in America that has begun on many levels, both internally and externally, the narrator embarks on a romp through life that is filled with threats, opportunity, and irony.

The narrator struggles to define his fluid identity in this rapidly-changing world, seeking to grasp new meanings of value, purpose, and perspective as everything familiar slips through his grasp.

What are the ethics of grief? As he confronts his own losses and those of others around him, the protagonist finds his fictional role as a physician gives him special insights into the flim-flam men and patients who have evolved their own schemes to survive.

As he begins to see signs of an evolving pandemic and comes to suspect its roots, he faces a moral and ethical conundrum, because his own barely-adequate disguise and farce has placed him in a position where he can't expose what he comes to suspect as the truth.

What is Skaggs cooking up in his henhouse? It's certainly more than eggs.

As the narrator considers his part in possible end times ("Was I myself watching the country in some slow burn - a fixed, congenital fascination with the end?"), readers receive a combination of wry humor, social inspection, and moral and ethical conundrums that reflect both modern dilemmas and personal challenges against a backdrop of irony.

Garin Cycholl has created a novel that reflects modern times with its violence, threats, and ironic situations; but weaves an atmosphere of intrigue and fun into the inspection.

The result is a delightful romp through modern America that will delight readers looking for something different, based on today's social dilemmas.

Finding Cristina
Emilia Rosa
Independently Published
9798747686946, $19.99 Paperback, $29.00 large print, $9.99 Kindle

Finding Cristina is set in the 1920s in Rio de Janeiro, where young Cristina inherits her father's house - and a load of debt. Pianist Cristina already feels ill-equipped to handle his estate, her mother's growing illness, and the new demands placed on her life, but when romance enters the picture, she feels at odds with just about everything in her world.

As truths, traps, and concessions emerge, Cristina defies social norms, receives life lessons from a countess, and explores a secret from her past that changes everything in her present, including her goals for her future.

Readers will be delighted in the manner in which Emilia Rosa presents her spunky, strong character's response to the mystery and love that lead her in unexpected new directions.

Rosa creates a story nicely steeped in Brazilian culture. This is likely because of her personal background, growing up in Brazil, and the childhood years she spent in Rio de Janeiro.

As Cristina confronts the truth about her heritage, readers receive a warm story of transformation and problem-solving that follows Cristina's road to a very different life than the one she'd envisioned for herself.

Replete in family connections, secrets revealed, and a romance that introduces these changes, Finding Cristina's journey through the social and musical world of Brazil and beyond will especially appeal to women who like their female protagonists strong, flexible, and subject to change.

Emila Rosa has already started the sequel to Finding Cirstina, so stay tuned.

The romance that encourages this transformation is a strong reason why Cristina keeps moving forward in her life and perspectives. The story that operates on different levels to involve readers with its powerful blend of intrigue, romance, and personal inspection, and is highly recommended reading for those who like evocative psychological inspections set in Latin America.

A Sky Full Of Wings
Ksenia Rychtycka
Finishing Line Press
164662615X, $14.99 Paper, $24.99 Hardcover

A Sky Full Of Wings, Ksenia Rychtycka's first poetry chapbook, adds to the publisher's New Women's Voices series, and delivers on the promise of its evocative title as it captures a journey through Europe to her ancestral homeland of Ukraine, moving far from the first-generation Ukrainian-American poet's familiar home.

Both a sojourn that connects modern-day America with family roots in another culture and an inspection of evolving values and new experiences, A Sky Full Of Wings embraces the heritage of grandparents who left everything behind to journey to America and a mother who returns to her native land in 1990 after fleeing the old world: "With Father, Mother danced the tango, fast/as gunshots once chasing her across Europe./Here, mother treads slow - pointed toes/and stiffened arms - relearning first steps/on native soil."

Themes of escape, return, evolution, and revisiting the past permeate lovely free verse expressions: "You'll think it's silly, but let me tell you/when a lime-green bird flew onto my Kyiv/balcony, things changed for the better."

The dances of life, the interplays between nature and emotional response ("My door was open and the sky was sad."), and the circle of life between generations comes to light during the course of a journey that captures the family's move from Ukraine to Detroit, and their longing for reconnection: "Oh, my child, if you knew how much your family longs to see you,/you would fly to us from the farthest corners."

From new realizations about the homeland's experiences which evolved after the family left to reunions of the heart and soul that draw broken families back together some fifty years later, Ksenia Rychtycka creates a vivid exploration of homelands, immigrant experience, and new associations.

A Sky Full Of Wings should be a part of not just women's literature and modern poetry collections, but any library seeking to reflect family connections and immigrant experience: "...lost years/shuffled underfoot as we all came together one last time."

Marisa Rae Dondlinger
Moonshine Cove Publishing
9781952439230, $16.00 paperback; $6.99 Kindle

Open introduces a surprise from the start: Lila's husband, Alex, has just proposed an open marriage after trying futilely to defeat the grief and ennui which has permeated their relationship after their third child is stillborn. Lila's first-person reflection on the lasting impact of this event on their relationship is astute: "We functioned well as a family, as co-parents, but when it was the two of us? That required talking. A concerted effort to pretend we hadn't become strangers. After spending the afternoon with the kids, staying engaged, emotive, happy, I had nothing left to give. To myself. And certainly not him."

Tackling the lasting depression that stems from the loss of a child often leads to revised decisions about life and marriage. The tragedy that unifies some couples in grief is tearing apart Lila and Alex, who hold different ideas about how to react, and how to rebuild their family.

They are losing each other over the battle for another pregnancy. More importantly, they are losing their selves and their existing family unit.

Readers who have been in similar circumstances will readily recognize the struggles Lila and Alex face as they come to terms with and confront not just a terrible loss, but their future together.

Dondlinger provides an insightful portrait of how Lila reconsiders their past dreams, present-day experiences, and new perceptions of her husband: "When the kids got home from school, I explained that I had to visit my mom for a couple days. A plausible explanation given her issues. Instead, I drove to Chicago, walked the streets where we met, fell in love, married. Back then, it was easy. We shared the same dreams. Interests. Values. Sure, we argued occasionally, but always came out on the same side. Lovers. Friends. Parents. I challenged myself to see it from his perspective, drew upon our sixteen years together, but came up empty. Nothing could excuse his duplicity, his callousness."

As she changes and grows, so do her observations of how to create a different life with a revised purpose: "But this wasn't just about me anymore. It was about how my pain was hurting those I loved. It was about being a good mother. I couldn't bring Milo back, but I could learn from my mistakes. Put my children first."

Alex has at last captured her attention by proposing an open marriage arrangement. It's up to Lila to explore all her options, and their impact on their family.

Dondlinger creates a heartfelt novel that traverses Lila's healing process. Her choice of the first person brings home Lila's thoughts, emotions, and the logic behind her responses, crafting an exploration of re-inventing a marriage on a different level while healing from a host of past psychological wounds.

She moves between Alex and Lila's viewpoints with clearly labeled chapters that include self-examination from both sides of the marriage. Especially astutely presented are moments of self-analysis in which Alex and Lila come to terms with their grief and different ideas about managing life: "I encouraged parents to keep a health journal for their kids. Sometimes it takes a global perspective to home in on the real issue. Other times, small issues mutate and spiral. I dispensed this advice, followed it with my children, yet dismissed its value when it came to me."

The result is a powerful saga of loss, recovery, growth, and transformation that will completely engross and involve any who have walked in Lila and Alex's shoes. Women's fiction collections will find it a solid acquisition, while discussion groups on grief, open marriage, and family values and processes will find much to consider by examining Alex and Lila's experiences.

The Rookie and the Raven
Kevin Wilde
Independently Published
9798478413781, $21.99 Hardcover, $12.99 Paper, $8.99 Kindle

The Rookie and the Raven is a thriller that will especially delight readers who like stories of cat-and-mouse games and espionage.

When CIA trainee Christina Jordan is called upon to track an arms shipment and capture sleeper agent Raven, she feels her novice skills being tested, challenged, and awakened by the daunting tasks at hand.

A prologue introduces an intriguing scenario involving the Shaman, whose telephone conversation with the Contessa reveals that he's fulfilled his duty. The reader learns the arms have been placed on the ship, and the mercenaries are lined up. Part 1 opens ten days before an attack. It introduces Nicholas Crowe, an agent of the European Intelligence Community who has become privy to the arms shipment and, later, to the secrets the arms dealer, Terlizzi, held before a bomb was planted in his limo, leading him to involve Crowe in retribution for the thwarted murder attempt.

As Christina and Crowe's efforts mirror one another's increasingly dangerous conundrums, readers embark on a romp through various nations as the two solve logistical problems and tackle bigger issues.

Author Kevin Wilde shifts points of view as he moves through Crowe's first-person observations and third-person descriptions of evolving events.

As the mercenaries are infiltrated, loyalties are bought and sold, bombings take out adversaries and build new enemies, and vivid action permeates the efforts of Christina and Crowe to survive and complete their missions against all odds.

Kevin Wilde excels in nonstop action, surprising twists even seasoned suspense story readers won't see coming, and a vivid series of encounters which reflect "...the cat and mouse deciding who would move first, although both knowing only one was truly in charge."

Between tested loyalties to the duplicity that operates on an international scale, readers will appreciate both the changing scenarios and actions and the struggles of each character to stay alive.

Can those cursed with bringing disaster find a happy ending from these ongoing, violent tests?

Readers will find that The Rookie and the Raven joins the forces of a relative novice and a seasoned agent in a story filled with hard-hitting punches of realization and action. Just the ticket for a cold winter's night: a vividly unpredictable read.

The N.M.E.
Ryan A. Kovacs
PHIR Publishing
9781737062752, $18.99 paperback, $25.99 hardcover, $7.49 ebook

The N.M.E. features the surprising format of a novel in verse and presents Michael and his friend Bruno, who are on a mission to kill Michael's father.

Bruno introduces the story. He "was'a man/that some would call legend/others'd call an imposter./he was not real/ an'/he was not fake./he was a man/who, when born/did not cry for, he wasn't afraid of this/ugly world."

This introductory passage cements the fact that not only the format, but the language, will be anything but staid. Ryan A. Kovas creates a vivid sense of place and people as he follows the story of two men, who are imprisoned, yet embark on a mission of revenge.

Poetry fans will find rare and exceptional the idea of crafting an entire novel in poetry; much less one which features a lingo very different from most fiction.

This approach captures emotion and experience in unexpected ways as the perps analyze their motives and expectations about their task: "what are you going to do/when you finally confront your father?"/she asked eagerly./Bruno spoke up/"how many times does the guy have t'say/kill'm b'fore ya understand that?"/I know you're going to kill him./but, are you going to declare who you are?/tell him what he did to you?/what you had to endure when he left you?"/she directed her questions t'me."

The language and usage will undoubtedly challenge some, but literary readers who appreciate the epic poem format and its ability to capture both raw emotions and the language of a son bent on patricide, who considers his actions and reactions on different levels, will find this makes for a gritty and revealing story of how one man becomes "notorious" via intentions and deeds.

The N.M.E. will best be appreciated by literature followers interested in different poetic structures, idioms, and stories that are embedded in reflective language filled with surprises and insights.

Audiences who study the epic poem structure typically receive little modern renditions in this style. The N.M.E. is such a creation and resides in a class of its own, recommended as a thought-provoking psychological and social examination of pain and redemption on different levels.

Literary collections strong in epic poems and modern literature need to add The N.M.E. to their holdings.

Hold On To Your R.A.F.T.!
Charles Humphrey, Jr.
Willa Robinson / KP Publishing Company
9780692048115, $14.95

Hold On To Your R.A.F.T.! Principles to Preserve Godly Purpose outlines the principles of Responsibility, Accountability, Faithfulness, and Transparency (R.A.F.T.). It explores each of these elements with an eye to emphasizing life purpose as it relates to crisis, opportunity, adventure, and self-image.

Definitions of achievement and success take on new meaning as Charles Humphrey Jr. questions why popular, wealthy, successful, gifted, and prominent people often choose destructive and self-destructive paths despite their seeming bounties and blessings.

Hold On To Your R.A.F.T.! answers this and other questions as it reviews the tenants people live and die by, considering the epidemic of "letting go" that has resulted in a vast segment of the population drifting away from their moral, ethical, and spiritual foundations.

It should be noted that Humphrey tailors his discussion to men: "They are letting go of the basic principles and foundational values that got them to their place of prominence, prosperity, and popularity. Men are letting go of the cornerstones of their manhood. With ease, they abandon cornerstones like respect, integrity, consistency, and being a man of your word."

Women may chafe at being left out of the picture and discussion, here, but there's more at stake than ego. Humphrey discusses what happens to everyone when these principles are abandoned: "The problem is when men let go, they are not only letting go of critical life principles, they are letting go of something much greater. They are letting go of purpose."

The impact of such decisions affects everyone in the world, so there should be no singular audience for a survey that assesses the problem and considers how to mitigate the impact of letting go with a newfound attention to building and rebuilding a sense of life purpose and spiritual connections.

The ability of faith to help cement life purpose is outlined throughout the coverage, as are nautical references about safety, staying in the R.A.F.T., and perseverance.

Christians who turn to Hold On To Your R.A.F.T.! will appreciate the Bible-based quotes, the attention to incorporating spiritual support systems into life, and the focus on reconciliation with people and God that runs through the case studies and examples of those who have somehow gone off course.

Men who choose Hold On To Your R.A.F.T.! will find it an enlightening spiritual self-help title that addresses the challenges of maintaining faith, staying the course, and leading a God-inspired life through challenges and temptations to go astray.

Its special blend of self-help and spiritual examples provide not only much food for thought, but is recommended for Christian discussion and men's groups, who will find its examples and directions purposeful and specific.

After the Fact
Jeff Cooper
Red Adept Publishing
9781948051835, $12.99 Paper, $5.99 ebook

After the Fact is a legal thriller that follows attorney Jack Collins as he moves from a small Connecticut office to the big time in New York City, where his clients and co-workers include elite, wealthy, famous people.

Clearly, he's hit the big time in the legal world. Or, has he? The truth is closer to the fact that Jack has entered into a dangerous situation in which he's not a celebrated legal bigwig, but a pawn in a larger blackmail plot blackmail that involves his boss.

The foundations of the intrigue open not with Jack, but with Abigail and Harold Walker and the big mistake she makes in ending his life. Four years later (which begins in the first chapter), people are still paying for her choice, and are making their own life-changing decisions based upon it: "He was just thirty-one, yet carried the regrets of a man twice his age. And this morning was his chance to finally live the life he should have lived long ago."

As different characters pursue divergent paths in life that move from the criminal world into the justice system, Abigail Walker draws old friends into the fold of danger, creating circumstances that test their relationships and loyalties.

Readers who expect that Jeff Cooper will limit his observations and dilemmas to protagonist Jack Collins alone will be delighted at the avenues this story takes as it embraces a host of victims and criminals.

Everyone holds a special interest and a particular perception of their place in the world. These attitudes are explored within an evolving series of conundrums that test not just Jack, but everyone around him. The psychological depth is astute and welcoming as the legal thriller moves from a tortured, sick old lady's struggles to career criminals and lawyers who find their abilities and ideas tested on different levels.

The inspections of wealth, power, and possible redemption on various sides is especially well done, adding to not just the intrigue, but the social, ethical, and psychological depth of all the characters.

Those who anticipate After the Fact to be another courtroom drama will welcome a story that largely takes place outside legal chambers. It probes the heart and soul of characters who are each challenged, in different ways, to handle public scandal, heartache, and the consequences of their actions.

The psychological and social components of this suspense story are well-done and inviting, lending to a story packed with confrontation, realization, and ideals of fresh starts that are haunted by past decisions.

It's a legal thriller that grips with action and vivid characters whose dilemmas remain multifaceted and absorbing to the end, and should find a welcome home in any legal thriller collection.

Solitario: The Lonely One
John Manuel
Atmosphere Press
9781639881376, $17.99

"You have to love the life on the river. The chance to teach, to lead. To figure out a way through each rapid."

Climate change brings with it new opportunities and revelations in Solitario: The Lonely One, which follows Texas river guide Robbie Ducharme on the journey of a lifetime when rising waters lead him to a river run through a desert arroyo that has seen no previous water explorers.

One of the great pleasures of Robbie's life is canoeing through the Rio Grande, introducing clients to the outdoors. The trouble that changed this life two years before has passed, and Robbie is back to work, doing what he loves.

His latest journey, however, ventures into an undiscovered territory of relics and ancient peoples that introduce new threats to his love life and relationships.

Any reader who has embarked on a river trip will readily recognize the sights, sounds, and experiences presented in John Manuel's story: "Everyone took it well at first, exchanging comments about this being a "surf and turf" trip, fake arguing about who weighed the most and, therefore, needed to get out and push. But by noon, the humor of the situation had vanished. People slogged in silence over the sandbars, dragging the boats behind them. The sun beat down, the heat went up."

As client Jason Holmberg and Lara Hart, a client who went missing years ago, and other characters bring past and present worlds on a collision course, intrigue builds over a canoe adventure that will ultimately test the loves of Jason's life.

Is it time to step away from everything that's happened on these trips over these last years? Is it time to also abandon what he loves?

John Manuel creates a fine story of intrigue and confrontation that returns Janey to Jason's life, while capturing the heart-pounding experiences of river running against emerging issues of love, trust, and reality versus fantasy.

Group and individual experiences on the river bring with them new opportunities and adversity alike as readers embark on a vivid adventure brought to life by Manuel's descriptive attention to detail: "Gradually, the clouds gave way to patches of blue. The walls lit up like movie screens. A falcon darted out of one of the boquillas. Ducks flew past headed upstream. Around every bend, distant views of the towering canyons grew more and more dramatic."

Anyone who has wanted to run a river, make new discoveries, or connect the dots between past and present experience will find Solitario: The Lonely One a powerful story of a desert legend, The Solitario. It brings to life the experiences, thoughts, and hearts of characters who make new discoveries about themselves and their place in the world, and should find a solid place in any fiction collection.

The appeal to readers who would run that river of life and intrigue themselves, albeit vicariously, is unparalleled.

Taken by the Wind
Ci Ci Soleil
Beach Read Press
9798985066029, $TBA

Taken by the Wind is a novel steeped in inspections of new beginnings, endings, and Miranda Wright's efforts to control what happens in her world.

Her ability to remain flexible in the face of adversity is apparent from the start ("...she spun around, her heart racing as a splintering sound rendered the air, followed by a crash and a loud thud. She ran to the window to see a large branch fallen across half the patio; her giant planter lay in shards among the collateral damage of the once-potted petunias. "Well, shit. That's not good timing. Okay..." she thought aloud. "Change of plans. So, no guests on the patio."), as she's determined that no wind will alter her trajectory and plans.

But as she finds herself the author of a best-selling book, Taken by the Wind, Miranda begins to experience the blow-back of fame, fortune, and fan fantasies about her influences and life.

Suddenly, everything is out of control. And Miranda finds herself losing her edge, on many levels ("I'm trying hard to fight my way back to where I was.").

How close to reality is the story she's created, and how does it influence the course of her life?

Readers will find Taken by the Wind an exceptional story of change, transformation, and new opportunities.

Life gets messy, sometimes. How various characters handle ongoing adversity and changes over a period of time lends a realistic, thought-provoking atmosphere to Taken by the Wind that will especially engross women interested in changing fortunes, love, and relationships.

The result is a novel that will delight women who look for already-strong female protagonists who are not afraid of re-examining their relationships, attitudes, and perspectives in the face of new experiences.

An Island of Light
Timothy S. Johnston
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
1554555817, $21.95

An Island of Light is the fourth book in the Rise of Oceania series and covers a murder in the underwater city of Trieste. In 2080, the number of people living on the ocean floor topped 100,000. By 2130 (the year this story is set in), Trieste has faced battles for independence, led by Mayor Truman McClusky, from the U.S., China, and the USSR.

As the story opens, Meg McClusky is about to commit premeditated murder. Her intended victim, Admiral Taurus T. Benning, is one of the most powerful military men in the Gulf and Caribbean regions. He believes this gives him license to do anything he wishes. She - and he - are about to have another thing coming.

This futuristic political and murder mystery is replete with thought-provoking moments, high-octane action, and an engrossing evolution that offers many satisfying twists and turns. These events are marked by observations that are intriguingly defined ("Irony at its most violent.").

As a murder attempt against the city's mayor results in Meg's intention to protect everyone in her city, intrigue builds on the history of countries attacking Trieste and the community becoming a pivot point in world political strife.

The city's mayor has long been playing a dangerous game against the world's underwater communities. The last thing he needs is domination by the United States Submarine Fleet. The last thing Meg needs is to become caught up in the political forces that operate through high-tech submarines, as she's already involved in the murder of a man who murdered she and her twin brother Mayor Mac's father.

As Mac's political determination clashes with his family relationships, both Meg and Mac face challenges to their lives and their community, confronting a plot that could overthrow everything they've worked for.

Timothy S. Johnston crafts another action-packed social examination of a futuristic underwater community threatened by the political struggles within and outside of it.

Readers holding prior familiarity with submarine warfare will relish the authentic descriptions of sub environments and interactions, while those who are more interested in the evolution of psychological trauma and recovery processes will especially appreciate the attention to detail given to Mac and Meg's past and present challenges.

As both recover from past trauma and face present conditions in different ways, readers will find the interplay between personal and political choices to be realistic and thought-provoking.

Take a murder mystery, combine it with a futuristic setting, and add elements of psychological and social reflection for a sense of the action and focus of An Island of Light, which requires no prior familiarity with its predecessors in order to prove thoroughly engrossing on many different levels.

Thriller, sci-fi and mystery audiences alike will find it crosses these genres with high-octane action and appeal.

Open Up
Alex Woodard
For The Sender, LLC
9780983988632, $6.99

Open Up offers a true story of growth and maturity as the narrator, a singer-songwriter, seeks to establish his identity and life apart from his mother's dementia, and continues the story begun in a previous book: "This book's slightly raucous, unruly fraternal twin, Living Half-way, told my life-in-a-day story through that bitter angel's eyes, as I navigated the loss of my mom, as I knew her, to dementia. I didn't focus my lens as tightly on her journey in those pages, but the frustrated social commentary woven through the tale was as much a mirror to my own grief as, dare I say, an ode to what many of us think about our comparative culture, but rarely express."

Newcomers anticipating a staid review of life, dementia, or independence will find Alex Woodard's gritty recollections pull no punches as he reviews the paths of his career, choices, and family interactions.

It uses lyrics to explore emotions both past and present, drawing many evocative connections between these different experiences and time frames: "On the drive home, I told Chuck what I'd seen, and after his post-show whiskey, we wrote a song for her, wondering what her place looked like, and if she had anyone waiting for her at home. The lyrics weren't only just about might've-been's, though. I sing the chorus in a low murmur, at first hearing my mom in every word...Is that my mom, or me?"

The narrator moves through the promise and toxicity of social media, grapples with evolving life connections and new ideas, and embarks on dialogues of discovery with his mother's fading memories, his own experiences and interpretations, and the impact of his past. Readers gain a blend of social, familial, and personal inspection that brings different worlds, possibilities, and the consequences of actions to life.

Particularly moving are passages in which the author reconsiders his story and other paths in life: "I watch travelers drift in front of my truck's hood, trudging to their rental cars or own cars or other people's cars, their heads at right angles to their bodies, staring down at their phones. They're programmed, just like me, living within the four walls of their hand-held device, one side built with well-designed do-pamine bricks, the other with sturdy confirmation bias, one side with rigid comparative happiness, the other false narratives."

The result is a moving autobiographical expression that takes a step away from dementia's usual description to reflect on deeper life influences: "And while my mom has forgotten her past, I've forgotten my present, that I ever wrote this song, this reminder to my heart to find the fire waiting under love's door, whatever she may look like."

Open Up is a gift waiting to be unwrapped: the story of a songwriter son who opens his heart to those he loves and to strangers who read his story for inspiration, advice, and insight.

The Physics and Poetry of Eastern Herbal Medicine
Judyth Shamosh, PhD
Pure Carbon Publishing
9780967688749, $25.95

With so many books on the market covering herbal medicine and Eastern traditions readers might wonder at the need for yet another. However, the evidence of Dr. Shamosh's unique approach lies in The Physics & Poetry of Eastern Herbal Medicine's subtitle: How Modern Physics Validates Eastern Medicine. Here in lies the difference between this book and others.

Readers already familiar with Eastern medicine (specifically, Ayurveda and Chinese medicine) receive an exploration that focuses on both the history and language of Eastern medicine, whose "foundations are based on the same sophisticated theories that modern physics has recently rediscovered in the twentieth century."

Traditionally poetic, metaphorical descriptions of this medicine typically stymie the usual Western analytical mind and descriptive process, which is why many of these concepts have not been covered and connected in other books. Another reason why they've remained hidden for so long is that scientists studying both Eastern and Western medicine rarely add a grounding in either linguistics or physics into the mix.

Dr. Shamosh tackles the daunting prospect of integrating these seemingly diverse elements into an analysis that exposes the roots of not just Eastern medicine, but its unique approach to problem-solving. This bringss this tradition into an arena more understandable by mainstream medical students and anyone interested in exploring the foundations of Eastern approaches to health, disease, and medicine.

As the chapters review Ayurveda perceptions, phases of health and disease, and Chinese medical terminology, readers who keep an open mind to absorbing spiritual, psychological, and scientific concepts alike will find the synthesis of these areas lends to a deeper understanding of not just illness, but treatment approaches and options.

Dr. Shamosh draws connections between Eastern and Western concepts and ways of viewing the world: "Climate and weather are something everyone has experienced because we live in the conditions created daily. Therefore, describing bodily conditions in terms of internal weather renders The Five Phases and their attributes understandable in a more experiential way. These different climatic conditions capable of invading the body are called pathogenic (capable of producing disease) factors in Eastern medicine."

Specific contrasts between Western and Eastern herbal choices and perceptions allow readers to better understand the underlying philosophy and science affecting prescriptions and different approaches to herbal applications.

Herb listings are linked to functional principle and organ system, providing medical students and lay readers alike with specific keys to understanding the links between modern lifestyle choices and health or disharmony.

For example: "...Chinese Medicine...asserts that most mental symptoms are due to phlegm, ama or toxins that obstruct the system of the Heart-Mind or shen. The source of these toxins is unwholesome foods, such as processed foods and the greasy, slimy, and energetically hot animal products to which people have become habituated. These patterns of disharmony in the Heart-Mind-System can lead to symptoms of manic-depression, violent behavior, confusion, and lethargy. Therefore, if we choose a high-protein animal-based diet, our body-minds become toxic, stagnant, dull, and confused. Consequently, one will not be able to discern The Six Tastes accurately enough to determine which of The Six Tastes are present in an herb or food."

The result is an educational, accessible, pleasing synthesis of Western and Eastern thinking which offers a base of history, builds upon it to cover modern living, medicine and times, then creates a discussion of what best promotes harmony and health.

Medical students, lay readers, and those who cross over from various philosophical, spiritual, and medicine disciplines to choose The Physics & Poetry of Eastern Herbal Medicine will find it an enlightening, thought-provoking read. It covers systems thinking, interdependent relationships between health, poetry, and science, and how everyday experience and analysis may better be integrated for a different approach to personal empowerment and medical approaches to healing.

The One Inside
Tammy Sollenberger
Pure Carbon Publishing
9780967688756, $16.95 Paper, $7.99 ebook

The One Inside: 30 Days to Your Authentic Self offers a key to self-analysis designed to help readers reach and understand their real selves through a 30-day series of self-reflective exercises.

The clinically proven Internal Family Systems method comes from a therapist who has employed the technique successfully, both in her own life and with her clients.

Many self-help books and programs promote developing better self-awareness; but how many offer a step-by-step program to inner harmony that can be easily explored in small, digestible pieces through "soft curiosity, compassion, and kindness."?

The One Inside utilizes the IFS model to promote further acceptance of internal dialogues, fine-tuning them to create assets from what at first seem like negative messages: "One of the assertions of the IFS model is that all parts of you are trying to help you in their own way. They have one idea of how to help and they stick to this idea, not knowing that it may cost you in other ways, particularly if other parts are not in agreement or aligned. What if we were open to what these parts wanted to tell us instead of trying to change them or make them go away?"

While many readers will find this system new, it should be noted that therapist Tammy Sollenberger didn't create it. The Internal Family Systems Model of psychotherapy was founded by Dr. Richard Schwartz over thirty years ago. She just fine-tunes that model for modern times, shorter attention spans, and the rigors of modern living. This gives readers an opportunity to apply various components of the system to resolving ongoing conflicts in typical approaches to life. It "...helps us understand, work with, and heal the conflict going on within, the disharmony we are all experiencing."

Case histories and examples reinforce this program of growth, compassion, and self-examination.

All that's required in order for The One Inside to prove successful is a willingness to self-analyze, understand, and give voice to the components of reaction that affect attitudes, relationships, connections, and interpersonal communications.

Readers dedicated to self improvement will find The One Inside contains all the instructions needed to better understand the messages that different parts of the psyche impart, and how better to integrate them for a more positive outcome in all aspects of life.

There is no shaman needed, in order to access this inner wisdom. All that is really required is willingness to self-examine and change...and the step-by-step instructions provided The One Inside, which is highly recommended reading for psychology, self-help, and new age collections and readers.

Silent Winter Solstice
Bonnie Oldre
Gatekeeper Press
9781662916533, $14.99 Paper, $4.99 ebook

Nothing speaks of murder and mystery more than a body discovered and then gone missing. Library assistant Beth Williams faces a special conundrum when this happens to her in Silent Winter Solstice, a cozy historical mystery set in a small town in Northwestern Minnesota in the late 1960s.

It is a few days before Christmas when Beth makes her discovery. Apollo 8 is on course for the moon, and anything seems possible. Beth has just broken up with Ernie, after realizing she doesn't want to be a doctor's wife after all, and is now living independently from her parents for the first time.

As the Apollo 8 landing creates attention and excitement, Beth struggles with her own special conundrums, which nicely juxtaposes with the cozy family atmosphere that Bonnie Oldre cultivates: "Soon, her mind wandered from the picture on the TV screen to wonder about Crystal. Had she been imagining things? Was she still alive, out there, somewhere? Beth didn't believe it but, if she was, would she go back to living with Allen in that sleazy whorehouse? The poor girl...Beth tuned back in as the voice of one of the astronauts described the moon as "foreboding...stark...unappetizing." He sounds homesick for Earth, she thought. I bet he wonders if he'll ever get home again. She glanced around her, appreciating the cozy family scene. As the half-hour program neared its end, the three astronauts took turns reading from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Beth leaned over and tapped her father's foot to wake him. He wouldn't want to miss this."

This atmospheric detail is part of what makes Silent Winter Solstice especially appealing. Under the snowy layers of a December family setting lays the threat of a murder and a perp who enters Beth's life to track her movements and alter her perceptions.

As she and best friend Evie Hanson pursue the truth, books, libraries, and small town and family interests alike converge on the holidays to introduce a special flavor of murder and mystery to everyone's lives.

Oldre excels in juxtaposing the atmosphere of the late 1960s and changing times with Beth's observations of home and community. Silent Winter Solstice exemplifies the fundamental roots of a cozy mystery, integrating intrigue with community and individual interests.

Readers who look for holiday spirits, 1960s atmosphere and concerns, and mystery wound into a small town's developments and community will relish Silent Winter Solstice's ability to bring all to life, with a healthy dash of suspense added for just the right touch.

Like A Complete Unknown
Anara Guard
New Wind Publishing
9781929777259, $18.99

Most novels about teens speak of the parents' insistence that their child at least graduate high school, but Katya Warshawsky's parents are different. They insist she drop out of school to begin her working life. And Katya, an aspiring artist, wants more from her life than working on a cleaning crew.

And so she runs away. It's the late 1960s: an era of flight, freedom, hippie dreams and hopes, and the promise of a new world which beckons Katya with change - albeit in a different manner than her parents had envisioned for her future. And Chicago isn't the bastion of counterculture opportunities Katya had hoped for.

When she gets into trouble and needs medical help, she involves widowed doctor Robert Lewis in her plight. He already helps those less fortunate; but when Katya appears and then vanishes, he's drawn to find her. This pulls him away from his office and from traditional medical practice and into a world he's only touched lightly.

As Katya confuses freedom and opportunity for love, her feelings and emotions are solidly represented: "This was what she had longed for; it was the true beginning of her new, free life."

Trusting Katya doesn't know anything about drugs, and little about the counterculture life she's poised to enter. Her naivety and trust are part of what makes her so vulnerable to the ideals, paranoia, and follies of those around her.

Doc, on the other hand, is savvy, straight-laced, and wise.

Anara Guard does a fine job of juxtaposing these two seemingly disparate individuals, showing how their lives come together by chance, the lessons each learns from the rising tides that buffet their world and expectations, and the plight of street teens who are homeless and vulnerable.

As Katya's predicament brings her full circle to contemplate returning home and Doc's encounters lead him further from his practice, readers receive an involving window into the hearts and minds of those who face restrictions on their trajectories in life and chafe against them.

This story of change, transformation, and growth captures not only the social and political milieu of the 1960s, but its pitfalls and opportunities. Readers who want a sense of what these times were like and the struggles experienced by those both within and outside of the system will find Like A Complete Unknown a vivid, thought-provoking story that captures this world from two different experiences.

Daughter of Hades
Mack Little
Inklings Publishing
9781944428686, $15.00 Paper, $4.99 ebook

Daughter of Hades is a unique historical novel that embraces LBGTQ relationships, pirate ships, escape from slavery, and interracial connections alike. Its story is replete in diverse elements as it explores 1600s Barbados and "alliances of convenience" that evolved on many different levels.

True stories about slave ships, evolving relationships between Maroons and buccaneers, and connections between Maroons and landowners form the foundations of this piece, and will educate readers about these changing times and their impact.

The focus on interracial relationships, the story of Chinese man Lei (who tells about his experiences on the Hades and the fall of the Ming dynasty), and the prevalence of same-sex relationships aboard pirate vessels all have their roots in real-world events. These lend to a vibrant story that holds much educational value for readers who may not know much about the Caribbean during these times, but will see this world vividly through Lei and Dinny's eyes.

Other characters provide their own realistic experiences. Slave Geraldine's rape and humiliating fate changes her life. Assaulted at the hands of her owner, Owen Craig, she faces a path to freedom which begins at sea and introduces new obstacles and opportunities.

As she becomes a pivot point in a deal that is based on revenge and retribution, the story moves through various lives affected by these complex social and political relationships.

Mack Little excels in creating a historical novel backed by solid facts and experiences the average reader won't know about, and events they won't see coming.

Under her hand, the 1600s come to life through interpersonal relationships that both reflect and challenge the standards of their times.

It should be noted that graphic descriptions and erotic moments are part of this story. Little includes these as a matter of course, exploring the various facets of lives which embrace both heterosexual and LGBTQ partnerships and the social milieus of their evolution.

The result is a vivid story of the 1700s Caribbean world that brings to life love, conflict, and the paths individuals choose in a world that offers both opportunity and adversity, as violence changes heroes and villains alike.

Daughter of Hades is highly recommended reading for anyone who would better understand this era and the forces that influenced the course of Caribbean history.

Grand Theft Weight Loss
Michael Alvear
Woodpecker Media
B09L8K4PPH, $9.99

Grand Theft Weight Loss eschews expensive products from the diet industry in favor of exploring the science behind these diet plans, which is accessible to anyone.

Its science-based premise allows readers to develop their own custom diets without the need for expensive specialty foods or memberships in programs, and also allows for a satisfying contrast between approaches to dieting that incorporates the goal of all such diets: permanent weight loss.

Michael Alvear synthesizes the latest findings of brain researchers, Addiction Medicine specialists, evolutionary biologists, behavioral psychologists, and physiologists as he explores various studies and the process of integrating healthier eating habits into one's existing lifestyle.

He provides a compelling introduction that readers will find surprisingly attractive, in contrast to the usual dry diet book: "Scientists broke the weight loss code without telling anyone about it. They didn't even tell each other. Hell, they don't even know that's what they've done. For example, when brain researchers discovered The Meal-Recall Effect they didn't realize they developed a technique that cuts hunger by up to 50%."

This lively tone, with its underlay of humor, also sets Alvear's book apart from the typical diet survey, offering a format and approach that readers will find hard to put down.

As readers absorb scientific discoveries and information, many related insights are provided that will delight readers who look for links between everyday experience and the dieting process. Many unexpected connections are made, such as the importance of memory in dieting: "Your brain is in constant prediction mode. It needs data to guess how hungry you are, what you should eat (if you should eat) and how much will fill you up. The data it gets is often confusing, contradictory, and vague. Maybe the brain is having a hard time making sense of the hunger hormones. Maybe a food ad triggered a hunger that wasn't there before, sowing confusion. Maybe the brain can't separate the need for fuel from the desire to calm itself with food."

From the challenge involved in establishing proper baselines to taper off addictive eating habits and snack choices to insights on portion control ("A meta-analysis of sixty-five studies involving 109 separate observations showed that doubling the amount of a portion results in approximately a 35% increase in the amount of food eaten. Scientists can come to no other conclusion: Bigger portions incentivize us to eat more."), the result is a science-based/backed survey that proves as inviting to digest as chips.

Humor, science, and concrete links to daily choices and practices make Grand Theft Weight Loss a top recommendation for would-be dieters. It is easy to read, apply, and enjoy, and should be required reading for anyone tired of the usual programs and approaches that rely on diet industry-provided facts and figures.

When Sadness Comes to Visit
Faith Joy Solum
Faith Joy Books
9781737572619, $15.76 Hardcover, $9.99 Paper

When Sadness Comes to Visit illustrates a problem for picture book readers (indeed, all ages will benefit from its message): that when sadness lies in the heart, it's important to 'sit' with it and acknowledge it rather than deflect its underlying messages via the distractions of life.

But, parent coach and former behavioral health specialist/author Faith Joy Solum offers more than advice on how to 'sit' with and connect more fully with one's emotions. She also gives an anecdote to sadness and grief that comes along with 'sitting': gratitude.

When Sadness Comes to Visit cultivates two important approaches to sadness: acceptance, and cultivating gratitude in order to move on more effectively in life.

The story opens with a child's-eye reflection: "When my feelings come to visit, I always invite them in." This is followed by an acknowledgement that some feelings are more difficult than others ("When sadness comes to visit, he usually stays the longest.").

Accompanied by blue Sadness and differently colored visual figures, the story chronicles how Sadness follows the young narrator throughout his life and day. No matter what is happening or how hard the young protagonist tries to hide, Sadness is close by.

Sadness often brings along his friends, Pity, Shame, and Regret.

Faith Joy Solum does one of the best jobs this reviewer has seen (in 40 years of reviewing) of illustrating emotions and their impact in word and pictures for all ages. The impact is especially powerful paired with the beautifully captivating illustrations by Ethan Roffler.

Picture book readers and their read-aloud parents will readily understand these emotional characters and their impact; especially the difference between the uninvited Sadness, who will stay a very long time, and Gratitude, who "...doesn't usually stop by. I have to invite him over."

Empowerment, understanding, and acknowledgement are the strengths of this picture book story and are the perfect places for growth and better approaches to understanding Sadness and Gratitude alike.

If there were only one primer chosen about exploring emotions for the very young reader and their families, When Sadness Comes to Visit should be at the top of the list for every home and in lending libraries where young children come to visit books and emotions alike.

Shenandoah Dreams
Clinton Harris
Legacy Book Publishing
9781947718890, $19.95 Paperback, $24.95 Hardcover

"Prepare to be inspired." -- These are the words of Bridgett McGowen's Foreword introduction to the novel Shenandoah Dreams, in which 12-year-old Johnny grasps his dreams, realities, and new opportunities as he grows up in the 1930s in an honorable but poor farming family.

Clinton Harris provides the first-person focus on a young man set to embrace his dreams in new ways as the Great Depression unfolds alongside Johnny's life: "I always had a vivid imagination, but one day I knew I wouldn't have to just dream anymore, I could actually be who I wanted to be."

Harris provides a story that moves from this foundation of hope and dreams into a future where dreams of the past permeate the nightmares of war's realities. As Johnny contrasts what his life has become with what he'd once dreamed it would be, readers gain a sense of just how much has changed from experience, the perspective of maturity, and the challenges of war: "This is not what I envisioned when I was a child. I wanted to be a pilot, flying to the lure and praise of those around me, a celebrity in its own right. My flights now do bring praise, praise for not dying that day and bringing my aircraft home in one piece. Praise for protecting my comrades, praise for blowing my enemies out of the sky. As a child I wanted praise to save lives, or to bring joy and wonder to people through my skill as a pilot, now I do fly, but I earn praise for the opposite, I don't earn praise for saving people, I earn praise for killing them."

This juxtaposition of life's evolution, dreams, and decisions born of love and hardship brings readers into Johnny's world on a tide that draws and then pulls back as Johnny moves from the farm to war and then returns home much changed, to a very different milieu.

Harris injects a good deal of thought-provoking philosophy into his story which will delight readers who seek more than an involving tale alone: "You see son, when the sun sets it is simply giving way to the night in order for a new day to come, essentially a new start. Just as in life we sometimes have to allow the sun to set on our past in order to move forward with our future. People don't see their misfortunes as anything but that, but in reality our misfortunes and setbacks are lessons to make us stronger and prepare us for the long-term hardships that life actually brings us between the good times."

With the "panoramic glory" of the Shenendoah Valley as its backdrop, Shenandoah Dreams excels in a sense of place, purpose, and contrasts between childhood memories and adult dreams. As Johnny uncovers lessons about values, survival, and interpersonal connections, readers gain a vivid story of life trials and the ongoing dreams that mitigate their impact to lead him in a different direction.

Evocative, beautiful, and compellingly thought-provoking all in one, Shenandoah Dreams is a story of choices made in dealing with pain, family, and life. Its inspirational lessons on life's impact and revised approaches to it makes for a story replete in psychological and literary examination, highly recommended for readers who like coming of age stories that cross generations of experience.

Arko: The Dark Union (A Sci-Fi Adventure Series)
U. W. Leo
Ultra Particle
9781737536130, $2.99 EBook
9781737536109, $9.99 Paperback

Middle grade to young adult readers who enjoy works of speculative fiction and adventure will find Arko: The Dark Union fits the bill with its blend of Indiana Jones-style action and sci-fi thriller.

A group of scientists journey to Mexico's Yucatan with their families to conduct research in the jungle. Twelve-year-old Ariel Hyden's father is one of them, but Ariel is a "child scientist" himself with a vivid imagination, inquisitive mind, and educational curiosity beyond his years.

He's part of a group of twelve-year-old friends experiencing typical summer fun when everything changes into a more serious venture.

U.W. Leo brings to life the pyramids and atmosphere of the Yucatan jungle, and the Mayan myths and legends that swirl around the archeological relics it holds from ancient times.

He also establishes early on that this group of kids holds special abilities and talents that set them apart from their peers.

These foundations of myth and reality emerge further as the story develops into extraordinary areas of inspection, theory, and dilemmas.

Leo injects science into these fantasy realms to give Arko a realistic, thought-provoking backdrop: " can't cover the pterosaurs in screens or metamaterials for a simple reason."

"Which is?"

"They won't be able to fly."

Isaac pondered this for a bit. "Of course, you're correct. So what do you propose?"

"Camouflage using simple lighting."


"We'll attach a system of lights to blur their appearance, like they used in the Vietnam War on Phantom jets."

"I know of it. That project was called Compass Ghost, but back then the lighting could only achieve partial obscurity."

As pterosaurs appear and mysteries evolve, adults and children become caught up in the realization that myths about Quetzalcoatls and prehistory are coming to life to introduce new realities and dangers that could change their world. The influence of a strange, technologically advanced structure buried in the jungle becomes apparent as the children are charged with very adult assignments and new roles.

The adult elements of a thriller format, unusual to see for this age of reader, come into play as human threats clash: "Zhukov furrowed his brow. What should he do now? He was unsure. The systems were malfunctioning terribly. Someone was toying with them, and quite maliciously. Perhaps it would be best to wait and do nothing. But then his crew members might see it as a sign of weakness. The men relied on the foundation of his mettle. If he weakened, everything could come crashing down. Still, he found himself contemplating at length. His hesitations were cut short by Ivanovsky."

As Gaia, Gustav, and adults and children alike confront Arks, spaceships, pterosaurs and other impossibilities, they come to realize that their choices and actions are the pivot point for humanity's future.

It will be the "next leap of human evolution" to embrace these changes and see them to fruition.

U.W. Leo's powerful story offers food for thought on many different levels. It holds many adventure and fantasy elements like Indiana Jones, but also contains a deeper flavor of self-realization and improvement that gives all ages a story that builds a new sense of purpose and insight.

There are numerous characters and special interests and influences involved which may challenge tweens with complexity and subplots, but ultimately adds to the story's diversity and unpredictable events.

Tweens and young adults who look for high-octane action injected into thought-provoking stories will appreciate Arko: The Dark Union's ability to engage on many different levels. It's the first book in a series and ends on a note of possibility that portends more adventures and challenges to come.

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

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

Robert B. Parker's Stone's Throw
Mike Lupica
c/o Penguin Random House
9780525542117, $28.00 HC, $14.99 Kindle

Jesse Ston is back in another great mystery that continues the popular series The mayor of Paradise is found dead on a property at a lake. It looks like an apparent suicide, but Jesse's instinct tells him the mayor was murdered. The questions are who and why would want to kill the politician? Jesse makes it his business to find the answers as he begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together. He realizes nothing is as it seems. Mike Lupica fills the novel with the snappy dialogue and fast pacing that made Robert B. Parker's Stone character so popular. "Stone's Throw" is a welcome addition to the series.

1st Case
James Patterson And Chris Tebbetts
Little Brown And Company
c/o Hachette Book Group USA
9780316418188, $28.00 HC, $14.99 Kindle

"1st Case" is nail biting suspense at its page turning best. Angela Hoot has always done well in her education but all she has learned in her schooling will be put to the test of actual on the job training as she works on her first case for the FBI office in Boston, Massachusetts. Hopefully "1st Case" is the beginning of a brand-new series about another interesting character from James Patterson.

Foul Play A Stone Barrington Novel
Stuart Woods
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593087855, $28.00 HC, $14.99 Kindle

"Foul Play "is another fast-paced Stone Barrington novel by Stuart Woods that continues the popular series. Things for a possible client for Stone continue to just get worse. On his way to meet Stone the man is brutally attacked. Later in his hotel room a woman's dead body he has never met is reported to police. "Foul Play opens with the two situations and gets more complicated as it unfolds. Someone is playing a deadly game with Stone in the middle. As always Woods masterfully handles the suspense that leads to the surprising ending that makes "Foul Play" one of the most exciting Barrington escapades of the long running series.

Fan Fiction A Mem-Noir Inspired by True Events
Brent Spiner
St Martin's Press
9781250274366, $27.99 HC, $14.99 Kindle

"Star Trek" continues to be a major part of the book, TV and film universe in many ways. "Fan Fiction" is a very creative way that actor Brent Spiner who played Commander Data throughout the Trek creation, now utilizes portions of his own life with those of the show "Star Trek The Next Generation" way back when it was starting to make its mark on the franchise. Along the way as characters are some fellow cast members who make the novel more fun to read about a new realm of the popular series. "Fan Fiction" is a cautionary tale of how fandom can go berserk on anyone who has any kind of fame.

Robert B. Parker's Payback
Mike Lupica
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593087855, $28.00 HC, $14.99 Kindle

Sunny Randall is back in Payback on a case as well as involved in a situation to help her father while immersed with Police Chief of Paradise Jessie Stone. Sunny Randall is not as well-known as Spenser and Jesse Stone but she has all of the elements of Parker while Mike Lupica provides a masterfully told story, filled with dazzling characters and fast paced dialogue that race the story along to its final conclusion. "Payback" is a refreshing addition to the cycle.

The Midwife Murders
James Patterson and Richard Dilallo
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Book Group USA
9781538718872, $17.99 pbk, $11.99 Kindle

James Patterson and Richard DiLallow are at the top of their game with "The Midwife Murders." Something is happening to women who come into a university hospital to have their babies. One is stabbed while two are kidnapped. Midwife Lucy Ryuan knows something is happening and she is determined to find out exactly what before anymore take place. "The Midwife Murders" is solid page turning exciting suspense by two masters of the genre.

Cosmic Corsairs Space Pirates On The Rampage
Edited by Hank Davis and Christopher Ruocchio
97819825691, $16.00 pkb, $4.99 Kindle

Hank Davis and Christopher Ruocchio have impeccable taste in their choice for the collection "Cosmic Corsair Space Pirates On The Rampage" There are many types of tales of wonder and science fiction by many different authors who are all masters of the genre. Some include James Blish whose story is published for the first time since its original publication, Ritz Leiber, Larry Niven, James H Schmitz are just a few of the great talented authors who fill this wonderful collection. Davis and Ruocchio have a winner in "Cosmic Corsairs"

World Breakers
Edited by Tony Daniel and Christopher Ruocchio
97819825516, $16.00 pkb, $8.99 Kindle

"World Breakers" celebrates military fiction in the future with many great new stories. Collected for the first time are many that are influenced by Keith Laumer's Bolos books. Some of the word crafters gathered here are David Weber, Lou J. Berger, Wen Spenser, Robert E. Hampton are just a few of the names that delve into the future of warfare with grand stories that are for anyone to enjoy. "World Breakers" is another fabulous anthology that continues the tradition started so long ago of the short story. Hopefully readers will also continue to embrace this wonderful art form.

Going Interstellar
Edited by Less Johnson & Jack McDevitt
97819825515, $16.00 pkb, $5.99 Kindle

Unlike other collections the editors have embraced authors to write nonfiction pieces and fiction that celebrate the next step of space exploration. Some of the masters included are two who are no longer with us Ben Bova, and Mike Resnick while those are still writing are Sarah A. Hoyt Michael Bishop, and McDevitt a major voice in the field also contributes to this great volume of science fact and fiction.

The Dire Days of Willow Weep Manor
Shannon Garrity and Christopher Baldwin
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781534460867, $12.99 HC, $10.99 Kindle

"The Dire Days of Willow Weep Manor" is splendid entertainment for the whole family to enjoy. During a storm Haley tries to help a person from drowning in a nearby river. Somehow, she is transported to another time and place to begin a complicated journey to try to get home. Along the way she encounters a number of bizarre characters and mysterious situations that will change her life forever. "The Dire Days of Willow Weep Manor" combines two talents into a unique graphic novel that is sure to please fans of many different genres.

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

Redefining Rich
Shannon Hayes
BenBella Books
9781950665891, $16.95 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

Synopsis: From a third-generation farmer and successful entrepreneur, Redefining Rich is an entrepreneur's guide to balancing work and family with the pleasures of the good life, with simple exercises and important lessons to serve everyone from the new sole proprietor to a seasoned CEO.

Shannon Hayes was in the final months of her PhD program, recently engaged, and beginning to plan her future. Having grown up on a northern Appalachian sheep farm, she had two advantages: a hard-won education and hillbilly pragmatism. But when it came time to enter the job market, Hayes made a tough discovery: the economy just doesn't work. It doesn't work for women, for free thinkers, for the working class, or for white-collar professionals. It doesn't work in rural America, much less in the cities and the suburbs. It forces us to choose between career and family, profit and creativity.

So, Hayes and her husband walked away from their career paths and chose to forge a life on her family's frost-plagued mountain farm, starting up a small cafe in town. Together, they found their sweet spot: a place where the Appalachian farm culture and sensibilities she and her community have lived by helped them thrive, even in a tough economic environment. Against the odds, the Hayes family built a business that lets them live abundantly, spend time with family, and enjoy the gifts of nature. And the business even helped reinvigorate their chronically economically depressed town.

But the journey to this point was rife with challenges, tumbles, and mistakes. With humor, lively stories, and assurance, Hayes reveals the best lessons she's learned for taking an alternate path, whether it lies in rural America, in the 'burbs, or the heart of the city. She outlines the fundamentals of sustainable wealth, how to develop income streams, get organized, bring family into the business, ask for fair prices and market efficiently, and - the most important lesson of all - set personal boundaries and say "no" even while sustaining relationships. Hayes shows entrepreneurship is the means to build sustainable communities, keep families together, and foster great creative fulfillment.

Redefining Rich will comfort, instruct, amuse, and inspire those of us who are trying to make our lives work in untraditional ways.

Critique: Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles, and Smart Living is a different type of entrepreneurial memoir. Here is the true-life story of a woman and her husband who realized that balancing life and work required them to redefine their careers on their own terms. They chose to restart their lives on her family's frost-ridden Appalachian farm, while opening a small cafe in town. Despite numerous obstacles and pitfalls, including the hardship of choosing to live and work in an economically depressed region, they found a path to happiness and sustainability. Redefining Rich is inspiring, thought-provoking, and highly recommended both as a fascinating story in its own right and as a call to reconsider what one truly aspires to in life. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Redefining Rich is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Editorial Note: Shannon Hayes is the chef and CFO of Sap Bush Hollow Farm, LLC. She and three generations of her family raise grassfed & pastured meats, operate Sap Bush Cafe (a farm-to-table and neighbor-to-neighbor experience in the Catskill mountains), as well as vacation rentals, long-term rentals, and an online general store. Hayes is the author of several books, including The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook, Long Way on a Little, and Radical Homemakers. She is the host of The Hearth of Sap Bush Hollow podcast, which chronicles and lessons from a life tied to family, community, and the land.

How to Be
Judith Valente, author
Paul Quenon, OCSO, author
Hampton Roads Publishing
c/o Red Wheel/Weiser
65 Parker Street, Suite 7, Newburyport, MA 01950
9781642970340, $16.95, PB, 208pp

Synopsis: "How to Be: A Monk and a Journalist Reflect on Living & Dying, Purpose & Prayer, Forgiveness & Friendship" is a dialogue between two spiritual seekers -- one who is a Trappist monk and the other who is a married professional woman. It is two people "stuttering to articulate life's universal questions from diverse contexts and perspectives."

Brother Paul writes as one steeped in silence and the daily rhythms of the ancient prayer practices of monasticism. Judith Valente writes as a professional woman attempting to bring a sense of prayer and contemplation to a scattered life in the secular world.

Valente uses the story of Brother Paul's interview for a PBS documentary as a jumping-off point: When asked the purpose of the Trappist life in the modern world, he said that it is "to show you don't need a purpose." The purpose of life, he said, is life. "You're to live your life."

"How to Be" offers a window into the thoughts of two people who are living their lives on purpose (or not) and struggling to come to terms with the big issues everyone faces: faith, mortality, mystery, prayer, work. "How to Be" provides insight and inspiration for those walking the spiritual path -- particularly for those interested in the contemplative path.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, absorbing, thoughtful and thought-provoking read throughout, "How to Be: A Monk and a Journalist Reflect on Living & Dying, Purpose & Prayer, Forgiveness & Friendship" is an extraordinary, unique, and highly recommended addition to community, seminary, college, and university Christian Values, Social Issues, Self-Help collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of clergy, theologians, seminary students, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "How to Be: A Monk and a Journalist Reflect on Living & Dying, Purpose & Prayer, Forgiveness & Friendship" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

A Little Closer to Home
Ginger Zee
Hyperion Avenue
c/o Buena Vista Books
9781368042000, $26.99, HC, 288pp

Synopsis: When Ginger Zee opened her life to readers with the publication of her her first biography, "Natural Disaster" (9781484780428, $26.99 HC, $16.99 PB, $14.99 Kindle, $19.99 Audio CD), the response was enormous. She put a very relatable if surprising face on depression and has helped lessen the stigma surrounding mental health issues. But now Ginger tells us that her original attempt at a biography, "Natural Disaster", and published in 2017 was "Ginger Lite" and only scratched the surface.

"A Little Closer to Home: How I Found the Calm After the Storm" is moving follow-up in which Ginger shares her truest self. She spent most of her life shielding her vulnerabilities from the world all while being a professional people pleaser. Her stormy childhood, her ongoing struggles with crippling depression, her suicide attempts, and many other life experiences will resonate with readers who are likely to see themselves along the way.

In spite of its serious subject matter, Ginger's positive, life-affirming outlook comes through loud and clear. Written with great heart and quite a bit of humor, Ginger normalizes issues and challenges millions of people face every day. "A Little Closer to Home: How I Found the Calm After the Storm " will broaden the conversation around mental health at a time we need it more than ever.

Critique: Candidly personal, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "A Little Closer to Home: How I Found the Calm After the Storm) is an inherently fascinating, thoughtful and thought-provoking read and one that is unreservedly recommended for community library Contemporary American Biography collections. Of special relevance to readers with an interest in meteorology, mental health and suicide prevention, "A Little Closer to Home: How I Found the Calm After the Storm" is also readily available for their personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99).

Editorial Note: Ginger Zee is the Chief Meteorologist for ABC News, forecasting for and reporting on the nation's weather from Good Morning America to World News Tonight. Zee has been on the ground before, during and after almost every major weather event and dozens of historic storms including Hurricane Katrina. She watched as the eye of Superstorm Sandy passed over Atlantic City and then covered the devastated Jersey Shore; she was there for the 2020 California wildfires and for the unprecedented number of hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. Zee's dedication to science began at an early age, watching powerful thunderstorms rush across Lake Michigan. Her passion for meteorology brought her to storm chase in college at Valparaiso University where she earned her bachelor of science in meteorology.

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

I Guarantee It
George Zimmer
Beyond Words Publishing
c/o Simon and Schuster (distribution)
9781582708416, $26.00, HC, 208pp

Synopsis: George Zimmer was the founder of The Men's Wearhouse clothing chain and CEO, board chair, and television spokesperson for the company for forty-one years. Under Zimmer, The Men's Wearhouse became the largest men's specialty chain in history with his famous slogan, "You're going to like the way you look. I guarantee it."

Zimmer's success as a businessman was in forging a relationship with American men who wanted to like the way they looked without getting too fussy about it. He made them a promise that came straight from the shoulder: "I guarantee it," he said, and it was ironclad. By the millions, customers walked into the Men's Wearhouse stores in all fifty states and Canada, where they received "quality, service, and a good price," where they bought suits, ties, sports coats, and slacks by the tens of billions of dollars.

Then a corporate backstabbing -- the handpicked board of directors fired Zimmer from the company he had created and developed into the most successful men's specialty store in world history. Now eight years later, with the publication of "I Guarantee It: The Untold Story behind the Founder of Men's Wearhouse", Zimmer is back to tell his story: a man raised by a prosperous and loving family, a fun-loving son of the sixties, a merchant, an entrepreneur, a pitchman for the ages.

Zimmer's ouster devastated but did not destroy him. His is a story of hard work and resilience, about a life in business that succeeded beyond belief and followed the Golden Rule. It's a story that will teach and inspire other entrepreneurs and corporate leaders.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and true story that is as riveting as any work of fiction, "I Guarantee It: The Untold Story behind the Founder of Men's Wearhouse" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary American Biography or Business Management & Leadership collection. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of MBA students, academia, entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "I Guarantee It: The Untold Story behind the Founder of Men's Wearhouse" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.00).

Editorial Note: George Zimmer was raised in Scarsdale, New York, where he showed an early aptitude for business, becoming a circulation manager for a local newspaper when he was still in high school, and later attending college at Washington University where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics. Mr. Zimmer also played a crucial role as a pioneer and major financial contributor to California's Proposition 215 in 1996, the first successful statewide medicinal marijuana campaign in the United States.

The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City
Jim Schutze
La Reunion Publishing
c/o Deep Vellum
9781646050963, $30.00, HC, 272pp

Synopsis: "The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City" is the powerful, and long-repressed classic of Dallas history that examines the violent and suppressed history of race and racism in the city. "The Accommodation" follows the story of Dallas from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement, and the city's desegregation efforts in the 1950s and '60s.

Known for being an uninhibited and honest account of the city's institutional and structural racism, "The Accommodation" ably argues that Dallas' desegregation period came at a great cost to Black leaders in the city. Now, after decades out of print and hand-circulated underground, the republication of "The Accommodation" serves as a reminder of what an American city will do to protect the white status quo.

Critique: An impressive and revelatory history, the republication of "The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City" is especially timely when considering the current rise in racism and the political suppression of the Black voter in more than 27 states. While an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library African-American History and Civil Rights collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

Editorial Note: Jim Schutze is a longtime political journalist at the Dallas Times Herald and the Dallas Observer, and former Dallas bureau chief of the Houston Chronicle, Schutze currently is a columnist at D Magazine. He has earned many honors for his writing, winning the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies' national award for best commentary twice and Lincoln University's national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues three times. Two of his books were finalists for the national Edgar Allen Poe award for crime writing. In 2011, Schutze was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters in recognition of his career as a journalist and author.

John Taylor

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

Steeped in Stories
Mitali Perkins
Broadleaf Books
9781506469102, $24.99, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: The principle message of "Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children's Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls" by Mitali Perkins is that the stories we read as children shape us for the rest of our lives -- and it is never too late to discover that transformative spark of hope that children's classics can ignite within us.

Award-winning children's author Mitali Perkins grew up steeped in stories -- escaping into her books on the fire escape of a Flushing apartment building and, later, finding solace in them as she navigated between the cultures of her suburban California school and her Bengali heritage at home. Now in the pages of "Steeped in Stories", Perkins invites us to explore the promise of seven timeless children's novels for adults living in uncertain times: stories that provide mirrors to our innermost selves and open windows to other worlds.

Blending personal narrative, accessible literary criticism, and spiritual and moral formation, Perkins delves into novels by Louisa May Alcott, C. S. Lewis, L. M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and other literary "uncles" and "aunts" that illuminate the virtuous, abundant life we still desire.

These novels are not perfect, and Perkins honestly assesses their critical frailties and flaws related to race, culture, and power. Yet reading or rereading these books as adults can help us build virtue, unmask our vices, and restore our hope. Reconnecting with these stories from childhood isn't merely nostalgia. In an era of uncertainty and despair, they lighten our load and bring us much-needed hope.

Critique: Simply stated, "Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children's Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls" is especially and unreservedly recommended for the personal reading lists of all bibliophiles. Of particular interest for readers with an interest in Christian spiritual growth and children's literature, "Steeped in Stories" is will prove to be an enduringly welcome addition to community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted that "Steeped in
Stories: Timeless Children's Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.49).

Editorial Note: Mitali Perkins is an award-winning author of novels and picture books for young readers, including You Bring the Distant Near; Forward Me Back to You; Rickshaw Girl; and Bamboo People, among others. Her books have been nominated for the National Book Award, won the South Asia Book Award, and listed as a Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. Perkins's work is known for strong characters who cross all kinds of borders, seek community, and promote justice.

How to Be Italian
Maria Pasquale
Smith Street Books
9781922417312, $19.95, HC, 216pp

Synopsis: "How to Be Italian: Eat, Drink, Dress, Travel and Love La Dolce Vita " by Maria Pasquale is a celebration of the Italian lifestyle, as well as an education in drinking to savor the moment, travel indulgently, and cherish Italy's distinctive food and culture. It is a lesson in the dolce far niente: the sweetness of doing nothing. We may not all live in the bel paese, but anyone can learn from the rich tapestry of life on the boot.

From the innovation of Italian fashion and design, the Golden Age of its cinema to the Roman Empire's cultural echoes (and some very good espresso), "How to Be Italian: Eat, Drink, Dress, Travel and Love La Dolce Vita" will enable the reader and the armchair traveler to take a dip into the Italian psyche and learn to eat, love, dress, think, and have fun as only the Italians can.

Critique: Profusely illustrated throughout with full color photography and images, Maria Pasquale's "How to Be Italian: Eat, Drink, Dress, Travel and Love La Dolce Vita" is an impressively well written, organized and presented combination of Italian travelogue and cultural guide -- making it an ideal and recommended addition to personal, community, college, and university library Italian travel, cooking, and culture collections.

Editorial Note: Maria Pasquale was born in Melbourne to Italian parents and has been based in Rome since 2011. With formal qualifications in political science and history, she is an award-winning food and travel journalist and writes regularly for USA Today, CNN, Conde Nast, The Telegraph, and Fortune. She is also the founder of the popular blog HeartRome, which has readers in 100 countries, and in 2017, she published "I Heart Rome" with Smith Street Books.

The Red Menace
Ilise S. Carter
Prometheus Books
9781633887107, $28.95, HC, 216pp

Synopsis: In America, lipstick is the foundation of cosmetic empires; it's a signature of identity; it's propaganda, self-expression, oppression, freedom, and rebellion. It's a multi-billion-dollar industry and one of our most iconic accessories of gender. "The Red Menace: How Lipstick Changed the Face of American History" by Ilise Carter is an engaging and entertaining history of lipstick from the colonies to the present and will give readers a new view of the little tube's big place in modern America from defining the middle class to building Fortune 500 businesses to being present at Stonewall and being engineered for space travel.

Lipstick has served as both a witness and a catalyst to history; it went to war with women, it gave women of color previously unheard-of business opportunities, and was part of the development of celebrity and mass media. In the Twentieth Century alone, lipstick evolved from a beauty secret for a select few to a required essential for well turned-out women but also a mark of rock 'n' roll rebellion and a political statement.

How has this mainstay of the makeup kit remained relevant for over a century? With the publication of "The Red Menace: How Lipstick Changed the Face of American History", beauty journalist Ilise S. Carter suggests that it's because the simple lipstick says a lot. From the provocative allure of a classic red lip to the powerful statement of drag, the American love affair with lipstick is linked to every aspect of our experience of gender, from venturing into the working world or running for the presidency.

"The Red Menace: How Lipstick Changed the Face of American History" will capture all of those dimensions, with a dishy dose of fabulosity that makes it a must-read for lipstick's fiercest disciples, its harshest critics, and everyone in between.

Critique: An unique and riveting focus on a heretofore obscure element of American pop culture and history, "The Red Menace: How Lipstick Changed the Face of American History" is an extraordinarily informative and inherently fascinating study that is enhanced for both academia and the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the subject with the inclusion of eighteen pages of Notes and a ten page Index. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library American History collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Red Menace: How Lipstick Changed the Face of American History" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $20.99).

Editorial Note: Ilise S. Carter is freelance writer, and consulting copywriter to the beauty industry. She has written for Allure, New York Times, Racked, Wall Street Journal, and others, with a focus on pop culture. In addition, she's spent over a decade as a consulting copywriter for beauty brands such as Shiseido, bliss, Laura Mercier, Avon, L'Oreal, and Madame CJ Walker, specializing in brand voice and identity.

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

The Good Kings
Kara Cooney
National Geographic Press
101 West 104th Street, Suite 8, New York, NY 10025
9781426221965, $28.00, HC, 400pp

Synopsis: In a new era when democracies around the world are threatened or crumbling, with the publication of "The Good Kings: Absolute Power in Ancient Egypt and the Modern World", author and academician Kara Cooney turns to five ancient Egyptian pharaohs (Khufu, Senwosret III, Akenhaten, Ramses II, and Taharqa) to understand why many so often give up power to the few, and what it can mean for our future.

As the first recorded centralized political power on earth, the pharaohs and their process of divine kingship can tell us a lot about the world's politics, past and present. Every animal-headed god, every monumental temple, every pyramid, every tomb, offers extraordinary insight into a culture that combined deeply held religious beliefs with uniquely human schemes to justify a system in which one ruled over many.

From Khufu, the man who built the Great Pyramid at Giza as testament to his authoritarian reign, and Taharqa, the last true pharaoh who worked to make Egypt great again, we discover a clear lens into understanding how power was earned, controlled, and manipulated in ancient times. And in mining the past, Cooney uncovers the reason why societies have so willingly chosen a dictator over democracy, time and time again.

Critique: A remarkable work of meticulous research based scholarship, "The Good Kings: Absolute Power in Ancient Egypt and the Modern World" by Professor Kara Cooney is an extraordinary and recommended contribution to community, college, and university library Egyptology and Political Science collections, as well as academic supplemental curriculum studies lists. Enhanced with a multi-page insert of fully color photographs, "The Good Kings: Absolute Power in Ancient Egypt and the Modern World" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the politics of Egyptian antiquity and the lives of the ancient pharaohs.

Editorial Note: Kara Cooney is Professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture at UCLA and chair of its Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. Her academic work focuses on death preparations, social competition, and gender studies. She appeared as a lead expert in the popular Discovery Channel special "The Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen" and produced and wrote Discovery's Out of Egypt. She is also the author of When Women Ruled the World (2018) and The Woman Who Would be King (2014),

Hunter's Drum: The Bidding of Shadows
J. C. Hager
Greenstone Publishing
9780979754692, $10.00 PB / $2.00 Kindle, 182pp

Synopsis: In an ancient cave, enigmatic whispers from spirit shadows thrust Matt Hunter and Tanya into a quest: coming from the future to save the past. They enter the lawless world of 1800 and Mackinac fur trade. Their skills and technology are constantly challenged. It's flint and steel versus a BIC, flint lock rifles against a modern handgun -- further complicated by an courageous priest and a threatened Ojibwa village.

Critique: From the author of "Hunter's Choice", and with the publication of "Hunter's Drum: The Bidding of Shadows", we are once again treated to a stirring thriller of a Matt Hunter adventure novel by J. C. Hager. Reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs use of a 'magic' cave to transport the protagonist to another time and place, "Hunter's Drum: The Bidding of Shadows" is a skillfully crafted, thoroughly entertaining, impressively unique, and highly recommended addition to community library Action/Adventure collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Hunter's Drum: The Bidding of Shadows" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.00).

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

The Rise of Technosocialism
Brett King, author
Richard Petty, author
Marshall Cavendish International
c/o Marshall Cavendish Corporation
9789814868952, $39.95, HC, 336pp

Synopsis: It is already quite evident that the 21st century is going to be the most disruptive, contentious period humanity has ever lived through. It will challenge our most sacred ideologies around politics, economics and social constructs. It will force humanity to adapt in ways we can't yet imagine.

If the cost of providing universal health care is lower than the cost of building a political movement to prevent it, would politicians still view it as socialism? In a world where algorithms and robots take the jobs of immigrants and citizens alike, are border controls an effective response? If unemployment skyrockets due to automation, would conservative governments rather battle long-term social unrest, or could they agree on something like universal basic income? When renewable energy sources are a fraction of the cost of coal-generated electricity, should lobbyists be able to prevent changes to energy infrastructure? When the crowd's mood is measured in influence and exabytes, will real-time democracy render elections a thing of the past?

With the publication of "The Rise of Technosocialism: How Inequality, AI and Climate will Usher in a New World", co-authors Brett King and Dr. Richard Petty explore the seismic social changes that will be thrust on the world over the coming decades. "The Rise of Technosocialism" seeks to answer both how our children will live with AI and climate disruption, along with which economies will likely emerge victorious in an always-on, smart world.

Critique: A compelling and detailed study extrapolating into the near future trends that are impacting everything ranging from our culture, our society, our politics, and what are grandchildren will be compelled to deal with, "The Rise of Technosocialism: How Inequality, AI and Climate will Usher in a New World" is an extraordinary read from beginning to end. Informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "The Rise of Technosocialism: How Inequality, AI and Climate will Usher in a New World" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Environmental, Robotics, Automation, and Technology Impact collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, corporate executives, governmental policy makers, social and environmental activists, as well as non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Rise of Technosocialism: How Inequality, AI and Climate will Usher in a New World" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.79).

Editorial Note #1: Brett King is an entrepreneur, futurist, and International Bestselling Author. China's President Xi Jinping cited his book Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane in his 2018 national address; Augmented was a Top 10 non-fiction book in North America. In 2019 his book Bank 4.0 was awarded the Top Book by a Foreign Author in Russia. In 2015 he was shortlisted for the Advance Global Australian of the Year Award. Banking Exchange magazine dubbed him the "King of Disruptors". He advised the Obama Administration, and governments and regulators around the world on future tech.

Editorial Note #2: Dr Richard Petty is a policy advisor, entrepreneur and awarded academic. Based in Hong Kong, Richard has lived and worked in Greater China since the 1990's. Richard has chaired entities with global footprint, and presently sits on the boards of listed companies in the United States and Australia. He has advised on projects with an aggregate economic impact in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and has led studies on economic competitiveness. Richard previously served as a member of the B20 (the official G20 dialogue forum with the global business community) on the Financing Growth and Infrastructure Taskforce. Richard has authored or co-authored more than 100 academic and professional works including several books, and several of his journal articles are among the top cited in their fields.

The Cigar Factory of Isay Rottenberg
Hella Rottenberg, author
Sandra Rottenberg, author
Jonathan Reeder, translator
Wilfrid Laurier University Press
9781771125505, $24.99, PB, 275pp

Synopsis: Isay Rottenberg was born into a large Jewish family in Russian Poland in 1889 and grew up in Lodz. He left for Berlin at the age of eighteen to escape military service, moving again in 1917 to Amsterdam on the occasion of his marriage. In 1932 he moved to Germany to take over a bankrupt cigar factory. With newfangled American technology, it was the most modern at the time. The energetic and ambitious Rottenberg was certain he could bring it back to life, and with newly hired staff of 670 workers, the cigar factory was soon back in business.

Six months later, Hitler came to power and the Nazi government forbade the use of machines in the cigar industry so that traditional hand-rollers could be re-employed. That was when the real struggle began. More than six hundred qualified machine workers and engineers would lose their jobs if the factory had to close down. Supported by the local authorities he managed to keep the factory going, but in 1935 he was imprisoned following accusations of fraud. The factory was expropriated by the Deutsche Bank. When he was released six months later thanks to the efforts of the Dutch consul, he brought a lawsuit of his own. His fight for rehabilitation and restitution of his property would continue until Kristallnacht in 1938.

"The Cigar Factory of Isay Rottenberg: The Hidden History of a Jewish Entrepreneur in Nazi Germany" is written by two of Isay Rottenberg's to journalist granddaughters, who knew little of their grandfather's past growing up in Amsterdam until a call for claims for stolen or confiscated property started them on a journey of discovery. This inherently fascinating biography also includes a foreword by Robert Rotenberg, criminal defense lawyer and author of bestselling legal thrillers.

Critique: Providing a unique perspective on a remarkable business man trying to deal with the impositions and persecutions of the Nazi government against the Jewish community of which he was a member, and ably translated into English for an American readership by Jonathan Reeder, "The Cigar Factory of Isay Rottenberg: The Hidden History of a Jewish Entrepreneur in Nazi Germany" is a truly extraordinary, quite unique, inherently fascinating, and impressively informative addition to community, college, and university library 20th Century Biography and 20th Century German History collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Cigar Factory of Isay Rottenberg: The Hidden History of a Jewish Entrepreneur in Nazi Germany" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.99).

Michael Dunford

Nancy Lorraine's Bookshelf

Symphonies for the Soul
Oliver Condy, author
c/o Octopus Books
236 Park Avenue, New York NY 10017
9781788403184, $20.00 HC, $7.99 Kindle, 192 pages

Written by the famous editor of BBC Music Magazine, "Symphonies for the Soul: Classical Music To Cure Any Ailment" by Oliver Condy offers healing musical treatments for an alphabet of ailments, spiritual, mental, and physical.

Symptoms or conditions are listed alphabetically, with dictionary- style indexed pages, beginning with "Abandonment" and ending with Zen (deficiency in). Following each condition, or malaise, there is a brief discussion of the music or composer(s) recommended for listening. The listing for "Abandonment" is Handel's "Messiah."

In the introduction, ways or systems to organize accessible easy listening are suggested, including "music streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, or Tidal,... or Primephonic or IDAGIO. (p. 11)" Recommendations for listening include specific recordings, for example, the music recommended for listening for Zen (deficiency in) is Harvey -..."towards a pure land," performed by BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Ilan Volkov (NMC).

The explanatory discussion summarizes: The long list of later 20th century composers influenced by Zen Buddhism includes Philip Glass, Steve Reich, John Taverner, John Cage, Per Norgard, Lou Harrison and Jonathan Harvey, whose...."towards a pure land" describes 'a state of mind beyond suffering, where there is no grasping' and 'a model of the world to which we can aspire'. It is a beautiful work in which to lose yourself - hypnotic, almost formless - and perfect for regaining your own state of Zen (p. 184)."

The extremely knowledgeable Oliver Condy draws upon over 20 years of experience and expertise as musician, editor, and music journalist. He is also an organist who performs recitals from time to time. He is known for contributions to BBC Radio 3's "Record Review," a Saturday morning program. To develop a wide palate for enjoyment of both modern and classical works of music, as well as to discover specific music listening for treatment of any form of disharmony of the soul, "Symphonies for the Soul" is an excellent, efficient, and rich resource.

Simply reading the author's descriptions of various composers' music constitutes an education in all kinds of serious music appreciation. Just becoming aware of the wide variety of music available, both familiar and known and the less well known hidden treasures of recent years and further back, is enough of a rationale for buying and reading this beautiful compendium. Many hours of happy listening and reading await the lucky recipient of this book of musical prescriptions to help heal lives.

Flipping the Circle: A Political Thriller
Michael Leppert, author
River Grove Books
c/o Greenleaf Book Group Press
9781632994370, $19.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 328 pages

"Flipping the Circle" by Michael Leppert is an exciting and politically inspired whistle-blower thriller and accurately reflective of much of present day white collar shady practices in political circles throughout the United States.

Protagonist Will O'Courtney is a successful contract lobbyist in Indianapolis for over 10 years who decides to change his life and make efforts to leave the winning circle, which he discovers is riddled with corrupt dealings. He lands a contract with a national tobacco company which seems to be his ticket out of the winning circle, but he discovers evidence of corruption in the highest levels of government connected with legislation for tobacco products. Changing hats, he becomes an enigmatic lobbyist/ whistler in disguise and threads his way through groups and levels of security always wondering who can and cannot be trusted

Along the way he meets a positive woman who becomes his new muse and love, through many changing experiences. Will he ditch the Winners Circle and expose the poison network within it, or fall prey to multiple threats, innuendos of power, and temptations? The dilemma of Will O'Courtney reflects much of the enigma and evil of what occurs in the democratic process of the United States at a state political level.

"Flipping the Circle" is to be commended for tackling a loaded topical nest of issues of inner corruption in current politics. While highly recommended for community library contemporary fiction collections, it should be noted that "Flipping the Circle" is also readily available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

A Thousand Trails Home: Living with Caribou
Seth Kantner
Mountaineers Books
1001 SW Klickitat Way, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98134-1161
9781594859700, $28.95, HC, 320pp

Synopsis: With the publication of A Thousand Trails Home: Living with Caribou" by Seth Kantner, the reader is provided with a stunningly lyrical firsthand account of a life spent hunting, studying, and living alongside caribou,

"A Thousand Trails Home" also encompasses the historical past and present day, revealing the fragile intertwined lives of people and animals surviving on an uncertain landscape of cultural and climatic change sweeping the Alaskan Arctic.

Kantner vividly illuminates this critical story about the interconnectedness of the Iñupiat of Northwest Alaska, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, and the larger Arctic region. This story has global relevance as it takes place in one of the largest remaining intact wilderness ecosystems on the planet, ground zero for climate change in the US.

This compelling and complex tale revolves around the politics of caribou, race relations, urban vs. rural demands, subsistence vs. sport hunting, and cultural priorities vs. resource extraction.

Critique: An exceptionally well written, impressively informative, and inherently fascinating read from first page to last, "A Thousand Trails Home: Living with Caribou" will have a particular interest for both academicians and non-specialist readers with an interest in the Arctic ecosystem, polar region oriented travel guides, and the biology of the caribou. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "A Thousand Trails Home: Living with Caribou" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

Editorial Note: Seth Kantner was born and raised in northern Alaska and has worked as a trapper, wilderness guide, wildlife photographer, gardening teacher, and adjunct professor. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Outside, Orion, and Smithsonian. Kantner is the author of the award-winning novel Ordinary Wolves, memoir Shopping for Porcupine, and collection of essays Swallowed by the Great Land: And Other Dispatches from Alaska's Frontier. He has been a commercial fisherman in Kotzebue Sound for more than four decades and currently lives in the Northwest Arctic.

The Pivot: Addressing Global Problems Through Local Action
Steve Hamm
Columbia Business School
c/o Columbia University Press
61 West 62nd Street, New York, NY 10023-7015
9780231200905, $24.95, HC, 304pp

Synopsis: When the world reemerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems likely that it will have transformed the world irrevocably. Can societies already reeling from climate change, income inequality, and structural racism change for the better? Does the shock of the pandemic offer an opportunity to pivot to a more sustainable way of life?

Early in the crisis, a global volunteer collaboration called Pivot Projects was formed to rethink how the world works. Some members are experts in the sciences and the humanities; others are environmental activists or regular people who see themselves as world citizens. With the publication of "The Pivot: Addressing Global Problems Through Local Action", Steve Hamm (who was embedded in the Pivot Projects enterprise from the start) deftly explores their efforts and shows how their approach provides a model for achieving systemic change. Chronicling the group's progress along an uncharted path, he shows how people with a variety of skills and personalities collaborate to get things done.

Through their work, Hamm examines some of today's most important technologies and concepts, such as systems thinking and modeling, complexity theory, artificial intelligence, and new thinking about resilience. "The Pivot: Addressing Global Problems Through Local Action " features vivid, informal profiles of a number of the group's members and brings to life the excitement and energy of dynamic, smart people trying to change the world. Part journal of a plague year and part call to action, "The Pivot: Addressing Global Problems Through Local Action" tells the remarkable story of a collaborative experiment seeking to make the world more sustainable and resilient.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "The Pivot: Addressing Global Problems Through Local Action" is an inherently informed and informative study and one that should be a part of every community, college, and university library Sustainable/Green Business Development collection and supplemental curriculum studies list. It should be noted for entrepreneurs, business managers, corporate executives, governmental policy makers, environmental activists, academicians, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Pivot: Addressing Global Problems Through Local Action" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.39).

Editorial Note: Steve Hamm is an author, journalist, and filmmaker. He has worked for a number of newspapers and magazines, including BusinessWeek and the San Jose Mercury News, and has made documentary films about immigration, policing, and opioids. He is a co-author of Smart Machines: IBM's Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing (Columbia, 2013) and Rise of the Data Cloud (2020).

Paul T. Vogel

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

The White Magic Five and Dime: A Tarot Mystery (Tarot Mysteries Book 1)
Steve Hockensmith
Independently published
9781093478082 $15.99, paper
B07QDF24ZL, $4.99 ebook, 334 pages

The White Magic Five and Dime is a snarky amateur detective tale filled with con artists and tarot cards. The mystery is tricky and the action is nonstop. Unfortunately for me, the main protagonist in the tale never clicked with me. The book would be a must read for people who enjoy a fun mystery and can relate to the unusual main character.

Alanis McLachlan learns that her con artist mother has been murdered and she has inherited The White Magic Five and Dime, a small occult and tarot reading store in Berdache, Arizona. Alanis travels to Arizona to find out what has happened.

Alanis decides that the best way to discover who murdered her mother and why is to take over the Five and Dime and pretend to read tarot cards for the customers. Her mother has been conning customers for years and Alanis is soon inundated with suspects and threats.

The White Magic Five and Dime is a hilarious cozy mystery. If you can stand the sardonic humor and characters, you will love the tale and will immediately check out the next book in the series.

The Ninth District: An FBI Thriller (Book 1)
Douglas Dorow
MTS Press
9781467946827, $11.49 paper
B0055FDRH8, $2.99 ebook, 240 pages

The Ninth District is an odd mix of genres. The first few chapters start out as a solid police procedural but then it morphs into a thriller that ignores clues and follows hunches. As with most typical contemporary thrillers, the villains have unlimited abilities and the heroes don't need to work through facts and clues to figure out what is happening. The Ninth District has one big plus if you live in the Twin Cities -- the local settings and culture are well integrated into the story.

FBI Special Agent Jack Miller and a rookie are tasked with catching a bank robber who has been hitting a number of local banks. When the rookie accidently gets too close to the bank robber, he runs the rookie off the road. When Jack follows up on the car crash, the robber targets Jack and his family. It becomes a race against time. Will the agents catch to robber before he injures or kills them or one of their family?

The Ninth District is a thriller with plenty of local color. It is a fun recommendation for people familiar with the Twin Cities region. It is an average thriller so readers who are not familiar with Minnesota might be best served looking for a different title or focusing on purchasing this one when it is on sale.

S.A. Gorden
Senior Reviewer

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

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