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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 7 July 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

Imagining the Heartland: White Supremacy and the American Midwest
Britt E. Halvorson, author
Joshua O. Reno, author
University of California Press
111 Franklin Street, Oakland, CA 94607
9780520387607, $85.00, HC, 234pp

Synopsis: Though many only associate racism with the regional legacy of the South, it is the Midwest that has upheld some of the nation's most deep-seated convictions about the value of whiteness. From Jefferson's noble farmer to The Wizard of Oz, imagining the Midwest has quietly gone hand-in-hand with imagining whiteness as desirable and virtuous. Since at least the U.S. Civil War, the imagined Midwest has served as a screen or canvas, projecting and absorbing tropes and values of virtuous whiteness and its opposite, white deplorability, with national and global significance.

With the publication of "Imagining the Heartland: White Supremacy and the American Midwest", collaborative authors Britt E. Halvorson (Associate Professor of Anthropology at Colby College and author of Conversionary Sites: Transforming Medical Aid and Global Christianity from Madagascar to Minnesota) and Joshua O. Reno (Professor of Anthropology at Binghamton University and author of Waste Away: Working and Living with a North American Landfill and Military Waste: The Unexpected Consequences of Permanent War) provides a poignant and timely answer to how and why the Midwest has played this role in the American imagination.

In "Imagining the Heartland", anthropologists Halvorson and Reno argue that there is an unexamined affinity between whiteness, Midwestness, and Americanness, anchored in their shared ordinary and homogenized qualities. These seemingly unremarkable qualities of the Midwest take work; they do not happen by default. Instead, creating successful representations of ordinary Midwestness, in both positive and negative senses, has required cultural expression through media ranging from Henry Ford's assembly line to Grant Wood's famous "American Gothic".

Far from being just another region among others, the Midwest is a political and affective logic in racial projects of global white supremacy. Neglecting the Midwest means neglecting the production of white supremacist imaginings at their most banal and at their most influential, their most locally situated and their most globally dispersed.

Critique: Informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of two Appendices (Filmography in Chapter 4 & Bibliography of Media Articles in Chapter 5), twenty pages of Notes, a sixteen page listing of References, and a seven page Index, "Imagining the Heartland: White Supremacy and the American Midwest" is a timely and invaluable contribution to our on-going national discussions concerning racism and discrimination.

An original and informative work of impeccable scholarship, "Imagining the Heartland: White Supremacy and the American Midwest" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library American History, Cultural Anthropology, and African-American History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

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 "Imagining the Heartland: White Supremacy and the American Midwest" is also available in a paperback edition (9780520387614, $29.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $22.49).

The Day the Klan Came to Town
Bill Campell, author
Bizhan Khodabandeh, illustrator
PM Press
PO Box 23912, Oakland, CA 94623
9781629638720, $15.95, PB, 128pp

Synopsis: The year is 1923. The Ku Klux Klan is at the height of its power in the US as membership swells into the millions and they expand beyond their original southern borders. As they grow, so do their targets. As they continue their campaigns of terror against African Americans, their list now includes Catholics and Jews, southern and eastern Europeans, all in the name of "white supremacy". But they are no longer considered a terrorist organization. By adding the messages of moral decency, family values, and temperance, the Klan has slapped on a thin veneer of respectability and has become a "civic organization", attracting ordinary citizens, law enforcement, and politicians to their particular brand of white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant "Americanism".

Pennsylvania enthusiastically joined that wave. That was when the Grand Dragon of Pennsylvania decided to display the Klan's newfound power in a show of force. He chose a small town outside of Pittsburgh named after Andrew Carnegie; a small, unassuming borough full of "Catholics and Jews," the perfect place to teach these immigrants "a lesson". Some thirty thousand members of the Klan gathered from as far as Kentucky for "Karnegie Day." After initiating new members, they armed themselves with torches and guns to descend upon the town to show them exactly what Americanism was all about.

"The Day the Klan Came to Town" is a fictionalized retelling of the riot, focusing on a Sicilian immigrant, Primo Salerno. He is not a leader; he's a man with a troubled past. He was pulled from the sulfur mines of Sicily as a teen to fight in the First World War. Afterward, he became the focus of a local fascist and was forced to emigrate to the United States. He doesn't want to fight but feels that he may have no choice. The entire town needs him (and indeed everybody!) to make a stand.

Critique: Although a work of fiction in the form of a graphic novel, "The Day the Klan Came to Town" is accurately based on a true event making it especially relevant to what the White Supremacy movement today is trying to accomplish, aided and abetted by a great many leaders within today's Republican party. Simply stated, "The Day the Klan Came to Town" is especially and unreservedly recommended for highschool, community, college, and university library Graphic Novel collections and 20th Century American History supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note #1: Bill Campbell is the author of Sunshine Patriots; My Booty Novel; Pop Culture: Politics, Puns, "Poohbutt" from a Liberal Stay-at-Home Dad; Koontown Killing Kaper; and Baaaad Muthaz. Along with Edward Austin Hall, he co-edited the groundbreaking anthology, Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond. He has also co-edited Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany; APB: Artists against Police Brutality (for which he won a Glyph Pioneer/Lifetime Achievement Award); and Future Fiction: New Dimensions of International Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Editorial Note #2: Bizhan Khodabandeh is a visual communicator who moves freely across the professional boundaries as designer, illustrator, artist, and activist. He has received numerous international and national awards for his work, including: a silver medal from the Society of Illustrators, a silver medal from the International Design Awards, a finalist in the Cross-Cultural Design Competition, and best in show through the American Institute of Graphic Arts. He has received numerous international and national awards for his work such as: The American Institute of Graphic Arts, Creativity International, Adbusters, and Creative Quarterly. Khodabandeh has had work featured in publications such as Print, Creativity International, Adbusters, and Comic Bastards among others. Currently Khodabandeh teaches full-time at VCU's Robertson School of Media & Culture.

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

The Best Good Horse
J. Reeder Archuleta
Izzard Ink Publishing
9781642280777, $9.99 ebook/$19.95 Paper

The Best Good Horse and Other Short Stories is a literary collection that will appeal to readers who enjoy vignettes about ordinary peoples' extraordinary moments of their lives.

The settings, characters, and experiences are fluid, but what connects these works is a sense of place, time, and evolution that makes each story a tiny treasure of insight and revelation.

Take "Following the Harvest," for one example. Set in South Texas in the summer of 1964, it tells of Josh, who is finishing his summer harvesting job and anticipates entering his junior year of high school.

He hates South Texas and can't wait to leave, but he's missed the last bus out of town. When he embarks on the long walk to the next town, which holds more options, he's picked up by the local police for being a vagrant.

As he moves through local prejudice and the police system's politics and people, Josh encounters a runaway who again changes his mind about his future and decisions: "He had almost reached the point of no return because he didn't really care about all the other things in his life." As he comes full circle, Josh begins to realize that his naive attitude about life has endangered every future he can imagine.

These are short stories of quiet experience. There are no shocking conclusions, big bangs, or eye-opening surprises. The insight and revelations unfold more quietly and build as each tale blossoms.

"Cut-Nose Woman," for example, also chronicles encounters with the police - but from quite a different perspective, as a woman cultivates an anger that stems as much from cultural injustices as from specific actions. Observing a policeman, she "...hated him because he had taken her man to jail for beating her and cutting her nose. She hated the policeman for wearing the white man's clothes and following the white man's ways. But she mostly hated him because he did not respect the old ways of their people."

The white man's law has locked away her man (even if he was an abuser) and considers his violence to be a crime, although they were more a reflection of their way of life and the unspoken consequences of betrayal. She believes that "...this policeman, a traitor to the old ways, would take this all away and replace it with the white man's law."

From his perspective, policeman Antonio sees that the woman and her husband are not warriors of their people, but a waning reflection of old ways, funneled into drink and violence.

The contrast between old and new traditions, legends and real-life perceptions, and the cadence that moves between violence and redemption permeates many of these short works as J. Reeder Archuleta crafts evocative vignettes.

The result is a gathering of stories about survival, gritty confrontations, and the efforts of ordinary people to stay afloat in a sea of social, cultural, and individual angst.

The Best Good Horse and Other Short Stories is especially recommended for library collections strong in short story examples of individual evolution and experience.

Looking for Caylie
Misty Wolf
Independently Published
9788985057713, $14.00 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Looking for Caylie: An Unabashed Memoir of the Battle, Breakthrough, and Future with a Genetic Variant is a powerful story of health challenge, struggle. It follows a mother's fight to gain proper medical and educational services for her child, who suffered from a mysterious rapid cognitive regression and mental health deterioration that defied diagnosis.

Even when the cause was pinpointed, the battle wasn't over. Many of the issues Misty Wolf faced went above and beyond the usual parent or educator's call to help a child, requiring a series of extraordinary attempts and changing perspectives about the nature and services of health care and educational systems alike.

One notable feature of this story is that Wolf captures the dialogues, insights, and interactions between professionals, friends, and family members. It covers problems, solutions, and exceptions to established treatment approaches and rules: "'I've told the doctor and everybody else, and I'm telling you: it's not mental health. I don't know what it is yet, but it's not mental health. And if you mean talk therapy, she isn't willing to hold a real conversation with anyone for very long.' In the case of talk therapy, Caylie would not benefit from it right now. I did, however, have it on my list to revisit for Caylie over the coming months. I again felt so inadequate. I was Caylie's Mom, and I had to trust that I knew I was doing the right thing even if no one else believed it."

Parents in similar situations with special needs children will especially relate to Wolf's candid accounts of what these interactions did to her psyche: "The formal IEP was one of the most challenging moments of my life. While the teachers and others gave ideas for Caylie's goals and current educational progress, the whole meeting for me was a strain. I wish I could say I was optimistic that Caylie was ever going to meet the very simplistic goals we set, but I wasn't. I selfishly wanted a break from all the demands I felt creeping in around me. There was a growing list of things I needed to follow up on to make progress for Caylie. I knew that life doesn't stop for self-doubt or self-pity, and that I needed to persevere."

From struggles with bureaucratic processes that didn't account for Caylie's special situation to Wolf's growing ability to reclaim her voice and purpose against all odds, Looking for Caylie carries readers through the maze of choices. They reveal the options, and good and bad actions, and reactions faced by a parent who forges ahead through impossible, puzzling health and social challenges.

More so than most books about parents coping with a child's disabling illness, Looking for Caylie holds a special promise. It's the promise not of resolution and health, but that of survival, better days, and creating positive pathways from processes which weren't designed for flexibility or special circumstances.

Looking for Caylie's ability to be heartwarming, enlightening, and proactive will involve not just parents, but educators and health professionals. It's a highly recommended acquisition for libraries catering to these audiences. It will spark discussion groups interested in exploring the legal, social, and moral impacts of a child's illness on the entire U.S. system, from medical to educational and parental support services.

Gabe's Christmas Wish
Katrina Doucet
Independently Published
B09TJMVB4G, $4.72 Kindle/$7.84 print

Gabe's Christmas Wish may sound like a story of holiday celebrations, but young readers and read-aloud parents who choose this picture book will find it's also a study in grief, giving, and holiday sadness that teaches kids about loss and healing.

Natasha Pelley-Smith provides exceptionally brilliantly-colored illustrations that capture the eye, while Katrina Doucet's story of a child's loss of his parents tugs at the heartstrings.

It's Christmas - the first of many that Gabe will experience without his beloved parents.

He now lives in a warm home with his grandparents, but much is different and missing from his life.

When a young reindeer appears outside his window, everything changes yet again.

Doucet provides a warm story replete in love and stunning imagery that compliments the visuals ("The reindeer shook off the angry snowfall that clutched his fur.").

As the story unfolds to reveal a heartfelt wish that seems impossible, read-aloud adults receive many opportunities to interact with young picture book listeners about grief and healing processes.

Fantasy, festivity, and revelations mingle with these elements to provide a powerful representation of the holiday spirit and the process of experiencing a holiday without loved ones.

While Gabe's Christmas Wish takes place during the holidays (which would seem to limit it to the attention of Christmas book readers) its important message and magical, evocative adventure hold attraction year-round. It should be prominent in any children's collection where grief and healing are subjects of interest.

Pilgrim Maya
Bela Breslau & Stephen Billias
Odeon Press
9781733575041, $16.00

The novel Pilgrim Maya is a study in loss, grief, recovery, and journeys through a personal pilgrimage. It will appeal to any reader on the path to redefining life's purpose after tragedy or change.

Protagonist Maya Marinovich has experienced the worst loss a woman can face: the double loss of her husband and baby in a freak car accident that leaves her wounded and wondering about her life without them.

Her journey from Boston to San Francisco in search of answers about how to live the rest of her years leads her into traditional and non-traditional circles alike as she experiments with dips into a cult, a job as an assistant for a co-housing development of artists, and an investigation of Buddhism.

Powered by her need to find answers about life's meaning and the new relationships sparked by unfamiliar territory in which Maya is adrift in many different ways, the story takes many unexpected twists and turns. Maya ultimately makes some discoveries about the accident which once more change and challenge her world.

Readers who enjoy novels of self-discovery, healing, growth, and rebirth will feel especially drawn to Pilgrim Maya's attention to describing these details. Bela Breslau and Stephen Billias are a husband-and-wife writing team whose special brand of psychological self-inspection and cultural description drive a powerful survey.

They specialize in succinct comments throughout as different characters interact, emphasizing the process of growth and discovery even in the giving and receipt of a simple gift between friends: "I'm just unwrapping the book you gave me. Oh, it's a blank. Like me. How lovely. Thank you."

"Yes, it's empty, but you can fill it up. Just like you."

Relationships unfold like origami, presenting different layers of realization as Maya ventures into new circles with a savvy sense of what is possible and what is not, only to experience unexpected events that defy her ability to neatly categorize or predict the future.

The result is a pilgrimage of the heart and mind that leads Maya and her readers on a voyage of discovery - a story that's hard to put down.

Pilgrim Maya is recommended for a broad audience of readers, from those interested in novels of growth and adventure to discussion groups. These will focus on Maya's progressive journeys as touch points for not just recovery from grief or loss, but opportunities for transcendence and new purpose.

Nettles and Roses
Judith Elaine Hankes, Ph.D.
As the Crow Flies Publishing
9798711962908, $12.95 Paper/$8.99 Kindle

Nettles and Roses: A Story of Resilience and Redemption is a memoir of the author's life, her mother's life story, and memories of her life with her mother, who was abused as a child and carried the stigma and secret of her abuse into adulthood.
Guilt and shame ruled her life until she turned thirty-four, when many things changed.

Readers might anticipate a series of self-help insights and lessons from Ruth's story, but to call Nettles and Roses an example of healing alone would be to do it a disservice. It's also a story of perseverance and not giving up, exploring the revelations brought about by a combination of determination and spiritual awakening.

As the story evolves, it tells of a mother who served as a powerful example as an "indefatigable missionary" who carried her resilience into marriage, motherhood, and the process of emptying the nest and sending her children into the world on their own wings of strength.

If there's one lesson to be gained from Nettles and Roses, it's that of how to carry this determination to not just survive, but thrive, into life, passing on these approaches to the next generation.

From family interactions to spiritual developments, the story emphasizes this resilience and the process of achieving grace and peace. It serves as an inspirational guide for readers who have been handed plates of adversity at a young age, overcome much, and still find themselves in better, yet uncertain, circumstances: "I came to realize that Mama and Papa were in love with the idea of being homesteaders, of being survivors. Each was living a fantasy, and in that fantasy, the other was included. They had grown up together, parented each other, and created a home and reared a family. If their marriage ended, much would be lost - they both would be lost."

By providing a multifaceted biography of the many forces at work on individuals, couples, family, and life choices, Hankes creates a powerful story filled with many thought-provoking moments.

Libraries strong in memoirs, spirituality, and family insights will find Nettles and Roses just the ticket for readers interested in how resilience is developed and passed on.

The Lost Colors Book 1: A Caitlin & Rio Adventure
Sally Alexander
Independently Published
9798986070001, $24.99 HC, $9.99 PR, $3.99 Kindle

The Lost Colors is Book 1 in the Caitlin and Rio adventure series for kids ages 8-12, and tells of a trio of friends faced with the challenge of discovering who has stolen color from the world.

Caitlin's Ragdoll cat Rio has also been altered, and now sports mysterious powers that can aid in their problem-solving attempts.

The story opens with Rio the cat's discovery of his new ability to speak the human language. He awakens Caitlin, who always knew her cat was extraordinary, and now has proof. Unfortunately, her cat's newfound ability came from a mysterious silver light that sucked all the color from her world as well as making him a magical talking cat.

As Caitlin and Rio pursue the truth and a remedy to losing the world's color, young readers embark on an adventure packed with intrigue, colorful conundrums, and the efforts of friends who attempt to solve the mystery and return color to their lives.

Clever Rio spearheads the effort with a savvy feline sense of discovery to make the plot even more intriguing.

Sally Alexander does a fine job of capturing the mystery as well as the fun interactions between friends and felines on a mission.

Is Professor Pinch in with the bad guys? Can they solve problems that adults cannot?

Advanced elementary to middle grade libraries seeking engaging, whimsical mystery adventures to attract kids to the written word will find all these elements and more in The Lost Colors, which injects a dose of humor into the mix for added value and fun.

It's highly recommended for its unexpected twists and turns, the dual profile of a Ragdoll cat who becomes even more extraordinary, and the young owner who loves him whether he can talk or not.

Maya's Treasure
Laurie Smollett Kutscera
Peter Pauper Press
9781441337627, $16.99

Maya's Treasure is a lovely picture book written and illustrated by Laurie Smollett Kutscera, who brings to life the warm relationship between a wise grandmother and sisters who gather seashells to make jewelry to sell.

Their grandmother taught them the family tradition of making shell jewelry, but she also taught Maya something special: about finding the value in broken and cast-off shells.

Her grandmother advised Maya that her task was to "find the magic" in these disparate pieces. And so Maya invents something different with the cast-aways that not only honors the memory of her grandmother, but becomes an unexpected salvation to the town.

Kutscera's warm story embraces many themes, from family wisdom and passed-down relationships to finding the magic in ordinary things.

Parents who choose Maya's Treasure for read-aloud will find its important messages about transformative thinking and its full-color pastel illustrations equally compelling, while libraries will find it a rich lesson in wonder.

Bapaji and Me
Sadhna Bhatia
Bapaji Press
9781735652207, $24.95 Paper/$9.99 Kindle

Bapaji and Me: A Memoir of India and Beyond is a memoir of medicine and the Indian community. It documents a grandfather's history and influence and the changes that have affected India's relationships and regions.

Sadhna Bhatia weaves the compelling saga of an exceptionally wise grandfather who instilled in her, at an early age, a love for medicine and the conviction that she could grow up to be anything she wanted.

The juxtaposition of cultural expectations, family interactions, and professional pursuits is satisfyingly presented through explorations of a focus the entire family supported (albeit the dual focus on traditional life worked hand in hand with her pursuit): " family had never even thought of my getting married. We had focused only on my education, and I still had a year of medical school and an internship to go before I graduated. I could recall only one time that Bauji and Chaiji even mentioned marriage, when I had said that I was not interested in marrying a doctor because I thought married life would be boring, talking shop at home. They had expressed surprise at my opinion but said they would respect it. I was only twenty-two years old and was certainly not running out of time by any means."

As her life unfolds, the world's political and social milieu changes, and so do the traditions and values she grew up with. Vintage photos pepper the story to provide readers with family portraits and lovely images that bring to life not just family members, but even the family dog.

Sadhna became a doctor and moved to the United States, where she was both the first female and a foreign resident on staff in a suburban Boston hospital.

This journey from an Indian childhood to a very different life embraces the possibilities of future generations when faced with cultural expectation and change. It documents how the thinking and encouragement of grandparents and family affect the outcomes and potentials of young people, providing a story replete in moments of transformation and choice.

The narrative embraces many themes, from the importance of family support, influence, and interactions to contrasts between Eastern and Western cultures and the changing opportunities presented to women over the decades.

It is especially notable for its rich examination of Indian life and culture, blending all these facets into a memoir highly recommended for women who would understand the milieu of the past and the ramifications of making the most of their lives in modern times.

The sense of gratitude and growth that permeates Bhatia's story will serve as its own inspiration for future generations.

Big Shot
Kirsten Weiss
Misterio Press
9781944767693, $3.99

Cozy mystery fans will find Big Shot an intriguing diversion from the usual genre format in many ways.

For one, its first-person protagonist, Alice, is a bodyguard who is undercover about her investigative abilities when a public disaster exposes her to unwanted publicity and leads her to flee to the small town of Nowhere, where she hopes to regain her anonymity and lick her wounds.

Unfortunately, fate has a way of playing tricks, because Alice's small town refuge proves anything but a way of avoiding fame: "The town had the bright idea of attracting tourists with the world's largest collection of Big Things... Nowhere now has the world's largest pizza cutter. And lawn - amingo. And ball of yarn...And then I stumbled over a dead body."

Kirsten Weiss employs a health dose of humor which serves up a pleasant surprise, dressing the meal of a cozy mystery where everything goes wrong for the would-be investigator: "JUST TO BE CLEAR, it wasn't my fault. It wasn't my responsibility either. But when your client slips you a mickey, there's a principle involved. Though after falling down a flight of hotel stairs, I wasn't entirely sure what that principle was anymore."

This humor permeates the entire tale and creates many unexpected laugh-out-loud moments as Alice navigates her way through treacherous waters, from her own brother's implication in the murder to a related series of events in which the bodies stack high.

From Alice's issues with an unwanted dog and the equally unwelcome questions from her brother Charlie about why she originally left town to intriguing psychological insights about family relationships ("Charlie and I were adults. We should be able to have hard conversations. But that wasn't why I'd brought it up. I'd wanted to punish my brother for making himself a suspect, for putting himself at risk. I'd let fear turn me into a jerk."), Weiss does an outstanding job of both personalizing Alice's present-day perspectives and reviewing the influences that lead to bigger-picture thinking during a small town's dilemma.

The result is a cozy mystery that stands out from the crowd with a spicy sense of humor and a series of encounters that are not just funny or intriguing, but also psychologically compelling.

Readers looking for cozy stories packed with personality will find Big Shot a winner, suitable for library selection and top profile for cozy mystery reading groups alike.

The Duchess of Idaho
Meredith Allard
Copperfield Press
9780578285344, $12.99 Paper/$0.99 Kindle

"Sometimes we hold onto secrets for reasons the keeper doesn't entirely understand, truths we can't yet face or truths that may spark reactions we cannot bear. Some things are simply better left unsaid. At least, that's what Grace Wentworth thought."

The Duchess of Idaho blends many diverse elements. It's a time travel story, a paranormal experience, and a Western adventure, all in one. While this mix might seem disparate, Meredith Allard successfully winds all these elements into a novel that will attract readers beyond the usual singular genre boundaries.

Grace Wentworth has long known there was a family secret. She is part of this secret without fully comprehending its roots. This changes when a time travel encounter sends her into the past to 1850 Independence, Missouri, following a wagon train into the West while navigating her own knowledge of the times and what she knows of her family history.

Readers should be prepared for in-depth atmospheric explorations that set the stage for Grace's story: "Married women always wear aprons since it's correct for a housewife to do so, though here women and girls wear either full or half aprons to protect their clothing. Our hair is braided simply or pulled into a bun. It's more Little House on the Prairie than A Christmas Carol, where you imagine the fine-looking Victorian women in dome-shaped skirts, petticoats, and crinolines in fashionable fabrics, their hair curled and braided to labyrinthian perfection. Just as women and girls wear the same types of clothing, so do men and boys. Men and boys wear overlarge, open-necked cotton shirts that give them room to move, loose trousers of buckskin, wool, or blue-jeans fabric, and most wear suspenders to keep those wide trousers in place. Men's coats are made of wool or blue-jeans fabric as well. As the women's faces are protected from the sun by bonnets, the men wear wide hats of straw or felt, their feet protected by simple leather boots with no distinction between the right and left foot. Women and girls also wear leather boots."

While some might consider such passages of description overly detailed, Meredith Allard is as interested in depicting the times and culture of the 1800s as she is exploring Grace's mystery and struggles with the past.

This creates a full-flavored history steeped in the rugged environment of a harrowing journey, bringing Grace's perceptions to life as she navigates uncertain times and matters of the heart alike.

The intrigue and mystery are nicely developed against this realistic backdrop, bringing readers into an atmosphere that both challenges Grace and enlightens her about the past and its influences.

As history, fantasy, and romance entwine, readers who become captivated by Grace's dilemmas and discoveries will find her story hard to put down, and believable in its premise and progression.

The result is a tale that ultimately brings Grace home to confront her parents and the impact of a secret they'd expected to take to their graves.

The Duchess of Idaho is a thoroughly captivating time travel story of a different ilk. It deserves a place in any library collection strong in romance, history, fantasy, or time travel sagas.

Mickey on the Move Farming
Michelle Wagner
Mascot Books
620 Herndon Parkway, #320, Herndon, VA 20170
9781637552421, $16.95

"Lately, "the early bird catches the worm" seemed to be the phrase that best described Mickey's eagerness when he got up every morning!"

Mickey on the Move Farming presents picture book readers with another adventure experienced by Mickey, a deaf boy whose Aqua Cochlear implants allow him to enter the world of the hearing.

Here, Mickey is enjoying all aspects of caring for chickens, gardening, and helping his father, a Napa Valley grape grower.

Jenny Phelps illustrates Michelle Wagner's story with fun drawings that capture the activities of the farm and Mickey's life.

Wagner adds further details about Mickey as she surveys this world: "There were some obstacles early on in Mickey's life that he had to conquer in order to fully enjoy the great outdoors. Mickey doesn't hear things the same way that many kids do, and he uses cochlear implants, which allow him to listen to things he otherwise might not be able to hear - like quiet music or birds singing."

Kids receive details on cochlear implants in general and the special developments of Aqua Cochlear implants, which give Mickey even more freedom.

A biography explains the roots of Wagner's personal involvement in her own son Mickey: "After discovering that her son Mickey was profoundly deaf in both ears, Michelle made it her mission to provide Mickey with the tools to ensure that he would live his best life."

Adults will ideally choose Mickey on the Move Farming as an information-packed survey that juxtaposes information on hearing loss and implants with the emphasis that Mickey is leading his "best life" in a positive, embracing manner.

The story provides another lively adventure, and includes the basics that kids need to know in order to understand the special lives, challenges, and opportunities of a hearing-impaired child.

Mickey on the Move Farming should be part of any collection strong in positivity and overcoming adversity with a blend of technology and attitude.

Woodlands and Wormholes
Loralee Evans
Independently Published
9781792390142, $14.95 Hardcover/$12.95 Paper/$0.99 Kindle

Woodlands and Wormholes is the fifth book in the Raccoons and Rabbit Holes series for advanced elementary to middle grade readers, and presents another Jax and Julie time-travel adventure.

With four prior experiences under their belts, you would think they'd be seasoned travelers, by now. But this latest encounter stymies even their experience and gives readers a delightful twist on the time-travel theme as the dynamic duo encounter scheming raccoon plots and a dilemma requiring them to, once again, come to the rescue.

Loralee Evans provides a delightful story that is filled with action and the unexpected as the friends navigate unfamiliar territory with the help of grown-up versions of Will Taylor, Amy Yellow Horse, and a host of others who become involved in the fray.

From an encounter with Harriet Tubman before she became famous to nearly-forgotten adventures of the past and windows into other worlds, Evans populates her story with a powerful sense of the unexpected as a series of escapades entwine the lives of four friends who operate on different levels of ability and insight.

When they confront parents who face the unexpected return of Doctor Abigail Benson (who disappeared in the early 40s without a trace) without question, they know something has gone terribly wrong.

Evans builds the characters in a manner that will appeal both to newcomers and prior series fans. She incorporates just enough background to attract the former without filling introductory pages with too much familiar information for readers of the prior books.

As in its predecessors, the adventure is fine-tuned with just enough intrigue, drama, and dashes of humor to keep kids reading and involved. Evans is particularly well versed in incorporating unpredictability and satisfying twists and turns throughout the adventure. These keep the characters and their readers guessing about the outcome of these encounters and experiences.

The result is a time travel story that blends history, psychological insights, and interpersonal interactions on a level designed to capture and hold reader attention to the end.

Woodlands and Wormholes should be a part of any elementary-level collection where time-travel stories are of young patron interest, whether or not it is accompanied by the past books in the series.

Inspired, Not Retired
Dr. Burl Randolph, Jr., DM
Mywingman LLC
9781087904665, $21.00 Paper/$5.99 Kindle

Inspired, Not Retired: Leadership Lessons from Father to Son is a powerful memoir highly recommended for military personnel and their families. It follows the life and story of Dr. Burl Randolph, Jr., who had anything but retirement on his bucket list when he faced it after thirty years in service, realizing he was unlikely to be promoted any further.

It charts the important leadership and life lessons handed down from father to son. While this may sound similar to other memoirs about father/son relationships, Dr. Randolph Jr.'s story assumes a special importance because this kind of positivity and strength is typically not portrayed in African American family circles: "Documenting the lessons of men like my father is so important because of the assault on the fatherhood record of African American males. Rarely is a success story told about the relationship between African American males and their children, specifically with their sons. The world needs positive stories about familial relationships, hope, and the promise created by great parenting, regardless of race or ethnicity."

The life lessons his father provided during his own stint with retirement translated to important, life-changing realizations for the author as he navigated his military career and formed and achieved his own dreams, inevitably arriving at the same pivot point of challenge that retirement posed to his own father.

Inspired, Not Retired is a memoir packed with lessons on leadership. It charts the experiences, opportunities, successes, and failures Dr. Randolph absorbed on his own trajectory, inspired by his relationship with and observations of his father.

Rarely are the links between life experience, family relationships, and leadership values so strongly drawn as in this memoir: "Although I did not fully understand what he meant at the time, I understood one thing: He was going to fight back the cancer to live. It did not matter what we said, how we felt, or what we thought, he would follow the doctor's recommendation for radiation treatments. We were glad that he overruled our recommendation because the treatments were successful and without any significant side effects. This taught me that sometimes you must fight back, regardless of the circumstances, your feelings, your fears, or the feelings of others. I also learned that there is a method to successfully fighting back."

Inspired, Not Retired stands out from the crowd and, more so than most memoirs, has the potential to draw attention from seemingly disparate groups, from African American readers and families to military service people and business audiences interested in absorbing foundation lessons of leadership.

Ideally, Inspired, Not Retired will be part of any library collection strong in these areas, and will be profiled as an example of strength in discussion groups ranging from African American sons and fathers to military leaders facing their own retirement from service, and what life leads to afterwards.

The Reference Point
Johnny Bock
Lunchbreak Press
9798742220152, $15.00

The Reference Point: A Journey to the Origin of Belief is a 1960s memoir that begins in an unusual place: with an attempted murder. Ironically, "his attempt at murder would save his own life."

Thus opens the story of young Johnny Bock's rollicking rail ride through Alaska and life. The vivid memoir of inspection reads with the action and metaphors of fiction, but holds its roots entirely in the author's experiences and vivid encounters with man and nature alike.

Bock writes with a descriptive hand that pulls readers into each encounter and scenario: "He didn't look like your average road-rummy or common packsack man. He was straight-standing, big, and dressed more for style than comfort. His pants were pressed, and the color matched his waist-length jacket and button-down cap. All in all you'd think he'd be in an airport waiting for a plane instead of thumbing a ride along the Alaska Highway."

From tramps and navigation choices for traversing Alaska's wilds to cabin-building and encounters with characters who "have a huge capacity for wind, but not much for alcohol," this story represents a vivid romp through Alaskan culture and bygone worlds and times that come to life during the author's journey.

As Bock's series of encounters move from physical journeys to psychological and spiritual movements changed by those he encounters and situations he navigates, readers come to realize that this memoir offers more than an action-packed series of life adventures. Within this overlay of action lies an enlightenment that features its own special brand of attraction.

Readers looking for memoirs that are vividly portrayed, fun, and thought-provoking all in one will find these elements abound in The Reference Point.

Its inspections entertain, as well as delighting and piquing the mind and heart with life experiences that are adventures in spiritual growth and personal transformation as well as reviewing the survival skills that kick in to spice this life.

The Washington Prophecy
Robert Rapoza
Independently Published
9781732391284, $4.99

The Washington Prophecy is recommended for thriller readers who enjoy history and political tension. This audience won't expect a professional archaeologist to become involved in a political murder mystery, but when Nick Randall is called upon to help, it's evident that a docent's murder has far more to do with the past, which reaches out to dictate present-day events.

This connection is emphasized in a prologue that opens in 1777 Pennsylvania, where a a troubled General Washington has an encounter with spirits which causes him to predict an American victory. This sets the stage for the intrigue introduced in Chapter One, set in present-day Virginia, where gunmen are accosting a docent who pleads for his life, to no avail.

A missing book causes two deaths. In Chapter Three, Professor Nick Randall is tapped to become involved, pulled from his review of a student's thesis paper by a general who taps him for help.

Nick has little interest in embarking on another life-threatening adventure, but duty calls when a break-in and murder at Mt. Vernon proves to be entwined with the history of George Washington and an artifact written by Washington which contains prophecies about the future.

Intrigued on an intellectual and scholarly level, Nick becomes involved over his head as the search for a missing book turns into a search for the truth about prophecies and their power.

From forensic investigations of DNA and the meaning of symbols that move between book and device to the legacy of the relationship between George Washington and the elder Ben Franklin, issues of loyalties past and present emerge, along with a touch of possible romance which adds depth to the high-octane adventure.

As shock waves of revelation are matched by political and physical fireballs, Nick comes to realize that much more is at stake than who gets their hands on an ancient relic.

Robert Rapoza creates a delicate balance between mystery, political history, and present-day conundrums. His attention to exploring social issues, special interests, and psychological detail creates a compelling atmosphere of tension that evolves on different levels as Nick employs his expertise to reveal the truth.

While the novel is directed to thriller readers, who will find every escapade engrossing and replete with many unexpected twists and turns, historical mystery enthusiasts will also find plenty to attract them in a story which holds delightful revelations that most won't see coming.

That's why The Washington Prophecy is initially recommended for thriller audiences and libraries catering to them, but goes the extra mile in adding the historical depth and detail that make it accessible and exciting to historical mystery fans, as well.

Sledge: Rise of the Humanoid
R.D. Crist
ShoRic Publishing
9780999882245, $13.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Sledge: Rise of the Humanoid combines an attention to business detail with the tension of a thriller as it traverses the collision of different worlds during a weekend getaway that turns into disaster for all involved.

The weekend promises new opportunities for revitalized relationships and a business restructuring that could help the company group members survive on different levels ... or destroy it.

As the special interests, personalities, and talents of Gene, Sandy, and others evolve, readers come to realize that the story is more complex than that of a business retreat and restructuring effort alone.

It evolves into a fight that entangles everyone, with different stakes resting on the outcome of decisions which will affect not only their lives and business, but the world.

R.D. Crist does an outstanding job of building these disparate, yet interconnected personalities and the milieu in which they struggle. They become trapped, people are dying, and answers are elusive.

Within the story of Sledge are moral and ethical considerations of justice, brutality, and a drive for revenge that is some ten years in the making.

The emergence of Sledge and his sledgehammer form of vigilante justice adds intrigue and tension to a story already spiced with personality clashes and special interest issues.
Crist's tale incorporates violence and dangerous encounters, but it also explores the strengths of individuals who cultivate, the hard way, the traits of a survivor.

These inspections of struggle and perception contribute to the novel's many unexpected developments as disparate characters are forced to reconsider their actions, choices, and impact on the world.

Readers will find Sledge: Rise of the Humanoid a powerful saga of survival and change, and will appreciate Crist's ability to juxtapose the lives and purposes of a range of characters as Sledge changes them all.

Libraries strong in thrillers with a message will find Sledge: Rise of the Humanoid just the ticket with its thoroughly engrossing, thought-provoking read.

Up the Creek
Lynda McDaniel
Lynda McDaniel Books
9781734637175, $2.99 ebook/$8.99 paperback

Up the Creek provides another Appalachian mountain mystery addition (the sixth in the series) with a novella that opens in 2009 in Laurel Falls, North Carolina.

Abit Bradshaw has just spent a sweaty morning cutting down alder trees when he discovers a body in a creek - a complete stranger - who is not dead yet, although he is at death's door.

Abit is used to rough people and uncertain responses to his efforts: "I hated thinking thataway, but out here in the mountains, away from even the small town of Laurel Falls, I had to consider all the possibilities. And yet didn't that include good things happening too? I wondered what in my makeup kept me from seeing him getting well and offering me a million dollars instead of slitting my throat. Of course, I knew why. Good things like that didn't happen."

But his religion is kindness, and he is dedicated to this watchword even if his isolated life on the farm doesn't allow many opportunities to practice it.

As the stranger recovers but has amnesia, clouding his past and what he introduces to Abit's isolated family, different facets of mystery emerge, nicely steeped in the culture, traditions, and influences of the Appalachias.

Friend Della Kincaid, who is an intrinsic part of other books in the series, juxtaposes her life with Abit's and continues her "reporterly ways" of "wheedling information outta people." This adds more developments and inspections to the story as the community's disparate members come to life in different ways.

As the stranger works his way out of his post-traumatic amnesia, truths are revealed that challenge and change lives in Laurel Falls. Lynda McDaniel continues to evolve the characters that become caught up in affairs beyond their roots and experiences. The special blend of mystery with evolving interpersonal relationships and growth that affects not just individuals but the makeup of the community creates a realistic backdrop cemented by the local dialect and concerns of a disparate group of neighbors.

What runs deeper than the kindness that determines Abit's choices and actions? Possibly friendship, which is "kindness dressed in diamonds."

The lyrical portraits of ordinary people who become caught up in dilemmas beyond their experience and ability to navigate makes for a gripping mystery that operates on different levels to bring a community to life.

That's the hallmark of this series in general, but is especially evident in Up the Creek, which is satisfyingly evocative and compelling.

Libraries looking for mysteries that, more than most, reflect a solid sense of place and culture will relish this latest book, which may be used as a stand-alone read but is best absorbed in conjunction with the other mysteries as a fine example of community-building at its best.

Night-night, Body
Ted Scheu
Beaver's Pond Press
939 Seventh Street West, St. Paul, MN 55102
9781643437484, $19.95

Night-night, Body represents a picture book synthesis of rich watercolor illustrations by Pete Gergely and a rollicking rhyme by Ted Scheu that brings to life a journey through body parts. All of them must fall asleep to contribute to the total effort.

As each body part is addressed, young sleepyheads receive a gentle rhyme that encourages them to relax their own body parts to achieve the goal of sleep: "Night-night, muscles/in my shoulders/round and proud as mountain boulders."

Parents looking for a bedtime read that combines lovely drawings with admonitions that can be used to help kids both learn anatomy and pay attention to their process of relaxation will find Night-night, Body the perfect item of choice for encouraging snoozing.

A sense of whimsical inspection accompanies many of these admonitions: "Night-night, mouth./Please close your doors./And tell your tongue, no growls or roars."

The result does more than invite kids to sleep. It educates them about relaxation skills in a manner parents will find delightfully interactive, and is highly recommended as a read-aloud for youngsters who resist the idea of bedtime.

A Reconstructed Life
A.M. Overett
Lighthouse Publishing
9781643733296, $12.95

In A Reconstructed Life, Confederate soldier Lawrence Ambrose is back from a stint in Hell that leads him to question all kinds of things, from life's purpose to his decisions, objectives, and perspectives. He's been thoroughly defeated both as a member of an army trying to preserve slavery in the South and as an individual stripped of his humanity, forced to perform inhumane acts of horror for the sake of fighting.

It seems like his journey is at an end; but in reality, it's only beginning. Not only does he have to navigate a new South, but Lawrence must re-examine his heart and soul in the process.

This leads him to the church as a wellspring of kindness and reconnection, a process in which his father, the Reverend Ambrose, guides him with a new vision of spiritual and emotional growth.

The division still affecting everything is evident even in everyday speech and references: "Welcome home my boy. I want to thank you for your service to your country." Lawrence began to think of which country he was referring to. The North, the South, the Union, the Confederacy?

"We hope things will get back to normal soon, especially for our boys who fought so hard. But now we need to think about the future. Let's forget about the past and move forward, eh?"

His decision to become a preacher like his father leads him into discussion circles that review slavery, love, and relationships against the light of Biblical teachings.

Readers might anticipate another story of Southern reconstruction and rejuvenation, but the spiritual component and Christian message embedded in this post-Civil War reenactment is the guiding light and strength to a story that emphasizes how spiritual concerns become embedded in social transformation.

A.M. Overett focuses on a life challenged, changed, and slowly rebuilt on new interpretations of familiar principles in the face of political and social change. His emphasis draws important connections between spiritual and social awakening, presenting the shifting milieu of the South after the Civil War under a different spiritual spotlight. This approach captures a different feel to the times and the struggles of postwar survivors to adapt to a new world not just outside their circles, but in their hearts.

The connections between spiritual, emotional, and community growth are wonderfully done as Lawrence faces a new day in a new world. His struggles and goals are mirrored in the South's rapidly changing values and society as a whole, as well.

While collections strong in Civil War fiction will be the logical audience for A Reconstructed Life, its message and lessons on the process of change are even more important for Christian and spiritual readers. This audience will want to make this story a key highlight in discussion groups about how revelations and transformations actually take place, especially under conditions of adversity, estrangement, and inhumanity.

It's a discussion that modern-day readers need more than ever as atrocities throughout the world are revealed, and faith tested and renewed in new ways.

Amygdala Blue
Paul Lomax
Atmosphere Press
9781639883318, $16.99

Amygdala Blue surveys religion, racism, and relationships in a three-part discussion that takes place under these three subject headers, inviting nonfiction readers to partake of a series of autobiographical and social inspections that weave together personal, political, and philosophical ideas.

While this might sound like a mixed bag of subjects and approaches, Paul Lomax cultivates a lovely poetic, intellectual tone to his discussions which draws readers on different levels: "Into the congregation of a stolid self, I quietly retreated. Into the crest of an unusual moment, I was taken with tears for my tithes, confusion my only offering. I wasn't quite sure what any of this was, how it had ever happened, what any of it actually meant. For the veil had lifted and behind her fractured window, I had discovered how my mother really felt about herself. To see her miserably broken from within made me want to question God. But I couldn't do such a thing as that. Did He know me? Surely He knew of mother's needs, surely He saw her cries? All of this ran over my mind like roadkill."

Amygdala Blue is one of those books that defy pat categorization. While marketing planners and library shelvers might find this a challenge, it is also the strength of discussions which take seemingly disparate subjects and link them together with an overlay of emotional connection that makes for compelling reading.

Remaining true to the mercurial nature of his discussion, which mirrors life events like an internet of interconnectivity, Paul Lomax is as free with his forms as he is with his discussions. Poetry and prose are chosen to represent these insights depending on the nature of his inspiration, as in "Tickets, Please," a free verse inspection whose three-column form may be read either up and down or sideways for equally impressive results: "Perilous foreskin/ is a trellis of self/to guide the circumcision/of pulls and tugs/through/ birthing pitch/unforgiving grind..."

Readers can also expect a good degree of controversy in the relationships and connections Lomax forges and analyzes: "I wondered how it was that so many men could be so successful in their careers, yet at home with the little woman, via the power of the vagina, the reigns to his kingdom dramatically, ironically shifts hands. Could this very notion exist as a sub-punishment to our eviction from the Garden of Eden, not to mention the loss of our rib? Was this a part of God's plan, penance for succumbing to the temptation of a delicious bite, uxoriously, for a heinous crime - the disobedience of His most cherished command - to forever thirst after and be completely blinded by a skirt, lips that speak a dangerously sweet elixir?"

These discussions are delightful, thought-provoking, controversial, and poetic.

Perhaps "Serenity" captures and concludes it all: "Who doesn't long for high places?"

Literary and intellectual readers looking for a piece that defies quick reading and pat answers, but is replete in social, emotional, and philosophical inspections alike, will relish the multifaceted tone and approach Paul Lomax cultivates in Amygdala Blue. It's highly recommended for libraries catering to these audiences and, ideally, will be fodder for discussion groups in religious thinking, social inspection, or any combination of literary or philosophical analysis.

Giant of the Valley
Harry Groome
The Connelly Press
9781734130904, $16.00

Giant of the Valley contains two interconnected novellas, Giant of the Valley and The Witness, and opens with a prologue that harkens back to a particular day in 1993, when everything changes.

"Big Louis" McCutchen lost the love of his life one beautiful snowy night. It's an event that leads him to eschew his upward trajectory as the CEO of a big company and bring his daughters to a remote retreat in the Adirondacks.

Years pass, and his now-adult daughters worry about the isolated life he's made for himself, distant from community connections and relationships.

"It's simply a fact of life that as we age, we change and must accept it and learn how to deal with it." But, Big Louis has never been good at learning to deal with life. Instead, he's run away from it. Now that he's living by himself at age seventy-eight, his daughters worry that his strength is degenerating into confusion and isolation in a dangerous way.

Harry Groome takes the time to craft the personalities, motivations, and experiences of a family changed by a tragedy. He begins with Big Louis, but expands the family relationships, connections, and trials beyond a singular event, moving into the community with a changing series of challenges that include cancer, memory loss, mental and physical health changes, and discussions about revised connections and purposes that affect all the characters.

As a host of characters swirl around Big Louis and come to realize how they fail, succeed, and are part of the Adirondack community, readers journey through an environment replete with questions, fears, and changing relationships.

The Witness opens with the 1992 war in Bosnia, and a pivotal day in the life of Jusuf Kurtovic, whose decision to buy bread one morning changes everything.

Like Big Louis, Jusuf becomes caught in a whirlwind of change that questions his beliefs, survival tactics, and relationships.

Under the onslaught of war, is Bosnia even his country any longer? He doesn't find its current milieu and landmarks familiar, and his family may be better off without them.

Also like Big Louis, Jusuf stands at an intersection between family relationships and wellbeing. He asks the kinds of questions that reconsider and redefine life purpose: "What a waste. What another senseless waste. How does a young man like you make sense of all this?"

As he makes the difficult choice to send his girls to America, far from conflict, Jusuf begins to realize that he may pay for his stubbornness and outlook on life in different ways.

Both The Witness and Giant of the Valley feature men who are forced to re-consider their lives and choices in the face of adversity.

War and peace affect Jusuf's life as heavily as social change and health challenges Big Louis's world. Both face challenges in evolving friendships and family interactions that lead them on different paths than they'd envisioned for the futures.

Groome's ability to create and develop two seemingly disparate lives and backgrounds, linking them under one cover for reads that are thought-provokingly reflective of self, community, and family, makes for a fine study in contrasts. Giant of the Valley is highly recommended for literature libraries catering to readers interested in contemporary life-changing scenarios and characters who are in the position of making unprecedented choices about their roles and futures.

Giant of the Valley also deserves book club attention as a discussion point about changing lives and evolutionary courses that don't quite go as planned.

John Alvah Barnes, Jr. & Naomi Lynn Barnes
Alvah Arts
9781735094786, $16.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Esbenshade is a modern thriller that revolves around paramedic Jay, who faces a difficult truth when a patient in his twenties dies of a brain tumor. It is then that he learns this relatively rare incidence is only one in a community pummeled with unusual medical challenges.

The emotional surge and investigation that follows draws Jay from his medical specialty into a world of subterfuge and secrets as he probes the cause of this onslaught of rare health challenges while maintaining his role as husband, father, and community member.

As he becomes entangled in a deadly plot that holds personal ramifications, Jay finds his career and life threatened by a truth nobody wants to tackle, much less admit.

The Barnes do a fine job of exploring the relationship between Jay, his female partner, and the stress that he experiences from his newfound position as a quasi-investigator: "I'm sorry, Sam. I've been feeling a little stressed out lately."

"I'm not surprised. Things haven't exactly been sedate."

"I don't ever remember feeling so uptight. So bottled up and unsure of what's going on in my life."

"You could talk to somebody, you know?" she said gingerly.

"I'm talking to somebody now."

"I mean a professional."

"You mean a head-shrinker."

"Oh, come on, Jay, you know better than that. The dumbest thing you can do is not get help when you need it."

Such dialogue brings his conundrums, skills, and new challenges and realizations to life as Jay struggles with roles he's unfamiliar with and doesn't feel certain about assuming.

From mystery informants and deals to juxtaposing a typical paramedic's ambulance duty with issues of community safety and politics, Esbenshade creates an atmosphere in which its characters are provoked to rise to unusual occasions and conclusions as a medical mystery turns into a social threat.

As the odds of resolution and survival narrow, Jay experiences personal and professional growth that readers will find particularly intriguing and inviting as the countdown towards a real disaster begins.

The characters are personable, realistic, and memorable, as are the situations that compel them to act and react beyond their training.

Readers who choose Esbenshade for its thriller components will find the action well cemented in realistic scenarios that contain elements of surprise, while those who look for medical thrillers well grounded in interpersonal and community relationships will find Esbenshade equally absorbing.

Libraries strong in medical thriller stories will find Esbenshade a fine addition.

Sleepwalking to Armageddon
Helen Caldicott, Editor
The New Press
120 Wall Street, Floor 31, New York, NY 10005
9781620972465, $25.95 Hardcover/$17.95 Paper/$15.33 Kindle

Sleepwalking to Armageddon: The Threat of Nuclear Annihilation comes from a Nobel Peace Prize-winning doctor whose warning about the ongoing threat of nuclear annihilation couldn't come at a better time.

Dr. Caldicott has long been sounding the antinuclear alarm, but revisits various arguments now, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine raises new possibilities of nuclear responses and engagements.

A host of contributors provide articles on the subject, from linguistics professor Noam Chomsky to Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, and scholar Lynn Eden, a member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists's science and security board.

The impressive credentials of the contributors to this essay collection are equaled only by the strength and diversity of their arguments as they assail the notion that nuclear deployments can be logical, survivable choices for humanity.

From insights on escalation and watch groups monitoring political and military moves to what would happen if megaton warheads detonated over densely populated cities, the sum result of these writings is to transmit not just caution, but well-researched dread paired with contemporary facts about weaponry and strategy.

Written by some of the world's most authoritative scientists, scholars, and policy-makers, the works in Sleepwalking to Armageddon provide outstanding cautionary notes based not on politics or theory, but real statistics and research.

Libraries need this book in their collections, while discussion groups about nuclear war and the notion of survivability should turn to its eye-opening and specific commentary to fuel debates, discussions, and knowledge of the special risks of nuclear options in modern times.

The End Of The War
Jeff Hartman
Independently Published
9798799834524, $16.95 Paper/$5.99 Kindle

The End Of The War is a family-centered look at the lasting impact of America's involvement in Vietnam that reexamines a domestic conflict that caused lasting estrangement between Jason Hamilton's two older brothers.

It's a conflict Jason never fully understood, but its impact has been evident in a rift that never healed.

Long after the war (and the '60s) is over, a funeral offers grounds for reunion ... if the family can overcome the past to confront difficult truths.

As Jason's life in the Chicago suburbs is revealed, readers receive a vivid story that captures not just the past milieu of the '60s in America, but also its influence on modern lives, choices, and perspectives.

Jeff Hartman's story captures the illusions and realities of the times in a look back that adds analytical perspective from the wisdom of hindsight, tempered by a brother's consideration of what proves to be important about values and decisions of the past: "How many young men, despite everything they knew and all the evidence to the contrary, entered war with a similar delusion? That there was a good way to die. That it only happened to someone else. That there was some sort of divine logic at work. What kind of twisted hormonal logic convinced young men to go to war in the first place? Remind me again: Why did we fight in Vietnam?"

So many unanswered questions, cemented by changing social issues, public policies, and family interactions, permeate the story that one might think these diverse subjects too wide-ranging for a single account. However, Hartman's ability to take a generation's ideals and decisions and present them in light of a modern-day reconsideration and analysis creates a vivid sense of the times and a memorable portrait of a family torn asunder by political and social tides of change.

As extraordinary photos and revelations affect a present-day momentous decision, the vibrant story discusses not just the end of the war, but the beginning of new possibilities.

Rich in fiery confrontations and sad alienations of heart and mind, The End Of The War is ultimately about the end of family disengagements and the beginning of new connections. The key processes involved in this reconciliation create a story that will hold value not only for fiction readers interested in stories of the '60s, but also for those pursuing insights into family relationships, who want a better understanding not only of how they come apart, but how they might eventually come back together.

Libraries strong in fiction about the '60s in general, as well as family conflicts and survival, will find The End Of The War an important story of confronting hard truths, forgiveness, and moving forward.

Dawn Light
Phil Bowie
Proud Eagle
9798886808421, $4.95 Kindle/$14.95 print

Readers of seafaring nautical adventures replete with vivid action and crime story intrigue will find that Dawn Light holds an unexpected ability to weave land and sea together in a satisfyingly gripping manner that incorporates both.

This intersection of environments holds many opportunities for changing action and scenarios, giving readers numerous boat-oriented backdrops and insights as the politics and confrontations of the criminal investigation heats up.

Phil Bowie is adept at contrasting not just these scenarios, but the changing motivations, influences, and encounters of Irish Special Forces vet-turned-boat-captain Denton Stedman. He takes on the dual charge of a newly deceased vet friend's rebellious teen son and a new nautical transport job, only to find that the Dawn Light holds unexpected cargo and emotional baggage alike.

Readers won't expect the Senegalese druids, business competition, or changing scenarios from the Bahamas to Massachusetts which are part of this story, but the wide-ranging settings and host of characters who interact on different levels are just one example of the satisfyingly multifaceted approach of a story that eschews an ordinary linear progression.

As complex lives, relationships, and motivations evolve in a myriad circle of characters, readers will especially appreciate Bowie's attention to identifying these changing perspectives, building strong connections that keep readers from becoming lost in these constantly-changing backdrops.

The result is a vivid adventure that holds many satisfying twists and turns. Dawn Light is not recommended for readers who look for straightforward yarns with a predictable progression, but is exemplary reading for those who appreciate changing environments, characters, relationships, and cross-purposes.

The well-rounded, well-written nautical yarn of a different, contemporary ilk than the usual seafaring adventure is especially strong in the modern juxtaposition of intrigue and adventure in Dawn Light. It's a satisfyingly complex and riveting story that tempers its fast-paced action with thought-provoking emotional and human conundrums that keep readers enthralled to the end, and is highly recommended reading for libraries looking for an action story a cut above the ordinary.

The Glovemaker's War
Katherine Williams
Atmosphere Press
9781639883523, $15.00

The Glovemaker's War is a World War II story that opens in 1943, when bilingual Eve Harrison is tapped to work with the French Resistance as a secret courier, disguised as a Parisian glovemaker embedded in her uncle's glovemaking factory.

Charged with uncovering and delivering key information about the other side, Eve takes daring risks that ultimately result in her partner's death and the discovery of the Resistance's operations by the enemy.

Further complicating political matters of intrigue is the romance which has unexpectedly involved her with Luc, whom she apparently has also killed as her efforts go awry.

Pregnant, heartbroken, and alone, she returns to England a broken woman trying to pick up the pieces of a life replete with the guilt and loss she will carry forever.

Now in her nineties, the past reaches out to touch the present as her granddaughter takes up the reins of her grandmother's tragedy and tries to find resolution and answers in events of the past.

Eve's story comes to life as she interacts with ordinary people whose lives have been irreparably changed by World War II, and who recognize in her efforts the courage and extraordinary conditions that required young women to step up: "My husband is right. What you are doing is far too dangerous for young girls. May God be with you."

From armed confrontations to a world-changing devastation that takes everyone she loves from her arms, Eve's participation in the Resistance and the collapse of everything around her assumes a vividly personal atmosphere that historical fiction readers will find engrossing.

Katherine Williams is adept at bringing the milieu of the war and the efforts of young women to life.

The story moves between Eve and Georgina's perspectives with clearly titled chapters that leave no occasion to wonder about the different generations whose lives are contrasted as each finds ways to reconcile past tragedy with present-day events.

Williams takes the time to explore the changed family relationships that stem from these experiences as future generations grow up under the shadow of war: "I came here thinking that perhaps you wanted to make amends before you die. All I'm hearing are ridiculous excuses. Whatever you 'did' during the war doesn't make any difference to me now. I'm so happy I left this place. I just have to walk in through that front door to feel like I'm back in the nightmare."

The result is a vivid saga that is highly recommended for historical fiction libraries. Those that look for works solidly centered in different generations of women who did more than sit at home waiting for husbands to return, but were active participants in their world, will be particularly interested in the tale. That's because The Glovemaker's War is not just a story of World War II. It's a survey of how, generations later, the effort to make amends (or excuses) lives on.

Blue Zeus: Legend of the Red Desert
Carol J. Walker
Living Images by Carol Walker, LLC
9780578350943, $49.95

Blue Zeus: Legend of the Red Desert is not just the story of one wild horse, but examines the lives, plight, and natural history of America's wild horse population as a whole.

It's unusual to find a story of horses, replete with color photos throughout that bring horses and environment to life, directed to an adult audience. It's even rarer to find autobiography and political inspection woven into the natural history.

That Carol J. Walker achieves these seemingly disparate goals, educating all ages about the history and plight of the wild horse population she became intimately familiar with and involved in, is testimony to the strength of a story that is far more than "just another horse book," but a valuable addition to environmental issues and natural history collections: "Blue Zeus is an extraordinary horse and he deserved to have been left wild and free to live out his life with his family in the Red Desert of Wyoming. But all our wild horses deserve the same. They deserve our care and respect. They deserve to be managed in their homes with the least invasive and most researched methods available. We must speak out for them and create change to protect them. They are valuable in and of themselves and should not be a pawn for powerful political interests. Their wildness is a huge contribution to the soul of our nation and to those they touch with their wild spirits, their beauty and their freedom."

Walker's journey began in 2004, when she became increasingly enamored of the colorful wild horses that populated the back roads and country of Wyoming.

Her explorations of this region, its wild horses, and the policies and perceptions that drive their management even in the wilderness provide sharp insights into their lives and key roles in the back country.

It's uncommon to find a photo-driven story that is equally powerful in its visual image and prose, but Blue Zeus accomplishes both as Walker captures the milieu of the wild horse population and the allure and power of one particular resident, Blue Zeus, in particular.

As she follows these horses and documents their daily lives and habits, readers will enjoy a "you are here" feel as she explains what her camera captures: "In September, I saw the whole family walk across the road in front of me, then stop in a small depression out of the wind. Blue Zeus walked a little bit away from his family, turned so he could watch them, and tried to nap in peace. First, little Fire got too close and Blue Zeus chased him away with ears pinned. Then Nike came over and he pinned his ears at her, but she was undeterred. Slowly the whole family came over, getting as close to him as possible and I could almost hear him sighing. I was laughing hard. Grumpy Zeus was adorable!"

This is especially attractive because, again, most horse books are directed to teen audiences alone. By adulthood, it is presumed that the majority of initially interested readers have moved on from the subject. But, many haven't. And even those who don't harbor a horse-centric interest, but enjoy natural history, will find the saga compelling.

Blue Zeus: Legend of the Red Desert recaptures this attraction, adding in environmental issues surrounding the daily lives and milieu of the wild horse for a special (and top) recommendation for all ages. It's worthy of library display for its gorgeous, candid wild horse images and its opportunities for discussing the value of preserving wilderness environments and wild ways.

Carol Walker is dedicated to educating people with her stunning photographs and stories, and to stopping wild horse roundups and removals from America's public lands, keeping them wild and free. She more than supports her cause in a book that is as free-ranging and visually engrossing as the wild horses she loves.

The Scarlet Oak: Murder, Spies, and Spirits
Jerry Aylward
Wild Lion Publishing
9798985905205, $14.99 print/ $5.99 ebook

The Scarlet Oak: Murder, Spies, and Spirits is a historical mystery set during the Revolutionary War. It holds the feel of a hard-boiled detective story paired with the backdrop of Colonial America.

The story opens in modern times, however, as detective Finn faces a deadly and puzzling car accident involving teens. Who might have wanted these kids to die? There are no obvious clues in the present, but he does dig up a series of related events which hold their roots in early American history. Nobody else believes the wreck to be anything more than an accident.

Finn embarks on his own unofficial query, mixing in facts about a deadly murderer on a rampage in the past with present-day events until he literally finds himself in 1780, confronting the British, the truth, and the possible love of his life, Sally Townsend. She is facing her own murder inquiry in her times, and solving this problem of the past could result in resolution in Finn's well as loss.

It's rare to see a time travel story blended into a murder mystery replete with historical details and social and political observations past and present. Jerry Aylward achieves this synthesis of subjects with an engrossing and realistic portrait that will appeal to readers on different levels.

His ability to create the foundation of the tale in present-day events, then link them to past circumstances, enables them to take on unexpected life in a way usually not seen in the traditional detective/murder investigation scenario. This approach makes for a story filled with surprises.

"This will build your character. It will give you strength. It will make you mentally strong. You'll need this, I promise you, because you are the Final One."

As Finn also probes his motivations, influences, psyche, and destiny, readers receive a mystery, historical probe, love story, and social inspection, all in one. These themes are seamlessly woven into a tale of intrigue that traverses past and present events to capture matters of the heart and soul.

Mystery libraries looking for something edgy and different in the genre which holds the uncommon ability to attract readers outside traditional detective whodunit circles will find The Scarlet Oak: Murder, Spies, and Spirits a worthy addition, highly recommended for mystery, history, and romance readers alike.

On Lonesome Roads
Dan Flanigan
Arjuna Books
9798985561418, $7.99 Kindle

On Lonesome Roads is the third book in the Peter O'Keefe detective mystery series, but it should be noted that no prior familiarity with its predecessors is required in order to appreciate the latest P.I. O'Keefe exploit.

He's continuing to heal from injuries in his last case, and the perps who changed his life continue to prove elusive.

The story opens with a 1988 news report about O'Keefe's car bombing incident and an open-ended case that still has no resolution.

Dan Flanigan then moves further into O'Keefe's life as he pursues the man who hunts him and who has cast his family life into disarray. He takes the time to expose and explore the P.I.'s dedication to solving crimes and restoring his personal life at the same time.

His attention to describing the PTSD that dogs O'Keefe in addition to the latest real-world threat will particularly intrigue and engross readers: "O'Keefe failed to appreciate the unexpected warmth of a false-spring day in March as he absent-mildly jaywalked across the street in front of the Courthouse to the parking lot. In the Wagoneer, inserting the key and turning it to start the engine, he cringed, a memory flash of another key turned in another ignition switch, and he realized that during the few minutes it had taken him to navigate from that small office in the courthouse to the parking lot, his conscious mind had stopped working. The turning of the key, no longer an automatic, thoughtless act for him, jarred him back to full consciousness, like awakening from a deep sleep and not immediately understanding where he was. He had never walked in his sleep, but this last few minutes must have been something like that. He attributed the closing of his mind in those few minutes to massive denial, near panic-stricken resistance to what they had told him. It called everything into question."

Flanigan expands O'Keefe's personality and concerns into a deep psychological probe. This proves as intriguing as the investigation cat-and-mouse game between hunter and prey in which roles continually switch, leading O'Keefe to question those around him ("Was this sincere or sinister?").

As issues of belief, recovery, and dogged determination emerge against the backdrop of a life changed by violence and plagued by lack of resolution, the P.I. mystery includes deeper questions and psychological insights than most detective stories offer.

On Lonesome Roads is thus notable, excellent, and highly recommended not just for its addition to the series or its expansion and continuing exploration of the protagonist's growth and healing, but for its in-depth psychological portrait of a personality struggling to find its way back to a semblance of normalcy.

Mystery libraries seeking works that both compliment a series yet stand strongly on their own with important messages about psychological interactions and recovery processes will On Lonesome Roads a fine addition.

Alexander Blevens
TouchPoint Press
9781956851236, $15.99 paperback

Think 'murder thriller', and a traditional genre read replete with suspense and action come to mind. But Bycatch is all this and more, incorporating politics, place, and connections between past and present as a fisherman's murder in Mississippi becomes connected to events in Vietnam decades earlier.

Rex Thompson has long avoided discussing or acknowledging his role in events that happened 'in country' all those years ago. Until now, when in 1993 a series of events draw him (however reluctantly) to confront the past's ongoing influence on present-day events.

Bycatch is not your traditional murder mystery. Embedded in its pages is a sense of place, from the shrimp fishing boats and community to the emergence of a damning wartime journal that reveals secrets long hidden and perhaps best kept under water. Literally.

As Rex's family and their present-day choices are impacted by his sordid experiences, Rex must make difficult choices about whether to continue burying his secrets or indict himself by exposing them to the world.

Alexander Blevens creates a moving draw with a story that operates on moral and ethical levels against the backdrop of an unusual murder mystery.

He includes political changes and conflicts as the Vietnamese incursion on the local shrimping industry brings the war of the past home in an unexpectedly different way, and he also includes the trails and scenes that emerge from this past to present vivid memories to a survivor that only wants to walk away from his poor choices.

The psychological inspections are as astute as the unfolding dilemmas that embrace father, sons, and the community: "You felt guilty. You wouldn't have given a rat's ass if you had found this out while you were still bending and thinking only of yourself. But now that you're with God, everything's changed."

Readers who anticipate and look for a whodunit alone may be surprised at the twists and turns this story takes. It represents not the usual progressive investigative piece, but a foray into responsibility, choice, and action that places the protagonist in the position of being a flawed hero.

The result is a story that is highly recommended not just for genre mystery readers, but for those with a special interest in social and spiritual revelations. These buffet protagonist Rex on all sides and ultimately leads to many surprise revelations and new resolutions.

Mystery libraries will want to encourage non-genre readers to partake of this unusually multifaceted story.

The Infernal Games
Reed Logan Westgate
Independently Published
9798640508635, $14.95

Fantasy readers who look for stories replete in metaphysical influences, LGBTQ flavors, and action-packed twists and turns will find that The Infernal Games offers a combination that is relatively unique in an unexpected, different type of story.

Xlina's move to Portland, Maine reflects her desire to flee her heritage, her legacy, and her nightmares. Instead, her quest for a different life lands her right in the middle of everything she's attempting to avoid as she finds herself caught up in a dangerous game that forces her to accept her abilities and birthright in order to survive.

It's not everyday that one winds up in court, only to find that the court-mandated social worker is a demon. And it's not an ordinary or chance circumstance that leads her to participate in The Infernal Games which will dictate how her life evolves from that point on.

Also unexpectedly satisfying is the sense of humor that accompanies Xlina's revelations about the new reality overlaying her life and choices: "Everyone is tricked," Arthur added, his cheery tone and disposition fading. "That's why there are so many tales of poor young witches being tied to demons. Oh, everyone thinks it won't happen to them. That they can control the pact, honor their word. Get their desires without a price to pay."

"There is always a price," continued Pete.

"Always," agreed Nick.

"I didn't know," Xlina protested. "I thought she was just with the government."

Why would a demon target her? How does a lineage's curse result in creating a Soulstealer that becomes a hungry Eater of Death?

Questions accompany and provoke clashes between personalities and possibilities as Xlina finds herself caught in the middle of an impossible situation.

Reed Logan Westgate is adept at creating powerful, action-packed scenarios that grab reader attention and interest: "The raw cataclysm of magic sucked the very air from the room, and Xlina struggled to catch her breath as Oxivius, in all his necromantic glory, squared off against the fae Puc. It was like two titans of magical will colliding, and she felt awash in the raw energy as she struggled to steady herself."

As Book 1 of the Baku Trilogy, The Infernal Games opens the door to new worlds, new possibilities, and powerful contenders that live in and transform it.

Fantasy libraries looking at especially powerful series title openers that promise social inspection grounded in fantasy elements will appreciate the attention to strong characters and underlying issues that The Infernal Games provides. It's a winning pick that stands out from the crowd, deftly defying the predictable trappings of the usual fantasy genre production.

House Boy
Lorenzo DeStefano
Atmosphere Press
9781639882434, $18.95

House Boy's title doesn't portend the thriller components wound into its vivid story, and readers may be especially delighted to discover a London-based experience that is as steeped in social criticism and inspection as it is in intrigue.

Slavery in modern-day London? Yes, this is only one of the issues explored in House Boy, a chronicle of human slavery and sex trafficking which centers on tragedy, inhuman conditions, and events that cross cultures and borders from India to the rest of the world.

Lorenzo DeStefano adopts a dark introspective atmosphere from the opening sentences of his story: "It is impossible at first to confirm the thing or thing's identity. The Tamil Nadu sun, true to its savage reputation, renders familiar people, even members of one's own family, as unrecognizable as total strangers. The quasi-human shapes move in a kind of undulating fashion along one bank of the sacred Cauvery River, appearing then disappearing in the piercing glare. When the dust parts, softened momentarily by obscuring clouds, it reveals not one being but two."

This then shifts, only to become stronger as the tale evolves to inspect twenty-something Vijay Muthu Pallan's life and choices.

It's unusual to find a mystery so thoroughly laced with contemporary social issues, but DeStefano creates a delicate dance through emotional territory that juxtaposes intrigue with thought-provoking social and psychological inspections and cross-connections that operate on a global scale.

As Vijay, Binda, Sheela, and others interact, readers are treated to a special story steeped in South Asian cultural and religious themes that come into play to affect and change Vijay's life.

House Boy comes full circle as it moves between India and London. Its ability to carry readers into unfamiliar territory with a combination of mystery and social revelations makes it far more than a thriller genre read alone, creating a thought-provoking discourse that will attract book discussion groups interested in civil rights inspections.

As it moves from terrorist threats and manipulation to sexual battery issues and psychological disintegration, readers will find many 'trigger issues' to navigate in a story that rewards its audience with gripping moments and surprising revelations.

House Boy is especially recommended for libraries that look for more than the usual thriller story. Permeated with cultural observation and messages, it offers quite a different focus and insights than most as it traverses the human psyche and its ability to perform, accept, or defy grave injustices.

Of the Earth
Kim Cousins
Resource Publications
c/o Wipf and Stock Publishers
199 West 8th Avenue, Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401-2960
9781666702422, $38.00 HC, $23.00 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 224pp

Of the Earth is the first book in the Clashing Kingdoms series, presenting a magical blend of religious sci-fi and fantasy as it journeys through a world of talking animals and humans who interact with them in unusual ways.

To avoid any confusion, Kim Cousins presents the dialog of animals in italics. This helps cement the speakers and their origins as the story explores changing relationships in times where physical and political environments are in flux.

A character list that precedes the story implies complexity, but the actual tale opens with a bang of military attraction that tells of an old man and citizen of the New World's arrest by a peacekeeping force.

As the arrest becomes deadly, a talking dog and cat enter the picture to provide their views of what is happening in human and animal worlds, and the story takes off from there.

Cousins injects intrigue into the circumstances that expand outward to embrace a host of characters. The magic of this world and its animals and people feels almost ordinary against the backdrop of the social and physical changes that challenges all beings to step up their game.

From earthquakes to the new possibility of future generations in a pregnancy and the quest for divine intervention in human affairs, Cousins creates an unusual juxtaposition between fantasy in a survey that embraces religious as well as social threads: "In his quiet surroundings, Juan prayed for continued protection over all his loved ones. He thanked God for his divine intervention, humbly ask-ing for a greater understanding of the spiritual gifts Paul described in the New Testament. But unlike Happy - presently entertained in her own dream world - Juan knew he wasn't too old to learn new tricks."

The result is a story overlaid with spiritual and intellectual considerations, designed to attract readers with magic as it re-envisions a changed world affected by plague, strife, miracles, and belief systems.

From issues of military personnel who try to return to civilian life to one family's changing experiences with God, readers who look for entertainment and hope will find both abound in Of the Earth, a story of old and new connections and transformative experiences that neatly concludes its foundation tale while keeping the door open for more.

Poteet Victory
J. Robert Keating
Atmosphere Press
9781639882823, $36.99 Hardcover

Poteet Victory is a study of the life of Native American Poteet, who became one of the most-honored Native Americans of the past half-century. He was a renowned New Mexican painter whose works made millions of dollars, and his subjects captured the trauma and trials of the Native American experience for the world to see.

Interestingly, J. Robert Keating's story blends fiction and nonfiction elements in a strategy designed to gain a maximum amount of readers from circles that might not ordinarily be attracted to nonfiction. Keating outlines the sources and process of his creation in a succinct introduction: "Poteet and Terry Victory are real people. Most of the dialogue in this book comes from recordings and transcripts of Poteet's and Terry's own words. There is more information about what is fact and what is fiction in the "Author's Note" at the end of the book."

This sets the stage for a powerful "you are here" feel through Keating's use of tense and description: "Poteet Victory is staring at his canvas and thinking about his Cherokee grandmother and her grandfather. He is thinking about the story he had first heard when he was a small boy. He had replayed it in his mind at least a thousand times. It is a tale of injustice that still riles his blood. But for now, he is considering how that tragedy plays out in paint and color on the canvas before him."

Keating had much material to synthesize and utilize. Poteet's life had no singular drive, but embraced many influences past and present as he moved from his Oklahoma roots to become part of a hippie commune in Hawaii, then went to New York City, where he was employed teaching art to some of the biggest names of his times, including Andy Warhol.

Upon his return to Oklahoma, he fell into his roots and purpose when he began tapping his heritage to produce works that visually outlined and captured the trials and injustices of the Native American experience.

Keating had so much to work with that trying to place this life in an easily-digested perspective must have been a challenge. Keep in mind that all these elements could well have resulted in multiple volumes under another hand, and in a nonfiction format may have proved a complex read.

Keating's fictionalization of Poteet's story allowed him to add the dramatic embellishments that attract beyond a nonfiction genre audience, which brings this story to settle where it should - in the hearts of ordinary readers who initially just want a compelling read.

The dialogue, quipping, interpersonal interactions, and artistic and social development and observations of Poteet come alive in a form nonfiction alone never could have achieved.

No prior familiarity with Native American or art history is required in order to pick up and run with Poteet Victory.

It received further strength from Keating's personal interactions with Poteet, during which he was treated to Poteet's special brand of storytelling prowess which brought his background and experiences to life. The conversations between them form the dialogue and foundations of this book and contribute an especially realistic feel because it is written, as much as possible, in Poteet's own words.

The potent choice of blending drama with personal, social, and artistic inspection makes Poteet Victory highly recommended for contemporary literature libraries looking for high-impact reads steeped in history and drama alike.

Child of Etherclaw
Matty Roberts
Twilight Fox LLC
9780578394169, $18.95 Hardcover/$9.95 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Book 1 of the teen dystopian sci-fi series Child of Etherclaw sets the stage for a powerful saga of closely-held family secrets, a quest, and a struggle for control as sixteen-year-old Fenlee and her adopted brother Elliot attempt to decipher the mysteries of her necklace and its link to events in Fenlee's past.

Between her studies at school and scavenging operations under the city of New Cascadia, you would think the protagonist more than has her hands full. But when the necklace begins to present a new power that commands attention and investigation, Fenlee steps up to discover that the foundations of everything she had taken for granted are, indeed, something magically different.

From changing priorities and the efforts of a dangerous adversary to beat her to the truth to adopted siblings whose pasts and memories may thwart their desire for a better life, Matty Roberts takes the time to explore trauma, ideals, family perceptions and interactions, and the social conundrums which evolve from them.

The etherclaw is within grasp, residing in one who would wield its power with emotions as yet not fully formed. Can Elliot release the etherclaw and fully realize and harness its powers, and do those who attempt to influence him fully comprehend the force they are about to unleash?

Fenlee's inheritance turns out to be far more dangerous than she'd expected.

Roberts creates a multifaceted story with a host of characters that operate and interact on different levels. Roberts' ability to focus on psychological developments and flash points between the main characters and their changing world and places in it makes for a story filled with action and insights on more than one level. The result is a powerful saga that explores family bonds, responsibility, and the special allure of capturing, holding onto, and living a different kind of life.

Its study in adaptation and revised purposes will attract and hold young reader attention as it progresses towards a conclusion replete in facing fears and overcoming not just adversity, but personal notions of what constitutes a life worth living.

These elements make Child of Etherclaw a vivid young adult story that library collections will find appealing.

Euphoric Wonderland
Ryan M. Becker
Trippy-Ass Books
9798985433012, 12.95 Paperback/15.95 BookBaby Special Edition

Euphoric Wonderland: An Eclectic Collection of Psychedelic Poetry to Stimulate the Senses and Open the Mind assumes the feel of an acid trip as it surveys a cornucopia of experience and imagery that bring readers into a realm where surrealism, magic, and music intersect.

Ryan M. Becker's vivid romp through counterculture, traditional culture, and the ironies and magic of life is designed to carry contemporary poetry enthusiasts into a world of madness, mayhem, and cultural inspection.

These pieces are free-flowing and anything but staid, blending autobiography with inspections steeped in poetry, prose, and a sense of discovery, whether personal or social.

One example is the inspection of moms and meaning in "Carnation Formation For Our Admiration." Here, the images capture a staccato display of sharp points: "Anna Jarvis, time of date/1908 she celebrates/A lullaby then sung by Brahms/two billion moms at hair salons/Her voice escape from bullied hate/now calms this state with wishes great/Roses, lilies, CBS series/those Big Bang theories/Icing on cake, the turkey we bake/your uninterrupted KIT KAT break..."

Contrast this piece with a study replete with wordplay and rich rhythms that injects rap with social inspection in "Resilience, Strength, It's Not Too Late": "You ask for peace, serotonin release/5-HTP need sleep increased/therapy, parody/Robin Williams group hilarity/Quiet room, dazed, confused/this wonderland in white costumes..."

The rich musical threads and personal inspections that run through these rhythmic productions lend to being read aloud for greatest impact. The force of the story and rhyme nearly leaps off the page, demanding to be set free against the backdrop of sound and music.

That said, Euphoric Wonderland offers poetry readers the opportunity to open and challenge their minds with family, cultural, and social observations that condense images and experiences into succinct, hard-hitting diamonds of observation.

Poetry readers seeking a romp through creativity, madness, and magic will find Euphoric Wonderland just the ticket for a wide-ranging journey of discovery that challenges and invites on many different levels.

Not your usual staid collection, Euphoric Wonderland will delight the minds and hearts of readers who look for a smorgasbord of experience wrapped in unexpected imagery. It deserves a place in any literary library strong in contemporary poetry and social examination.

Eli's Redemption
Paul Attaway
Linksland Publishing
9781735401683, $9.49 Kindle

"I don't have a mother or a father. I killed my father yesterday and my mother died years ago."

Eli's Redemption is a novel that continues the family saga begun in Blood in the Low Country, which introduced the Atkins family and their evolution in 1970s Charleston, South Carolina. Because it picks up at the climax point where its predecessor ended, it is especially recommended for readers of the first book, who will appreciate the next piece of the family legacy provided here.

The main focus is not Monty Atkins, but Eli Atkins, who has fled to the Bahamas after betrayal and who lives in paradise in isolation, having adopted a new identity in an effort to leave his past behind.

The story opens with a shocking revelation, new promise, escape, and Eli's question of whether a lauded mother is someone who never should have survived.

The puzzle of this opening and the wellsprings of Eli's fierce anger are woven into Chapter 2, which takes a journey into the past to set the stage for these present-day events.

By then, readers are captivated. And they will keep on being thoroughly absorbed, because Paul Attaway excels in crafting a family drama that reaches through years, generations, and other countries to divide, and then draw the dynasty back together.

Ultimately, the secret identity Eli cultivates turns on him in an unexpected manner and threatens what little joy he has built by burning the foundations of family relationships.

His newfound golfing prowess also threatens to expose him in other ways, as love and intrigue vie for control of his destiny and life.

Christian readers who look for reflections and insights that embrace both spiritual components and the trappings of a thriller and family probe will find all these elements and more in a story that focuses on a big gamble and the obstacles it poses.

Monty, Walker and Eli haven't separated for life. They are destined to meet again. But the circumstances which dictated their choices and withdrawal have changed, and the absence has served up the possibility of a healing process during separation that portends new connections.

Readers receive a story that operates on different levels. Christian readers will appreciate its many spiritual reflections on rage, redemption, and revenge: "Monty, give your soul and conscience a break. You're worried because you're drawing some joy or satisfaction from the idea that that awful man is suffering in Hell? Don't. And don't fret over whether it's Christian or not. It's human, as are you. The Lord knows we're human. That's why his Son did all the heavy lifting for us. You don't have to think about that man, that psychopath, anymore. His fate is in the Lord's hands, and the Lord is more than up to the task."

Thriller readers will find the tension perfectly honed as the mystery plays out.

Those who look for emotion-driven encounters and reflections will be especially pleased at the psychological depths Attaway probes as Eli reconsiders his life and feelings.

Readers who enjoy stories that reach from and reflect the American South as they survey redemption and rejuvenation will find Eli's Redemption joins a powerful series, It's especially recommended for prior readers of Blood in the Low Country, who will appreciate not just Eli's story, but the family's evolution and growth.

The unexpected twists and moments of realization in Eli's Redemption are exquisite.

The Book of Ruth
M. Ruth Little
Lystra Books & Literary Services, LLC
9781736305553, $29.95 Paper/$7.99 Kindle

The Book of Ruth: Taming Ghosts, Saving History is a memoir about art, history, and the culture of the American South. It follows the childhood, coming of age, and adult pursuits of M. Ruth Little, who became involved in historic preservation in North Carolina and dedicated her life to the effort.

As Little faces the panic attacks and psychological scars of her past, she comes to realize that taming these 'ghosts' of experience are intrinsic requirements for preserving history for future generations.

Little captures the major points of creating this memoir in an introduction that clarifies the importance of resolving past issues in order to move ahead with one's life purpose: "The Book of Ruth: Taming Ghosts, Saving History explores the four great challenges of my life: an ongoing struggle with panic attacks; the effort to have it all - personal fulfillment as a mother and the creative fulfillment of a career; growing into my identity as an artist; and finding true love."

She then documents the process of finding her place in the world of historic preservation with an eye to capturing the pivot points that marked and influenced her adult interests: "Because of my familiarity with Scottish gravestones, I recognized that the little grave monument was a rare, early Highland Scots artifact. The gravestone would become a rosetta stone for me. But at the time I was focused on photographing the farmhouse and didn't take a photo of the gravestone. After several weeks of being haunted by the evocative object, I returned to photograph it and discovered it was gone. Someone had removed it, whether to save or destroy it I never learned. It probably disappeared into a private collection. Old gravemarkers were perishable, and I vowed that sometime in the future I would conduct a survey of early graveyards in the state and compile a photographic archive for posterity."

From her drive to capture and preserve the history and nature of Black neighborhoods to the challenge of choosing between and juggling career with family, Little provides a vivid portrait of a life that became bound with the objectives of preservation on many different levels: "My name has exemplified many things: mother, preservationist, professional, historian, artist, educator, and writer. "Mother" comes first because I would not take anything for the experience of raising two children. Looking back, I would not change my decision back in 1983 to choose marriage even though it altered my career. I didn't lose my career - I gained my children - the lights of my life."

The result is much more than one woman's story alone, but reaches out to embrace the topics of preservation, historical and artistic involvements, and the nature of being not just a part of a changing community, but a documenter and preserver of its hallmarks of achievement.

To call The Book of Ruth a biography or memoir alone would be to do it an injustice. Ideally, libraries strong in stories of historic preservation and women's career choices, as well as the changing culture and influences of the American South, will want to include it as an attractive and powerful discussion point for all these topics.

Taming Infection
Gregg Coodley and David Sarasohn
Atmosphere Press
9781639883189, $19.99 paperback / $9.99 ebook

Taming Infection: The American Response to Illness from Smallpox to Covid is a wide-ranging history of pandemics in America that will enjoy newfound interest with the current pandemic struggle. This is not the first time the subject has been captured in a book, but what sets Taming Infection apart from other medical and social histories is its attention to the link between health and science findings and public policy-setting, which either embraces these recommendations or resists the notion of sweeping social change.

It uses examples of the fifteen worst diseases to strike the United States as touchstones for discussing these connections, blending history with social and health issues to consider the evolution of American epidemics and their special challenges to public policy-makers.

Readers with little medical history background might be surprised to learn that tuberculosis, malaria, yellow fever, and cholera were once endemic to the United States. Each sweeping threat introduced an unprecedented challenge to politicians and policy-makers who were in charge of regulating and directing public health responses.

Heavily footnoted, with many quotes from source materials and first-hand experiences of the past, Taming Infection offers the opportunity to reconsider the policies and experiences of the past with a new eye to managing and understanding present-day public response and health community efforts.

The history documented herein is surprisingly extensive, offering many references readers will find intriguing: "Vaccination was brought to the United States by Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse in 1800. In 1801 President Thomas Jefferson vaccinated his own family, neighbors, and some visiting Mohican Indians and arranged to import cowpox from England. Jefferson wrote Jenner, "Medicine has never before produced any single improvement of such utility. You have erased from the calendar of human afflictions one of its greatest." Jefferson also devised a way to preserve the vaccine from heat by insulating it in water."

From how diseases spread, whether in civilian or military circles, to how vaccinations were developed, disseminated, and promoted, Taming Infection is more than a medical history. It offers many social inspections of how treatments were not just created, but promoted among various populaces.

This dual attention to social analysis will particularly intrigue students of social issues history and development: "Historian David Jones observed, "One dramatic aspect of epidemic response is the desire to assign responsibility, From Jews in medieval Europe to meat mongers in Chinese markets, someone is always blamed... stigmatization follows closely on the heels of every pathogen."

The result is a wide-ranging history that should appeal to a broad audience, from students of social issues and healthcare to those involved in political science studies and the process of developing disease protections.

Heavily footnoted, peppered with authoritative source material references, and strong in photos, charts and graphs, Taming Infection is highly recommended for library collections strong in medical history, social examination, and political science and public policy alike.

Another Butterfly
Howchi Kilburn
Atmosphere Press
9781639883370, $17.99

Another Butterfly follows the spiritual and metaphysical journey of four friends (Wu, Daphne, Atsa and Aiyana) as they traverse northern New Mexico's rural back roads, canyons, and mountains on a road that leads them to family and self-discoveries.

It's a novel steeped in a dharma-like probe of self and reality, following these four guides and pilgrims into a milieu headed by spiritual leader and medicine woman Grandmother Xochitl, whose teachings on ancient traditions lights the way to new realizations.

Readers who choose this story from an interest in metaphysical landscapes, mysticism, and the ideals of living in better harmony with the world will find a wonderfully multifaceted tale in Another Butterfly. It layers different realities as the friends move into a dual existence on different planes in a community that represents hope and new possibilities for connections to self, each other, and the planet.

Their unique creation experiment has its roots in the Goddess and past initiation rites. They come to recognize new abilities, perspectives, and potentials as they grasp that the wisdom of the universe holds powerful connections to an ancient process that transcends their physical lives.

From inspections (and criticism) of the major religions of the world to self-analysis and spiritual questions that lead each character to step into their powers and the possibility of a revised life, readers will appreciate a story that outlines a journey conducted on many different levels.

Think a blend of Carlos Castaneda with the flavor of Siddhartha in this road trip of discovery. Obviously, such a journey requires of its reader an openness to idealism, metaphysical influences, and social and spiritual examination.

Just as obviously, such a multifaceted presentation deserves a place in any library strong in new age, literary, metaphysical, or spiritual fiction as well as works of philosophical enlightenment.

Another Butterfly shouldn't repose on a fiction or metaphysical shelf, but ideally will be chosen for discussion groups where Castaneda and other sages, prophets, and philosophers have produced thought-provoking, gripping works.

Sleeping with Cancer
Phillip Riley
Atmosphere Press
9781639883257, $16.99

Sleeping with Cancer is a novel about trauma, end of life, and the changes that come not just from cancer, but from violence. Readers might anticipate a story that revolves around terminal illness alone, but Sleeping with Cancer actually opens with a dual murder that Emily witnesses in her apartment.

The story begins with a heart-stopping bang and never quits: "He knew he was dying. He seemed to know I couldn't or wouldn't help. His eyes blinked and with each blink I imagined thousands of images of his life going through his mind's screen. Blink, blink, blink. The bag of money never moved. This was my apartment now with bloody bodies on the floor, and I could only stand still."

Philip Riley brings the saga to life with descriptions that are evocative and fresh: "The sergeant said little and his face betrayed nothing. His soft brown eyes lay like dormant mice in their holes."

Emily develops a new romantic interest, only to find it and her perceptions about life challenged by cancer. As she and Brian embark on a strange journey that embraces spiritual, psychological, and relationship growth, Emily's progression is vividly documented: "...the past is never in the past," said Brian. He was really pulling into them embracing this seeming insanity. Guess I would too if I had cancer...We sat in silence with the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, imagining the tragedies that elegantly reflected life in the first democracies of the earth. How did the Divine Right of Kings proceed afterward, as if pulling their wisdom into a hypnotic sleep? Now we are back in the world with Jesus and his impossible story, or Islam, or Buddhism that claims to not be a religion but acts like one. I think Brian knew this better than I did."

Readers who enter Emily's world anticipating a murder mystery or romance will find something very different as Emily and Brian undertake a metaphysical and personal exploration of the meaning and progression of their lives.

Riley's attention to details that mark pivot points in this journey and his ability to document the progression of changed lives in the face of cancer, that move through everyday and extraordinary realms alike, creates a moving tale.

Plenty of novels survey life's meaning, living with cancer, or the evolutionary process of couples faced with game-changing circumstances. Few adopt the focus on flexibility and discovery that is evident in Sleeping with Cancer's portrait of unexpected moments and the hilarious ironies of life.

Libraries strong in contemporary fiction that assail the subject of cancer in a refreshingly unique manner will appreciate Emily's evolving perspective as she offers her "fuck you" to cancer with a special message of perseverance, love, discovery and, ultimately, letting go.

Kick Ball Slay
Doug Dorsey
Studio 15 Publishing
979985695335, $14.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook

Kick Ball Slay: An Introduction to West Coast Swing... AND a Murder Mystery is a Christian thriller designed to attract detective and mystery fans who look for spiritual components and fine tension in their investigative reads.

Detective Evann Myrick is busily investigating a series of murders that have something to do with the dance world and West Coast Swing. The killer proves well versed not only in this exuberant form of dance, but in eluding the forces that would call it to a halt.

Ideally, readers will harbor a dual interest in West Coast Swing dance and murder mysteries. The juxtaposition of intrigue with dance information is well-done, and though such a background isn't a requirement, those who do have such interests will find the backdrop more than familiar and inviting. This lends to a thoroughly enjoyable immersion into dance competitions and the high-pressure world of the dance community.

As Myrick questions recent deaths and dancer connections and begins to connect the dots of ravaged lives and relationships within the community, he also uncovers a thread of connection that helps him edge towards healing his own emotional trauma: "Victoria stopped talking and simply smiled at Myrick, grateful that the detective, who was on duty, still found time to show a little compassion within his work. She also could sense the profound sadness in him, and understood that her loss, while having some similarities, also had significant differences."

Doug Dorsey takes the time to interconnect these disparate lives both within and outside of the dance world.

This contributes to a multifaceted mystery that operates on several different levels as the perp and investigator's lives draw together on the playing field of broader dance community concerns.

Everyone has their stories to tell. As Myrick exposes them and draws closer to the truth, mystery readers will be satisfied by the many unexpected twists the story takes, while dance-oriented followers will appreciate the social and political nuances that are exposed in the process of hunting down a murderer.

Myrick's dance notes turn into a different flavor of inspection that readers will find as intriguing as the dilemmas he finds himself in, while philosophical reflection peppers a story that follows Myrick's life and revised purposes: "Riley, police work... and all the treasured experiences up to this point in his life... those were the things that made him who he was."

Kick Ball Slay introduces West Coast Swing against the nuances of a murder investigation. Its rich descriptions of characters that operate in a different environment contributes strength to a story that ideally will be chosen not just by murder mystery fans, but by those who enjoy dance and psychological growth stories.

Jay VanLandingham
Climb That Mountain Press
9798985251555, $9.99 e-book/$19.95 Paper

Sentient is a dystopian sci-fi novel set in the year 2040, when animal agriculture has changed the climate and resulted in a very different landscape.

Bray Hoffman has a secret. She can not only communicate with, but feels the emotions and pain of a pig she calls her best friend. This connection forces her into a dangerous role in which she must confront the inevitability of not only Alice's demise, but the human race's dangerous choices.

Bray isn't the only focus in this story of change, adaptation, and struggle.

Receiving equal billing are Bertan Duarte, an undocumented immigrant in the agribusiness industry, and Kage Zair, an activist committed to battling the atrocities and deadly progression of agribusiness by searching for answers as to why her activist parents disappeared twelve years ago.

Despite their disparate roots and diverse special interests, Bray, Bertan and Kage become united in a quest to address injustices and manipulative special interests that work against the world's ecological health and survival. Their united story presents a fine tale of social, political, and personal trials and change as they learn to navigate their world with newfound empowerment and purpose.

Jay VanLandingham creates a dystopian society that progresses relentlessly towards disaster in a juggernaut of greed and corporate power. This juggernaut of extinction is affected only by those who would step up to defy their own diagnoses, in this society, of medical disability.

From the truth about Bertan's vanished family to the perps involved in maintaining the status quo, VanLandingham forges a powerful story of three characters who seek to create safe lives for themselves and their loved ones, whether human or animal.

In a world where hidden activists become involved in grassroots rebellions and heroes are ordinary survivors of society's choices, the drama and action ranges from social and political inspection to everyday choices and perceptions.

Sentient's ability to call into question the survival tactics of a disparate society makes it a hard-hitting, action-packed story that combines well with a teen coming-of-age backdrop to appeal to both teen and adult readers of dystopian sci-fi.

Libraries strong in dystopian sci-fi with strong social messages will relish Sentient for its strong animal rights and ecological focus.

The Grand Game
Tim Ahrens
Atmosphere Press
9781639883707, $17.99 paperback/$9.99 ebook

Dark fantasy readers who choose The Grand Game (Book 2 in the Dark Creatures series) will find it an intriguing story of gods, slavery, and dark forces which play power games with one another on a multifaceted playing field of earthly and cosmic origins.

Newcomers might expect the second book in a series requires familiarity with its predecessor (Dark Creatures: A Simple Game), but Tim Ahrens presents an especially compellingly-written summary of past events that neatly captures the characters and scenario for those who missed Book 1: "I, the Pale Rider, also called Ragman by some, bid you welcome. Do you come to me to gain some insight into what has occurred in the world of Dark Creatures up to this point? No? Ah, you wish to know of a future event, is that right? I see. Well then, take these insights with you as we all await the beginning of the Grand Game."

It's rare to see an introduction and summary which is captivating in and of itself, but Ahrens cultivates voices which add special interest, drama, and flavor to his story: " Gods joined the Januses and Samael in this game of life and death. What people or things will they bring to the game? Will their action be confined only to the World of Dark Creatures? Or perhaps infest the human world as well? All these questions and more have yet to be answered. So, I say again, I bid you welcome intrepid reader. Or is it player? I have a hard time telling the difference. Enjoy your adventure into the world of Dark Creatures."

With this exceptional prologue in mind, readers enter a world which receives equally powerful atmospheric descriptions as the story evolves. In this world, William J. Donovan and Doug Pimpkin are forced to create slaves of their own, mirroring their experiences and lives in thrall to humans and dark horrors alike.

The ordinary trappings of everyday reality are presented alongside figures like the Pale Rider and others who influence, direct, and command attention. They appear and disappear from view as they move between two realities in a role playing game that is extraordinary in its depth and descriptions.

Gamers will indeed find many familiar trappings as cat-and-mouse scenarios play out, and will especially appreciate the depth of characterization Ahrens is devoted to exploring in a fantasy that works on many different levels.

The overlay of humor in some of these interactions adds irony and wry satirical commentary to the story, further enhancing its underlying currents of attraction: "Now if everyone would be so kind as to lower their weapons." She glanced at Augury then back to Horris. "We can chat a bit before fifty men come running down here just as those two magi bring the whole cavern down on our heads."

The Grand Game lives up to its title and description as all these forces move in different directions on the chessboard of alternate realities and special interests.

Fantasy readers looking for the flavor of something different will relish the tale. It holds the ability to keep readers guessing about the nature of not just enemies and friends, but the intersection of worlds where slavery, freedom, and the struggle for identity is just beginning as gods and humans experience the carnival of life's wild ride in a Game World created by both.

More books in the series can be expected, but this story ends in a satisfyingly definitive way that will leave readers looking for more, yet contented about the events that flesh out Book 1 and expand this unique gamer's world.

My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road
Mark D. Walker
9788182539310, $14.00

My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road reflects on fifty years of travel miscalculations, disasters, and adventure. It provides a short but compelling read that will interest and delight both armchair readers and those who have faced their own travel challenges.

As Mark D. Walker reflects on these experiences, he notes that "how and why I travel have changed over the years." As he moved from being a Peace Corps volunteer to marrying a Guatemalan, becoming a family man, then traveling for business, Walker presents the quintessential highlights of his travel experiences in short essays. These are reminiscent of Paul Theroux, but with the added value flavor of autobiography and interactions with the communities he traversed with different purposes throughout his life.

Color photos also attract as he explores the work he did throughout his travels and the people he interacted with.

There are many travelogue books on the market which prove of special interest in a time when so much travel has been back-burned due to the pandemic.

My Saddest Pleasures differs from most both in its size and in its succinct considerations of how travel changes not just self, but the environments that the traveler encounters. The combined flavor of wonder, new experiences, ecological and social reflection, and adventure brings with it a newfound opportunity to understand the traveler's impact on a deeper level than most. Domestic and foreign experiences alike are outlined with these lessons in mind.

In this case, Walker's special attention to detail and purpose brings not just himself but others into potentially difficult environments to present eye-catching, memorable stories: "In typical weather, these rivers have powerful and dangerous currents, but they have added perils after significant rains. I wondered why we all had to put life jackets on until we started down the river and encountered massive piles of debris, including entire trees careening our way in the current! The operator, who was in the back, casually pulled the engine out of the water so we could pass over these obstacles. At that point, I began rethinking the wisdom of bringing a large group of Rotarians on these local canoes."

The result is a mindful reflection on experience and lessons from life which offers fellow travelers insights into embracing the unexpected: "...we're almost at our best and learn the most when we miscalculate and have to depend on the locals (and our wits) to figure a way out of the mess."

Libraries strong in travelogues, short travel essays, and thought-provoking experiences captured in word and image will relish the wide-ranging encounters outlined in My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road, a portrait of discoveries, change, and "what ifs" in a pre-pandemic world of opportunity.

The Moment of Menace
Joe Rothstein
Gold Standard Publications
9780999565544, $12.95 Paper/$22.95 Hardcover

The Moment of Menace is a political thriller that revolves around a dangerous attempt to take over the U.S. government. Only one individual stands in the way of their success.

U.S. President Isabel Aragon Tennyson is a tenacious and charismatic Latina-American politician and heiress whose office has survived scandal and controversy before. Now she faces her biggest challenge yet as she begins her second term in office and she and her mentor, Ben Sage, confront forces set to rock American democracy to its foundations.

Joe Rothstein creates an atmosphere that blends politics with interpersonal relationships in a satisfyingly realistic manner as Ben and Isabel confront forces neither has experienced before. Rothstein's attention to building their relationship as well as the outside political currents buffeting their world lends a realistic feel to the thriller components: "As president, Tenny was accorded the deference of the office by just about everyone in the world. But after decades of working together in high-intensity political battles, no veil of power separated Tenny and Ben. They were just people. Best friends."

How to replace and attack a strong sitting presence? Disabling the president and vice president could result in the kinds of changes these special interest forces have in mind.

As White House political cat-and-mouse games evolve, readers who enjoy intrigue and thrillers will find the realistic, compelling saga hard to put down.

Rothstein's attention to crafting full-flavor characters, tension on all sides, and unexpected twists of purpose and plot grab and hold reader attention until the end. The blend of real-life social and political issues with a fast-paced, engrossing story line will attract leisure readers and thinkers alike.

Libraries interested in political thrillers replete in psychological strength and community commentary will relish the realistic atmosphere and gripping questions raised in The Moment of Menace. It offers insights and possibilities that ideally will be debated and discussed in book club groups or among students of science, technology, and government processes.

The Deep Translucent Pond
James Shelley
Adelaide Books
9781956635799, $19.60

The Deep Translucent Pond is a literary novel of magical realism and social inspection. It takes the winners of a fellowship, 40-year-old attorney Jerome Konigsberg and 30-year-old nurse Natalija Gasper, on a journey through Cleveland, Ohio. They face magical threats as a reclusive poet uses their win to try to re-introduce enchantment into the world via The Deep Translucent Pond, which harbors a mysterious object that can achieve this goal.

James Shelley injects an intriguing blend of racial and social inspection into the mix that questions magic's place in a world steeped with realism, presenting many contrasts as a result: "Jerome Konigsberg had not walked in a multi-cultural neighborhood for years and never while wearing an Armani business suit."

As The Black Magus introduces literary and cultural conundrums that tap these roots and inspect them with a very different eye towards interpretation and the enactment of something new, readers receive a vivid story of eccentricity and hope that moves as deftly through psychological inspection as it does social, cultural, and fantasy junctions.

Jerome and Natalija face many admonitions to step up and outside of their perspectives and goals in life as The Black Magus overlays his obsession with their initial purposes, coming to realize that their newfound activities may hold a precedent: "Do not ask me any questions about those who have come before you. As far as you are concerned, you are the first."

Literary readers who appreciate poetry and literary achievement will especially appreciate the writing that helps the characters connect with this new realm and their inner muse: "He re-read it, surprised it had gushed into readable verse. Could the Daemon - or whoever it was - have guided his hand?"

At once a story of rebirth, awakening, literary and metaphysical achievement, and discovery, The Deep Translucent Pond is an intriguing blend of philosophical, psychological, social, and metaphysical encounters that leads seemingly disparate characters on an unexpected journey of enlightenment.

Those who enjoy multifaceted reads filled with memorable inspections, reflections, and moments of surprise will appreciate The Deep Translucent Pond for its compelling characters and in-depth survey of psychological and magical realms.

Libraries strong in novels of magical realism which go beyond the magic to add elements of transformative literary effort will appreciate the unique approach that makes The Deep Translucent Pond a standout.

Pura Vida
Jim Utsler
Cresting Wave Publishing, LLC
9781956048148, $13.99 Paper/$1.99 Kindle

Pura Vida takes a Costa Rican phrase and way of life (it translates to "pure life" or "simple life") and winds it into a heist thriller based in that country. The story follows the life of Detroit homicide detective Jacob Miller, who has moved to Costa Rica after many mishaps, only to find himself now immersed in an international crime affair.

Jim Utsler brings to life the gritty, streetwise voice of the detective narrator in a manner that adds instant attraction to his past experiences and present-day dilemmas: "I'd like to say I didn't know whose idea it was to kill Willy. But that'd be a lie. I'd also like to think I wasn't the duplicitous type - whatever that means - but that would be a lie, too."

The cultural and social differences between the U.S. and Costa Rica also are brought out during the course of action which creates a fine series of inspections contrasting these different environments: "No, no, no, it's not," the captain said as we continued outside. "It's not like in the States, sí? He needs a lawyer first, and the lawyer must be present." He paused at the driver's side door of his small SUV, looking at me over the roof of the vehicle. "We have rules here," he continued, smiling at me, throwing me a wink as if to say, "You have no rules where you come from."

From Costa Rican law's sometimes-confusing differences to Jacob's involvements in a series of crime escapades that tests his professional background and ability to adapt, Utsler's first-person inspection of violent crimes, lies and testimonies, and stymied detectives and politicians alike draws Jacob into a world that is both foreign and familiar at the same time.

Utsler's contrast of Jacob's ability to navigate this changed realm using some of the tools of his past makes for a satisfyingly gripping mystery that laces atonement and good and bad decisions with a touch of unexpected romance.

Pura Vida becomes more than a Costa Rican phrase about 'pure life' under Utsler's hand. He uses it to help his character redefine his motives, mission, and the ironies that buffet his efforts.

All the elements of an involving crime thriller are here, but the real draw is the backdrop of Spanish and Costa Rican culture which embraces a different, challenging environment that forces Jacob to draw upon past skills sets in a new and brilliant manner.

The result is a mystery especially highly recommended for libraries seeking powerful stories of cultural adaptation, crime world involvements, and revelations about choices and their consequences as Jacob struggles to find his way through life towards new realizations: "My entire working career had been based on the misconception that I was somehow purer because I wore a badge. That I was that thin blue line between order and chaos. But we're all flawed - morally suspect and ethically challenged."

Daria's Secrets
Jeff Ingber
Atmosphere Press
9781639883417, $17.99

Daria's Secrets takes place sixty years after the Holocaust. Even now, Daria Abramson suffers from ongoing trauma and memories of the Lodz ghetto and her relationship with its overseer Chaim Rumkowski. Her choice of therapy to help her resolve this past anguish results in a journey that exposes her secrets, shame, and the ongoing impact of her life as Daria's Secrets unfolds.

Readers of Holocaust fiction will find many of the themes of recovery familiar, but with a special overlay of life inspection that affects relationships and perceptions of past and current family of different generations.

This focus adds an extra dimension of complexity to the question of Holocaust experiences, atrocities, and recovery, creating a story that is multifaceted in its contemporary environment and past life experience and analysis.

Many psychological insights on the roots of shame, survival instincts, moral and ethical behaviors, and adaptation are included as the dialogue between Daria and her therapist unfolds: "...remember our discussion of how memories may unintentionally be false to enable us to move forward, however weighted down by them we are. Those who have been sexually abused are particularly prone to this problem because of the shame it engenders."

"I don't think I would have felt shame. Sex was bartered by many for food. A slice of bread, even though it tasted like sawdust, would have brought offers for favors. When you're famished..."

"That's right. But rationalizing the reason likely wouldn't have prevented the shame."

"It is God who should be ashamed!" I spit out in a guttural tone. "Not me."

"Fair enough. But perhaps you felt ashamed in the sense of feeling unworthy of being loved?"

These dialogues, insights, and their impact form the crux of a powerful story that weaves history past and present to consider the long-ranging impact of the Holocaust on present-day and future generations alike.

Daria's newfound realizations about relationships and life includes many discussion points for book clubs addressing not only Holocaust history and issues, but for those discussing survival costs and PTSD: "But I know one other thing, which I learned at an early age. You can lose what's most precious to you. You can lose it in an instant."

Daria's willingness to traverse previously verboten areas of the heart and mind in order to finally resolve her long-term traumas makes for an evocative story. It will especially intrigue and delight readers who enjoy solid psychological self-inspections with "the settled past and uncertain future colliding in the now."

Libraries strong in literary, psychologically-forceful Holocaust stories should place Daria's Secrets high on reading lists of emotionally powerful survivor accounts. Its strong family interconnections and powerful assessments of past and present events make for a compelling read.

The Daddy Chronicles
Jayne Martin
Whiskey Tit
9781952600111, $14.00

Jayne Martin's father left his family when she was born, so she grew up without a live-in father. The impact of this experience is captured in The Daddy Chronicles, a testimony to absent fathers' lasting influence on their prodigy. The book goes where few others dare in chronicling exactly what is lost when a father figure isn't there to fix or influence life.

Martin tells her story in a series of third-person vignettes. These act as cinematic impressions of life, growth, and change, successfully documenting the lessons taught by an absent father who only occasionally returns to make contact and confer love, only to vanish again. How these lessons translate into a daughter's own relationships with emotionally absent and transient men in her life is an especially evocative part of the move from childhood to adult choices.

The cinematic feel of the story is reinforced by passages laden with insight, emotion, and predictive moments of enlightenment, destiny, and disaster: "This is the part of the movie where the audience is screaming at the screen, "Don't go down to the basement!" On the screen in my head though are all the times I've seen Franny crawl into her dad's lap, watched them cuddle as he stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head, wanting so badly for it to be me his arms held."

While The Daddy Chronicles will reach a surprisingly large audience of women and girls who face similar feelings revolving around absentee fathers and those who try to replace them (some one in three women in the U.S. identify as fatherless), the story also holds potential for educating another unexpected audience - the fathers themselves, who have made these decisions, watch from afar (or sometimes not), and who don't fully comprehend the results of their actions.
Sometimes what is missing holds just as much impact as what is there.

Fathers in such positions need to read The Daddy Chronicles to better understand their daughters. It will be a difficult read: emotional, poignant, and condemning. But it's a powerfully important memoir that is highly recommended not just for women's issues, psychology, and parenting libraries, but for discussion groups attempting to heal daughters and educate fathers.

Our Lady of the Artilects
Andrew Gillsmith
Mar Thoma Publishing
B09Z7F81WD, $15.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Marry paranormal fiction with sci-fi cyberpunk influences and then frost the subject with metaphysical overtones for a sense of what Our Lady of the Artilects offers to those who take up the charge of choosing a read that defies pat genre categorization. It's a metaphysical tour de force spanning time, space, consciousness and faith that proves hard to put down or easily define.

The prologue creates a compelling draw with a single line: "It couldn't be a virus. Like all artilects, Thierry was unhackable." Artilects are next-generation androids. One would not think that they could become possessed, but one android commands the attention of the Catholic Church with just such a claim. And the race for understanding and control is on.

Andrew Gillsmith crafts a story trademarked with the unexpected, from twists and turns of action to psychological depth and surprises that evolve in human/artilect interactions and high technology's influence on everyday perceptions.

Add international politics and intrigue into the mix and it's evident that, under another hand, such diverse topics and scenarios might have proved overwhelming. But, not here. One of Gillsmith's talents is to weave explanation so seamlessly into the story line that there is no confusion - and yet, no awkward, lengthy explanations to wade through. This creates a dance between realities, perceptions, and special interests as all the characters are caught up in and influenced by a centuries-old plot still capable of changing humanity itself.

The dialogue between these forces is realistically portrayed and adds further insights into the characters and interactions of different strata of society and politics alike: "The Emperor is a good man. And a capable one. I hope you can keep him safe." he said. His condescension and presumed familiarity irritated her. "He is, and I can. And neither of us needs your approval or your well-wishes." She walked back into the mosque before he could respond."

The process of transformation could take a thousand years to unfold. And humanity can't afford the time.

The metaphysical components also offer much satisfying food for thought as the story unfolds: "... the universe requires sacrifice. It always has, and it always will, because the universe is sacramental."

Our Lady of the Artilects may be read and enjoyed on several levels: its spiritual, psychological, political and social inspections draw readers into moral and ethical queries that are adventure-filled and thought-provoking.

Many topics are touched upon, from issues of climate change to the unusual power of Father Gabriel Serafian (an exorcist who left his former life as a neuroscientist and coder) and futuristic artilects that experience a Marian Apparition that pulls the Church and China into a dangerous situation.

Libraries strong in sci-fi, thriller, and mystery intersections and stories that hold strong, futuristic religious and social inspections will find Our Lady of the Artilects impossible to easily categorize and equally attractive for discussion group recommendation.

Catholic sci-fi is relatively rare (its main recognized names are Walter Miller and Gene Wolfe, which inspired Gillsmith's production here, but Our Lady of the Artilects hits its mark in many different ways, promising broad appeal to a diverse audience coming from wide-ranging interest groups and perspectives.

Write a Must-Read
AJ Harper
Page Two Books
9781989603697, $27.00 Hardcover/$8.99 Kindle, 224pp

Write a Must-Read: Craft a Book That Changes Lives - Including Your Own is a study in nonfiction writing that differs from the usual "how to write a book" title. It focuses on producing works that "places the reader first" in a manner that doesn't just invite readers to partake, but compels it.

Its one thing to write and publish a book, but it's quite another to produce a reader-centric message that resonates and promises not just attraction, but transformation.

AJ Harper wrote books designed to help and inspire others, and this how-to guide is no exception. She tackles many of the reasons why books languish both in sales and in interest: "Click on the listings for many Amazon category bestsellers and you'll see a lot of "abandoned" books - books that people wrote and published quickly and then left up for proof that they wrote it. How can you tell? Look at the reviews. Has it been a year or more since someone left one? That means the author likely isn't promoting it, or not much. Look at the sales rank. Is the book ranked at one million or higher? That means it sells a handful of copies a year.

How did this happen? How did we get to this place where the main goal is speed, not quality? Where the focus is on the perks of being an author, not authorship?"

By asking the hard questions about what makes a book long-lived, Harper encourages would-be and existing authors to consider their audience and how they define, attract, and perceive their readers.

A chatty combination of humor and practical inspection accents the advice, making it both accessible and hard-hitting: "Nonfiction is an entirely different animal. I always outline (plot) before I write. Why? Because I have a different goal. With fiction, I am focused on honoring the characters and the story. With nonfiction, specifically personal and professional development books, the aim is transformation. My singular goal is to help the reader change their life, and so pantsing it is not an option. When I put on my ghostwriter or developmental editor hat, I move firmly into the plotter camp. Although that's a fiction term. What could we call ourselves, nonfiction writers who outline? Outliners is too obvious. Smarties? Ha. Maybe not. You let me know if you come up with something." By doing so, Harper illustrates the very techniques she is promoting to connect with readers.

From developing and inserting Core Messages at appropriate points to identifying and finding a book's Ideal Readers, the routines and choices of publishing and promoting a book are accompanied by insights on why each can fail, and how to avoid common pitfalls of publication.

The candid revelations about the work involved in not just writing, but seeing a book to publication and matching it with its intended audience are delivered in admonitions that explain how the book industry really works, exploring the author's role in augmenting publication with self-promotion efforts: "Let's get one thing straight: Marketing your book is your responsibility. If you think signing with a traditional publisher means you can sit back and write and they'll take care of finding your readers, someone gave you bad information. What they will do is push that trade distribution sales engine behind the scenes so your book is more likely to end up on shelves, but getting readers excited to buy your book is all you."

The result is exceptional, highly recommended not just for the wide-ranging practical information it contains, but for the author-centric realities and realizations it promotes.

Write a Must-Read stands out from the crowd and is about more than writing, publishing, and promoting. Ultimately, it's about syncing transformation and mindsets to that of a book's potential audience to fulfill a book's potential as well as an author's dreams.

It deserves a place in any library or individual collection strong in writer's guides, as a standout approach to nonfiction writing success.

Dead Man's Pose
Susan Rogers & John Roosen
9780645413601, $6.99 Kindle

Mysteries, tension, and yoga do not often appear under the same cover, but Dead Man's Pose, a Yoga Mat Mystery, combines these elements and more to create an urban crime scenario that is unusually compelling.

Elaina Williams finds inner peace on her yoga mat ... until one of her yoga students dies in class, disrupting the atmosphere of calm and safety that Elaina has cultivated for her students and herself.

Shaken by not just Mario's demise, but a desperate message he tried to give her before he succumbed, Elaina finds herself investigating events to determine their underlying influences, embarking on a journey about as far from serenity as you can get.

Susan Rogers and John Roosen nicely juxtapose the unexpected milieu of the yoga world with its counterpart and alter ego in the crime world. Scenarios rely on yoga principles to move into realms the typical investigative personality can't fathom.

As international financial affairs, high-stakes gamblers and rollers, and connecting the dots to trace money, relationships, and mystery evolves into deadly danger, Elaina and Ric find they've uncovered a complex situation that draws them ever closer to danger.

The story is cemented not just by a sense of Australian culture, but with atmospheric descriptions the authors take the time to fully develop: "Ric awoke with the sunlight clawing at the corners of the blind. The squillo trumpet sound from one raven was like that of a brazenly robust opera singer beginning an aria. Backup ravens provided the chorus while flitting around in the trees."

Intrigue, urban underground lifestyles, and a bigger financial picture of entanglements than either could have realized keep Elaina and Ric on their toes and immersed in a "crime potluck" that is satisfyingly filling and attractive.

The Australian backdrop, the connections of the key characters in the yoga world, and the political questions which arise during the course of their investigation makes for a multifaceted story which operates firmly in the arena of the unexpected. This succeeds in presenting satisfying twists and turns that even seasoned mystery readers won't see coming.

Rogers and Roosen have created a winning formula in the form of a serene yet determined yoga instructor who ventures beyond the mat and into a world beyond her normal comfort zone.

Readers looking for mysteries that are more than a cut above the ordinary progression of events will relish the changing crime scenes and their financial world roots in Dead Man's Pose, and will find the realistic characters and their compelling investigative challenges to be thoroughly absorbing.

Land of Bear and Eagle
Tanyo Ravicz
Hancock House
9780888397225, $24.95

How many people, at odds with society, would decide to move their family to a homestead in the wilderness to press the reset button on a new life? Land of Bear and Eagle: A Home in the Kodiak Wilderness documents just such a move made by Tanyo Ravicz, who harbored an affection for Alaska from the moment he set foot in the state: "Almost any way you turn in Alaska, nothing stands between you and the wild, and the frontier was always half inside us anyway, a state of mind and approach to life."

Ravicz's essays and sketches about the land and his Far North experiences do the next best thing for armchair readers who only dream of making such big moves, carrying them into a wilderness of heart and soul that pairs philosophical and social inspection with meditations about nature and the land.

This wasn't a quick decision, but a simmering longing that took nine years to see fruition. During those years, Ravicz's father died, a daughter was born, and he entered university for a master's degree supporting a career - about as far from his original idea as one could get from his years in Alaska.

Ironically, it was those years that gave him the skills and determination to enter on the next phase of his life: homesteading in the Alaskan wilderness. Indeed, this was a pivot point in more than just a personal way, because the window of opportunity for homesteading was closing, and this land offering by Alaska represented the final vestiges of a past opportunity that might soon be forever lost: "I had a gut sense that we were coming to the end of something, all of us, even in Alaska, not just the end of a century but of a defining period in our history, a period in which individualism was a living creed, a creed so vital to our identity that our government actually blessed the proprietary claims of determined, hardworking men and women by ceding to them, on their fulfilling certain obligations, a portion of its vast hoard of territory. In the years since I had moved to Alaska, the federal homesteading program had shut down."

Readers who choose to follow Ravicz into this dream receive not just psychological and philosophical inspections, but a "you are here" feel cemented by photographs throughout, and by resonating words that follow in his footsteps: "The country is so vast and its vegetation so profuse that it's easy to miss the cabin on its hill, and I have overflown it in a seaplane without seeing it on the first pass. It is wonderful to arrive on a sunny day when the warmth of the mother planet exudes through all the tips of the grasses. I will soon be at work transporting my supplies and removing the bear guards from the door and windows, but there is time for all of that, and I like to linger on the beach for a while, glad to be back and steeping my senses in it, smelling the salt murk, feeling on my skin the spritz of the waterfall, and watching a salmon leap and an eagle glide by. To return, to find myself here again, it is to pick up the thread of a marvelous dream."

Under his hand, Cottonwood Homestead comes to life, Alaska's rugged beauty and individualist dream return to the center of human experience, and readers will, for a moment, know freedoms wilderness milieus that seem to be long gone from this world.

Too many books merely tell of experiences. Through evocative words and compelling photographs, Ravicz recreates for us an experience and an era, offering observations that vividly explore the natural and human worlds of Alaska, America's last frontier.

Readers who look for memoirs steeped in a sense of place, purpose, and adventure will find these elements and more in Land of Bear and Eagle, a powerful, highly recommended pick that should be in any library collection strong in accounts of building a life on the land, of wilderness and its preservation, and of the American spirit of individualism and independence: "Homesteading ends when the spirit of it ends, when people are seeking not salvation in the land but recreation."

Side Hustle & Flow
Cliff Beach
Black Spring Press
c/o Eyewear Publishing
9781915406002, $31.99

Side Hustle & Flow: 10 Principles to Live and Lead a More Productive Life in Less Time is a study in self-help and personal transformation that comes from a musician who moved from an American Idol failure to success realizing his musical visions.

It combines his memoir with insights into how to find one's life purpose and achieve goals, elevating the story into more than just a chronicle of individual success alone.

In this way, more than other memoirs, it not only teaches by example, but outlines the paths to success that sometimes elude those who would walk on the artistic side of life.

Artists well know the struggle of juxtaposing a paying day job with an artistic dream. Finding the creative resources to pursue one's dream while paying the bills is not an easy venture, and often proves too challenging for the artist to juggle. The result is too often a "passionless life."

Cliff Beach honed an approach that led him to find "...a way to afford the lifestyle I desire while doing the passion projects that I love - that is, working a day gig and maintaining several side hustles."

The art of locating, managing, and employing these "side hustles" is one of the center points of his memoir, which teaches fellow artists how to maintain their creative force while cultivating business success.

Beach is much more than a musician. He holds an impressive list of achievements, from getting his MBA and doing TEDX presentations to completing Toastmasters. All these required goal setting and perseverance. As he explains, many of these skills were not taught to him in school: "The reason why I have been able to set out on new paths and achieve new desires is because I have learned and mastered the power of goal setting. Unfortunately, this is something that you will not learn in school. But goal setting can be learned, whether you teach it to yourself or ask for help from professional coaches or other resources. So many people I meet are not aiming for anything. If you do not take aim, then you are hoping and praying rather than planning and attacking."

These messages will particularly resonate with audiences who feel they cannot achieve because they don't have the social or educational makeup that leads to success. Beach's story holds a message: anyone can succeed. It just takes self-education, self-determination, and a bit of luck and savvy about how the world works and one's place in it.

Many readers think that the connections afford to the privileged are what leads to success, but Beach shows here that many of the same strategies can be cultivated by a determined and clever perspective and observation of what elements help others advance: "For those of you not in music, you must figure out who your Daptone is and who you need to poach to work with. Who is someone you admire who you can emulate? Who works for them? Once you start researching and poking around, you start to notice that a lot of businesses use the same people. In the beauty world, often the manufacturers for one big product work for their competitors. It was the same when I was in the fashion and shoe apparel industry. Even if you must start small and work your way up, you can start to know who it is you need to eventually work with and then start networking your way up."

The result blends a powerful memoir with important lessons on exactly how to pull oneself up by one's bootstraps. In providing the logic, methodology, and mindset of this approach, Beach offers an accessible, important series of lessons that makes his book a "must" for self-help, inspirational, or psychology libraries alike.

Making this book a cornerstone of high school and new adult discussion groups about pathways to success would be its biggest win.

Navigating the Storm
Sarah Branson
Sooner Started Press
9781957774039, $18.99 Paper/$8.99 ebook

Navigating the Storm is Book 2 of the Pirates of New Earth series which began with A Merry Life, and continues the story set in the 24th century, when pirate nations and survival challenge Kat Wallace in different ways.

Readers should ideally familiarize themselves with A Merry Life, because Kat's ongoing story rests firmly on the foundation Sarah Branson built so avidly in that book.

This story opens seemingly with yet another confrontation between Kat and opposing forces: "I leap around my rocky refuge, aim my weapon, and begin to fire as I yell, "Avast, me hearties! Dead men tell no tales!"

But, wait. Something's different. Events are not as they seem, as is quickly explained in passages which outline that this confrontation, at least, is not the rollicking, rocky adventure Kat embarked on in her first story. Yet.

There is a big difference between playing at pirates and facing ongoing effects of banishment from Kat's beloved pirate nation of Bosch for a year. Prevented from doing what she loves, she evolves into a new purpose and perspective as she faces husband Takai's infidelity, and forces that would tear her family apart.

Branson paints Kat's family life and emotional connections with an attention to building depth and detail: "My jaw drops, and I stare at this man I have shared so many years and so much with. "Did you think I would attack you or her?" Now, granted my beast did toy with some rather violent images, but that isn't the same. "Me? The woman who promised to care for you through storms and sunshine, who birthed her children into your hands." I feel the angry, hurt tears begin. How could he think that of me? I'm currently unsure which cut is the most painful: his infidelity or his distrust. "You. You betray me and your family and then try to turn the tables by accusing me of being a danger?" I stare at him. I make a new column marked Bad Decisions and put a tally mark in for rescuing my husband from the Chinese all those years ago."

Kat's mission to take charge of her life and alter its trajectory and circumstances immerses readers in the world of the 2360s and a very different social and political milieu, yet the emotional undercurrents of connections, betrayal, love, and ambition remain strong pulls for alternate sci-fi history readers who enjoy stories steeped in emotional twists and turns.

"Now you shall be the captain of your ship, in word and deed."

But, what will it take to master this world and these changing times? And, at what cost?

Readers who enjoy a rollicking adventure firmly rooted in family interactions and considerations will find that Navigating the Storm comes steeped in a battle between love and loyalty in which Kat reconsiders her ultimate goals.

From her commitment to regain her citizenship to her determination to end enslavement and come back to her self and her purposes makes for a story replete in many emotional moments.

Readers of alternate history who are used to finding their tales rooted in historical circumstances alone will find the emotional depth and draw of Navigating the Storm simply compelling, while libraries should consider it more than worthy of joining other alternate history titles, adding a taste of something different in a determined female character who explores her identity and values in a changing futuristic world.

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

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

All Her Little Secrets
Wanda M. Morris
William Morrow
c/o Harper Collins
9780063082465, $16.99 pbk / $11.99 Kindle

"All Her Little Secrets" is a first-class legal thriller that takes off and never let's go. A corporate attorney in Atlanta is faced with a number of issues as she tries to move up the ladder of success. Among them is keeping secret the affair, she was having with her immediate boss who she finds dead in his office, taking over his position as well as maybe finding out who and why he was murdered. With the deftly written prose of "all Her Little Secrets," Morris a new master of the suspense novel, is one to look for more exciting works in the future.

With A Mind To Kill
Anthony Horowitz
c/o Harper Collins
9780063078413, $24.99 HC / $13.99 Kindle

James Bond is back in action in "With A Mind To Kill" As a teenager I read all of the Ian Fleming novels, many as they came out. "The Man With The Golden Gun" being the last Fleming title. Afterwards many other authors have come along to write novels of 007. To my knowledge Anthony Horowitz is the closest in style to Fleming with all three of his works. "With A Mind To Kill" begins two weeks after the end of "The Man With The Golden Gun." Horowitz also ties in events "You Only Live Twice" the novel just before "Golden Gun" Horowitz utilizes a scene in "Golden Gun" that opens "With A Mind To Kill." As the story unfolds there are other references to other Fleming characters and situations in other books that make "With A Mind To Kill" so delightful to read. I hope Horowitz continues to write the world's most popular secret agent in the future. I have been and always be a fan of Bond books and I loved "With A Mind To Kill" "With A Mind To Kill" races along with rapid pacing and a villain worthy of Fleming.

Forever And A Day
Anthony Horowitz
c/o Harper Collins Publishers
9780062873620, $16.99 pbk / $11.99 Kindle

The British secret service is very interested in a murder in the French Rivera as it involves one of their agents. M. sends in James Bond to investigate opens "Forever And A Day" the second novel by Anthony Horowitz. Bond hooks up with the mysterious Joanne Bochet who goes by the name of Madame track down the clues that lead to an ominous evil mastermind plot to wreak havoc on citizens of the world population. Horowitz once again moves the plot along with solid writing in the fold of Fleming that concludes the story with a satisfying ending. "Forever And A Day" is highly recommend reading for anyone who enjoys the Bond novels. James Bond will return and hopefully Anthony Horowitz will too to write another Bond thriller.

Trigger Mortis A James Bond Novel
Anthony Horowitz
c/o Harper Collins Publishers
9780062395115, $16.99 pbk, $11.99 Kindle

"Trigger Mortis" the first Horowitz narrative is close in style and feel to the original Fleming classics that were so much fun to read. Opening with a murder, "Trigger Mortis" races along at a brisk pace to its final shattering conclusion. Bond's newest mission begins a short time after his battle with Goldfinger. Along the way are some familiar characters with some new and interesting allies thrown in. The villain is evil in the same mold as other Fleming, Bond enemies. Included in several chapters are pieces of unpublished works by Fleming himself that add to the novel. "Trigger Mortis" is the best James Bond story in many years that is a tribute to Ian Fleming's original novels. James Bond is back in action, and better than ever.

Casino Royale
Ian Fleming
Thomas & Mercer
9781612185439, $10.99 pbk / $10.99 Kindle

Casino Royale the first James Bond novel made its debut in 1953 selling out in its first print run, within a month of its release. Later it was learned that President Kennedy had read and enjoyed one of the Fleming thrillers. After that, Flemings books took off and in 1962the movie series began that is still hot today. Sadly, Fleming never got to see the success of his creation. He died in 1964, the year the movie "Goldfinger" established the character of James Bond. "Casino Royale set the standard of writing that would be Fleming's trademark, from the very first words on the page. The work had all the great elements like high stake card games, a vicious enemy for Bond to take down as well as the other great aspects. Reading "Casino Royale" today is even more fun as I have a different perspective than when I was growing up. For those who have never read the Fleming books and only know the film versions "Casino Royale" is a perfect place to discover a different James Bond from the one they are familiar with.

Colonel Sun
Kingsley Amis
Pegasus Books
9781681776491, $22.99 HC / $6.99 Kindle

"Colonel Sun" is of sorts a rebirth of the James Bond character, as well as the first non-Ian Fleming novel. After Ian Fleming's death author Kingsley Amis was commissioned to write a new Bond adventure. "Colonel Sun" by Amis under the name Robert Markham in some editions, was published 4 years after the death of Ian Fleming but takes place just after "The Man With The Golden Gun" the last novel by Fleming. In some ways "Colonel Sun" was close to the Fleming books. Possibly because he had written "The James Bond Dossier" where he analyzed everything about the character, a short time before he was tapped to continue the series. "Colonel Sun" begins with the kidnapping of Bond's superior M, then takes a lot of twists and tuns including some Russians and a beautiful lady who help Bond on the trail of M, to a smashing conclusion with a sinister Chinese villain, who takes great pleasure in the art of torture. The holders of the estate of Ian Fleming hoped to have more escapades of Bond under the Markham name but nothing developed until the 1980s when John Gardner was commissioned to write more Bond books. "Colonel Sun" was and still is a welcome addition to the cycle of James Bond novels to be enjoyed by any Bond fan.

The Lost Adventures of James Bond
Mark Edlitz
9781735461618, $34.99 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

"The Lost Adventures of James Bond is for any fan of the long running movie series. Author Edlitz begins with 2 possible scripts that would have been Timothy Dalton's third and fourth outings as Bond. He did not continue as 007 because UA/MGM and Eon productions had disputes that took 4 years to resolve. Dalton decided to not want to wait to play the character again. The scripts are interesting as they would also have solidified Dalton for possibly many other films There are also possible scripts for several Roger Moore outings as well as coverage of the many authors of the novels not written by Ian Fleming the original creator of Bond as well as expose of the graphic novel forms and other presentations of James Bond. "The Lost Adventures of James Bond" is a well-researched compilation of interviews with key players and other resources that is great trivia for any Bond enthusiast

Phasers On Stun! How the Making and Remaking of Star Trek Changed the World
Ryan Britt
c/o Penguin Random House Inc
9780593185698, $28.00 HC / $15.99 Kindle

The original Star Trek was a failure with the NBC network. That said it has proven to be one of the longest running franchises in television history. "Phasers On Stun How the Making and Remaking of Star Trek Changed the World" is a new look into all that is Trek from the very beginning with a lot of new information never before revealed. Coming from a fan of the Star Trek universe author Ryan Britt deals with all of the current aspects as well as other older things. From the series to movies to novels he takes fans on another journey through the many worlds that continue to thrill. He even deals with 3 of the most popular ones of Discovery, Picard, and Strange New Worlds as well new information on the Paramount Plus Network. "Phasers On Stun" is a welcome addition to the many books about Star Trek.

Truth, Lies & Alzheimer's: Its Secret Faces
Lisa Skinner and Douglas W. Collins
Foreword by Dr. Anand Srivastava
Word Crafts Press
9781957344140, $13.99 pbk / $5.99 Kindle

"Truth, Lies & Alzheimer's It's a Secret Faces" is a groundbreaking title that is very comforting work for any family dealing with a member with Dementia or Alzheimer's Every day the news is filled with stories of men and women who in their Dementia or Alzheimer's state stray away from where they live for whatever reason, as well as staggering numbers of who has either of the diseases. There seems to be little progress to help these and others. Another aspect is that shows like The Young and the Restless, This is Us and other popular series and movies are focusing attention on both aspects more and more. Lisa Skinner and Douglas W. Collins tell stories of ways to treat patients as well as revealing new tactics as well as information during Covid19. "Truth Lies & Alzheimer's Its Secret Faces" is also in a hardcover edition as well as there is a workbook to accompany a course to be taught by Lisa Skinner. "Truth Lies & Alzheimer's Its Secret Faces" offers hope for the future of Dementia and Alzheimer's

How To Survive Middle School Math
Concetta Ortiz, Matt Fazio
Bright Matter Books
c/o Penguin Random House Inc
9780525571414, $16.99 pbk / $11.99 Kindle

If you are like me, you are not very good at math. "How to Survive Middle School Math" shows many ways to learn and retain ways to do any form of math in an easy-to-follow way to be more knowledgeable. The authors teach new techniques for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems that are easy to learn as well as enjoyable fun. Posing many word problems, they teach key words to use to tackle problems as well. "How To Survive Middle School Math" is for all ages to utilize for everyday usage.

How To Survive Middle School World History
Elizabeth M. Fee
Bright Matter Books
c/o Penguin Random House Inc
9780525571652, $16.99 pbk / $11.99 Kindle

Today many question many aspects of education. We could all learn a lot with the wonderful titles in the series. "How To Survive Middle School World History" reveals the importance of leaning history in many different aspects. Author Fee shows the importance of learning about the Roman empire, Ancient Greece, the expansion of different religions, the periods of change of the Renaissance, Industrial Revolution much much more that has been put aside to teach more modern issues. Though societies change as well as technology, human nature doesn't and "How To Survive Middle School World History is a valuable resource for all of us to learn from

Bella Santini in the Land of Everlasting Change
Angela Legin
Waterside Productions
9781954968080, $16.95 pbk / $9.95 Kindle

When you think of fairies, Tinkerbell immediately comes to mind. But the ones in "Bella Santini in the Land of Everlasting Change" are nothing like the charming Disney character. In fact, you have some that are mean and nasty. Bella Santini is unhappy with her life especially when her parents take her on an outing. Once in the wild she sees a number of fireflies that she follows. Bella learns she trespassed into the space of some fairies. Taken prisoner, she discovers she is in the middle of a fight between good and evil. "Bella Santini in the Land of Everlasting Change" is a different slice of a fascinating new alternate universe, that should be included fare for Harry Potter fans

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

It's Not You, It's Everything
Eric Minton
Broadleaf Books
9781506471914, $24.99, 198pp

Synopsis: In today's troubled and polarized world, if we can agree on anything, it is that we are not okay. Our culture is reeling from the ravages of a global pandemic, a precipitous rise in depression and anxiety, suffocating debt, white supremacy, hypercapitalism, and a virulent political animus -- to name a few. But what if it's not us? What if it's... well, everything? What if trying to conform to a sick culture is actually making us sick?

"It's Not You, It's Everything: What Our Pain Reveals about the Anxious Pursuit of the Good Life" by Eric Minton is a timely and incisive inquiry into the anxious pursuit of happiness at all costs. A psychotherapist and former pastor, Minton claims that the pernicious melding of capitalism and Christianity means a world of competition, perfection, and scarcity disguised as self-help and self-care.

Rather than shaming, silencing, or medicating away our disappointment at not having obtained the happiness we were promised, however, Minton posits a radical alternative. In an impertinent, droll, yet pastoral voice, Minton suggests that our "not-okayness" will require rethinking everything we thought we knew about God, depression, the economy, culture, education, technology, and happiness.

Our angst (and that of our children and teenagers) is telling us the truth about the kind of world we've created. By naming all the ways we're not okay, we move away from fear and shame and toward love, and trust, and trustworthiness. We'll need nothing less than hip-hop, Mr. Rogers, liberation theology, and Jesus to get us there. But on the other side of our pain is a radical "okayness" that might just set us free.

Critique: A truly exceptional, deftly crafted, and effective blending of psychology, cultural critique, spirituality, insight, and observation, "It's Not You, It's Everything: What Our Pain Reveals about the Anxious Pursuit of the Good Life" is an inspired and potentially life enhancing read that is impressively accessible to the non-specialist general reader. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Popular Culture collections, and the personal reading lists of anyone having to deal with love and loss, it should be noted that "It's Not You, It's Everything: What Our Pain Reveals about the Anxious Pursuit of the Good Life" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.49).

Editorial Note: Eric Minton is a writer, an ordained Baptist minister, and a psychotherapist specializing in marriage and family therapy. He has a family therapy practice in Knoxville, Tennessee, and provides coaching and consultation for pastors, nonprofit leaders, businesspeople, and institutions, helping them foster better ways of living, working, and serving together. Minton's work has appeared in Sojourners, Geez Magazine, Baptist News Global, and Red Letter Christians.

Your Marriage God's Way
Scott LaPierre
Harvest House Publishers
PO Box 41210, Eugene, OR 97404-0322
9780736983969, $18.99, PB, 256pp

Synopsis: Your most important earthly connection is with your spouse, and when you honor the person you married, you are also honoring God. He created marriage to be one of life's greatest gifts, and the instruction manual you need for a joyful, lasting union is found in His Word.

With the publication of "Your Marriage God's Way: A Biblical Guide to a Christ-Centered Relationship", author and pastor, Scott LaPierre takes a close look at the principles for building a biblical marriage -- one in which your relationship with Christ brings guidance and blessing into your relationship with your spouse.

With "Your Marriage God's Way" you will gain the tools to: Understand the unique roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives; Recognize and resolve the conflicts you face with a heart of hope and compassion; Follow God's worthy command to love and cherish your spouse unconditionally.

Whether you're at the beginning of your marital journey or you've been on the road together for years, "Your Marriage God's Way" will provide the helpful and encouraging insights you need to experience marriage as God intends it.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, "Your Marriage God's Way: A Biblical Guide to a Christ-Centered Relationship" is an informative treatise on Christian marriage, family, and relationships. "Your Marriage God's Way" is especially and unreservedly recommended reading for all married (as well as those engaged to be married!) members of the Christian community regardless of denominational affiliations. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Your Marriage God's Way: A Biblical Guide to a Christ-Centered Relationship" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.77). It should also be noted that there is an accompanying workbook available (9780736983983, $14.99 PB, $11.49 Kindle, 192pp).

Editorial Note: Scott LaPierre is a senior pastor, author, and popular conference speaker. He holds an MA in biblical studies from Liberty University. Pastor Scott has an informative website at, and be followed on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith, and Talmud
Maggie Anton
Banot Press
9780976305033, $16.99, PB, 400pp

Synopsis: Simply stated, "The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith, and Talmud" by Maggie Anton is a powerful love story with the purpose of challenging Jewish customs concerning women, marriage, and equality.

With the publication of "The Choice", Maggie Anton, has provided her readers with a wholly transformative novel that takes characters inspired by Chaim Potok and ages them into young adults in Brooklyn in the 1950s, a time of Elvis & Marilyn, communist scares & polio vaccines, Jewish migration & American integration.

When Hannah Eisen, a successful journalist, interviews Rabbi Nathan Mandel, a controversial Talmud professor, she persuades him to teach her the mysteries of the text forbidden to women -- even though it might cost him his job if discovered. Secret meetings and lively discussions bring the two to the edge of a line that neither dares to cross, as their relationships with each other and Judaism are tested.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, deftly crafted, thought-provoking, and occasionally iconoclastic novel that will have a particular and special appeal to readers with an interest in Judaism and the role of contemporary women in Jewish culture, "The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith, and Talmud" by accomplished novelist Maggie Anton is very highly recommended and is also readily available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note #1: Maggie Anton is an award-winning author of historical fiction, as well as a Talmud scholar with expertise in Jewish women's history. In 1992 she joined a women's Talmud class taught by Rachel Adler. There, to her surprise, she fell in love with Talmud, a passion that has continued unabated for thirty years. Intrigued that the great Jewish scholar Rashi had no sons, only daughters, she started researching the family and their community. Since 2005, Maggie Anton has lectured about the research behind her books at hundreds of venues throughout North America, Europe and Israel. She still studies women and Talmud, albeit mostly online. Her favorite Talmud learning sites are Daf Shevui and Mishna Yomit, provided daily via email by the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. She also maintains an informative website at:

Editorial Note #2: Banot Press was established to publish books in English that encourage more women to study Talmud, as well as anyone who wants to understand the origins of today's Judaism. Their goal as a publisher is to bring the Talmud to those unable to access traditional yeshiva learning.

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us
Danielle J. Lindemann
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
9780374279028, $30.00, HC, 352pp

Synopsis: What do we see when we watch reality television? In "True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us", the sociologist and TV-watcher Danielle J. Lindemann takes a long, hard look in the "funhouse mirror" of this genre. From the first episodes of The Real World to countless rose ceremonies to the White House, reality TV has not just remade our entertainment and cultural landscape (which it undeniably has). Reality TV, Lindemann argues, uniquely reflects our everyday experiences and social topography back to us. Applying scholarly research (including studies of inequality, culture, and deviance) to specific shows, Lindemann layers sharp insights with social theory, humor, pop cultural references, and anecdotes from her own life to show us who we really are.

By taking reality TV seriously, "True Story" argues, we can better understand key institutions (like families, schools, and prisons) and broad social constructs (such as gender, race, class, and sexuality). From The Bachelor to Real Housewives to COPS and more (so much more!), reality programming unveils the major circuits of power that organize our lives -- and the extent to which our own realities are, in fact, socially constructed.

Whether we're watching conniving Survivor contestants or three-year-old beauty queens, these "guilty pleasures" underscore how conservative our society remains, and how steadfastly we cling to our notions about who or what counts as legitimate or "real". At once an entertaining chronicle of reality TV obsession and a pioneering work of sociology, True Story holds up a mirror to our society: the reflection may not always be pretty -- but we can't look away.

Critique: Providing inherently fascinating insights into our human behavior as applied to that ubiquitous genre of television programming we call 'Reality TV', "True Story: What Reality TV Says About" by Professor Danielle Lindemann is an impressively informative, exceptionally well organized and presented study. While especially recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Sociology & Social Theory and TV History & Criticism collections and supplemental curriculum studies syllabus, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non- specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "True Story: What Reality TV Says About" is also available in a paperback edition (Picador, 978-1250862945, $19.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

Editorial Note: Danielle J. Lindemann is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Lehigh University interested in gender, sexuality, the family, and culture. She is the author of Commuter Spouses: New Families in a Changing World and Dominatrix: Gender, Eroticism and Control in the Dungeon. Her research has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She has spoken about her work on National Public Radio and has written op-eds for CNN, Newsweek, Salon, Fortune, and Quartz.

John Taylor

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

Rivall Friendship
Bridget Manningham, author
Jean R. Brink, editor
9780866986335, $120.00, PB, 672pp ($102.16, Amazon)

Synopsis: The manuscript for Rivall Friendship was first acquired by the Newberry Library in 1937. At the time of the acquisition, the author of this seventeenth-century romance was anonymous. With the publication of "Rivall Friendship, by Bridget Manningham", academician and Medieval and Renaissance scholar Jean R. Brink now suggests, based on dating of the manuscript and her analysis of its feminist themes, that the author was a woman. Specifically, Professor Brink attributes the text to Bridget Manningham, who was the older sister of Thomas Manningham, a Jacobean and Caroline bishop, and the granddaughter of John Manningham, a diarist who recorded performances of Shakespeare's plays.

Rivall Friendship is a post - English Civil War romance that examines proto-feminist issues, such as patriarchal dominance in the family and marriage. Manningham is scrupulous about maintaining verisimilitude, and unlike more fantastical romances of the period that feature monsters, giants, and magic, this text aspires to a level of probability in its historical and geographical details. In this ACMR edition, the text of Rivall Friendship is accessible to most modern readers, particularly to students and scholars accustomed to working with seventeenth-century texts.

Critique: Having a unique and special appeal to readers with an interest in Medieval and Renaissance literature, "Rivall Friendship, by Bridget Manningham" by Jean R. Brink is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, and academic library Medieval/Renaissance collections and supplemental curriculum studies reading lists.

Editorial Note: Jean R. Brink is a research scholar at the Huntington Library and an emeritus professor at Arizona State University. She founded and directed the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Professor Brink is also the author of The Early Spenser (1554 - 1580).

Heartsick: Three Stories about Love, Pain, and What Happens in Between
Jessie Stephens
Henry Holt & Company
9781250838360, $26.99, HC, 320pp

Synopsis: When we're thrown into the chaos of heartsickness, we focus so much on the end. The fact we are now unloved seems so much more important than the reality that we once were. "Heartsick: Three Stories about Love, Pain, and What Happens in Between" was born in the hours author Jessie Stephens waited for men to message her back -- but who never did.

In the years full of almost-relationships, Jessica thought, "I cannot handle another rejection", and then found herself turned down by someone she wasn't even sure she liked.

Jessica wanted to write "Heartsick" because she knew what it is to feel fundamentally unlovable. She knew when she was looking for Ana, Patrick, and Claire that their stories had to be true, because within them would be nuances she had never noticed before and realities she couldn't have invented.

Jessica didn't want to be limited by what she happened to know about love and loss. She wanted to learn from people as she was writing "Heartsick", injecting additional wisdom drawn from different places and genders and ages.

Weaving together these three true stories, Jessie captures the painful but wholeheartedly universal experience of heartbreak. Deeply relatable, addictive to the very last page, and powerfully human, "Heartsick" reminds us that emotional pain can make us as it breaks us and that storytelling has the ultimate healing power.

In the solitude that reading a book like "Heartsick" demands, the reader is forced to reflect on their own life story. After all, every time we explore others, we're mostly just exploring ourselves.

Critique: Compelling, emotionally impacting, and having a special appeal to and resonance with readers who have an abiding interest in love and loss, romance and sexuality, and the experience of male-female relationships in our modern world, "Heartsick: Three Stories about Love, Pain, and What Happens in Between" is an extraordinary and highly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as professional, and community library collections on Human Sexuality. It should be noted that "Heartsick: Three Stories about Love, Pain, and What Happens in Between" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99).

Editorial Note: Jessie Stephens is a Sydney-based writer and podcaster, with a Master's degree in History and Gender Studies. She is also the assistant head of content at Mamamia and co-host of the podcast Mamamia Out Loud. Additionally she hosts Mamamia's True Crime Conversations and Book Club podcasts, where she's had the pleasure of interviewing some of her favorite authors.

What Ben Franklin Would Have Told Me
Donna Gordon
Regal House Publishing
9781646032303, $19.95, 330pp

Synopsis: What Ben Franklin Would Have Told Me" by Donna Gordon explores the story of Lee, a vibrant thirteen-year-old boy who is facing premature death from Progeria (a premature aging disease); his caretaker Tomas is a survivor of Argentina's Dirty War, who is searching for his missing wife, who was pregnant when they were both "disappeared;" and Lee's single mother, Cass, overwhelmed by love for her son and the demands of her work as a Broadway makeup artist.

When a mix-up prevents Cass from taking Lee on his "final wish" trip to Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia to pursue his interest in the life of Ben Franklin, Tomas (who has discovered potential leads to his family in both cities) offers to accompany Lee on the trip. As one flees memories of death and the other hurtles inevitably toward it, they each share unsettling truths and find themselves transformed in the process.

Set during the Ronald Reagan presidency, this lyrical novel transcends an adventure story to take the reader on an unforgettable journey.

Critique: Especially impressive when considering that "What Ben Franklin Would Have Told Me" is author Donna Gordon's debut as a novelist, this poignant, emotionally engaging, deftly crafted and original story is highly recommended for community library Contemporary Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "What Ben Franklin Would Have Told Me" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.49).

Editorial Note: Donna Gordon graduated from Brown, was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford, a PEN Discovery, and a Ploughshares Discovery. She received the New Letters Publication Prize in fiction, and her writing has appeared in Tin House, Ploughshares, Story Quarterly, Post Road, The Quarterly, Poetry Northwest, the Boston Globe Magazine, Solstice, and others. Her work with former political prisoners culminated in "Putting Faces on the Unimaginable: Portraits and Interviews with Former Prisoners of Conscience."

Hector (He works for the public sector)
Cathy Kingham
Independently Published
9781739989309, $10.09, PB, 32pp

Synopsis: Hector has been assigned a new job role in the Cheese Distribution Team at Vermin City Council. Life doesn't get much better for a mouse than this - lots of cheese, friendly colleagues and the great outdoors!

However, Hector quickly discovers things are not quite as they seem. Behind a veneer of respectability and productivity lies a management team that has lost its way. The ruthless focus on output and targets is to the detriment of Hector's colleagues and customers. Hector must tread very carefully indeed!

"Hector (He works for the public sector)" is Hector's personal story of bad cheese puns, burnout and the challenges of the modern workplace on our mental health and wellbeing. Hector believes that no matter how small and defeated you may feel, it is always important to find a way to stand up for what you believe is right.

Critique: Inspired by the author Cathy Kingham's own experiences of occupational burnout, "Hector (He works for the public sector)" is the picture book story of relatable rodent characters that will have a very special appeal (and recognition!) for anyone in the public or private sector and who is simply trying to do a good job under very challenging conditions. A fictional satire on a very real issue in today's economy and political climate, "Hector (He works for the public sector)" is highly recommended for community library collections young readers and any adult who has had to deal (or who is currently dealing) with job fatigue and burnout.

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

Truth, Lies and ETs
Don Donderi Ph.D
Moonshine Cove Publishing
9781952439285, $16.00, PB, 202pp

Synopsis: Earth is in the middle of a technological and scientific revolution. It might lead us to more knowledge about ourselves, our place in the universe and the universe itself, or it might lead us to catastrophe.

"Truth, Lies and ETs: How We Stumbled into the Universe" by Don Doneri is a report on seventy-five years of history during which extraterrestrials (ETs) and their extraterrestrial vehicles (ETVs;, which used to be called UFOs) -- have made themselves a part of life on earth.

Don Donderi, psychology professor at McGill University in Montreal (retired), tells us in "Truth, Lies and ETs", that Alien visitors have been kidnapping humans and treating them like specimens for at least 75 years. Beginning during the last years of World War 2, visitors from elsewhere in the Universe began arriving in their "flying saucers." They haven't left, and have been observing and experimenting with us ever since. The uninvited extraterrestrial visitors (ETs) kidnap and examine people; interfere with human reproduction to create hybrid human-aliens, and come and go as they please.

While every part of this story has been told before by careful and dedicated researchers, with the publication of "Truth Lies and ETs", Donderi has assembled it all into one easily accessible volume that makes it hard to ignore as we consider what is really happening (Truth), how governments have tried to conceal what is happening (Lies), and who is doing this to us (ETs).

Critique: Having a very special appeal to readers with an interest in UFOs and ancient astronaut theories, "Truth, Lies and ETs: How We Stumbled into the Universe" is an inherently fascinating and thought-provoking read. While highly recommended for personal, professional, and community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Truth, Lies and ETs: How We Stumbled into the Universe" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.99).

Editorial Note: Don Donderi was educated at the University of Chicago, which he entered at 15. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree at 18 and a B.Sc. in biological psychology at 21. He began his professional career as a research psychologist with IBM where he helped to develop radar navigation displays for the B-52 bomber. After graduating from Cornell University with a PhD in experimental psychology he joined the Faculty of Science of McGill University, where he taught undergraduate psychology, trained PhD students and served as Associate Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research. He retired from McGill in 2009 after a career of 47 years. He has written over one hundred basic research papers and technical reports dealing with the science of human visual perception and memory, co-authored one textbook and edited another. He co-founded a Toronto-based ergonomics consulting company and has carried out applied research and development projects for private and government clients on topics including flight instrumentation, flight simulation, marine navigation in ocean and arctic environments, nuclear safety and chemical process engineering. His entire career has been in the mainstream of science and engineering.

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

Warp Speed
Paul Mango
Republic Book Publishers
9781645720546, $24.95, 250pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Warp Speed: Inside the Operation That Beat COVID, the Critics, and the Odds", eyewitness Paul Mango tells the impressive story of how our nation's leaders overcame the odds, saving the American people from the throes of a deadly pandemic.

The prior record for vaccine development and distribution was approximately 4.5 years. Operation Warp Speed got the COVID-19 vaccine to the American people in less than 10 months. Operation Warp Speed did not happen by accident. It was the result of exceptional leadership, explicit strategy, and unprecedented teamwork.

Author Paul Mango was one of the key leaders of Operation Warp Speed and the former deputy chief of US Health and Human Services who aptly chronicles the challenges of developing the vaccine. In this harrowing, behind-the-scenes account of the most successful public-private partnership since World War II, we learn how the nation's biggest leaders accomplished the impossible.

Through sheer will and commitment, a small group of leaders fulfilled its mission, making the United States the only country in the world which could offer a vaccine to any citizen by April 2021, scarcely 14 months after the genetic identification of the virus.

Critique: The simply amazing story behind the development of anti-Covid vaccines is told in riveting detail and clearly laid out for the general public by someone who was there at every stage of this medical miracle that was accomplished in a time of dire peril for the nation (and the world!). Enhanced with the inclusion of an informative Foreword by Senator Tom Cotten, fifteen pages of Notes, and a six page Index, "Warp Speed: Inside the Operation That Beat COVID, the Critics, and the Odds" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library American Medical History collections in general, and COVID-19 supplemental studies lists in particular. It should be noted for medical students, academia, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Warp Speed: Inside the Operation That Beat COVID, the Critics, and the Odds" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.49).

Editorial Note: Paul Mango was the Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the conception, development, and implementation of Operation Warp Speed. He entered government service with close to 30 years experience as a healthcare industry executive and consultant transforming some of America's largest organizations. Prior to this, he served as a field artillery officer in the 82nd Airborne Division. He is a graduate of West Point and the Harvard Business School.

Michael Dunford

Nancy Lorraine's Bookshelf

The ABCs of Women in Music
Anneli Loepp Thiessen, author
Haeon Grace Kang, illustrator
GIA Publications, Inc.
7404 S. Mason Avenue, Chicago, IL 60638
978622776283, $18.95, G-10547, Ages 5-7

"The ABCs of Women in Music" is an exciting collection of 26 celebrated women musicians, composers, performers, and creators, whose names begin with one of all 26 letters of the alphabet. Colorfully illustrated with a painting of each music artist, the text for thumbnail biographies includes musical contributions of each woman, plus the date of birth (and death if deceased).

Many of the women honored are well known, such as Beyonce, Renee Fleming, Dolly Parton, or Ella Fitzgerald. But others are less universally known for their special musical contributions, such as Gaelynn Lea, (violinist, singer, born 1984), Lizzo (pop singer, rapper, flautist B. 1988), and Ulali (First Nations A Cappella Ensemble founded in 1987). Still others are historically famous, including Nannerl Mozart (composer 1751-1829), Kassia (nun composer 810-865), Isabella Colbran (first female opera singer, 1785-1845), and Hildegard von Bingen (nun composer/writer, 1098-1179).

From Yuja Wang (concert pianist, b. 1987) to Ella Fitzgerald (jazz singer, 1917-1996), "The ABCs of Women in Music" celebrates the musical contributions of women over the ages . Describing the composition work of Zenobia Powell Perry (composer 1908-2004), this statement also summarizes the impact of "The ABCs of Women in Music:" "She wrote many songs, even though only one was published. When women forge their own paths, their voices will be heard."

An excellent ending exercise includes a page of blanks for the reader's favorite song, favorite role model for women in music, and a list of three words to describe women in music. Also helping to deliver the message of empowerment for women musicians is a brief quiz requesting names of women in music as follows: one DJ, one conductor, one musicologist, one ensemble, two pianists, two pop singers, and three opera composers.

Further quiz questions help young readers to remember the biographical sketches of the 26 women in music included and honored in this collection. "The ABCs of Women in Music" offers a multi -ethnic, cross generational, global sampling of a variety of diverse musical talents and offerings of women for children ages 5-7. Simply stated, it deserves a space on every elementary and community library's Music History & Biography collections -- and will also serves as an inspiration for the rising generation of young women in music.

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

Leadership Refined by Fire
John M. Cuomo
Wild Bull Media
9781957652023, $21.99, HC, 366pp

Synopsis: A good fireman can read smoke, understand building construction, and fight fires. Exceptional firefighting leadership, though, means going above and beyond what is required to answer the call of duty. In the fire service, it can be the difference between survival or disaster.

Leadership qualities can advance your career and develop you into the firefighter and exceptional leader that your fire department, crew, and the community can count on. With the publication of "Leadership Refined by Fire: A Firefighter's Guide to Develop Leadership Skills, Motivate and Inspire Others, and Deliver Exceptional Care for the Public", John M. Cuomo leverages over two decades as a firefighter to help you become the fire service leader you are seeking to be.

This outstanding guide will teach you: A step-by-step game plan to develop and improve leadership skills, based on inspirational leaders throughout history; Key practices for self-care during a tough job; How to practice effective leadership in times of chaos; Methods to empathetically care for people in crisis, both on emergency scenes and in the firehouse; How to deliver exceptional customer service; Tips for building a motivational culture while coaching the next generation of firefighters.

Effective leadership is the backbone for safety (and success) in the unpredictable and dangerous fire service. Deeply personal and backed with raw, real-life experiences, "Leadership Refined by Fire" is an effective instruction manual and how-to guide to becoming the fire fighting leader you are seeking to be!

Critique: Comprehensive, exceptionally well organized, thoroughly 'reader friendly' in presentation, "Leadership Refined by Fire: A Firefighter's Guide to Develop Leadership Skills, Motivate and Inspire Others, and Deliver Exceptional Care for the Public" should be considered required reading for aspiring firefighters and has a great deal of practical value for even the more experienced firefighting rank-and-file and leadership alike. While highly recommended as an instructional reference guide for any and all fire houses, community, college, and university library Firefighting & Prevention, Disaster Relief, and Leadership & Motivation collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Leadership Refined by Fire" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781957652009, $16.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: John M. Cuomo is a firefighter and paramedic, author and owner of Wild Bull Media, Inc. With over 20 years as a firefighter, John is passionate about the fire and police communities and the service they provide to our country. In his career, John served as a driver/engineer, lieutenant, and captain and stepped up as EMS chief, battalion chief, and training chief. He also served as a fire and police department pension representative for 10 years.

The Not So Subtle Art of Caring: Letters on Leadership
Phillip Kane
Business Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing
9781789049084, $26.95, 336pp

Synopsis: Virgin's Richard Branson, Zappos' Tony Hsieh, and Tesla's Elon Musk, apart from their obvious success, all share another thing in common. Each utilizes storytelling to maximize their effectiveness as leaders. Many of the most influential leaders of our and all time, including arguably the most influential leader in history, used storytelling whenever they had a particularly important point to make.

Encouraged by these influences, a father who was a known storyteller and a Nigerian priest who used stories to bridge a language barrier, author, and successful businessperson, Phillip Kane used stories each Friday throughout his career to help business associates relate to key issues facing the organizations he had the privilege to lead. These weekly letters had less to do with what was going on in the business than how people thought about what was going on in the business.

By helping shift and align his teams' point of view, Kane and the teams he led were able to accomplish more and win more often. All because of the stories he told. Many of them are assembled in "The Not So Subtle Art of Caring: Letters on Leadership" for the first time.

Organized around key themes like encouragement, trust, and gratitude, Kane also provides additional insights for existing or aspiring leaders looking for a different, better way to appeal to those who should be following them. Featured twice in Kouzes' & Posner's, The Leadership Challenge (Wiley), first-time author, Phillip Kane's storytelling technique and the leadership lessons he imparts are key for any leader seeking to create winning teams built on a fundamental foundation of caring and service to others.

A first-time author and now 2022 Hoffer prize finalist, Phillip Kane's storytelling technique and the leadership lessons he imparts are key for any leader seeking to create winning teams built on a fundamental foundation of caring and service to others.

Critique: Impressively informative, exceptionally well written, extraordinary in organization and presentation, "The Not So Subtle Art of Caring: Letters on Leadership" will have a special and particular appeal for anyone charged with a leadership role or assigned to a meeting presentation in their business and/or their community. While very highly recommended for inclusion into community, college, and university library Leadership Motivation & Communication Skills collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Not So Subtle Art of Caring: Letters on Leadership" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).

Editorial Note: Phillip Kane has had a successful career of more than 30 years in some of the world's best-known corporations. Working for brands like Goodyear, Pirelli, and NAPA, Kane has had the privilege to lead thousands of individuals and has managed billions of dollars in value for stakeholders. He has a website at

Paul T. Vogel

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

The Wedding Column Murders
Jeffrey Metzger
Darkstroke Books
9798715115362 $10.99 paper
B08X4YN22Z $2.99 ebook, 213 pages

The Wedding Column Murders is a suspense that isn't that suspenseful. The story is dominated by meandering dialogues between the protagonist and his family, friends and police. The story would be a better fit as a dark play in a small theater.

A string of murders of wealthy New York individuals who have had their weddings announced in The New York Primrose occur. At first, they seem unconnected until the numbers of deaths add up. Ethan Balfour grew up with the New York wealthy and knew the victims. The murders become a topic of discussion with Ethan's family and friends. The police call Ethan in for questioning since he knows the victims and was in close vicinity to the location of a number of the murders. The meandering dialogue both brings out possible suspects and details while disguising the murders in layers of nonsense.

A minority of readers will enjoy The Wedding Column Murders but most readers will be put off by the slow pace and the focus on dialogue and not action. Metzger tries to add a twist to the end of the story but it is less of a surprise and feels more like a whimper of an ending. The dependence on dialogue feels as if Metzger should be more focused on writing plays and not suspenses.

Among the Saints
Jari Tervo
Daniel Karvonen, Translator
Ice Cold Crime LLC
9780982444993, $13.95, 339 pages

Among the Saints is a different kind of murder mystery. The story is told by 35 different characters in first person. The writing technique works but I found the story itself unenjoyable. All of the 35 characters have deep flaws and, at least for me, are unlikeable. A second problem I have is with the translation by Karvonen. The original tale was written in Finn and located within the Finnish culture. To translate the story well, you have to both change the Finnish words into English, even if there are no direct equivalents, and modify the cultural references so the fine details read smoother. Karvonen's translation was a bit too literal and the story felt jumbled.

Among the Saints shows that genre fiction can be written in different formats and still work. The murder mystery is complex and the different narrations and characters all add an interesting layer of complexity. But I found the ending too much of an attempt for the author to take the easy way out to shock the reader.

Marzipan Raikkonen, a born criminal, is murdered and no one, even himself, seems to know who murdered him. The murder produces a chain of events as heavily flawed individuals stumble through the aftermath.

In many ways Among the Saints is a sad comedic satire. Some readers will enjoy this unique take in the tale. Good satire depends on timing and absurdity. Personally, I found the timing slightly off. This could be that some of the satire was lost when the Finnish was translated into English.

Among the Saints is recommended for those who enjoy fringe murder mysteries with unusual twists or those readers who enjoy a good writer pushing the limits on how a story can be told. The tale can be a little too extreme for many readers.

S.A. Gorden
Senior Reviewer

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