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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 6 June 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

The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope
Stephen Trimble
Little Bound Books
9781953340221, $14.95, PB, 180pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope", author Stephen Trimble grapples with his brother Mike's heartrending life and death and looks behind doors he had barricaded within himself.

In 1957, when "Stevie" was six and Mike 14, psychosis overwhelmed Mike. He never lived at home again and died alone in a Denver boarding home at 33. Journalists used Mike's death to expose these "ratholes" warehousing people with mental illness.

"The Mike Files" deftly combines the elements of a detective story, a social history, a journey of self-discovery, and presenting a compassionate and unsparing memorial to a family and a forgotten life.

Critique: Excpetionally well written and presented, "The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope" will be of particular relevance to readers with an interest in sibling relationships as they are affected by mental illness. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.99), "The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Child Psychology & Psychiatry collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists..

Editorial Note: Stephen Trimble was born in Denver, his family's base for roaming the West with his geologist father. Trimble read passionately as a kid and started writing as a teenager, and he just kept writing. A liberal arts education led to work as a park ranger and museum press director. As writer, editor, and photographer, Trimble has published 25 award-winning books during 45 years of paying attention to the landscapes and peoples of the Desert West. In 2019, Trimble was honored as one of Utah's 15 most influential artists. Trimble has taught writing at the University of Utah, where he received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at the Tanner Humanities Center during the centennial of Stegner's birth. He has also been awarded The Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for photography and conservation; The National Cowboy Museum's Western Heritage "Wrangler" Award; and a Doctor of Humane Letters from his alma mater, Colorado College. He has a website at

Educating Egypt: Civic Values and Ideological Struggles
Linda Herrera
American University in Cairo Press
200 Park Avenue, Suite 1700, New York, NY 10166
9781649031693, $70.00, HC, 256pp

Synopsis: From the 1952 revolution onward, a main purpose of formal education in Egypt was to socialize children and youth into adopting certain attitudes and behaviors conducive to the regimes in power. Control by the state over education was never entirely hegemonic. Egyptian education came increasingly under pressure due to a combination of the growing privatization of the education sector, the growth of political Islam, and rapidly changing digital technologies.

"Educating Egypt: Civic Values and Ideological Struggles" by Professor Linda Herrera traces the everyday practices, policy ideas, and ideological and political and economic contests over education from the era of nation-building in the twentieth century to the age of global change and digital disruption in the twenty-first. Its overarching theme is that schooling and education, broadly defined, have consistently mirrored larger debates about what constitutes the model citizen and the educated person.

Drawing on three decades of ethnographic research inside Egyptian schools and among Egyptian youth, Professor Herrera asks what happens when education actors harbor fundamentally different ideas about the purpose, provision, and meaning of education. Her research shows that, far from serving as a unifying social force, education is in reality an ongoing battleground of interests, ideas, and visions of the good society.

Critique: Enhanced for academia with the inclusion with fourteen pages of Notes, a sixteen page listing of References, and a thirteen page Index, "Educating Egypt: Civic Values and Ideological Struggles" is a seminal work of original, informative, insightful, and thought-provoking scholarship. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Educating Egypt" will be of particular interest to students of modern Egyptian political, educational, and cultural history. While a strongly recommended acquisition for college and university library collections, it should be noted for personal and professional reading lists that "Educating Egypt" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781649031020, $35.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.99).

Editorial Note: A social anthropologist with regional expertise in North Africa and West Asia with a focus on Egypt, Linda Herrera is a professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research deals broadly with education, citizenship, youth cultures, and geopolitics. Her books include, Revolution in the Age of Social Media: The Egyptian Popular Insurrection and the Internet, Wired Citizenship: Youth Learning and Activism in the Middle East, Being Young and Muslim: New Cultural Politics in the Global South and North (with A. Bayat), and Cultures of Arab Schooling: Critical Ethnographies from Egypt (with C.A. Torres).

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

The King-Makers of Providence
John Houle
Bookpress Publishing
9781947305373, $27.95 Hardcover

The King-Makers of Providence will delight thriller audiences who appreciate political intrigue injected into the story line. It opens with the bang of Henry Mercucio's candid revelation that his political choices are "...not burdened by personal conviction..." Confessing this at a funeral is not his brightest move, but Henry is driven by interests that go beyond moral and ethical norms.

He fits in well in a world of corruption in Providence, where "...politics was a blood sport. It was not uncommon for nomination papers to mysteriously disappear from the Board of Elections or for political yard signs to be defaced with profanities. The destruction of political enemies by any means necessary was as alive in twenty-first-century Providence as it had been in fourteenth-century Florence."

Having set the scene early in the story, John Houle progresses to a vivid series of conundrums in which Rhode Island's political scene serves as a microcosm of clashes between old school thinking and new political processes. The King-Makers of Providence explores the deadly outcomes of such conflicts.

As information is leaked, damage control instigated, and rock-solid connections (even those firmly rooted in love, such as his relationship with Lindsay) begin to dissolve, Henry finds himself navigating a storm of personal and political contention that reaches well beyond Rhode Island's shores to affect political decisions, upcoming races, and attempts to return honor to the mayor's sullied office.

As a political consultant (nee lawyer), Henry has always cloaked his activities in the guise of operating behind the scenes. But, secretly, he's always wanted to be a more active political operative, influencing others as special influences and powers direct.

It all boils down to a vote that Henry may ultimately not be able to that challenges every aspect of his job, his personal life, and his political involvements.

John Houle does a fine job of integrating a political thriller format into an exploration of the personal life of an influencer who finds his professional aspirations thwarted by the processes of this latest election.

As events unfold, the tension is well-done on both social and personal playing fields, bringing readers who may have little experience (or prior interest) in New England politics or operations into a riveting Rhode Island world that both educates and proves as captivating as the action.

As politics begins to pull Henry's life to pieces, he must decide where his loyalties lie and who his real friends are. He struggles to recreate his life and obtain peace in the face of Congressman McNally's influence and objectives.

Those who enjoy more than a light dose of political insider detail within a thriller format that moves through cat-and-mouse games and different layers of political special interests will find The King-Makers of Providence thoroughly engrossing.

All that's required from readers is a basic interest in political processes, morals and ethics, and an appreciation for thriller formats that bring all these elements and associated dilemmas to life. Such defines The King-Makers of Providence.

LO: A Novel
Bradford Tatum
Soft Moon Press
9780984489640, $16.99

Sci-fi readers interested in Mars will find LO: A Novel the perfect vehicle for making the journey.

The opening lines of the story represent the enchanting lyrical language that is Bradford Tatum's characteristic: "Lo meets Harlem in the Water Builder's yard, not far from the holding tanks, where the hum of the jostling H and O molecules might dim the thundering of their hearts. While they appear as two young people they are what is known here on Wiloughby as Builds. Which does not mean they are not completely human. It simply means they are someone else's idea of human. They are not used to their bodies being their own. They are not used to acting on a passion their owners did not pay for. I am a cook and so I think of them as flavors. Licorice and kiwi for her. Something dark and ripened in a cellar for the boy. A perfect combination of opposite essences. They will simmer into the escape from the expected that all cooks aim for."

Indeed, the unexpected is another trademark of Tatum's style and story as Lo moves far from any anticipated plot and into a Martian backdrop packed with enchanting descriptions: "He has come to free her music. He studies the stalks of her eyelashes, the sea-creature shock of her mouth."

Lo evolves on different levels via this poetic eye to detail. For Lo is a murderer, an artist, and trouble. He is a Build with a mission to both create and destroy. The donors that formed his entity dictate his actions. When will he finally be free?

At every juncture in the story, Tatum's language grabs attention and personalizes the human and inhuman interactions of this futuristic world's Builds, high technology, and human-directed influencers: "What was the world like before Godmother? What was the world like before the Feed? Driving before Google Maps? Fucking before Tinder? (If you will indulge some anachronistic examples.) She brought into the world a search engine for one's life. At age ten you decided you wanted to be a day trader, or a neurosurgeon, or a ballet dancer. Godmother told you how. It held your hand, your attention, the tiny but protean seed of your intractably bright future in its welcoming graphics and careful prompts."

Readers who enjoy flowery description and the specter of a scenario where Harlem's death portends inevitability and questions autonomy, choice, and free will find the many social and philosophical discourses thoroughly engaging.

As moral, ethical, and social issues about Builds and their reality power the plot, Tatum crafts a completely unpredictable tale rooted in Lo's growth and evolutionary process in a very strange futuristic world where humanity is a quasi-shadow of its modern form.

Tatum takes the time to capture the scenario of a Martian immigrant effort that seeks to replicate the home world of Earth, but fails in many ways: "The pink glare of Mars' two moons is beautifully dulled by liquid shades in the glass. But there is no comfort here. No warm heft to the solid simulation of a home I never had."

As Lo moves in new directions, the narrator considers inviting him into his life in a different way: "His harvesting of this garden was the most-gentle of larcenies. He didn't know he was stealing from me."

Lo is at once a story of Martians and humans, Builds and humanity, and the intersection between values of life and liberty. It couches these themes in a bouquet of rich imagery and tempers this with forward movements as Lo and the Cook narrator cultivate a new form of life and interactions that move beyond their technological origins.

Lo is very, very highly recommended for readers who enjoy artistic, social, and ethical inspections of life. Set in an era of futuristic wonders that bring angst and pleasure alike, Lo is a story of rebirth, recreation, and regeneration that will not only linger in the mind and heart after Lo and Cook's adventure plays out, but lends to re-reading to capture all the nuances of Tatum's descriptive language and intentions.

Tom Stein
Tom Stein Books
9798985501711, eBook: $9.99/Paperback: $14.99/Hardcover: $30.00

Titan is a young adult dystopian sci-fi story about superhuman siblings who become separated in a world where genetically altered soldiers have become the enemy of the new world government.

It's been five years since their separation, but Alex has not given up hope that he can find his brother Levi. Unbeknownst to him, they are both at the center of a dangerous experiment gone awry, and may pose a threat to the established order that dictates their removal.

The End-War Ceasefire has brought with it a mandate to wage a very different kind of war on the stage of a world-united democracy. Alex knows he is different from those around him and thus represents a danger to this new order: "Unlike him, many of those people were old enough to remember and, despite the lingering hardships that still plagued the world, they seemed content - even happy. Maybe it was all relative. Maybe it was just the booze. What he knew for sure was he didn't feel the same way."

Alex falls into a group of outcasts who harbor their own reasons for rebellion. He is just beginning to feel like he's found his family of choice when he is kidnapped and faces new challenges that affect both his life and the world's fragile alliances.

Tom Stein crafts a fluid sci-fi story in which the line of demarcation between heroes and villains is mercurial. The elusive, genetically created Titans loose in the world are wild cards in the plays between social forces that would control them. Whether they can do good or have been built to do harm is yet to be determined.

Young adult to adult readers will find that Titan embraces many messages about family, social and political connections, the ethics of power manipulation and application, and survival tactics.

The juxtaposition of social and political worlds, in particular, is nicely done as Alex matures to recognize not only his special abilities, but his unique place in two very different milieus.

From Jack Reid (the Juggernaut rebels' special brand of freedom fighter) to opposing forces with the same goal (to locate and use the Titans to quell opposition), Stein crafts a vivid story that evolves into a cat-and-mouse game of intrigue and confrontation not only between factions, but within hearts and minds.

Alex embarks on this journey to avoid being alone. It's not one that is completely concluded in Titan, but promises more adventure as Alex comes to realize a revised purpose to his life and efforts to reunite with his brother. He's not out to change the world. But, his decisions will.

This vivid portrait of power in the hands of a young adult is particularly compelling because the characterization is nicely and intrinsically wound into the moral and ethical dilemmas Alex faces, all of which are new revelations.

Young adult and adult readers who enjoy stories of social and political struggle and personal transformation will find Titan a powerful story that pulls on many levels to produce a vivid inspection of special interests, purposes, and lives.

Acts of Atonement
S.W. Leicher
Twisted Road Publications
9781940189307, $19.95

Acts of Atonement is the story of two women, Serach Gottesman and Paloma Rodriguez, who sever very different family ties to build a life together.

Freed from the repressive Orthodox views of her family, Serach has kept her distance from all except her beloved brother, who has not only rejected her, but moved to Jerusalem to start a family far from home and become a yeshiva teacher.

In contrast, Paloma's family in the South Bronx is not entirely unsupportive and absent. She's kept and cultivated a relationship with her older brother Manny and his family.

When strife and loss hits them all, religion and family unexpectedly emerge from the chaos to lend the couple strength and the ability to reconsider freedom and oppression and their wellsprings in not just family, but society as a whole.

As the story evolves, community insights, prejudices, and connections come to light as Serach and Paloma embark on different journeys affected by the beliefs and language of their changing society: "But they frightened him, all those Spanish people. All those goyim."

From Jewish synagogues and rites to the foundations of faith and love, S.W. Leicher deftly crafts a landscape in which kindness and forgiveness too often only emerge after violence and loss.

Embedded with compelling character profiles that represent changing times, faiths, and perceptions of the world, Acts of Atonement closely examines religious and cultural principles and the love that ultimately guides the couple both from within and away from their upbringing and basic perceptions of right and wrong.

Replete with these transformation moments and the challenges which overlay them, Acts of Atonement is filled with powerful insights and revelations: "In the week since Asher's birth, he had discovered a baby's near-magical power to bring things into perspective - to provide an ineffable sense of solace and fulfillment."

It's a novel highly recommended for Jewish fiction libraries, readers of multicultural experience and family interactions, and LGBTQ holdings interested in strong stories of relationship evolution and change on a broader scale than most fiction explores.

Seekers: The Winds of Change
Troy Knowlton
Independently Published
B09VDBYBK7, $3.99 ebook, $12.99 paperback

Seekers: The Winds of Change opens with the Koterran mining camp and Serana's charge by her father to guard this remote corner of the kingdom, accompanied by a band of knights. It's not long before she and her royal entourage face a Seeker of the Argan Empire, Tyras, whose mission is to steal an artifact from the camp.

As events unfold, fantasy readers receive a strong story of powerful changes sweeping over all the forces in the world of Tiarna. These carry each of the characters into unexpected experiences, prompting growth and forcing them to reconsider their loyalties and alliances.

Troy Knowlton is especially adept at bringing these dilemmas to life as Tyras, Squall, and Oren tackle their lifelong assumptions and lessons: "You don't owe anything more to Arga, just like I don't owe anything to Savar. Empires don't make people happy, Tyras; people do. I want to see you find peace and comfort, my friend."

Peace and comfort are the farthest things from Tyras's mind as he faces assassins during the hunt for the Conduit, an artifact which will change the balance of power in many different ways.

Knowlton brings these individual growth processes to life as he weaves a story about betrayal and subterfuge in a quest that prompts its participants to revise their most engrained habits and perspectives: "Oren's willingness to speak up surprised Tyras. Since when did Oren start devising plans? That has never been his strong suit."

As Knowlton furthers a saga in which the winds of change buffet everything predictable and reliable, readers receive an engaging story that revolves around lasting transformation, and which holds familiar connections to these modern COVID years: "These winds are more than just a fleeting breeze..."

The result is a vivid fantasy adventure of confrontation, revised missions, and personal challenges that provides not just an engrossing quest saga adventure, but a thought-provoking consideration of how different individuals find their life values under siege, and respond in different ways.

Fantasy readers will appreciate the focus on changing social and political relationships which lead the characters to make different choices and move outside their comfort zones.

Libraries should consider Seekers: The Winds of Change an excellent choice for fantasy readers who look for nonstop action paired with philosophical and psychological reflection and growth.

Stolen Moments of Joy
Hamour Baika
Unrolling Script
9781734633788, ebook $6.99/audiobook $9.99/paperback $13.99/hardback $24.99

"My demon takes the shape of a desire to hide."

Stolen Moments of Joy is a modern LGBTQ novel, highly recommended for literary collections strong in social inspection. It is set in 2014 Baltimore and tells of an Afghan immigrant, Abdul, who struggles with an abusive boyfriend who exhibits a charming personality to others, while physically assaulting his partner.

Abdul has a long history of excelling in survival against all odds, but his new life in America doesn't preclude long-held habits, and he falls into both a romance and a desire to hide despite the social turmoil that embroils Baltimore and affects everyone around him.

Blend the backdrop of the Soviet occupation of his country (which forced Abdul and his family to escape) with the present-day dilemmas he faces as a gay man attempting to move away from self-destructive patterns and hiding, and it's evident that Stolen Moments of Joy offers far more social and political depth than many LGBTQ stories that focus on romance and sexual maturity alone.

Hamour Baika is especially skilled at contrasting Abdul's background and cultural circumstances with the reasons why he considers his present-day dilemmas much less important, in many ways: "What was wrong with me? Cliff's little outburst did not even compare to what I'd endured before I came to Baltimore."

The process by which he examines and even justifies some of Cliff's actions towards him is realistically portrayed, offering insights into some of the many victim rationales that support the choice to remain in abusive relationships: "He'd never do anything to harm animals. Did that mean I was less than an animal?"

Stolen Moments of Joy unfolds its story slowly and builds the atmosphere surrounding Abdul and Cliff's relationship via Abdul's first-person explorations of his world. From gay bars and the flirting and semi-serious advances of others to Cliff's confidence that Abdul will not stray, despite his repressive actions, readers gain a powerful story about dangerous liaisons and what happens when survival tactics no longer work.

Abdul's epiphany that "A pretty face isn't everything" brings with it moments of enlightenment as he probes his motivations, reasons for staying or leaving for better relationships, and the structure and content of the gay culture around him.

Readers gain solid insights into this culture through realistic portrayals of relationships tested by it, all wrapped in a story that documents not just moments of joy, but transformation and revelation.

Political insights also evolve during the course of Abdul's journey as the modern, familiar milieus of police shootings, evolving race relations, immigrant experience, and Abdul's increasing involvement in racial struggles come to light.

The result is a multifaceted examination of changing times, changing people, and what happens when old strategies of hiding from the truth no longer work.

The psychological profiles and inspections are powerfully rendered, driving a story that will attract readers both from within and outside the LGBTQ community with its hard-hitting assessments of social and personal change against all odds.

One Gun
Vinnie Hansen
Misterio Press
9781947287259, $14.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook

One Gun illustrates that firearms and violence can change everything. An attempted home burglary goes awry when residents Vivi and Ben Russo return home to catch the thief in the act.

Ben pursues the fleeing robber and the thief pulls a gun - but not the trigger. He's captured...but not before he hides the weapon. The weapon is important because proof of its existence can add a decade onto a burglary conviction, so the thief has as vested an interest in keeping it hidden as Ben and Vivi have in locating the gun.

Why the avid pursuit when the thief didn't get the money or kill anybody? Vinnie Hansen evolves a compelling cat-and-mouse game as perp, victims, and those caught inbetween find themselves on different roads to either obtaining or concealing evidence and the truth.

One Gun is especially involving because its basic premise blossoms a series of confrontations and events that reach beyond the initial characters to involve the community and all ages in a growing conundrum.

Even yoga and attempts to reconcile truth with reality encounter challenges, in this engaging scenario: "She set her intention for class: be present. Not so easy. They had a gun to find and she'd possibly fingered the wrong person to the sheriff's deputy. Plus, whenever she became still, her mother's absence visited. And had she made the right choice to retire?"

Readers won't expect the new age flavor that steeps the mystery with an unanticipated atmosphere, but Hansen's story excels in the unexpected: "Satya is about truth," Winn said. The word satya sifted down into the room with the dust motes. But she didn't feel like a vessel open to catch truth. She felt untruthful, not having mentioned her husband to Winn, and not having told Ben her secret. Her heart chakra, the anahata chakra, was full, but the vishudda chakra, the throat chakra, clamped shut like a floodgate. It had been that way since she could remember. A shy child by nature intimidated by older brothers."

The result is much more than a story about guns, violence, or a search for justice on different levels.

"What if there'd been no gun? A different narrative."

What if a library passes on acquiring One Gun? A different collection, because this story delights with its philosophical, spiritual, and psychological twists as much as its crime inspection, giving crime story readers a satisfyingly surprising read that operates on many different playing fields.

Nurturing Our Self
Lily E. Espinoza
Advanced Publishing LLC
9781631321641, $21.95

Whether it's through college, everyday life, or careers, the importance of taking care of oneself is paramount. That's the message in Nurturing Our Self: During College, Everyday Life And The Job Search, a treatise on how to care for one's psyche when life changes demand new directions.

The pandemic has forced many to deviate (sometimes widely) from set careers, objectives, and views of life. Thus, there's perhaps no better time to consult Nurturing Our Self, which focuses on how to self-nurture through a variety of stressful experiences.

Positivity starts inside self and spreads outward. This requires a basic change in mindset, from career aspirations to revised game plans during changing times.

For example, Espinoza notes: "Everyone talks about pursuing your passion. Following your heart. Taking the right steps to land your "dream job". But what happens if your dream job NEVER shows up?" From there, she talks about the types of strategies that involve adopting a lifelong learning goal, learning to live with and grow in a 'sidetrack job', and re-envisioning a new 'dream job' goal.

The trap lies in old paradigms of happiness and achievement. As chapters probe old scenarios and new responses to adversity, readers learn some fundamental skills for leading revised lives no matter what the misfortunes and new conditions dictate.

Nurturing yourself isn't about taking a bubble bath and forgetting conflict. Nor is it about getting a massage or reading a good book. It involves the kinds of self-care that comes through flexibility, adaptation, and the ability to field setbacks and use them to formulate new visions of a productive, happier life.

All these elements and more are surveyed in a practical guide that's highly recommended for libraries strong in education and career subjects, positive psychology, and new age thinking alike.

The College Shrink
William Haylon
Terwilliger Press
9798829322342, $7.95 ebook; $9.95 paperbook

The social, ethical, and professional dilemmas of a school psychologist come to light in The College Shrink, which follows Emily Metcalf's move from a life with a career and family she loves to needing support when her marriage ends in scandal and her job is sorely tested.

The disparate lives of her young clients, who are navigating their own turbulences in life, brings home Emily's own situation as she makes the move from being a wise leader to someone as reliant on her clients as they are on her.

William Haylon's review of Emily's life takes the form of a third-party observer who narrates these changes: "Your views of Emily are likely to oscillate during this story." This narrative form offers different opportunities to view not just Emily, but a host of students in a different analytical light. Haylon's approach gives the story an extra added value of perspective that from the savvy observations of a wise, involved spectator.

This sense of intimate voyeuristic observation emerges throughout the story as it moves from the more familiar third person perspective to nuggets of wisdom that seem to come from elsewhere: "With her previous clients, you weren't always immediately sure what had happened. They were often drunk or high or both from having been at some party, and they were often not speaking all that coherently as a result. Their stories could be hard to follow. Not that being drunk is ever an excuse for what would have happened. It just can make the story more than a little cloudy at the outset. But with Mana, she readily grasped that he was completely sober and hadn't done anything wrong. Which were among the many things that made Mana special."

Other observers add their special insights on emerging situations, from a columnist to Jelly, who has come to therapy to address her boyfriend issues, but begins to believe that her own therapeutic intuitiveness might equal or rival her counselor's experience and insights.

Haylon captures the milieu of the college counselor in many different ways that keep the story engaging and unexpected.

As the definition of the psychologist's practice and client relationships changes, readers are challenged to consider the mercurial nature of professional and personal relationships and the points where they intersect to change both leader and client.

Emily isn't superhuman. She, too, can fail...and as she does, readers receive an astute portrait of clients who prove to be just as adept at recovery as they are at pinpointing the wellsprings of their anguish.

The College Shrink's ability to bring to life the college environment and the new adults who face its special challenges makes for an engrossing read. Audiences who enjoy inspections of psychological approaches to life problems and table-turning scenarios in which wisdom comes from unexpected directions will find The College Shrink especially evocative.

The College Shrink is particularly recommended for therapists and clients interested in college scenarios, who will find the atmosphere and developments of this culture to be especially well presented and realistically portrayed.

Daze of Isolation
Krista Ehlers
Rough Cut Publishing
9781737473343, $24.99 Hardcover/$14.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Imagine motherhood wrapped in a layer of pandemic isolation, ADHD, and uncertainty, for a sense of the COVID-laden world captured in Daze of Isolation, a memoir of motherhood that's very different from the usual focus on parenting kids.

Written during a time when U.S. schools shut down, requiring parents to become teachers and home-schoolers despite isolation and their own loss of support systems, Daze of Isolation is one of the first (but, most likely, not the last) books to capture this unique moment in human history.

Krista Ehlers narrates these 13 months of events with the succinct eye of a mother and writer whose world changed almost overnight: "One day my husband, Jeff, read me dire predictions from China, and weeks later, the first U.S. case cropped up about 10 miles from our house. Less than a month after that, Costco ran out of toilet paper.

Within the week, our school district became the first in the nation to close down and jump ship to online learning. Without warning, my 8th grade son, Damien, and 2nd grade daughter, Mary, came home indefinitely and I turned into a reluctant home-school mom."

The accounts of isolation assume a daily diary of humor and questioning which both capture the experience of living in isolation with new and unprecedented rules and considers the results of navigating new family hurdles:

"I read many tips on how to use masks, but they are all about hygiene. What about operating with a piece of fabric over your breathing holes? Such as:

You can chew gum with your mask on, but do not blow bubbles. I do, but I live on the edge.

If you wear glasses, tuck the top of your mask under the lenses to prevent them fogging up. In fact, take them off - you'll see better without.

You do not have to put on make-up if you wear your mask. And best not to, or the inside of your mask is gonna be all Shroud of Turin.

Do not ignore a runny nose. Enough said.

On a similar note, process all crumbs and other food particles because your mask is not a place to store a snack for later."

Any parent who has attempted to home-school a child will relate to many of these educational challenges; but the added value of surviving the COVID years with not just grace but humor makes for an especially vivid account:

"Day 226 of Isolation

School laptop screen is broken. Details are sketchy - something about carrying it, then tripping and somehow stepping on it. No words."

Like humorist Erma Bombeck's propensity for capturing American life with a laugh, Ehlers takes a serious subject and turns it on end to make it more accessible by going beyond a depressingly serious tone, as other COVID accounts have chosen.

The result is a book that even COVID survivors will want to turn to, glimpsing the rich moments of discovery and fun which lay even in the most repressive and unique of conditions during these times.

Any library strong in humor, memoirs, and parents struggling with children at home will find Daze of Isolation to be significant and attractive.

Haiku, Schmaiku, and Headin' Out to Sea
David Robert Bayard
Skyboy Press
9780996738088, $17.00

Haiku, Schmaiku, and Headin' Out to Sea combines the author's poetry and photography prowess in a book that contrasts the classic Japanese haiku poetic form with American poetry styles.

Poetry is represented here as a looking glass, a double lens, and a mirror. These are the three section headers David Robert Bayard chooses to gather poems that "...came as lost and lonely children begging for some porridge, for nourishment, for life, to fix their broken parts by loving them exactly as they are."

The first section involves seeing the world with new eyes; the second is about relationships and connectivity; and the third section represents "the act of reflection as consciousness watches itself watching itself: the use of writing, journaling, and poetry to gaze into the mirror, see ourselves as others see us, and find the universal truths of the mystic that are inherent in every spirit."

Readers can thus expect to see themselves through different lenses of life, mirrors, and examinations of "wounds or sorrows" and endless winters that lead both viewer and writer into new revelations.

Lovely black and white images accompany such treasures as the haiku "Sky," which observes that "Weather rules day, our/Neighbors, the night. Sky is both/Ocean and window."

The evocative nature of these connections between psyche and landscape create poems that compel on different levels, and with different styles.

The short observational haiku rooted in the land are nicely offset by personal pieces that represent forays into life experience, as in "Churches of My Fathers": "I bolt in claustrophobia/from the churches/of my fathers/Run out to the world to/find a god larger than/stale wine and wafers."

By elevating the haiku form from its original Japanese traditional roots in nature and carrying it into the modern American experience, Bayard creates a diverse collection for general audiences that pairs engaging artwork and photography with written snapshots of inner realization and world influence.

Haiku, Schmaiku, and Headin' Out to Sea is especially highly recommended for literary poetry readers interested in how this traditional form can translate to new opportunities and observations derived from modern American wellsprings of inspiration. It deserves to lead discussion groups of the haiku form and its modern-day possibilities and relevance.

Happy Laces
Sylvia Autorino Galombik, author
Bruno Carnaghi, illustrator
Independently Published
9780578344, $9.99

Young picture book readers who struggle with tying shoelaces will find much to love in Happy Laces, the rhyming story of a child who learns to tie his own shoelaces.

Protagonist Happy knows many things, from the alphabet to how to write his name. What he doesn't know is how to tie his shoes.

His desire to learn goes beyond putting on his own shoes: knots and tying can be used to put on other clothes, make a bow, or even fly kites.

A loving older sister, Bianca, offers Happy a unique solution that allows him to more easily absorb the complexities of the lace-tying routine. This is an engaging story for ages four to seven and the read-aloud adults interested in encouraging and teaching kids how to successfully perform this difficulty in dexterity.

The fun tale concludes with a practice sidebar on how readers and their guides can make and employ their own two-tone 'learning laces' with great success, making Happy Laces a fun and practical recommendation that adults will want to choose for any young person struggling with shoelaces.

Dwarf Story
Professor W.W. Marplot
Waxing Gibbous Books
9781734758306, $17.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Dwarf Story will appeal to middle grade readers who appreciate fantasy stories packed with action. It opens with Arty's first-person reflection on the oddity of finding an ax-wielding dwarf in his yard. As he flees the aggressive dwarf, Arty makes a confession to readers: he's not the type to fantasize about mysterious creatures or other worlds: "As we ran, I grasped for breaths and for reasons why: why I found a Dwarf this Wednesday, why he followed me, and why I followed him. And what: what should I do with him? And whether: was I still asleep? And another why: why were my dreams now about fantasy characters? I hate that stuff and am more of a scientist who likes math and logic and making lists of things to do before doing them - and keeping them on color-coded sticky notes like the ones flying from my bag and leaving a pretty trail behind us."

This opening and the adventure that follows Arty, his friend Emma, and other characters will especially delight young readers who look for more than the usual fantasy trappings. What evolves from an "unscientific Wednesday" not only changes characters' lives, but places them in unusual situations where their beliefs, approaches to problem-solving, and relationships are all tested.

W.W. Marplot creates a satisfying mystery that involves this fourteen-year-old young professor in situations beyond the logic or science he embraces. The different images of mythological creatures that begin to permeate and populate Arty's world against all odds makes for a satisfying story filled with unexpected encounters and moments.

Another strength that sets Dwarf Story apart from the usual mythological tale is its ability to embed humor into the clues that Arty follows to solve these mysteries.

Marplot juxtaposes Emma and Arty's first-person experiences, and this added value of psychological insight makes for an especially compelling personal contrast between characters challenged to overcome their own fears and expectations, as Emma represents: "I was afraid but surrounded by friends - afraid that what happened to Ted would happen to me, hoping that Sprugly would protect me since I almost qualified as a kidnapped fairy now. I was also fighting some inner feelings I didn't want to share yet, with anyone. You know: There was something growing in my heart, but I didn't want to talk about that yet."

As other characters' perspectives (such as Cry and Mary) enter the fray, middle grade readers receive an adventure filled with insights, growth, and battle scenarios that compel its young heroes to fight on different levels.

The result is a dwarf story that delivers on its promise of fantasy and adventure, but embeds interpersonal relationships, growth, and revised views of reality into the story to give it extra depth and attraction.

Libraries with young patrons interested in exceptional fantasy approaches will find Dwarf Story a standout.

At Trail's End: Homecoming
John Strother
Independently Published
B09YZ3ZSW9, $3.99 Kindle

Trails End, Texas holds close its sacred traditions, small-town prejudices, and the sassy culture of the Texan who considers football its religion and school tradition based on consistency its penultimate goal.

Outsiders aren't welcome in this milieu. Particularly new students Smoke, Ink, Cowboy, and Dusty, who enter Trails End High with attitudes that introduce new ideas nobody wants to consider.

At Trail's End: Homecoming's special brand of satire contributes to a novel that will especially be appreciated by fans of this literary style of social and psychological observation. It contrasts perceptions of the foundations the town was built on (small-town criminals versus "good German stock"), attitudes about new ventures ("It's hardly a warm, southern type welcome. Saying these people don't belong here."), and issues of trust, popularity, and growth that emerge from interpersonal conflicts that shake the town.

It's tough to live down reputations in a small town. It's especially challenging to accept transformative ideas outside the status quo.

As the students of Trails End High clash, readers receive a combination of thought-provoking inspections and engrossing insights that are at once hilarious and semi-serious: "I've kept quiet because it's damn funny. Cowboy an outlaw. It doesn't get any better than that. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trust that the little weasel dick if my life depended on it. Not because he's dangerous. He's annoying...And as for that dance," she said. "I'd rather shave our dog Cooper, dunk his mangy hide in the same stinky cologne you bath in, and shove him into a tux. Wouldn't be nearly as embarrassing as having you around."

John Strother cultivates an exquisite attention to details both social and psychological as he surveys the changing milieu of this small town.

As a storm brews over various high school issues, it's reflected in the changing nature of the entire town. From popularity traps to the damages teachers and leaders can inflict, Strother's story contains many unusual, thought-provoking encounters and reflective moments.

The result is a coming-of-age romp highly recommended for libraries and students of satire and cultural observation. It embraces the evolution of not just teens, but an entire small town on the cusp of change sparked by a whodunit, a talent show, and a spicy attitude of discovery:

"You can't force toothpaste back into the tube, no matter how hard you try. I admire your conviction concerning forgiveness, but we're dealing with a higher power than God. We're talking football. Lake Konrad will freeze over before this town forgives anyone for ruining their sacred football season."

Chambers of the Heart
B. Morris Allen
Plant Based Press
c/o Metaphorosis Publishing
9781640765191, $25.00 Hardcover/$12.00 Paper/$5.49 ebook

Chambers of the Heart: Speculative Stories is a collection equally recommended for fans of horror, philosophical inspection, and poetic, metaphorical description. All this and more is captured in the opening short story "Chambers of the Heart": "Despair and Ecstasy are the simplest. Ecstasy is the small and cozy room of a cottage that looks out on a broad meadow in the forest...Despair is a vast, dark hall of low ceilings and small windows. In winter, snowdrifts sometimes cover the windows so that they are only squares of gray against black stone. In the summer, shafts of hot, bright light do nothing to warm the room, and only blind us to the room's darkness, so that we must carry candles to the Master's hard throne. It is always winter or summer."

Most readers have spent time in both these milieus, as well as in the "hall of Longing" that lies between them. Perhaps this is why the story grips so convincingly and realistically as it portrays the special challenges faced by a lifelong devoted servant who tries to redirect his Master to another choice.

As the interludes between Despair and Ecstasy run close and swiftly, readers receive a thought-provoking examination of devotion, positivity, negativity, and everything that lies between and within these rooms of choice.

Contrast this with "When Dooryards First in the Lilac Bloomed," in which a hermit thrush leads the narrator through a world of loss into a strange milieu in which world peace may lead to ennui because "when we stopped our struggles, we lost our drive."

The narrator's slow dance between the equation for peace over war and the surreal message and influence of the thrush's alluring song makes for a speculative work steeped in love and loss, revealing portals of memory and choice through which a "glimpse of heaven" may be revealed.

These short, speculative pieces aren't crafted for entertainment value. They ideally will be read and enjoyed by literary audiences who will relish their metaphorical descriptions, portals to other places and realizations, and the opportunity to juxtapose an eclectic series of themes and experiences into evocative, lovely prose.

Literary libraries strong in short fiction and speculative works will find Chambers of the Heart a powerful collection especially highly recommended for discussion groups focused on quick, hard-hitting short stories.

Vintage Babes of Broadway
Clyde Adams and Maureen McCabe
The One Big Name Publishing
9781734745542, $25.00

Vintage Babes of Broadway: Through the 20th Century Lens of Murray Korman deserves a place in the collections of both performing arts and photographic arts libraries. It gathers the black and white works of Murray Korman, who captured Broadway stars from the 1930s to the 1960s, selecting images from some 600 film negatives residing in storage.

That this treasure trove of rare and unpublished images has reached the public eye is no light achievement. The negatives needed rescue and restoration and their creator, Murray Korman, needed equal attention, as many readers will not already be familiar with his name.

Clyde Adams and Maureen McCabe use this historical memorabilia to capture a bygone era of history that might otherwise have been lost. Out of all the many women and men photographed, there are only two of the performers who are still alive in 2022: Julie Newmar and Jaye P Morgan.

Their achievement ranges from organizing Korman's finest works to adding the social, historical, and cultural notes about each woman that brings not just her achievements, but her era to life: "In 1945, after what could best be described as a mildly successful career, (Katharine "Kay") Aldridge retired and married her first husband, Arthur Cameron. When interviewed earlier in her career, she is quoted as saying, 'One of these days I want to return to Virginia and become the lady of the manor. That has been my dream for years.' So, it's safe to say that she never fully bought into the Hollywood lifestyle."

From Anne Bancroft to Loretta Young, the profiles and Korman's photographs capture the history and milieu of Broadway, adding quotes from the performers as well as contemporary photos, where appropriate.

Vintage Babes of Broadway was some ten years in the making. Its blend of artistic Murray Korman images, biographies of the stars that give historical flavor and background to their lives, and attention to Korman's rare opportunities to capture this milieu makes for a key acquisition that's highly recommended for any serious performing arts or photographic history library:

"At the height of his career, to enter the world of Murray Korman one had only to venture a block off-Broadway, to the aforementioned Mayfair Theatre Building, on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 47th Street. This location placed him a short walk from virtually every theatre, dance hall, nightclub and burlesque house in the district."

Like a fine wine, the food for thought on the subjects and Korman's photographic record of their achievements is a perfect pairing.

Utopia Cafe
David Hejna
Cornwall Publishing
9798483917670, $18.95 Hardcover/$12.50 Paper

Readers of political and social satire will find Utopia Cafe a study in irony and observation that blends a romance story with a close examination of underground political influences.

College senior Izzy is involved in a movement to upstage the move towards establishing a Marxist state, but is attracted to upcoming Party and Youth Brigades participant Tom, who has apparently drunk the Kool-Aid of idealistic possibilities against all current reality.

How committed is Tom to this cause? If he harbors secret doubts, he could be an invaluable underground asset to her group, as well as a real romantic possibility.

David Hejna contrasts the milieu of repression, idealistic thinking, clashing social and political forces, and two individuals caught in a series of scientific and philosophical change. He creates an inspection that is especially potent in its examination of socialism, capitalism, and the forces on both sides that affect their perception and incarnation.

From inside moles and Stalinsky's plans to occupy the White House to a revised vision of the Constitutional framework, the individual's role in society, and hopes for the future of the Republic, Hejna creates a thought-provoking series of encounters that immerse both characters and readers in a milieu of talking heads that contrast past roles with future opportunities.

As Izzy rebels in many different ways, down to her personal preferences and choices in music, readers receive a delightful inspection that is as detailed in its ideology and logic as it is in character rationales of choice and change: "Izzy set her music device to play Nat King Cole singing "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" followed by the "Charlie Brown Christmas" album. She knew it was a bizarre segue, but playing tunes she liked, in any order she wanted, had been part of her way of protesting a system in which so many millions had been ruled and controlled by so few, the leftist ideologue mastermind politicians and academics, the allied news media and tech companies that had suppressed conservative views and real history."

From the macrocosm of political affairs to the microcosm of personal interactions and changing relationships, Hejna's story is filled with extensive dialogue, arguments, and satirical reflections. These will especially appeal to political science readers looking for a novel steeped in suspenseful contrasts between liberals and conservatives.

The result will delight those who look for stories about changing traditions and moral revitalism that ask serious questions about the idealistic visions of both sides.

What constitutes a political, social, and personal vision of utopia? Utopia Cafe offers the foundations of satirical examination that will also lend to debate in book clubs and among political science students.

SCHLOCK Featuring Russia Cop
David R. Low
Kharms & Bowler Publishing
9781736277317, $16.99 Paper/$8.99 Kindle

Fans of British satire and humorous political short stories will find SCHLOCK Featuring Russia Cop a fine blend of literary and social inspection that features four short stories of contemporary life.

The collection opens with Japanese reflections in "Tsoi Lives." Here, narrator Takahiro has moved to big-city Tokyo from a small town, where his parents expected him to become a fisherman like his father.

He's on a quest for noise and distraction from the micromanaging punishments of his chosen work when the story opens; but soon Takahiro finds himself moving away from his regimented life as he realizes he's losing "hours he can never get back" by immersing himself in Japan's demanding work culture.

When a Russia trip introduces him to Soviet rock music and changes everything with the songs and lure of composer Viktor Tsoi, Takahiro finds himself a mid-lifer whose "best days have come and gone," and whose major life event lies at the intersection of an argument that causes him to pass on a revised life.

Contrast this inspection with the title piece "Russia Cop." This story reads like a play, with an overview of the script introducing a story that examines the sense of place, purpose, and irony of the Russian Soul.

From Russia's identity and repressive facets to its lure to foreigners who can never quite grasp the ideals of this nation, readers receive a series of interviews that explore the nature and heart of the Russian people.

Russia Cop is there to enforce the conviction of Kyrlov Dennis Dmitrievich, whose crime is "disrespecting society and insulting religious feelings." This relatively new law from 2013 holds deadly implications. He's not just there to enforce the law, but to present scenes of violence and punishment that wind up on popular Russian media.

He, too, is changed by his chosen vocation, its growing ability to reach around the world, and the inevitability of a repressive entity of law that will "one day be president of the Russian Federation. I am Russian Soul." The ultimate objective of Russia Cop, however, is quite a surprise.

Each story captures a succinct facet of Russian culture and brings it to life for audiences interested in satirical social and political inspections.

Each adds another piece to this interlocking puzzle of inspections to ultimately create a thought-provoking series of encounters that at first seem disparate, but are actually interconnected on many different levels.

The sum is greater than its parts. In this case, these four short story windows into future possibilities are intriguing snapshots of patriotism and leadership that offer surreal inspections.

Literary library collections as well as those strong in satire and considerations of Russian culture will find SCHLOCK Featuring Russia Cop an intriguing, refreshingly original addition.

White Gold
Micheal E. Jimerson
Atmosphere Press
9781639883059, $15.99 Paper/$5.99 Digital

Fans of Westerns and detective and mystery stories will find this combination refreshingly different and well-represented in White Gold.

As a Texas Ranger with a son in Afghanistan, E.J. Kane has always opted for being on the side of the law. When his son is killed, E.J. finds his marriage, his career, and his convictions dissolving. The lure of grief is irresistible as subsequent bad decisions and new associations land him in territory both unfamiliar and frighteningly recognizable, albeit from a different perspective.

As his daughter's drug addiction leads to her becoming involved in sex trafficking and his new lover, businesswoman Widow Welchel, represents a scheme involving 'white gold', E.J. walks a dangerous road in attempting to get his life (or, at least, his morals) back on track.

Fans of intrigue and suspense stories will find plenty of both in a plot that pulls heartstrings and tests the reader's problem-solving abilities on E.J.'s behalf. E.J. navigates a milieu in which his poor choices of the past immerse him in situations he might not be able to escape from, himself, much less rescuing anyone else.

E.J.'s probe into what really happened reveals a dangerous force and conspiracy that threatens more than just his life as killings continue to rock everything around him, testing his moral code.

Micheal E. Jimerson pays special attention to E.J.'s emotional changes and challenges as he navigates unfamiliar waters, struggles with his misery and grief, and acknowledges good times of the past (and even a few present-day). All these revelations contribute to a reset of his purposes and perspectives, bringing readers along for an engrossing story of intrigue laced with personal growth.

White Gold is more than a plot about problem-solving, conspiracies, or redemption. Beneath its fast-paced action lies a heart of personal inspection and social and legal conflicts that dovetail to create an involving tale, whether it takes place in the courtroom, on the street, or in E.J.'s conflicted heart.

Readers of suspense, detective, and social issues stories will find these are strong threads that pull one into the story to provide unexpected twists as E.J. comes to new realizations about his place in the world and his impact on both personal and public life.

White Gold's multifaceted draw makes it a strong recommendation for contemporary fiction libraries looking for genre-crossing standouts.

Maxwell Cooper and the Legend of Inini-Makwa
Simon Hargreaves
Ahr Publishing
9798985121308, $29.99 Hardcover/$16.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook/Audio $TBA

Maxwell Cooper and the Legend of Inini-Makwa is a compelling story that will reach young adults interested in art, growth, and adventure stories.

At fourteen, Maxwell Cooper is an art prodigy attending the prestigious boarding school Apogee Art Academy. His father has given him only one rule of conduct - to only draw what is real in the world - but in a fit of youthful rebellion, Maxwell chooses to draw a fantasy figure instead. This unwittingly unleashes a force into the world that becomes his responsibility to tackle.

As the fantasy evolves, Simon Hargreaves creates a vivid story of responsibility, choice, stepping up into an adult role and mindset, and confronting the impossible reality of magic as the Inini-Makwa he's depicted begins to attack everything he holds dear in his life.

As the threat moves from childish games in the woods to real life, Hargreaves crafts a vivid portrait of Maxwell's struggles to find a solution to the problem he's created, as well as to grasp the impossible likelihood of a force that defies his upbringing and perception of reality.
It's not just Max who grapples with revised roles. His younger brother provides some of the keys that could draw Max into a position of power: "'In the other drawings, the thing that wasn't real was surrounded by things that were. Like it was real, too.'


'So, there's nowhere for the coin to go. It could be any-where. You need to draw something around it. Put it in the real world somewhere.'

Max clenched his jaw. What Ben was saying was true, but Max didn't want it to be true. He wanted to prove that the notion of his drawings somehow magically coming to life was a dumb, stupid idea made up by his kid brother."

What choices would an artist face if everything they drew became real?

This story's ability to embrace both evolving talents and a young artist's revised place in his world makes for a moving account which entertains on different levels, injecting thought-provoking moments of reflection and revelation into its saga of confrontation, realization, and redemption.

Many young adult reads may sound similar in subject (a young man is charged with confronting forces beyond his ken and abilities), but Maxwell Cooper and the Legend of Inini-Makwa differs, with its intriguing inspection of the power of art and creation to affect lives and effect change through transformative moments of creativity and realization.

Middle grade to high school readers of fantasy and coming-of-age stories are in for a real treat in Maxwell Cooper and the Legend of Inini-Makwa, as it considers Maxwell's changing position in the world and his efforts to control his creative but dangerous power.

Untested Waters
Bethany Fine
Ahr Publishing
9798770400212, $21.83 Audio/$12.99 Paper/$5.00 ebook

The first book in the Santa Vacia Chronicles, Untested Waters, sets the stage for a contemporary women's story of blackmail and redemption. It tells of an ordinary suburban housewife who finds herself in a compromising situation with her daughter's portrait photographer.

Before this event, Natalie Waters seemingly had it all: beauty, her husband's wealth, and a life that embraced the classy world of Santa Vacia. Her encounter with photographer Dillon, a man who displays "the arrogant response of a man who expected people to wait for him" at first evokes a sense in her of being taken for granted...or taken for a ride by his high-priced offerings and attitude.

Both insights prove to be correct, but the main thing he poses is a threat to the world she's built. And she's in the dangerous position of being able to tell nobody else about this new problem.

New neighbor Courtney, being a stranger living in close proximity to the action, thus provides an initial lure for Natalie as a possible confidante to help her resolve her dilemma. But Courtney poses her own special danger, and soon Natalie finds herself caught in not one, but several conundrums that have no easy way out.

Bethany Fine's choice of the first person captures Natalie's perceptions of world, injecting them with a powerfully personal approach to life that makes for a compelling read that women will find attractive and persuasive in its dilemmas and personalities.

She captures a strange attraction before it even turns deadly and allows Natalie to describe her puzzling reactions and forays into forbidden territory in a familiar, intriguing manner: "To say my behavior was foolish and uncharacteristic would have been an understatement. Propriety and decorum were two values that should be taught in schools at every age. Behaving like some teenage girl experiencing her first crush was neither proper nor decorous, and yet my eyes refused to pull away from Dillon's and my hand behaved as if it were glued to his. Jenny's kick brought me back to reality and, with a gasp and an apology, I dropped his hand as if it were plague infested."

Fine's ability to capture Natalie's personality and weave it into a growing series of encounters that shake her moral, ethical, and carefully constructed social foundations lends to a story that many women will find especially compelling.

Its appropriateness as a beach read or a discussion group topic, and its power to lead readers into this world of staid relationships gone awry, makes Untested Waters an intriguing novel of transformation and power that focuses on reclaiming life, love, and purpose.

Another pleasure of this story? There is no pat 'happily ever after' conclusion. Instead, the door isleft ajar for more experiences, while neatly concluding Natalie's dilemma with resolution and a question mark about the future.

Libraries strong in women's literature will find Untested Waters an attractive read that promises many topics for book club discussion.

From Brick & Darkness
J. L. Sullivan
The Wild Rose Press
9781509240081, $18.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

From Brick & Darkness will attract young adult fantasy readers who enjoy stories about magical opportunities gone awry, and impossible dreams that turn into nightmares.

Bax is given not just a magical ring, but the new opportunities that come with it. Also arriving with these lures is a powerful and terrible djinn who seems to fulfill dreams, but in fact introduces a murderous force into his life that places Bax in the center of a series of deadly events.

Now he must not just clear his name, but clear his life of the evil force he has introduced into the world.

J. L. Sullivan creates a story replete with startling descriptions from the start as the ring is gifted to Bax by an unexpected stranger: "Neck bones popped as his head rotated toward me, his face eclipsing the rays of the streetlight. His irises were dull purple, glazed over with a foggy film, and deep-set wrinkles radiated from the corners of his eyes like arrows drawing attention to them."

Notes of ethical and moral dilemmas accompany Bax's decision to employ the force on his own, which both strengthens the character and his dilemma and responsibility for what transpires and involves teens in thought-provoking reflections about choices and their outcome: "I pulled out the ring. It rested on my palm, the jewel catching the late afternoon sun and throwing a purple spot on my gray wall. I'd never summoned Janni alone, but Jason wouldn't approve of what I intended to ask my djinn to do."

While puzzles and problem-solving are an intrinsic draw to the story, equally compelling is Bax's increasing difficulty with his parents and his evolving new persona in response to problems he can't discuss with anyone.

Especially strong are the reflections on change and consequences that lead Bax to view the bigger picture involved in successfully wielding magic: "People never used djinn for the greater good. If a genuinely selfless human had discovered a djinn, the world would be free of disease, war, and poverty. But those things existed. That meant humans have always used djinn to selfishly serve themselves. I was no better. Disappointment settled on me like a ton of steel. Like the hundreds of selfish humans before me with an opportunity to make a positive change, I didn't."

Combine these moral and ethical dilemmas with an action-packed plot that keeps readers on edge and guessing for a superior young adult fantasy. It is very highly recommended not just for libraries strong in stories of magic and growth, but book club and discussion groups who will want to include From Brick & Darkness on reading lists that focus on the struggles young people face over empowerment.

EMDR Inspired Art and Poetry - A Meditation on Hope and Pain for Troubled Times
Mark Odland, MA, LMFT, MDIV
Bilateral Innovations
9798797772392, $17.95

EMDR Inspired Art and Poetry - A Meditation on Hope and Pain for Troubled Times is a synthesis of pain and pleasure that navigates traumas, blessings, and the trauma therapy EMDR, which inspired this collection.

It's a journey through the emotional surgery of therapy and recovery that leads readers into the world of suffering from the unusual vantage point of the therapist: "They say the word compassion means to suffer with/So by definition/To be a therapist means to bear another's pain/But not like this/Not like this."

Black and white art by Mark Odland is interwoven with these poems and serve as visual introductions to each as readers traverse the uncertain ground of being a leader and guide who also struggles with changing times and the rigors of pandemic isolation.

Most importantly, EMDR Inspired Art and Poetry covers EMDR therapy's potentials, processes, and promises with a personal eye to its transformative life opportunities: "Without Francine's walk in the park/EMDR would never have been/And without EMDR I never would have been trained/And if I had never been trained/I wouldn't have received my own EMDR therapy/And without receiving my own EMDR therapy/Memories of my wife's difficult pregnancies/Never would have healed/And if they hadn't healed/We wouldn't have been open to more children/And if we wouldn't have been open to this/I wouldn't be here now/Holding my baby boy."

Having a review of EMDR from a therapist's vantage point, presented as a series of free verse explorations of its developments, paired with artistic embellishments, makes this collection recommendable to a wide range of collections, from poetry and literary libraries to those interested in psychological journeys in general and EMDR therapy in particular.

Odland's ability to capture these circumstances of daily life experience and weave them into a greater story of healing and change sets this book apart from many others.

In "I Almost Stopped," he chronicles the process of capturing this milieu and facing rejection with a determination to move forward: "Somewhere a poetry editor smirks with pity at my poems/As one might towards a toddler pretending to read/With the book held upside down...As a therapist I can step outside and observe/The ruminations of a somehow still insecure man/And yet this knowing doesn't tame the strong impulse to/Stop writing / Stop drawing / Play it safe..."

And yet, he persisted.

And creative arts and therapy literature is all the richer for the appearance of EMDR Inspired Art and Poetry, which represents the perfect opportunity for readers to consider their own transformative options and influences during these pandemic times of being shut down and socially and spiritually challenged.

Rocket Red: A Little Ant with a Big Dream
Cheryl DaVeiga & Dave Gibson
Waterhole Productions LTD
9781736395141, $15.11 Hardcover/$12.99 Paperback/$3.99 ebook

Rocket Red: A Little Ant with a Big Dream is a joyful, whimsical picture book exploration of an ant that becomes a rock star against all odds.

His good friend, Beebop Bea the honeybee, believes in his talents and enthusiastically supports them.

Artist Remesh Ram interprets Cheryl DaVeiga & Dave Gibson's story with a series of images that read-aloud parents and kids will find delightful, colored with the adventure and personalities of the story.

Not everyone appreciates Rocket's drive to achieve a different kind of life. As he eschews ordinary tasks that divert him from his love of music and his real objectives, youngsters receive enlightening passages about goal-setting and creativity: "His plans did not include scouting around for someone's leftover lunch and dragging it up a hill. Red had fantasies of making it big, like his heroes, the Beetles."

As he faces new adversity in the form of Mr. Big and Mean and new opportunities that come from his music and sharing its messages, young readers receive a delightful adventure that centers on friendship and interactive fun.

Kids who enjoy looking for hidden clues will find the invitation to count the red ants and search for the hidden Beebop Bea in each scene to be an added, fun value to the lessons on creative problem-solving and how music can bring even the most diverse populations together.

Adults looking for a vivid read-aloud story filled with action, adventure, and insights will consider Rocket Red: A Little Ant with a Big Dream an outstanding representation of positivity and community-building efforts which move from a little ant's big dreams to the bigger process of embracing diversity in the world.

The House of Tongues
James Dashner
Riverdale Avenue Books
c/o Afraid Imprint
9781626016071, $30.57 Hardcover/$16.99 Paper/$6.99 Kindle

The House of Tongues is occult horror writing at its strongest. It portrays the vivid dilemma of family man David Player's return to his childhood home, the scene of kidnapping, murder, and curses David barely escaped from in the past.

Why return to such a threatening milieu? He's confronting his childhood demons, as well as visiting his parents. No sooner does he cross the threshold than old demons arise in new forms to pose a new series of threats.

His family home isn't the center of a cursed life. The old gothic tower in the woods holds its own special draw, and as David and his children find themselves struggling to overcome fresh, new horrors, readers receive a compelling story of suspense and intrigue. The plot is powered by occult forces and a first-person narration that captures and compares the atmosphere and nuances of past and present experience: "The shed of a farmer was a human institution, coming in all shapes, sizes, and materials, but always with that same musty, sawdusty, tainted smell. Simultaneously sweet and rank, a raw and primal scent that reached through your nose and down into your gut and stayed there. I liked it, and I'm not sure if that's because of my upbringing or because it's actually pleasant. My guess is the former."

James Dashner is especially adept at capturing not just psychological tension, but changing relationships as the characters struggle between repugnant memories of trauma and new circumstances that hold familiar feelings.

As the story takes some unexpected twists and turns, readers receive exquisite tension and detail that cements this juxtaposition of past and present events: "While sleeping on the couch, surrounded by my family, only hours from our scheduled trip back to Atlanta, I dreamed of that night from almost 30 years ago. So much of it had been blocked from my memory, but in the dream it was all there, every detail. Although separated enough from my younger self to know it was merely a dream, observing more like a bystander than truly reliving it, I felt the fear and terror of that poor kid. My heart ached for him, as if he were someone else, not me."

Readers who recognize James Dashner's name from his acclaimed The Maze Runner will find quite a different approach here, in a horror story replete with elements of psychological self-inspection and occult influences.

Violent confrontations and scenarios of torture are mitigated by a story line that adds emotional depth into the choices, actions, and consequences of characters who both escape from the House of Tongues and, 30 years later, return to reconcile traumatic memories with reality.

The strong sense of place and characters that steep the plot with emerging realizations and confrontations makes for an occult horror story recommended for genre readers who enjoy surprising developments and are equipped to absorb the violence that accompanies revelation.

Libraries catering to supernatural fiction readers will find The House of Tongues an excellent, well-developed story.

Walks With Spirits
Edale Lane
Past and Prologue Press
B09VBGQF27, $4.99 Kindle

It's unusual to see a novel of Native American experience blended with a lesbian romance theme, much less to have such a story arrive steeped in real-world history and mythology to lend it a solid grounding in reality.

Edale Lane perfects the finer art of cultural and community inspection, employing the drama and allure of fiction to captivate readers with a moving story. Laughing Brook is training to be a healer for her tribe while cultivating an attraction to Walks With Spirits, a woman who hears voices, has the gift of calling animals, and who wants to build a life with Laughing Brook.

Under different circumstances it would be possible to identify this book as 'historical fiction'; but much like the multifaceted relationship between Laughing Brook and Walks With Spirits, the novel not only defies pat categorization, but evolves into the fantasy realm to inject metaphysical and spiritual elements into its love story.

Of particular strength and note are the descriptions of the interactions between Laughing Brook and Walks With Spirits and Laughing Brooks' parents, who misunderstood the nature of their relationship and why she was so happy. They set up the marriage for Laughing Brook and Thunder Warrior because of their mistaken perception.

Lane creates a series of encounters between them where love is not enough to overcome the potential for alienation and pain, including dialogues that are thought-provokingly realistic and heartfelt: "Spirits had amassed understanding and continually pressed for more. She was aware of how the worlds worked, both the seen and the unseen. The lessons of Black Bear were more than theory to her ears and she practiced what she had been taught. As she reached for one morsel of inner peace, a single instant of hope, a thread of belief that somehow everything would work out for good in her life, she perceived a wisdom to impart upon Brook."

It's also notable that, not being of Indigenous origins herself, Lane worked with an Indigenous Sensitivity Reader who helped her create a story that, albeit fictional in nature, remained true to First Nations cultural depictions that honored rather than stereotyped their lives.

The result is a moving, passionate saga of love, change, strength and growth that features two already-strong women who tackle issues of honor and duty as they consider their relationship and the intrusion of the world outside their tribe.

While it's easy to recommend Walks With Spirits to libraries strong in lesbian literature, it's also a top pick for women's literature, Native American, and fantasy readers.

The embrace of these diverse genres in an overall story that honors all of these elements makes for an exceptional read that is a strong attraction on many different levels.

Straight Talk from the Heartland
John Torinus Jr.
HenschelHAUS Publishing, Inc.
9781595987914, $24.30 Hardcover/$9.98 Kindle

Straight Talk from the Heartland: An Entrepreneur's Memoir is an account of fixing broken organizations, failing businesses, and teams that just don't work. It's a story that deserves a place not just in memoir collections, but in business libraries interested in candid inspections of what makes a business work and what leads to its failure.

The first part of John Torinus Jr.'s memoir surveys his childhood, early influences, and coming of age in the 1940s and 50s.

From family interactions to early career moves, Torinus paints a picture of a budding entrepreneur who dabbles in different ventures early on, learning important life lessons from each.

His 50-plus years as a reporter provides candid information on how his writing lead to wider-ranging inspections of leadership and entrepreneurial approaches to life, business, and relationships.

Choosing to engage with his subjects rather than reporting from an outsider's viewpoint led Torinus to different endeavors and new realizations about business organization and relationships. These are candidly assessed in the course of his autobiographical journey: "Ben, who had the title of president, turned out to be a good engineer, but a blockhead when it came to business. He and Jim started fighting, mainly over Ben's insistence on long runs. We were building to stock the warehouse with finished goods instead of building for order and quick cash return. We had eight million blades in inventory. As a result, the company was going down. I had to step in as general manager. My first decision was to separate the two men, telling them not to talk to each other, to communicate only through me."

Straight Talk from the Heartland accents the story with vintage photos and illustrations that bring family members and various people to life.

Torinus is not shy about exploring the impact of his decisions on others, as well as himself: "After 50 years of being grossly undercompensated as a journalist and author, I finally figured out where the gold was hidden...I like to think I threw some gasoline and matches on the prairie fire of grassroots health-care reform."

Readers who want to make the leap from an outsider position to a more engaged business approach will find Torinus surveys experiences that connect the dots to making many important transitions into not just more effective business relationships, but more financially rewarding sources of revenue.

From start-up infrastructure to assuming the position of "lone business voice on the board of the staff-driven organization," Torinus analyzes the influences, actions, and perceptions that changed not just his life, but the businesses he worked with.

The result will appeal to two audiences: those interested in the memoirs of journalists-turned-entrepreneurs, and readers who want to make their own leaps into businesses, but need examples of successful routes in order to become thriving survivors in the entrepreneurial world.

Topher Allen
Outside Voice Publishing
9780578333304, $2.99 (ebook); $9.95 (paperback)

Middle grade fantasy readers with an interest in whimsical, science-based stories will find Geo offers a different flavor than most fantasy tales for this age group. It revolves around a little crystal who lives in a lovely city of amazing structures, but who seeks more experiences beyond its boundaries.

Geo longs for adventure despite his underlying fear of judgment. His anticipation of what that adventure involves and how to incorporate new ideas into his worldview mirrors dilemmas faced by rock creatures Adrian and Robert, who encounter many unknowns in an expedition known as New Frontier.

Geology and fantasy intersect in unexpectedly original, surprising ways when Geo, Adrian, and others confront new ideas and each other as they dig for the truth about this strange new environment and the natural forces that dictate its appearance and movements.

Topher Allen displays a sense of humor throughout the character interactions and discoveries, and this gives the story the fine value of a bantering wit also unusual in middle-grade reads.

The adventure component is nicely woven into the science facts, and will engage kids by leading them to think about the environment and the forces of nature that influence all life within it.

As ecosystems, animals, and different species interact, kids receive both an entertaining, lively fantasy and an inspection of worlds beyond city limits which incorporates alluring differences and educational opportunities alike.

Libraries strong in middle grade fantasy stories that seek to interest kids in real-world science will find a fine interplay between the two in Geo, a delightfully original adventure that holds an underlying message about ecology and life choices.

Donkey Show
Stephen Baker
Atmosphere Press
9781639882991, $18.99

Donkey Show pairs a love story with a tale of international intrigue. It will attract suspense readers who like their action firmly cemented in interpersonal relationships that respond to adversity and opportunity beyond singular goals.

Now imagine these events taking place during a 10-minute survey of a newsroom milieu. The social, political, and psychological dilemmas faced by a host of characters create a story surprising in its depth and coverage: "The chief described Onofre Crispin and other entrepreneurs like him as a great modernizing force along the border. They were men, he said, who owed nothing to the PRI. "These are the people who are bringing North American civilization south into Mexico. And I'm not talking only about foreign investment. They are also introducing new political ideas in Mexico. Many of them, you know, are members of PAN, the Party of Acci¢n Nacional."

"But it seems like the president is leading this revolution, and he's with the PRI," Harley said.

The chief nodded gravely. "But in his heart he's a Panista."

From local shootings and journalistic wild goose chases pursuing the truth to convoluted relationships between Pascal, Jimenez, Harley (and an investigation that draws them each from their disparate lives and experiences), Donkey Show represents a wry and witty slice of life survey that operates on different levels. This will attract readers interested in more than just an action story packed with political intrigue.

As a crime thriller, Donkey Show holds an instant attraction. But it would be a shame to limit its audience to suspense readers alone. Those who look for multifaceted stories that traverse and contrast different social and cultural borders will find Donkey Show replete in inspections and opinions that are steeped in moral and ethical dilemmas.

The resulting intersection of a probe of drug lords with a romance story will attract novel readers looking for a read that's satisfyingly unexpected, diverse, and compelling.

Real Events of Narcissistic Abuse
Michelle Dickey
Independently Published
9798434137324, $14.99 Paper/$11.00 Kindle

Real Events of Narcissistic Abuse: Someone's Survival Guide charts both the author's own experiences identifying and surviving narcissistic abuse and the tips and lives of others in similar positions.

Many memoirs and mental health guides have been written about narcissism, but having a survey rooted in a relationship analysis replete with religious self-inspection and spiritual awakening adds an extra dimension to the discussion that informs readers about this form of abuse and its lasting impact.

Michelle Dickey's book is not a singular presentation. Various scenarios of narcissistic behavior patterns are covered in chapters that include workplace abuse as well as interpersonal relationships, painting a picture of the common phrases, scenarios, and methods narcissists employ as they act out "inner demon issues."

More than an account of the actions and impact of narcissism, however, Real Events of Narcissistic Abuse focuses on the kinds of healing and recovery approaches that represent empowerment on spiritual and psychological levels alike. This gives readers keys to addressing their own interactions with narcissists as it reveals the narcissist's typical and special patterns of abuse and repression.

Dickey's candid analysis of her own repeated patterns and the red flags she missed provides ample warning to others who may find themselves in similar situations: "Although we had a few couple spats along the way, we managed to work through them, which is another reason I was willing to marry him. What I failed to see as the red flag was the extreme verbal abuse that he would dish out during some of those spats. Yes, I was being trauma bonded in a very covert way. So, the cognitive dissonance let me move forward with planning the wedding."

With so much modern focuses on the circumstances and impact of narcissistic personalities in the world, Real Events of Narcissistic Abuse: Someone's Survival Guide needs to be in a wide range of library collections. It should be part of faith-based self-help and mental health libraries, as well as on the reading lists of discussion groups interested in women's issues, marriage, and social concerns.

Its profiles and messages should not be missed. Competing books seldom are covered with the detail and depth of this important survival guide.

Forget This Good Thing I Just Said
Colin Dodds
Dodds Amalgamated
9780578951508, $24.24

Forget This Good Thing I Just Said presents 900 aphorisms by Colin Dodds, providing evocative, pointed literary and philosophical reflections that encapsulate moments of wisdom.

This gathering of simple inspections lends to browsing rather than linear pursuit, which will delight readers who look for daily admonitions or simple passages that linger in the mind throughout the day: "Solutions metastasize to disasters faster than they did last year."

Dodds incorporates psychological insights into many of his reflections. Readers will find them important mirrors of life experience: "Anyone can lash out, but who's damaged enough to sustain an assault?"

The length of these aphorisms may be short or longer, but all lend to easy reading and long-term, thought-provoking digestion.

There are truisms, road maps for contemplating life, and insights that compel thinkers to examine their own beliefs and approaches to living: "You never know where the last straw will find you."

The result excels in injecting power into a succinct form that will prove especially attractive and accessible to today's busy reader, whose attention span and internet experience may lend to just this type of browsing.

Libraries that chose Forget This Good Thing I Just Said will find it attractive to a diverse audience.

River of Ashes
Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor
Vesuvian Books
9781645480983, $17.95

As a psychological study in how women become victims and how victims become easy prey to evil manipulators who operate under the guise of something different, River of Ashes represents a standout in the literature, and is the first book in the St. Benedict series. It probes not just events, but how they transpire, cultivating an acuity and insight that is vivid, realistic, and engrossing.

River of Ashes reveals the making of a psychopath as it follows the frustrations and evolving predatory perspective of wealthy teen Beau Devereaux, who has everything, but wants more.

As the story delves into this teenage mind's downward spiral into depravity and death, readers receive a combination of eerie mystery surrounding the abandoned (possibly haunted) St. Francis Seminary and the teens who have claimed the river and the surrounding area as their own hang-out place.

Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor craft a compelling story that at first seems as though it will focus on supernatural elements. As mature teens and adults pursue this story, it becomes evident that more is happening than ghosts and haunting alone; because Beau's evolutionary process and the perceptions of his present and future victims are the plot's main driving force.

The horror is steeped in the process of teens as they evolve alongside this home-grown horror, and in the mind of Beau as he pursues the one thing he can't have or buy.

More so than most stories of psychological horror, River of Ashes provides a compelling focus not just on the actions of a psychopath, but the making of one.

From family influences to forbidden relationships, Beau's trajectory assumes a deadly certainty that readers will see coming, but still can't completely predict.

And that's the glory of River of Ashes. With its special blend of supernatural and human threat and its steady exploration of depravity and resolution, it provides compelling psychological insights to readers interested in the roots of abusive killers.

While readers might choose the book for its supernatural overtones, ideally River of Ashes will also be included on the reading lists of discussion groups dedicated to better understanding personal safety and psychological influences and developments.

Mature teen to adult readers will find this story mesmerizing. It's a mystery, it's a suspense novel, and it's a psychological portrait akin to Lord of the Flies.

From crazy parties and growing terror on the river to individuals who try to escape the web of intrigue and horror, River of Ashes is especially powerful in its portrait of not just how a psychopath grows, but how he operates within and outside of normal social circles. Why do victims keep quiet? What power is wielded by those who would abuse and kill?

The result will draw mature readers interested in this evolutionary process with a story that is centered on developing relationships, good and evil, and a group of teens who teeter on an uncertain adulthood. Some will survive. Some will not. Their choices, values, and thoughts drive a story that is thoroughly engrossing even as it's emotionally gripping in its journey through sexual assault, harassment, and challenges to justice.

Young women, especially, need this cautionary tale of a charming personality gone awry.

Ryan R. Campbell
Cedarbrook Books
9781736387139, $15.99 (Print), $5.99 (Ebook)

"Eric, this is your father." It should be easy to delete an email contention that is likely spam. But Eric Amundsen doesn't find this opening lure worthy of rejection. In fact, it opens a can of worms that leads him on a wild goose chase that holds dangerous consequences.

Scambait is an invitation to participate in a dangerous game fueled by the lure of possible alternatives to impossible circumstances. Eric is no dummy. He's entirely cognizant of the game likely being played. The problem is that he hates scams, and has a personal obsession with thwarting them. In this case, it's a perspective that hits far too close to home: "...even if they never did find my father's body, this has to be a scammer, some twisted lowlife out for revenge. And if there's one thing I hate, it's a scammer."

Eric is in the perfect position to do this because his day job is in account support/management, and this skill set gives him an expertise that, more than an ordinary individual, allows him to get at the heart of such matters.

Until now.

Ryan R. Campbell creates a fine fictional spoof on computers, internet society, and the cat-and-mouse games set up by scammers and those who would engage them at their own level.

It examines abuser cliches, law-abiding citizens and those who operate on the fringes of society, and Eric's own fall into becoming an effective scammer himself - the very thing he hates the most - in reaction to the drama that draws him and new friend Adriana into circumstances that contain many satisfying twists and turns.

As Eric begins to uncover who his father really is and his own role in spam, scams, and intrigue, readers receive a wry humor in an inspection of the computer world and the follies of those who work in the tech world and manipulate others.

Readers seeking a fast-paced, tech-based blend of intrigue and satirical inspection will relish Scambait's ability to interconnect these approaches for a story that is logical, thought-provoking, and entertaining on legal, social, and moral and ethical levels.

It's a pleasure to find a story so nicely presented and pragmatic in its psychological buildup of characters and in its progressive changes.

Scambait is highly recommended for a wide audience; especially those with some tech background. It features an engaging series of conundrums that proves hard to predict or put down.

Hard Amazon Rain
Carolyn V. Hamilton
Swift House Press
9780990966425, $17.95 Paper/$2.99 ebook

Readers of women's fiction who look for self-confident, strong characters involved in romance and broader issues of ecological preservation will find both in Hard Amazon Rain. Its ability to draw the eye and heart with the powerful story of a burned-out art therapist, Dianti Robertson, who searches for new experiences but finds herself stranded in Peru, creates a compelling read that is hard to put down.

From its opening sentences, Hard Amazon Rain creates a "you are here" feel for its readers, capturing the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of the Amazon jungle: "Huddled on a wooden packing crate, Dianti Robertson waited in the tropical rain for a boat that was several hours overdue. Wet wind tore the tattered blue tarp loose from under the corner of one of her precious crates. She reached out from the haphazard protection of her silver and red space blanket to secure the edge. The small of her back ached, and she'd sat so long on the hard surface that her bottom was numb."

From different kinds of relationships with native Peruvians to the ecological struggles experienced by humans and the environment they live in, Carolyn V. Hamilton takes the time to place Dianti's personal efforts within the broader ecological picture of the Amazon's people, animals, and different cultures as each hold disparate special interests.

Romance, action, and intrigue blend in an adventure story that traverses matters of the mind and heart. Dianti becomes politically and socially involved in schemes that threaten the ancient Amerindian way of life as well as the well-being of the Amazon jungle itself.

Can Diani's infatuation with Christian blossom as they confront the big money companies that fund the garimpeiros? Can their efforts assure not just a future for the Yanamono tribe, but a more enlightened treatment of the Amazon's treasures? And, why is Christian keeping secrets?

There is lot to contemplate in the experiences, ecology, and management of the Amazon jungle. Pair these examinations with a suspense story replete with intrigue and evolving cross-purposes for a story that is riveting in many ways, lending insights into the Amazon jungle's diverse peoples and creatures.

The sense of place that is intrinsically part of the story keeps the plot fast-paced as Diani moves through these different worlds: "Life in the rainforest didn't slow down at night, just changed participants, she thought. Night creatures were just as noisy as those of the day. With Christian's calming touch, she fell back into an exhausted and dreamless sleep. The day dawned with a blinding downpour of rain that left the twisting vegetation of the undergrowth steamy. Dianti asked if the others had heard the cry of the jaguar, shuddering with the memory of the frightening sound. Santago shook his head and said, "El tigre, symbol of strong shaman. Bad sign."

Hard Amazon Rain is a fast-paced adventure that profiles a feisty, determined woman who learns many lessons about survival, love, and loyalty in the course of a story that embraces a broad representation of Amazon environment and issues.

Libraries strong in women's leisure stories and adventure reads will find Hard Amazon Rain offers far more than the usual romance focus with its delightfully full-faceted encounter.

Justice Makes a Difference
Dr. Artika Tyner and Jacklyn Milton
Planting People Growing Justice Press
9780998555300, $9.95 Paper/$5.99 Kindle

Justice Makes a Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire will attract libraries and picture book readers strong in children's multicultural biographies. It surveys the education of young Justice, who wants to make a difference in the world despite her age.

Her lessons begin with reviewing the biographies of other women and men throughout history, who served their communities and changed the world.

As Justice absorbs their stories and the concept her grandma imparts ("Your name is your destiny"), picture book readers receive large-size, engaging, colorful illustrations by Jeremy Norton as they absorb the messages of how even young people can make a difference.

Justice understands that she was "meant to serve and lead in her community." Just how she does so forms the crux of a tale that encourages kids to think about their own contributions to the fight for justice, using whatever resources they have.

Much more than a series of biographical sketches alone, Justice Makes a Difference provides both encouragement and food for thought to these young people, inviting discussions between them and adults who want to introduce children to advocacy concepts.

With its roots in real-world experiences and its insights on various ways one can contribute to society and foster positive change, Justice Makes a Difference is a highly recommended picture book for any library looking to profile change-makers and encourage community contributions in the very young.

Forever Sheriff
Edward Massey
Five Star Books
c/o Gale Cengage Publishing
9781432892302, $25.95

Forever Sheriff represents Western fiction at its best, providing a novel in the "High Mountain Sheriff" series about

Deputy Mark Simms. Mark is on the cusp of becoming the third Sheriff Simms of Summit County, in the early twentieth century. Sheriffs Luke and John Simms have been effective lawmakers in the region before him, so Mark faces a daunting legacy to uphold law and order in a world replete with threats and murder.

Coming up on eighteen years old, Mark will be the third deputy to make the team of a Sheriff Simms and a Deputy Simms, trading school for a profession which is becoming a family dynasty.

His ceremony is interrupted by a murder...and the story takes off.

Edward Massey takes the time to paint a full portrait of not just sheriffs and rebels, but the interrelationships of early pioneers, settlers, and new arrivals which come from disparate walks of life: "I worked for your grandfather for one month, and he was always testing people, just not the way you think." Woodside rolled his head back. Snow collected on his face as he smiled with his recollection. "It wasn't that Sheriff Luke Willford quizzed him, but for certain a week after any newcomer arrived, if your father had not yet brought the new arrival to Sheriff Luke Willford's attention, he would ask, 'Can you help me with the name of that new member of our community?' or 'Remind me the name of that new family. We need to ask if they need any help.'

"When Charlie came is important. Those converts who came on the train clear to Great Salt Lake City were not pioneers. That made him and his family separate. There might have been too much pride in that thought."

He also embeds astute psychological inspections into the action-packed story which reflect how carefully the characters walk through their world, mindful of the impacts of their choices in actions, words, and loyalties: "Pike had made no threat. Something the cold did to the dirt in their county. Nobody threatened. Keep a thought to yourself and you still had room. If you say it, you do it."

Readers who anticipate the typical Western's attention to atmosphere and vying special interests won't be disappointed, but may be pleasantly surprised to find there are more than dramatic clashes alone, in this multifaceted story. Massey crafts a tale driven as much by interpersonal relationships of all kinds between all types of frontier inhabitants as by the motives and special interests that influence them.

As Sheriff Simms faces new challenges in upholding and interpreting the law, readers are treated to a world as replete in differences and new opportunities as the Wild West.

Libraries strong in Westerns will find much to like in Forever Sheriff, a novel that takes an additional step into history as it depicts the struggles and choices of those who reside in the high mountain desert of Utah, and who seek to escape poverty, repression, and prejudice with new perspectives and opportunities to build family and community against all odds.

J. Adams
Damn Yankee Press
9788985697223, $12.99 Print/$9.99 ebook

Rode is about a new adult who has made the leap from school to independent living, whose experiences reflect the process of learning in a different way. From the start, J. Adams provides an engrossing story that reflects on this transition point in the narrator's life: "That was one benefit of being in school. Rarely having to make up your mind about anything important. Freedom without consequences. And while I was still attracted to the loose energy scattered across campus - all that potential in no hurry to be converted - the students themselves seemed barely aware of it."

Jack's about to make a move that, like his beloved motorcycle, might leave him with the "tank full, but the battery disconnected." This disconnection from his former aspirations and expectations about life leads him on a journey to California during which he leaves behind his bike, his job at the fire department, his girlfriend, and all prior connections. It's a journey of choice, because he doesn't "want the responsibility, right now, for anything besides myself."

Adams moves the tale from Jack's first-person observations about these major changes to a third-person story that explores his evolving new relationships and life. This changing perspective allows readers to receive both an introspective introduction and a more analytical viewpoint about Jack's experiences, as Rode unfolds.

Jack enters the world of boyfriends, clients, and jobs that demand physical and emotional changes, leading him to reconsider friendships, hookups, and the kinds of relationships that challenge his prior lifestyle and convictions.

Adams is especially skilled at capturing Jack's conundrums in reviewing his options and recognizing the early warning signs of trouble during this decision-making process: "The proposition had trouble written all over it, but Jack was drawn in."

As he comes full circle and re-enters the fray of firefighting and the life-changing encounters it brings, Jack faces loss, guilt, and failure in a journey that fosters new sights, experiences, and options.

Readers looking for a coming-of-age story that centers on a new adult's venture into unfamiliar territory and the life and relationship lessons he receives from these efforts will find Rode a compelling narrative. It deserves a place in any library strong in stories of life-changing experiences and growth.

Skylark Dancing
Olivia Godat
Atmosphere Press
9781639882885, $18.99

Historical romance readers are in for a treat when they choose Skylark Dancing, because the story winds not only through disparate lives, but different cultures in 1800s Texas and Mexico.

Alondra is on her way to St. Louis to find her birth family. She's also on the run from Mexican army Captain Baca, after she stabbed him.

Felipe Montez is running from the same man, having spurned the man's interest in his prize stallion El Moro, and is on his way to bring the horse to his ranch in New Mexico.

At first, Alondra thought Felipe was in the same league of takers as Captain Baca, and resists his allure even though he's handsome and has rescued her.

It turns out that even though they are on different journeys, they hold more connections than they anticipated; both through their shared adversity and from their desire for a peaceful life.

Olivia Godat paints a compelling portrait of two disparate lives that find connections with one another.

She flavors her story with the cultures and history of the times as males and females interact, steeping these encounters and different backgrounds with the sights, smells, and atmosphere of the rugged country around them: "Arms folded across his chest, Felipe stood on the fringe and watched her dance. He recalled the time he saw her at the cantina and smiled at the remembrance of her skirt swirling above her knees and the knife strapped to her thigh. But the strange sensation that crawled up his spine had nothing to do with Alondra. She finished her dance and dropped to the ground. Ma struck a slower beat, and the McFarlanes sang about a woman named Barbara Allen. The song was a gentle ballad but did nothing to ease the tension that prickled the back of Felipe's neck. He stepped back into the shadows of the cook fire and listened. The horses were restless, they snorted, and El Moro neighed. Horses generally enjoyed music; they should not be nervous."

From pumas and spirit legends around the campfire to journeys that follow Felipe and Alondra to Santa Fe and beyond, Godat's ability to capture the cross-cultural interactions between various peoples on the frontier results in a story that is filled with bright, compelling characters that each hold special interests and abilities.

It's refreshing to find a romance in which the female is strong and talented in her own right. Godat's story portrays a journey replete in both discovery and self-discovery as the characters grow and change, both with and without one another: "I used to think it mattered who my parents were. But it doesn't. Not really. It's me and my actions that make me who and what I am."

The plot also includes a good degree of social inspection, as the main characters come from very different economic backgrounds with experiences that hold their own special form of prejudice.

The result is a satisfying blend of Texas and Mexican history, cross-cultural interactions, and romance, all flavored with a taste of the old West to keep readers engaged and interested in a tale of overcoming fears and adversity.

The Things We Left Sleeping
Kathryn Lund
Atmosphere Press
9781639882984, $19.99

The Things We Left Sleeping is a literary journey through two lives connected first by love, then by trauma and adversity.

Evie and Stevie share everything, until Evie's mother Linda dies and she begins suffering from seizures. The trauma that replaces the world they'd shared evolves slowly and immerses readers in the disparate perceptions Evie and Stevie experience as their lives change.

Kathryn Lund presents these experiences in an unusual format: a layered contrast between the two consists of a visual separation in which Evie's narrative occupies the left hand pages and Stevie's occupies the right.

The different perceptions of each narrator also capture changing, atmospheric ideas in a unique manner akin to a painting in words: "This is how it always is in the beginning, stuck here in the great exhale that is the moment before snow. There is enough light left to see The Farmyard but it is a colour stored in Tupperware. The high, clear blue is dirtying down. Soon, there will be nothing but outlines in the dark. It's cold. Below me, I can make out the shapes of The Farm. The Stables; the black, smudged Barn away to my right. The Blue House, far off, down the rough dirt track. My breath mists over the window and whites them away. The dark freezes and the night sets in."

As notebook entries, postcard visuals, and images pepper and compliment their story, readers receive an account that, though unusual in its structure, operates as a draw in several different ways.

The mercurial dialogues, third-person inspections, and trappings of everyday life experiences injected into the overlay of trauma and change will take some getting used to, but readers who eschew linear plots and presentations for a creative taste of something different will especially appreciate how Kathryn Lund evolves her story on many different levels, lending it a fuller flavor than most.

As the saga of grief, illness, and recovery evolves on these changing playing fields, readers will appreciate the literary and psychological depths that this unusual format explores, which lends to philosophical as well as emotional inspections of transformation: "When you find me, you look at me with stone punch feathers. Turning something over underneath your lids. The box room, The Blue House, sleeping indoors; you push at me for the things you want. They are not the right things. Why should you get comfy here? It is hard, it is the first time we've got this far. It is hard for me to know, to judge, what things are right or not. Am I meant to know everything?"

The Things We Left Sleeping requires of its readers an appreciation for literature and a different narrative structure. What it demands in the form of flexibility is more than rewarded by a rich, multifaceted review that is thoroughly engrossing, especially recommended for collections where stories of grief and healing are of key interest.

The You I See
Danny Freeman
Atmosphere Press
9781639883110, $16.99

LGBTQ fiction for teens is a growing genre that is here added to and enhanced by the publication of The You I See, the story of two boys who meet at a fundamentalist church in Houston in the 1990s and develop a growing, forbidden affection for one another that defies their upbringing and culture.

A wise grandmother's admonition sets the stage for the unexpected, which is presented and experienced by first-person narrator Alex: "My Grandmother Allen once told me that life was like the lottery. "You can go far on talent, hard work, and persistence, but I've lived long enough to know that chance and blind luck play an oversized part in everyone's life, Alex."

Alex's friendship with Brandon reveals a very different family milieu than his own loving one: "My dad was good at making it seem like he himself was winded and tired, when all along he had an eagle eye on Brandon so he could judge when to slow us all down. Brandon seemed not to notice. I got the sense he was just happy to be with us and relieved to be around a father who never blew up in unexpected rages."

Danny Freeman creates a powerful contrast in lives as he follows Alex's navigation through the realization that he may be gay, his family encounters, and the very different reactions and challenges that Brandon faces.

He presents especially powerful scenes in which different characters around them either support or reject the teens, capturing the fear and angst that surrounds coming out in a community replete with prejudices that vie with ideals of love and acceptance: "Suddenly it dawned on me, an insight full of comfort and peace: unexplainably, reassuringly, and without a doubt, Joel already knew. He already knew my secret. He had known for a long time, and it had not mattered one bit. I sensed some-how, in the space between two heartbeats, that I was safe with Joel."

Most LGBTQ novels for teens focus on the evolving relationship, but Freeman takes an extra, much-needed step in revealing how the process of coming out elicits different reactions from friends, family, and community.

There are unexpected developments as well as anticipated angst. These weave into a story especially powerful for its contention that not all gay youth experiences are predictable, cut-and-dried, or completely negative or positive.

This multifaceted approach creates a more realistic story than most genre reads, offering teens the milieu of lives changed by boys who experience the normal surges of confusion, sexual desire, and the angst of being teens, in addition to their discoveries about themselves, each other, and their place in their community.

The You I See's powerful ability to refute stereotypes on all sides makes for an especially authentic, realistic story of growth. It is highly recommended as a key acquisition for young adult libraries; especially those looking for non-traditional explorations of the subject for LGBTQ collections and discussion groups.

Like a Lily Among the Thorns
Karen S. Bell
KSB Press
9798426339408, $15.00 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Like a Lily Among the Thorns represents metaphysical fiction at its best. It pairs romance with magic as it follows Gabrielle Bernstein (a young woman born into a damaged family and orphaned by unexpected circumstances) and a clan dedicated to spreading love and joy that hopefully will ultimately save the planet.

It opens with an ordinary day with ordinary chores in Gabrielle's life, but quickly moves to a milieu in which this twenty-something New York resident is compelled to move beyond her family and comfort zone to step up into a greater cause when she unexpectedly inherits a B&B inn from her estranged dead father.

The inn actually is the pivot point of Gabrielle's transformation, offering more than the promise of employment and new connections. It's an enchanted abode overseen by goddesses who want to inject healing and love into the world. And so Gabrielle falls under its spell as she unwittingly accepts her destiny and very different relationships than she'd experienced in the past.

The "positive energy of the cosmos" both entrances and overwhelms Gabby. It also serves as a strange attractor to mindfulness and being present, teaching her new skills that further both psychological and spiritual transformation and her life purpose.

Karen S. Bell crafts a compelling story of a young woman challenged by a new reality and her revised place in it. She adds details of romance and connection, building a plot that pulls readers through sorrows, loss, recovery, and the transformative processes experienced by a myriad of characters.

As bigger issues (such as climate destruction) are tackled, the real magic of the story is evident in a powerful display of action and social inspection. Readers absorb the disparities between light and darkness that range from atmosphere to personal and spiritual perceptions, as Bell employs evocative language to bring these contrasts to life: "...the usual lightness of being at the inn was overshadowed by a cloud of darkness and dread."

Readers who look for light fantasy, social inspection, and spiritual and psychological depth in their novels will find Like a Lily Among the Thorns a fine visionary fiction piece that draws on many levels: romance, spiritual awakening, social consciousness, and evolving new, harsh realities.

Ideally, Like a Lily Among the Thorns will be chosen by book discussion groups interested in how individuals grow into their purpose to affect the world around them.

Sons of Darkness
Gourav Mohanty
Leadstart Publishers (India)
9789355590831, $24.00 Paper/$9.99 Kindle

Sons of Darkness is an epic fantasy that defines the sweeping wide range of a saga and contains all the trappings of high adventure: pirates, princesses and kings, warrior women, and a prophecy that drives the action.

Even the author's note (usually such introductions are relatively staid) is a draw, presenting the promise of a read that evolved after Gourav Mohanty digested the classic story Game of Thrones: "When I took the wonderful characters of the epic Mahabharata and tossed them into a parallel dimension that was pervasively bleak and nihilistic, it was with the intention of making you, my reader, sit up and gasp on your couch."

The similarities between George R.R. Martin's epic series and Mohanty's fantasy are as compelling as their cultural origins are different, creating a saga that will attract not just Martin's audience, but readers interested in epic fantasy as a genre, as well as those with some knowledge of and appreciation for Indian literature.

Mohanty clarifies his purpose and this difference in his introductory Author's Note, as well: "My vision was clear. Epic Grimdark Fantasy was an unexplored bastion of Indian literature, and I wanted Sons of Darkness to be the first to conquer it."

Lest readers feel stymied by the author's allusion to India's classic Mahabharata, at this point it should be mentioned that little prior familiarity is required in order to appreciate Mohanty's story (though such a background will lend special interest in and knowledge of his approaches and the story's heritage). Sons of Darkness is not a rewrite of Mahabharatan reality, but a powerful rework of the concept itself that places these legends in new perspective.

The story opens with a prologue that presents an evocative, atmospheric description of darkness and the hallmark ethical inspection that marks Sons of Darkness and makes it a true classic: "For a Hero of Light, he reckoned he cast a rather grim shadow. Hero. The word slithered nastily in his mind. An honour bestowed upon you when you had killed all those who would have called you a mass murderer."

Victory, righteousness, and a bloody win open the saga with many thought-provoking reflections on the costs of battle and redemption, presenting a brother and sister's stale feeling that comes with having achieved all their goals.

Or, have they?

The story unfolds a myriad of characters, special interests, struggles, and epic clashes as Muchuk, Asha, and others interact with complex, changing scenarios.

Mohanty grasps and presents the tastes, smells, and world of India in the course of his adventure. This, too, sets the fantasy apart from many, rooting it in sense of the world with vivid inspections: "The air smelled of some exotic spice. Six monstrous barrels of ale were rolled in. Tables and benches had been raised, piled with bowls of strawberries, fresh baked bread and sweet-grass. An old woman played a cheerful air on the pipes. Dancers swayed seductively around a bonfire, swatting at the hands that groped them as they passed. There were sturdy broad-cheekboned, almond-eyed women from Pragjyotisha, slight green-eyed Balkhan girls with skin the colour of sapphires, and voluptuous women from the South, eyes rimmed with kohl."

Unlike Game of Thrones, the story's complexity and promise of a weighty saga is belayed by a special attention to developing characters and a sense of culture to draw readers into a world at once familiar and alien.

From smugglers and ruffians to battles between disparate groups of people who try to carve out a place in this changing world, Mohanty provides a powerful story replete in action and inspection that gives readers many moments of contemplation as the fantasy unfolds.

The result is rich, indeed. Sons of Darkness deserves a place not just in fantasy collections (as it will probably achieve), but in the hands of anyone interested in contemporary Indian literature which bases itself on classic works, but reinterprets the very reality they rest upon.

It's an epic fantasy that holds the rare opportunity for multicultural inspection and revelation, and is a read both entertaining and enlightening, all in one.

Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone
J.T. Michaels
Independently Published
9781778035203, $18.00 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone is a young adult fantasy about magic, quests, and self-discovery. Sixteen-year-old Jimmy Chartron dreams of entering the academy and becoming an electrician, but life has a way of changing goals...especially if magic is involved.

Tessa Marlise was a healer on the battlefield during the Great War. When her soul becomes bound to Jimmy's in another lifetime and era, both are challenged to address their revised situations, life perspectives, and a situation which involves murder and mayhem, in modern times.

From rituals conducted by those who can live for centuries to the quest for a keystone that lures disparate individuals a century later, J.T. Michaels crafts a tale of risk-taking, adventure, and adversity. This attracts readers with intrigue and self-inspection that brings revised purposes and newfound growth to the main characters.

As Jimmy endangers his recruitment and reconsiders his life goals, he finds himself both pursuing the truth and being pursued by forces from the past and present.

The interactions between Tessa and Jimmy are clearly presented as each walk in the others' shoes and develop a shared objective despite their many differences.

Michaels is particularly adept at constructing scenarios that continue to challenge and change both characters. This keeps the young adult reader on their toes and thoroughly involved as the magic and mystery unfold.

Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone is a fantasy with a difference: it specializes in a changing plot and characters that test their abilities and perceptions of the world as it builds a fast-paced adventure spiced with humor and strong dialogue.

The result is a story young adults will find compelling and hard to put down. On the surface, it's the tale of a boy challenged to review his life trajectory; but in actuality, it's a story of re-envisioning the nature of reality and life purpose, offering an action-packed story that embraces both as Jimmy and Tessa search for an elusive truth and battle a first war to assure that a second conflict won't evolve.

Birds and Things to Ponder
Richard A. Merritts, PhD
Independently Published
9798412279510, $25.99 Hardcover/$19.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Ornithologists and bird lovers who enjoy both natural history and literary poetic forms will find equal enjoyment in Birds and Things to Ponder, a rich collection of philosophical and natural thinking that includes a healthy dose of humor to top the cake of attraction.

Take the opening poem, "The Grebe Is Not a Duck." Here, Dr. Merritts refutes the uninformed notion that a grebe is not exceptional, painting a portrait of the bird's lure and manners with a light, interesting, rhythmic analysis: "The grebe is not a duck./Grebes do not quack./Grebes are good luck./Water runs off grebe back;/You get grebe awe struck,/For beauty grebe does not lack..."

Contrast this simple observation with "Lady Egret Gets the Chills," a whimsical consideration of a female egret's response to mating season and new opportunities: "Amorous egret in plumage;/Dressed in his finest frills;/Offering to share nest roomage;/Working all of his skills;/Like assessor calculating doomage..."

Merritts pairs these bird-specific observations with broader examinations of environment and atmosphere, as in "April is Temperamental": "April is temperamental;/In the Chesapeake bay sense;/It starts off with a warming trend;/Then snaps to misty morning rain..."

The result is designed to put a smile on the reader's face, immersing them in the natural world via printed text and the full-color, evocative paintings Dr. Merritt adds to accent the flavor and allure of his bird celebrations.

Birds and Things to Ponder holds the unique ability to attract a wide audience, from poetry fans who also love nature to bird enthusiasts and general readers who just want a light touch of rhyme and whimsy in their reading.

It is highly recommended for literary collections, but will also attract discussion groups as an example of contemporary nature observation that weaves nicely into literary forms with high impact and the ability to attract even non-poetry readers.

Eternal Questions: A Maybe Interesting List
Iwanna Twainbee
Atmosphere Press
9781639883158, $22.99 Hardcover/$16.99 Paperback

Eternal Questions: A Maybe Interesting List presents an intriguing work of satire and is recommended reading for literary enthusiasts.

Playful, seemingly random questions are accompanied by footnoted references to literature and analysis that comes in the form of 'extracts' of succinct ideas and interpretations.

Lest the reader think these are literary allusions alone, it should be noted that Iwanna Twainbee's approach embraces social and political inspections that play out on broader fields of interpretation and understanding. These take the form of a series of questions designed to encourage readers to think about their possible directions and answers: "When does one people's conquest of another people become a fait accompli and so become no longer worth fighting about? Does the conduct of the new rulers affect the calculation? Does the conduct of the new and old populations affect the calculation? Does the level of productivity under the new rulers affect the calculation?"

The queries consider a broad range of social issues, from racism and religion to homelessness and poverty: "When does poverty result from societal issues and when does poverty result from individual choices?"

The footnotes that stem from some of these questions link them to major literary works as well as popular culture, from song lyrics to the author's own life.

Eternal Questions: A Maybe Interesting List is not a listing designed to satisfy with answers and direction. It's a satirical interplay between social rule and psychological analysis that leads readers through unexpected, disparate threads of discussion akin to an internet search.

As the topics intersect with one another, it becomes evident that the style of the presentation will prove particularly alluring to readers already well grounded in philosophy, social inspection, and literature.

Impossible to easily categorize or put down, Eternal Questions: A Maybe Interesting List is a recommendation for thinking readers who have often been accused of asking 'why?' and embarking on unexpected journeys because of this question.

Not for the staid linear thinker who wants platitudes handed over on a platter, Eternal Questions: A Maybe Interesting List questions the roles and influences of tradition, expectation, and past history on the choices and affairs of modern man, proving a delightful romp through all kinds of subjects and possibilities.

Yesterday Calling
Steven W. Horn
Granite Peak Press
9780999124888, $29.95 Hardcover/$16.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Mystery readers (especially those who have followed the adventures of Sam Dawson in prior stories) are in for a treat with Yesterday Calling, which continues to follow Sam's personal and professional evolution as he grapples with choices made in youth that, in his fifties, come back to haunt him.

Valentina Thompson is dead. A phone call brings his mind to the past, when he was sixteen and attracted to an older, married woman. His choices led to trouble then, and they've come back to plague him and his daughter Sidney now as vengeful husband Hank Thompson devises a series of deadly encounters designed to make Sam pay for his past indiscretions.

As Sam and Sidney face a clever psychopath on the rampage, their lives become entangled with Sam's professional outlook, his personal choices, and the present-day threat that tracks their movements with a deft talent for kidnapping, assault, and framing Sam in a way that alienates him from his daughter: "Sidney's cold indifference was palpable in the days that followed. She, too, was a victim of Thompson's assault. Kidnapped, betrayed, and half-orphaned, she had seemingly lost hope. Once again she blamed her father. Sam's grief, on the other hand, had turned to anger."

More so than most mysteries, Steven W. Horn's Sam Dawson stories rest on explorations of personal culpability, guilt, and growth to offer just as many satisfying psychological interplays as they do intrigue.

Yesterday Calling's special skill in moving between past and present events, psyches, and interactions creates a link between various facets of Sam's life that prove just as inviting and compelling as the underlying murder mystery that makes Sam a suspect.

As readers traverse the process by which he becomes alienated from his daughter and falls under the predatory spell of someone who might prove to be his greatest adversary, they will be fascinated not just by the intrigue, but by the psychological cat-and-mouse game Horn spins between all the characters.

The result is a compelling story that attracts on many different levels, both flushing out Sam Dawson's checkered past and approach to conflict and providing a satisfying new mystery accessible to newcomers and prior fans alike. It's highly recommended as either a stand-alone mystery or for prior fans of Sam Dawson's life, and will find a home in any library strong in mysteries featuring strong psychological depth and intrigue alike.

The Mill
Cailyn Lloyd
Land of Oz LLC
B09LMQSN5M, $3.99 Kindle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote: "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

The Mill will attract readers who like thrillers that include supernatural elements. It embraces Doyle's observation, following psychic Lili's revelations as she moves into a renovated paper mill, only to discover that its prior residents never left.

These aren't your ordinary, staid ghosts. They include human and ghostly threats, from a serial killer who prowls the place and is involved in a series of escalating murders to spirits who were his victims, and who seek revenge and resolution in order to move on.

As Lili faces increasing mysteries she "has no hope of fathoming" and probes the facts surrounding Emma Kiekhafer, a girl who died in an industrial accident in 1894, she becomes increasingly involved in convoluted connections between past and present circumstances of death that turns her new home into a battlefield.

Will her choices and actions lead to resolution, or result in the killer's going underground, not to be found until he strikes again?

Cailyn Lloyd creates a powerful juxtaposition of murder mystery and police procedural which moves between Lili's perceptions and Chase Riddell's pursuits and misogynistic attitudes towards women: "Another thing men did better. They could easily pretend to be women. For women to pretend to be male? Ha! The voice, the stature? They couldn't do it. No wonder they were determined to force equality. They'd never earn it. They were worthless beyond their basic biological function as brood mares."

As investigator Martin works with Lili despite his initial skepticism, changing beliefs turn into something different for both of them.

Lloyd's focus on changing realities, relationships, and revelations makes The Mill a fresh genre read that mystery enthusiasts will relish.

Can a ghost have a mental disorder? -- Lili is about to find out!

So are her readers, who embark on an unexpected roller coaster of possibilities that is filled with satisfying twists and turns throughout. Mystery and supernatural fiction audiences are in for a thought-provoking treat.

Half In: A Coming-of-Age Memoir of Forbidden Love
Felice Cohen
Dividends Press
9798985701708, $14.95 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Half In: A Coming-of-Age Memoir of Forbidden Love is the memoir of Felice Cohen, a new college grad in the 1990s who faced the challenges of coming out and the concurrent special challenge of falling in love...with her boss, a woman over thirty years older than she.

When she got the job, romance was the last thing on her mind. The year-long affair that evolved challenged her perceptions of love, family, and relationships on many different levels, but the reason why Half In differs from so many stories of lesbian love lies in the age gap that contributed further challenges to the relationship.

Felice was on the cusp of creating her career and life. Sarah was well into her career and life. Their disparate concerns, as well as their powerful connections, are explored in a vivid chronicle that covers many topics, from workplace romances and age gaps in relationships to risky behaviors such as a 'kissing map', with the goal being to kiss in every building on the college campus and mark it on a map.

Cohen is candid about the ups and downs the relationship brings to her life: "'Things are great. Besides work, we spend Saturdays together.'

'As long as you're happy.'

I rocked back. 'I am.' At least I was when I was with Sarah.

The rest of the time was another story, but Rachel was the last person I would admit that to."

As Felice comes to realize that the age difference between them is a bigger deal than other facets of their relationship, she tackles issues of shame, honesty, happiness, and what it means to be engaged in a relationship with no holds barred.

"I've finally come to accept that loving Sarah hadn't been wrong; it was the act of loving her in secret."

Half In's story of growth, evolution, and coming of age is a strong presentation that should attract a wide audience, from those interested in workplace relationships and secrets to others who will find it one of the few books to tackle the issues surrounding love relationships between individuals with a wide gap in their ages.

Cohen's memoir proved cathartic to her own life analysis: "For years I thought my fear stemmed from what others would think if they knew I'd been in love with a much older woman. I'd been wrong. The real fear was examining what I had thought about myself. I'd been judging myself harshly for loving someone society deemed an unacceptable match and had been anticipating that same judgement from others.

Secrecy enabled me to compartmentalize this fear, which then intensified my shame. My heightened shame then kept me silent and kept me fearful. It was a vicious cycle."

Its publication opens the door for discussion groups and readers to consider the cycles of their own choices and the impact of secrecy on their evolution and development. It's a top recommendation not just for LGBTQ collections, but any library strong in either coming-of-age stories or memoirs about age-disparate love.

Followed by Fire
McKenzie Austin
Independently Published
9781732972360, $3.99 (eBook)/$13.99 (paperback)

What happens when a witch, a demon, and a priest enter a war? Followed by Fire: Book One of the Incineration Saga opens with a vivid scene in which witches' daughter Esven Greenbriar sees her mother burned by humans who drag them from their home: "Esven Greenbriar always believed metaphors were for melodramatic poets and drunk philosophers, but she'd be damned if the wild horde of men charging into her forest cottage didn't crash through like river rapids. Blades waved like banners, and she dug her fingers into the mossy walls of her childhood home, her heart hammering."

Esven had dreamed of leaving their isolated forest home...but not like this. She had dreamed of a different life...but not the one that is thrust upon her by adversity and heartache. What happens when dreams die? They turn into a quest for revenge.

In this case, Esven's newfound purpose is thwarted by her late mother's upbringing and lessons on peace and forgiveness: "People want to be good," her mother would say. "They want to do the right thing. It's only when terror grips them that they undergo a change. Panic feeds the demon that grows in all men. It is only the demon you need to fear. Never the man."

In contrast, Father Deverell is a study in intrigue and mystery ("Father Deverell seemed like an awfully curious priest with equally curious secrets.").

Their association could get somebody killed. Or, a lot of somebodies.
Readers who anticipate another fairy fantasy driven by combat and clashes will be pleasantly surprised to find that McKenzie Austin embeds more than a light thread of wry humor and irony throughout the story. This emerges in the strange company Esven keeps during the course of her journey, including Balvonak, a demon who eschews "human savages" and harbors his own special interest in locating witch Amadeia Greenbrair.

Between sarcastic quips between mortals, witches, and demons and the odd countenance of a priest who walks among them harboring his own special interests, Austin provides a plot that rocks with humor and pulls with conflicts within three characters that each harbor secrets and an attraction to danger.

As Esven pursues her mother's legacy and the scorching attraction that binds her to disparate companions, the story evolves with many unexpected twists and turns, including a touch of romance that begins with an unlikely scenario that blossoms into something more.

Austin is especially adept at employing different forms of humor to bring each character to life. They are cunning and well equipped to handle the world. But, can they handle each another?

Fantasy readers who look for whimsical flavor, action-packed encounters and evolving interpersonal relationships will find these elements in droves in Followed by Fire.

The relationships and quirky responses to the world drive the plot, creating a compelling story rich in drama and detail and spiced with the specter of a curious relationship between relative loners.

Fantasy collections seeking something refreshingly unique in tone and scope will find that Followed by Fire stands out from the crowd, blending a rare sense of adventure and irony to keep the story inviting on many different levels.

Yes, it's Book One. The plot ends in a satisfying manner, but leaves the door more than ajar for more.

Like the proverbial Hotel California, readers who enter this world won't want to leave. And library collections will make sure they do offer this opportunity to their fantasy readers.

James Murdock
Art of Telling Publications
9781734844733, $TBA

Spirit is a poetry collection that sings from the soul. Grounded in creations replete with compelling imagery, James Murdock writes with an eye to capturing the imagination in unusual ways.

Take "The Cafe Across the Street." Its images contrast the isolation of a loner looking upon a world similar to, yet alien from his own choices: "I walk down the Rue de la Vie/to a solitary table/set just for me./The Cafe across the street/full of noise and smells/people eating, drinking, laughing,/kissing the air./She comes up to me/"I'll have a Bordeaux and today's paper."/I raise the wine to drink/and it floats back/to the Cafe across the street./I raise the paper to read/and the print floats back/to the Cafe across the street..."

A more powerful observation of attraction, possibilities, elusive connections and costs of isolation would be difficult to find.

In contrast is the short "Garage": "In our garage,/Everything is in its place/Wherever that might be."

Many of these works are rooted in nature, from facing storms and waves to the animal/human wordplay in "With Them."

James Murdock excels in poems that represent inner and outer dialogues. These exhibit changing styles which belay the usual singular approach of free verse, lending each piece a creative form that embraces its subjects in different ways.

One such example is "Floating," a dialogue between Big Jim and "irritating" Little Jim. The poem moves a question about destroyers and physics to broader interactions between adults and children over impossible questions that have no answers, thus inviting snide fantasy to enter the discussion.

Diverse in themes and subject, yet united by a front of powerful inspections and life experiences, Spirit embraces the spirit within and in the outside world.

Its vigorous examination of life interactions, from memories to experiences and reflections, makes for a diverse literary portrait that is inviting, evocative, and highly recommended for contemporary poetry library collections.

Kill the Dog
Alex Storm
Purple Pixie Books
9798985753059, $14.99 paper/$6.99 Kindle

"I never thought I would be a stalker. Stalking: even the word itself sounds predatory, even depraved. But in the last five days, I've discovered that real stalkers, good stalkers, aren't depraved. They're not predatory. A good stalker doesn't allow their presence to be detected. They watch from a distance. They observe like an ornithologist."

Travis Tanner was on the management track at Whataburger in Houston. He gave that up to become a filmmaker in LA. Ever since he made that sacrifice, things haven't gone to plan. The only ray of light in this bleak, merciless town is Rachel. When Travis is with Rachel, the future feels possible. He can dream again. He matters.

But he can't be with Rachel. She has a conniving hellhound named Mr. Underwear, who hates Travis and seems intent on getting rid of him. To spare her dog, Rachel has put the relationship on ice.

Kill the Dog is a comic novel about Hollywood's underbelly of society, and will attract readers interested in literary spoofs on the industry and its milieu.

It opens with a thought-provoking bang of self-realization and discovery that carries this note through its romp on the wild side, as seen through the eyes of an observer with a "brief career as one who lurks."

What is revealed through this inspection is unusual, as a dog (Mr. Underwear) who "plays mind games" becomes the object of the narrator's focus: "As soon as Rachel left, the dog gave me a sidelong look filled with what I could only describe as disdain. From somewhere within, I heard the awful chilling sound of the siren one hears in zombie movies; the one that portends the end of civilization.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

It was my internal Emergency Alert System going off."

As the story evolves from these opening scenes to descriptions of life in the actor's lane, the narrator exposes all manner of ironies and indiscrepancies in the industry and its participants: "You and I, Charlie says, her voice terse, "are in the lowest of the lowest budget films. Malloy won't use the Snake Charmers because they've already been around the block. People pay to have them open clubs in the Middle East and some countries in Africa. They're not going to work for two hundred a day. Those girls want more. You and I, Travis, we don't have more. We need new blood. We need people like my uncle; people who don't know better."

When Rachel becomes involved with Snake Pit films and the Pajama Party, USA production, the narrator's world teeters between observer and participant.

And the dog? Does it (and what it represents to the narrator) die?

Not completely. For more, read Kill the Dog. The devil is in the details, and the scope and allure of this story lies in its special blend of big breaks and ironies that evolve from Operation Kill the Dog.

Libraries strong in novels with whimsical inspections of Hollywood's seedier side will find this story an appealing acquisition. Kill the Dog provides a hilarious, highly entertaining read in a debut contemporary novel replete with action, fun, and adventure.

No Pistol Tastes the Same
Jacob Paul Patchen
Independently Published
9780578289274, Print: $15.95/Ebook: $6.95

No Pistol Tastes the Same is a "PTSD novel" that includes a new subgenre of fiction with this subtitle. This both clarifies and defines the subject and progression of a powerful story of war's aftermath, covering the lasting impact of a terrible choice that leads Sergeant JP Grimm through death and into the uncertain role of a traumatized survivor.

There is quite a bit of introductory information that sets the stage for this story: the usual introduction, an extensive author's note, and quotes from PTSD survivors and sufferers about the condition's feeling and impact, as well as science reports about solar flares and the seeming inevitability that human civilization faces radical changes from them.

This is a lot of front-end information to absorb before the story even begins, but much of it is a necessary preface to properly stage the full impact and approach of No Pistol Tastes the Same.

The first chapter, some ten pages into the book, opens with a hard-hitting poem and the powerful conclusion that "No pistol tastes the same...and a bourbon-muzzled truth maker."

JP has grown up an orphan of a holy war, taken in by grandparents who have provided him with a rural farm life in a home they call "Paradise." Powered by these memories of the past and fueled by Jim Beam, JP has here returned from war to a much-changed world. Unbeknownst to him, he faces further changes that originate from his PTSD-based tactics to survive as the world enters a perilous time of disaster.

Jacob Paul Patchen does an outstanding job of creating dual draws in No Pistol Tastes the Same. Combining a story of PTSD with a new threat that calls upon survivors to think in new ways to carry their skills into alien territory results in a story replete with unexpected twists and turns (despite the indication of this progression in the book's introductory pages).
JP's story embraces his recovery process from PTSD as he struggles to get used to his new environment "while not having to worry about things exploding all around him."

His condition reaches out to challenge his wife and son after he returns home, and Patchen explores the impact of PSTD on loved ones, as well, as he evolves his tale.

In another hand, the story would have been limited to this process...and holds many insights from this background alone. But Patchen takes the tale another step forward in presenting a scenario in which JP must face his nightmares and recovery against a growing backdrop of worldwide disaster.

The process by which he confronts his demons makes for an intriguing juxtaposition of flashbacks and coping methods that keep readers engaged in JP's perceptions and dance between recovery or death.

The result is a genre-crossing story designed to reach two disparate audiences: those who enjoy apocalyptic stories of worlds ending, and readers who look for tales of PTSD and new worlds reborn.

It's a powerful combination that lends to the recommendation that No Pistol Tastes the Same be included not just in the fiction collection of libraries seeing patron interest in either subject, but on book discussion lists about PTSD, trauma, and survival tactics.

The Friday Night Mystery Club
Joanna Campbell Slan
Spot On Publishing
9798469766247, $14.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook

Fans of amateur sleuth mysteries know the drill: a non-problem-solver is pulled into intrigue and, despite a lack of knowledge, manages to use innate abilities to both solve the mystery and enter the world of the neo-professional P.I.

The Friday Night Mystery Club assumes these trappings, but adds a layer of personal angst as new divorcee Cragan Collins is left with overwhelming bills, a grandmother to support, and the mandate to take a job as a newspaper ad salesman to eek by.

A new friend (business reporter Robert Smithson) seems to portend new beginnings, but when he's murdered, Cragan feels compelled to enter the fray of solving his death.
But, not alone.

Unlike other murder mysteries, she's backed by a disparate force of individuals who participate in the Friday Night Mystery Club. This membership brings with it an effective force of fellow wannabe sleuths eager to use their disparate abilities to tackle questions that have stymied the pros.

Another plus to the strong subplots in this story lies in the focus on newspaper politics and interactions behind the scenes as Cragan's job dovetails with her newfound mission in unusual ways.

From the unexpected new experience of being shot at to having her home shot out from under her (it will be sold to make way for apartments), Cragan finds nearly every facet in her life in flux - including her health. Only her membership in the Mystery Club seems rock-solid and reliable.

Joanna Campbell Slan creates a fascinating story that juxtaposes a murder mystery with the daily onslaught of personal life crises Cragan faces simultaneously.

Cragan's first-person story captures the resilience with which she tackles life issues with a pragmatic approach inherited from her grandmother: "I turned the key in the ignition. What would I do if the test came back positive? Who would take care of my grandmother? Who would take care of me? I would deal with that if and when it happened. As Granny used to say, 'No use borrowing a cup of trouble.' In the meantime, there were more immediate concerns to deal with, things I had a modicum of control over."

As different lines of thought emerge about the murder's timing and the possible influences of inheritance, Cragan's ability to pivot on a dime between her friend's mysterious killer and the motivations behind her own life choices makes for a realistic standout that embraces the notion that mystery and personal growth can occur at the same time. Slan's added dose of humor and realistic portrait of the milieu and characters of 1986 Decatur, Illinois are also well-done pluses that make this book an evocative standout in the cozy mystery genre.

The P.I. is thus tasked with living her life while summoning the energy for ongoing questions that often dovetail with her ambitions. The reader of The Friday Night Mystery Club is tasked with enjoying Cragan's ride through too many possibilities and some unexpected answers as the story brings everything together in a satisfying gift of intrigue that ultimately questions the roots and intentions of family definitions and connections.

Libraries strong in murder mysteries and interpersonal relationships will love the powerful presence of both in The Friday Night Mystery Club.

Monday Morning Blues
Joanna Campbell Slan
Spot On Publishing
9798433917958, $14.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Book 2 in the Friday Night Mystery Club series may be read independently of Book One, but those who imbibe its winning story will surely want to read the introduction to 1980s divorcee Cragan Collins, who finds herself involved in a spider's web of friendships and lies.

Monday Morning Blues carries this theme a step further as Cragan attempts to help fellow saleswoman Margo, only to find that, once again, she has been on the receiving side of a pack of lies about her friend's life and involvements.

She also may inadvertently know a truth that causes Margo's attacker to come after her at the same time as she is being pursued not by other adversaries, but by potential love interests.

Both at work and in her side pursuits, Cragan is continually caught in the crossfire as she works to solve the mystery but finds that her efforts often operate at cross purposes to her intentions.

From the atmosphere of 1980s Decatur, Illinois to Cragan's hard work in a job populated by men who harbor different perceptions of what a female worker can do, Slan populates her mystery with the kinds of real-world social situations and interpersonal relationship conundrums that keep the story lively and engrossing beyond intrigue alone.

It helps that Cragan's world is presented in the first person, capturing this milieu through her eyes as she struggles both personally and professionally to make an impact and a difference.

Her candid assessments of her life and career are especially astute observations: "Yakky knew the end was near. Not surprisingly, our boss blamed his sales reps for his downfall. He took his wrath out on us. To hear him talk, we'd let him down. We'd underperformed and embarrassed him. It was our fault he was being sacrificed to the great Gods of newsprint. The fact that our numbers were up made no difference. What's the truth when a man has invested in a lie? It's a casualty, that's all."

The result is a hard-hitting and evocative cozy mystery that, like its predecessor, carries readers into the 1980s and the life of a hard-working woman who problem-solves on many levels.

As her friendships evolve and her abilities grow, readers receive a moving story of changing relationships that operates on a satisfying faster level than The Friday Night Mystery Club. This will especially please those who look for faster-paced mysteries packed with action.

Monday Morning Blues is a vivid story that will appeal to working women, cozy mystery fans, and those who want a sense of place and people embedded in their intrigue. Filled with suspense and puzzles, it's highly recommended for libraries looking for superior cozy mysteries to build an exemplary, diverse collection.

The Secret to Everyday Communication (Without Argument)
Mark Ortman, MA
Wise Owl Books and Music
9780963469922, $15.95

The Secret to Everyday Communication (Without Argument) explores how language, meaning, interpretation, and underlying assumptions affect daily communications, fostering either understanding or conflict as choices are made.

It presents insights on ways in which communication breaks down, emphasizing how the overt and underlying emotions behind words often change or supercharge their meaning.

Mark Ortman offers astute analysis of the entire communication and engagement process as he basically teaches knowing "when to hold them and when to fold them" (meaning, words), and how to gain better perspective in the process of learning how to acknowledge self and others.

Perhaps the most important theme to this book, setting it apart from other surveys on better communication, is that of the process of clarifying intention and emotion while choosing better approaches to presenting and absorbing words.

From developing tact and choosing words more wisely to tips on knowing when to stop engaging, Ortman teaches a different series of approaches to more effective overall communication and psychological inspection: "If their answers still make little sense, test their openness to listen with an acknowledgment,"I hear this view is important to you." Follow with the question, "What would it take to be open to a different view?" If they say, "Nothing will!" Take them at their word and stop engaging. The emotions are too entrenched for a meaningful conversation. Any attempt to force our views can quickly deteriorate into a test of wills trying to prove each other wrong."

The result is more than another book about language. It's a survey of the underlying emotional choices and purposes of communication that reflects on how a better understanding of both will lead to improved interpersonal relationships...especially when the routes for self-examination and interpersonal dialogues are considered.

The Secret to Everyday Communication (Without Argument), should be in the library collections of general-interest and psychological holdings alike.

Know Your Man: Playful Relationship Advice for Understanding Your Man (Pig)
Michael Coogan and William Burton
Cresting Wave Publishing, LLC
9781956048131, $14.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Is the title Know Your Man, or Know Your Pig? The book's subject may be interchangeable, and is also synonymous with a sense of humor that runs through it like a river as Know Your Man: Playful Relationship Advice for Understanding Your Man (Pig) embarks on a relationship-defining journey that redefines men, pigs, and the communications between them.

The tongue-in-cheek wit does not detract from the serious nature of this survey of male/female differences, but it does add a light-hearted (yet loving) tone to the inspection.

Michael Coogan and William Burton's survey is for the female who would better understand the common pitfalls and misconceptions that evolve between men and women, and presents examples of specific dialogues and scenarios that result in either more effective or more frustrating communications.

They subdivide men into types and link these different communication adjustments to them, as in the typically Hurried Pig who fails to understand his wife's needs. Examples are quite specific about what works and what doesn't: "Imagine playing a game where the fewest number of well-considered words delivered as quickly as possible wins. This is that game but in real life. So, for a Hurried Pig communication, do yourself a huge favor and skip any of the following:

A 'preamble' such as, "I talked to Mary about the party next week...."

Any unnecessary information ("...her sister will be in town; you know the one that had the gall bladder surgery last year...")

Any reference to emotional conflict ("...I'm not sure how I feel about those new drapes she bought since I'm not that fond of sea-foam green...."

Get to the facts. Just the facts.

For example, just say something like this: "I need you to bring the charcoal grill to Mary's party next Saturday afternoon and have it there at 3:00 PM."

That's it, twenty-five words or less. Result: you will likely get a positive response from your Hurried Pig."

These specific courses of action, based upon dividing men into different kinds of Pig Personalities, drive a book that tackles the all-too-serious subject of common miscommunications between men and women and what to do about them.

The result is an accessible, lively, fun read that imparts important lessons on behavior modification and better communication on both sides.

It's highly recommended for any female who would better and more lovingly understand and relate to their particular "pig" and his unique approach to communication.

Deadly Motives
Ann Girdharry
Independently Published
9780993560255, $3.99 digital, $12.99 paperback, $17.00 Audible

Deadly Motives provides the first murder mystery in a multi-book series about Detective Grant and his new recruit, crime profiler Ruby. It introduces their first case, which involves the brutal strangling of hospital nurse Mandy Jones and a perp that Grant has engaged with before.

Detective Inspector Grant has his hands full, between Ruby's purposeful desire to stay low-key in the investigation and a murder that at first seems cut-and-dried, but proves to be different on many levels.

Between his colleague's closely guarded secrets and the perp's ability to stay one step ahead of his investigation, everything is up in the air.

Ann Girdharry presents a delightfully evocative murder mystery that features desperate stories, desperate measures, and secrets that affect the investigation from different angles. She is especially adept at following three characters whose intersected lives and purposes contribute disparate personal influences to the case.

Dialogue, interpersonal reactions, and twists and turns are all realistically portrayed and satisfyingly involving, keeping readers on their toes and engaged in the lives of perp and investigators alike.

As the special interests of each character blend with past and present history and challenges, readers are treated to a story nicely steeped in psychological revelation and inspection.

There is nothing predictable about the different motives that drive each individual and nothing staid about the choices they make, which affect not only each other, but themselves.

The result is a story line nicely focused on psychological revelation, keeping readers thoroughly engrossed and guessing to the end.

Mystery libraries that look for exceptional psychological attention to detail will find Deadly Motives a winning acquisition.

Platform Shoes
Linda Watkins
Argon Press
9781944815189, $0.99 Kindle

"...more often than not, I'd be jarred awake by the hollow sound of a pair of platform shoes echoing loudly across the wooden floor of an empty courtroom. And each time I had this dream, the sound they made became louder and closer."

When an Army pilot is shot down and wounded during the war in 1943, he finds himself back in Texas facing a very different kind of adversary: the commandant's wife, who is beautiful and more deadly than a bullet. Platform Shoes combines a murder mystery with a World War II backdrop in an unusual move that makes for a riveting, realistic historical thriller.

The story opens in April of 1943, when the thirty-one-year-old Army captain is en route to his new assignment in the Air Corps. Linda Watkins chooses the first person to capture the perspective of Steve Daniels, who is on his way to a teaching assignment after being grounded from his flight duties.

Steve didn't expect himself to be on a witness stand giving testimony in the future. Nor did he anticipate the tangled web of deceit, intrigue, and danger that evolves from the relationships which seem to fall into his lap, or the murder that draws him into a milieu just as dangerous as the war.

Watkins does an outstanding job of capturing the atmosphere and backdrop of these times, weaving Steve's life into a journey that moves from Texas to Los Angeles and Hawaii.

His investigations and efforts to clear his name lead him into possibilities that redefine his world and his ideas of it: "I wondered if this island was a magnet for people who wanted to disappear, but wanted to do so in luxury. How many other Kathys lived here? Women who'd killed their husbands and framed their boyfriends for the deed?"

His fate remains up in the air for much of the story, yet Watkins creates an investigative thriller that holds many twists and turns as Steve reaches for a truth that is more complex than anything he (or the reader) could have initially imagined.

The result is a satisfying blend of murder mystery, thriller, and hard-boiled detective story that traverses different milieus to bring the 1940s to life in a different way.

Readers who enjoy mysteries steeped in historical backdrops will welcome the opportunity to enjoy both in the immersive discovery that is Platform Shoes, which represents and captures noir fiction at its best.

Educator and Activist
Bunyan Bryant Jr.
Rivertowns Books
9781953943132, $39.95

Legal library collections strong in social history should consider Bunyan Bryant Jr.'s Educator and Activist: My Life and Times in the Quest for Environmental Justice an essential acquisition not just because it's a memoir documenting a particular time and effort, but because of its wide-ranging, sweeping link between the social issues of poverty and prejudice and the environmental injustice that fosters these conditions.

Bunyan Bryant Jr. participated in movements fostering civil rights, students' rights, and women's rights with an eye to changing and challenging the milieu that promoted poverty and abuse.

From his Southern boyhood to developing his vision to help others challenge the systems that oppressed them, Bryant Jr. lends a seasoned eye to the history of struggles to fight various systems. He cultivated activities both in school and off campus that helped transform communities and made their efforts more effective.

His memory goes far beyond protest alone, delving into team-building activities and surveying the pitfalls and promises of rallies, discussion groups, and policy-changing efforts that moved from community activism to global circles.

His efforts changed lives and worlds. His insights thus come from a unique set of personal experiences and a lifelong dedication to addressing environmental injustices on many different levels.

The philosophical and social insights he cultivates through this biographical history provide much food for thought for readers also involved in or embarking upon their battles for justice: "When you do the right thing for the wrong reasons, the results are never as good as they should be."

The roots of lasting social change often take place in everyday situations, such as discussions between men and women: "We would attend sports events or go out on the town to one of the local bars or restaurants for a drink, where we talked about race and race relations, current events, and sports. Such discussions were an important part of our lives."

It has been said, in a song, that "from small things, big things someday come." Bunyan Bryant Jr.'s exploration of the roots and methodology of lasting change represents more than a memoir. It's a document of the possibilities that can be achieved through dialogue, protest, conviction, and interactions between all levels of society, around the globe.

Its far-ranging lessons and insights make Educator and Activist a top recommendation not just for memoir collections or libraries strong in civil rights history, but for any reader who would learn from and walk in Bunyan Bryant Jr.'s shoes to encourage positive and lasting change in the world.

Jeremy C. Gredone
Mascot Books
620 Herndon Parkway, #320, Herndon, VA 20170
9781684017010, $19.95

A legend was born at an unlikely time and in an unlikely place...on the first day of school.

Jeremy C. Gredone's inviting picture book story Maxwell receives engaging, colorful illustrations by D. Sherene Offutt as it tells the story of a spider the size of a nickel who has taken the family car outside mirror for home. He is red hot mad about the family's assumption that a car ride is just the ticket for the day.

They expect the spider will drop away in the wind and the freeway ride to school, but the brave little spinner remains with them, sparking admiration from the family and a school legend that grows.

As the little spider's web keeps returning against all odds from its moving home, the legend grows. Even the family father admits that "this is no ordinary spider."

Kids and read-aloud adults will relish the picture book story's twists and turns, which offer no predictable avenue of resolution or adventure, and therefore prove satisfyingly lively and original.

Any allusion to the more famous Charlotte's Web is dispelled during the course of Maxwell's journey, which grows until one day everything changes.

It was their dreams that made Maxwell "amazing."

The strength of imagination, the sources of wonder over everyday events, and the bonus pages which appear after the story concludes, providing readers with instructions for drawing Maxwell and a more adult review of the picture book's origins and beliefs, will delight adults who enjoy read-aloud engagements and stories that blossom during the process.

A Place Called The Way
Corrine Ardoin
Black Rose Writing
9781684339952, $19.95

"Berto Mendoza was a poet. Catching the milk cow was not in his interest, but, if he wanted cream in his coffee that morning, it was a necessity."

Through Berto's eyes and the eyes of characters affected by a small town's growth and spiritual foundations, a story emerges which is anything but the usual staid tale of opportunity and change.

Readers of rural fiction stories, coming-of-age sagas, and Corrine Ardoin's prior books about Pine Valley will find her third book in the series, A Place Called The Way, continues to explore the people who populate this town and grow under its community and promise.

Here, four-year-old Jimmy has already lost his way into a positive life through the abuse of an uncle ("The brown-haired boy swept his hands together, looking on at what he could do, what his small fists could grasp and throw."). Angry at the world, he cultivates his own form of cruelty towards those he can subjugate, cultivating destructive habits towards self and others which are mitigated by the intervention of a wise grandmother and medicine woman, who brings him on a journey of healing and empowerment.

As in the other titles in the Pine Valley series, the overlay is a community that harbors quiet strengths and an unusual healing power that brings many of the damaged Hart family residents into a solution called the Way.

As mother Candelaria Hart and others struggle to understand why the Hart family continually faces struggles and bad luck, from accidents to emotional pain, Jim grows up with angst still alive in his heart: "Jim left the house with his shadow so close, it likely adhered itself to his back. He could not escape it. What lived within himself clung to the fabric of his soul, reaching and grasping, like the paws of some great animal fighting to be free."

It feels unlikely that the Way or its opportunities will ever reach him, but the progression of miracles is just one of the themes A Place Called The Way cultivates, setting it apart from being simply another story of small-town American life.

The ties that bind this community also reach out to embrace the hearts and minds of both prior fans of the Pine Valley stories and newcomers.

As children are born and the town comes together and grows, readers will find the interests, challenges, and evolution of the story's characters blend into a bigger picture of connection and resolution. This makes for an engrossing tale of the Way, how to walk it, and its lasting impact on past, present, and future generations.

The story brings with it a sense of storytelling purpose that links these disparate individuals' lives and eventually arrives at the origins of ill luck in a family, ultimately leading it to the Way.

"The Way is not a word or a place in time, but a feeling, a knowing, a place outside of Time, where Truth awaits, where the life of our destined hopes invites us and brings us to our knees. The Way is not a town that became Pine Way or even Edenville. The Way is what connects us all, one heart, one soul, one life, all One."

Readers need this story of promise and spiritual growth, and libraries need to not only include it in literary fiction collections about small-town roots, but should point book clubs and discussion groups to its evocative blend of spiritual and social inspection.

H.N. Hirsch
Pisgah Press, LLC
9781942016687, $22.95

Blend atmospheric academic politics at Harvard University with a murder that rocks a New England community and explores the gay lifestyle operating beneath its veneer of conservatism for a sense of the different approach that Shade cultivates.

Shade is a murder mystery that features an unlikely investigator in the form of Assistant Professor Marcus George, a young, gay faculty member who becomes involved in investigating the murder of one of his former students, the son of a wealthy family.

H.N. Hirsch's ability to capture the mercurial mystery in a way that will grab the attention of mystery and general-interest audiences alike is evident from the opening lines of the story: "At first he did not think it would be anything, just a quick meal with a former student. He didn't know a young life was about to end, or that his own life was, in a way, just beginning."

Marcus is trying to represent the serious, scholarly atmosphere of Harvard University, despite his youth. His vested interest in the outcome of an unusual murder draws him into other realms that seem to conflict with his image and desire to project it, as Hirsch builds the story.

The issues introduced by lifestyle and culture permeate this story, from relationships between disparate age groups to the culture of an Ivy League college community in New England.

All these elements add more depth to the story than the usual whodunit, delving into matters of social and political conflict as well as crime and discovery.

The relationship between Marcus and his partner Bob is explored as well, lending psychological depth to a series of encounters that test and grow the characters in different ways, both within and outside of academic circles.

Hirsch is particularly adept at taking the time to capture the atmosphere of a changing world in which the AIDS epidemic is ravaging the gay community even as daily lives are pursued: "They ordered dinner, leg of lamb. It was tender and subtly spiced, and they devoured it. Marcus realized he hadn't eaten much at the faculty club; Bob had had a yogurt for lunch at his desk. After dinner they walked slowly home. It was chilly; the cold, wet, interminable Boston winter was definitely on its way, but there wasn't much wind that evening and it was still pleasant strolling outside. They bumped into a few of Marcus's undergraduates, two of whom stopped to chat. Marcus introduced Bob as his partner, the word gay men had started to use instead of "lover," which now sounded vaguely obscene as the epidemic was raging. Neither of them were entirely comfortable with the word "partner," which made them sound like they were in business together, but they didn't fight the trend."

Describing Shade as a "murder mystery" alone does it an injustice. Many social and psychological observations come hand in hand with the story of this professor's developing relationships as well as his pursuit of the truth. Few books would tackle the conundrum presented by the outcome of a murder probe that reveals forces of corruption alongside the draw of a love destined to change everything.

These elements set Shade apart from most other murder mysteries, giving it a boost that makes it highly recommended not just for mystery readers, but for those interested in the culture and special social, political, and psychological challenges of members of the gay community in 1980s New England.

Australians Speak Out: Persuasive Language Styles
Rodney G. Miller
Parula Press
9781737489504, $21.99 Paperback/$32.99 Hardcover

Although it may seem like Australians Speak Out: Persuasive Language Styles will be a country-specific analysis of Australia's linguistic idiosyncrasies, this is a book designed to appeal to a broad audience interested in communication, rhetoric, and persuasive speaking.

Rodney G. Miller uses the example and linguistic history of Australia as a point of reference, discussing how Australians employ language in extraordinary ways.

The book's examples are as wide-ranging as its contents, which move from the late 1800s to modern times. Miller quotes from speeches as he explores the fine art of language and communication through the decades.

No prior background in Australian history, communication styles, or in the purposes and approaches of the orators profiled within is required, in order to appreciate the evolving examples and their impacts. Miller provides all the information needed to place these speeches in proper context, but it's the works themselves which deliver the power of persuasion.

Why choose the history route? Because, for one example: "As each year passes, fewer people remain with us who listened to the impassioned address in 1942 of prime minister John Curtin, as he appealed directly on the radio to the people of the United States, for a stronger alliance to fight a joint enemy in the Pacific. This further advanced a change to Australia's foreign policy forever, away from a subordinate dependence on the motherland of Great Britain."

Words change lives. The fine tuning lies in the art of choosing them wisely.

Miller's orators resonate with power. Lest Americans think this won't apply to their history and concerns, consider the radio broadcast of John Curtin in his 1942 radio speech to America about the progression of World War II and why Australia was a pivot point of events: "I give you this warning: Australia is the last bastion between the West Coast of America and the Japanese. If Australia goes, the Americas are wide open. It is said that the Japanese will by-pass Australia and that they can be met and routed in India. I say to you that the saving of Australia is the saving of America's west coast. If you believe anything to the contrary then you delude yourselves."

The rest, as they say is history...captured from the horse's mouth of passionate people who wielded their words as firmly and effectively as battlefield swords and guns.

Students of media studies, communication, and history, from high school into college levels (as well as many general interest readers learning about leadership, oration, or political power) will find Australians Speak Out: Persuasive Language Styles a treasure trove of examples like no other linguistics coverage.

It captures the changing language, history, and impact of the nation, reaching out into worldwide circles with key lessons about using everyday language to reach people.

Australians Speak Out: Persuasive Language Styles is a highly recommended, top-notch selection that belongs in the collections of a diverse set of libraries, but it shouldn't just be dutifully fled under 'media studies'. Ideally, it will be used in classrooms and discussion groups as a solid example of language styles and effective speech.

Paris in Ruins
D. Manning Richards
Aries Books
9780984541065, $13.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Paris in Ruins is a novel that simmers with romance, action, and history. It is the first book in a trilogy set in 1943 Paris, during the French Resistance.

The story opens with maps and black and white vintage photos from the 1940s, but it assumes no prior knowledge of French history as it introduces Jean-Baptiste, who is awaiting his former lover Margot. The time is three years after the initial Nazi occupation of France, and Margot is living with a German officer.

He's hoping to convince her that her life is endangered if she doesn't participate in his intelligence operation. With her proud and disdainful air, however, she seems more suited to her present position, associating with the Germans. Will she love him - and her country - enough to break with the new life she has built since the occupation?

D. Manning Richards creates an astute, compelling portrait of how emotional connections bubble under the surface of political events, surveying the lives of everyday people caught up in the Fhrer's obsession with Paris.

As oddly honest, eccentric Margot becomes the pivot point in a war fought in many different arenas, readers become immersed not just in the romantic entanglement, but in lives and outcomes changed by political and military choices.

Richards brings to life the backdrop of Paris and its changing atmosphere during World War II. His attention to battle details as well as their impacts on everyday citizens' lives and choices creates a multifaceted read solidly based on true events and public figures that fought for the liberation of Paris.

From the decisions of military men that would save Paris from the destructive fates of similar cities across Europe during the war to the complications of a love that brings new challenges to a host of characters, Richards creates different points of view and perspectives for a rich inspection of the motivations of individuals on both sides of the conflict.

The result is a story that will delight World War II history readers while engaging non-history buffs with romantic entanglements that reflect changing times and hearts.

Paris in Ruins brings the hopes, dreams, and times to life, and is highly recommended reading for history and romance enthusiasts alike. It deserves a prominent place in any library strong in either genre.

Why We Fight
L. Douglas Keeney
Independently Published
9780578362519, $24.95

Why We Fight: Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines Talk About America, Service, Family and Freedom juxtaposes interviews with black and white images that bring to life the purposes, experiences, and motivations of American service people, and should be included in any collection strong in patriotic or military subjects.

Accessible to all ages, Why We Fight is a representation of motivations, ideals, and quotes from various authors that capture various goals of and approaches to military service in this nation.

More so than most books about American military experience, Why We Fight provides not a focus on 'how', but on 'why'. This perspective gathers thoughts and insights from those who fight not to participate in war, but to end it, promoting the notion of freedom and democracy around the world.

Quotes from a diverse array of domestic and international sources, from a Revolutionary War poet to a female Russian emigre and army sergeant who volunteered to help Afghan nationals transition to a life in the U.S., create a diverse dialogue of reflections that lend particularly well to classroom discussion.

From Nelson Mandela to authors and generals, the contrasts in ideas, perspectives, and language brings military service to life in a title highly recommended for military readers and civilian audiences alike.

Military life is demanding not just of time, but of hearts and minds. Why We Fight goes where few others dare in capturing the nature and extent of these requirements.

Its pairing of succinct quotes, photos, and detailed biographical experience creates an interplay that is evocative and thought-provoking, lending to debate and inspection on many different levels: political, social, militarily, and psychological.

The Star Chamber of Stanford
Rony Guldmann
None Spared Press
9781735247205, $24.95 hardcover/$19.95 Paper/$9.99 Kindle

Readers of academic memoirs who enjoy insights and philosophical reflections about teaching and education will find just the ticket for both in The Star Chamber of Stanford: On the Secret Trial and Invisible Persecution of a Stanford Law Fellow, a survey of Rony Guldmann's encounters with legal, social, and political university circles.

Intriguingly, it's actually a book-within-a-book that chronicles the making of Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression, written during Guldmann's time at Stanford Law School between 2006 and 2011. The memoir portion of the story dovetails with an author's study in ideology, academia, and firsthand experiences with cultural oppression, offering readers far more depth than the usual educator's memoir contains.

Guldmann inadvertently became a target of Stanford's political community and "highbrow liberalism" himself, experiencing many of the conflicts that turned his research into a study written not for his Stanford circle, but about it.

From when it is appropriate to defy collective beliefs and organizational structures to the survey's cautionary role as a case study for formulating an academic career, Guldmann provides a scholarly tone and attention to detail as he makes his case and documents his experiences.

This atmosphere permeates his recollections and insights about his colleagues, interactions with them, and the college structure itself: "Despite her own insight that I operated one level up, Barbara had rather sloppily underestimated me in September when she fancied that I wouldn't see past the four corners of the knockout email. Caught unaware by the epistemic advantages I had accrued upon exiting the elite culture and decolonizing my mind, she presumed she was manipulating me throughout our subsequent phone conversation, when all along I was manipulating her into acquiring precisely that misapprehension - a source of considerable embarrassment. But as this renewed bid to operate one level up now confirmed, Barbara had learned some lessons from her earlier missteps. The home page was truly inspired, psychological warfare of the first order. The advanced studies in the behavioral sciences being pursued at CASBS had evidently borne fruit."

The result is an expose, memoir, and study in academic philosophy, all in one.

The Star Chamber of Stanford will especially intrigue Stanford students and those on their own upward trajectories who wish to better understand the underlying philosophy, motivations, and politics of the college environment. It is recommended as a key acquisition for libraries strong in legal and education issues, and should be used as a discussion point for students of higher education.

First Comes Baby
Alison O'Mara
Independently Published
B09ZZS7YMQ, $3.99 Kindle

Readers of romantic comedy who look for stories replete in romance and fun will find Alison O'Mara's First Comes Baby a delight. It opens with a woman's preparation for a date, but injects this wry humor quickly as Ella dresses for the occasion: "Sweetie, I'm heading out," she called as she applied her lipstick and surveyed the final effect. The burgundy shade of red complemented her dusky hair. The tapping of nails on the hardwood floor drew her attention, and she smiled as Attila the Hound ventured into the room. "How do I look?" she asked. In response, the German shepherd whined softly in his throat."

Ella, however, is not your usual woman. She wants a baby, and she's determined to have one whether or not a man is in the picture.

As the story romps through her decision, motherhood, and a disordered venture into love with baby already in tow, O'Mara turns the concept of romance (and independent women who make decisions outside of it) on end.

Scott had no intention of becoming involved with a woman sporting a baby. Having just broken up with Becca, a relationship is far from his mind. In fact, he's still trying to process that went wrong in that relationship: "Hard to pinpoint exactly where it went wrong, he thought. It wasn't just one sudden realization, but more a steady trickle of doubts that became a surge whenever marriage came up in the conversation."

What he does know is that he barely dips his toe back in the dating waters before Ella enters his life and changes it with her baby and perspective. And Scott is not sure he's any more ready for this than he was with a conventional marriage.

In fact, he'd steadily avoided this with Becca ("Every time Becca had dropped a hint about marriage or a baby, Scott felt like the walls were closing in. He had determinedly avoided these conversations and spent more and more time retreating from her, afraid to bruise her feelings but still seeing the hurt on her face every time he awkwardly changed the subject."), So, what makes it different now? Ella.

O'Mara crafts an intriguing story of two very different personalities who encounter one another with strong, preset notions of what they do and don't want. There's enough 'give' in these ideas to allow each to take a leap of faith in this very new situation, and enough attraction to make it work despite all the obstacles.

She also does a fine job of adding supporting characters who bring their own perspectives (both male and female) to Ella and Scott. Scott's co-worker Carl, for example, opens up about his background, giving Scott further insights on motherhood, fatherhood, and what lies in-between, bringing new appreciation for the lives of those who have raised children ("He couldn't believe he'd never realized the unseen depths to Carl's life.").

The juxtaposition of humor, romance, and serious self-inspection works wonders in a story designed to intrigue a wide audience of males and females interested in the elements that make a family - and powerful relationships.

Libraries strong in leisure reads that incorporate both serious and light-hearted experiences will find much to like in First Comes Baby, which highlights the "richer, more complex" offerings a family environment brings.

Sid Johnson and the Phantom Slave Stealer
Frances Schoonmaker
Auctus Publishers
9781736827895, $TBA

Sid Johnson and the Phantom Slave Stealer will reach middle graders ages 12-15 with a vivid story that incorporates the lure of a Western with the intrigue of an action story, and literally opens with a bang: "Was that a gunshot? Sid Johnson sat upright in bed. Maybe he'd been dreaming. Jimmy lay on the other side of the bed tangled up in the covers. It was no use asking if he heard the shot. His little brother would sleep with the house falling around them. Maybe it was men huntin' down by the creek.

He's been awakened in the middle of the night by strange sounds before, but his mother always dismisses the idea that the old house contains anything more than the usual creeks and groans. Are his parents hiding something from him?

As Sid's eavesdropping uncovers much more to the noises than the usual sources, he becomes involved in a series of events that come alive, along with their 1800s milieu.

From trespassers and bounty hunters to slave stealers and runaways, Sid becomes immersed in social and political conflicts beyond his years as he confronts a phantom slave stealer that's been terrorizing three states and considers his family's role.

Sid has always believed slave stealers were in the right. But this particular notorious figure "...steals slaves and disappears with 'em into thin air. Ain't nobody been able to catch 'em or the slaves he steals."

As Sid becomes more and more entangled in the situation, he comes to revise his opinions about many things, stepping into a position of decision-making that belays his youth and experience.

Frances Schoonmaker does a fine job of merging intrigue, history, and social inspection. The story draws with compelling action, builds realistic characters with logical lingo and concerns, and adds historical facts throughout to both educate and attract attention.

As illegal operations blend with moral and ethical questions about what is truly legal and what is not, the characters grow through a series of encounters that challenges their beliefs and values.

Historical fiction comes to life under Schoonmaker's hand.

Another plus is that protagonist Sid doesn't get to neatly realize all his dreams. He's still growing, changing, and on the road to discovery about himself and the world and his place in it, and this provides a nice draw that doesn't belittle young audience with a pat conclusion.

As Sid's choices lead him to a crossroads on a longer journey, readers will relish the atmospheric descriptions and realistic events that shape his opportunities and change his life.

Libraries looking for vivid historical backdrops and action-packed adventures that pose no easy solutions for their characters will find Sid Johnson and the Phantom Slave Stealer an engrossing story that deserves not just acquisition, but assignment for discussion groups tackling the history and issues of slavery and those involved with it on all sides.

The Secret Field
Susan Dennis
Atmosphere Press
9781639882601, $15.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle

The Secret Field is a story of mystery and suspense that sends its readers on a heart-pounding romp through rural isolation and trauma. It examines the choices that bring loner Kari Bell to eschew normal small-town connections in favor of an isolated refuge on a rundown ranch.

Over forty years old, Kari seems unlikely to change, until circumstances force her into the limelight of a situation that holds uncommon danger as a treasure hunt points to the goal as being literally under her feet.

"What are you willing do to save the thing you love most, right fucking now?"

A life-or-death encounter between her beloved dog Dragonbear and another canine encapsulates the broader question that becomes her life as Kari becomes entangled in land rights, easements, Reggie Raintree's dogged pursuit of an elusive treasure, and the question of what she will do to preserve her life.

While The Secret Field is marketed as a mystery and thriller, to call it a genre read alone would be to do it a grave disservice. As much on the line as a fortune is the physical and psychological life of a woman who has achieved her own goal of a fragile peace that teeters on the brink of insolvency due to Reggie's mission.

Susan Dennis creates a fine contrast in life experiences, perspectives, and motivations to bring Kari's world to life with rich inspections and twists and turns that mark a mystery steeped in psychological inspections.

At every turn, the story asks questions of its readers about credibility, perseverance, and lifestyle values. A wide cast of characters are introduced who add their own special interests to Kari's life, embracing and expanding it in unusual ways she never could have predicted as outcomes in her isolated world.

"Kari's first thought was about thinking outside of the box for a way to save them all." This description of events that keep Kari both motivated and evolving may also be said of her readers, who will find their expectations of a whodunit satisfyingly challenged by the rich depth of inspection cultivated in The Secret Field.

All the trappings of a fine thriller are there: Russians, mail-order brides, dog-killers, bribery, and court proceedings. The overlay of insights into manipulation, isolation, and the results of a determination to survive against all odds make The Secret Field highly recommended not just for thriller readers, but for libraries and book clubs seeking discussion material about love, home, and the real values in life pursuits.

Robert Hamilton
Independently Published
9798411657005, $23.76 Hardcover/$12.99 Paper/$9.99 Kindle

It's unusual to find a political and supernatural thriller so intrinsically woven into current issues about the fabric of American society that its fiction bleeds into a cautionary nonfiction tale, but Robert Hamilton's Crux: A Country That Cannot Feed Its People and Its Animals Will Fall represents such an achievement.

Its saga of race, food security, violence and prejudice from religious and social circles alike, and the vulnerability of the American food supply chain provides a powerful story that holds many insights, perspectives, and warnings for modern-day readers concerned about this nation's trajectory.

Readers who choose the story for its political and supernatural thriller elements won't be disappointed. The tale adopts a nonstop staccato, action-filled atmosphere as a series of catastrophes force veterinarian Dr. Thomas Pickett to move beyond his experience and objectives to become an active force in effecting change in America.

How (and why) does a vet become involved in political scenarios? As Dr. Pickett becomes entangled in pork issues, kill pens, and a wider battle than that against animal cruelty, readers are carried into a thought-provoking scenario in which personal and environmental disasters change his upward trajectory with his new wife and their homestead.

As Dr. Pickett is called on stage to testify about his beliefs and the Hand of God indicates his life and involvements will never be the same, readers receive a story replete in many social, spiritual, and political inquiries that lead to thought-provoking reflections and insights.

True miracles and false gods are considered as he navigates unfamiliar territory of the heart, soul, and mind, coming to understand that his unique role as a vet and a caring, evolving individual can make a difference in the role America plays both domestically and in the world.

From the Vice President's involvement in a national security crisis to the efforts to return the country to "its true Christian foundations," Robert Hamilton examines the crux of good intentions and beliefs gone awry and the true paths of those who link their personal beliefs with a changing political scenario.

Whose side is God on, anyway?

These and other questions make Crux not just a highly recommended read for its political thriller components, but a powerful social and spiritual examination that contains messages that deserve to be inspected, debated, and absorbed by book clubs and a broad audience of concerned American citizens.

How do you reach hearts and minds? By producing a story that holds entertainment value and educational revelations alike. That's why libraries need to not only include Crux in their collections, but highlight it as a pivot point for discussions steeped in social, religious, and political examination.

There is a bad storm coming. Crux is not just a riveting story, but a possible portent of a future America operating in the hands of a dangerous, attractive demagogue.

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

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

Her Perfect Life
Hank Phillippi Ryan
c/o Tor
9781250258878, $17.99 pbk/ $11.99 Kindle

"Her Perfect Life" once again shows why Hank Phillippi Ryan is at the top of her game with page turning excitement. Normally I am not a fan of titles that have a different character name for each chapter because usually each is told in the first person that can be very confusing. I am glad to say that is not the case here as its easy to tell who is who because there is only one in the 1st person narrative. Ryan also exposes what she knows once again of the world of tv journalism with her well fleshed out characters. Lilly Atwood is a prize-winning newscaster who has a secret that dates back to her childhood. Through a series of twists and turns her life changes as she and her producer work to find the truth of what happened to her sister so many years before. "Her Perfect Life" unfolds on so many levels with a solid story that is perfect reading for anyone who loves a good suspenseful yarn.

Robert B. Parker's Revenge Tour A Sunny Randall Novel
Mike Lupica
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593419762, $28.00 HC/ $14.99 Kindle

"Revenge Tour" the newest installment of Sunny Randall capers, is one of the best of the long running series. Sunny's client is a bestselling author who is being accused of plagiarism while those around the novelist, are being killed one by one. Sunny has to also assist her dad in a situation he has. "Revenge Tour" is also a behind the scenes look at the publishing world as, Sunny delves into the accuser's accusations. Another aspect that adds to the mix is the appearance of many characters from other Parker series assisting Sunny. "Revenge Tour" is a wonderful addition to the cycle of Randall novels no fan can afford to miss.

The Island
Adrian McKinty
Little Brown and Company
c/o Hachette Book Group USA
9780316531283, $28.00 HC / $14.99 Kindle

"The Island" is another fast-paced thrill ride of suspense. A car accident with a female bicyclist changes the lives of an American family on a trip in Australia. From then on they are in a cat and mouse game with the victims loved ones. A bit slower that the authors previous work "The Chain," "The Island" does hold interest to the very end

Freehold Defiance
Michael Z. Williamson
Baen Publishing Enterprises
9781982126124, $8.99 pbk $6.99 Kindle

Defiance has always been a hallmark standard of science fiction and the stories in "Freehold Defiance" are perfect additions to that legacy. Some of the finest are by Kevin J. Anderson, William McCaskey, Jason Cordova are just a few of the ones who take readers on and whirlwind tour. "Freehold Defiance" is another collection of masterful tales of science fiction.

Time Troopers
Edited by Hank Davis and Christopher Ruocchio
Baen Publishing Enterprises
9781982126032, $16.00 pbk No Kindle

Time travel, a theme in science fiction, books, movies and TV remains popular as evidenced in Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and "Time Troopers" Unlike most of the collections of today many of the stories are by older more well-known authors that include Robert A Heinlein, Robert Silverberg, Fritz Leiber, A.E Vogt and Poul Anderson. Some may find the writing dated but even so the works are still relevant for their underlying themes that resonate with readers Hank Davis once again has impeccable taste for picking the proper tales to highlight in "Time Troopers"

Robosoldiers Thank You For Your Servos
Edited by Stephen Lawson
Baen Publishing Enterprises
9781982191900, $16.00 pbk No Kindle

"Robosoldiers Thank You For Your Servos" is filled with great futuristic military fiction by some of the best authors of science fiction. The collection of short tales reveals a possible future where wars are fought by robots. Some of the masters are David Drake, Doug Beason and Philip Kramer. "Robosoldiers Thank You For Your Servos" is another gathering of tales of warfare of the future that is enlightening of how the world may be in later on.

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From John Wayne
From The Editors of The Official John Wayne Magazine
Media Lab Books
9781948174091, $16.99 HC No Kindle

"Everything I Need To Know I Learned From John Wayne: Duke's Solutions to Life's Challenges" is a trip through his movies with many statements made by The Duke that are also words to live our lives by. It's fun to see page after page stills from so many of his great films that are better than ever with all the techno ways to view them. Wayne pictures live on and "Everything I need To Know I learned From John Wayne" is a beautiful way to celebrate John Wayne.

Roto and Roy Helicopter Heroes
Sherri Duskey Rinker, author
Don Tate, illustrator
Little Brown and Company Books For Young Readers
c/o Hachette
9780316534963, $17.95 HC No Kindle

"Roto and Roy Helicopter Heroes" reveals one of the ways departments fight fires with the unit of a pilot and his copter in a fun kid's book. Enjoyment of the story and characters is enhanced by beautiful artwork. "Roto and Roy" commends the work by our first responders who daily take care of us in many different ways. They are the unsung heroes who deserve the recognition they receive here

Rob Kearney & Eric Rosswood, authors
Nighi Chanani, illustrator
Little Brown and Company Books For Young Readers
c/o Hachette
9780316292900, $17.95 HC No Kindle

"Strong" is a title that is sure to generate a lot of attention for its subject matter. After reading "Strong' I debated to review it or not. The tipping point of why I did is the press release material that says this is not a gay coming of age title and its target audience of children 4 to 8. It is obvious it is a coming-of-age work as it tells when Kearney first fell in love with another man and I have read and reviewed books for kids that have gay characters but it is not the focal point of the book. The authors do have some messages to kids but they are overshadowed by the constant gay topic. "Strong "is inappropriate material for the age group it is geared to.

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women
Joseph Hansen, author
Evelyn Reed, author
Mary-Alice Waters, author
Pathfinder Press
9780873486590, $12.00, PB, 172pp

Synopsis: Dealing with the subject of how big business plays on women's second-class status, as well as their social insecurities in order to market cosmetics and rake in massive profits, "Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women" begins with an informative introduction that explains how the entry of millions of women into the workforce during and after World War II irreversibly changed U.S. society and laid the basis for a renewed rise of struggles for women's emancipation.

Compiled by the team of Joseph Hansen (1910-1979), Evelyn Reed (1905-1979), and Mary-Alice Waters, "Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women" is comprised of fifteen erudite and insightful commentaries and further enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of six pages of Notes and a seven page Index.

Critique: Originally published in 1986 and now released in a twelfth edition paperback format, "Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women" continues to be a timeless and still timely expose of an important aspect of the experience of women and girls in our American culture. Simply stated, "Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, college, and university library Women's Issues, Women's Studies, and Women's History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

"I Didn't Get a Chance to Say Good-Bye ... Now What Can I Do?"
Oreste J. D'Aversa
Cutting Edge Technology Publishing
9781952294167, $14.97 (Amazon), PB, 270pp

Synopsis: It was vividly enforced upon the awareness of millions of Americans during this current pandemic that included having family members and friends dying in isolation in hospitals because of fears concerning Covid transmission that a great many people have had loved ones taken from them without warning -- leaving much "unfinished business" be it of practical nature and/or sometimes more important of a personal nature. There is no sense of closure with the living loved one as there was much needed to be said before the final goodbye. Now there are tools to help the living say their final goodbyes to their departed loved ones to achieve the closure they need, want and desire in their relationships.

Critique: That is what compelled Oreste J. D'Aversa to publish ""I Didn't Get a Chance to Say Good-Bye ... Now What Can I Do?": Practical Tools to Learn Manage the Pain, Anger and Sorrow of Not Achieving Closure with a Loved One and Start Living", which is a combination of instruction guide and DIY 'how to' manual on the subject of death, dying, love, loss, and the need for closure.

Divided into two major sections, the first on dealing with the emotional aftermath of a failure to achieve closure with the death loss of a loved one, the second a DIY instructional for writing your own funeral services as a means of dealing with grief and gaining closure, "I Didn't Get a Chance to Say Good-Bye ... Now What Can I Do?": Practical Tools to Learn Manage the Pain, Anger and Sorrow of Not Achieving Closure with a Loved One and Start Living" is exceptionally 'user friendly' in organization and presentation. Of special note in the paperback edition is the the provision for making personal notes and notations.

Especially and unreservedly recommended for anyone having to deal with the emotions surrounding the loss of a family member or a friend and needing to achieve spiritual closure and go on with their lives, ""I Didn't Get a Chance to Say Good-Bye ... Now What Can I Do?": Practical Tools to Learn Manage the Pain, Anger and Sorrow of Not Achieving Closure with a Loved One and Start Living" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99).

Editorial Note: Oreste "Rusty" D'Aversa is a Certified Professional Coach, Public Speaker, Seminar Leader, Entrepreneur Coach, Marketing and Sales Consultant, Trainer, Job Search Coach, and University Lecturer. He is also an All-faiths Minister and his life's purpose is to help people with practical tools, methods and techniques to find their true life's work and their spiritual path while being financially prosperous.

Woman to Woman
LeTisha Jackson
Independently Published
9798468567180, $25.99, PB, 253pp

Synopsis: Are you your sisters' enemy? If you're sleeping with their husbands, the answer is yes!

Believing women have been fed the false narrative that the future looks female, with the publication of "Woman to Woman: Letters from Wives to Mistresses", LeTisha Jackson asks how that's possible if, in the present, our sisterhood crumbles when the want of a man who is married to someone else makes us complicit in tearing apart another woman's family and makes us forget our loyalty to that sisterhood.

Whether wife or mistress, the readers will have no choice but to put themselves in LeTisha's shoes and come to see the role of mistress as she does -- as a destructive betrayal.

"Woman to Woman" was not written as a 'feel good' project. It was written to accurately convey a wife's devastation while inviting both wives AND mistresses to speak to one another through the letters they wrote for this publication. By doing so, LeTisha has managed to take an old topic and infuse it with a new and contemporary meaning.

No longer ashamed to say "I blame her," "Women to Woman" taps into the uncomfortable, yet necessary, arena whereby meaningful conversations can get women on the road to healing not only themselves but their sisterhood as well. By the end, you'll have to answer that universal question honestly as to whether or not you are, in fact, your sisters' enemy. After reading LeTisha's story the answer will most assuredly be, not anymore -- and never again.

Critique: An inherently riveting and unique memoir that both timely and timeless, and is as thoughtful and thought- provoking as it is informative and insightful, "Woman to Woman: Letters from Wives to Mistresses" is one of those true life personal stories that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after it is finished and set back upon the shelf. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Woman to Woman: Letters from Wives to Mistresses" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $21.99).

Editorial Note: "Woman to Woman: Letters from Wives to Mistresses" is LeTisha Jackson's debut memoir. A portion of every sale of "Woman to Woman" will go towards the fight against Alzheimers. She also maintains a website at She can also be followed on Twitter: @AuthorYay; Instagram: @letishasjackson, and Facebook: @womantowomanloyalty

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

Possessing Meares Island
Barry Golugh
Harbour Publishing
9781550179576, $36.95, HC, 256pp

Synopsis: Centred on Meares Island, located near Tofino on Vancouver Island's west coast, "Possessing Meares Island: A Historian's Journey into the Past of Clayoquot Sound" by Canadian historian Barry Gough deftly weaves a unique history out of the mists of time by connecting eighteenth century Indigenous-colonial trade relations to more recent historical upheavals.

Gough invites his readers to enter a dramatic epoch of BC's coastal history and watch the Nuu-chah-nulth nations spearhead the maritime sea otter trade, led by powerful chiefs like Wickaninnish and Maquinna.

Eventually, Meares Island declines into an economic backwater due to over hunting the sea otter, the bloody Clayoquot War of 1855, and most importantly, the proxy of empire (the Hudson's Bay Company) establishing colonial roots in nearby Victoria. Caught up in the tides of change, the Oregon Treaty of 1846 ushers in a new era as the island is officially declared property of the British Crown.

Gough also bridges the gap between centuries as he describes how the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council draw on this complicated history of ownership to invoke their legal claim to the land and defend the majestic wilderness from the indiscriminate clear-cut saw. "Possessing Meares Island" will not only appeal to history buffs, but to anyone interested in a momentous triumph for Indigenous rights and environmental protection that echoes across the nation today.

Critique: An impressively informative history, "Possessing Meares Island: A Historian's Journey into the Past of Clayoquot Sound" will have a very special appeal to anyone interested in Canadian Maritime History, Canadian Indigenous History, and Canadian Environmental Protection History. Enhanced with the inclusion of maps, charts, sixteen pages of notes, and a six page index, "Possessing Meares Island" is a highly recommended addition to community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Possessing Meares Island" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.99).

Editorial Note: Barry Gough is one of Canada's premier historians and biographers. His insightful research and lucid writing spanning five decades have earned him high distinction. Among his awards are the Lieutenant Governor's Medal for Historical Writing, the Canadian Historical Association's Clio Prize, the Maritime Foundation's Mountbatten Award, the Washington Historical Society's Robert Gray Medal, and the Alcala Galiano Medal. He is also a Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries.

How to Date a Flying Mexican: New and Collected Stories
Daniel A. Olivas
University of Nevada Press
Mail Stop 0166, Reno, NV, 89557-0166
9781647790363, $22.00, PB, 224pp

Synopsis: "How to Date a Flying Mexican" by Daniel A. Olivas is a collection of stories derived from Chicano and Mexican culture but ranging through fascinating literary worlds of magical realism, fairy tales, fables, and dystopian futures. The characters confront (both directly and obliquely) questions of morality, justice, and self-determination.

This collection is comprised of Daniel A. Olivas's favorite previously published stories, along with two new stories (one dystopian and the other mythical) that challenge the Trump administration's anti-immigration rhetoric and policies.

Readers will also encounter a world filled with both the magical and the quotidian: a man with twelve fingers who finds himself on a mystical date with a woman, God who appears in the form of a scrawny chicken, a woman who bravely fights back against her abuser, and Aztec gods searching for relevance after the Spanish conquest -- just to name a few of the unforgettable characters populating these pages.

"How to Date a Flying Mexican" draws together some of Olivas's most unforgettable and strange tales, allowing readers to experience his very distinct, and very Chicano, fiction.

Critique: A skilled, creative, entertaining and thought-provoking writer who has impressively mastered the short story format, Daniel A. Olivas new anthology, "How to Date a Flying Mexican: New and Collected Stories", will prove to be a welcome addition to community, college, and university library Hispanic-American Literature collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "How to Date a Flying Mexican: New and Collected Stories" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.98).

Editorial Note: The grandson of Mexican immigrants, Daniel A. Olivas was born and raised near downtown Los Angeles. He is an award-winning author of fiction, nonfiction, plays, and poetry. Widely anthologized, Olivas has written on culture and literature for The New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, BOMB, Jewish Journal, High Country News, and The Guardian.

John Taylor

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

One-Legged Mongoose
Marc J. Straus
Greenpoint Press
9781734674040, $20.00, PB, 294pp

Synopsis: It's June 1953, and 10-year-old Marc Straus is in his mother's car, getting sick from her cigarette smoke on his way to a Hebrew lesson. He and his brother, Stephen, are transferring from public school to a Yeshiva. His parents haven't said why -- the family isn't religious. All Marc knows is he'll have to protect Stephen, a delicate kid other kids pick on. Marc's a street fighter who knows how to wall off pain.

So begins "One-Legged Mongoose: Secrets, Legacies, and Coming of Age in 1950s New York" author Marc Straus's vivid, compelling, you-are-there memoir of two years in the life of a precocious, scrappy Jewish kid carrying a dark secret as he embarks on the journey to young manhood in 1950s New York.

When school starts, Marc begins commuting four hours daily to a different world, where kids are smart like him and a caring principal takes the troubled truant under his wing. On Sundays, Marc works at his dad's textile store, learning about honor and hard work. At home, he faces his volatile mother.

A perceptive, courageous kid, Marc encounters anti-Semitism in public school, the community, and the Boy Scouts. On a camping trip, his troop leader asks the boys to search for a half-man-half-beast predator called the One-Legged Mongoose who devours human prey. "Why not?" Marc reasons. "I know all about monsters."

Sidelined too often by illness and accidents, including a bout with polio and being hit by a car, Marc starts rethinking his risk-taking way of life and realizes he's not invincible. Life will wound him, but the rest is up to him.

An inspiring true life story of one boy's struggle to survive an abusive home, understand the world around him, and embrace responsibility for his own life, "One-Legged Mongoose" is a warm, funny, searing memoir about the challenges of crossing from childhood to young adulthood.

Critique: Laced with humor and with careful attention to detail and context, "One-Legged Mongoose: Secrets, Legacies, and Coming of Age in 1950s New York" is an engaging, entertaining, thought-provoking, and truly memorable read from cover to cover. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99), as well as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9798200835843, $29.95, CD), "One-Legged Mongoose" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community and academic library Contemporary American Biography/Memoir collections.

Editorial Note: Marc J. Straus is a poet, writer, medical oncologist, and art collector. He is also the author of numerous scientific papers and articles on contemporary art, and has published four poetry collections including Not God, which was staged Off Broadway. His poems and stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, and many other literary journals. The Strauses founded Hudson Valley MOCA in Peekskill, NY, and Marc runs Marc Straus Gallery in New York City. "One-Legged Mongoose" is his first book of prose. He also maintains a website at

Dammit -- It IS Menopause!: Volumes 1 & 2
Sally Bartlett
Ginger Books Press

1#: Dammit: It IS Menopause! (9781735878515, $16.99 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 368pp)

Synopsis: Despite knowing that it is inevitable, the onset of menopause can be unsettling. Especially for women who consider themselves to be too young to be considered menopausal, but are finding their body looking and feeling inexplicably different from the one they have known and been familiar with for years. For example, favorite exercise modes now less enjoyable. The healthy plan of eating successfully used is now beginning to result in weight gain.

With the publication of "Dammit ... It IS Menopause! Meditations for Women to Achieve Clarity and Confidence Beyond Their Wildest Dreams, Volume 1: Meditations for Women to and Confidence Beyond Their Wildest Dreams", menopause expert Sally Bartlett delivers a collection of daily meditations and personal experiences of author that will provide both comfort, and clarity amidst the frustration of hormonal transition -- a transition that impacts millions of women yearly.

Sally Bartlett guides you with knowing that you are not alone and how you can confidently navigate this eminent, potentially confusing life experience while attaining new levels of self-love, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

#2: "More Dammit: It IS Menopause!" (9781735878591, $16.99, PB, $9.99 Kindle, 404pp)

Synopsis: Successful aging requires continual growth and commitment to self-care. It doesn't happen in isolation. It requires being surrounded with growth-oriented women to lift you up and remind you how far you've come and that you're well worth the effort.

A second volume on the subject of menopause by professional health coach Sally Bartlett, "More Dammit ... It IS Menopause!" is comprised of more than 150 of her daily meditations and experiences that will help women undergoing menopause to find hope, comfort, and clarity amidst the frustration of hormonal transition -- a transition that impacts millions of women (and their families) yearly.

Sally has coached countless clients through peri-/menopause on the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual level -- and she has gone on to thrive and flourish through her own menopause!

Critique: Sally Bartlett is an expert perimenopausal and menopausal coach, speaker and leader of women's online courses and retreats. In both of these volumes dedicated to the subject of menopause, she skillfully draws upon her academic and professional backgrounds as well as her decades-long personal experience with female health issues. She has maintained a 35-lb weight loss for over 30 years through sustained "Varsity" self-acceptance, without dieting.

Exceptionally informed and informative, both volumes 1 & 2 are impressively well organized and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in presentation -- making them ideal references for non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject and must be considered essential, core additions to community library Women's Health collections, as well as the personal reading lists of women who are beginning to undergo one of life's iconic transformations.

Editorial Note #1: Menopause, also known as the climacteric, is the time in women's lives when menstrual periods stop permanently, and they are no longer able to bear children. Menopause usually occurs between the age of 48 and 52. Medical professionals often define menopause as having occurred when a woman has not had any menstrual bleeding for a year. It may also be defined by a decrease in hormone production by the ovaries. (Wikipedia)

Editorial Note #2: Sally Bartlett earned a BA in psychology from UC Berkeley and is multi-certified by the American Council on Exercise, STOTT Pilates, and the MELT Method. For more than 20 years she has coached women aged 16-90 to reconnect with their bodies and to reignite their passion for movement with realistic expectations and radical self-acceptance. She maintains a personal and professional website at

The Plunge
Jane Thornley
9781984257383, $15.95 PB, $1.99 Kindle, 196pp

Synopsis: For knitter and gallery owner Phoebe McCabe, life would be perfect if crime didn't run in her family-literally. Both her brother and her love interest are Robin Hood thieves hunted by Interpol for stealing antiquities from black marked crooks and giving them to museum and art galleries, an idea almost noble enough for Phoebe to live with. That is, until she begins questioning how much of the stolen treasures actually reach their intended destinations.

When a missing Raphael her boyfriend acquires, stays missing, Phoebe and her godfather race to Italy to investigate accompanied by her favorite friend-who-can't-be-trusted, Sir Rupert Fox. Only Phoebe will soon learn that once again the men she loves are keeping secrets and these are significant enough to force her hand at last. What Phoebe decides to do in the end will change her life and the lives of those she loves forever.

Critique: The Plunge is a suspenseful novel about a woman with close ties to art thieves. At first she believes her brother and her love interest are stealing from other thieves to give priceless treasures to galleries - but how many of the stolen goods are truly returned to public spaces? Secrets and cross purposes abound in this page-turner about the stark divide between loyalties and conscience. Highly recommended! It should be noted for personal reading lists that The Plunge is also available in a Kindle edition ($1.99).

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life
Daniele Cybulskie, author
Anna Lobanova, illustrator
Abbeville Press
655 Third Avenue, Suite 2520, New York, NY 10017
9780789214133, $24.95, HC, 192pp

Synopsis: We know that they prayed, sang, and wore long robes, but what was it really like to be a monk in Medieval Europe? Though monastic living may seem unimaginable to us moderns, it has relevance for today. "How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life" illuminates the day-to-day of medieval European monasticism, showing how you can apply the principles of monastic living, like finding balance and peace, to your life.

With wit and insight, medievalist and podcaster Daniele Cybulskie informatively delves into the history of monasticism in each chapter and then reveals applications for today, such as the benefits of healthy eating, streamlining routines, gardening, and helping others. She shares how monks authentically embraced their spiritual calling, and were also down to earth: they wrote complaints about being cold in the manuscripts they copied, made beer and wine, and even kept bees.

"How to Live Like a Monk" is enhanced for the reader with original illustrations by Anna Lobanova, as well as more than eighty color reproductions from medieval manuscripts. It is ideal for anyone interested in the Middle Ages, as well as those seeking inspiration for how to live a full life, even when we're confined to the cloister of our homes.

Critique: Beautifully illustrated and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life" is a unique combination of Medieval monastic history and Christian meditation/self-help. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life" is very highly recommended for personal, community, church, seminary, college, and university library Life Style Self-Improvement & Medieval History collections.

Editorial Note: Daniele Cybulskie is the author of Life in Medieval Europe and The Five-Minute Medievalist. She is also the creator and host of The Medieval Podcast, and a contributor to, as well as running the Medieval Masterclass for Creators.

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

Dangerous Visions and New Worlds
Andrew Nette, author
Iain McIntyre, editor
PM Press
PO Box 23912, Oakland, CA 94623
9781629639321, $15.95, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: Much has been written about the "long Sixties", the era of the late 1950s through the early 1970s. It was a period of major social change, most graphically illustrated by the emergence of liberation and resistance movements focused on inequalities of class, race, gender, sexuality, and beyond, whose challenge represented a major shock to the political and social status quo. With its focus on speculation, alternate worlds and the future, science fiction became an ideal vessel for this upsurge of radical protest.

"Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1985" details, celebrates, and evaluates how science fiction novels and authors depicted, interacted with, and were inspired by these cultural and political movements in America and Great Britain.

It starts with progressive authors who rose to prominence in the conservative 1950s, challenging the so-called Golden Age of science fiction and its linear narratives of technological breakthroughs and space-conquering male heroes.

This original study then moves through the 1960s, when writers, including those in what has been termed the New Wave, shattered existing writing conventions and incorporated contemporary themes such as modern mass media culture, corporate control, growing state surveillance, the Vietnam War, and rising currents of counterculture, ecological awareness, feminism, sexual liberation, and Black Power.

It was in the 1970s when the genre reflected the end of various dreams of the long Sixties and the faltering of the postwar boom. This is also explored along with the first half of the 1980s, which gave rise to new subgenres, such as cyberpunk.

Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by the team of Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre, "Dangerous Visions and New Worlds" contains over twenty chapters written by contemporary authors and critics, and hundreds of full-color cover images, including thirteen thematically organised cover selections. New perspectives on key novels and authors, such as Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, John Wyndham, Samuel Delany, J.G. Ballard, John Brunner, Judith Merril, Barry Malzberg, Joanna Russ, and many others are presented alongside excavations of topics, works, and writers who have been largely forgotten or undeservedly ignored.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and unique literary, social, and cultural analysis of the science fiction genre in the last half of the 20th Century, "Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 - 1985" is as informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking. Profusely illustrated throughout and highly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library 20th Century Popular Culture collections in general, and Science Fiction History & Literary Criticism collections in particular, it should be also be noted for personal reading lists that "Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 - 1985" is also available in a paperback edition (9781629638836, $29.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note #1: Andrew Nette is a writer of fiction and nonfiction based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also the co-editor of Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980 (2017) and Sticking it to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1956 to 1980 (2019), as well as the author of a monograph on Norman Jewison's 1975 dystopian science fiction film Rollerball, published by the independent film and media studies publisher Auteur in 2018. He has contributed reviews and nonfiction to the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sight and Sound, Australian Book Review, the British Film Institute, and Australian Centre for the Moving Image. He is the author of Ghost Money (2012) and Gunshine State (2016). His short fiction has appeared in numerous print and online publications.

Editorial Note #2: Iain McIntyre is a Melbourne-based author, musician, and community radio broadcaster who has written a variety of books on activism, history, and music. Previous publications include Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1956 to 1980 (2019); On the Fly! Hobo Literature and Songs, 1879 - 1941 (2018); Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980 (2017); How to Make Trouble and Influence People: Pranks, Protest, Graffiti & Political Mischief-Making from across Australia (2013); Wild About You: The Sixties Beat Explosion in Australia and New Zealand (2010); and Tomorrow Is Today: Australia in the Psychedelic Era, 1966 - 70 (2006).

Michael Dunford

Nancy Lorraine's Bookshelf

Restoring the Kinship Worldview
Sahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows), author
Darcia Narvaez, author
North Atlantic Books
2526 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94704-2607
9781623176426, $21.95 PB, $14.99 Kindle, 313 pages

"Restoring the Kinship Worldview: Indigenous Voices Introduce 28 Precepts for Rebalancing Life on Planet Earth" is a collection of 28 worldview writings by indigenous authors of North America and Australia with added contextualized biosketches and illuminating commentary in the form of indigenous worldview precept dialogues by Four Arrows and Darcia Narvaez. The goal is to help "rebalanced life systems by re-embracing (indigenous) worldview."

Titles which reflect themes of study include: Recognition of Spiritual Energies in Nature (Mourning Dove Okanagan and Sinixt)), Nonanthropocentrism (Terri LeBlanc, Mi'kmaq), Respect for Gender Role Fluidity (Laura Hall, Haudenosaunee), Laws of Nature as Highest Rules for Living (Winona LaDuke, Ojibwe), Circular Time and Knowledge (Tyson Yunkaporta, Apalech Clan in far north Queensland), and An Emphasis on Heart Wisdom (Ilarion "Larry" Merculieff, Unangan).

Each essay is presented and sourced, then carefully unpacked and explored through incisive dialogues between Four Arrows and Narvaez. The style of presentation is both scholarly and accurate in its sourcing and illuminating in specific outlooks, habits, and customary thought discussions, the dialogue often being presented as between traditional Western cultures' and indigenous cultures' outlooks and worldviews. The underlying intent is to provide healing insight.

The indigenous vision that pervades all writings is described as "perceiving all life forms as sacred and sentient, honoring the wisdom of the heart." Such concepts are difficult to describe fully with words and indeed there are frequent black and white drawing and illustrations plus related wisdom quotations that further enlighten the reader.

In the Introduction, a dual chart is presented that compares aspects of common dominant worldview manifestations with common indigenous worldview manifestations. This table was extremely helpful and key to understanding many of the accompanying indigenous worldview dialogues. For example, learning is presented as "didactic" under common dominant worldview manifestations, while learning is described as "experiential and collaborative (page 6, Introduction)." Another example is time, which is seen as linear by dominant worldview, and cyclical by indigenous worldview manifestation.

As such, this collection has two ambitious goals: restoring the kinship worldview and rebalancing life on planet earth. However, mining the dialogues in each Indigenous Worldview Precept Dialogue is extremely valuable. Furthermore, the contextualized bioscetch and source quoting provides further essential information about each author's background, outlook, and impact. of particular interest to this reader was essay 26, Circular Time and Knowledge, by Tyson Yunkaporta, from Queensland.

In the dialogues, a quotation from Barbara Alice Mann contrasts linear thinking with circular understanding of indigenous peoples: "As I see it, the root of the difficulty is that, whereas Westerners are linear thinkers, Turtle Islanders are cluster thinkers, who grasp reality in terms of natural, self selecting bunches, handfuls of this or that, in halves aligned with the ultimate clusters of the Cosmos Twinship. Each half of the cosmos, be it Blood or Breath, endlessly replicates its essence by spinning out fractals, large and small, with those of each cluster in necessary coordination with their twin fractals in the other half, in the infinite process of balancing."

This quotation explores the value of embracing an indigenous worldview and balancing it with a dominant culture world view to achieve greater harmony and truth.

Such is the reward for the reader of "Restoring the Kinship Worldview." Not merely an enriched perspective, but an actual healing pathway or multiple pathways may be traced and followed through these pages and dialogues.

"Restoring the Kinship Worldview: Indigenous Voices Introduce 28 Precepts for Rebalancing Life on Planet Earth" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Native American History & Demographic collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note #1: Wahinkepe Topa (Four Arrows) aka Don Trent Jacobs is internationally respected for his research and publications about Indigenous worldviews. Formerly Dean of Education at Oglala Lakota College and tenured Associate Professor of Education at Northern Arizona University, he is currently a professor with Fielding Graduate University. Selected as one of 27 "Visionaries in Education," he is author of 21 books, half of which are about Indigenous Worldview applications for education, sustainability, wellness and justice.

Editorial Note #2: Darcia Narvaez is Professor Emerita of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. Her earlier careers include professional musician, business owner, classroom music teacher, classroom Spanish teacher and seminarian, among others. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Educational Research Association and former editor of the Journal of Moral Education. Narvaez has written numerous publications, including more than 20 books. She has given presentations, lectures and workshops in 23 countries; was recently named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and in a 2020 analysis, was accounted to be in the top 2% of scientists worldwide.

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

American TV Comic Books (1940s-1980s)
Peter Bosch, et al.
TwoMorrows Publishing
10407 Bedfordtown Drive, Raleigh, NC 27614
9781605491073, $29.95, PB, 192pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "American TV Comic Books (1940s-1980s): From The Small Screen To The Printed Page", TwoMorrows Publishing provides a unique history of those comic books that went from the small screen to the printed page. This detailed and profusely illustrated volume offers a fascinating and detailed year-by-year history of over 300 television shows and their 2000+ comic book adaptations across five decades.

Author and dedicated comic book fan Peter Bosch has spent years researching and documenting this amazing area of comics history, tracking down the well-known series (Star Trek, The Munsters) and the lesser-known shows (Captain Gallant, Pinky Lee) to present a detailed and comprehensive historical study of this unique genre of comic books.

Included are hundreds of full-color covers and images, plus profiles of the artists who drew TV comics including: Gene Colan, Alex Toth, Dan Spiegel, Russ Manning, John Buscema,, Russ Heath, and many more giants of the comic book world. Whether you loved watching The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, and Zorro from the 1950s; The Andy Griffith Show, The Monkees, and The Mod Squad in the 1960s; Adam-12, Battlestar Galactica, and The Bionic Woman in the 1970s; or Alf, Fraggle Rock, and "V" in the 1980s -- there's something here of immense interest and nostalgia for fans of TV and comics alike.

Critique: An impressively informative and thoroughly 'reader friendly' treat for the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations of comic book fans who also grew up in the television age, "American TV Comic Books (1940s-1980s): From The Small Screen To The Printed Page" will prove to be a popular and unique addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Popular Culture collections in general, and 20th Century Comic Book History reading lists in particular.

Paul T. Vogel

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

Fire Ant (The Navy of Humanity: Wasp Pilot Book 1)
Jonathan P. Brazee
Semper Fi Press
9781945743221 $6.99
B07BNWGWK1, $0.00, 2018, 154 pages

Fire Ant is an easy reading military space opera. The physics is off but it is closer to reality than many other SF books. But Brazee does keep the fictional science consistent throughout the story. Fire Ant is a complete tale even if it is obviously an introduction to a series.

Floribeth Salinas O'Shea Dalisay is an exploration pilot for a corporation searching the galaxy for resources. When she accidently encounters another hostile space traveling race and has to destroy company equipment in order to escape death or capture, the company decides to bill her for all of the destroyed equipment making her an indentured servant to the company for life.

The military looks at the recording of her encounter and decides that she has the skills they need for future confrontations with the alien species she has stumbled across. The navy hires her away from the company and fast tracks her as a future fighter pilot.

Fire Ant is an easy space opera to recommend. The price is right for a light reading introduction to a series and the story characters are well enough developed. The story doesn't match the classics in this genre but it doesn't try to. It is just an easy fun read and that is enough which is why it is an easy recommendation.

Body at the Crossroads: A Viking Witch Cozy Mystery (The Viking Witch Cozy Mysteries Book 1)
Cate Martin
Ratatoskr Press
9781951439323 $11.99
B084LV7VKQ, $0.00, ebook, 2020, 196 pages

Body at the Crossroads is a cozy witch mystery with enough of a difference in the setting and magical world creation to make it unique. The tale reads better if you are familiar with either the North Shore of Lake Superior or Norse myths. The story is a little light on details and background but, being the introduction into a series, those weaknesses should disappear with later books.

Ingrid Torfa decides to sell the family home and move to her grandmother's place on the North Shore when her mother dies after a long illness. She packs up her car and leaves the Twin Cities with her cat Mjolner. Her grandmother's home town magically appears in the fog just as she sees a Viking standing in front of a dead body. Swerving her car into a tree she finds herself in a mystery of why the woman on the road died and what happened to the Viking standing over her. Ingrid has to remember her past visits, as a child, to this magical place, learn about her own magic and the dangers of the dark wizardly to solve the murder before she becomes a victim herself.

Body at the Crossroads is an enjoyable magical cozy that might be a little too narrow a topic for some readers. Norse myths are a major source material for the tale and a few readers might not want to take the time to fully enjoy this slant in the cozy. But, it is an easy recommendation for a weekend genre read. If you either know some Norse myths and/or are familiar with the location, you will love the tale.

S.A. Gorden
Senior Reviewer

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