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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 13, Number 5 May 2014 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

Donovan's Bookshelf Klausner's Bookshelf Lorraine's Bookshelf
Richard's Bookshelf    

Donovan's Bookshelf

Mateguas Island
Linda Watkins
Argon Press
9780991055449 (PB)
9780991055456 (EB) $TBA

Native American folklore blends with a tale of suspense and horror in the multifaceted Mateguas Island, the story of the Anderson family who is forced to relocate to rural Maine where they face a rising evil that could destroy not only their family, but the world.

Be forewarned: this is first in a projected trilogy of novels about the Andersons: being first, it properly sets the scene and builds protagonists - but also being first, it offers no neat or set conclusion but leaves the door ajar for another offering.

With this caveat in mind, embark on a journey of terror and challenge, cemented by the relationships and personalities of the Anderson family members. There's father Bill and his eight-year-old daughter Terri who know relatively little about their new island home and its legends. There's wife Karen and other daughter Sophie. And all of them are about to embark on the ride of their lives, taking readers along for the show.

Their move to the island has been anything but smooth: Bill's job loss has led to this transition and Karen resents him for it despite her efforts to be fair. Underneath it all she just knows Bill has contributed to their dilemma and to the choices that have brought them to this remote outpost, far from everything she knows. What he optimistically views as a fresh start is less certain to Karen, and as events unfold she comes to realize that this new beginning involves more than uncertainty and will introduce terror into their lives.

Readers are drawn in from the start by a variety of elements; from innuendos about the island's Native American myths to your typical story of relocation and adjustment and especially its effects on the two Anderson children, who find that their explorations uncover dangers they couldn't have seen coming.

The movement back and forth between the girls' perceptions and their parents is well done in alternating chapters that provide a changing focus, neatly tying together any loose ends of events and their impact and drawing readers into the motivations and perspectives of each character.

Now, most stories of terror involve elements outside of the family: Mateguas Island employs a device other authors (most notably Stephen King in his classic novel The Shining) have successfully used in placing danger both outside and within the family structure.

Without giving away the plot's surprise twists, let's just say that despite challenges to its structure the family discovers resources that enable it to bond and face the threats that come from without and from within. As each family member finds themselves involved in something inexplicable, they realize they are not alone but have a support system that will ultimately either save them or destroy them: "Suddenly frightened, Sophie put her hand on her sister's shoulder. "Terri, I'm scared. What are you doing? Answer me." At her sister's touch, Terri shuddered and shook her head slightly, as if awakening from a deep sleep. "Soph," she said in a whisper. "How'd I get here?" "Don't know. You were reciting that prayer - the one to the dad of the dead."

What seems a beneficial inheritance will prove to be a deadly legacy if the Andersons can't overcome what's affecting their lives. Eventually it takes a letter from deceased Aunt Janie and a willingness to read it and accept its contents to confront the true legacy that is Mateguas Island.

Surprising twists and turns and a powerful old box filled with magic: these are the elements of a fine horror story that slowly builds its plot with believable protagonists and engrossing color.

Any who like horror stories and gothic fiction will find Mateguas Island an exceptional read.

The Bright Idea Box
Jag Randhawa
Aviva Publishing
9781938686818 $26.95

The Bright Idea Box: A Proven System to Drive Employee Engagement and Innovation is recommended for business collections and readers interested in better employee engagement processes, and comes from a program Jag Randhawa created (after the 2008 financial crisis) to help engage employees further business growth.

Now, plenty of books discuss this very theme (how to involve employees in innovation processes), but few offer the specifics of this book, which pinpoints exactly what constitutes 'innovation' and how to begin the task of fostering its growth.

In effect, The Bright Idea Box serves as a blueprint for the entire process, teaching the basics in a step-by-step format that creates a foundation, builds an innovation agenda upon it, then shows how ideas generated by employees can be put into action.

All this is based on the idea that every employee has an innate desire to contribute something greater to their job and world. Now, I've known employees who just want to 'do their job and go home'; so this piece is possibly an idealistic assessment when applied to every employee in any workplace scenario.

But, say you have developed a good, solid team of employees who truly care, and say you (as a manager) recognize there's a host of ideas running through the ranks on how to improve the business, but no structure in place to hear and act on these ideas: in this scenario, The Bright Idea Box takes the reins and runs with them.

Chapters provide a six-step process enabling employees to develop, submit AND execute ideas. Other books on innovation don't place this responsibility in the employee's hands: having all three parts in one place allows business leaders to focus on idea development as a major goal of everyday business operations.

Chapters also blend a workbook format with resources for implementation, recapping inspirations that move beyond dreams to their realization and demonstrating how to treat employees like partners.

This may sound complex, but it's not: all that's needed is a simple formula for capturing ideas (which The Bright Idea Box provides), a structure for developing the best ideas (which this also provides), and an actionable plan (needless to say: it's all here).

All that remains is for employers to hire conscientious, bright, caring employees excited about the possibility of seeing their ideas come to life: The Bright Idea Box does the rest, and is highly recommended for any entrepreneur and any manager working to revamp and revitalize a business structure.

The Ball Crossing
J.E. Lindberg
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00HZUH876; $2.99

The Ball Crossing may be set in Civil War times (1874: about a decade after its conclusion), but it's a murder mystery and detective story pure and simple, set in the unlikely state of sleepy Vermont and centering around a veteran still recovering from war a decade later.

The victim is Marie Ball, a young teacher who is stalked and killed. The event sparks a manhunt that throws Francis Hakey into same arena as his adversary Joseph LaPage, a madman who subscribes to no singular religion or perspective, but who lives on the edge of insanity. (The character LaPage is based on the historical serial murderer who brought his reign of terror to Vermont and New Hampshire during the time period in which the novel is set.)

Francis Hakey joins with his old friend Ephraim Perley, freedman Moses Chestnut and Marie's twin brother Alden to track down the killer; and it's here that supernatural elements enter the bigger picture, immersing the hunters in a deadly game that moves quickly beyond a horrific, singular murder to enter the realm of the surreal.

It's important to note that J.E. Lindberg's attention to strong characterization never falters. Even the short-lived victim, Marie, is given enough colorful description that she moves from a one-dimensional figurehead to a living, breathing character filled with ideals, purpose, and vision: "Adjusting her expectations to the necessities of the local community had been a topic of discussion during Marie Ball's first meeting with the committee of the school district. True to her ideals, the young schoolmistress had not initially accepted the proposition that the value of the classroom education she offered, and the time required to obtain its benefits, should be secondary to the demands of sustaining the marginal existence that most of the small farmsteads tendered to the children born into that life. Though still determined to fulfill her calling to fan the briefest flame of enlightenment wherever it burned, her appreciation for the capacity of these stoic people to endure privation, to work endlessly without complaint, and to love their children unconditionally only deepened her respect for the choices they made as she grew to know the families of Franklin County, their way of being, and the hard land that often took more than it gave."

Personal ideals, morals and values are only one facet of a story line that probes each character in turn, building up their motivations, perspectives and beliefs to create believable protagonists whose concerns imbed the story line with fire and passion. Needless to say, these elements are intrinsic to not just a good read, but a superior production; something too seldom present in typical mystery and supernatural reads. Many authors simply don't take the time to build in these layers of complexity and meaning.

Secondly, The Ball Crossing holds passages that provide strong connections to the environment. Moses, in particular, is able to 'read' the natural world around him for clues: "In all his days, Moses Chestnut had never seen a jay bird so close at hand. Its kind were among the most wary of the scarce life that remained visible during the winter months. Never alone, the blue jays moved in small flocks through the bleak landscape in search of whatever sustained them. They were vigilant of threats and quick to cry out a warning to which all the other creatures of the northern forest paid heed."

His ability to pay attention to these signs and interpret them as warnings and premonitions of danger blends into the general animist undertone that permeates events and their evolution: "Had he looked to the ground on the right edge of the doorway as the two entered the barn, Moses Chestnut might have noticed the fresh curls of wood that had settled there on the old hay and manure. If he had recognized them, then he would certainly have looked up to see the strange pattern of cuts high up the timber of the doorframe. Made by a skilled hand with a sharp knife, they formed a series of animist images like something from a language scarcely spoken now though once as familiar in this place as the whisper of wind."

As LaPage's evil evolves and begins to devour the world with its brutal vengeance, Francis Hakey and his fellow hunters come to find that the violence of war is nothing compared to the predatory purposes of a supernatural force beyond their control. The Ball murder not only consumes all their lives, but leads to something even more threatening: a final confrontation that brings with it a heavy cost.

Yet, there's the promise of peace at the end of the storm...if Frances can survive long enough to find it: "And though the scene about him was more awful than any he'd known in the war or the time since, he was filled with a sense of profound calm and peace as if the hand of God reached down to touch him."

Vivid, embracing, and speckled with violent confrontation and the prospect of total annihilation versus redemption, The Ball Crossing isn't for readers who want a casual 'whodunnit' mystery, but for those who enjoy complex reads with more than a hint of the supernatural thrown in for good measure.

It Starts With The Egg
Rebecca Fett
Franklin Fox Publishing
9780991126903 $16.95 / 10.95 Brit. pounds

"It Starts With The Egg: How the Science of Egg Quality Can Help You Get Pregnant Naturally, Prevent Miscarriage, and Improve Your Odds in IVF" is all about understanding the biology of pregnancy and 'grey areas' of comprehension, and is a top pick for any who would start with the basics of how to get pregnant.

Yes, other books have covered IVF; usually in much detail. What differentiates It Starts With The Egg from its competitors is a format that offers a specific focus on nutrients and their importance to the process, and a precise self-help focus on how to supplement medical science with home-based options: " is critically important to provide your eggs with the specific nutrients needed to support embryo development and to avoid the toxins that cause the most harm. This book will explain the simple things you can do to have the best possible chance of getting pregnant and bringing home a healthy baby. And it starts with the egg."

Most other books on IVF focus on medical processes and procedures with only asides on nutrition: It Starts With The Egg uses the latest fertility research to show that women can take a proactive stand in assuring egg health and production, complimenting physician efforts to support fertility and health. Thus the specific strategies offered here are solidly backed by the latest medical research, not idealism; and they provide women with step-by-step options that are easily followed and clearly outlined. And it's also important to note that said research isn't singular, but represents an entire body of literature which has been synthesized by the author for a simple plan of action.

Rebecca Fett gently mentions that even those already under treatment by a fertility specialist should consider that not all physicians use the latest research (which keeps changing and growing.) The goal of It Starts With The Egg is to inform women of these new options, and reflects the author's own personal obsession with egg health.

And lest you wonder about her credentials, Fett has a background in molecular biology and biochemistry; so she was in the perfect position to investigate further when her fertility doctors were unable to advise her on which nutritional supplements she could take to improve her odds of getting pregnant.

Chapters are clearly titled and just as plainly written, presuming no prior experience in either fertility processes or science. From the basics in 'Understanding Egg Quality' to 'Supplements That May Do More Harm Than Good', prospective parents are treated to discussions that don't challenge their ability to comprehend.

The text is lively, easily grasped, and blends solid science with all the background readers need to thoroughly comprehend the subject, from the history of fertility efforts to modern approaches: "This brings us to one of the most valuable sources of information on how nutrition affects fertility: the Nurses Health Study. This extraordinary study revealed several factors impacting fertility, the most powerful of which came from the type of carbohydrates in the diet. Before we discuss the specific findings of the Nurses Health Study, it is worth noting just how immense this study was."

All this background history and basic science support the many chapters on how to consider and properly use supplements and how to integrate them with a doctor's fertility program and advice. Add extensive bibliographic references to scientific studies that enable further research and you have a winning approach.

In conclusion: it doesn't get any clearer, more contemporary, or any easier than It Starts With The Egg. Any aspiring parent needs to add this self-help primer to their fertility program!

The Conversions
Theodore Richards
Homebound Publications
9781938846205, $18.95

The attacks came in broad daylight, they targeted Ellis and Liberty Islands, they came (in typical modern terrorist fashion) via small boats - and they destroyed both islands, detonating American values and beliefs and changing the face of America in one fell swoop.

But this is just the prelude to The Conversations, a novel that takes place after the Attacks and which focuses on a vastly changed America and the individuals who inhabit the remnants of a dream.

Open with a familiar scene: a man in bed with a woman, who regrets his actions of the night before. Now, there are other things Dante does believe in: the pure pursuit of pleasure from life, avoiding any institution (whether religious or political), and generally deflecting connections to life that would cause him to become rooted in either belief or place. The last thing Dante wants is to be tied down; especially in a changing world that views his racial makeup (actually, anything different) with suspicion.

Adam, another protagonist, is very different from Dante. He's joined hiphop movements, immersed himself in counterculture activities, and has deftly avoided gang warfare in school, even though he's black and often targeted for attention by either side. After the Attacks, Adam notices that white people are less threatened by him: adversity has succeeded in prioritizing American heritage over differences between whites and blacks, uniting the country in a way civil rights movements never achieved.

Other protagonists (Kant, Diego, Mirabai and more) move in and out of scenarios that focus on social and political movements and changes experienced by each individual as they face new trends and ride the surf of a vastly changed America and outside world. Even leaving the damaged country doesn't afford new visions of freedom: limitations and constraints are an intrinsic part of a lost group of individuals each searching for new connections: "Neither man knew if they wanted to be a Muslim; neither knew what else they might do with their lives. Adam looked off at the buildings in the distance. He felt trapped. He had thought that leaving America would free him in some way. And it had, in part. But it had also allowed him to realize that there were constraints on him that mere leaving could not remove."

The Conversations is about a variety of dreams that dissolve, or smother, or evolve. It's about social protest and personal choices, the unraveling of society and individual, and it's about the privatization of society in the aftermath of a disaster the government can't handle or address.

Chapters alternate between individual focus and descriptions of these evolving pathways, providing critical connections between personal and wider social impacts and moving from the American condition to overseas encounters as the characters blossom, move away, and conduct their own searches for life's meaning in the face of such paradigm-altering events.

Adam's journey brings him to Africa and the Middle East in search of a land of milk and honey - which, instead, introduces him to a wider world of poverty and violence: "He was at once ashamed for his privilege and his poverty in their wake. His world had been turned upside down. Finding himself, as always, at the margins of a world - only now the world had no center - he could only do one thing. Adam reversed his course, and began his walk back to Africa."

Dante Conte eventually finds that his trip brings him full circle to validate some of the basic questions of his life: "For him, this was perhaps the only real moment of his life, revealed by the absence of land and solidity. The real story was in the depths, depths to which he had only partial access." In the course of his wanderings he comes to recognize both his roots in homelessness and his connections to America.

When homecoming finally is achieved after these vagabond experiences, it's with a newfound vision of what this changed world means, and America's place in it: no longer the land of plenty to be guarded against illegal immigrants, but a chaotic land peppered with pockets of refuge and retreat where civilization soldiers on.

Life and death, love and loss, endings and new beginnings: all these entwine against the backdrop of disaster and social change, with each protagonist bringing to the table his own unique ethnic and social background and his own desires to find a different place in a much-changed world.

To this end The Conversations is more than just another apocalyptic end-of-America disaster story, but focuses on the movements of very different Americans with very different social and ethic roots who each search for meaning and new lives. Through journeys and encounters they will be changed and will rebuild new, unexpected worlds: microcosms of survival in the aftermath of chaos.

It's these diverse protagonists and their perceptions, journeys and interactions that add depth and dimension to The Conversations, making it a highly recommended pick for those who like end-of-world sagas with another level of psychology and insight than your usual American apocalyptic focus provides.

Kokopelli's Thunder: Fall of the Anasazi
Sean M. Cordry
iUniverse LLC
ISBN: 9781491719817 (sc) $18.95
ISBN: 9781491719831 (hc) $28.95
ISBN: 9781491719824 (e)

Kokopelli's Thunder: Fall of the Anasazi is set in 1938 in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon, where Zed Moonhawk is helping to train Civilian Conservation Corpsmen to excavate and restore the Anasazi ruins. At first glance this would seem to be a novel about archaeology and history; but look again: Zed is actually immortal and he and his pre-teen son are the last of the Anasazi. And Zed actually embodies the legendary Kokopelli, charged with battling Mayan witch Rooshth, who has virtually obliterated his people from the world.

This complex background is imparted deftly and clearly in the first three chapters, which move from past to present with ongoing supernatural encounters between evil forces and humans, Southwest Indian cultures, and events that foretell the return of an ancient threat.

Don't expect a linear read, however: action continues to fluctuate between past and present worlds, contributing to an evolving story line that links disparate eras and peoples, rituals and perceptions.

At first these switches may prove challenging to readers, but their overall purpose serves to create important connections between the spirit forces of olden times and present-day events. And this even proves a benefit in the case of character names which are close enough that they could (initially) be mixed up, as with the twelve-year-old Turq and the supernatural Tuhj, who exist in different times.

Attention is given to the evolution of demonic forces and their purpose as well as to the inhabitants of 1938, who uncover more adventure than they bargained for when an archaeological excavation turns into a bloodbath.

Readers should be prepared for a plethora of bodies and violent encounters that sweep through this epic tale of ageless, classic conflicts between good and evil. The ongoing focus between past and present (in alternating chapter viewpoints) offers an earthy evolution of obsessions and confrontations that follow a tenacious evil spirit's movements across time and space.

Readers should also be prepared for treachery, sorcery, and opportunities for transformation and change. All this is steeped in Native Southwest culture and perceptions of spiritual overlays on everyday life: "In that moment, he became shoshteweh kina shoshteh - that is, "between strangers." The phrase described someone experiencing profound transformation. The old version of the person was now a stranger to them, yet the person they were becoming was also a stranger. It could be a terrifying experience, a tumultuous freefall between releasing the known of the past and embracing an unknown future. It was a grand gamble with one's life."

The constant changes between twelfth and twentieth centuries moves from possible confusion to anticipated delight as each pass fills in blanks about the protagonists involved and the human and mystical worlds they inhabit.

Add pterodons and a paranormal investigator into the mix and you have a gripping, thoroughly unpredictable adventure story that will keep even the most seasoned action reader immersed to the end.

The Roving Tree
Elsie Augustave
Akashic Books
PO Box 1456, New York, NY 10009
9781617750229, $15.95,

Blend history with social and cultural issues and weave it into the form of a novel centered around a cross-cultural adoption and you have a vivid assessment of adoptee and ethnic issues alike in The Roving Tree, which presents the perspective of a young black Haitian woman adopted by a white American family.

Use of the first person injects readers directly into the heart and mind of protagonist Iris, whose initial introduction to life is to a world of poverty and prejudice. Under such circumstances her mother gives up her child to an eager American family who promise her a better future; but even with such a plan, there are no guarantees in life.

And thus The Roving Tree is about a life whose course isn't set from birth, but winds through complex avenues of other cultures. One might anticipate this will take the form of a coming-of-age story but, in fact, it comes from the mouth of a dying woman: Iris's last wish is that the story of her life be related to her daughter, and The Roving Tree captures this life and its purpose in no uncertain terms.

Iris is, indeed, raised in a privileged family by a wealthy couple who already has one adopted daughter; but her need to understand her Haitian roots takes wing when a Haitian dance class reconnects her to her ancestry. And this eventually leads her to join the Black Students Union in college, where she meets a Haitian boy and in due course returns to Haiti itself, where she becomes involved with its culture and her family's closely-held secrets.

Iris' entire life becomes a journey of self-discovery, immersing readers in Haitian culture and providing vivid impressions of everything from Haiti's people and politics to Iris's personal world and experiences: "My soul was wrapped in darkness when I woke up in the middle of the night. I sat on the porch, staring at the leaves shimmering on the trees in the front yard. The whisper of a cool breeze, flirting with the leaves, broke the stillness of dawn. I felt Lamercie's presence next to me and wished I would communicate with Nlunda a Kinkulu's spirit, the way she could do. My restless spirit suddenly woke from despair and echoes of ancestral drums vibrated in my mind as a river of determination flowed in my veins."

Now, there are plenty of coming-of-age novels on the market, and plenty of novels about cross-cultural encounters and adoption. What sets The Roving Tree apart is a multi-faceted focus on all these elements and the cultural milieu of Haiti, a small country not often given its own focus and analysis.

Some chapters take place in America and some are centered in Haiti, with Iris serving as a focal point for insights about each culture, their similarities and differences, and the trials and journey of an adoptee who enters new realms when she investigates her roots more closely.

It's fair to say that many would not visit a country renowned for poverty and struggle; but Iris has been well prepared for her journey by her friendship with one of the few Haitian students at her college, and she's determined to uncover answers about her past. What she finds will not only change her world; it will recreate her own identity and sense of purpose.

The Roving Tree doesn't stop at social issues, either, but delves into the politics and spirituality of Haiti and her peoples and its evolving impact on all their lives: "Africa has her own traditions," Bolingo's voice interrupted my thoughts. "Why should we allow the West to dictate our way of life? Polygamy is a long-standing tradition and wasn't considered a problem until the missionaries arrived. I have opted to live the life of my ancestors because I am the product of my culture. Since women outnumber men, it is unfair that only some should have the privilege of having a family of her own."

The conclusion holds a revelation, an ending, and new beginnings; all of which will delight readers who enjoy elements of surprise and change throughout the story.

It's this attention to a blend of social issues, politics and transformation that enrich The Roving Tree and give it the kind of dimension and depth missing from singular stories of either adoptees or immigrants from other cultures.

Burn: A Love Story
Colton Lawrence
Colton Lawrence, Publisher
9780965832229, $TBA

While author Colton Lawrence may be known for his young adult fiction writing, it's quite evident from the start that his racy new novel Burn: A Love Story is written for a very different, adult audience: as such, it may best be described as a humorous survey of love gone awry, and is a recommendation for romance and general novel readers alike.

Playboy Gerry would seem to have it all: finally divorced, he already has girlfriends, a possible fiance, money, and status. What he doesn't have is his ex-wife Erin - which doesn't bother him until she falls for somebody new, who treats her far better (despite the fact that in Gerry's judgment, the replacement is a poor substitute for his good looks.)

Faced with an even greater shift (Erin's proposed marriage to another man), Gerry goes off the deep end and finds himself on a long, dangerous road mixing past and present with increasingly uncertain goals, ideals and desires.

Most romances are pretty cut-and-dried: boy meets girl, romance evolves, and there's a few sticking points before all swings full circle to satisfying resolution. But don't expect anything pat, easy or linear in Burn: A Love Story: it's all about unconditional love (or not), feeling the 'outsider' (even when appearances would have it that one is thoroughly connected, fortunate and immersed in one's life), and regaining a sense of family.

For Gerry has lost not only his wife, but his daughter - which lends to a questionable logic for his next move: "If he and Erin were back together again, Joy would have to love him again. Erin would make sure of it...He had to get Erin back so Joy would love him."

Fueled by this fire - this desire for re-connection in his life - Gerry embarks on a mission to gain back what he has lost, in the process confronting his life, his ideals, and even testing new elements added to his persona from unlikely sources, such as a gay bar encounter designed to identify a guy Gerry can use as an 'intervention' for diverting Erin's infatuation: "Gerry liked his voice. It had bass. Erin would love that. A few tweaks here and there in terms of clothing and mannerisms, and he could get Erin to fall in love with him. "Nah, just kidding. Just broke up with a long-term person I've been seeing and thought I might like to see what's out there."

It's interesting to note that at every turn of his exploration, ex Erin is never far from his thoughts and assessments: "Rex smiled. He had a great smile. Erin was all about good teeth and hygiene." Gerry more than knows his ex and her preferences and his plot to circumvent her latest romance evolves with this knowledge at the forefront.

And where's Erin in all this? Why, she's making her own appearances in chapters that juxtapose her newfound life with Gerry's fixation; from her uncertain relationship with an alcoholic mother who has found her own new love in a man who only likes to eat and drink to admitting her own tendency to obsess over men: "The more she wanted to sleep, the more she couldn't stop thinking about him. It was 2:00 am, and he hadn't called or texted or anything. He said his plane arrived in Geneva at midnight, her time.

She obsessed - that was her thing. She always obsessed over men. She thought Jaime would be different. Surely, he would want to hear from her as much as she wanted to hear from him?"

In a peculiar manner, Gerry and Erin are perfect for one another, sharing traits of obsession and infatuation and moving from one person to another in search of elusive romance.

Expect steamy love scenes, calculating moves on both sides to further personal goals, and self-destructive patterns that just won't quit: "It felt like the whole Scott situation all over again, only now she was a grown woman in love with a short, fat, hairy and balding man. How could a man like that reduce her to those old, immature feelings? Had she not grown emotionally at all? Had her time with Gerry been like a ten-year coma offering zero emotional growth? Was she irredeemably defective? She couldn't deny she was in love with Jaime. Her feelings were so strong, she wanted the feeling to go away before it was too late."

Can dual paths that diverse so widely come together, or will they somehow destroy one another in an antimatter explosion?

Burn: A Love Story will keep romance readers guessing, laughing, and crying until its satisfying conclusion.

One Heartbeat Past Normal
Dennis Timothy
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00IHI0MXM, $8.95

If it's a short story format you're seeking (which both limits the action and story and demands that it build character, plot, and conclusion in a brief period of time) and if you're looking for a series of bizarre tales with very different approaches and perspectives, then look no further than One Heartbeat Past Normal, a collection that delves into other worlds with strange twists much like The Twilight Zone and other classics of irony and strange worlds.

Dennis Timothy's forte lies in little twists of plot that lead readers along a seemingly-predictable path, then change at the last minute. For seasoned readers who continually seek and seldom find true surprises, this is simply a delight.

Take 'The Pulse', as one example. This story opens at night in rural Louisiana where three men investigate just one of a series of incidents involving a strange pulse of energy with the instant ability to kill everything around it.

The theoretical Tesla Shield Machine has been brought to life, the military's involved, and a scientist's ethical decision to not deploy his discovery for fear of an arms race and pre-emptive strikes is shaken by the development and testing of a 'rogue shield' outside both military and government control.

The ante has been upped - and it's a cat-and-mouse game to indentify where it will be used next, and take it out. The mystery swings to an unexpected resolution in just a little over twenty pages of reading. To be able to develop plot, characters, motivation, and supportive science and mystery in that short a period means a blend of succinct writing and clear plot development must be deployed - and Dennis Timothy sure knows his art.

Also noteworthy in Timothy's work is his attention to diversity in plot, structure, and presentation. Too often short story collections assume a grudging similarity brought about by devices repeatedly employed from beginning to end. Not only are the stories in One Heartbeat Past Normal radically different from one another, but Timothy's ability to profile very different scenarios, outcomes and characters makes each tale stand alone as a gem of inspiration.

Thus 'The Price' (to name another example) tells of a talented guitar player who's about to enter a competition he can't afford to lose. His decision to employ supernatural forces to assure success will cost him more than his soul.

Immediately following 'The Price' is the very different 'Home', a short-short story narrated in the first person, telling of a man's return home: possibly for the last time. Another unexpected twist at story's end completes his journey; but not in any way a reader could easily foresee.

Delightful surprises that catch readers unawares and offer up different perspectives: that's the strength of a collection that will positively delight fans of Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, and sagas that are anything but predictable.

Ambrose: A Modern Rendition
M. W. Wolf
Saints on Bicycles, Publisher
9780989273701 $17.49,

Readers of historical fiction should be prepared for something different in Ambrose: A Modern Rendition. For one thing, it's not just the story of an fourth-century man living in the aftermath of the Roman Empire's heyday, but probes the politics of a respected lawyer and governor who is unwittingly elected to the position of bishop after he tries to settle a dispute between church and state. It offers not the anticipated biographical history of this historic figure, but translates his life into a modern setting (thus, 'A Modern Rendition').

Using the politics and religious conflicts of his day as a foundation, Ambrose: A Modern Rendition, focuses on the specific challenges the saint experienced in his life from his secular beginnings as a relatively non-religious man to becoming the center of a controversial debate over the Trinity which lead to a splintering between church factions.

Catholic readers (especially those with a little prior knowledge of Ambrose and his times) will find Ambrose replete with religious insights based on fact - but the novel doesn't begin in your usual historical setting (the century in which Ambrose resided), and that's just one of its surprises.

It opens, instead, with a near-future setting: the U.S. is experiencing the throes of spiritual and political conflict: possibly the last gasp of its centuries-long status as a world force.

In this future world firearms have been outlawed by Congress, the government is split between East and West with two rulers, and popular public games include lion fights and gladiators. Sound like ancient Rome? It actually is: and against this alternate history backdrop modern-day Ambrose emerges with many of the same religious concerns as his predecessor.

From social injustices and government involvements to Vatican concerns, anticipate a novel replete with disparate elements of past and present worlds. In this world Ambrose emerges (as did his namesake) as a wild card in the changing nature of social, political and spiritual order: an unwitting contender in the struggle for liberty and freedom which permeates all segments of society.

Against this backdrop the first chapter introduces a quiet couple and their family dynamics as they contemplate political changes in the air, then moves forward over thirty years to future Italy, which is still immersed in Catholicism. Here an aging archbishop hears confessions centered around military insights and individuals whose names he can barely recall, and is frustrated that his spiritual mission is going largely unrealized: "Auxentius sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. He felt satisfied knowing he had helped her emotionally unburden. But he also felt disheartened knowing she couldn't cognitively grasp the meaning of his question - that God the Father created Jesus, the Christ. He had tried different ways over the years to introduce Arian Christianity to his parishioners, but few seemed ready, or sophisticated enough, to grasp its meaning."

When the venerable archbishop is killed, handsome attorney Ambrose would seem an unlikely replacement.

Spiritual debates centered on the Trinity mirror real debates the historical Ambrose struggled with, while back in the States political snafus and even coups are treated as jokes. At the center of it all is Aurelius Ambrosius, a good lawyer who receives an unexpected - and unwanted - political appointment: "...this office doesn't require someone who knows how to get things done. It needs someone who can move people, someone who can speak eloquently and motivate others to do things . . . things they may not want to do."

In a split second of one of life's ironies Ambrose becomes the next governor of Dionysius - and a chain of events begins that will change not just his piece of world, but the entire world.

Now for some side notes: Ambrose: A Modern Rendition is peppered with black and white photos (by Dreamstime) throughout which illustrate protagonists and lend a vintage feel to this saga. From generals and politicians to family members, these help the story line to feel more like a biographical sketch than fiction: a nice device that lends authenticity to characters and settings alike.

Secondly, the ample cast of characters varies widely in names, from Roman-based classics such as Aegidius, Ambrose's law firm Agripa, Leontius & Drusus, and fat wife Agatha Leontius to Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas and altar server Max. This lends a multi-era feel to the story, placing past and present trends alongside one another and emphasizing that the novel's setting is, after all, as much fantasy as historical in nature.

And while events in this Ambrose's life parallel that of his Roman predecessor, they still follow the timeline of a futuristic world changed by political and religious decisions. The focus on how Ambrose resolves disparate special interests, influences, and his own unexpected position in this new world makes for a story particularly recommended for Catholic readers of alternate history; especially those well grounded in historic Catholic religious debates and issues.

This audience will not only recognize (or learn about) the real Ambrose; they'll come to appreciate the significance of debates about The Trinity and will learn how one man stepped up to the plate to make a difference in his world - and how these actions are duplicated in similar courses by those who stay true to their religious commitments.

Solid characterization, a diverse group of protagonists who clarify political and religious milieus, and gripping action (to include violence: be forewarned; this is a quasi-Roman future world ruled by the sword as much as by ideals!) make Ambrose: A Modern Rendition a novel hard to neatly categorize but equally difficult to put down.

The Last Ancient
Eliot Baker
Burst/Champagne Books
9781771550437, $5.95

Print: $14.95

The Last Ancient blends mythology, mystery and action and opens with an investigation of deer mutilations: something a Nantucket reporter initially believes to be related to poaching. And who better to investigate than Simon, who makes his living as an environmental reporter?

It all seems predictable; but that's where the familiar ends as Simon uncovers a conspiracy centered on alchemy, finds mysterious gold coins pepper his every move, and begins to accept the existence of mythical creatures against all logic.

So what begins as a relatively simple investigation turns into a complex blend of mystery and supernatural exploration as Simon becomes involved in the impossible task of killing a mythological creature wrecking havoc on Nantucket.

The mysterious coins even implicate his own family heritage in events that unfold and engage him not only in their mystery but in the challenge of handling a fiancee who has gone over the edge.

To call this a 'murder mystery' is simplification at its worst: The Last Ancient is actually an action-packed thriller, more accurately, and belongs on the shelves of readers looking for spicy, darker, sexier Indiana Jones-style sagas that reel off subplot after subplot.

It's hard to believe The Last Ancient is a debut novel: the author's approach and writing skills seem those of an experienced thriller writer, not a newcomer, what with its attention to detail that submerges readers in a 'you are there' feel throughout the story, evident from the very first line: "The deer's blood catches the golden hour light. It radiates throughout the animal's carcass in fall hues that reflect the island's rustling red leaves and honey-colored needles littering the sand. Such eerie, blasphemous beauty. I fire shots from my Nikon."

One must also note that Eliot Baker's use of the first person has a lot to do with his device of immersing readers in not just the plot, but Simon's life and experiences. Readers follow Simon's logic in piecing the puzzle together and will relish his encounters with his tense fiancee as well: "You don't return my calls for a day and a half, Simon? A day and a half? Really? The whole world sees you on TV talking about murders and mad deer but your fiancee, who lives down the street from you, can't even get a text to say you're alive? Are you serious?"

The island setting is perfect for containing not only characters that can't easily flee events, but for the murderers and mythical creatures Simon has come to believe in against all logic: "We are thirty miles out at sea with a murderer." "Then the poor bastard's got nowhere to hide," I say. Judy doesn't laugh. I can't tell Judy about the Gryphon. That it could have killed me, or let me die, but instead saved me. Loved me. I'm safe. I've always been safe on Nantucket. Perhaps even under Her protection. And I'm not convinced She was Dennis's killer. His wound was different, according to Dr. Mulcahey."

What Simon uncovers will change not only his world, but his own personality, goals, and life perspectives. It will also end some relationships and forge new paths: "Judy tries to bubble about things that escape my interest as we type. I don't want to speculate on who bailed out my paper, or whether the gold standard will be approved by the President and Congress, or if the newest art house movie about biker gangs in Sweden is Oscar-worthy. I don't care about interest rates falling, that it's a buyer's market in Manhattan and LA, that Hal wants to give us a million-dollar interest-free loan, and I'm positively disinterested in what we should bring to a wine and cheese party tomorrow with her Yale friends. My heart is no longer in this world, her world, and every syllable of pretending otherwise feels like a slithering lie to her and a filthy betrayal of my true love, my true self, my true god."

And perhaps that's The Last Ancient's greatest strength: its ability to pinpoint and follow the transitions of its protagonist, who finds that everything he's believed about himself and his world is different. In the process of these revelations Simon's real identity emerges. And then comes the special challenge of either fitting that new knowledge into the rest of his life or forging an entirely new direction in the world.

In truth, Simon's course has been set long before his knowledge of these other worlds and choices. In such a world Simon's powers as the ultimate healer and killer will emerge, and against this backdrop even evil gets another chance.

Without spoiling any of the intrigue, suffice it to say that readers will be captivated from the first chapter and will be immersed in a supernatural mystery that gets more complex with every turn, leading to a bloody battle with more at stake than a few dead deer or one man's revelations.

The Unorthodox Ox
Thomas Morison
Editions Zorzal
ASIN: B00HYYJLU0, $4.99

It's rare to find a novel where the protagonist's name is never revealed and which centers around his personal and professional lives; both headed towards a collision of ideals and the mass destruction of everything familiar. With the hero facing catastrophe at home and at work (where all his environmental research points to an impending disaster) there seem to be few moves he can take towards positive change - and yet, The Unorthodox Ox is all about these moves, providing readers with a series of familiar scenarios that involve soul-searching rituals, and uncertain interactions.

How does one get to the point of no return, where all choices seem to lead to dead ends? The Unorthodox Ox follows the protagonist's evolution (or lack of it), questioning the meaning of life and its routines: "He was listening to him and was thinking maybe that it was going to be no different for himself one day. He would be a solitary figure, disconsolate, without faith, powerless, questionably loved, and what he would have to say for himself would be nothing more than what it was in actual fact."

Now, the protagonist isn't necessarily a 'hero', especially in the beginning. He's just a man trudging through life and facing its inevitable obstacles with a wry combination of observation and dread: "...maybe it's better to do nothing than to find out afterwards that there was nothing we could have done. I believe that? And you know, today, I read the Endangered Species Report, and so you and others ought to be aware of the fact that it's getting indisputable how the natural world is becoming unnatural, and so I wasn't surprised how I figured out what was what, and when doing so, I realized as I was checking over old extinctions, that I'll never have the opportunity to see a number of long gone dead ducks, neither will you, for that matter. Then I'd have liked to have seen a Labrador duck or a Great Auk. And it will be worse when we see the ones gone that we have seen in our lifetime. That will be one day to forget or never forget."

While ennui leads him to continually choose watching over action, eventually he comes to acknowledge choices that will make a difference and which could ultimately result in a better marriage partner and a better world.

How he comes to this realization (and how he finally takes action) is the subject of a slow, quiet 'come to Jesus' kind of novel. That's not to say The Unorthodox Ox is spiritual per say; just that the kinds of life-changing revelations the protagonist evolves to understand are those that ultimately involve us all in choices surrounding rebirth, change and death.

One consistent theme here is death and its impact: "He listened to requiems throughout the night and on other nights and for the rest of what was a lifetime he opened his ears to requiems, that were not a part of the repertoire of the woman he loved and was to go on worshipping, and they were not joyful requiems. No. They were the large important and dramatic requiems of loss and endless sorrow, full of somber cellos and double basses and bellowing ox-like wind instruments, and choruses of voices calling out for a shred of forgiveness."

A novel's usual elements of action and surprise are relatively lacking here. Think 'Saul Bellow' and a story line very much centered around the protagonist's self-inspection and slow evolution, and think 'old memories, old habits, and new beginnings' as you follow The Unorthodox Ox's saga of a fumbling man's interactions with a woman who is difficult and bitter in her own way.

Readers who enjoy Bellow's approach will find much to like in the slowly-evolving nature of the characters of The Unorthodox Ox. Those seeking vivid action and high drama should look elsewhere; for like a slow simmer, The Unorthodox Ox is more interested in the fruits of hours of slow cooking than the immediacy of fire and passion.

Farewell My Country
A. J. Harris
Murder Mystery Press
9780984782512 (paperback) $16.95
9780984782529 (ebook) $2.99
9780984782536 (hardback) $24.95

One might expect that a press called 'Murder Mystery Press' would only produce genre works, but Farewell My Country in no way can be labeled as such, with its powerful coverage (based on history) of political events that took place under McCarthyism. Many novels have captured the social and political sentiments of this time, but Farewell My Country offers a twist with a focus on the author's brother, Dr. Jack S. Harris, who fought in World War II only to be one of McCarthy's targets.

While the chronicle might best be described as a biography, added embellishments (recreating events that couldn't be documented) turn its format into a novel. Either way, it's a recommended pick for readers who enjoy political history cradled in dramatic reading.

Jack's actual words, drawn from his journal entries, are in italics throughout with insights from family members and journalists providing a factual foundation.

The ideal reader of Farewell My Country will have some prior knowledge of the era's events and processes. Such an audience will more readily appreciate Jack's unique story as he evolves from being a super patriot to one who is bedeviled by a committee that operates outside legal safeguards.

From the start, Jack is critical of the McCarthy approach; never mind that he's become a target: "Those creatures aren't looking for the truth. They're not protecting any freedoms. They're trying to condemn people - as many as they can. They want the world to think they're some kind of saviors. I'll tell you what they really are: they're grandstanding sonsofbitches without a conscience - totally amoral and arrogant. Do you think they care that two people have committed suicide because their lives were ruined by these jackals?"

His carefully-honed academic career is under fire, his own wife even checks with him to be sure he never ascribed to Communist memberships or ideals, and Jack worries about the impact of the investigation on his family as well.

In the process of considering how he came to this point, Jack's life is reviewed and readers are treated to an in-depth series of vignettes on his childhood, his growth, and his achievements.

During the course of this review readers receive insights on wartime actions and interactions on a personal as well as military and political levels, and come to understand Jack's options and decisions against the backdrop of his times.

There's some back-and-forth to the timeline which may seem abrupt or confusing to some; but one needs only to step back and look at the bigger picture to find that each seemingly-puzzling movement of time and space contributes its part to a larger portrait of Jack. It's like a jigsaw puzzle that, in the end, comes together with a satisfying click of interlocked pieces.

Another unusual note feature of Farewell My Country is a centerfold of vintage black and white photos of Jack and his family: these contribute to the feel that this is a biography, not just a fictional piece; and they personalize the story with real people and images that readers can carry forward as they continue to learn about Jack and his life.

From military protocol to how 'communist traitors' were pinpointed and prosecuted to popular sentiments of the era, Farewell My Country personalizes events through the interactions of Jack, his attorney, and notorious Senator McCarran, who fosters such an atmosphere of terror that his bullying word alone can break an innocent suspect.

The storm that evolves eventually drives Jack to desperate measures, especially for a military man who fought for his country and returned home filled with new ideals for building a better world.

Without giving away the conclusion, suffice it to say that Farewell My Country successfully documents how patriotism can be warped by social and political influences - and how even the most acclaimed hero can become a refugee from everything he once believed to be true.

Especially recommended for any who want a novel bringing to life McCarthyism's tactics and impact.

Defining Pearl
Pearl Matibe
Hardcover: 9781460242230
Paperback: 9781460242247
eBook: 9781460242254

Few people deserve to produce a memoir more than Pearl Matibe, who had a happy childhood steeped in privilege and colonial British amenities in early Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), only to find as an adult that civil rights atrocities were rampant under President Mugabe in her newly-reborn country. The promise of independence was never realized, Pearl's own life as a black woman raised in a privileged white culture (separate, but enjoying many amenities) is unique, and her observations of the terrible things that eventually caused her to flee her country are unparalleled in scope and perspective.

For one thing, there are relatively few accounts of early township life in Rhodesia: Matibe's memoir captures memories from her earliest childhood years.

Another important note: Matibe's memoir juxtaposes her personal memories and experiences with a running history of her country. This means that readers need not have any prior background in African history or culture (it's all provided here) so one can readily absorb not only her life, but the larger issues facing her evolving country.

Photographs (not seen by this reviewer) serve as the impetus for this exploration, with clear delineations between childhood, teen and adult years providing details on the particular perspectives of the narrator at given points in time.

Soon after Zimbabwe's independence Pearl Matibe was admitted to elite schools that previously had been reserved for 'whites only' and lived a new life, sheltered by the school, even as her country was undergoing violent transformation. The juxtaposition of her privileged life even as Mugabe was wreaking havoc is striking and speaks of different layers of society that co-existed side by side, simultaneously insulated from the experiences and realities of each other.

As Pearl comes to recognize her country's social and political stratification and her own evolving talents and beliefs, so she arrives at new commitments about fostering positive change in her country - and eventually comes to the sad realization that her talents and goals are incompatible with the relentless course her nation is taking.

More than any other account of Zimbabwe's political and social changes, Defining Pearl has a unique way of personalizing and exploring the impact of these transitions on families and cultures.

There are harrowing experiences (such as a mysterious car that tries to drive Pearl off the road, then proves to have no traceable license plate) and there are social and political encounters that test Pearl's priorities and even her family's stability.

In the end Zimbabwe's changes will leave her few options - and by the end of Defining Pearl, readers will discover their own knowledge of Zimbabwe's history has been vastly expanded.

Any reader who wants an easy way of understanding this process will find Defining Pearl moves beyond the traditional definition of 'memoir' to embrace a social and political process too often puzzling to outsiders.

The Maid's Secret
Jane Whitney Clark
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
ASIN: B00J9Q4052, $3.99

Take an idyllic summer with a best friend, during which a romance with a handsome bachelor evolves. Add tragedy when said friend Dancie dies in a fall and the bachelor vanishes, leaving Jameson struggling with her grief and under a cloud of suspicion over her best friend's death. Now fast forward twelve years: Jameson has never gotten over events of that summer and decides to return to her friend's home to clear her name and settle her continuing infatuation with bachelor playboy Callen.

And that's where readers begin in The Maid's Secret, a saga of mystery and romance that revolves around many possibilities: murder, love, and ultimately a close-held secret that will immerse both protagonists in disaster.

From the start, Jameson is breaking a promise to herself by returning to Dancie's estate, Blue Chimneys. The promise she made never to return seems different now that she's a seasoned woman of thirty and not a teenager; but it doesn't take long before she regrets her decision - until she meets Callen again. He too is older and wiser - and no less handsome and desirable.

Jameson believes her added maturity will enable her to handle the past, but she's wrong - and the subtle clues that she anticipates will hold answers are only further cause to question her decision to return: "How odd that she could suddenly recall so vividly such a trivial, long-forgotten detail. Is this how the details of the hours preceding Dancie's death would finally be revealed to her? Perhaps a simple scent, a word, or a glance would release a stampede of memories long-buried and she would finally remember. But was she really ready for that?"

As scents, phrases spoken by house staff, and more provoke Jameson to vividly recall the circumstances of her friend's death, she finds herself ever drawn into painful memories: "...Charlene's last few words were bouncing around in her head like marbles in a tin can. "You girls...come back later and help..." Jameson stared at Charlene and found Charlene was staring back with the same horrified expression on her face. Those were the very same words Charlene had spoken to Dancie and Jameson in the Blue Chimneys kitchen on the day Dancie had died."

It turns out Jameson isn't the only one who hasn't forgotten the past and needs to heal from it. She's joined in her experiences by a cast of characters from years ago who also harbor painful memories ... and deadly secrets. And as she pursues both answers and romance, she finds the mix a volatile cocktail of possibilities: "What secret was Charlene so eager to reveal? What could she possibly claim to know about Dancie's death that she had chosen to withhold for the past twelve years? Was it something that would exonerate Jameson? Would it incriminate somebody else?"

There are enough twists and turns of plot that even readers well seasoned in gothic romances will find some surprises. Even the elements seem involved in imparting clues and omens that promise threats and danger: "...a sharp wind from the lake caught her hair and slapped it roughly against her cheeks. The sting remained as they started up the hill toward Falcon's Nest and Jameson tried to deny that this might just be an omen of some very unwelcome things to come."

As Jameson faces hate from an unexpected place (a passion that embraces everything around her) she learns new truths about her former best friend - and new reasons for her death: reasons that are now reaching out to take her life, as well.

The Maid's Secret succeeds in coming full circle; but not before all the protagonists involved in past and present are challenged and changed by the revelations that emerge.

Readers of gothic romance will relish the fiery passions, the twisted relationships and ties, and a conclusion that douses the fires of danger with a satisfying twist of its story line.

Tequila Assassin: Malinalli Way
Greg Prosmushkin

It's not rare to find thrillers and stories of intrigue that begin in prison. However, it IS rare to learn that there's an alternative to a lifetime behind bars in a Mexican prison - and that former U.S. agent Jack Fleming has just been offered such an option, which serves as his ticket to high adventure.

But that's what Tequila Assassin: Malinalli Way is all about: intrigue with a twist; and that's what places it among the top names in the thriller/international espionage fiction genre.

Take the setting, for example: Mexico. Now, one might presume the focus would be on an urban area - Mexico City, for example; or maybe on a short chase through the countryside. Nope: Jack finds himself immersed in the nation's politics, social issues, and on a cross-country adventure that introduces him (and the reader) to Mexican culture in different areas. And let's not forget his love of the Mexican alcoholic staple tequila, which steeps the story line in a lovely, sensual atmosphere that is more complex than might first be expected.

Thus readers will learn that the story's subtitle refers to Malinalli Extra Anejo Tequila, an exceptional tequila, as well as the character of Malinalli, an extraordinary Mayan princess whose ideal comes to life in a contemporary woman who serves as a heroine contrast to Jack's heroic endeavors.

Don't expect your usual chapter headings either: 'You Are What You Eat', 'Keep It Suavemente', 'Angry Mexicans With Big Guns' and 'Gangnam Style' are contemporary (often whimsical) indicators of the action to come, and will keep readers amused as well as guessing as to Jack's next moves.

Greg Prosmushkin's humor not only slowly permeates the story; it's a bracing introduction in Tequila Assassin's very first line: "The Mexican heat is more tolerable when coupled with beer and tequila. As I sit at the bar and wait for her, I begin to wonder how some bare-assed Mayans decided to suck on an agave tree and therefore discovered tequila."

And with that, readers are off and running on a rollicking journey of danger, intrigue, romance, and international relations all centered on Mexican culture and some of the rougher edges of Mexican society that tourists seldom see: "As I turn to order another round, I notice (or rather overhear) the bartender and the only other patron, an older, semi-toothless gentlemen, debating in Spanish whether my ancestry on my mother's side was that of a prostitute or of a goat."

One doesn't expect humor in a serious story of international intrigue. One doesn't anticipate twists of plot that span past and present Mexican culture, or challenge the protagonist's ability to stay on track and stay alive. And one doesn't anticipate a story that injects sexual encounters into even the direst of scenarios; all washed down with an ample dose of the aforementioned tequila: "This is really confusing. Am I really that irresistible or does this broad have a fetish for soon-to-be dead guys?"

Get used to it: Tequila Assassin: Malinalli Way is unpredictability at its best, the story line cemented by a feisty, gritty, talented and funny protagonist whose ongoing observations are spot on and involving.

Anticipate brutal encounters, equally passionate, steamy sex scenes, and a circle of violence that begins in a bar and ends the same way. Justice, retribution, and finally Jack's evolving role as the avenger of his sister's death in Mexico all meld to provide a riveting, absorbing story that grabs the reader from its first line and captivates to its last.

Managing for Success: Practical Advice for Managers
Steven R. Smith
Cambridge Hill Press
9780989748803, $15.99

Managing for Success: Practical Advice for Managers joins others in the business book category that presumes most managers need help in their job: this one citing statistics that some forty percent of new managers fail. Many managers and supervisors receive their designation due to success in their professions and expertise in their fields; but as managers they have a lot to learn, and that's where Managing for Success comes in.

It presumes such a scenario and answers common questions, addressing typical dilemmas of this group. It covers the very different skillsets required in managerial positions and talks about the best ideas author Steven R. Smith applied during his own tenure as a manager. It outlines the common routines of the job and how to handle typical challenges, providing the tools needed to handle individuals, teams, bosses, and corporate structures alike.

All this is based on the author's 42 years of observation at more than 15 companies, assessing why qualified managers ultimately failed at handling people and departments. The nuggets of wisdom gleaned from this entire experience are embedded into a daily guide for mangers of white-collar workers and they pinpoint the practices that lead to either success or failure.

Chapters avoid your typical theory-and-case-history pairings to streamline information for busy business people who are simply seeking the nuts and bolts of applied management basics. They emphasize that technical training alone does not lead to good management practices: these embody a different set of skills and require specific management practice training, provided here in Managing for Success.

Clear ideas and approaches outlined by Steven R. Smith can easily be applied to any management scenario, while each chapter holds titles and statements that lend to quick browser reference as well as complete reading.

Want to motivate your staff? Then 'Managing Motivation' is the chapter of choice, outlining how motivation can be either stimulated or suppressed.

Want to better manage individuals? Then 'Individual Management' is recommended, covering everything from the basics of a superior job description (to include measurable metrics expected from an ideal candidate and how top performance is defined) to creating a 'responsibility table' to
better monitor goals, department workflow, and appropriate job assignments.

Have a difficult boss and want to extend management practices to handling conflict? Managing for Success tackles even this difficult subject with ease, from how to question bad decisions without jettisoning one's career to building a good relationship with a difficult boss.

It's all here: all that's required is that supervisors and managers be able to acknowledge that more effective management skillsets can be gleaned from the right combination of experience and logical lessons.

Managing for Success provides the latter: with it, new managers can step up to the plate and get on track quickly before any other moves are made in the workplace.

Yellow Light of Dusk
Roger D. Plothow
Amazon Digital Services
9780985633820, $4.99

Yellow Light of Dusk is Book II of a trilogy: as such, it's recommended that prospective readers partake of Book I to get a thorough sense of setting and characters, which will enable a smooth transition to Yellow Light of Dusk. Yes, some trilogies can be begun mid-series and yes, readers could pick up Yellow Light without having prior access to Blue Light Of Dawn: Murder And Dirty Laundry In A Small Town - but that would be a shame.

One would be missing the background mystery and romance surrounding protagonist Dan Pittman's life, making the opening chapter of Yellow Light less powerful than for those with such familiarity, who will instantly recognize the dilemma involved when Dan receives a mysterious package from a former lover: "Why would she write to me now? I had moved on. My reaction to the letter, however, made me realize that I had been kidding myself. My heart rate was up, my palms were sweating. These were not the reactions of a man who had moved on."

Well, admittedly it was Dan who first betrayed Nicole, after falling in love with her. Then she betrayed him back, unceremoniously dumping him with only a short note. Under such circumstances, it's no wonder he hasn't entirely recovered from the relationship.

What is a wonder is that she's not gone forever; she's back in his life against his will ... and about to bring with her issues he thought long buried.

And so, steeped in the enticing aroma of Cuban cigars, the adventure continues as Dan, Nicole, and a host of characters begin their complicated dance of special interests.

Atmosphere is intrinsic to the drama here, providing readers with a heady mix of emotional flavor and environmental observation: "I selected a Cohiba corona, small enough that it wouldn't take all night to smoke. Henry closed the box and held out his hand. I placed the cigar in it and he clipped the end. I lit it as I had the first. It was milder than the first, generating gorgeous white smoke. We sat in contemplative silence, except that the frogs seemed to have increased their volume. Dusk turned to evening and a low mist grew along the ground in the distance."

This ambiance permeates a mystery that is enticing, well woven, complex, and rich in interpersonal relationships depth. At every step of the way Dan (and the reader) is challenged. Forgiveness between the protagonists for past wrongs is quickly achieved: which is a good thing given that they soon will embark on an adventure that will leave no room for animosity and unresolved angst.

Deaths by asphyxiation that at first seem unrelated are quickly identified by Dan as having possible connections, chance encounters no longer seem a matter entirely born of circumstance, and even evolving romance becomes one more element of mystery in a dangerous web of intrigue.

Even the police come to agree that it all boils down to Dan taking some dangerous risks in the cause of a greater good: dangers clearly outlined by a skeptical Brewer, who emphasizes the choices: "Can you do this? Because it's damn scary. And it's dangerous. You could be killed. You could be hurt. This sort of thing has been known to go all wrong. People die. If you aren't absolutely serious about doing this, and if you haven't seriously considered all the potential consequences, just walk away now and I'll completely understand, no hard feelings, no need to explain."

So what's the name of this game, how do Dan and Nicole's evolving relationship fit into this bigger picture, and how can Dan determine once and for all Nicole's true nature and meaning to his life?

That's for you, the reader, to find out; preferably starting with Blue Light Of Dawn and moving to the unfolding saga's new twists in Yellow Light of Dusk.

Lorrie Farrelly
9781469953519, $12.99

Dangerous holds many elements of jeopardy woven into the story of a crime fighter's latest challenge: as such, it opens with a bang and just keeps on firing emotions and mystery to the end: "Shayla was astonished to see the big cop crying. She wandered closer to him, her impish curiosity overtaking caution. It never occurred to her that her perspective was impossible. It seemed very natural that she should be hovering over him like this."

Now, crime novels featuring a cop as the main protagonist usually don't begin with tears; especially in a male cop. This is just one of the devices Lorrie Farrelly deftly employs to add unusual twists and shock value to her story. And it works.

Ex-LA cop Cam Starrett may imagine his new assignment and career in a small town will be refreshingly quiet, but from the start it proves anything but: violence, bigotry, and even romance plague his footsteps and lead him down roads he'd never imagined possible in his prior life.

Perhaps that's just what he needs to aid his recovery process and overcome his grief over events of the past - or perhaps it will prove too much of a challenge, sweeping him away in an avalanche of crime, puzzles, and emotional challenges that just don't quit.

Either way, readers will be quickly immersed in not just Cam's life and problem-solving challenges, but in his emotional recovery and reactions: and that, in a nutshell, lies at the heart of any good crime novel.

Descriptions are vivid and capture a sense of awe, challenge, and love with deft pen strokes. Readers will find something new happens in every chapter - and they're always events that challenge Cam's perceptions, pre-conceived notions, and abilities.

And be forewarned: there's a healthy dose of steamy passion that charges the crime focus with romance, making this of special recommendation to romance readers: "Cam knew he was out of control, but was beyond caring. In the last hour he'd gone from terrible, bleak despair to soaring joy. His body responded to the woman in his arms with an ardor so intense that he was overwhelmed, almost crazed."

As Cam becomes involved in his new community on levels he could never have imagined, his life changes with purpose and newfound emotion. Whether it's Merry contributing to the vivid and immediate connections between them (forged by a foal's birth) or whether it's confrontations with fire and death; a little colt, a lovely girl and a child are threads running through the story line that keep reappearing in his life.

Even in the depths of despair Cam will find new life in each of these experiences: "Making his way across the gym, Cam hoped the aching pain in his belly was hunger, but his mind kept replaying the last, terrible hours, and he knew the emptiness he felt was something far more deep and devastating than hunger. Defeat. Despair."

The result is a hard-hitting story that relies on emotional turbulence to grasp, shake, and involve readers. Life and death, anguish and rebirth, and old habits paired with new possibilities: these form the center of a cocky, crime-busting story in Dangerous, ultimately offering up a satisfying conclusion cementing the new life Cam longed for when he first moved to a new home.

The Guardian's Angel
Lorrie Farrelly
9781469953564, $12.99

Libby's forte is helping troubled children; not solving crimes: she leaves that up to different professionals. So when she's called upon to do both by Seattle Police Detective J.D. McCammon, who believes an autistic little boy has witnessed (and repressed) the murder of his parents, it's with extreme reluctance that she becomes involved in a journey that will ultimately change her own life.

You can't say you haven't been forewarned that this is more than your usual crime story: The Guardian's Angel holds that promise in its very title, reinforces it in its opening chapter, and keeps its promise through a series of vivid encounters that keep readers involved on an emotional level.

One would expect from all this that Libby was herself a strong woman (a social worker, perhaps), but in fact she's a broken woman who three years earlier survived a brutal attack, identified her attacker, and found her calling in helping others survive: "He struck fast, kept to the darkness, gave his victims no chance to escape. Elizabeth Driscoll was his third victim, but unlike the first two, assaulted after dark near the south end of the park, she'd been attacked in early morning drizzle while jogging along the deserted Arboretum road."

As a former victim discovers a newfound position of strength that can change other lives, so she becomes immersed in a world that also holds danger and threats to mind and body. This time she's working with small children and finds her own trauma and recovery lends a special, successful touch in handling their emotional turmoil: "Libby never lost her awe at these children's courage and resiliency. She understood the battles they fought simply to get through each day, and how such endless struggles could wear down even the strongest of adults, much less a vulnerable child. And though she'd never had to endure a physical disability, she certainly knew how badly the heart and spirit could be wounded."

But Libby is about to be challenged on a very different level when she becomes involved with young Tommy and a policeman determined to keep him safe. This quest for safety eventually leads J.D. and Libby on a dangerous flight to safety, and as time runs out for Tommy, they face impossible scenarios together that will lead them to new connections ... if they can all survive.

Brand this a romance thriller and add in a dose of intrigue and cat-and-mouse action and you have an unpredictable novel that's not easily categorized. Lorrie Farrelly's ability to capture the nuances of autism is realistic and involving, as is her ability to realistically represent the emotions and motivations of two very different protagonists watching over him. The autism angle is perhaps the single strongest device in The Guardian's Angel, setting it apart from other crime or thriller writings and elevating the plot to a whole new level.

Libby and J.D.'s romance is well-developed and builds up slowly, also contributing a realistic feel to the story. While this part is predictable, it's also a satisfying adjunct to the overlaying tension in the thriller.

The result is a story that will appeal to readers of crime stories, thrillers, and romance alike. Those who appreciate realistic psychological depth, especially, will find the character of little Tommy spot on in its representation.

My Guide: Overcome Insomnia
Rebecca Richmond
Richmond Pickering Ltd.
9780957237223, 17.00 Brit. pounds

There are plenty of books that address insomnia on the market already, but none hold the specific focus and discussions of My Guide: Overcome Insomnia, a clear dialogue on insomnia's origins and how to overcome it.

Sure, the science of sleep is the same and the advice on bedtime routines, diet and exercise can also be found elsewhere. And you're not looking at original research, either. What you are seeing is a talent for drawing disparate studies and approaches together under one cover, focusing on the 'secondary factors' that cause insomnia and providing a complete program addressing its underlying causes, symptoms, and how to combat sleeplessness on a nightly basis by changing lifestyle and emotional influences.

Chapters pair insights on techniques with supportive anecdotes that focus on holistic assessments of what influences different levels of sleep and how to create an environment that tips the balance towards sleep. These connections between emotional states of mind and sleep are essential to understanding the origins of insomnia, and include specific tips on busting worries and using meditation and visualization techniques to achieve optimum sleep routines.

From time management and flexibility to creating better self-esteem, My Guide: Overcome Insomnia includes considerations most books on the topic typically omit. It goes beyond theory to offer concrete routines readers can easily use to change belief systems and circumvent the habit of insomnia.

The fact that this approach embraces all stages of REM sleep patterns to works toward a unified sleep routine makes it even more effective: "...understanding the reasons for your insomnia and taking decisive positive action in order to rectify the situation makes perfect sense. In order to do so, you cannot simply sleep for fifteen hours on the weekend or sleep all day when you have a day off. So my techniques are designed to help you ensure that you can regularly get seven to eight hours of sleep that covers all the stages of non-REM sleep and REM (dreaming) sleep."

And it's very specific, step-by-step tips also set My Guide: Overcome Insomnia apart from competitors that offer theory and only a few approaches to actually curing insomnia. Here, it's all part of the 'bigger picture' which strives for overall better emotional health as a strategy for ultimately busting the habits and effects of insomnia.

Given this well-rounded and wider-ranging approach, it's a pleasure to highly recommend My Guide: Overcome Insomnia to any who suffer from regular insomnia and would consider a program to overcome it. To successfully consider this approach, one must be open to emotional change and techniques such as visualization and meditation. Those with such an interest will find My Guide: Overcome Insomnia embraces many techniques others bypass, and will find it a positive and authoritative guide.

Her Turning Point: Her Divine, Glorious, Happy Divorce!
Nelly Cotto
Her LifeZest Institute
9780996017503, Softcover - $15.99, EBook - $11.99

Her Turning Point: Her Divine, Glorious, Happy Divorce! provides a story that reads like a memoir: a device which involves readers in a realistic saga centered around one Puerto Rican immigrant Isabel Gomez, who winds up in the projects in Bridgeport, Connecticut with old-world values and new-world challenges that don't quite match.

So what does this have to do with divorce? Plenty, as readers will learn: for Isabel is well versed at hiding to protect herself, has literally divorced herself from life's slings and arrows, and yet experiences destructive patterns time and again that culminate in a dangerous marriage that forces her to literally choose between life and death: "I should be dead by now. I certainly had arrived at that particular doorstep. But then I got saved. Then I got saved again and again. Then divorce came. Then I woke up."

It might be better to point out that this novel is as much about Isabel's awakening process as it is about a bad marriage, though said marriage serves as the impetus for her transition. After thirteen years of endurance, Isabel has had enough; and when it boils down to life or death, she ultimately chooses life.

Now, one might anticipate a messy divorce scenario; but Her Turning Point doesn't take the easy way out with a predictable focus. Nor does it simplify the results of a hard decision (although initially Isabel imagines she'll write all about her divorce as a positive experience.)

It takes her therapist to point out that a lot led up to her 'glorious divorce', and that writing about this lead-up might be more honest than extolling the ease of her separation: "My life that I now refer to as "my divine, glorious, happy life" was once hell - the real deal with dragon-breath fire, scorching heat and agonizing torture. I was so deeply grounded in a happy divorced life that I had very cleverly blocked out my painful experience pre-divorce; and certainly pre-marriage. It seemed that as soon as I allowed myself to think about the hell, the memories immediately gushed out of hiding."

And so Isabel is prompted to embark on a re-creation of events that closely examines the shackles of her past, involving readers in a series of vignettes that begin pre-birth and layer on decades of hell leading up to the 'glorious life' she has today.

Be prepared to follow Isabel's journey into anguish and back again - and be prepared to recognize patterns in her choices and perceptions that repeat these bad scenarios over and over. Her story is narrated in the first person, which lends an immediacy and intimacy to her memories. Nelly Cotto's use of the first person memoir format is just brilliant, contributing realistic emotional experiences to the saga of her protagonist's evolution and growth in a way the third- person format could never achieve.

These patterns solidify when she marries: "In the years to come, he would say or do one thing one minute and then he'd make a complete about face on me the next, saying or doing the complete opposite. I would stand there dumbfounded, time and time again. And, oh dear lord, in those early days, I was so unseasoned about how much Harry relied on destruction to ensure chaos ruled his world. Still, I called him "Mr.-Too-Good-To-Be-True" to everyone I talked to."

It's all about how familiar patterns (even destructive ones) prove strange attractors between people who find themselves choosing negative reinforcements in life. Much like a jigsaw puzzle, these pieces may seem to fit smoothly together, but ultimately they mar the bigger picture.

As Isabel faces life-changing events that move her away from her self-destructive tendencies, she comes to understand Harry's role in her world and slowly learns to make the kinds of choices that celebrate life instead of stifling it: "That had been my sign that I was meant to live, and live big...really big after a horrific thirteen years. I still hadn't awakened to how I already was taking the first steps to healing the whole of my life, and that my thirteen-year marriage to Harry Fielding was only an extension and not the whole."

Readers are treated to a wide-ranging view of Isabel's life and choices, from racism and living a hidden life to blossoming to recognize what she wants from the world for herself and her family.

In a nutshell, this book is simply about Isabel's reinvention: " divine glorious happy divorce was really about the precise moment I woke up to the real me."

Lively, realistic, and involving, readers will come to feel Her Turning Point is more than just a survival story: it's about blossoming, personal growth, and getting the most out of life. As such, it's an inspirational and uplifting story recommended for any who want a sense of joy added to their reading.

In the Mirror
Kaira Rouda
Real You Publishing Group
9780984915163, $15.00,

Barnes & Noble:

What would you do if you knew your death date: would you live your life differently ... even if you already had the perfect life?

That is the crux of In the Mirror, a story revolving around Jennifer Benson, whose life is nearly perfect until she receives a diagnosis of deadly cancer and a prognosis that indicates she may be dying rather than living.

As she examines the relationships and choices that make up her world, Jennifer is forced to consider what she would do differently in the time remaining to her - and thus embarks on a journey of self-inspection that carries the reader along with her.

Surprisingly, the start of In the Mirror is not about life, but the end of life: for Jennifer now resides at Shady Valley, a place where "Mondays meant nothing at Shady Valley. We lived in the "pause" world, between "play" and "stop." Suspension was the toughest part for me. And loneliness. Sure, I had visitors, but it wasn't the same as being always surrounded by people in motion."

And yet even there Jennifer's finding a way to live, and plans on throwing a party for herself to recapture a sense of 'life's motion', now missing from her life. This party will celebrate her life while she's still there to enjoy it - and is something, at least, that she can still control. It also gives her something to hold on to that's part of the living; not her uncertain future in the world: "It seemed perfectly reasonable, because while I knew I should be living in the moment, the future seemed a little hazy without a party to focus on."

Through a series of flashbacks readers receive insights on how Jennifer's led her life before and after the cancer diagnosis and the factors that keep her alive and hopeful, which largely center around her family: "I needed to be in the future. I needed to hold out a few more years. I'd call my doctor, see if anything new had come around. If I could last five years, that would be like fifty years to Hank and Hannah. Kid time moved so slowly."

Eventually what seems like a doomsday diagnosis and a life experiencing its last stages turns around. In due course readers are treated to a newly-reborn Jennifer who discovers different a focus beyond her formerly-perfect, pre-cancer world. And, ultimately, readers enjoy a saga that celebrates life over terminal illness: "For the first time in months - fifteen months to be exact, from the time of my diagnosis - I felt lucky. No matter what. The last two years had been lost in a sea of morning sickness, labor, delivery, surgery, radiation, chemo, and lately, experimental immunotherapies and gene therapy. I was alive and in love. Most important, I had been given a second chance."

The factors that keep us human - and hopeful - against all odds are slowly revealed in an emotionally charged story fueled by first-person experience.

Without spilling beans, suffice it to say the end is unpredictable, satisfying, and provides no pat answers. It's purposely a bit ambiguous so that readers can fill in their own definitions of 'what ultimately happens'. So if you're looking for an emotional read filled with life and purpose, struggles against poor odds, and revelations surrounding definitions of love and family, then In the Mirror is for you.

Rocket Ship
Grey Line Press
9780983002833, $10.00 Paperback; $5.00 eBook

Young adult readers who enjoy stories of fantasy centered upon magic will find Rocket Ship holds all the elements of an exceptional read, but be forewarned: it opens slowly, with a beautiful star-lit night in Miami and best friends who discuss possibilities of dreams and reality, and it isn't your traditional fantasy story of aliens and spaceships.

Gary was born into wealth and lives in the richest house on the street; but he is also best friends with Lincoln, who lives next door. There's magic in the skies for those who would believe, and one of the things cementing Gary and Lincoln's friendship is a belief in fantastic possibilities, which brings with it joy and the ability to see wonders in everyday life.

The problem is, faith is beginning to wane - and with it, the magic. For each of their families is losing life and color: one to alcoholism, the other to parental conflict. And both believe that they can have a better life elsewhere - and that a rocket ship is the key to reaching something unimaginable.

As the boys become engrossed in planning their escape, so they come to involve others in their dream: "We're not running away....we're just...going somewhere better. You need to know that, you have to understand that it's what you really need for yourself. In order for all of us to make it, you need to believe that leaving is the only way things will get better."

What begins as two best friends planning a getaway evolves into a group of children who each have their own reasons for believing that something better lies beyond their lives. And as the school days go by and close encounters evolve, the dream of a rocket ship and escape comes to embrace more than a few with the equal promise of freedom and the desperate acknowledgement of possible failure: "...the kids look forward in such grave disappointment, accepting that it was never going to happen, deciding that it was all a big lie, that the life they've known is all they have in store, and that they are just stupid little kids who believed in a stupid little dream, still believing that the stars in the sky stupidly hear and can and will deliver their wishes."

Surreal chapters that are the trademark of Rocket Ship's atmosphere cover the kids' expanding hopes and diminished beliefs and provide gentle insights into a world where dreams may become reality and reality is (possibly) a dream of the past: "There is darkness, and there is being in the dark. One is without hope; the other just needs the light turned on."

In the end two friends are changed by their experience: one achieving his dream for the stars, the other discovering a different meaning in his life, his friendships, and his connections with the world.

Rocket Ship is surreal adventure at its best. It's about magic (and the absence thereof), dreams, hope, striving, and finally, about the changes good friends go through in the effort to reach a seemingly-impossible goal. It's also about how that effort changes an entire circle of people, and about the forces that drag lives down.

Any reader looking for a blend of fantasy and magic with everyday reality, held together by the bonds of close friends and a widening circle of others, will find Rocket Ship filled with promise and light despair.

It's often not a straightforward, liner journey when one dares to reach for the stars or realize dreams: Rocket Ship captures all these facets and more in a saga recommended not for hard science fiction and fantasy fans (despite its title), but for those who like elements of each blended into a gentle story of love and leaving.

Teller of Lies
Alex Siegel
Amazon Digital Services

Teller of Lies is the thirteenth book in the 'Gray Spear Society' series: and once again the Society's enemies are trying to wreck havoc on the world; this time by targeting and killing a special little girl.

Led by Teller of Lies (a man whose power involves making people believe any lie he tells), the opposing team has one big advantage over Marina's Society: they have a better idea of what they're seeking, whereas Marina's people have only vague descriptions and a city of millions (San Francisco) as their starting point. The enemy also holds the advantage of being able to perpetrate a lie that will involve unwitting strangers into their quest - whereas Marina and her team must operate using their own resources without coercing the population at large.

As in other books in Alex Siegel's series, the potential victim under question holds a unique ability that can give either side a huge advantage. The problem here is that her death also promises rewards and complications. And to top it off - she's the only one able to see through the Teller of Lies, surpassing the abilities of even the Society itself; one of whom falls victim to the teller's wiles.

And all this is just the beginning, with the Society facing disaster just as Marina is setting up her new cell and testing her own abilities as its leader.

Prior familiarity with at least some of the books in Alex Siegel's Gray Spear series is strongly recommended. With such a background, readers are immediately immersed the latest adventure rather than struggling to absorb the Gray Spear Society's makeup, purpose, and structure. While some of this is provided in Teller of Lies, the purpose here is to add to the series of adventures, not reinvent the history wheel.

Thus old fans will find many familiar characters return to the fold to actively participate in an increasingly impossible search and will especially appreciate the strong focus on new leader Marina and her moves in what evolves to be another dangerous cat-and-mouse scavenger hunt through the streets of San Francisco.

If you're looking for intrigue, supernatural encounters, a Society fired with bigger-picture purpose, and leaders just coming into their powers, then Teller of Lies is the item of choice.

Now, a caution: multi-novel productions in a series too often begin sounding 'the same', causing ennui and eventual disinterest in readers tired of boiler-plate productions. NOT so with Teller of Lies: while its San Francisco setting is present in other adventures, its plot once again succeeds in weaving very different protagonists, encounters, and purposes into an overall thriller format that excels in keeping readers involved - and guessing.

There's passion, confrontation, and unexpected interactions between protagonists that keeps the plot emotionally charged and satisfyingly unpredictable: "You don't know about love. It's the most important thing. It holds the universe together. Without love, we are nothing but dust. If Yang and Jia are meant for each other, you should be happy for them instead of trying to scare them. Just because your heart is frozen solid doesn't mean everybody else should suffer."

It's these emotional connections and involvements that fire the diverse plots and adventures of the Society and keep newcomers and old fans alike coming back for more!

Oh, and just so you know: the ending, once again, opens a new door for another exciting adventure; this one revolving around an atomic bomb and a well-kept secret.

Parentheses: A Memoir of My Life Before, During and After My Death
Fredrick Swan
Stewart and Hobbs Publishing House LLC
9780990028000 $17.95

Parentheses is a true story and revolves around the life, death, and rebirth of a man who wanted a "differing view" of his life - and received it when he 'died' from cardiac arrest and was resuscitated only to face a new life with new physical disabilities and possible brain damage. Don't expect a singular focus on this new life, however: in order to make its point, Parentheses had to delve into the author's entire life - not just that after his cardiac arrest. As such, it presents a memoir embracing a troubled childhood, Frederick Swan's journey as an adult to meet a birth parent, his life as a father, and the single physical event that changed everything.

All this opens with Swan's daily realization that his predictable path in life has changed: "It is just in this moment of waking, when no memories or thoughts have yet broken the surface, that I am unaware of several things. I am, upon opening my eyes, unaware that I am partially blind, unaware that there are people missing from my life, and unaware that in order to determine what has happened during the past week, I will need - as I get out of bed - to count backward or to refer to notes written upon a calendar. Of the various cognitive skills I took for granted in my life, my ability to feel and understand the passage of time was, until approximately a year and a half ago, a skill of which I was unaware. On January 12, 2010, many things about my life and my perceptions were changed when, during a routine angioplasty, I died from a cardiac arrest..."

I don't know about you, but from the beginning this is an effective attention-grabbing device that leads readers to want to fill in the blanks of "who, what, where, when and how". 'Who', of course, is the author, who narrates his own saga; and the 'what' grows to embrace not only his death but his rebirth.

Other elements are covered in chapters that reveal significant events in the author's life, from encounters with mad cow disease to his plea to a nursing home parent who has stopped eating: "She was sixty-three at the time. I was forty-five. My mother was frail, needlessly underweight. I looked into her fading face for quite a long time before speaking. When I did, I took in a breath and I let out a need. I asked her if, after all of these years, we could trade places, if we could have a relationship that was not based upon what she needed from me or what she was worried about or what made her afraid. I asked her if we could be a parent and a child and if she could make the decision to eat and go on living or not eat and go on dying, without it being my responsibility."

As Fredrick Swan finds different ways to relate to his world, he moves back and forth in time between past and present and brings readers along on a journey that embraces key moments and memories: "I remember the perfect circle of Sparkie's collar remaining in the clutch of my fingers, the feeling of the water against the back of my legs, the sight of it dripping off the end of the tag, the hardness of stones against the skin on my knees. I remember kneeling and watching him drip and flow away from my fingers to beneath the surface of the creek and remembering how dogs are happier in the country than when they are cooped up in the city. I remember bending forward and putting my head on the dampness of the log and thinking about the long journey I had made with my parents. I remember the wet emptiness of the collar that was left in my hands."

Medical records intersperse with events throughout his account, acts of faith are recounted, recovery processes detailed, and all these (along with memories of the past) are tied to a journey the author is still undergoing.

Now, if you're expecting a fluid read that moves in logical progression from beginning to end, don't look here. Swan's saga constantly moves from past to present to reinforce key events from throughout his life: as such, it's rich in impression, emotion, and reflection - and not a linear production.

Central to all is one of his invitations to readers: "Can you name a moment that you have experienced that made you change the way you look at the world?"

In pursuit of such experiences, Parentheses succeeds in capturing their complexity: "Time expands as a result of anxiety. Your perceptions open up, you fixate on moments. You remember details, and these are condensed into an imaginary reef that you circle in slow motion."

In a nutshell, these key, life-changing moments are what Parentheses is all about and the promise of involvement, revelation, insight, and ultimate change is more than met in chapters filled with reflections on life, death, and everything that lies in between.

Dumb Things We Say to Dogs
Diane Stresing
9781495249563 $7.68

Dumb Things We Say to Dogs: Essays and Other Stuff I Can't Keep to Myself comes from a soccer mother in Ohio who regularly speaks to her dog, and offers a fun essay collection that will appeal to any who appreciate wry observation pieces of life's ironies.

To make this mix of humor and reflection work, Stresing uses the essay format to its best advantage; but lest this format become repetitive or dull, she throws in some poetry and even some recipes. And lest you think this all comes from an ordinary housewife with little education, take another look: Stresing was a National Merit scholar and her literary prowess is more than evident even if her topic is light-hearted.

Some of the best things in life arrive on the lighter side, and so it is with Dumb Things, with its joie de vivre observations - as in 'Customer Service 101', which uses National Customer Service Week to reflect on her years as an industry manager based on training at 'Nag U', a "...small institute of learning where all the professors are simply and (usually) lovingly referred to as Mom and Dad."

There's the unexpected ("I saw Santa on a jet ski."), there's the reflection on the roles of canines in life ("While my dog has introduced me to many neighbors, who have become friends, there's still something we cannot do. We cannot call each other by name."), and there's the wider-ranging philosophical observation ("We don't hold the land; the land holds us."), and more - all couched, like a good dessert, in little bits and pieces that blend vignettes with delicious insight.

This approach succeeds in drawing in busy readers with writing that captures attention, delivers its message with a dose of humor blended with philosophy, then exits stage left (as a good, successful actor should), leaving its audience feeling satisfied and fulfilled.

Any who seek short essays (...and some poetry, and some recipes) on varied subjects (from marriage and business to dogs) spiced with color, fun, and reflection will find these vignettes simply delightful.

Breakfast with the Dirt Cult
Samuel Finlay
The Red Dirt Syndicate
9780615622996 $2.99

Cover illustrations typically aren't a compelling reason for reading further, but this one just must be mentioned: it features two men in army gear; one pointing a rifle at the other, the other sticking his finger defiantly in the muzzle.

Seeking the source of this image in the first chapter, one immediately finds an incongruity in its heading 'Joe Takes a Holiday' - and with that the snare is set, capturing readers with a saga revolving around one Thomas Walton, called to service in Afghanistan as an infantry soldier and determined to make it home alive.

Breakfast with the Dirt Cult is a gritty, you-are-there account of Tom's life and is loosely based on the author's own experiences 'in country' nearly a decade ago. As such, the story has a realistic feel that many a story of wartime experience simply doesn't capture, from its opening in Montreal (where Tom is on military leave from training before deployment) to his relationship with the saucy Amy (who becomes his pen pal after he leaves.)

From basic training to the front lines of Afghanistan, Breakfast with the Dirt Cult simply shines when it describes military experience; especially when foreign policy snafus are revealed. Encounters between military men range from humorous to dead serious; especially between the brass and those under them: ""How is it that your job warrants levity?"

"It just does. I try to find the levity in the situation, First Sergeant. These guys are under a lot of stress, and when we ain't training I try to keep things light." "You're a team leader not a stand-up comedian! You know, Corporal, I like you as a person, but I think you're a horrible combat leader and I don't want your Joes to turn out like you. Corporal, do you take anything in the military serious at all?"

Walton's efforts to survive his stint with dignity, meaning, and personal best are often not part of the 'party line' and he finds himself both admired by colleagues and dressed-down by those above him; but he persists in using every vehicle at his disposal to survive not just physically, but mentally - and this is one of the many strong points of Breakfast with the Dirt Cult: that close attention to how participants survive challenging environments under military combat situations.

Now, let's be clear: Tom Walton enlists; he isn't conscripted into service. And let's also be clear: his motivations for doing so and his anticipations are different from what evolves to become his experience, which tests his mettle beyond anything he could have imagined.

How does one not merely survive, but thrive, under military service? And how does the daily specter of combat, death or worse become offset by changes in attitude?

Don't expect any sugar-coating here: there's a lot of profanity, a lot of back-and-forth between protagonists that could sometimes become confusing, and a lot of unexpected fun (yes, fun!) woven into the process: "Walton passed a team from Bravo Company as they left the perimeter and when he heard the song they sang and clapped to, he laughed loudly and made it his mantra for the march. Allah, Allah, you're so fine, You're so fine you blow my mind, Hey, Allah! Hey Allah!"

Is Breakfast with the Dirt Cult an easy read? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Is it involving? Always. Is it linear and clear? Not always.

What it boils down to is a feisty read that peppers its story with unexpected profanity and humor and, in the end, centers on the nuts and bolts of life itself: confrontation and survival methods: "Walton had suddenly seen the faces of all the smiling children who had waved at him while on patrol and had made him proud to be a soldier and a human being trying to protect their lives and what innocence growing up in a war zone hadn't already stolen from them. In that moment, he'd known that somewhere out there, one of them had just lost her world."

Any reader seeking a multifaceted 'war story' of a soldier's struggle to 'live another day' despite it all will find Breakfast with the Dirt Cult ultimately (and at once) challenging and satisfying.

Diane Donovan
Senior Reviewer

Klausner's Bookshelf

Four Friends
Robyn Carr
Mira Books
c/o Harlequin
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, ON, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780778316817, $14.95,

Marin County Child Protective Services case worker supervisor Gerri Gilbert learns her husband Assistant District Attorney Phil had an affair. Upset by his betrayal, she wonders what to do about him and their so-called perfect marriage, and if she acts like her gut wants her to the impact on their son Mathew.

Andy Jamison files for her second divorce this time from her immature second husband Bryce over several issues but mostly his treatment of her teenage son Noel (from her first marriage). She and marital-separated Bob the carpenter working at her home become lovers.

New Age fanatic Sonja Johanson seeks balance for herself and her family and friends. However, her husband George the financial planner has had enough with her incessant endless shtick so he walks out on her and her mumble jumble lunacy.

B.J. moves into the Mill Valley neighborhood where best friends Gerri, Andy and Sonja reside. The trio makes overtures to befriend the newcomer, but B.J. prefers to jog solo as she still runs from her nightmare. Yet her arrival proves a catalyst leading to changes in the lives of the three buddies and her.

This is a profound neighborhood drama as the incredibly fully developed Four Friends come across in public as having their respective acts together; but in private each falls apart to varying degrees under the weight of diverse tsuris. The support cast (male lovers and exes, and teenage children) enhance the deep look into the lead quartet as each of the protagonists deals not always successfully with major social issues directly confronting themselves or indirectly their loved ones (including their BFFs).

Safe Keeping
Barbara Taylor Sissel
9780778316169, $14.95

The murdered corpse of Miranda Quick shakes up the residents of the small town. Many suspect her high school sweetheart, thirty-four years old loser Tucker Lebay killed her. While his mother Emily defends him, his Vietnam War veteran father Roy, who suffers from PTSD, wants to cut all ties with his son. The local police question Tucker, but soon release him.

Not long after the Miranda murder, the dead body of Jessica Sweet is found near the same location as the previous homicide. The police believe Tucker killed both females. A desperate Emily believes in the innocence of her adult child so, with help from her married daughter Lissa, she seeks to prove her Tucker killed no one. Meanwhile, Roy demands they kick Tucker out of their lives.

Safe Keeping is an intriguing family suspense in which relationships going back three decades impact the present as the child becomes the adult. The murder mystery storyline goes as expected to include a late twist. On the other hand, the effect of Tucker named by cops as a person of interest on his parents, sister and brother-in-law, and the high degree of misinformation that ironically remains accepted as Gospel even after being debunked as false make for an engaging thriller.

Come Home To Me
Brenda Novak
9780778315919, $7.99

Two years ago, just after her mom died, pregnant Presley Christensen fled Whiskey Creek leaving behind her true love Aaron Amos. She went for drug rehab and to have an abortion in Arizona (see When Summer Comes). However, instead of ending the life growing inside her, Presley decided to raise her baby Wyatt. Expecting Aaron to leave town to manage a new family auto body repair franchise and encouraged by her married sister Cheyenne and her brother-in-law (Aaron's sibling) Dylan (see When Snow Falls), Presley, accompanied by her child, comes home to open up a yoga studio.

Aaron has come a long way from when he used drugs while having a heated affair with Presley. He still wants her, but fears he will revert back to being an addict again. However, when he sees the child with her, a fuming Aaron wants to know who the dad is. Meanwhile Cheyenne offers her sister a plan re Wyatt.

This Whiskey Creek second chance at love romance is an enjoyable contemporary though the premise is not new and some behavior unethical. The lead couple is a delightful pairing of two recovering addicts still in love with each fearing a return engagement could lead them back to using while cherished Wyatt adds a fascinating dilemma. The series' audience will appreciate Come Home To Me that closes an intriguing relationship thread.

City Of Jasmine
Deanna Raybourne
9780778316213, $14.95

Aviatrix Evie Starke receives a photo of her husband Gabriel; on the back is written Damascus 1920. Though believing it to be a cruel hoax, Evie needs to know for sure why a photograph of her spouse claims to have been taken five years after he died on the German sinking of the USS Lusitania.

Clues lead Evie to Constantinople. Not long afterward, Gabriel arrives at her hotel room. Barely restraining herself from shooting him, Gabriel explains to his irate wife that he searches for an artifact. He persuades her to join him on an adventure into the desert where they find and lose the artifact, but Evie resolutely vows to recapture it at the same time remind her wandering mate what he loses once this adventure ends.

This is an entertaining action-packed historical thriller in which the romantic subplot plays a minor role to the deep look at 1920 Middle East. Fast-paced with an intriguing cast led by the intrepid sarcastic heroine and supported by the beguiling Aunt Dove (in early chapters), Gabriel, Bedouins and others; fans will appreciate this exhilarating post WW1 escapades in the desert.

House of Glass
Sophie Littlefield
9780778314783, $14.95

In Minnesota, Jen Glass believed she was Cinderella when she married Ted; as she escaped poverty and her recently deceased abusive father. However, her idyllic life proves far from perfect especially since Ted lost his good-paying finance position but continues his affair; while their teenage daughter Livvy treats her with scorn and their four year old son Teddy for the most part never speaks.

Two armed men (Dan and Ryan) invade the Glass suburban home. They lock the family of four in the basement. Jen prays they just rob and leave them unharmed, but also she wonders how these thugs know so much about her and her family, and why they assaulted her perfect home. However her prayers are unanswered when the Glass quartet become hostages; so like any mama protecting her cubs, Jen vows to keep her kids safe.

House of Glass is a thrilling suspenseful family drama with a solid character core engaging the audience even as we know what is coming next. Fast-paced from the moment the house invasion begins, readers will believe they are locked in the basement with the frightened Glass family.

Evening Stars
Susan Mallery
9780778316138, $14.95

On Blackberry Island in Puget Sound, aware of how guileless her mom Bonnie is and how impulsive her sister Averil is, Nina the nurse accepts her role as the responsible adult in the Wentworth family. She assumes she will never marry and have a family of her own as caring for Bonnie (and occasionally married Averil) is a full time emotional occupation. Still she dreams of having a life, which also makes her feel guiltily cruel; as Nina knows that means abandoning her beloved constant screw-up relatives when her mom can't even get the roof fixed when it leaks and her sister can't accept she is married to a wonderful man Kevin by taking marital time outs to come home.

To her surprise, two men Kyle and Dylan compete for Nina's affection as both males make it clear they want her. She likes both of them, but continues to put family responsibility ahead of her personal needs and desires.

The third Blackberry Island contemporary (see Three Sisters and Barefoot Season) is an enjoyable character-driven tale starring a family with crippling codependency as Nina is an enabler allowing her mom and sis to rely on her. Although readers will be frustrated with the behavior of the Wentworth females, Susan Mallery provides a profound portrayal of abnormal caretaking relationships with the romantic subplots enhancing the psychological drama.

The Cottage On Juniper Ridge
Sheila Roberts
9780778314547, $7.99

In Seattle, Jen Heath feels overwhelmed with no time for herself between her job as office slave at Emerald City Promotions and selling Soft Glow Candles to pay her credit card debt, car payments and mortgage. When she reads Muriel Sterling's Simplicity, Jen decides to heed the self-help book advice by simplifying her life.

Jen leaves Seattle and moves to Sterling's hometown Icicle Falls. The newcomer quickly makes friends especially after joining the book club and finally to her amazement finds time for her family. She becomes a role model to the other Icicles and her wired sister Toni seeking to simplify their existence in order to enjoy life with loved ones a little more.

The fourth Life in Icicle Falls contemporary (see Better Than Chocolate, What She Wants and Merry Ex-Mas) is a warm character study with the profound message of the not so simple ridding oneself of clutter in order to appreciate life; as there are no do-overs. The cast is solid but it is at the end of her rope Jen diving head first into the snow to accept "Life moves pretty fast; If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it" (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) who makes for a fun tale.

Come A Little Bit Closer
Bella Andre
9780778316084, $7.99

Internationally renowned actor and box office top gun Smith Sullivan feels a need to expand his artistic horizons. He wrote the screenplay to the movie that he directs as well as starring as the leading man and selects Tatiana Landon as his co-star.

Everything is going perfect except for Tatiana's overly protective business manager, her older sister Valentina. For the past decade Valentina has kept the Hollywood rat packs away from Tatiana as a reaction to their mother's serial dating of performers. She stands vigil as she distrusts Smith though she knows this role will turn her sibling into a superstar. The A-list actor and the necker checking chaperone are attracted to each other, but Valentina distrusts Hollywood while Smith being anchored by his family and his love for his vocation wants much more than a film fling.

The eighth Sullivan family drama is an entertaining Hollywood romance due to the engaging changing relationship between the lead couple. The secondary connections by him to her sister and her to his sister enhance the tender storyline; as once again Bella Andre provides a winner while keeping each Sullivan's personality consistent with previous entries (see From This Moment On, Let Me Be The One and Kissing Under The Mistletoe).

When Shadows Fall
J.T. Ellison
9780778316046, $24.95

Needing to leave the perilous law enforcement field work behind, Samantha Owens accepts a position to chair and teach at Georgetown University Medical School's Forensic Pathology Department. However, she becomes intrigued by a letter addressed to her from Timothy Savage; in which he pleads with her to investigate his homicide.

Initially planning to ignore the death bed request, Sam learns that someone also murdered Savage's lawyer and that the Lynchburg, Virginia police ruled Savage's recent death as a suicide. An autopsy affirms the deceased's assertion that he was killed. With her boyfriend retired Army Ranger Xander Whitfield, and DC PD homicide detective Darren Fletcher helping her, Sam makes inquiries into Savage's life. Their investigation leads her to the FBI as Savage was an undercover agent infiltrating a dangerous cult to rescue a child and the conclusion that more deaths will follow.

With a nod to the movie DOA, the third Samantha Owens investigation (see A Deeper Darkness and Edge of Black) is a superb complicated whodunit due to the myriad of nasty people with various motives that range from the bad to the ugly. Readers will appreciate J.T. Ellison's latest greatest thriller.

The Chance
Robyn Carr
9780778315995, $7.99

Following a near fatal undercover assignment inside an Oregonian cult for over six months, FBI agent Laine Carrington tried to stay in her family's Boston home for her wounded shoulder and mind to heal. However, her disapproving always critical father makes recuperation impossible so she flees him and the East Coast for Thunder Point, Oregon.

Trying to start over following serving time in prison, Eric Gentry recently opened up an auto body shop in Thunder Point after learning he has a daughter he never knew about living there. When Laine and Eric meet for the first time, both feels the strong attraction even as each remains wary of relationships. As they fall in love, her father arrives in Thunder Point with desperate stunning news that shakes Laine's equilibrium as much as taking that bullet in one of her wings almost left her bleeding to death.

The fourth Thunder Point leisurely-paced relationship drama (see The Hero, The Newcomer and The Wanderer) is an engaging character study. The warm romance between the on leave agent and the ex-convict supports the underlying premise of second chances as part of family and community obligations but when to draw the line to care for oneself remains complicated.

By The Grace Of Todd
Louise Galveston
c/o Penguin Group (USA)
375 Hudson Street, 4th floor, NY, NY 10014
9781595146779, $16.99,

The victim of bullies, BFFs Todd and Duddy pray they live through their sentencing as sixth graders at Wakefield Middle School. While cleaning up his environmentally hazardous room with help from his home schooled neighbor Lucy, Todd finds a colony of pint-sized humanoids thriving on one of his smelliest socks. Lucy the scientist congratulates Todd for creating life through the cosmic cesspool of the most fundamental building blockgrossness.

At school, Todd's prime tormenter Max learns of the existence of the "Toddlians" and decides to use them in a science project that would most likely leave the new species extinct. The Toddlians trust that their creator "the Great Todd" will keep them safe from mad Max, but their adulation may not be enough for him to say no to the bully.

With a nod to The Borrowers (by Mary Norton and illustrated by Joe & Beth Krush), By The Grace Of Todd is a wonderful satirical middle school tale. Rotating between Todd and Toddlian Lewis, the character-driven story line focuses on the tweener victim of bullying who knows he must stand up to his tormenter to keep the little people who believe in him safe. Although the two subplots don't blend smoothly together, tweener fans will appreciate the journey.

You Should Have Known
Jean Hanff Korelitz
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, 16th Floor, New York, NY 10017
9781455599493, $26.00,

In New York, psychologist Grace Reinhart Sachs loves her life as she enjoys her working with her patients, and adores her pediatric physician husband Jonathan and their son Henry. Wanting nothing to change, Grace still lives in the same apartment she resided in as a child and sends Henry to her elementary school alma mater.

Based on her therapy sessions with female patients in denial until slapped in the face with the truth, Grace takes a chance on a new project by writing You Should Have Known; a self-help book encouraging women to treat selecting a life partner with a lot more analysis than picking candy bars. Ironically when Grace met Jonathan, she knew at first sight he was her soul mate without any further thought. However, just before the release of her book, Jonathan vanishes as Grace's perfect life implodes with a deadly scandal in which her paragon mate is at the center.

You Should Have Known is an intriguing character study that looks deeply into a seemingly perfect family before, during and after "... the statue on the pedestal comes crumbling to the ground" (Blessed Is The Rain by Tony Romeo and Brooklyn Bridge). The insightful storyline focuses on the Admissions to herself by the successful therapist and wife-mother that she should have known while coping with the shattering of her loving idealistic facade.

The Fall Of Atlantis
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Baen Books
PO Box 1188, Wake Forest NC 27588
9781476736297, $15.00,

Daughter of a priest, Domaris raised her younger sister Deoris in the Temple since she was eight years old following the death of their mother in childbirth. Her life as a surrogate mom to her sibling is tedious until Micon of Atlantis arrives; he seeks help from the Temple. He claims that recently the Black Robes tortured him. He also insists that when he saw one of their faces; he became blind. Though he can identify this dark practitioner, Micon refuses to do so frustrating a demanding Revieda, head of the Grey Robes.

Domaris and Micon fall in love while Deoris used to her older sister caring for her feels abandoned by the only woman she considered as her mother. Lonely, she turns to Reveida for comfort. Domaris gives birth to his child but Micon dies soon afterward. Grieving Domaris distrusts Reveida and fears for Deoris.

This reprint of a fantasy duology prequel (See Web of Darkness and Web of Light) is an engaging simplistic good and evil magical conflict. The storyline is fast-paced, but feels incomplete as the key characters never seem fully developed. Still these early 1980s novels are fun to read especially for fans of the late great Ms. Bradley.

Liberty 1784: The Second War for Independence
Robert Conroy
9781476736273, $25.00

In 1781, the French fail to prevent the British navy from reaching General Cornwallis at Yorktown; leading to the crushing of the colonial rebellion and capture of its leader George Washington and other notable traitors. Washington is found guilty of seditious acts and in 1783 is executed at the Tower of London while many of the rebellion's leaders incarcerated in Jamaica or in brigs are left to die.

One year after the beheading of Washington, rebel spy Will Drake escapes his death sentence on a ship. He travels to Fort Washington to join freedom fighters emerging there. Sarah Benton treks to Fort Washington to avoid the sexual blackmail attempts by the local law official as does Royal Marines deserter Owen Wells where each enlist in the rebel cause.

Governor General Cornwallis orders General Burgoyne to end this revolt using any means necessary. Still fuming with humiliation as the biggest British loser during the recent hostilities, Burgoyne plans to harshly defeat the rebels at a time the French monarchy is in peril from radicals.

This is a super alternative historical in which the pivotal point change occurs at Yorktown. Most of the events that flow from that key event seem genuine as Robert Conroy defends his time line modifications with strong arguments interwoven into the exciting storyline. The prime players appear real though the rebels are too paragons of virtue; while on the British side Burgoyne seeks to regain his fractured pride; Tarleton a vicious psychopath, Arnold an opportunist traitor; and the Iroquois trust neither side but ally with the lesser of two evils. Readers will appreciate this entertaining entry as Mr. Conroy moves back in time from the twentieth century with another winner.

Hope Rearmed
David Drake and S.M. Stirling
9781476736303, $14.00

"The Anvil." Civil Government Governor Barholm Clerett fears popular General Raj "Savior of the State" Whitehall will overthrow him in a coup. At a council meeting to discuss invading the Brigade lost territories, Chancellor Robert Tsetzas wants to delay military action due to costs accrued by the previous action. Thus when Raj asks for forty thousand troops, he receives eighteen thousand. Accompanied by his wife Suzette who runs the civilian side of the invasion, Raj leads his troops to Stern Isle where he expects little resistance until the assault on Wager Bay, a powerful impenetrable fort.

"The Steel." Whitehall's troops take back Crown Peninsula and Lion City, but he knows they face overwhelming odds as the Brigade army outnumbers his forces by 5 to 1. Still they march forward destroying Brigade defenses and freeing towns on the road to Old Residence. The Brigade forces led by Ingreid Manfrond, with Howyrd Carstens providing the brains behind the counter operation, also head towards Old Residence. As the battle begins, a betrayal leaves Whitehall and his army in peril.

Hope Rearmed is an exciting reprinting of books 3 and 4 in the thrilling General science fiction saga (see Hope Reborn for the opening tales The Forge and The Hammer). The terrific blending of nineteenth and twentieth century technology within a feral Holy Roman Empire feudal society on a divided world makes for a strong background. However, it is the grim dark realism of war (in spite of comic book heroics by Raj) and the worship of the silent Computer who abandoned the people but left behind the bible (manuals) that make for a fabulous read.

Shadow of Freedom
David Weber
9781476736280, $15.00

The Manticore's fleet defeated the invincible armada of the Solarian League that had encroached into the Star Empire's sector with plans with plans to seize the strategic wormholes. However, Tenth Fleet Commander Michelle Henke knows she and the rest of the military have no time to bash in the glory of a stunning victory, The Solarian Office of Frontier Security continues to cause havoc in the Talbott Quadrant especially along the frontier. While all types of warfare continue unabated, the threat to destroy Manticore and its allies remains stratospheric; as does the hostility with the Mesan Alignment. Manticore turns to former enemy People's Republic of Haven as hopefully an ally.

At the same time, the Mobius Liberation Front informs Manticore that they have begun the liberation rebellion to overthrow the brutal reign of President Lombroso, but need the help from the Star Empire as previously negotiated and promised. No one in Manticore authority ever heard of the MLF so the assumption is the diabolical clever Mesan Alignment is using subterfuge to destroy the bonds between the Star Empire and the smaller under fire independents at a time the fleet cannot divert resources away from the fight against the Solarian League.

This is an engaging Honorverse science fiction thriller with a Cecil B Demille cast distracting from the exciting outer space naval encounters and fascinating political machinations; Henke (not Harrington) loosely is the nearest individual to being the prime player. The storyline also provides a different perspective from events told in A Rising Thunder and Mission of Honor so that the audience knows several key outcomes. Still Shadow Of Freedom is well written and shows the logistical problems of fighting a multi-front war.

DealAbout Face
Adam Gittlin
Oceanview Publishing
595 Bay Isles Road, 120-G, Longboat Key, FL 34228
9781608091072, $26.95,

New York City commercial realtor Jonah Gray escaped murder attempts led by his psychopathic half-brother and a corrupt NYPD cop who he killed but not before his father was murdered. The police searched for the cop killer who underwent facial reconstructive surgery before fleeing to Amsterdam (See The Deal). In the Netherlands, the American fugitive obtained a realtor position at de Bont Beleggings.

After almost a decade in exile, Gray returns to the Big Apple ostensibly to wrap up a major business, but also has a hidden agenda. He plans to enact revenge on those who destroyed his perfect life; coldly killed his dad; and search for his beloved Perry York and her son Max who he left behind for their safety when he fled the States.

Although the overall interesting storyline starts slow for those who read The Deal as too much time is spent on a rehash and the plot climaxes with setting up a third tale, fans will enjoy the return of the fascinating Gray. His mission is clear in his mind as an avenging angel on a vendetta mission making About Face a very dark thriller.

Carol Cassella
Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781451627930, $25.99,

The local doctor performed emergency surgery on the victim of a rural Washington State road hit and run. However while still in the ER undergoing life-saving techniques, Jane Doe lapsed into a coma. The patient is airlifted to Seattle ICU where Dr. Charlotte Reese takes charge of saving the life of the still unidentified victim while fearing the woman suffered irreversible brain damage.

Single mom of Jake who has an undiagnosed congenital neurological condition, Raney thinks back to her teen years in Quentin where she met Bo when his parents exiled him to his aunt while they divorced. At the same time Charlotte's boyfriend Eric obtains a contract to write a series of science books. Meanwhile Charlotte searches for who Jane is and what happened to her that led to her residing in an unconscious state in a Seattle ICU.

Most readers will connect the three seemingly separate subplots rather quickly before Carol Cassella actually does for us in the author's exciting third medical thriller (see Oxygen and Healer). The profound storyline pulls no punches as the protagonist condemns society for the impact of poverty and the lack of education on health care decisions especially when these choices (or lack of) effect vulnerable dependents. Although Charlotte's non-medical and non-Doe inquiry asides feel distractingly unnecessary, readers (except for politicians refusing to expand Medicaid) will appreciate this exhilarating drama.

Frederick Dillen
Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781476716923, $25.00,

In New York City, Carol "The Beast" MacLean dreams of running her own company. One of her bosses at Baxter Blume promises her that this will be the last time she works as an undertaker telling people they are unemployed as their company is liquefied for its assets. Instead he promises to help her become a CEO, but conceals the truth she will be fired after she destroys the Massachusetts based Elizabeth Seafood Products on barrier isle Elizabeth Island.

The Beast has never been comfortable with her role of company destructor as each time she devastates people Carol thinks of her blue collar dad. This time Carol decides to save Elizabeth Seafood Products by buying the dying firm and run it first-hand especially the all-female factory staff. Realizing the outsider is the only hope for the company, HR chief Dave Parks and CFO Annette Novato sign on to Carol's efforts. Also backing Carol is fisherman Ezekiel "Easy" Parsons as each is attracted to one another. However, her chances of saving Elizabeth Seafood increasingly look dismal when she realizes how the illegal practices of the previous owners left the business bankrupt at a time when the government appears ready to reduce the fish catch that is the supply bloodline of a beleaguered company, town and New England coastal communities.

Beauty is an engaging second chance at life tale that focuses on the upbeat rather than on the underdeveloped suspense. Still readers will appreciate Frederick Dillen's timely warm drama as fishermen and Wives of the Sea rally around their Beauty who no longer answers to the Beast.

The Seduction of Miss Amelia Bell
Paula Quinn
Forever Romance
c/o Hachette Publishing Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017-0010
9781455519514, $8.00,

Early in the eighteenth century, England's Parliament pushes the Act of Union that merges their kingdom with Scotland. Most Scots strongly object to this merger as they believe it is an undesirable annexation of their beloved country under English rule.

Edmund MacGregor and his clan deploy a plan to prevent the abomination from happening by forcing the two leading advocates, the Duke of Queensberry and the Chancellor of Scotland, to back down. Pretending to have a title, Edmund attends the engagement ball of Queensberry's niece Miss Amelia Bell and the Chancellor. To his chagrin and to her elation, they are attracted to each other from that first unbecoming dance. Still he goes ahead with the plot by kidnapping Amelia. Both fall in love, but his passion for a free independent Scotland seemingly keeps them apart.

Paula Quinn starts a new MacGregor clan saga (see Children of the Mist miniseries) with the wonderful first Highland Heirs historical romance. Amelia is a fascinating albeit typical heroine while Edmund suffers from divided loyalties to his nation and his woman. However, what makes this pre-Georgian romance super is the strong background into the controversial (and timely with Crimea) Act of Union 1707 law that grips the audience throughout even knowing the historical outcome.

Vampires...Need Not Apply?
Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Forever Romance
c/o Hachette Publishing Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017-0010
9781455546992, $8.00,

While on vacation in Mexico, affluent Spanish physicist Dr. Antonio Acero remains haunted by a woman pleading with him to free her. When he locates a mysterious Mayan tablet that allegedly will prevent the Apocalypse, obsessed Antonio tries to deploy the relic to open the gate restraining his enigmatic incarcerated female. Instead of success, an accident leaves Acero blind.

For seventy long lonely millennia, Ixtab the goddess of suicide has avoided the touch of humans after she accidently caused the death of her beloved. Wearing her veil to conceal her face and garbed in Goth mourning clothes, Ixtab arrives to help Antonio with his quest and regain his eyesight. To her astonishment, the philandering Spaniard not only looks like her memory of her one true love, but somehow survives touching her.

The latest Accidentally Yours romantic fantasy (see Accidentally in Love with...a God?, Sun God Seeks ...Surrogate? and Accidentally Married to...a Vampire?) is a fascinating tale due to the lead Goddess' dilemma that will remind readers of the X-Men's Rogue. The hero thinks "Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel" (Tavares) though he meets her while blind and she hides her visage behind her veil which in his mind means she must be hideous. Series fans will enjoy this fast-paced entry with over the top humor as the overarching theme of mad Cimil making life interesting moves somewhat forward.

Sweet Talk Me
Kieran Kramer
Publicity Department
St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250009913, $7.99,

In Atlanta, True Maybank arrives on Peachtree to pick up her wedding gown as she will soon marry to the delight of her parents her affluent childhood friend Dubose. However, also on Peachtree on that fated day is country music legend Harrison Gamble to the delight of a horde of fans. The only one unhappy in the crowd to see Harrison is True.

When True and Harrison were growing up in Biscuit Creek, South Carolina they were trailer park BFFs before becoming lovers as teens. He broke her heart when he left her behind for the music. Harrison never forgot his beloved True, but though he desperately wants a second chance he refuses to interfere with her upcoming nuptials. Their respective somewhat eccentric siblings think otherwise.

Sweet Talk Me is an engaging Low County romance that Southern regional readers will enjoy in spite of the entertaining storyline never veering from the anticipated path of least resistance. Although the unconventional secondary characters steal the show, fans will enjoy the bad boy miserably trying to act honorable "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; ..." (Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities).

Michael Palmer
St. Martin's Press
9781250030924, $22.99

In an angry reaction to the New Deal, a clandestine cabal the One Hundred Neighbors formed with the mission to save United States from the Nanny State entitlements that they strongly believe only lead the country to inevitable financial ruin from unpayable debt and moral collapse. Over the decades this group, insisting they are patriots, secretly attacks the nation from within in order to cause the people to lose confidence in the government.

Two weeks ago Becca Seabury shattered her elbow in a championship game. She was rushed to Boston's White Memorial Hospital for surgery where she remains dying from an infection caused by an unknown microbe. At the same time Dr. Lou Welcome and his best friend Cap Duncan are in Atlanta. While Lou attends a conference, Cap injures his leg while jogging. Surgeons save the leg, but an infection identical to that of Becca sets in. The microbe resists all efforts to stop its spread. An unknown adversary abducts the CDC Antibiotic Resistance Unit lead scientist on this strain Dr. Kazimi after killing an associate and a security guard. Desperate to save Cap's life and prevent a pandemic, Dr. Lou Welcome joins the inquiry as the One Hundred Neighbors threaten to destroy the U.S.A. if the social safety network is not destroyed instead.

This exciting medical thriller grips the audience with plenty of action; albeit over the top of the Bank of America Plaza. Fast-paced, readers who can suspend their plausibility especially the behavior of several cast members including the cutting off their nose to spite their face illogical villains will enjoy the late Michael Palmer's newest Dr. Lou tale (see Path of Office and Political Suicide).

The Other Half
Sarah Rayner
St. Martin's Press Griffin
9781250042101, $15.99

In London, twenty-nine years old Chloe Appleton wants to start her own magazine before she turns thirty, but at the speed she is aging the writer knows time is running out on her. Publisher James Slater agrees to listen to Chloe's pitch re beginning a new magazine targeting British women.

Chloe and James enjoy their friendly dinner-meeting, but become intoxicated and sleep together. They begin an affair in spite of the fact he is married to food writer Maggie and has a six year old son Nathan living in the burbs. When his transgression becomes known; James must choose between his mistress and his wife, but finds he cannot make up his mind.

The storyline rotates between the two women connected obviously by James but also by Chloe's former boss who is Maggie's BFF. The cast is solid especially the lead women; as the mistress keeps her head in the sand refusing to accept any culpability re her lover cheating or believe he will not end his marriage for her; and the bored wife comes across hurt but forcing the issue of choice. Neither female protagonist is treated with disdain, but the storyline lacks intense passion due in part because James is a wimpy (except for his noodle) loser and the climax too sweetly resolved.

Queen Elizabeth's Daughter
Anne Clinard Barnhill
St. Martin's Press Griffin
9780312662127, $15.99

In November 1558, Elizabeth becomes the Queen of England. In that same month, three year old Mary Shelton becomes an orphan with the deaths of her parents within a fortnight and because of her late father's being a King Henry knight a royal ward of her second cousin the new Queen.

Under Elizabeth's rule, England has prospered by the monarch keeping her country out of entanglements with other nations and manipulating foreign suitors so that she remains single without alienating them. In fact she has more issues from within as rebellious Catholics rally around her rival Mary Queen of Scots. At the same time teenaged Mary continues to enjoy life at court though she knows she must marry her guardian's choice. Elizabeth selects the powerful Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, as her ward's mate. Everyone marvels at the pick, but Mary fears Edward who she knows conceals his vicious side from the Queen. Instead Mary loves kind widower of five, older Sir John Skydemore. However, she knows her guardian will reject her choice as unacceptable; somewhat because he lacks Oxford's wealth and influence, but mostly because he is a Catholic.

The latest Tudor historical (see At The Mercy Of A Queen) is an enjoyable Elizabethan tale made fresh by the focus on Queen Elizabeth's Daughter. Although the depth inside the royal court is fascinating, the immense amount leaves the pacing somewhat slow. Still subgenre fans will appreciate the story of Mary Shelton as she falls into forbidden love with an innocent "enemy" of the throne.

His To Possess
Opal Carew
St. Martin's Press Griffin
9780312674649, $14.99

As she seeks work in Philadelphia, Jessica's heart remains broken ever since Storm ended their relationship last month just before he and his band began a road tour of California. While eating at a small restaurant, Jessica sees a man who looks like a clean version of her tattooed former lover. The suit introduces himself as Dane. Attracted to each other, they make love with him dominant and her as his submissive.

Not long after that tryst, Jessica arrives at her new job as personal assistant to the CEO of Ranier, who turns out to be Dane. They become an entry while he hopes one day soon to reconcile with his estranged brother Rafe. Confused Jessica feels fickle as she falls in love with Dane while still in love with Storm. When the rocker arrives in Philadelphia, the rivals compete for her affection while Jessica wants both of them.

This first trade paperback printing of six short e-books is an engaging erotic romance with three full-blooded (not just the lower male heads) leads. Although the premise is not new (Elvis starred in a movie with similar relationships albeit w/o the explicit sex), readers will relish this entertaining contemporary as Jessica is "Torn Between Two Lovers" (Mary Macgregor).

Rules of Entanglement
Gina L. Maxwell
St. Martin's Press
9781250050366, $7.99

District attorney Vanessa "Nessie" McGregor flies from the Mainland to Hawaii to help arrange her ailing BFF Lucie's (see Seducing Cinderella) wedding. However, the bride's brother MMA champion Jackson Maris is late to meet her at the airport as he lost track of time while surfing and failed to keep his cell charged.

Nessie, who strictly adheres to her seven rules of life, concludes Jax is an unreliable carefree wastrel failing to consider the feelings of others. She does not want to work with him, but on the other hand he likes her witty sharp tongue and besides he also fears the wraith of Lucie so he tries to cooperate. As the seemingly opposites work the wedding plan and he knocks out her seven rules of responsible living, they fall in love.

The second Fighting for Love Hawaiian romance is an engaging sequel as two seemingly opposites fall in love while arranging their respective BFFs' wedding. Character-driven with fun in the sun amusing moments, readers will enjoy this seven rounds gender battle.

Always Unique
Nikki Turner
St. Martin's Press Griffin
9781250043023, $15.99

"Unique I." With little to her name, Unique fled Richmond via Mexican whorehouses for Manhattan. There she meets Harlem-swagger boxing promoter Kennard DuVall where her blow jobs make him her sexual dependent. However, a vicious ghost from her illicit past Fat Tee arrives with demands for a million dollars. Unique and her BFF Teeydah plan to take down this brute.

"Unique IIBetrayal." Though he suffered a setback due to chicanery of that bitch, Fat Tee plots revenge. Due to an unexpected betrayal, Unique is horrified to realize her fiance Kennard learned the truth about his beloved. Although upset with her for concealing her time in Mexico and prison from him, Kennard is irate that punks want to hurt his woman.

"Unique IIIRevenge." Not one to sit idly by and take the blows delivered by her enemies, Unique deploys a plan of retribution on those harming her. She remains steadfast on goal to be Kennard's last woman.

As the fourth Unique entry "Love & Lies was released, this omnibus reprints the first three engaging e-novellas that provides readers with a delightful urban tales of moves and countermoves. Although the respective storylines feel somewhat underdeveloped, street lit subgenre fans will enjoy Unique's unique style of in-fighting that makes for a fun read.

A Taste Fur Murder
Dixie Lyle
St. Martin's Press
9781250031075, $7.99

Near New York City, Deirdre "Foxtrot" Lancaster works as the "Gal Friday" to affluent and certifiable (eccentric to her face) Zelda "ZZ" Zoransky. She adores her boss but also worries about ZZ going over the top of insanity. One of Foxtrot's most important and insane tasks is to put together ZZ's weekend salon soirees, which means acting as the chaos wrangler and needed mental visits to the only peaceful place on the estate, the pet cemetery.

However, this calming visit takes a strange twist when Foxtrot thinks she sees her deceased cat Tango, but writes it off as overactive nerves. At her home a few miles away from ZZ's estate, the reanimated Tango and Tiny the ghost dog join a stunned Foxtrot who panics over her sanity. When a murder occurs at ZZ's estate, Foxtrot and her companions investigate to insure the cops do not arrest her beloved lunatic employer.

The first Foxtrot-Tango paranormal cozy is a lighthearted zany whodunit due to the beleaguered heroine and a fascinating albeit underdeveloped support cast (animal, ghost and human). Sub-genre readers will enjoy A Taste Fur Murder as the unlikely three amateur sleuths, using supernatural and admin assistant skills, farcically fumble, bumble and stumble their murder inquiry.

Four Weddings And A Fireman
Jennifer Bernard
Avon Books
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
9780062273673, $7.99,

San Gabriel firefighter Derek "Vader" Brown is a big powerful person. He has three lovesweightlifting, firefighting and Cherie Harper. Vader feels successful at the first two and a failure at persuading his Cherie to end their see-saw relationship and commit to their being an entry.

Cherie fears she loves Vader, who's the kindest man she knows especially with her and his wheelchair bound mom, but knows they have no future as one day soon the person who has her running will arrive in San Gabriel. When her sister Trixie comes to town, Cherie knows evil will follow. However, before she chooses flight, Vader insists together they choose fight.

The latest Bachelor Firemen of San Gabriel (see Desperately Seeking Firemen and How to Tame a Wild Fireman) is a heated romantic suspense starring an interesting woman in peril and a gentle giant. The secondary characters add depth though the audience will not realize that until a late twist to the exciting storyline. Four Weddings And A Fireman is a thrilling taut tale.

Death's Way
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press
9780980001778, $15.00,

In a downtown hotel room, Ramsey County Medical Examiner Reiko Tanabe explains how the woman died to the St. Paul police. SPD Homicide Detective John Santana summarizes that the deceased killed herself twice during autoerotic sex. With her phone missing, John's instincts tell him a murder occurred though the evidence points towards Catalina Diaz committing suicide. He finds the business card of anesthesiologist Dr. Philip Campbell inside of Diaz's purse. Commander Romano arrives to tell Santana and his partner Kacie Hawkins that budgets are tight. The lead detectives assume that their boss has a different political motive for a quick non-homicide resolution.

Reading the leak in the paper, Sarah Malik accompanied by six years old Sammy tells Santana that this murder reminds them of the death of Tania Cruz six years ago; as the child insists she is the reincarnation of that victim. As Santana and Hawkins follow leads including a visit to the pen where Cruz's convicted killer resides; Romano intrudes especially when Campbell commits a seemingly case closed suicide allegedly out of guilt for murdering the Costa Rican escort.

The latest Santana police procedural (see The Black Minute, Bad Weeds Never Die and Bone Shadows) is a strong investigative thriller that focuses on Costa Rican sex trafficking, murders, and a fascinating maybe reincarnation subplot that claims a wrongful conviction. Filled with plenty of action, readers will relish this superb entry as the justice-seeking Santana conducts an entertaining inquiry.

Rivers To Blood
Michael Lister
Pulpwood Press
9781888146394, $26.99,

In Florida, driving on the highway Potter Correctional Institute Chaplain John Jordan observes in his rear view mirror a seemingly out of control prisoner transport swerving. He pursues the van heading off the road, but an escapee renders Jordan unconscious. When he awakens, Jordan finds the driver Kent Murphy unconscious with a weak pulse and no one else in the van, but an injured work camp prisoner Michael Jensen lies outside; while the other transport officer Tom Pettis remains missing. Jordan's dad the county sheriff and EMT arrive at the scene. The Chaplin soon recognizes the man in prison garb is Pettis.

PCI's new warden Matson warns staff not to talk to Jordan and plans to replace the chaplain with someone else. At the same time psych specialist DeLisa Lopez informs Jordan that several convicts told her in confidence that humiliatingly they were sexually assaulted by a series of serial rapists. Finally near the prison escape scene a black male is found lynched.

The fifth John Jordan mystery (see Power in the Blood, Blood of the Lamb, Flesh and Blood, The Body and the Blood and Blood Sacrifice) is a bloody good thriller with multiple complex subplots that Michael Lister deftly brings together in a great read. Fans will appreciate this fast-paced tale with several strong puzzlers and a deep look at the good, the bad and the ugly in the prison and the Florida Panhandle.

Lip Reading
Harry Kraus
David C. Cook
c/o Cook Communications
4050 Lee Vance View, Colorado Springs, CO 80918
9780781405348, $14.99,

The lawyer media commercials remind Dr. Rebecca Jackson that her firm Jackson Pharmaceutical is in deep trouble after the FDA pulled off the market their drug Camplex. She knows how much the major repercussions will be because the company hid some negative data. Thus the pharmaceutical research chemist is in Nairobi emphasizing the firm's support to combat AIDs when Dr. Jacob Opondo kidnaps her so she can see firsthand what her drugs are doing to Africans before freeing her.

Bradshaw Pharmaceutical CEO Greg Thatcher explains to his top researcher Noah Linebrink that he read Rebecca's autobiography Pusher and looked up her work on creating artificial human blood motivated by a car accident two decades ago. Greg believes Noah and Rebecca need to combine their efforts, but Noah points out he is the ex-boyfriend she mentions in her book without divulging his name. In the Harrisonburg, Virginia bookstore where she signs her book, he arrives to make his pitch that they should combine their efforts to develop artificial human blood; but her past continues to haunt her and her present leaves her life's work in peril.

Lip Reading is an exciting medical thriller that grips the reader from the moment Noey and Becca reconnect and never releases that hold until the final stunning climax. Noah is a wonderful dedicated scientist, but Rebecca owns Dr. Harry Kraus' latest fabulous novel (see A Heartbeat Away).

How Sweet The Sound
Amy K. Sorrells
David C. Cook
c/o Cook Communications
4050 Lee Vance View, Colorado Springs, CO 80918
9781434705440, $14.99,

In 1979, three generations of the affluent pecan farming Harlan family members gather together in Bay Spring, Alabama to celebrate Thanksgiving. Instead of a happy festive affair, two males kill each other after one of them raped their sister. Thirteen year old Anniston saw her dad Rey and Uncle Cole die while her Aunt Comfort was sexually assaulted.

Over the next few months, the surviving members grieve and cope differently over the shocking tragedy that destroyed their close bond. Anniston remains haunted by the demise of her dad, the cause of his death, and her aunt's trauma. PTSD sufferer Comfort, who looked forward to a proposal from her beloved Solly, no longer wants to marry him or anyone. Steel Magnolia matriarch Princella mourns for only one of her sons while detesting the other as a defiling abomination. Her spouse Vaughn avoids family and friends as he believes one of his late offspring had to be devil-spawned. Anniston's mom Oralee tries futilely to keep the family together.

This insightful late twentieth century version of the biblical tale of David's children Amnon and Tamar is a deep southern inspirational that focuses on the aftermath on mourning loved ones following a rape and double murders. No longer sweet and innocent Anniston and horrified Comfort are the prime narrators who provide a profound perspective as to how the tragedy respectively impacts them and how they see the effect on other family members; on the other hand Princella seems underdeveloped when her first person diatribe occurs in an otherwise strong tale.

Dean Crawford
Touchstone Books
c/o Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
9781451659498, $24.99,

In Miami, witnesses saw former NASA physicist Charles Purcell fleeing from his house where someone murdered his family. Employed by billionaire philanthropist and CEO of International Rescue and Infrastructure Support Joaquin Abell to study the time-space continuum, Purcell contacts MPD Captain Kyle Sears insisting he is innocent; demanding they test the bullets for Rubidium-82; and to get Ethan Warner involved; before he hangs up Purcell predicts the immediate future including his death. At about the same time of the Purcell homicides, a plane filled with scientists working for Abell crashes in the Bermuda Triangle.

As the scientist's predictions prove uncannily accurate, Defense Intelligence Agency Agent Douglas Jarvis enlists the help of private investigator Warner and his partner Nicola Lopez to find Purcell before he dies. When a major earthquake devastates Puerto Rico, Abell begins relief efforts immediately as he was unbelievably prepared for the disaster.

The third Warner-Lopez collaboration (see Covenant and Immortal) is a faster than the speed of light, but stratospherically over the top of Cerro Punta thriller in spite of being anchored by the physics of time; as the villain fails to seem real. Action all the time fans ignoring their plausibility meter will enjoy Apocalypse as the diabolical felon has all the time in the world to perform nefarious deeds; while his pursuers have run out of time before they even begin their chase to prevent his deployment.

Happily Ever After
Elizabeth Maxwell
Touchstone Books
c/o Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
9781476732664, $15.00,

Forty-six year old single mom Sadie Fuller raises her tweener daughter Allison with help from Greta the housekeeper, Sadie remains friends with her ex who came out of the closet, and writes steamy romances under the pseudonym KT Briggs. Feeling lonely, Sadie advertises for a no-strings affair. Jason the kind lawyer responds as his sexual self-esteem was nuked by his wife's cheating.

Sadie's latest "Happily Ever After" stars protagonists Lily Dell and Aidan Hathaway, but pages the author never wrote to include a new character Clarissa the witch show up overnight in the draft. Even more stunning to a bewildered Sadie is when she meets confused Aidan at the store. Whereas Allison adores Aidan; Jason is upset by the appearance of his gorgeous hunk rival; while Sadie struggles to understand how he escaped from her novel though praying it is not dementia.

This is a delightful brilliant metafiction with a novel inside a novel that lampoons the romance genre. The HEA male lead steals the show with his acting like the hunk of a heated romance tale but in a real life situation he comes across as either eccentric or looney. With a clever nod to Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next saga, Happily Ever After is an entertaining amusing satire.

Finding Family ... And Forever?
Teresa Southwick
Harlequin Special Edition
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373658022, $5.50,

In Studio City, California Emma Robbins learns from her widowed dying mom that she was abducted as an infant from Blackwater Lake, Montana. After her mother dies, Emma goes to Blackwater Lake to meet her biological family, but decides to conceal why she came to town until she gets to know some of them.

Widower Dr. Justin Flint needs a new nanny to care for his ten-month old son Kyle as his current one is moving to be with her family in Florida. After interviewing several candidates, he offers the position to the most qualified Emma. As the adults fall in love and she also with her ward, Justin keeps reminding himself no women following the fiasco with his late egotistical wife; while Emma struggles to keep the focus on finding the courage to introduce herself to her family.

This Bachelors of Blackwater Lake family drama is a warm feel good tale due to the picturesque Big Sky country, interesting protagonists, and a solid caring support cast. Though the engaging storyline goes as expected, readers will appreciate the journey to family and forever.

The Texas Wildcatter's Baby
Cathy Gillen Thacker
Harlequin American Romance
9780373755103, $5.50

In Summit, Texas, land use rivals, geological engineer Ginger Rollins and die-hard environmentalist Rand McCabe, have a one nighter following a heated town hall meeting. Six weeks later Ginger informs Rand she is carrying his baby; he stuns her as he believes the child is his without a second thought. She further explains to him that if they are unmarried under Texas law, the newborn has no legal father. Ginger suggests a marriage of convenience, which she explains will lead to a divorce in nine months but ensure their baby legally has a sire. Rand accepts her proposal but conceals from Ginger that in his mind and heart this is a permanent arrangement as he knows their desire is more than just sexual attraction.

As the couple fall in love, conflict intrudes into their happy nest. Their jobs keep them at a constant state of strife, and family demand this pair and the baby Ginger carries to make it as a trio with an option on more children.

The fourth McCabe Homecoming (see The Texas Lawman's Woman, The Texas Christmas Gift and The Long, Hot Texas Summer) is an engaging contemporary romance as two stubborn environmental adversaries fall in love. Although the path to permanency takes the obvious trek, readers will appreciate this delightful Texas tale.

White Hot Kiss
Jennifer L. Armentrout
Harlequin Teen
9780373211104, $7.99

Although she is grateful to her adopted family, hybrid Warden-demon teenager Layla Shaw wishes she was a normal purebred gargoyle like they are. Though the seventeen years old Layla accepts that she can never be fully accepted as an equal especially to her off limits crush Zayne, she helps the disproving (of her subpar genetics) Wardens with their demon-hunting by her skill to see souls and mark demons for her family to track.

When Layla and Roth the full-blooded demon meet, he mesmerizes her with his claims of knowing her biological family secrets that she knows nothing about. His lack of a soul enables him to steal kisses from her; further rocking her world. As she learns more about her roots and a demon revolt centered on her, Layla fears associating with Roth will cause her to be marked as an enemy by the family who raised her. Additionally she remains ignorant as to the rebellion's worldwide ramifications.

This Dark Elements young adult fantasy (see Bitter Sweet Love e-novella; not read by me) is an enjoyable tale due to the Armentrout world feeling genuine with its vivid competing supernatural cultures possessing differing views re humans. Roth is a terrific complicated super-bad dude whose White Hot Kiss melts a confused Layla. Although a late underdeveloped threesome arises for no apparent reason except as a sub-genre "requirement" in which I would have preferred the tri-relationships remain inside the heroine's head only, fans will relish this fabulous teen otherworldly tale.

Running With Wolves
Cynthia Cooke
Harlequin Nocturne
9780373885923, $5.75

In the Cascades, the Colony's wolf shifters' leader Malcom assigns loyal member Jason Stratton to find and escort to the pack a former chief's daughter to bring peace and consolidate the alpha's power as his mate. Jason locates a confused Shay Mallory, who has recently dealt with weird happenings and still misses her late father who protected her while warning her to beware of strangers.

Feeling treasonous due to his attraction to Shay, Jason explains to her she must mate with a shifter; but she rejects the notion of being bound with a man she never met. As he escorts Shay and her companion Buddy to the enclave, enemies attack them several times. To save her life, Jason mates with Shay so she can shift though he expects once he gets her to safety, Malcom will kill him.

The keys to why Running With Wolves is a strong romantic fantasy are Cynthia Cooke's supernatural world populated with the paranormal seems genuine and the hero is a caring passionate person preferring to make love not war. Action-packed, readers will enjoy joining the protagonists on their dangerous road show.

Susan Krinard
Harlequin Nocturne
9780373885916, $5.75

In the San Francisco enclave, Aegis Director of Operations Chen assigns half-dhampir agent Phoenix Stryker to uncover the identity of Draken and prevent this killer from assassinating a senator. Chen chose Stryker for this dangerous mission because she believes this lethal Opiri assassin is most likely heterosexual and thus unable to resist the call of dhampir blood.

Getting inside his camp, Stryker meets Draken, but instead of being a deadly monster as her superior described, she finds a caring person who wants to end the ugly exiling of criminals to Erebus where they are used for sustenance or slaves by the Opiri. He also has a personal agenda to avenge the destruction of his loved ones. However, Draken revises his goals to include keeping the newcomer he cherishes safe.

The latest Nightsiders romantic fantasy (see Nightmaster and Daysider) is an action-packed thriller that nicely blends desire with peril. Though the overarching drums of war fail to move forward much, readers will relish this taut twisting storyline as the lead couple has some complex decisions to make in which each choice seems overwhelmingly lethal to them.

The Secrets of Her Past
Emilie Rose
Harlequin SuperRomance
9780373608331, $6.75

While undergoing lung cancer treatment, Danny Drake orders his son Adam to bring Madison home to run his veterinary practice while he fights the disease. Adam argues with his dad that his late brother Andrew's widow was selfish and didn't want the baby she lost along with her husband during an ice storm in which she drove too fast six years ago.

Danny travels to Quincey, North Carolina to take Madison "no longer a Drake" Monroe the seven hours to Norcross, but she refuses. Angry with her while misunderstanding her no, he says his late sibling was right to call her a cold selfish SOB; while she hides the truth from his family so that they can retain their paragon image of Andrew. Still feeling she owes her veterinary mentor to hear her rejection from her lips; Maddy drives to tell her ex-father-in-law. Danny's wife Helen angrily pleads with her to help as she did not want to lose another Drake male. Reluctantly Maddy agrees but on her terms. As Maddy keeps two practices afloat, Adam reassesses his ex-in-law due to her dedication to her patients and their owners, and his father. Soon two revelations hammer his soul and heartthat his brother lied to him and that he loves his late sibling's widow.

This is a warm second chance at family drama starring a wonderful cast. Though the late Andrew comes across as a selfish lazy loser with no redeeming qualities when he lived, readers will enjoy this compassionate healing storyline.

The Burden Of Desire
Natalie Charles
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
9780373278640, $5.50

Concerned over his lead lawyer's long hours on the Kruger first degree homicide case, Jack Reynolds introduces prosecutor Sally Dawson to the office's new attorney retired JAG marine Ben McNamara as assisting her on the murder trial. Not only do Sally and Ben know each other from Columbia Law, she hates him for breaking her heart.

At a press conference on the eve of the court date, Mitch Kruger's defense attorney Marlow introduces the dead wife Ronnie as alive. Though there was no body found, the forensic evidence overwhelmingly pointed to the murder of Mitch's spouse; which now means someone else died. Jack assigns Ben to review the case file for prosecution wrong-doing. As Ben affirms that Sally's diligent work was professional and convincing, each realizes something remains odd starting with why the victim waited a year to reappear. Continuing to dig, Ben and Sally also fall in love.

This second chance at love legal romance is an enjoyable thriller though the audience will guess early on what is going. The fully-developed lead couple is a nice pairing of beloved enemies; who readers will conclude deserve a sequel on a future case; as Burden of Desire is an enjoyable romantic mystery.

Deadly Hunter
Rachel Lee
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
9780373278626, $5.50

In Conard County, Wyoming chemistry teacher Allison McMann clumsily trips while meeting her reticent new next door neighbor retired special ops soldier Jerrod Marquette. Though he prefers to be left alone, Jerrold insures Allison is okay. Jerrod has enough on his plate as he mentally struggles to adapt to being a civilian while debating his future including an offer from the CIA.

Recently a toxin has killed many livestock in the area. As the local chemistry teacher, residents ask Allison to find the source of the deadly poison; thus she methodically collects samples. Attracted to Allison, Jerrod fears the intrepid teacher is heading into trouble with her inquiry. He insists on accompanying her and as they fall in love his hypothesis proves right when someone wants her dead.

This Conard CountyThe Next Generation (see Reuniting with the Rancher) is an exciting romantic suspense starring two wary wounded warriors. The entertaining taut mystery that turns into a cat and mouse perilous escapade enhances a delightful contemporary.

Remembering That Night
Stephanie Doyle
Harlequin SuperRomance
9780373608348, $6.75

He no longer practices psychology after what happened to a patient he feels he failed; Greg Chalmers uses his uncanny ability to detect when someone lies to win at poker as he knows a bluff. His talent has banned him from all the casinos in Vegas and AC with the Grande Casino being the last place he can play. However, security chief Victor Lario hammers Greg after accusing him of cheating.

Brigantine PD Sheriff Danielson asks Greg to help them with a case involving a woman covered in blood who claims to have no memory as to who she is and what happened. Though total mental loss is rare, Greg cannot tell for sure if she is telling the truth; but unless she is a sociopath or delusional he leans towards her suffering from amnesia. Greg offers to help her recover. Meanwhile someone murdered Grande Casino owner, mob chieftain A.C. D'Amato; which leads to Jane Doe being identified as the victim's former ward Eliza Dunning, who worked for her guardian as a CPA. As Greg and Eliza team up to restore her lost memories, they fall in love while he and the cops try to keep her safe from a killer seeking to eliminate the lone witness.

Though amnesia has been used a lot in crime novels, Remembering That Night is an exhilarating romantic mystery due to Greg's gambling addiction and unique skill that he fears is failing him for the first time in his life as he knows he reacts to Eliza with his wrong head. Readers will enjoy this engaging suspense.

The Returning Hero
Soraya Lane
Harlequin Romance
9780373742806, $5.99

Australian SAS soldier Sam Matheson died due to an explosive device; his BFFs Brett Palmer and Logan Murdoch (male lead of next month's Her Soldier Protector) made it home but suffer from injuries including PTSD after the death of their comrade in arms. Six months since her husband's death, in Sydney Sam's widow Jamie struggles with her spouse's retired detection dog Bear whom she believes her late mate loved more than he did her. Meanwhile Brett knows he used his severe leg burn as an excuse not to see Jamie as he struggles with his unrequited love he has for her.

Finally using courage like he never thought he had, Brett visits Jamie to offer her any support she needs. Happy to see him, Jamie asks Brett to stay in her home and help her with Bear's adaption to civilian life without his beloved handler. As she falls in love with Brett, both feel guilt for betraying Sam.

The Returning Hero is a warm Australian military romance that focuses on the lead couple, the ghost of a man they both cherish and the K9. Although the premise is not new, readers will enjoy Soraya Lane's well written fine tribute to the soldiers and their family members who sacrifice so much.

The Real Thing
Brenda Jackson
Harlequin Desire
9780373733002, $5.25

Having a problem with her residency at Denver Memorial due to respected surgeon Dr. Casey Belvedere refusal to take her no as an answer to his advances, Trinity Matthews asks Adrian Westmoreland for help. She met Adrian and his family at the wedding of his cousin Riley (see One Winter's Night). He agrees to act as her boyfriend.

As the couple pretends to be an entry, each finds increasingly a desire to make their sham relationship real. However, once she completes her residency, Trinity plans to return home to Bunnell, Florida to join her family's medical practice. Although Adrian desperately wants her to stay with him as he believes what they have is The Real Thing; he knows reluctantly that he needs to encourage her to do what she wants.

The Real Thing is an entertaining contemporary romance starring two likable lead characters. The latest Westmoreland tale is fun as Brenda Jackson provides a warm, somewhat predicable storyline.

Waking Up Pregnant
Mira Lyn Kelly
Harlequin Kiss
9780373178933, $5.99

In Las Vegas, Jeff Norton and Darcy Penn shared a wonderful one night stand in his hotel room. While he went to the bathroom, she left unaware that to his horror the bag he used broke. Several months later in Los Angeles, Darcy informs a not shocked Jeff she is pregnant.

After puking in his office garbage can, Darcy explains she suffers from an extreme case of morning sickness. Jeff persuades Darcy to reside with his mother; pretending to be his pregnant girlfriend. As they fall in love, her childhood traumas leading to a fierce independence stand in the way of a permanent family with Jeff and their unborn child.

The latest Waking Up romance (see Waking Up Married with male lead Connor who is a buddy in this tale) is an engaging tale driven by Darcy; as the observant child becomes the loner adult. Fast-paced, fans will appreciate Mira Lyn Kelly's fun contemporary as the protagonists turn into friends without benefits in love.

For His Eyes Only
Liz Fielding
Harlequin Kiss
9780373178940, $5.99

In London, Morgan and Black Senior Partner Miles Morgan angrily shows hardworking realtor Natasha Gordon her ad to sell Hadley Chase. It seems that someone altered it horribly in the Country Chronicle. Miles orders Tasha to check into a rehab clinic while she consider her future. She refuses insisting she did not do this sabotage.

Hadley Chase owner Darius Hadley offers the unemployed Tash a chance to regain her devastated reputation by allowing her to sell his family's estate if she poses naked for a sculpture he wants to create. Though distrusting males, a desperate Tash reluctantly accepts the sculptor's amoral deal. As the nude model and the artist work together they fall in love. However, his parental trauma and her overwhelming family's sucking away all oxygen leave both reluctant to create a loving relationship.

Aptly titled For His Eyes Only is the bonding between the protagonists in this entertaining romance with a touch of a mystery re the ad. The support cast enhances the plot while the likable lead couple and their relationship provide the audience with a wonderful contemporary.

Waiting On You
Kristan Higgins
Harlequin HQN
9780373778584, $7.99

A decade ago in Manningsport, New York, Lucas Campbell broke Colleen O'Rourke's heart. He left town and she became a matchmaking spinster while running O'Rourke's Tavern with her twin Connor. Her current matching effort involves Paulie "The Chicken Princess" Petrosinky and Lucas' cousin Bryce Campbell.

Lucas' Uncle Joe calls to ask him to come home from Chicago as his every other day dialysis may have kept him alive but his lung cancer has gotten to the point he will die very soon. With little time left Joe needs his son Bryce settled, but believes only his nephew can achieve the seemingly impossible. Knowing he would do anything for Uncle Joe and musing about his first return home in ten years, Lucas thinks of how he will react when he sees Colleen. When she sees Lucas for the first time since he devastated her heart, Colleen realizes she still loves him; but fears deja vu all over again (Yogism) outcome.

The third Blue Heron madcap romance (see The Perfect Match and The Best Man) is an entertaining contemporary. The engaging second chance at love plot is enhanced by the support cast while flashbacks to when the leads were a youthful entry add better understanding of their present day personalities.

One Night With The Boss
Teresa Southwick
Harlequin Special Edition
9780373658084, $5.50

In Blackwater Lake, Montana Olivia Lawson has been an office assistant for five years to her childhood friend internet guru Brady O'Keefe. After years of unrequited love for her employer that goes back to when she was fifteen, Olivia hands in her resignation once again; he rejects her quitting as he explains this is deja vu, insists the firm needs her, and finally says nothing has changed in her life. She looks right at him as she lies when indignant Olivia tells Brady she has fallen in love and will leave town with her new boyfriend Leonard.

As Brady interviews replacement candidates lined up by Liv, he schemes to keep her in his office especially after he realizes how much he would miss her sarcasm and that her HEA does not exist. For the cause, Brady begins to court His Girl Friday, but fails to understand how much he loves his Liv after years of sub-setting her to his business only category until her two declarations of Leonard and later love left him jealous and speechless, and drove her diagonally across the country.

The latest Bachelors of Blackwater Lake Big Sky Country romance (see Finding Family ... And Forever?) is a warm fun tale made fresh by Brady, who hurt by love as a child compartmentalizes everyone to avoid emotional attachments. Readers will enjoy the changing relationship between the protagonists; as one word Leonard nukes Brady's uninvolved life programming.

One Night With her Ex
Lucy King
Harlequin Kiss
9780373178957, $5.99

Five years ago, Kit Buchanan cheated on his then wife Lily Montgomery. They divorced, but filled with guilt and missing his beloved, Kit became impotent as no woman could replace his Lily. On their anniversary, Kit resolves to win back Lily beginning with regaining her trust. When her sister Zoe tells her she is engaged to Dan, Lily is depressed rather than happy, which in turn leads to guilt.

On another lonely New Year's Eve, Lily decides to have a tryst with her single next door neighbor. Kit proves he can perform when it comes to making love with Lily when she visits him for One Night With The Ex. However, Kit knows he must earn her trust if they are to have a chance together as love is not enough to cement a permanent relationship.

Lucy King provides a wonderful second chance at love romance starring two engaging protagonists struggling to overcome trust and cheating issues as neither communicates with the other. Although a lack of insight into what happened to this couple (besides his cheating) when they were married detracts from the delightfulstoryline, fans will enjoy the hesitant courtship between Kit and Lily as each wants a different happily ever after ending.

Flirting With The Forbidden
Joss Wood
Harlequin Kiss
9780373178964, $5.99

CFT Corporation bodyguard Noah Fraser struggles with his desiring the nineteen years old Principal, diamonds heiress Morgan Moreau who he protects from a low-level kidnapping threat. Her flirting tempts him as she tries to break his facade of indifference. While he can control with his lower head's lust; his upper head struggles with an unending focus on her luscious body until she offers her virginity as she wants him and only him; though hot and bothered he angrily walks away from Morgan totally misunderstanding her attraction to him and only him.

Eight years later, Morgan needs protection again. Although he knows he plays with fire as his fantasy remains a naked Morgan, Noah insists he guard the "Duchess"; as he must risk "blue balls" to keep her safe. Encouraged by her friend Riley to go after Mr. Panties' Melt and not let him sink her already low self-esteem as he did the last time, Morgan vows to pursue her seemingly emotionless "Soldier."

This is a fun second chance romance due to two wonderful leads with each having problems that make their relationship shaky; as she feels she is an inadequate dumb blonde due to dyslexia and he believes running amuck feelings cause mental errors so they need to be controlled. Enhanced by strong secondary characters especially their families and Ri, readers will enjoy the heat emitted by the Duchess and the Soldier.

Nancy Warren
Harlequin Blaze
9780373797974, $5.50

In Oregon, billionaire Max Varo tells his two best friends, Adam Shawnigan (see Final Score) and Dylan Cross, that he may buy Polar Air, a small firm based in Spruce Bay, Alaska as he sees great potential. After the kayaking trip ends, Max returns to his Varo Enterprises office in Hunter, Washington to discuss the Polar Air deal with employee Leslie Adamson who says it should be no problem buying the firm but would like to know why a successful regional airline has tanked over the last five years. Bored Max decides to learn the truth by obtaining a position as a pilot; since flying has always been his favorite past-time.

Max arrives for an interview only to watch Claire Lundstrom fire Frank Carmody for embezzling funds. Claire takes over the hiring process from Frank even as her grandmother, who co-founded the company, adores Max. While Frank reacts with vandalism, Max works for Claire. As the couple play hockey together, their attraction ignites. However, soon afterward a plane crash leaves the couple stranded in the wilderness with only each other to rely on.

The second Last Bachelor Standing romance is an entertaining Alaskan contemporary as Claire rids Max of his ennui. Readers will relish the setting and root for the first line pair to score a couple of hat tricks by lovingly assisting one another. The one on one ice hockey challenge ending is a great unique finish to a wonderful tale.

A Seal's Kiss
Tawny Weber
Harlequin Blaze
9780373797950, $5.50

Sage Taylor returns home to Villa Rosa, California. However, her friends trying to be nice want to set her up on blind dates. Deciding the only way to be left alone is to make up an engagement. Knowing no one in town can contact at sea SEAL Chief Petty Officer Aiden Masters, Sage claims to be his fiancee. Her ailing father the Professor is especially ecstatic with the news of her engagement to the lad he took into his home years ago.

For no reason he can explain even to himself, Aiden heads from Coronado to Villa Rosa while on leave. When he learns what impulsive flighty Sage claimed, thoughtful serious-minded Aiden supports her white lie because he would do anything for the Professor who took him in after the Twin Towers tragedy left him a troubled teenage orphan. While undercover, neither of the engaged couple anticipated falling for the dreaded opposites attract syndrome.

This Uniformly Hot! romance is a fun tale as the lead couple learns Walter Scott's admonition (see Marmion)"Oh, what a tangled web we weave...when first we practice to deceive." Though a frequently used premise, Tawny Weber refreshes her character-driven storyline with an engaging secondary cast led by the Professor encouraging the polar opposites to embrace not run from love.

Rebecca York
Harlequin Intrigue
9780373697571, $5.50

In Baltimore, the cops bring a Jane Doe one-car accident victim to Memorial Hospital. Dr. Matt Delano looks over her chart that shows no injuries except for a mild concussion and a total loss of memory. When he touches the amnesiac to read her pulse, both are flooded with her memories as she now knows she is Elizabeth Forester and recalls someone stalking her including ramming her head against her car yesterday. Both are stunned by what happened while he also feels remorse for breaching a doctor-patient ethical barrier and she has no idea why men trail her and assaulted her.

Though he resolves to keep his distance as the ethical thing in his mind to do, Matt finds it impossible to stay away from Elizabeth. As the patient and the physician fall in love, he resolutely risks his life to keep his Elizabeth safe.

The latest Mindbenders romantic paranormal mystery (see Bridal Jeopardy, Sudden Attraction and Sudden Insight) is an action-packed entry from that first touch until the climax. The lead couple as Solomon Clinic genetically altered children is a nice pairing with each accepting love is not enough to keep them alive from a persistent predator. Although the overarching theme fails to move forward much, DiagnosisAttraction is an enjoyable thriller.

The Legend Of Smuggler's Cave
Paula Graves
Harlequin Intrigue
9780373697533, $5.50

Seven months ago in Ridge County, Johnny Blackwood was murdered for stealing from the Wayne Cortland crime network. His widow, Bitterwood PD rookie cop and single mom Briar Blackwood, diligently works at her new position with the help of Aunt Jenny who watches her three year old great-nephew Logan. Briar thwarts a house invasion but not before her aunt is injured protecting her frightened son from the intruder.

Prosecutor Dalton Hale believes the late Blackwood took information that could destroy the gang while fearing for the safety of the mom and child. He persuades Briar to move in with her son into his home. Also believing Johnny stole something valuable is Briar's ambitious relative Blake Culpepper who plans to use his second cousin as an expendable pawn to obtain what was taken; as his goal is to run the local mob before it implodes.

The seventh Bitterwood P.D. romantic police procedural (see The Secret of Cherokee Cove, Blood on Copperhead Trail and Murder in the Smokies) is an exciting suspense; as saving the child places the growing attraction temporarily on hold. Briar moving into the prosecutor's home to keep her son safe seems farfetched (even if he resided in a fortress at the top of the Smokey Mountains) especially her as a cop with stronger options at work. Still readers will enjoy this engaging contemporary.

A Plain Man
Mary Ellis
Harvest House Publishers
990 Owen Loop North, Eugene, Oregon 97402-9173
9780736949804, $13.99,

For five years, Caleb Beachy tried to assimilate into the Englisher world. Recently realizing his effort was doomed from the start, Caleb finally accepts that he is simply A Plain Man. Thus Caleb leaves Cleveland to move back home in Fredericksburg, Ohio where he works for his still disappointed dad Eli; who has not forgiven his son for deserting his Amish heritage and distrusts him not to leave again when he becomes bored.

When Caleb ditched his faith and family, Josie Yoder was a young teenager. Now an adult she and Caleb begin seeing each other. She keeps him calm when he becomes irate especially with his unmerciful obstinate father; and Josie reminds him that he temporarily may have turned from the Lord but the Lord never left him. As they fall in love, Caleb's remorse for deserting his people and God leave him believing he is unworthy of Josie.

A Plain Man is a delightful Amish romance with a strong second chance at life subplot. Josie is typical of the subgenre women; while freshness come from Eli with his inability to accept the return of his prodigal son, and Caleb with his guilt for what he perceives is a betrayal to God, his family and his community. Readers will enjoy Caleb's tribulations (mostly self-flagellation); as he thinks his beloved Josie deserves someone better than him.

Rainy Day Dreams
Lori Copeland and Virginia Smith
Harvest House Publishers
990 Owen Loop North, Eugene, Oregon 97402-9173
9780736953498, $13.99,

In 1852 the Burgert patriarch relocates his family from San Francisco to Seattle. His daughter Kathryn is upset with the move as she enjoyed the pleasures of culturally rich San Francisco but now resides in a mud hovel.

On the bright side, Kathryn thinks her dad appointed her to manage Faulkner House; but that dream turns into a nightmare when she learns he expects her to be a maid. Kathryn's spirits lift again when she meets hotel guest widower Jason Gates; but that turns into a nightmare when the lumberjack makes it clear he is uninterested in her or any woman; though he conceals from her that he fears life in the Pacific Northwest too harsh for females. As Kathryn and Jason fall in love in spite of his efforts to shutter his heart, the new sawmill brings hope to many residents although some plan to sabotage it as a means to destroy Seattle.

The second Seattle Brides inspirational saga (see A Bride For Noah) is a strong historical romance that once again uses the founding of the Pacific Northwest city as a fabulous background. The protagonists are a delightful pairing as she needs to mature and he needs to complete his grief if they are going to make it together. However, it is the beginnings of the logging industry that enable backwater Seattle to survive and show early signs of thriving if adversaries allow it that make this a superb historical Christian mid-nineteenth century Americana.

Anderson Harp
Pinnacle Books
c/o Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street, Floor 21, New York, NY 10018-2522
9780786034215, $9.99,

At the United States Embassy in Doha, Qatar, CIA case worker Maggie O'Donald receives an email from a top level source in the House of Saud. Almost immediately, a small bomb explodes at the embassy gate. Realizing a bigger bomb will follow, Maggie manages to download her data onto a thumb drive and conceal it. From the second blast Maggie suffers a brain trauma leaving her comatose.

Knowing why the Korean event (see A Northern Thunder) was successful, CIA Agent James Scott visits William Parker to ask for his help on a new dangerous mission. At a time the House of Saud Bay'Ah Council prepares to vote on the heir to the King, Scott explains to Parker that his country needs him to prevent charismatic Yousef al-Qadi from creating a new fundamentalist Islamic state constructed from the Jihad murdering of millions. He further explains this man is behind the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that left Parker's parents dead. They put together a team and deploy a plan beginning with Parker masquerading as Zabara the Muslim reporter who has a scheduled interview with Yousef. CDC provides the means for the assassination with a vial of deadly Neisseria Meningitis, but there is only one delivery method.

Rotating perspective mostly between Parker and Yousef, aptly titled Retribution is a hard to put down thriller because the superb storyline deftly builds tension leading to the anticipated High Noon confrontation between two kick butt adversaries with revenge fueling both of them. Mr. Harp's talent is obvious as he takes his time setting up the chess board, but still keeps his exciting plot at hyperspeed to the delight of readers.

Hotel Brasil
Frei Betto author
Jethro Soutar, translator
Bitter Lemon Press
37 Arundel Gardens, London, W11 2LW, United Kingdom
9781908524270, $14.95,

In Rio de Janeiro, the rundown Hotel Brasil caters to singles; at least that is what proprietor Dona Dinó claims. The regulars residing in this dump include wannabe telenovela actress Rosaura dos Santos; political hack Rui Pacheco; reporter Marcelo Braga; transformed due to age restrictions from hooking to pimping Madame Larência; transformista nightclub entertainer Diamante Negro; former professor and present collaborator with anthropologist Mônica Kundali on a book (though he craves a different collaboration) Cândido Oliviera; and gemstone seller Seu Marcal.

The family like camaraderie shatters when someone decapitates Marcal before removing his eyes. Delagacia da Lapa Police Chief Delegado Olinto Del Bosco sarcastically interrogates and accuses the owner, the residents and caretaker Jorge Maldonado as the murderer. Del Bosco arrests only Maldonado as the easiest for him to get away with a brutal beat down until he breaks and confesses.

Although a Brazilian police procedural, Hotel Brasil reads more like a fascinating character study of a different side of Rio than typically depicted. The ensemble cast is solid with their background cleverly darkly satirizing stereotypes and as a group lampooning the Agatha Christie country house mystery subgenre in a South American urban setting. Readers who appreciate something different in their whodunits will enjoy this entertaining suspense.

Children of the Revolution
Peter Robinson
William Morrow & Company
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
9780062240507, $25.99,

In Coverton, retired schoolteacher Margery Halton was walking her dog when the canine came across the corpse of reclusive Gavin Miller under a railroad bridge. Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks leads the investigation in which suicide has not been ruled out; as Miller lived alone in a hovel ever since Eastvale College fired him in scandalous disgrace from his lecturer position. Neither has homicide been eliminated as some of his injuries look like they occurred in a brawl with an assailant but a robbery did not happen as the deceased possessed 5000 pounds on him.

Banks, assisted by DI Annie Cabot and DC Gerry Masterson, makes inquiries into Miller's recent and distant past as motive for the murder remains elusive. The police especially focus on two young ladies whose accusations led to the lecturer's dismal from Eastvale.

The latest DCI Banks British police procedural (see Watching the Dark) is an entertaining whodunit in which the leisurely-paced storyline contains less action than usual, but replaced by a more cerebral approach (especially several interviews) to solving the murder mystery. The hero is irascible and independent as he ignores his boss who begins bantering the dreaded R word (retirement) to him. As always readers can bank on Peter Robinson for an enjoyable tale.

Night Diver
Elizabeth Lowell
9780062132826, $26.99

Almost fifteen years ago off the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, then teenager Kate Donnelly watched helplessly as her parents died in a storm. Terrified of the water ever since the nightmarish accident; Kate quit her family sea salvage business Moon Rose Ltd. to become a landlubber North Carolina accountant.

Her brother Larry calls Kate begging her to return to the business in Florida as they are in trouble and need her financial expertise to save Moon Rose from a bad contract he signed with the British government. She refuses until he uses the extortion of filing bankruptcy will kill their Grandpa, but insists she will not sleep on the Golden Bough or go near the water. The British government sends Holden Cameron to investigate the salvage of the Moon Rise in which the treasure sent to the Antiquities Office is much smaller than expected. He assumes the Donnelly team is violating the agreement by stealing some of the loot; so he pulls no punches when he meets Kate by telling her he will most likely shut down the operation. Soon after his arrival, ugly incidents occur, which leads to a distrustful alliance between the dive consultant and the non-diving Donnelly.

This is an entertaining romantic suspense that opens at a leisurely pace introducing the key cast, the locale, and the contract. Once the background is set, the engaging storyline accelerates into a hyperspeed tense thriller filled with red herrings and several suspects to include the Diving Donnelly brood, and a romance built from shaky grounds due to the inquiry seemingly to incriminate her loved ones.

Kate Mosse
9780062281258, $26.99

In 1942 in Carcassonne, France, her sister Marieta warns her younger teenage sibling Sandrine to stay off the bridge over the River Aude. Though heeding the warning, Sandrine finds a battered man who did not drown in the river. As he lies dying, he pleads with her no police or doctor, but instead tell Audric Baillard that a sea of glass, of fire is real. Ignoring the man's plea, Sandrine informs the local authorities. Like Marieta, Sandrine soon joins the all-female Citadel Resistance. However, the Deuxième Bureau continues to stalk her every movement since she reported about the man at the Aude. She flees from Carcassonne reaching Rennes-les-Baines. There she meets Audric Baillard who enlists her help in his quest for the ancient Christian Codex.

In 342 AD, Arinius the monk knows he must leave as his haven is no more. Taking with him his treasured papyrus, he heads to Carcaso where Gnostics and Christians live in peace as he prays to the Lord to allow him to complete his project before calling him.

The final Languedoc entry is an exciting thriller that compares the beginning of the end of the Nazis (and Vichy France) with the fall of the Roman Empire. The insightful storyline contains much less paranormal than its predecessors (see Labyrinth and Sepulchre); while providing a fascinating look at the history of France (especially as a trilogy). Fans of the epic saga will appreciate the Citadel as Kate Mosse completes her tales with a strong historical.

Street Justice
Kris Nelscott
WMG Publishing
PO Box 269, Lincoln City, OR 97367
9780615866451, $18.99,

In January 1970, unlicensed Black private investigator Smokey Dalton freezes in his unheated apartment while raising his unofficial adopted son eleven year old Jimmy. He carries a concealed gun after some recent attacks. He follows closely the Chicago Seven Conspiracy Circus and the Cook County Coroners' inquest into the firefight deaths (that Smokey believes were official blue plate executions) of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

Jimmy's hysterical friend Keith Grimshaw calls Dalton pleading with him to help his thirteen year old sister Lacey at the Starlite Hotel where she was assaulted. Dalton finds the perpetrator but the assailant belongs to the mob connected Outfit that stalks school girls. The police, the city leaders and the school administration refuse to intercede; forcing Dalton to turn elsewhere for assistance, but no one in their right mind wants to tangle with this gang though he ultimately finds improbable allies.

The latest Smoky Dalton historical whodunit is a terrific entry in what is one of the best on going mystery series (see Days of Rage, War At Home and Smoke Filled Rooms). The powerful historiographical backdrop brings to life an era of protest and countermeasures through a powerful cast. The investigation and Smokey's efforts to find brave people especially in authority willing to risk all to bring down the Outfit enhances the deep look at the beginning of the 1970s reactionary aftermath to the turbulent 1960s.

Crime: A Fiction River Special Edition
Edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
WMG Publishing
PO Box 269, Lincoln City, OR 97367
9780615935164, $15.99,

This entertaining Fiction River Special Edition anthology contains sixteen new crime tales that mostly focus on felonious behavior rather than solving the case. In "Hitler's Dogs" by Doug Allyn, Doc comes home from self-imposed exile to be a pallbearer at the funeral of his beloved gang boss mentor. Biddle and the young girl work a lottery scam that nets then $40 from a sucker only to lose that money and more to a hold-up, which means running the scheme again in Steve Hockensmith's "Wheel of Fortune." The cop tells the Fourth AKA Nico that he needs a lawyer as the gas accelerant that caused the fire points to him as is the arsonist; but the "Fol" (by Kristine Kathryn Rusch) is unconcerned as he has affluence to buy his way out of trouble though this time money turns out to be not enough. Deputy Sheriff Jill Jordan (see the police procedural A Death In Cumberland) patrols lonely Highway 50 in which drivers think they can get away with anything in "Jackrabbit DMZ by Annie Reed. With no clinkers, the fabulous collection runs the genre gamut and more as affirmed by Jan who, in a cozy told in Haiku, finds the corpse in which her ex is the obvious strangler, but she keeps sleuthing "Gas, Tan, Video" (by M. Elizabeth Castle).

Cloak Of The Light
Chuck Black
Multnomah Books
12265 Oracle Blvd., Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80921
9781601425027, $11.99,

Twelve years old Drew Carter and his mom Kathryn attend the funeral of his father and her husband Ryan, a Special Forces war hero who died in combat. His dad's BFF Jake Blanchard pays his respect to his fallen comrade. The grieving pair move to Columbia to live with Drew's maternal grandmother. Over the next few years Jake became a surrogate father to Drew. In high school, Drew plays football. When his grandma dies and Kathryn loses her teaching position, she and Drew move to Rivercrest, Kansas where she obtained a job.

Drew makes the football team as a starting fullback, but alienates several players when he becomes friends with wannabe physicist Benjamin Berg who has a nutty theory about aliens living among us. He also is attracted to devout Christian Sydney Carlyle, who cannot go out with him as a non-believer. During a laser experiment conducted by Ben, an accident leaves Drew temporarily blind. When he recovers his sight, Drew finds he sees things outside the range of humanity; but what he observes makes him fear for his sanity as he swears feral otherworldly adversaries are in Kansas.

The first Wars of the Realm middle school age Christian thriller is an engaging tale due to a strong fully developed cast especially the three heroic teens and the brutal aliens. The storyline starts slow as readers meet Drew, but once they reach Kansas begins to accelerate until about a third of the way into the tale turns hyperspeed. Though Drew's skepticism towards Jesus is mishandled especially his out of character mocking of Sydney, readers will appreciate the opening act of Chuck Black's new saga
(see The Kingdom and The Knights of Arrethtrae).

Monsieur Le Commandant
Romain Slocombe, author
Jesse Browner, translator
Gallic Books
59 Ebury Street, London, SW1W ONZ, United Kingdom
9781908313508, $14.95,

In the early 1930s in France, Academie Francaise author Paul-Jean Husson is a highly successful writer who along with wife Marguerite raised two healthy children. The WWI hero believes the French Republic is doomed to failure as he adheres to the tenet that human rights breed corruption and anarchy. Instead Paul-Jean supports the Nazis especially when it comes to the loathsome Jews.

In 1934, his son Olivier the violinist performs in Berlin with the Paris Symphony. When he returns home, German actress Ilse Berger accompanies him. Though attracted to her, Paul-Jean is elated with Olivier's choice as he believes Germanic blood much stronger than that of watered down French. When Ilse gives birth to a daughter, Paul-Jean's admiration turns to fear as the newborn does not look like either of her parents. Instead he wonders whether his daughter-in-law is Jewish or had a tryst with a Jew just before meeting Olivier. As such he concludes mother and daughter place the Husson family in danger especially when the Nazis take Paris. A supporter of Petain's Vichy government, in 1942 Paul-Jean writes a confessional to his hometown German occupying force Monsieur Le Commandant.

Based on true events, Monsieur Le Commandant provides readers with a horrifying, timely look at collaboration by a French Nazi sympathizer. Paul-Jean cloaks himself with outraged moral indignation enhanced by his rationalization that he must save the French culture from Jews, Freemasons and liberals. In spite of his shocking confession to Monsieur Le Commandant,
Paul-Jean never comes across as fully developed beyond his prejudices. Still readers will appreciate this insightful tale of a person who prefers excluding select groups from basic rights rather than expanding to include all.

The Midnight Witch
Paula Brackston
Thomas Dunne Books
c/o St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250006080, $25.99,

In 1913 London, Lady Lilith Montgomery watches sadly as her late father is lowered into the ground. She knows her opium using brother Freddie has become the Duke of Radnor, but she inherited her dad's other title Morningstar the Lazarus Coven Head Witch though only twenty-one and feeling dreadfully unready for the responsibility.

Her fiance Louis Harcourt the witch renews his vow to die if need be to keep her safe and to help her protect the Elixir of Life from adversarial sorcerers especially the Sentinels necromancers. As WWI explodes, Louis becomes despondent when a distracted Lilith falls in love with artist Bram Cardale; leading to each failing to defend their prime security mission in life; leaving the Great Secret in jeopardy which has not happened in generations.

The latest Paula Brackston's bewitching drama (see Witch's Daughter and The Winter Witch) is an entertaining WWI paranormal historical. Although alone in many respects, Lilith embraces the liberating radical changes that "the war to end all wars" wrought on English society. The engaging storyline contains some reiteration of Edwardian upper class behavior; however treks such as to war-torn Uganda provide freshness to the tale. Fans will appreciate The Midnight Witch as she hopes to follow her heart while also insuring the Elixir remains safe from those who would abuse it for personal gain.

Murder At The Breakers
Alyssa Maxwell
Kensington, Mar 25 2014, $15.00
c/o Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street, Floor 21, NY, NY 10018-2522
9780758290823, $15.00,

In 1895 Newport, Rhode Island, though belonging to the affluent Vanderbilt brood, twentyish reporter Emmaline Cross is a poor working class reporter who drives a carriage for a living. Her other full-time occupation is getting her half-brother Brady Gale out of his many minor scrapes with the law.

To celebrate his newest mansion the Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt tosses a party attended by the elite of the upper class. However, the gala turns nightmarish when someone uses a candelabrum as a hammer to brutally smash in the skull of Vanderbilt's secretary Alvin Goddard before tossing the victim off the second-story balcony. The Newport police arrest Vanderbilt's nephew intoxicated Brady who was found asleep at the murder scene possessing stolen railroad secrets he apparently took from his uncle. Emma knows her sibling is a wastrel drunk, but not a murderer; so with the help of attractive journalist Derrick Anderson she questions those who attended the shindig.

The first Gilded Newport Mystery is an entertaining historical whodunit starring a wonderful heroine whose independence readers will enjoy though it is out of place for the late nineteenth century. Fans will root for unsinkable Emma as she crosses her .1% relatives with her unacceptable embarrassing behavior. Although the investigation takes a back seat to touring the rich and famous of Newport in the Gilded Age, Murder At The Breakers is a fun affair.

The Berkeley Square Affair
Teresa Grant
9780758283955, $15.00

In 1817, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch enjoy their quiet life in London after years of dangerous intelligence missions (see Imperial Scandal and The Paris Affair). Malcolm belongs to Parliament while Suzanne has become a popular hostess amongst the Ton.

Their domestic tranquility ends when their battered friend Simon Tanner visits them at their Berkeley Square mansion. The injured playwright explains he held an alleged valuable copy of a Hamlet when thugs accosted him; they severely beat him before leaving with the prize. Not long after Tanner's arrival, Malcolm's former boss, Lord Carfax, calls on the couple. The spymaster thinks the stolen document contains clues to the identity of a traitor whose betrayal decades ago led to deaths during an Irish rebellion that also involved Malcom's deceased father. Frantic Suzanne fears secrets she hid from everyone even her beloved will surface destroying their trust and probably end their marriage.

The latest Rannoch Regency mystery is an engaging early nineteenth century investigation due to the fabulous lead couple and the vivid background of post Napoleonic Wars London. The fascinating plot contains less suspense than previous entries (see Imperial Scandal and The Paris Affair) partly because the spying days during the war are over and partly because the prime cause of this caper is decades old. Still, fans will appreciate the Rannoch duet's tour of London not long after the Congress of Vienna (see Vienna Waltz) tried to return the continent to the pre Napoleon era.

The Reading Circle
Ashton Lee
9780758273420, $15.00

In Cherico, Mississippi, town librarian Maura Beth Mayhew feels grateful to the Cherry Cola Book Club who saved the town library from budget cuts at least for one year. However, she also knows the Sword of Damocles remains sharp and pointed at the Cherico Library as many townsfolk led by Councilman Durden Sparks feel this is an obsolete luxury not a necessity in the electronic information age; even though the book club brought in numerous previously indifferent patrons.

As the growing club membership argues, fusses and fights, a horrific storm batters Cherico causing severe damage to the library and other structures. Encouraged by this act of nature and still smarting after his recent defeat, Sparks makes a strong case that funds are needed elsewhere for more critical repairs than a still underused relic. Mary Beth and her Cherry Cola Book Club posse ride to the rescue trying to save their beloved library.

The second Cherico Library drama makes a powerful case as to the importance of libraries in towns and urban neighborhoods at a time when emphasis is on "death by a thousand cuts" to reduce effectiveness and destroy quality (similar to laws degrading USPS and Amtrak service). Small-town politics comes across extremely influential while at the same time the significance of libraries is emphasized. Readers will enjoy The Cherry Cola Book Club's animated even hostile discussions and the fight to save the library, but their adversary has a stronger argument in their rematch.

Board Stiff
Annelise Ryan
9780758272768, $7.99

In Sorenson, Wisconsin someone murders Twilight Home CEO and owner Bernie Chase. Resident Irene thinks Bjorn killed him, but he cannot remember what he did or saw. As she explains to Deputy Coroner Mattie Winston that Chase was killing patients costing him a lot of money for their care, she also shows her the body in the restroom with isolyser powder all over Chase.

Irene hesitates bringing the cops in to investigate as she wants to protect Bjorn. Mattie demands they do so while musing that she will see her former boyfriend Homicide Detective Steve Hurley for the first time since his wife and a teenage daughter he never met before arrived at his house. Mattie applies her forensics skills to help the cops with the inquiry.

The latest Mattie Winston Mystery (see Lucky Stiff and Frozen Stiff) is a wonderful amusing cozy due to a very strong cast beginning with the protagonist. Fast-paced, readers will appreciate this fun entry due to the residents of Twilight Home as seemingly every one of them insists Chase was a serial killer who deserved to die and though several suffer from dementia complicating the case; others conceal what they know behind a claim of having the disease.

Ten For Dying
Mary Reed and Eric Mayer
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., #103, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
9781464202278, $24.95,

In 548 Constantinople, Emperor Justinian deeply grieves the death of his beloved wife Empress Theodora. He recently fired John as the Lord Chamberlain following his loyal aid's investigation, made at the Emperor's demand into the Empress' death, as Justinian rejected the finding (see Nine For The Devil).

At the Church of the Holy Apostles, a fragment of the burial cloth of the Lord's mother has gone missing. Justinian assigns Palace Guard Captain Felix to look into the theft. Felix persuades his friend disgraced John to help him. Church cleaner Mada and her husband lamp lighter Peterios tell the pair that the lights were extraordinary low; a bad odor putrefied the air, frogs appeared and demons ran amuck taking the relic with them. Felix feels unprepared to act on his own with the fallen John leaving for Greece in exile. Besides dealing with his gambling debt, his family and his new mistress Anastasia, Felix must also look into how a corpse was left at his house. Matters turn ugly as several people apparently want at a minimum Felix to fail and preferably die.

Though series fans are used to the shrewd John the Eunuch running the show, Ten For Dying is an exciting entry made fresh by Felix and Anastasia who proves more than a mistress. Felix struggles with the twisted case in which many want to possess the holy relic and him dead; with the lethal politics including from the capricious mourning emperor; and with his even more convoluted personal life. Readers will enjoy this apparent new path that Mary Reed and Eric Mayer has taken, but also hope our favorite eunuch has a second coming perhaps in Greece.

Poisoned Ground
Sandra Parshall
Poisoned Pen
9781464202247, $24.95

Residents of Mason County, Virginia are divided between development of a resort and traditional use of the land. Those supporting the developers see a chance to make a lot of easy money by selling their property and argue for the influx of needed jobs; those opposed see urbanization's crime and pollution destroy their pristine landscape and the minimum wage jobs fail to take care of a family.

Veterinarian Rachel Goddard tries to keep her opinion to herself since her husband Tom Bridger must remain neutral as the sheriff. However, the dispute turns lethal when someone murders Lincoln and Marie Kelly for no apparent reason except that they refused to sell. Complicating the double homicides are the adult children as the debt-ridden son is irate that his sister inherited most of the estate. Deal critic Joanna McKendrick finds her barn burned to the ground and others opposed to the development live in fear they will be next. As Tom leads the investigation, he and his staff try to get the angry adversaries to calm down while Rachel already disgusted with the attitudes of the developers personalizes the situation when her family is threatened.

The latest Rachel Goddard mystery (see Under the Dog Star and Bleeding Through) is a superb taut thriller with a deep focus on a fuming and frightened split populace fussing and fighting over land use. With a fabulous late twist adding topping to this timely (Keystone comes to mind) strong storyline, readers will appreciate Sandra Parshall's puissant Poisoned Ground.

Brooklyn Graves
Triss Stein
Poisoned Pen
9781464202193, $24.95

In the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, widow Erica Donato finds she can continue to pursue her History Ph.D., work at the museum, assist snobbish visiting dignitary Dr. Thomas Flint on his history of the Tiffany studio, and raise her teenage daughter Chris; just don't sleep. She shows the unreasonable demanding Flint the National Historic Landmark Green-Wood Cemetery whose mausoleum contains incredible stained glass windows.

Someone murders Dima, husband of Erica's friend Natalya and father of Chris' friend Alex. Erica tries to get the grieving widow to understand that NYPD is not the Russian police that Natalya remembers from her childhood in her homeland. Though she has no time for sleuthing, Erica looks into the homicide. Erica also works with Flint's geeky Pratt student assistant Young Ryan Ames (who dreams of being the next Dave McKean instead of a historian) on the documents including whether the author of many of them, Maude Cooper, was an unknown Tiffany Girl. To their amazement, the pair finds oddities.

The second Erica Donato Mystery (see Brooklyn Bones) is a fabulous amateur sleuth as the protagonist knows she should not make inquiries into the murder, but cannot stop herself. The seemingly diverse whodunits are entertaining although the abrupt climax relies too much on happenchance. Fans will enjoy frantic caring Erica's guided tour of Brooklyn Graves.

Dark Surrender
Erica Ridley
Intrepid Reads
9781939713216, $9.99,

In 1835 at the Livingstone School for Girls in Lancashire, teacher Violet Whitechapel frets for her students and that her life is over since the benefactor died and his heir Mr. Percy Livingstone gives the staff and children one week to vacate. The philanthropy is over as Percy plans to change the school into a sanitarium for the affluent to bury undesirable relatives. When the new benefactor and his surveyor accost Violet and fifteen year old Emma; the former London street urchin turned teacher reacts with paint and turpentine. As the females escape, Emma knocks over candles, which places the building on fire.

In Shropshire Widower Alistair Waldegrave tries his best to keep his daughter Lillian safe from the sun, as the child suffers a life-threatening painful allergy to the star. His efforts only make his nine year old child angry and resentful while the villagers fear a vampire lives amongst them. When Violet arrives in town, Alistair offers her the position of governess to Lily. As she falls in love with the Waldegrave pair, her past comes to Shropshire.

This is a terrific nineteenth century historical starring three emotionally battered protagonists who find healing in their love for one another. The sun allergy is brilliantly executed as the child is for the most part left inside a loving prison while Alistair's fears and smothering enhance the impact of the chronic illness. Violet's guilt re the fire round out this trio as each finds solace in one another in Erica Ridley's delightful Dark Surrender.

Captain For Laura Rose
Stephanie Grace Whitson
Faith Words
c/o Hachette Publishing Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017-0010
9781455529056, $15.00,

In 1867 with the death of her brother Joe, Laura Rose White knows she probably will lose her late Papa's riverboat, the Laura Rose; as her sibling served as the pilot of record while she actually steered the ship. She hopes to obtain her license and related certification to pilot the Laura Rose, but understands the overwhelming odds against her achieving her objective due to her gender; as no woman ever legally piloted a riverboat. Those in charge set stringent stipulations starting with her finding a willing licensed pilot to oversee her steering of a full cargo to Fort Benton, Missouri.

Joe's best friend pilot Finn MacKnight agrees to join Laura on her ship as they sail the Missouri. During the trek, Laura changes her opinion of Finn from wastrel to caring individual while he now appreciates her drive that he used to detest. As the couple fall in love to the euphoria of their families, each finds happiness with the other.

The romance serves as a wonderful secondary subplot to a strong Americana that provides readers with a deep look at life on the Missouri (with a nod to Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi). Fans will enjoy this warm gender-bender as Laura tries to prove she deserves being captain of the Laura Rose.

The Barrow
Mark Smylie
59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst, NY 14228-2197
9781616148911, $18.00,

In Manon Mole in the Middle Kingdoms, cartographer Stjepan Black-Heart finds the map into the lethal Barrow of Azharad the ancient wizard that leads to Gladringer the legendary sword. Though several of his companions die on this venture, the map-maker puts together a new team consisting of brothel owner Gilgwyr, insane mage Leigh, survivor of the Manon Mole escapade Erim the female in male grab, mercenary Godewyn Red-Hand, noble Arduin and his sister scandalous Annwyn.

Each of the adventurers understands the danger of this quest, but all insist on risking their lives for diverse seemingly insane reasons. However, none of these scoundrels anticipated what happened when they tried to use the magical map for the first time only to find it cursed resulting in one dead and this guide apparently destroyed. From that devastating start, the escapades turn worse.

The Barrow is a fabulous fantasy made fresh by a magnificent team of seemingly amoral adventurers who over the course of their trek prove to possess a different code of ethics with varying personalities shaped by their respective social class, ethnicity, religion or gender. In spite of a short engaging opening saga in which Stjepan finds the mythical map, the entertaining bloody dark storyline starts leisurely as readers meet the players. Once the treasure seekers are established, the quest plot accelerates into nearly impossible to put down hyperspeed.

Blood and IronThe Book of the Black Earth, Part 1
Jon Sprunk
59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst, NY 14228-2197
9781616148935, $18.00,

On the Bantu Ray as the ship's carpenter, Horace and the rest of the Arnossi navy sail into combat at sea against the Akeshian Empire. However, an enigmatic torrential storm that could only be magically created shipwrecks the Bantu Ray. Horace manages to make it to the Akeshia Empire's Erugash Kingdom where he is taken prisoner; as an enemy combatant he is condemned to a life as a slave.

A second storm forces Horace to deploy for the first time Zoana elemental magic that makes him a desirable commodity at Queen Byleth's court if he can learn to control his previously unknown skill. Many want him to fail as nobles know a royal favorite mage means less power for them and the Sun Cult priests plot to overthrow Byleth but must rid the monarch of her new champion first. Defending the carpenter are the handmaiden Alyra and slave-soldier Jirom.

The first Book of the Black Earth is an engaging fantasy that showcases the impact of a stranger with superior magical powers on a royal court. Readers will root for the honorable protagonist although others accept him as a friend and ally; and he becomes a mage adept too easily. Still Jon Sprunk creates a fascinating world with intriguing culture clashes as the Arnossi carpenter becomes an Erugash magician.

City of the Sun
Juliana Maio
Greenleaf Book Group Press
PO Box 91869, Austin, TX 78709
9781626340510, $24.95,

In 1941 Egyptians fear for their lives and what appears to be coming to their kingdom as General Rommel leads a desert blitzkrieg speeding towards Cairo. King Farouk struggles to rule under the thumb of the British Protectorate while the new rebellious Muslim Brotherhood demands these arrogant foreigners leave or face their wrath. Neither the weak puppet monarch nor the pompous British rulers are aware that the Nazis and the Brotherhood are negotiating a deal to rid Egypt of its feeble ruler and its overbearing overlords.

Feeling fortunate to be alive while coming from the Libyan Desert to Cairo along with thousands of fleeing refugees, American reporter Mickey Connolly saw first-hand the power of Rommel's forces that threaten to take all of North Africa. Meanwhile American Chief Spymaster "Wild Bill" Donovan persuades Connolly to help find German physicist Erik Blumenthal, who probably hides in the Jewish sector. At the same time German espionage agent Heinrich Kesner also pursues Blumenthal. Mickey allies with Jewish refugee Maya Levi in his effort to locate the hiding nuclear scientist.

City of the Sun is a strong historical thriller that uses real persona and events to anchor a powerful storyline. Readers will feel they are in 1941 Cairo as Juliana Maio provides her audience with a taste of a divided, frightened, yet angry city expecting war. The romantic subplot adds hope and passion in the midst of strife. However, readers will relish the profound look at the early days of the Middle East dispute (interwoven into a superb drama) that still haunts the region and world decades after the end of WWII.

The Queen's Handmaid
Tracy L. Higley
Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9781401686840, $15.99,

In 39 BC Alexandria, Egypt, orphan Lydia works as a servant at Cleopatra's court. With one exception elderly Jew Samuel, she trusts no one even as she secretly sells her self-made products to a vendor with the hope one day she can leave the royal service to open up a shop. Lydia also tries to stay clear of the dangerous Cleopatra though she serves young Caesarian, the royal son of the Queen and Caesar.

As Governor Herod and his retinue arrive at Cleopatra's court, Samuel realizes he will soon join the Lord. He frets over having no children to entrust the passing down, like generations of his family have done, of secret scrolls. However, he also accepts the mysterious workings of the Lord as he concludes God chose Lydia as the deliverance of the hidden Daniel prophecy to bring to the right people waiting for the arrival of the true King of Israel. Herod orders Lydia to come to Judea as handmaid to his betrothed wife Queen Mariamme while irate Cleopatra plots his demise before he visits her lover Antony. In Jerusalem where Herod has become the king, Lydia knows what she must do, but the mission of the new ruler's dark sister is to destroy the scrolls and the bearer. Simon helps Lydia's efforts to bring the words of the Prophet that soon the Messiah comes.

A deep biblical era thriller, The Queen's Handmaid is an exciting first century BC historical. The key cast including real persona seem genuine while the lifestyle of the affluent and their servants in Egypt and Judea add depth to an exhilarating storyline; as the brave Chosen One keeps the wonderful premise of the Messiah's Coming focused.

The Devil Walks In Mattingly
Billy Coffey
Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9781401688226, $15.99,

Two decades ago in Mattingly, Virginia, the corpse of Philip McBride was found in Happy Hollow. An investigation led to the official cause of death as suicide. Three people know the truth that McBride did not take his own life.

Although filled with guilt and remorse, Sheriff Jake and Kate Barnett continue to hide their roles in McBride's demise twenty years ago behind a facade of blissful marital paradise. However, their pseudo heaven collapses into hell with the end of their concealment; the third knowledgeable person Taylor Hathcock the insane hermit arrives in town from his mountainous retreat seeking redemption. At the same time Jake suffers increasingly from nightmares in which McBride arises from the grave to accuse those involved in his death. Hathcock's return to Mattingly for the first time since the death that haunts him causes unease amongst the townsfolk.

The Devil Walks In Mattingly is a wonderful sin and salvation inspirational fantasy with the paranormal coming across as genuine. Character driven by the sinful trio (and a few other townsfolk), subgenre fans will appreciate this exciting salvation drama; as transgressions even of omission, whether it is the devil or paralyzing guilt, haunt those burying their head (and soul) in the riverbank mud.

The Word Exchange
Alena Graedon
Doubleday & Company
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
9780385537650, $26.95,

In Manhattan Chief Editor of the anachronistic North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL) Douglas Samuel Johnson grieves the death of the written word as the demise of civilization. Instead of obsolete books, love letters, maps and photos, Meme devices are commonly used and the Synchronic company controls linguistics via their gadgets and the Word Exchange. Still Doug diligently finishes a twenty-six year old project with the third edition of the dictionary about to come out probably to the "Sound of Silence" (Simon and Garfunkel); unlike the second version back in the antiquated nineties receiving critical acclaim. At the same time of Doug's latest triumph, his wife Vera is divorcing him.

Doug gives his beloved daughter Anana pills marked as "Alice" to be used only if she is in peril before he vanishes. Ana and her NADAL colleague Bart search for her father, which takes them dangerously behind the curtain of Synchronic's brilliant insidious marketing wizardry. They also meet the rebellious Diachronic Society and eventually reach the ancient Holy Grail of language the Oxford English Dictionary office. However, they appear too late to prevent the pandemic "word flu" as the end of language without gadgets denotes the end of life (past, present and future) as we knew it.

Extrapolating current communication technological trends (for instance, from print to electronic) into the next century, Alena Graedon provides a powerful dark dystopian future. The exciting storyline contains a strong message echoing Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message" so be wary of the technological-industrial-government complex controlling thought through gizmos. Fans will appreciate the misadventures of Ana and Doug as they fall through the rabbit hole into a world which held the wake for obsolete print.

City Of Darkness And Light
Rhys Bowen
Minotaur Books
c/o St. Martin's Publishing Group
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250011664, $25.99,

In 1905, NYPD Police Captain Daniel Sullivan battles crime in the city while his wife "retired" private detective Molly raises their son Liam. Their happy home ends when an explosion blows up their house injuring the couple and killing their servant Aggie; their infant is okay.

Though many assume the gas accidentally was left on unlit, Daniel believes the Cosa Nostra lethally attacked his home to kill him and end his investigations into their activities; with his family and servant expendable collateral damage. They discuss what to do and agree that Molly and Liam will travel to France to stay safely with friends Gus and Sid. After a seasickness voyage across the Atlantic, Molly and her baby arrive at her friends' apartment only Gus and Sid are not there. Molly moves into their abode while searching for the missing pair. She learns that anti-Semite Reynold Bryce, who she planned to visit, was murdered with the motive most likely a reaction to the Emile Zola's articles on the Dreyfus Affair. The clues lead sleuthing Molly to American expatriate painter Mary Cassatt, where her friends hide because Sid a Jew met with Bryce on the day he was murdered. Feeling right at home in Paris, Molly investigates the homicide.

The latest Molly Murphy investigation (see The Family Way) is a superb whodunit that provides fans on a fabulous tour of the City of Lights at a time when anti-Semitism has become publically visible due to Zola's J'Accuse and in contrast the fine arts flourish; as readers meet a who's who. The murder mystery is terrific and exciting yet 1905 Paris owns the storyline as the City Of Darkness And Light is also a great historical.

Tricia Fields
9781250021373, $25.99

In Artemis, Texas someone shoots to death secretary Christina Handley for no apparent reason while her boss accountant Dillon Reese disappears. Reese's girlfriend Police Chief Josie Gray understands the ramifications of her boyfriend's vanishing means he is the prime suspect in the murder of his employee and she must recuse herself from the investigation.

When a ransom demand for nine-million arrives accompanied by a video of Dillon in captivity arrives, Josie fears for his life and relief he was not one of the killers though why they murdered Christina remains unknown as does how to meet the monetary demand. Josie asks hostage negotiator Nick Santos to help her rescue Dillon.

The third Josie Gray police procedural (see The Territory and Scratchgravel Road) is an entertaining mystery as this case is personal for the protagonist, which makes standing on the sidelines doing nothing but praying extremely difficult when she craves killing the thugs. Fast-paced with for the most part exciting rotational perspectives, readers will appreciate Josie's latest crime case.

Precious Thing
Colette McBeth
9781250041197, $24.95

In Brighton, England, Rachel's dad vanished from the moment she was born and her resentful alcoholic mom Niamh despised her; blaming her child for her man leaving. At school, lonely Rachel meets dynamic Clara and they become BFFs. Niamh adores Clara and treats her as her child rather than her biological mistake. However, due to a nasty incident the friendship dies; Niamh blames her offspring.

Years later Clara and Rachel reunite as friends but their situations are radically different than when they were teens; as the former has had a tough go while the latter has become a successful reporter. Clara calls Rachel to meet her and other school friends at a club. Rachel arrives, but Clara fails to show. The police suspect Rachel harmed her BFF due to envy re Niamh. Now, the journalist must use her skills to learn what happened to Clara to stay out of prison.

This strong psychological thriller looks deep at the good, the bad and the ugly of friendships. The enjoyable storyline starts leisurely paced in order for the audience, through a Rachel filtering, to fully understand how each of the female trio thinks. Once the plot turns to the friendship renewal, the twisting tense tale soars into suspenseful first gear.

I Remember You
Yrsa Sigurdardottir, author
Philip Roughton, translator
9781250019004, $14.99

Married couple Katrin and Gardar, accompanied by a late friend's widow Lif, leave Reykjavik, Iceland to renovate an old house they've recently purchased into a guesthouse in remote Hesteyri. Almost upon arrival, the trio feel like eating the financial investment as they are uncomfortable though none of them initially can explain why. They soon understand that the house contains a deadly resident, a ghost child, who demands they leave or suffer the consequences of their foolishness.

At the same time in Ísafjördur, police detective Dagný investigates a vandal incident at a school in which a young student, who vanished three years ago, remains missing. The cop asks psychiatrist Dr. Freyr to assist him with the case. They soon learn of an identical event at this same school six decades ago. In that historical cold case, the missing pupil's classmates began mysteriously dying. Soon the eerie events happening in Hesteyri and Ísafjördur connect.

As Thora Gudmundsdottir (see The Day Is Dark) takes a respite, Yrsa Sigurdardottir provides an exhilarating Icelandic paranormal mystery. The Ísafjördur subplot is the stronger of the pair as each new clue forces the investigators and readers to change their opinion as to what is happening. The Hesteyri haunted house engages the audience with scary suspense, but loses some steam as the time to flee back to Reykjavik long passed. Still I Remember You is a fabulous fright fest.

The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb
David Handler
9781250041975, $25.99

Recently elected as Dorset, Connecticut's first female selectwoman, Glynis Fairchild-Forniaux implements her plan to re-grade and widen Dorset Street in the town's Historical District over the objection of many of the local Old Guard led by former long-time selectman Bob Paffin. When the work begins, the crew uncovers a corpse in a shredded U.S Navy uniform.

Connecticut State Trooper Resident Des Mitry leads the investigation into the death of Paffin's older brother Lance, who vanished over forty seven years ago without a trace because he obviously was interred under the street in front of the Congregational Church since 1967. With help from her lover NYC movie critic Mitch Berger, Mitry questions many of the town's leading older citizens; but Paffin, Gazette newspaper publisher Buzzy Shaver, and U.S. Congressman Luke Cahoon offer nothing; while the many females that Vietnam War hero Lance the womanizer victimized also remain silent. The case remains frozen, but Mitry refuses to resign herself that the code of silence will leave this unsolved.

The latest Berger and Mitry regional police procedural (see The Snow White Christmas Cookie and The Blood Red Indian Summer) is a wonderful twisting New Englander whodunit as the Dorset Brahmin close ranks refusing to cooperate. Mitry is at her obstinate intimidating Amazonian best refusing to give up; while Berger provides wry commentary on movies and elitist townsfolk. The strong case resolution is fresh in part due to help from unexpected individuals, but mostly because the dynamic opposites attract couple is at the top of their game.

Where Dreams Unfold
M.L. Buchman
Buchman Bookworks
9781494359232, $6.99,

Seattle Emerald City Opera Director Jervis Wilson escorts Stage Manager Widower Bill Cullen to Perrin's Glorious Garb Boutique to meet the designer-owner Perrin Williams and see some of her work; as their costumer for the upcoming Ascension took a temper fit and left for Milan. Bill's initial reactions to the very tall female is she is a flake while unaware the woman is exhausted from sleep deprivation having spent the last few days working on gowns for her BFF Jo Thompson's marriage to Angelo Parrano (see Where Dreams Reside). Still he agrees to meet with her.

Still having not slept as she worked all night, Perrin arrives at his office in a gown that has everyone thinking she is an empress. Soon afterward she falls asleep on her couch. Stunned Bill contacts her friend Cassidy Knowles (see Where Dreams Are Born) who tells him to let her BFF sleep. As she works on the opera's designs, Perrin meets Bill's ten year old son Jasper and thirteen year old daughter Tamara. Soon Bill and Perrin fall in love while she and Tamara bond over knitting; but Jasper feels abandoned by his dad and sister, and resentful towards the intruder.

The third Angelo's Hearth romance is a delightful family drama with a feel good storyline. Perrin is a unique individual who comes across as a real Mary Poppins though with deep scars caused from an abusive childhood. With the return of cast from the previous entries playing major roles and a look at an opera in pre-production, readers will relish this entertaining contemporary as love blossoms over several intense weeks culminating with a loving Night at the Opera.

Murder In The Worst Degree
F. M. Meredith
Dark Oak Mysteries
9781610091459, $12.95,

In Southern California, two surfers riding a wave share the trip with a corpse. Rocky Bluff PD Police Officer Gordon Butler responds to their call before turning over the case to Detectives Doug Milligan and Felix Zachary. The cops believe the deceased is affluent Harlan Knight, whose adult children filed a missing person's report a few days ago in which they said their widower father suffers from late stage dementia. Meanwhile Doug's wife Police Officer Stacey Milligan and her partner Lizette Gibbs interview severely beaten rape victim Felicia Higgins.

The ME reports that the cause of Knight's death is not drowning, but an overdose of a prescription drug. Besides family members, the housemaid, the victim's three Seabee buddies and a loving widow are suspects. New Captain Chandra Taylor uses a computer generated program to draw the face of the rapist from the description provided by his second horribly battered victim Jenny Jacoby. Stunned Stacey is horrified as the face looking back at her from the monitor is a younger version of Police Officer Ryan Strickland whose wife just gave birth to a cute Down's Syndrome baby.

The latest Rocky Bluff PD police procedural (see Dangerous Impulses, Bad Tidings and No Bells) is a wonderful leisurely-paced investigative thriller that deftly combines the cops' personal lives with adapting to a new chief while working two violent crimes and several other offenses. Subgenre fans will appreciate F. M. Meredith's engaging rotation of the lead amongst her ensemble cast as the cases and what is happening off the job prove very interesting.

Watching You
Michael Robotham
Mulholland Books
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017-0010
9780316252003, $26.00,

In London over a year ago, Daniel vanished leaving behind his grieving financially strapped wife Marnie and their two children. Depressed and forced to work as an escort to put food on the table, Marnie turns to her neighbor psychologist Dr. Joe O'Loughlin as a patient of his; particularly since she insists she is not paranoid while claiming someone follows her.

Marnie finds an incomplete scrapbook and accompanying DVD that Daniel worked on as a birthday present for his wife. The DVD contains interviews he conducted and images he took of people who knew Marnie. Almost all of those he spoke with feared her as a terrible monster and many of them wish she would drop dead. Marnie is stunned by the revelatory reactions. She asks Joe what is going on; in turn he persuades his friend former cop Vincent Ruiz to investigate especially when a person she recently contacted and met is murdered with Marnie being the last known individual seen with the victim.

The latest O'Loughlin-Ruiz case (see Say You're Sorry) is a great psychological investigative thriller; as the protagonists wonder whether their client is a dangerous psychopath or a victim of an insidious adversary with both heavily leaning towards her being a lethal lunatic. Although the premise seems improbable, Michael Robotham convinces his audience that it is genuinely happening.

The Dead of Summer
Mari Jungstedt, author
Tiina Nunnally, translator
Stockholm Text
19820 82nd Place NE, Kenmore, Seattle, WA 98028
9789187173981, $14.95,

Two boys playing in the water off Gotland Island's Sudersand Beach find a corpse floating nearby. The victim did not drown, but instead was shot several times in the abdomen and once in the head. While DCI Anders Knutas vacations with his family for two weeks in Denmark, Assistant DCI Karin Jacobssen heads the investigation; but calls her boss to inform him of the murder as he required of her. Over the objection of his wife Lina and though he trusts his assistant, bored workaholic Anders uses the murder as an excuse to leave his family in Denmark to return to Gotland to lead the inquiry.

Though diligently working the inquiry, the police uncover nothing while neither does reporter Johan Berg. At the same time, a Russian tanker arrives with a crew known for illegalities and soon afterward, a second homicide occurs. Having made no progress on the first murder, Knutas seeks the connection between the two victims as the means to solving the case.

Overall the fifth Gotland Swedish police procedural (see Killer's Art, Unspoken, Unseen and The Inner Circle) is an enjoyable whodunit. Much of the storyline focuses on the relationships between the key players (Johan with Emma, their daughter and his photographer; and Karin with Knutas) rather than on the investigation. When the fascinating case takes front and center; the police and the journalist are stymied on solving the homicides; while fans ironically know much more.

Through A Venetian Looking GlassA Novel of Remembrances
Hans Peter Braendlin
Fithian Press
c/o Daniel & Daniel Publishers
PO Box 2790, McKinleyville, CA 95519
9781564745514, $15.99,

Thirteen years ago, ten year old Frederic Petitfeu died in a drowning accident caused by stormy weather. Time may heal all wounds, but his parents Jean-Pierre the artist and Claire the California English teacher still grieve their loss. Married for thirty-five years, the couple, encouraged by their daughter Frankie, went on a come together healing car tour of Mediterranean Western Europe that culminated with marital renewal and solace in Venice. Since that first trip not long after the funeral, they have returned to the watery city annually for five days.

On their twelfth trip to Venice, Jean-Pierre finds an early sixteenth century manuscript hidden in their room. The document contains the memoir of Giovanni Pietro Pofoco written not long before he apparently died. In contrast to the journal kept by Claire since her beloved son died, Pofoco's life is filled with violence as personal and city brouhahas are the norm abetted by corruption; yet he also balanced the ugliness with plenty of pleasures filled with vino and women.

Not for everyone, this is a fascinating yet convoluted look at people, past and present, struggling to make the best of their lives. The twisting storyline keeps readers guessing as to what is going on with Pofoco as nothing is what it first appears; or for that matter second and third assertions either. Character-driven to include the sixteenth century and modern day city, fans who appreciate something radically unique and fresh will want to read this rambling "Novel of Remembrances."

Forever and All That Jazz
Karen Wiesner
Whiskey Creek Press
PO Box 51052, Casper, WY 82605-1052
9781611602838, $3.99 (Kindle)
9781304491466, $13.99 (Trade Paperback)

Jasmine Pepowski and Pastor Wesley Horace met and fell in love. Nine months ago Jazz and Wesley married and now reside in Peaceful, Wisconsin. Though she has given herself to the Lord, Jazz still struggles with the concept of "spiritual emergencies" and that her husband is on call 24/7 to attend to the flock as he works six days and fifty to sixty hours a week. Even his off day requires no communication gizmos to prevent calls. Still she loves God, her husband and her life. Wesley also struggles to the adjustments of having a wife to share in decision-making.

Her father's neighbor in La Crosse calls Jazz that her dad Henry is suffering from chest pains in which the nitroglycerine failed to relieve. Jazz drives to see her hospitalized father. She learns he needs to be placed in a nursing home, but refuses as she prefers he lives with her and her husband although that upsets Wesley. Henry also tells his daughter that her mother Indigo did not die as she believed, but instead walked out on them to become a jazz singer.

The third fabulous Friendship Heirlooms inspirational family drama (see Clumsy Girl's Guide To Falling In Love and Michael's Angel) is a wonderful tale as several vulnerable people cope with major changes in their lives. Even though the fascinating storyline has more of a taste of Jasmine, the pastor's internal doubts (re his wife, his distrusting live-in father-in-law and his demanding flock dominating all his time) make for an excellent read; as a man of God still is a man.

Abraham and Sarah
Roberta Kells Dorr
Moody/River North, Mar 1 2014, $14.99
River North
c/o Moody Publishers
820 N. LaSalle Blvd., Chicago, IL 60610
9780802409577, $14.99,

Abram devoutly worships an invisible God that friends, family and servants doubt exist outside his mind as everyone else fears their deities. Especially nerve wracking to his wife Sarai is Abram's strict obedience to Elohim's demands, regardless of the cost to him, his loved ones and his community. Sarai also loathes her maidservant Hagar, who has given her husband his only offspring Ishmael while his wife grows old, bitter and barren. However, though decades past child-bearing, Sarai miraculously with Elohim's intervention gives birth to Abram's legitimate heir Isaac. As the family relocates obeying Elohim's command, Sarai diligently protects her beloved Isaac.

Abraham and Sarah is an intriguing look at the first relationship triangle starring the first founding father, the original first lady, their servant and the next generation offspring. The period and places are vividly described especially life in early biblical time. Though the three key males are less developed, Hagar and Sarai are complete with each, at times unlikable; as the matriarch is a shrew and the handmaiden flauntingly prideful.

Half-Off Ragnarok
Seanan McGuire
Daw Books, Inc.
c/o Penguin Group
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780756408114, $7.99,

Cryptozoologist Alexander Price takes a research position at the Columbus Zoo where he studies non-urban cryptids and assists on the basilisk breeding program. His hidden reason for accepting the move is to help his family especially with what happened to Cousin Sarah and to grandpa. Visiting Australian Big Cat zoologist and Alex's girlfriend Shelby Tanner also conducts research at the Columbus Zoo.

Something deadly and strange occurs at the zoo when corpses partially turned to stone begin to appear everywhere. To Alex's trepidation these deaths most likely mean a serial killing gorgon and he knows of one very nearby though he refuses to accept this individual as the psychopath. At the same time, the Aeslin mice warn Alex that his cousin is losing control, which if true makes her extremely dangerous. As he investigates, Shelby wonders what is going on with her man and at the zoo.

The third InCryptid urban fantasy (see Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special) remains fresh as this entry relocates from Manhattan to Ohio and changes lead from Verity to her older brother; while keeping reader fascination into the Price family and the monsters they fight. Fast-paced with a strong support cast, Alex struggles between ending the terror of a stone cold serial killer, being there for his family and hiding secrets from the brilliant woman who rocks his world.

Immortal Muse
Stephen Leigh
Daw Books, Inc.
c/o Penguin Group
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780756409562, $24.95,

In 1352 Paris, Perenelle expected a happy life when she married alchemist Nicolas Flamel after her first husband Marlon died from the 1349 pestilence. However, her life remained dissatisfying especially since he rejected her help at the apothecary though as the daughter of an alchemist she knew her chemicals. Worse to Perenelle was his temper that targeted their little girl Verdette for most of his wrath over Perenelle's objections. In 1370 Verdette escapes her uncaring father via marriage. Over the next two decades Verdette begged her beloved mom to leave the odious ignoramus, but she did not as she loved working in her lab. In 1398 Verdette died, but a few years later a still grieving Perenelle develops an immortality elixir that to her chagrin Nicolas takes too.

Over the centuries in Paris, Rome, London and elsewhere, Perenelle the muse encourages artists while Nicolas brings pain and death to anyone in his path. Every time he finds her, she vanishes and reinvents herself until now she lives as Camille Kenny in twenty-first century New York while knowing he will come.

Immortal Muse is a fabulous fantasy that rotates between modern day NYC and various changing centuries; with each stop and the people readers (and the Immortal Muse) encounter come across as genuine. Readers will appreciate Stephen Leigh's fascinating good and evil war while wondering who the author's creative muse is.

The Second Letter
Robert Lane
Mason Alley Publishing
9780615841885, $14.95,

Jim and Dorothy Harrison left DC for the Long Key section of St. Petersburg Beach, Florida. Not long after their relocation, Jim mysteriously dies while away on business. In 1961, under four months after she became a widow, Jim's associate at the CIA Theodore Sullivan visits Dorothy. He asks her to keep a sealed envelope with a letter inside safe as the agency prefers it stored outside of DC. Dorothy and her gardener Angelo conceal the unopened letter in her home.

Decades later, Dorothy's home has been converted into the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum. However, a few days ago, vandals tore into the place. Concerned Colonel Janssen orders former Special Forces soldiers Jake Travis and Garrett to find the letter left in Dorothy's care many years ago. Tampa strip joint owner, mob-connected Raydel Escobar insists he possesses the letter; which he will exchange if the seven million dollars the IRS claims he owes the government is considered paid in full. The two veterans, Jake's girlfriend Kathleen Rowe nee Cunningham formerly of the Outfit, Morgan the neighbor, and others work the retrieval.

The incredible cast makes for a fantastic Florida crime caper as all the key players, secondary characters and even some tertiary participants appear real yet their development is smoothly interwoven with no deceleration (even with some unrelated criminal activity) into the thrilling plot. Fast-paced, fans will appreciate this entertaining tale.

Harriet Klausner
Senior Reviewer

Lorraine's Bookshelf

Down the Back Lane
Grey Larsen, author and performer
Mel Bay Publications Inc.
PO Box 66, Pacific, MO 63069
9780786685745 $19.99

"Down the Back Lane: Variation in Traditional Irish Dance Music" is an illuminated collection of 8 transcriptions of traditional Irish jigs, reels hornpipes, a slide and a slip jig suitable for all melody instruments, plus a CD containing all tunes as performed by the author on flute and whistle. In addition, there are three chapters of explanation of ornamentation, phrasing, and use of modes, plus added thoughts on the art of variation. Transcripts are written in standard notation using three lines, with reference melody line on the bottom and variations 1,2, and 3 on the staffs above. There is an Ornament Symbol Chart plus a reference to "The Essential Guide to Irish Flute and Tin Whistle" (by the same author) for further information on ornamentation. Songs included are both commonly performed and more rarely heard examples, in the public domain.

Giovanni Croce
Pendragon Press Musicological Series
Richard Charteris, editor
Pendragon Press
PO Box 190, Hillsdale, NY 12529
9781576472446 $64.00

Part of a series on the Croce Quatercentenary Edition, "Giovanni Croce: First Book of Motets for Eight Voices and Organ" was begun to be edited by Michael Procter (died May 3, 2012) and finished by Richard Charteris, Emeritus Professor in Historical Musicology at the University of Sydney) with assistance of Michael Procter. This volume, fifth in a series of fourteen projected volumes, presents full scores of music for eighteen motets for voice and organ of popular religious Latin music from 16th century Venice. In addition to full vocal/organ scores of the 18 motets, significant analytic chapters on scoring, performance, modal analysis, transposition rubrics, transposition practice, sources, critical commentary and text and translations are included, written by both Charteris and Procter as indicated. The motet titles are as follows: Omnes gentes plaudite manibus, Ave virgo sponsa Dei, Quaeramus cum pastoribus, Ubi pascas ubi cubes? Factum es silentium, Decantabat populus Israel, Plange quasi virgo, Ornaverunt faciem templi, Percussit Saul mille, Benedictus Dominus Deus Sabaoth, Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius, Descendit angelus Domini, Anima mea liquefacta est, Virgo decus nemorum, Audite verbum Domini, Veni in hortum meum, Deus misereatur nostri, and Ecce panis angelorum. The Renaissance polyphony works of Croce were successful and popular in his lifetime and are still performed with the help of informed scholarship such as is included in this volume.

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Richard's Bookshelf

Shift Your Brilliance - Harness the Power of You, Inc.
Simon T. Bailey
Sound Wisdom
P. O. Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257
9780768404579, $14.99,

A Blueprint for Audacious Living

Award winning author and Leadership Catalyst, Simon T. Bailey challenges his readers to take seven action steps that will help them "shift into drive" and accelerate them on the road to achieving personal success. These seven practical principles are presented in a format which can be restated to become positive affirmations, action steps, or guidelines for writing a personal mission statement.

Bailey helps the reader see and understand things in a new fresh way enabling them to focus energy more effectively through futuristic thinking. I appreciated Bailey's openness and honest self-appraisal in the incidents, examples, and illustrations taken from his own life lessons which re-enforce his unique insights and power principles.

"Shift Your Brilliance" came to my attention at a time when I had reached a plateau, an impasse between being liberated from the limitations of my past and a readiness to make a deeper commitment to step out of my comfort zone to shift from average to a more meaningful new significance." Simon Bailey provided the impetus and motivation I needed to take a risk, free myself to live my future now by following my heart to "own the moment."

Bailey's writing is innovative with a creative spark that infuses an infectious brilliance in the reader. Highly motivational; a must read for leaders in business, government, education, and in the church community.

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

Hollywood From Below the Line: A Prop Master's Perspective
Steven M. Levine
Robert D. Reed Publishers
P. O. Box 1992, Bandon, Oregon 97411
9781934759851, $14.95, 180 Pages,

An Entertaining and Informative Inside Look at Hollywood from the View of a Prop Master

Steven M. Levine, a Hollywood prop master takes the reader behind the scenes of the mystique and glamor of Hollywood to reveal the role of the on-set life of a crew member.

He begins with a description of the job of prop master with an interesting story of his father's career and of how he was challenged to follow in his footsteps. This background includes the history and scope of prop house rental services. He tells of the progression and evolution of the job expectations and goes on to develop a careful detailed description of the prop master's job from the first script review to the final "wrap up."

A photo section includes a timeline of Steven's career of 39 years. He highlights photos taken while working with some of Hollywood's greats while working on award winning films including: Airplane 1979, Cocoon 1984, Pee-wee's Big Adventure 1985, and Apollo 13 in 1995. He also shares experiences from his television work including the series True Blood. He had many opportunities in episodic and pilot projects from 1980 through 2012.

"Hollywood From Below the Line: A Prop Master's Perspective" is well written, informative, highly entertaining, poignant, and often humorous.

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

Richard R. Blake, Reviewer

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Midwest Book Review
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