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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 13, Number 10 October 2014 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

Donovan's Bookshelf Kaveny's Bookshelf Klausner's Bookshelf
Lorraine's Bookshelf Margaret's Bookshelf Richard's Bookshelf
Shelley's Bookshelf Shirley's Bookshelf Taylor's Bookshelf

Donovan's Bookshelf

Sharon Erby
Harvard Square Editions
2152 Beachwood Terrace, Hollywood, CA 90068
9780989596091, $19.95,

A linked set of short stories revolving around a working-class woman is an unusual approach, but Parallel's collection is a standout with short tales that correspond to American lives and working-class hearts, and is a special recommendation for women's literary collections and general-interest readers looking for realistic stories of an ordinary woman experiencing life's changes.

The stories are set in the mountains of rural South Central Pennsylvania, focus on a working woman and her family, friends, and neighbors, and offer vignettes that capture their lives, concerns and purposes through deft signature moments and transition points.

What connects the tales in Parallel isn't just gender and class: it's the gritty niceties and darknesses of everyday life and relationships that provide insights paired with a 'you are there' feel: "If Robbie would've been any kind of man, he'd have gotten the kids up, helped them with their clothes. He would have looked after them. And he did - sometimes. What did she expect of him, for that matter? Yes; it was safer not to expect anything from anyone. She'd expected Robbie to take care of her and the boys, like her daddy had taken care of Mama, her and her brother. Things changed...Things always changed-there could be enormous changes at the last minute."

As the same characters appear in different stories (more linking...) and interact with one another, a special feel of the book emerges like a butterfly: its ability to be followed as either a series of linked vignettes or as independent short stories. They're strongest, however, when viewed as a unit; with each story building adding more meaty details of characters, concerns, and lives.

In the end the web of life becomes well defined and what began as a series of disparate stories connected primarily by a sense of place evolves to a gathering of intermingled experiences shared through the perceptions, hopes and thoughts of the female protagonist. The result is an achievement especially recommended for followers of literary short fiction interested in the mechanics of linking a short story collection's events and characters.

Glorious Sunset
Ava Bleu
Urban Christian Books
c/o Kensington Press Distributors
9781601626707, $14.95 print / $8.49 Kindle,

Be careful what you wish for: it can come back in an unexpected form and bite you. That's just one of the messages in the multi-faceted story Glorious Sunset, which toes a fine line between romance and fantasy and injects a healthy dose of humor into the mix for good measure.

A romance between a four-hundred-year-old genie and a contemporary interior designer with no memory of their past love sounds like an unlikely scenario for humor, much less spiritual reflection; but Glorious Sunset comes steeped in a blend of wry observation and irony (which makes for a satisfyingly unique, edgy style) while spiritual concerns are only one strong thread running through a winding, changing saga.

The story opens in 1600 A.D. in West Africa, where a king and warrior faces his own death, the fiery destruction of his village and - most importantly - the end of his one love in life. Taka can't handle the reality that his beloved queen is dead, and in his madness he awakens the one force that has saved and counseled him through the eons: Aniweto, a friend and guardian angel.

Aniweto is the vessel of God, God's messenger, and the means by which Taka perceives meaning and purpose in his constantly-conflicted life. Taka demands that his love be reunited with him; but even if she could, she does not have his warrior personality and it's likely she won't accept being awakened or saved in the aftermath of their entire village's destruction: "She has not years of battle; has never seen this much destruction or dreamed she would have to survive it. She is a strong spirit but this is too much for most of my children to bear. Too much for all but a man weaned, trained and protected by his guardian angel. You are the only one with the strength of mind and spirit to withstand this horror, Taka."

In defiance, Taka struggles with his messenger and its higher power and makes a decision that will change his life forever: "Two years with Zahara could never be enough. A lifetime could never be enough. "You are a false and cruel Entity to play games such as this. What is the purpose? Are we just toys? Playthings to amuse You?" "Taka, I allow you license to speak because my love for you is great, but it is not your right to question my purpose." "If I cannot question Your purpose - if Your reply to me is that I have no more right to question my existence than a child should question why he must take his sustenance every day - then it is obvious to me You have no respect for me."

And so the only logical action is taken by the diety to alter the world of Taka and his eternal love: a course that creates a genie and the path Taka will forever walk in search of the impossible.

To say that Glorious Sunset opens with a bang is to understate its power. In just one chapter, Ava Bleu captures a timeless dialogue between human and deity and deftly explains how a genie becomes a trapped, wandering soul. In the first chapter Taka's unending journey and limitations are set: it's up to the remainder of the book to play out his eternal search - and Glorious Sunset does so with a deft hand and an attention to detail that perfectly captures spiritual and human objectives alike.

From this emotionally and spiritually-charged beginning, fast forward to the present to one Violet Jackson, an ambitious interior designer. The last thing she needs - or believes in - is Taka's love; so his task is formidable even after he finds her.

And even when Violet comes to believe in his genie powers, she's fixated not on his love, but on his abilities: "Listen, your

concern is much appreciated. You obviously have a lot of time to spend pondering the meaning of life but I really just want you to grant my wish." "To make you like a stick?"

"Size eight, no larger." "You are already larger, are you not?"

"I can afford to lose a pound or two." "I do not want to grant this wish. Can you not believe me when I tell you are

beautiful as you are?" "Once again, very sweet, but let me explain this in terms you can understand. You ..." she pointed at his chest. "...will be gone tomorrow and I'll be stuck in a time where size fourteen is way too fat. I need to be smaller. It's simple."

Taka's dilemma is constant: it turns out that his former queen Violet challenges his arrogance as much as his God did when he made Taka a genie, doomed to forever wander through time granting wishes and seeking his lost love.

Be careful what you wish for. It can come back and bite you, as Glorious Sunset proves time and again. It's about faith and power, arrogance and acceptance, tragedy and salvation, and (above all) different levels of love. It grabs readers with sharp passages of insight and thought-provoking events and cements its hold with humor and reflection. What's not to love?

Blood Line
John J. Davis
Simon & Winter Inc. USA
9780990314417, $15.95 print / $8.99 Kindle,

A clash of thunder echoes through the house, awakens a man and his wife, and prompts the surprisingly-immediate observation that such an explosion should have set off the house alarm ... but didn't. Seconds later, two men are dead. And that's just the opening salvo in a series of explosive encounters that involves Ron Granger and his family in a deadly game.

Blood Line is a story of retirement gone wrong, of ongoing confrontations and threats, and of one family's struggle in the center of a vortex that becomes increasingly complex and all-encompassing.

It blurs the line between criminal and entrepreneur and between opportunistic and chance events as the story follows an ex-CIA agent's reluctant return to the fold from a rural retirement when his family is threatened by unknown forces.

As events progress, Ron and wife Val must choose between an impossible mission and their family; between peace of mind and the larger issues of a power play that could change the world.

Now, all these elements appear in standard thriller writing in one form or another: Blood Line's exception is that all these facets are packed into a saga that incorporates action, reaction and twists and turns from its very first page. The story represents the difference between a single-shot pistol and an AK-42: pace and events are unrelenting and allow little 'down time' for ennui or reflection. And that's just one of the notable attributes of Blood Line that elevates it from standard genre thriller productions.

Another 'plus': its attention to building a complex set of interlocked puzzlers that keep readers guessing on motivations, connections, and ultimate results of choices. At every turn Ron and Val are challenged to reassess their personal goals, beliefs and lives in comparison to a larger worldview. At every step they face threats from a variety of unexpected places: threats that successfully involve readers without revealing the entire purposes and forces behind the plot. And at every step, the protagonists feel their control over their lives and future slipping away.

Blood Line's psychology is exquisitely wrought, its action is elegantly played out against the backdrop of political and criminal forces, and its ultimate results are satisfyingly unpredictable. The aforementioned psychology weaves through the story line in a delicate dance between motivation, anticipation and control: "Moore and company thinks we'll play it safe because of Leecy. That's why we're going to do the exact opposite." "I like it," I said, gesturing toward the trunk. "And Julia?" "We need her to play a part. If it weren't for that, I wouldn't involve her. She's manic." "Abused?" "If not physically, definitely mentally. We'll use her, but treat her with kid gloves."

Add a surprise conclusion that skillfully ends the saga while leaving the door open for future developments and the end result is a thriller that proves haunting and unique, recommended for even the most seasoned thriller genre reader.

ADVANCE 3-D CHESS: The Longitudinal Star Gate 14 Model, Model III - Synergistic Fusion of Matrix Logistics Informatics - EDITION 4 VOL. 1
Siafa B. Neal
Heinz Duthel
1230000245230, $13.59

Online gamers interested in war gaming or chess will find this fourth edition of Advance 3-D Chess to be a winning explanation of the ongoing, advanced moves of the game offering specific insights on Single, Double, Triple, Quadruple and set-up modes.

It's recommended that readers gain a progressive benefit from following the prior titles Siafa B. Neal has produced on the topic. His latest follows the same format and is for audiences who have the basics firmly in grasp, and who seek a more challenging game in the 3-D format.

Coordinates on a conventional chess board are supported by equations and color positionings that set the stage both visually and mathematically by beginning with traditional positionings, then moving the formulas and images to 3D by inviting players to imagine a structure that forms the basis of the Latitudinal Star Gate 14 Model.

Neal establishes wood and glass chess sets to help newcomers distinguish between the two sets and their set-ups and their strategies, and provides insights on single, double, and unified and non-unified setup modes.

Contrasts between platforms offer insights on differences, distinguishing characteristics, physical and abstract squares, and the psychological warfare strategies that differ between conventional chess boards and the 3D model options, while The photos and diagrams showing the trapezoidal platform arrangements make it easier to view the strategic organization, the player moves and the progression of plays at the 3-dimensional level.

From abbreviations for trapezoidal platform organizations that make it easier to view strategic organization and player moves to the progression of plays that operate on a 3D level, this fourth edition continues to go where few chess guides attempt. Diagrams, illustrations and drawings form the foundations of advanced theory explanations which are accessible to any chess player looking for greater challenges. The coordinates on the non-conventional chess board are amplified by Equations and color positions for added clarification.

Expect a healthy degree of mathematical formulas, detailed color-coded multi-dimensional game boards, and specific strategies perfect for handling the longitudinal model's particular structure and strengths.

Simple But Deep
Beth Francis Butler
9780991307838, $45.00,

The dawn of a new day brings forth responses in nature as creatures awaken and embark on their pursuits (largely surrounding survival): so such a dawn awakens pursuits in human lives, and the course of a day may mirror the course of a lifetime of journeys.

Poetry readers who enjoy vivid blends of nature photos and simple free verse celebrating life and emotion will find much to love in Simple But Deep, which creates a progressive series of insights into these human pursuits and connections with nature.

Simple But Deep opens with several nature pieces; the most striking of which is a photo of sunflowers against the backdrop of a rising (or setting) sun, pairing image with a simple haiku-like, 6-line verse linking morning's unfolding with a flower's awakening.

The transition from tulips, pines, sunflowers and nature to blood-soaked human battles and huge ships may be jarring after the 'happy chorus' created by the natural observations; but expect these unusual juxtapositions to continue throughout the work, which excels in contrasts.

From observations of human pursuits and nature to expressions of personal emotions ("I have hurt you/I know I have/Never did I mean to..."), Simple But Deep never leaves readers behind in its jumps between personal and wider worlds.

Now, the field of poetry is replete with intellectual pursuits, verse constructed in the strictest of rhythmical rules, and 'deep' revelations that often lose readers seeking the simple observational tone of a free verse production. It's also replete with complexity and technically-adept writers who don't write for the general public, but for an audience of literary-minded giants.

Don't expect this from Simple But Deep: it's constructed with the basic everyday poetry reader in mind, and offers a series of vignettes honed from a combination of life experience, personal observation, and poetic translation.

Any who seek familiar emotions couched in simple verse and matched with truly striking imagery will find Simple But Deep is the collection of choice.

Three Days to Darkness
David Gittlin
Privately Published
9780988263505, $3.99,


Barnes And Noble:

The magic number is three. Three days to save the world. Three people to help Darius McPherson succeed. And three important life lessons to learn in the process.

The setting is a war being planned in Heaven itself by a reluctant warrior too young to be in Heaven in the first place, and the mission involves saving humanity from its own follies: no mean assignment for a young man killed in a drive-by shooting and suddenly tasked with saving the world.

Three Days to Darkness is about magic on many levels: the incongruity of Heaven and its purposes, the absurdities of Mankind, and the passionate concerns of a boy faced with apocalypse on a scale that moves beyond singular death and into the destruction of humanity itself.

As if this wasn't enough, add demons and a road that literally leads to Hell (albeit paved with good intentions) and you have a fast-paced thriller novel that defies the usual genre definitions of fantasy, thriller or action piece and creeps into the realm of the impossible.

Three Days to Darkness darkens rapidly as Darius investigates company clinical trials, angel operatives, and deadly courses of action, spicing his approach with a cocky blend of offense and defense that presumes a degree of training he actually lacks: "Crooking his arm, Darius lifted his hand just below chin level with all five fingers splayed. He reminded himself of David Carradine as Caine in a "Kung Fu" TV episode. A more experienced angel operative would certainly prepare to attack with "way more" subtlety, he figured."

Doses of humor are tossed in for effective comic relief as Darius questions why a Heaven governed by the concept of free will would intervene in the affairs of man - and why it would choose to do so for one event and not another: "Darius sat perfectly still for a while with his hands in his lap before speaking again. "I'm confused," he said with a solemn expression. "On the one hand, you say everything that happens to a man is the result of free will, and on the other hand, you send me to Earth to stop a pill from going on the market. I don't get it." "Good observation, Darius. It sounds like a contradiction, but it's more like a distinction. We have to pick our fights carefully. We try not to interfere with the operation of human free will. We sat by and watched in horror, for example, when Roman soldiers crucified Christ and terrorists flew commercial airliners into the Twin Towers. But there are times when we must take action, when a worldwide catastrophe could result from human failure, to put it in a shorthand manner. We intervened during the two world wars and the Cuban Missile crisis, to cite a few recent cases. We have also been involved when the psychological, moral or spiritual evolution of the species is at risk. A literal example of such a case was our influence on the outcome of the famous 'Scopes Trial.'"

What lessons will Darius learn in his latest incarnation as a new angel? He has only three days to absorb them - or witness the end of all days.

Three Days to Darkness is a fast-paced, vivid read that incorporates all the elements of a superior mystery, thriller, and fantasy. It's certainly not a portrait of a predictable afterlife, a conventional Heaven, or a banal post-life mission. All these facets merge to create a uniquely involving story blending amusing moments with engrossing encounters between disparate forces; each with their own special interests and agendas.

And Darius? He's in it for the ride, and takes readers along with him in an unexpected journey through Heaven, Hell, and beyond.

Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers. 26 Years of OCD, second edition
David W. Dahlberg
9781502555540 $TBA

Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers. 26 Years of OCD, second edition shares David Dahlberg's experience of OCD and what it feels like to live such a life. It is NOT a case study but an autobiography: in this respect, the usual medical descriptions of treatments and options are contained within the realm of personal discovery and revelations rather than self-help advice, and are related within the context of the author's personal experience of OCD.

OCD is the brain's perception of slings and arrows (sometimes real, too often imagined) paired with a flight-or-flight response mechanism that contributes to an ongoing cycle of anxiety. Because the perceived fears aren't intrinsic to physical reality, often OCD behavior is deemed inappropriate or odd; and because it's relentless and ongoing, the OCD victim is kept in a state of high anxiety over 'little things'.

While any not suffering from OCD can't really know what it feels like, readers will come close with Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers, which clearly documents the perceptions, emotions and reactions of those with OCD: "The danger is imaginary. But the feeling of danger is absolutely real. Your body's response is exactly the same as If it were actually happening. You become caught in an endless, inescapable, and debilitating loop. All because your nervous system grossly overreacted to an image that would simply pass through the minds of other, "normal" people."

Even as a small child, Dahlberg was cognizant the feeling that he had to interact with the world in a specific way, through a series of habits and repetitions, before he felt 'right'. Being able to stop repetitious behaviors was part of what made him feel good.

As chapters move through the author's life and experiences, readers along for the wild ride that is OCD learn about the perceptions and actions of the OCD individual from an 'insider's' viewpoint: something most other books on the subject don't begin to adequately address.

From a roommate good at directing and manipulating dysfunctional people to carry out his own hidden agendas, who wins such friends by charm, to how Dahlberg's personal rituals fit into the world (or not), Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers offers up a tumultuous swirl of emotions, experiences, and compensating habits that help Dalhberg fit into his world.

Even more revealing is how he gains help in the process of moving through life. From getting through college to taking on a teaching job, Dahlberg's rituals and obsessions eventually come to find useful places as he deals with career and life: "Staying calm with students was easy. Having dealt with the anxieties of OCD, I found the reality of a real classroom much less nerve-wracking. As a result, I was always able to maintain an even keel with my students. They knew I wouldn't yell, and I knew they would respect my requests and reactions."

How does Dahlberg eventually resist these rituals and compulsions to participate in OCD behaviors? Through a combination of recognition, hard work, and adjustment; which readers will find both specifically detailed and applicable to some circumstances in their own lives.

It's not a medical book and not a self-help guide; but in exploring the progression of one man's OCD from childhood to adulthood, Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers documents the process of seeing the light at the end of a long tunnel of discord, and ultimately paints a picture of hope and understanding for those who live with OCD.

Surviving the Endgame
Alan L. Moss
Whiskey Creek Press
9781633556256 Paperback: $16.99 at and Whiskey Creek Press
9781633556003 E-Book: $3.99 at, Barnes & Noble, and Whiskey Creek

Amazon Paperback

Amazon E-Book

Barnes & Noble Nook

Whiskey Creek Press E-Book and Paperback

Surviving the Endgame moves with the precision of a game of chess. It opens with the promise of a quiet life for its protagonist, but as additional moves take place, soon it becomes evident that he will continue to be an unwilling pawn in the greater game of international intrigue.

Rob Taylor is back in Madison, Wisconsin and is ready to begin life anew. Married to the woman who saved his life and enrolled in medical school, he's put international intrigue and death-defying moves aside. Soon, a New York Times series of articles will reveal the conspiracy that threatened his life and he will be in the clear.

Unfortunately, a quiet, drama-free life is not in Rob's cards. When he finds that the newspaper expose has been shelved, he also discovers that the conspiracy has re-grouped under new, vicious leadership. This time the goal is to elect a presidential candidate under their thumb regardless of what might be required.

When professional killers come after Rob and his wife, they abandon their new life and initiate a wild escape assisted by a friend with a pilot's license and Piper aircraft. Once again, Rob must match wits with the international terrorist group with unlimited funding and capabilities usually reserved for national security agencies.

Surviving the Endgame carefully plots its moves and characters. As the conspiracy seeks control of the national election campaign, those who have suffered at their hands investigate past crimes and plot to defeat the conspirator's presidential candidate. Chess usually features willing players, but Rob and his allies have been given no choice but to die or fight back with death-defying close encounters and a bold campaign strategy.

Entanglements range from the highest levels of political office to the Cloud itself, with circles of conspiracy ever-widening in a satisfyingly complex manner. Rob and an interesting cast of supporting characters battle right down to the last page of the novel. Especially interesting are Anna Goddard, CEO of Mid-Continent Energy and new leader of the conspiracy; Seymour Rothstein, a dogged reporter for The Sound newspaper; and Larry Knowles, Goddard's paramour who seeks corporate promotions in return for his silence.

Surviving the Endgame is recommended for any who enjoy the action of thrillers, especially those that revolve around international intrigue, politics, and presidential campaigns.

Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that events hold many surprises as they unwind, and nothing is guaranteed - not even the survival of favorite characters. It's about loss of life, survival against all odds, and capturing power in a seemingly endless game that perhaps nobody can truly win. Even the most seasoned thriller reader will find Surviving the Endgame filled with delightfully unexpected moments.

Chronicles of a Nation: The Founding Fathers, Families and Patriots
Joan Wheeler LaGrone
WIN Publishers of Colorado
0967823028, $TBA,

"There was a fundamental difference concerning the meaning of the Revolution between the Founding Fathers." The opening introduction outlines this difference between Jefferson, Washington, and the nation's founders and clearly hones the purpose and focus of a hard-hitting American history book that documents a lesser-known aspect of an early political process that continues to this day.

Chronicles of a Nation could all too easily have proven a dry, unremarkable coverage under another hand, but Joan Wheeler LaGrone's expertise lies in her ability to take a piece of American history and culture and turn it into a remarkable saga of confrontation, change, and evolution.

Why rehash a subject that has received some degree of analysis in other discussions of the Founding Fathers? LaGrone explains it best: "We must keep our true history alive and teach it to our children. We cannot forget who we are. A nation or a people who do not remember where they came from, or their true foundations, can easily be destroyed from enemies without or within."

With this perspective in mind, American history readers learn about the Stamp Act, the Tea Act, the Founding Fathers and their interactions with and connections to early patriots, and more. At each step of the way traditional historical observation blends with critical analysis of events and how their interpretations changed over the decades.

By outlining this process and its results, LaGrone succeeds in probing underlying elements of social and political process, including the interactions within and between major influential families of the times, in a lively story and dialogue that seeks to move beyond the usual facts of events to probe at their underlying psychological, social and political impact.

Among the devices employed to bring history to life are liberal quotes from source documents and descriptions that read with the vivid immediacy of a novel's drama: "John Hancock was first to sign his name with a large and bold signature. He professed he wanted the King to be able to read it with out his glasses."

Chronicles of a Nation doesn't just focus on interactions in political and social circles; but also examines relationships between Indian and white man and encounters between key figures in both cultures. Again, source material quotes enliven the text while LaGrone's descriptions bond all together and lend life to a vivid chronicle.

A number of chapters take a genealogical turn in describing the backgrounds and culture of select major families of the times. While at first this might seem a digression, there's an underlying purpose in mind; one which embraces the notion of differing backgrounds interacting from different perspectives.

In this regard, the family genealogies work well, providing necessary background on special interests and ethnic makeup and showing how various family members came to emigrate to America and were motivated to participate in the Revolution that ensued. The author's own family is among those profiled.

Color illustrations from Wikipedia, Ancestry and other sources pepper a lively coverage of the political and social connections between families that cement political events with personal backgrounds and interactions, making for a powerful reminder of exactly where the roots of American political process really lies: in the hearts, minds, and experiences of ordinary people who should not be forgotten.

Chronicles of a Nation assures they won't be, and is a 'must' for any American history reader, from high school into adult circles.

A Cat Out of Egypt
C. L. Francisco, PhD
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781500776411, $11.98,

A Cat Out of Egypt is billed as a prequel to Yeshua's Cat (...not seen by this reviewer), and opens with a prologue that deftly sets the first-person character as cat Miw, called 'Daughter of Fire' among her people. Born with the rare ability to communicate with humans, Miw is growing old and thus is motivated to share her story about her encounters with humans she normally eschews and one special human in particular. A Cat Out of Egypt is her story and will attract a range of readers from young adult through adults.

But if you think you're getting the typical cat's-eye view of a cat's life, think again: this story begins with the birth of a baby in a manger, where the magi aren't the only ones to see a strange star in the sky and wonder. So does the Great Cat Who is Bast, as she gives birth to kittens - and thus begins a journey of transformation and fear: one in which vipers and sacred dancers mingle and portents spark an ancient cat culture to view human events with a new perspective.

As one special cat interacts with young Yeshua and imparts wisdom on what it means to live in a cat's world, readers are in for a treat that presents Biblical events and times from quite a different (cat-oriented) vantage point wedded to the notion of a Goddess overseeing all, rather than a male God: "The goddess is simply the One who is. And it makes sense. Among cats, mothers feed and care for the young. Fathers go their own ways and care little for their children. If a male cat offers neither love nor sustenance to his kittens, why should a male deity do more?"

Spiritual revolution is in the air and human and cat worlds alike find their focal points in one child who will grow up to change everything: "Who was this child who held the power of life in his hand? Had he spoken truly when he said all gods but the One Creator were lesser gods, unfit to be called by that name? Was her beloved Bast, Flame of the Morning and Mother of Light, no more than a trembling wraith who thinned and vanished before the brilliance of the god Yeshua called the One?"

Sons and mothers, friendships between animal and human, the birthing of kittens and new possibilities, and (most of all) the evolution of a new force in the world saturate a striking blend of spiritual history and feline observation that holds many important spiritual conversations and observations: "I know there was a time when people everywhere knew the face of the Creator. Our scriptures tell us so. But scripture doesn't explain how they could have forgotten the name of the One who formed them from the dust, and confused him with the small spirits of the Earth. Even the beasts are not so blind. "I wonder if the glory of the One was too great? Perhaps the human heart cries out for a god it can see and touch."

Enchanting, poetic, engrossing, and vivid, A Cat Out of Egypt is simply a delight, and highly recommended for Christian readers who would gain a different, fictional, cat's-eye perspective on Jesus' early experiences and his interactions with the world.

Totem: Book 1: Scars
C. Michael Lorion
CML Publishing
ASIN: B00JJ4D8NY $2.99

Ordering links:


Barnes & Noble-


The year is 1978, and Kimi and Achak are two teens immersed not only in sibling rivalry, but struggles over their Native American heritage. Their bond broke the day Kimi fell from a tree and claimed it saved her. The difference between these teens and others isn't their shared rivalry; it's the fact that they are actually three-hundred-year reincarnated souls with supernatural powers who know how to travel through time. They have different purposes in mind for using their powers... and that's just the beginning of a story steeped in diverse elements ranging from Native American folklore to threatened twins and supernatural forces.

Totem will attract not just young adult readers, but adults who will find satisfyingly involving its complex twists of plot and time-travel events. Another plus: this is no formula plot, but elegantly synthesizes fantasy, mystery, Native American cultural insight and teen angst to create a multi-faceted story that doesn't handily fit into any single genre.

It's shades of Tony Hillerman's Native American mysteries but with the time-travel piece; it's parts of the best teen stories of sibling rivalry set against the backdrop of an epic quest; and it's steeped in local Massachusetts small-town culture.

Most of all, Totem is about spiritual connections to an evolving new world and the choices that confront four teens as they decide what kind of world they will influence and, ultimately, create. It's an epic story on a far grander scale than the usual coming-of-age saga, blending portions of this feel with the wider ambitious quest of a girl charged with finding the Totem that will heal all - including herself. And this first book in the trilogy focuses on a single day in this quest and battle, so be prepared for more.

Kimi's connections to the divine are anything but straightforward: "She prayed to The Great Spirit. She waited. Minutes passed. No voice. No vision. Nothing. She raised her head and opened her eye. She was on her own. No. That was not true. She felt as though she was on her own, but she knew that feelings most often were deceiving. This was simply the way it was between her and The Great Spirit. It was as elemental to her life as air was to breathing...No matter how long they were, or what form they took, Kimi's petitions had never once been answered with any sign or vision or voice. Still, she continued seeking The Great Spirit's guidance, always knowing that her petitions did not go unheard, always believing that The Great Spirit was there, guiding and sustaining her. She had no other choice but to be sure of that much. "

Adding a parallel line of scars and conflict in the form of teens Abby and Josh who struggle with both their relationship and family tragedy lends depth to a story line that successfully juxtaposes the concerns of supernaturally-influenced twins with those of a couple on the verge of breaking up (and breaking down). They, too, are unexpectedly given the keys to stopping an ancient evil force in their world, and so they find themselves on a far greater mission than healing their broken families and relationship.

Four teens, a host of scars carried forward through time, and forces of evil and good that all circle around the Totem, which creates a maelstrom of confusion and possibility in their lives...there's a lot of potential for confusion under a lesser hand, but C. Michael Lorion pulls it all together.

With rich events, a host of supporting characters, and plenty of drama, Totem succeeds in entertaining and engrossing mature teen (because of its moments of violence that range from disfigurement to suicide) through adult readers, and creates a lively adventure story with many vibrant moments: "Kimi ran. More accurately, she moved as fast as nature would allow her to with a boy slung over her shoulder, a broken wrist in a splint, and a bad ankle that was getting worse now that Kimi had to run for her life. She limped and stumbled and scampered, the branches parted for her, and she was grateful to The Great Spirit for that. Since that time when the tree had saved her life, Kimi had, in times of danger, whether from animal or man, been in similar situations when the forest acted as her friend. Her protector. When the forest acted as if it were alive. And it did not matter which forest it was. Whenever Kimi's life had been threatened and she was close to a forest - it had never happened with a single tree - the forest acted on her behalf."

Readers who enjoy trilogies packed with strong characterization and vivid events with more than a touch of supernatural influence will find Totem a powerfully compelling pick.

The Paradise Tree
Elena Maria Vidal
MayApple Books
9781500590628, $TBA print / $9.99 Kindle,

The Paradise Tree opens in 1887 Ontario, where a clan mourns the death of family patriarch Daniel O'Connor, an Irish immigrant who has lead a tough life peppered with illness, battle and many struggles. Through it all Daniel and his wife have kept their faith and passed it on to a new generation; and now it's up to grandson Fergus to take these family values and move on.

Readers seeking a spicy immigrant saga replete with Catholic faith and the search for spiritual and social freedom will find The Paradise Tree is just the ticket: it's historical fiction writing at its best, bringing alive not just the events of one man's life, but the underlying motivations, perceptions and struggles it embraces.

Through Elena Maria Vidal's descriptions, the beliefs and driving force behind a devout Catholic immigrant's experiences comes to life with driving passages of color and passion defining the forces that ultimately compel an immigrant to leave his homeland for the unknown: "During the night, the crash of the waves sounded through the chambers of Daniel's mind, speaking to him of another place, a faraway place mentioned in one of the old songs. The words urged themselves back into his memory: There is a distant isle/Around which sea-horses glisten;/Let not your intoxication overcome thee; Begin a voyage across a clear sea... Daniel thought of the legends of the western seas and the Blessed Otherworld, which even holy monks like St. Brendan had sought to find. An inexpressible yearning welled in the depths of his being, as if something indefinable called to him from far away."

Poetic, lyrical passages skillfully capture these motivators, which range from social and political change to failed crops and specter of starvation and a clan's survival. No punches are pulled: this is also a story of addiction and depression: facets that many immigrant stories leave out when recounting struggles.

In order to appreciate the present-day events, the past needs to be thoroughly explored. The Paradise Tree does an outstanding job of creating this link with its a history of an Irish heritage, passed on from a grandfather's tales to his young grandson: " harsh were the laws that many Protestant authorities would not enforce them, and looked the other way. The religious orders, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, and the Carmelites did not abandon us, but kept the faith of our people alive. They built tiny chapels, but those were few and far between. In my grandparents' day, Catholics went to Mass in private homes, at the back of the pub, or in the open fields at places called scathlans or Mass rocks. My parents went to hedge schools in the countryside, and the brave Presentation sisters taught many Irish children in and around Cork." "I suppose it would have been easier for the Irish if they had all become Protestants?" Fergie wondered. Now that he was going to school, he was acutely aware that not everyone in the world was Catholic. The grandfather chuckled at the idea, so unthinkable that it was humorous. "Aye, easier to live, Fergie lad. Easier to live, but not easier to die."

As the lives of Daniel and his wife Bridget come to life, so are readers steeped in the culture, influences and motivations of a family unified by forces that invade their close-knit world and change the course of their lives.

The Paradise Tree is a solid example of historical fiction at its best, illustrating the circumstances affecting its protagonists and capturing the drama of lives well lived. The fact that it's all based on the author's own family heritage ("...elements of The Paradise Tree were gleaned from private family papers and unpublished or privately published works, including assorted letters, newspaper clippings, and legal documents."), documenting how the author's family emigrated from Ireland to Canada, just makes it all the more compelling.

Nowhere Out
Vincent J. Sachar
Divont Publishers
9780989813327, Paperback: $12.25, ebook: $2.99

Conspiracy and murder are nearly everyday themes in mysteries these days: what's less common is the story of recluse Ron Woodruff (alias Kent Taylor), who has lived an isolated life in upstate New York for five years, until an FBI agent on a covert mission and an elusive new killer breaks into his world and threatens to destroy it.

Assassins, corruption, and even romance suddenly spill into Ron's self-imposed isolation and what opens as a theme of withdrawal from life and conflict becomes steeped in threats brought about by a juxtaposition of past experience and present events.

As memories turn into nightmares and blossoming romance breaks down even the most rigid of barriers, Ron finds his carefully constructed fortress of solitude crumbling on many levels: "Woodruff could scarcely believe that he would ever be so lacking in self-control, so foolish to open any door even a crack. The extent of relationship he could have with someone like Katie was not something that might be limited, occasional, or even something simply neighborly."

Still, there are a lot of surprises yet to be explored in Ron's carefully-constructed world, and romance proves the least of his problems as he struggles with past and present threats to remain a survivor on his own terms.

Nowhere Out is about self-invention and control, the fine lines between murder and justice, and, ultimately, about the inevitability of life's connections and patterns.

It's a sequel to similar events in Nowhere Man, so one might initially believe a familiarity with the prior book is needed - or, that the events in this one will mirror those of its predecessor. Not so: Nowhere Out needs no prior introduction and stands well on its own (although readers who enjoy this novel will likely want to read its predecessor). Some precedents for Ron's isolation are set in the events of Nowhere Man, but Nowhere Out is a rare beast in that its story line, although connected to prior events, doesn't need any explanation to stand completely on its own - and, that's rare in a sequel.

Can one completely retire from life with the specter of a ruthless killer at large - a killer that only a few men can stop? Apparently not...and just as Ron can't run from either his past or present, so readers will find its story line gripping enough to feel compelled to read through all of its twists and turns to discover a satisfyingly complex conclusion that leaves no loose ends.

The Metronome
D.R. Bell
ISBN & Price Pending Publication

As Book One of a projected trilogy, The Metronome's subtitle warns right away that this will be no light fling and that events will likely be supported and expanded by further books in the series. That said, expect a novel of international intrigue that stands well on its own while providing a prequel to the already-published The Great Game.

That the 'old country' (in this case, Russia) permeates much of The Metronome is evident from its first paragraph, which sets an atmosphere of intrigue: "I hate when phone rings in the middle of the night. Nobody likes such calls, but for me the feeling is visceral. It must have come from the old country, where a knock in the dark often meant that a black car is waiting downstairs and someone will disappear. Because of my father's work, we had the luxury of a phone. When it rang at odd hours, I heard my parents whisper. Then my father would quietly dress up and leave."

Pavel's father was a detective, so Pavel is used to family secrets, even though he's now a physicist on Wall Street far from his Russian homeland and its mysteries. But the death of his father brings him back to Russia; there to uncover a mystery that will follow him, in turn, back to the U.S. and take over his life.

The Metronome's theme (one of many) of unwanted memories that spring up to haunt a new life in a different country is just one facet of Pavel's experience that not only rocks his world but brings readers along for what turns out to be a wild ride of international intrigue, family secrets, and mystery.

So what does an old metronome have to do with the sequence of events? It runs through Pavel's life as a recurring symbol, linking disparate events and memories: "Sometimes my parents would turn the metronome on. They would do it when they argued, then one would turn on the device and an argument would end. And sometimes the mother would say, "Today is such-and-such date" and start the metronome. My parents would exchange glances and grow silent for a minute."

It shows up in a journal with missing pages that answers some questions in the course of raising others: "But mostly it's a "click, click, click" sound of the metronome, heartbeat of the starving, frozen city. We are not living, we are surviving one day at a time."

And in a world of invisible bonds and struggles for survival in the midst of a brutal World War II siege of Leningrad, sometimes the metronome is the only remaining reminder of life itself: "We try to keep the radio on; Nastya winds it up with whatever little energy she has. There is still a daily reading of poetry or occasional music, but mostly it's the metronome ticking. I feel a mystical connection to it - as long as the metronome is beating, we are alive. It's like a tiny beam of light in the midst of darkness."

The metronome is a play and a heartbeat; it's the sound that reminds of life's vibrant and inevitable ticking progression, and it's a son's legacy linking present and past worlds, even across an ocean of distance: "I turn on the old metronome, the way my parents did when I was a child. I listen to its sound, tuning out the noise of a busy New York street and imagining my parents as teenagers, huddled around a wooden crank radio, hungry and cold, armed only with their will to live."

Don't expect a simple (or easily-defined) novel, here: The Metronome is a link between Russia and the West, between long-hidden family secrets and a son's new life in this new country, and between a detective's investigation into a killer and his ties to the past.

Its twists and turns are multifaceted and delicately woven and will delight readers who eschew the usual shallow leisure read for something richer and steeped in other cultures. In this, The Metronome shines, analyzing Pavel's life and the final decision that will set him free, once and for all.

A Plan for Life
Eric C. Wentworth
Charles Stephen Publishing
9780991198306, $19.95

A Plan for Life: The 21st Century Guide to Success in Wealth, Health, Career, Education, Love, Place...and You covers a wide range of topics relating to an overall life plan, and provides an excellent motivational title revealing everything from mind/body connections to making better choices that reinforce a good life.

From why financial planning is challenging to many and why the rich get richer to the physical and emotional fitness necessary for lasting health, developing an 'Over-40 Plan B' career (to thwart the increasingly common ritual of age-related unemployment), and managing living situations for optimum happiness, A Plan for Life eschews singular approaches to any one topic. Instead, it blends seemingly-disparate threads into a unified theory for overall wellness and success that neatly moves beyond typical life planning.

Here are not only admonitions for leading a better life, but proven approaches and tools that lend to success. Here, too, are keys to understanding the path to fulfillment and the mechanics of making better decisions that lead in this direction. Finally, it's a plan not just for a specific age group, but for a wide audience from recent college grads to Boomers considering retirement.

Such a plan usually involves an author's singular perspective: not so with A Plan for Life, which represents some of the best critical thinking of great minds combined with the latest scientific research findings and some 500 resources, both on- and off-line.

Chapters thus are wide-ranging; from 'foods' to avoid at all cost (cupcakes, muffins, cereal and sugars) to how rising medical expenses can erode savings ("Medical costs increase substantially after age 70. Even with Medicare, your entire Social Security income could be consumed by medical costs. Fidelity Investments estimates (as of 2012) that you will need an average of $240,000 just to pay for your medical expenses after age 65."), Wentworth's approach is to combine these latest statistics and research with the latest strategies on how to build a better life.

Actually, it's really all about reinventing your life - on many levels. So be forewarned: those not interested in doing the work, shouldn't be looking at this wide-ranging approach.

Wentworth is a marketing veteran, has owned numerous businesses, and has his finger on the pulse of macro trends that are changing lives. His examples are rooted in reality and facts, not ideals - and his solutions include positive and uplifting supportive documentation of those who tried this approach and succeeded: "Re - evaluation and re - invention can come from an honest self - analysis of failure. "Sometimes our old self has to die for complete rebirth," says Julie Wainwright, former CEO of the now defunct "Remember, the best is yet to come." In her book ReBoot: My Five Life - Changing Mis-takes and How I Have Moved On, Wainwright describes her own journey from public failure to depression to resurrection. She is now the CEO of a successful new startup The Real Real."

Don't expect a pat formula here, and don't expect a short coverage of easy routes to follow. Some five hundred pages pack in specifics, and readers should be open-minded about all kinds of approaches to life's re-invention process, from personal health and finances to understanding what creates true happiness. Thus, advice ranges from downsizing and reducing one's 'must have' list to becoming better organized and building a workable plan for the future that embraces all facets of well-being.

It's ultimately about ridding oneself of negativity and understanding trends and options to make the best choices. In this, A Plan for Life stands out from the crowd of self-help books covering the planning process with its concrete examples backed by real statistics and the life experiences of successful entrepreneurs and achievers who successfully completed their own personal transformations.

The Color Symphonies
Wade Stevenson
Blazevox Books
9781609641757, $18.00 pbk. / $0.99 Kindle,

Books on synesthesia are typically nonfiction accounts of the ability to 'feel colors'; but to have a literary, poetic work packed with descriptions integrating colors with characters and life is truly a horse of another color. Perhaps equating The Color Symphonies with Proust's flavorful writings would come closest; but even then, Proust is relatively inaccessible to all but the most literary follower - and The Color Symphonies is eminently accessible.

Like a delicious ice cream, bits of color flake off in the mouth and leave pleasing impressions with every bite: "In the playful day/jets of light were launched,/the white spaces shuddered,/there was dazzling cobalt blue/fused with windblown yellow./You begin to hear colors/you never thought would speak."

Biographical accounts have attempted to explain the perceptions and sensations of synesthesia; but few have truly succeeded... until now, it seemed one must be one of those rare individuals to 'feel color' or even understand descriptions of such a feeling.

The poems in The Color Symphonies are like a blind man learning to see for the first time: they bring with them an extra dimension of perception and, for just a moment, take readers along on the journey that is synesthesia: a heightened sense of color perception that integrates color with sound and movement to create a symphony of extrasensory impressions.

Wade Stevenson's words are delicately wrought and deftly capture the flavors and sensations of all kinds of light - even that which lies between in the realm of neither darkness or light: "It's not darkness or light,/it's not grey either,/doesn't come close to being/any known form of blue/It lies above the garden and the chairs,/unlike a fog it doesn't obscure/objects or dissolve them from sight"

It's rare that a poetic work can be recommended for that fellow artist, the painter or capturer of colors. Usually wordsmiths and painters are separate creatures, each striving to capture the color-haunted world in a different manner, with different tools.

Here the synthesis comes together - once more, a symphony of color - and invites the fellow artist working in another medium to come on in, sit down, and partake.

The language of colors, their interactions, and their presentation all come to life in a collection where colors are the main characters, assuming the vibrant words of a canvas and interacting with calls and responses in the world that contains them, keeps them from spilling, merges and dissolves them, and simply dances.

A good poetry collection describes. A better poetry collection captures. But a superior work absorbs, dissolves, recreates, immerses, and then dances ... such is The Color Symphonies. There's simply quite nothing like its animated free verse and light-filled perspective, even in today's overloaded poetry genre.

Vijay S. Shertukde
Privately Published
9780991392612, $17.99,

Blur is an international thriller that takes terrorist plots to a whole new level as it explores a new weapon: a blast that leaves no destruction, just corpses.

'The Blur' attack in India, Britain and the U.S. mystify spy agencies and police alike. What force known to man could strike literally out of the blue and leave nothing but death behind? It's a deadly new technology that involves one Kiran Hopkins, a CIA agent, in a new kind of plot that takes her on a death-defying, world-hopping jaunt in search of a new breed of perps.

Now, thriller novels have (especially in the last decade) come to embrace both high technology and terrorist plots: that's nothing new.

What is new is the addition of a mystery that's seemingly unsolvable, paired with a feisty, brave woman who will stop at nothing to understand the new force, its motivations and its limitations - if any.

So don't expect a singular, easy read, here. Though promoted as a story for children and adults alike, it's the quite mature teen (on the cusp of adult thriller reading), and the adult thriller reader used to formula constructions (who seeks something more complex and puzzling in content and outcome) who will be the biggest fans of Blur.

Now, there's lots of background detail, historical reference, and even the occasional linguistic lesson: Blur holds many such references and sometimes reads with the depth of nonfiction. But, despite its title, 'a quick read' is not what Blur is all about. And it's this depth that lends it an extra dimension not present in competing novels.

Just as its disaster strikes out of the blue and poses many mysteries, so it's up to the reader (as well as protagonist Kiran) to understand other cultures, politics, power plays and purposes in order to arrive at the final, satisfyingly unexpected truth in Blur.

For some readers, the best thriller elements lie in a component of predictability paired with solid character development. But for those well steeped in the genre who seek something a cut above the species, Blur offers the kinds of in-depth detail and explanation lacking in most and uses all these disparate rudiments to weave a fine plot replete with challenges for reader and protagonist alike - and that's the mark of a truly superior genre production.

Tomorrow's End
G.R. Morris
Dark Light Publishing
ISBN & Price Pending Publication

In the cleanest of scenarios in novels, thrillers and mysteries alike, the good guy wins. In such a world, free will and choice are God-given rights, and infuse the paths of the righteous with clear direction. Evil eventually is defeated in these paradigms, and good reigns. That's the formula for a traditional story line.

Now take that formula and mix it up. Assume there are, in fact, no real choices and no free will; but an inevitability that leads the human race inexorably in one, fatal direction.

Assume that being in charge of one's life is an illusion; that, in reality, others are directing a play called 'life'. Then assume that there's another world influencer about to rise, named Nightstalker, who has been a marionette for many lifetimes - but is now ready to cut the strings and up the ante that is humanity.

Mix up all these elements and you have the gist of Tomorrow's End, a satisfying dance between sci-fi, mystery, and spiritual reader which posits a new kind of evil force set loose in the world.

Prophecies usually come packed with accounts of battles, saviors, and clear delineations between good and evil. They are seldom packed with accounts of aliens begging for death, of monsters claiming to be loving gods while in disguise, and of humans tasked with understanding the impossible motives of impossible beings - and whether or not killing, under such conditions, is an act of good or of evil: "What makes something evil is the objective negative outcome that it creates in the universe. It's how it affects everyone's lives. Justice and acts of good such as killing in self-defense will gain you power of light because you have dominion over that person. The intruder who breaks into someone's house in an attempt to murder will have lost so much light that the person who defends himself will be brighter, thus making it justified to kill in self-defense. Humanity's abundance of light is what gives them dominion over the plants, animals, and insects. Thus it's not an act of evil to kill them; so it's certainly not evil to delete a program pretending to be human."

It all boils down to what entity has a soul and what doesn't - and what is allowed for those with souls versus what is inhumane: "In many aspects they are just as real as any human being. They can die like humans, have babies like humans, and feel emotions like humans. The only real difference is they don't have a soul. Instead of being powered and guided by a spiritual essence, they are projected, created by that diamond you saw on the ground."

Against this background, teenager Kevin is about to learn the secret of creation itself; only, the truth might not be pretty: "Beyond space and time, there were two fundamental forces. Infinitely dense and infinitely powerful, these forces govern physics, nature, and the laws of the cosmos. One of them was the Darkness; an emptiness, a nothing, but all that is negative...There was a light inside that darkness, a something inside the nothing. It was knowledge, choice, and all that is positive. There came a moment outside of time, where the collective something could choose to be something rather than nothing." He's also about to learn that he may be the true savior not just of humanity, but of the universe itself.

What, exactly, are the forces of good and evil, and how to do they operate in the world? Is existence itself a choice, and is the 'infinite collective' involves in another world-changing battle similar to time's beginning, when "The convergence of choice and existence became one."?

Tomorrow's End is about demons and battles and about creatures from hell and the tortures they exact on their victims. Readers should be prepared for scenes of entrails-spilling violence as battles rage across the pages of a book replete with religious confrontation and a world ruled by right and wrong choices (which even the evil Nightstalker must bow to). They should also be prepared for time fluxes that place Kevin in another era, battling the Dragon that's linked to Hell itself; and for Kevin's evolution beyond his own humanity with eyes that can peer into atomic structures themselves.

Expect a virtual conflagration of forces that meet with the atomic smash of a matter/antimatter collision, with humanity's ultimate survival at the heart of world-altering confrontations. And what do spaceships, aliens, a transitioning teenager, a new kind of Eve, and a President used to (and disgusted by) demons have to do with ultimate salvation and transformation? Aside from the violent struggles that permeate its pages, Tomorrow's End offers no pat plot and no singular purpose on the part of its protagonists.

Add the unexpected Christian references and alternate viewpoints throughout ("But Adam's power was limited to change and not creation. Creation of life meant pulling an essence from existence to mold into a physical form. Everyone agreed that this kind of power was to be relegated only to the representatives, or through the biological choice of each living creature. You know, giving birth. "Adam chose to exist unnaturally; he was created, and not born. Both means were ultimately made through free will.") and you have a strange attractor that will grip Christian readers of Revelations and secular readers of science fiction alike.

Running Down Broken Cement
Nancy Scott
Main Street Rag Publishing Company
9781599484884, $14.00,

A number of Nancy Scott's poems have appeared in journals and blogs; but published appearance alone doesn't necessarily mean literary achievement - not if you consider the wealth of opportunities on the market for publishing poetry these days.

In fact, there are so many, many poetry collections on the market these days that it takes a unique voice to stand out from the crowd. Ideally, something that goes beyond personal revelation and observation to embrace larger worldviews in such a way that the poetic structure itself lends to a different kind of achievement that moves beyond the traditional into the realm of exceptional. Running Down Broken Cement is that kind of achievement, and comes not from an isolated at-home literary writer but from a caseworker for the State of New Jersey who works with abused children and who, herself, has adopted and fostered them.

Her messages are thus narrated from a unique perspective and purposeful life, and fictionalizes many of the stories she heard and the experiences 'in the trenches' of her work and life. These poems are, in fact, a testimony, to "...bear witness, to give voice to all the children and adults who struggle daily against the odds."

Take the opener 'Sometimes What We Miss', for example. Against the backdrop of a handicapped mother who responds to the nighttime cries of a baby, the poignancy of her handicap (immediately compared to the newborn's more perfect body) is quickly cemented not by a contrast in physical abilities or limitations, but by what the mother gives to her baby: "She crooned a lullaby of lemon trees/ and goat bells tinkling,/ the music of laughter/ of shoes dancing, hands clapping/to the beat of the tarantella./ In this way Rosalita taught the child/ how to make its body sing."

Timeless ethnic traditions passed down within a single nighttime lullaby - and all imparted in a succinct 21 lines of precise free verse that wastes not a word. Now, that's talent!

Don't expect every poem to assume similar proportions, however. Many are vignettes of cases narrated in stanza style. Such is the case with 'The Tweed Jacket', which relates the dilemma of Jenny, whose mother and stepfather abused, then abandoned her. So why is she wearing the tweed jacket of her abuser? " All the kids wear their dad's jacket/ besides it has a nice tobacco smell./ Jenny clutched her tweed arms/ tight around her budding body."

There's no singular theme to these sagas; no age group that is immune from the caseworker's inspection. And sometimes trauma comes from within, from aging bodies, minds, and attitudes; as with an 81-year-old Brooklyn woman alone and increasingly precarious: "I find her a clean, sunny apartment/but those pesky upstairs neighbors start/zapping her with laser beams,/and the TV starts speaking directly to her..."

Precarious people, precarious lives, and hints of rough diamonds and hope beneath thin skins of desperation: these are the urban visions captured in Running Down Broken Cement, which illuminates lives of quiet desperation.

Any looking for poems cemented in the urban reality of mental illness, personal struggle, and survival will find attention to real-life scenarios powerfully entwined with free verse's accessible experiences; all neatly packaged into meetings that succeed in placing poetry readers at the heart of a caseworker who works with homeless families and abused children and who, herself, has adopted and fostered these children.

The Devil's Crib
Frank Ritter
Trenchcoat Press
c/o Diverse Publications
9780970635174, $4.99,

Not every thriller writer can claim a career of forty years as a professional investigator and bodyguard, but Frank Ritter's

background lends depth and authenticity to the highly-charged events in The Devil's Crib that take place in the Middle East, Moscow and Rome at the time of Operation Desert Storm. Events are thus spiced with action supercharged by sex, violence, and the intricacies of political interests and plots; so be forewarned, this is no casual pursuit.

Let's back up a step to also mention that The Devil's Crib is as gritty as Frank Ritter's last novel The Killing Games - which means, in a nutshell, that readers offended by sex and violence and who seek milder, more casual international thrillers should look elsewhere lest their sensibilities be affronted by circumstances which demand liberal doses of X-rated action throughout the story.

That's not to say that The Devil's Crib is unnecessarily laden with sex and violence: more that in the course of its realistic settings and events, these elements are not glossed over nor sugar-coated, but revealed in all their passionate and bloody incarnations. And that's just one of the many devices that sets this novel apart from the usual story of international intrigue.

Another is its ability to wind an intricate, complex web of details that gets under one's skin and probes the minds and motivations of every protagonist, creating layers of elaborate psychology that emerge only under extreme duress - all provided in the course of action that unfolds on personal and political arenas alike.

Proceedings circle around the fabled Crib of Balthasar, a priceless Vatican relic in the hands of a Pope who reveals his plan to use it to fund the integration of Palestinian refugees into Israeli society: a plan fully supported by Israel and rejected by the Palestine Liberation Organization and a crumbling Soviet Union.

When a high-level kidnapping occurs with a resulting escalation of threats to kill bishops around the world unless PLO leaders are released from prison, it falls upon a Swiss Guard and an Israeli Mossad agent to thwart international tensions that could ultimately lead to a world war.

The Devil's Crib's writing is lean, mean, and so packed with dramatic scenarios that there's barely time to absorb the twists of one encounter before another rich confrontation is set forth.

How could a meaningless legendary relic that resurfaces in the chaos of the 1990s serve as the pivot point for nations teetering on the brink of annihilation? As the affairs of popes, cardinals, politicians and professional spies come to light, an intricate dance of detail, motivation and passion evolves that brings KGB myths (such as that of Ivan the Terrible) to life with scenes injected with sometimes-cruel sex and equally brutal violence.

All the trappings of a solid novel of intrigue are here, from codes locked away in libraries to colonels who cross the line of military protocol in quest of personal revenge.

Not every thriller writer can lay claim to a background that mirrors much of the realistic approaches of his novel's characters; and not every thriller can deliver the repeated punches of surprise that will engross even the most seasoned genre reader.

That The Devil's Crib holds the ability to provide a genuinely revealing story of terrorism and redemption is testimony to Ritter's dramatic skills, attention to historical detail, and ability to immerse readers in an intricate story of political and social entanglements involving murderers, failed friendships, and the horrible deaths sparked by an ancient artifact.

The Warren: Severxance Living Legacy Saga - Book One
Becca Hardy
Rebecca Trelfa, Publisher
ISBN & Price Pending Publication,

Billed as Book One of the 'Severxance Living Legacy Saga', The Warren already states that it's part of a series about some kind of legacy. What is striking from its first paragraph, however, is that this involves an alien stranded on earth, caught in a human torture chamber. And then things get interesting.

What if you were stranded on another world with no memory and no way home? What if you were left behind with an infant to care for, and what if your species was capable of long life and regeneration? And what if you devoted the centuries to filling in many blanks about your past and keeping your heritage a secret, only to find out that the way home is paved with strange intentions entwined with human affairs?

That's only the opening salvo of a story that combines the best of alien investigations and human affairs to take hard sci fi to a whole new level.

Now, a note: it's been decades since hard sci fi was at its heyday. That position has been eroded over the years by a preponderance of sword and sorcery and urban fantasy: two genres that often eschew much of any science in favor of the trappings of magic. So it's especially refreshing and notable to find here not just a throwback to a genre that once rested firmly on hard science, but which holds a treasure trove of new possibilities.

Some of the reasons why this is possible is Becca Hardy's attention to building believable, winning protagonists, plus an overriding mystery that permeates the story line and truly involves readers with passion and effortless reading. A twist on the traditional Simak-like Way Station setting that has her alien protagonists unwilling (and unknowing) participants in a greater experiment than an accidental stranding doesn't hurt, either.

Another reason lies in the hard science itself. Attempts to reinvent alien transportation devices, considerations of collective memory's wider place in the universe, and links between memories and the shape of reality itself keep science-minded readers immersed and fascinated; and that's not an easy task in a genre overwhelmed with marginal plots, predictable routines, and (too often) one-dimensional characters.

For a sci-fi book to be truly engrossing, all of these elements must be present - and rarely are. The Warren thus stands out from the crowd in many ways, and readers who become hooked from its first words will find its action relentless, its overall science believable and sound, and its characters and their motivations exquisitely logical: "Catching a secret government agency in the act of dissecting a fellow alien was no surprise. It was the main reason he'd avoided them so long... Physical pain he could watch - take. What he couldn't take was being out of the loop. If he hadn't been so desperate for answers, he wouldn't have risked chasing down his kind at all. He knew three things about the torture victim. One: He was the only other alien Foster knew of on Earth. Two: They'd arrived together. Three: The guy wanted nothing to do with him. He'd run off so fast after they landed, Foster didn't even learn his name."

The basic questions of identity, purpose, and life's meaning are universal ones: their presentation here takes another turn and makes them even more poignant.

Add several aliens to the mix, stir, give them uncertain (but definite) connections and purpose and add a healthy dose of interspecies interaction and conflict and you have: violence (at times strong), humor (always sharp and unexpected), romance (a surprise ingredient), mystery (all-pervading) and hard science (complex yet easily accessible).

The Warren proves one of those compelling, can't-put-it-down reads you'll feel sorry to see end. But, wait - there will be more!

It's All About Muhammad: A Biography of the World's Most Notorious Prophet
F.W. Burleigh
Zenga Books
978099604909, $16.95,

Plenty of titles discuss Muhammad's teachings and works, but too few offer the kind of in-depth, critical approach to Muhammad's life and influences, which is really necessary for a well-rounded understanding of the roots of Islam.

It's All About Muhammad remedies this lack, yet this book is not for the casual reader seeking a light review of his life, but for those seeking specific connections between the events of Muhammad's life and the Koran - which, Burleigh maintains, is best viewed as a diary or a blog.

Ultimately the book is about Muhammad's violent approach to imposing his religion, and it probes that violent life based on a line-by-line study of some 20,000 pages of original source materials.
Muhammad's violence was fueled at first not so much by religious fervor as it was by a struggle to stay alive in a dangerous world: thus his attacks, murders, and conflicts demonstrated controlled, purposeful violence that was fanned by a delusional belief that God backed his actions.

References to his delusional beliefs abound: "He had constructed a fantasy world peopled with prophets and angels, and he lived inside his head with them as his most intimate companions. They were as real if not more so than his flesh-and-blood companions. The stories of the prophets, or at least his version of their stories, had become points of reference for him and served as a framework for his thinking."

Key to this historical and biographical review are instances of Muhammad's exploitation of the Arabian religious customs of tolerance: "The Meccans were furious. It was clear Muhammad was using their customs to gain an advantage over them. He was hiding behind the security of the sacred months even though he himself had little respect for the tradition. Neither did he have any respect for their tolerance. He was exploiting their openness..."

From murderous rampages to peaceful times, he added verse after verse to his Koran in response to life events: "After doing some thinking on the idea of returning a faithful woman to a den of polytheists, Muhammad unilaterally changed the terms of the Hudaybiyya treaty to exclude the forced repatriation of women. He backed it up with a new Koran chapter..."

Don't expect an admiring portrait of the man. Burleigh maintains and provides ample evidence for the notion that, ultimately, Muhammad was so morally deformed and ruthless that this book and other exposes revealing the truth about him could eventually result in the collapse of Islam. Burleigh admits that such a collapse won't be fostered by one book alone (or even a series of them), but from wide media exposure.

However, It's All About Muhammad is the beginning: the opening salvo fired in a war against Islamic violence and all of its roots. Heavily footnoted with source material references throughout, this book is the best opening act one could wish for in a discussion of Islam's historical precedent and how to stop its cycles of violence from reaching ever more deeply into modern times.

The Oblate's Confession
William Peak
Secant Publishing
9780990460800, $25.99,

Readers of historical fiction typically value settings and history as much as drama - and that's where some historical stories fall short, focusing on events and adding only the faint trappings of the background that would fully explain their progression. And this point is where The Oblate's Confession departs from many other novels set in England's Dark Ages, standing apart in its approach and depth to make it a superior, recommended historical story.

The Oblate's Confession is set in seventh century England and revolves around a warrior's son who is given to a monastery that resides on the border between two rival Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The chaos affecting the land (from warfare and plague) permeates even the monastery's relative isolation and reaches into young Winwaed's life against all efforts of his teachers and a hermit, who lives near the monastery and who serves as his surrogate father.

It's a holy trinity gone awry when the return of his natural father results in a clash between the child's monastic superior, the hermit, and the warrior stranger who sired him.

That is the basic overview of a plot replete with politics, conflict, and Middle Ages struggles for survival. Now for the nitty-gritty ... The Oblate's Confession also takes readers on a trip through time. This is not to say it's a time-slip story; just that its ability (through use of the first-person and powerful descriptions) to capture the sights, sounds, smells and feel of its time will successfully transport readers to the distant past like few others can achieve: "It was not as bright as I had expected but it was bright. I blinked and then looked again. The sun was well up now, mid-morning, and it looked as if it would be a nice day. It had rained during the night and the air was sweet and fragrant. I placed my hands on the windowsill and leaned out. A breeze moved over the surface of the outer wall and the perspiration on my forehead began to dry, the skin there suddenly feeling cool and fresh."

Few historical novels take the time to create proper atmosphere. Most breeze (or, more likely, charge) through such descriptions in favor of fast-paced action; but it's this approach that truly immerses readers in the era - and that's what superior historical fiction is all about.

The Oblate's Confession goes beyond narration and a fast-paced story line replete with personal and political struggle to snare readers with a series of exquisite descriptions that do more than create a setting: they inject the present-day follower with a vivid sense of the past. All the senses, in fact.

Thus, expect passages of action tempered by the slow winding observational views of a young boy growing up and learning from his three very different fathers: "I had to think about it for a while - seeing the raindrops falling on the footprints, seeing other footprints falling on the raindrops - but when it finally came to me the solution seemed so obvious I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it before: "You can tell when thins happened!" I cried. "You can tell when he passed through here by the raindrops!"

Under William Peak's hand (and through a child's eyes) the Dark Ages of England not only begin to make sense - they come alive. Readers hone their sense of time and place as the boy matures into manhood and learns not only about obedience and faith, but about love and revenge.

A good historical work recreates the times and events that drive motive, action and decisions. A superior work tempers these events with solid characterization, psychological insights, and a sharp sense of place that captures the everyday.

From the Benedictine monks and their world to a young oblate's struggles to live in different realities, The Oblate's Confession more than succeeds in recreating the Dark Ages in all their facets. Not since Rosemary Sutcliff's historical prowess has such a strong sense of the times succeeded in drawing this reader into a powerful historical saga.

Collecting Feathers: Tales from the Other Side
Daniela I. Norris
Soul Rocks
9781782796718, $12.95,

Collecting Feathers: Tales from the Other Side is a short story collection presenting works that are spiritual, diminutive, filled with action, and satisfyingly compelling reads; especially for busy readers who prefer to digest their stories as short staccato pieces rather than winding, full-length productions.

Its focus is on human connections and love, and it imparts these basics using a variety of protagonists, settings and circumstances that reach into everyday lives and flavor them with a dose of spicy reflection; whether those events be as mundane as shopping in a grocery store, as poignant as visiting a child's grave, or as world-changing as a suicide attempt.

Many universal messages are embedded in these vignettes, from health struggles depicted in 'A Reason to Go On' to portraits of loss, despair, struggle and redemption. Throughout them all, Daniela I. Norris's lyrical, poetic hand adroitly captures the heart and feel of lives at crossroads, even in seemingly-ordinary scenes: "We saw storms in the eyes of the other patients. They stared at us enviously as we walked away on that grey, miserable morning. Could they have seen us both? We were the ones getting out, they were staying behind. Or was it the other way round?"

Does darkness hide everywhere - or is it the individual who refuses to let it go? Each story is replete with some kind of darkness and some kind of light; whether it be physical, psychological, or spiritual. And each is permeated with Norris's attention to detail, which betrays a poetic hand lurking in the background of vivid description: "I could hear the early summer winds whistling their melancholic tunes, accompanied by the sound of a distant piano. They whistled at me, for me. No one else seemed to hear them. Whoosh, whoosh, they would say, and I whooshed back at them, ignoring the loud protests of the starlings which must have been trying to distract me."

It would be all too easy to present the trappings of what each short story in this collection is estimably about - but that would be doing the overall collection a grave disservice. Really, it's about reasons to go on living and where (and how) these reasons are found.

Birth, death, afterbirth and afterlife are all intricately wind together against the backdrop of tragedies happening daily and how people cope, move on, and move outward.

That's the living, breathing, beating heart of Collecting Feathers, especially recommended not for those who expect entertainment from their short stories, but for readers more interested in reflective pieces spiced with poetic imagery and succinct (but striking) revelations.

The Lupane Legacy
Darby G. Holladay
Manor Minor Press
Clothbound ISBN: 9781942024002
Paperback ISBN: 9781942024019
$6.99 Kindle, $12.99 paperback, $22.99 clothbound

International thriller readers are in for a treat with The Lupane Legacy. For one thing, it comes from the pen of a State Department employee who writes about something he knows intimately: the Gukurahundi massacres in post-independence Zimbabwe. But it's not required that readers have any prior knowledge of either the massacres or Zimbabwe history or politics in order to become fully immersed in the setting and action that is The Lupane Legacy.

The first thing to note is that The Lupane Legacy is billed as a 'Joshua Denham and Devon Kerr novel'. Neither character is evident in the opening scenes, a prologue set in a small 1983 Zimbabwe village where five-year-old Patrick, the apple of his mother's eye, is about to witness his entire world destroyed in an instant of senseless, unpredictable violence: "The trucks turned off the track close to the village and stopped. The men with their black sticks jumped out and ran toward the village, fanning out into a half-moon, closing in on the cluster of structures. When they reached the edge of the village, the popping sounds began."

Now fast forward to October 2012, where Joshua Denham makes his home in Washington, D.C. in a scene that neatly contrasts with modern-day Harare, Zimbabwe. Here two very different worlds are depicted: the bustling, modern city where Denham is a diplomat ("When the door opens, you step into a new world. The language you hear is rapid and strange, the air filled with unfamiliar music and singular smells. No world travels are required to incur these sensations. You have merely entered a Washington, DC, taxicab.") and the stifling world of the now-adult Patrick's Harare, Zimbabwe ("If you want to feel alone in the world, almost any government building on a Friday afternoon in Harare will do. The heat is stifling, the electricity works only a few hours per day, water is problematic, and the entire city is in a bad mood. Another week has come and gone, with no end to its inhabitants' deprivations in sight.")

Patrick has come a long way from his childhood's sudden end, growing up as an orphan to achieve a certain amount of status and power in Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organization - an amazing achievement given his lack of family support and governmental connections. Surprisingly, it's this very lack of special interest supporters, as much as his talents, that have earned him this organizational position. But it's his background that will soon come roaring back to both haunt and spark his directions and choices in life.

Patrick allegedly is interested in and concerned with records organization; but underneath the veneer of a dedicated records manager lies the steaming heart of a five-year-old who has witnessed his entire village's destruction - and this heart leads Patrick to a second, undercover career that involves intrigue, deception, and political alliances.

When Joshua Denham meets up again with the lovely Devon Kerr, who is now a lobbyist, an unlikely new partnership forms as political events not only throw them together but send them on one of the most dangerous journeys of their lives.

What does a woman from his past, a feisty cousin facing sudden disaster, and an overseas assignment have to do with Zimbabwe and Patrick? Plenty, as readers will soon find out.

And it seems everyone is hiding secrets, from Devon's public image and secret live to Patrick's pursuits. They're all interlinked as protagonists join in unlikely manners and make discoveries about not just each other, but themselves: "Devon could see that Joshua had wanted her to reveal more, but how could she? Her life was a lie. Well, maybe not a lie - but not the truth, either. Perhaps one day, when the moment was right, she could tell Joshua everything, and he would differentiate between her sins of commission and omission."

Romance, intrigue, international cat-and-mouse games, and ultimate goals: all the facets of a solid novel of international conspiracies are here, paved with the good intentions and special interests of each protagonist as they circle their separate realities.

As readers journey with the protagonists from Washington, D.C. to Zimbabwe, from South Africa through the hearts and minds of Roger, Constance, Devon and Joshua, they will find themselves faced with a dilemma: each protagonist is well-developed, likable, and involving. Whose side should one be on, in the reign of international tensions that will escalate in the course of The Lupane Legacy?

The fact that there are no easy answers, no predictable, logical courses of action, and plenty of emotional involvement on the parts of all concerned just makes the intrigue and action all the more engrossing, making The Lupane Legacy a recommendation for even the most seasoned thriller reader.

And without spilling beans, suffice it to say that what neatly concludes as an ending holds the seeds for possible new beginnings, as well.

Mystery and Misadventure - An Old Acquaintance
M.D. Hall
Privately Published
ASIN: B00NBA6UUA, $2.99,

It's back - and we're talking about another fine addition to M.D. Hall's works in the form of Mystery and Misadventure - An Old Acquaintance, a companion to the original Mystery and Misadventure short story collection. And if you think you're in for the usual succinct vignette that entertains, be prepared for something very different: the same exquisite twists of story line that made the original stand out are back, and just as powerful here. Think Twilight Zone with a dose of smoky intrigue and quietly compelling, fluid plots.

Take the opener, 'The Clock'. The mysterious narrator S.P. best describes his own take: "Have you ever wished that time could have the fluidity of water, or that you could rewind time, not unlike a fishing line? Robert is about to discover things about time he could never have imagined..." When a teacher and amateur clock collector stumbles upon a puzzling ad and its hidden potential, he finds an 18th century marvel in a clock that holds a mirror to time itself. It's just awaiting its keeper... Nobody can own it, for the clock itself is the mechanism for an extraordinary relationship.

Its silent magic draws Robert into the world of a killer, and he becomes the unwitting wielder of an ultimate power in this story of corruption, evil, and slavery to an inanimate object.

'The Chamber' is another such read, opening with Brian's awakening in a hyperbaric chamber and revealing the results of what was to be the most exciting dive of the century, investigating a mysterious 'siren circle' area where ships vanish without a trace.

His is not a scientific investigation; it's a secret salvage operation - but what is uncovered isn't just gold, it's a trail of dangerous crumbs leading to a sunken navy ship that holds a deadly power.

What happens next is unpredictable, amazing, and unleashes a storm of impossible truths. And much like a good Twilight Zone scene, the everyday and the expected are transformed into the extraordinarily unexpected in an otherworldly twist packed with intrigue. Would that other short story writers wrote this well!

From a theatre critic to a deep-sea diver searching for treasure, an exceptionally successful (nee: crooked) businessman whose 'failures' are human lives, to characters who just don't survive the impossibilities of their lives, Mystery and Misadventure - An Old Acquaintance's eminently unpredictable short stories will delight both prior readers of the original book and newcomers.

And, unlike most introductions and afterwords, the beginning and ending featuring the chatty, surreal voice of 'S.P.' is as compelling as the reads themselves, capturing an eerie sense of irony that permeates all the stories in a very highly recommended, well-polished collection that cuts its sharp teeth on the hidden edge of the impossible.

Dead Soul Mary: A Novel
M.J. Winn
Janday Publishing
Kindle Edition: 9780984026951, $3.95
ePUB Edition: 9780984026975, $3.95
Trade Paperback Edition: 9780984026944, $14.99
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Dead Soul Mary: A Novel begins with a simple premise: that souls can become sick, and that they can die while the host lives on, unaware that anything is missing. This, in itself, is a thought of horror - but it's only the beginning for seventeen-year-old protagonist Megan, who finds the world a bloodbath of horror and wonders why.

Don't expect a singular story line in Dead Soul Mary, however: it presents many twists of theme that elevate it beyond the usual horror genre production.

Megan's an adopted Korean-American teen who has her hands full as she battles an infected sociopath bent on spreading the soul-killing disease he carries. It's a disease that masks right from wrong, that leads to killing sprees, and which is likely responsible for much of society's descent into a bloodbath of atrocities. It's one that infects innocent people with hate - and it's a disease that host Desmond has successfully transmitted to Megan.

A vast number of horror novels produced today represent genre formula writing at its worst, with shallow characters, predictable plots, and story premises that don't seem very extraordinary, at all. Not so Dead Soul Mary, which begins with the premise of a soul-infecting plague, draws in readers with a multi-dimensional young protagonist who struggles with her own self as well as the wider outside world, and who serves as a focal point for the vast social changes to come.

Through Megan's eyes events come to life - and through Desmond's eyes, his evolution from a 'marked' but happy child with an impish spirit to a soul consumed by hatred is also well drawn. Because the novel revolves around these two, it spans a number of decades from the late 1960s to modern times, following the different paths and worlds of each protagonist until they ultimately, inevitably, intersect.

As with any horror story, there are gruesome scenes described; so despite its protagonist's age, Dead Soul Mary is recommended for mature teen to adult readers. This audience will find the plot peppered with so much more than overt horror: i.e. the complex issues of race relations, the seeds of the downtrodden that grow into attitudes, and the determination to survive even at the cost of one's soul ("And it happened. As she pulled the door toward her to greet the bony, grim-faced Mr. Tully, the best part of Delores unceremoniously disappeared from view. Everything was gone."). All these facets entwine in a story line that is rich with psychological insight as well as slowly-building horror.

Horror readers shouldn't expect nonstop action, here, either. M.J. Winn takes plenty of time to build up plot and protagonist - and it pays off big time, in a progression of believable events fueled by realistic motivation and protagonist responses.

In the course of describing events, there are scenes where Megan encounters racism even among friends, and learns that her heritage alone may spark unreasonable hatred: "Hearing him say "these people" stung. Megan had a special fondness for Trisha's grandfather, and she thought he had felt the same for her; he used to call her Chinadoll and offer coins from his pockets. While growing up, she had liked to pretend he was her grandfather, and now he was treating her like a stranger. But worse than that, he seemed bitter, like he reviled her or perhaps blamed her."

At the heart of it all is a virus that only Megan can battle; a plague that soon becomes public knowledge despite its impossible progression: "Haven't you been watching the

news? It's gotten much worse since this morning. People are going berserk from this new Stutterbug Virus. Normal folks

attacking strangers for no reason, mothers hurting their babies and shit like that..."

In real life, true horror often evolves slowly - it doesn't always drop into one's world with a bang, like so many horror writers portray. So it's a real pleasure to find a slowly-building plot where the horror element is tempered by the motivations, influences and history of realistic people just trying to live their lives.

And perhaps that's Dead Soul Mary's greatest talent: its ability to depict a social breakdown and spreading virus that holds roots in believable possibility. Fueled by a young protagonist who struggles with moral and spiritual faith and makes deadly mistakes despite good intentions, this is a spirited and slowly-evolving horror story made all the more compelling for its links to modern concerns over escalating world violence.

Perilous Land
J.M. Haug
J.M. Haug, Publisher
No ISBN, $2.99,

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There's magic in the world; and then there's the magic of the written word ... when both coalesce, that's when true enchantment begins. Such is the case with Perilous Land: The Fall of Lida Azhad Book 1, a rollicking, world-changing read that falls somewhere between epic romance and pirate saga, with its fantasy bound up in a nautical setting where anything is possible. Magical aromas abound, from flavors of forest and sea to the gritty language of this world's inhabitants.

It would be all too easy to anticipate a standard fantasy and a straightforward read; but one of the delights of Perilous Land (and, note: it won't be a delight to those who seek a light, unchallenging pursuit: readers be warned!) is its lyrical style and descriptions that pull outsiders into this colorful, demanding setting: "Thunder, like unto the hate-forged tempest what birthed them. Ever had that been their sound, the waves. Serpentine, they slithered from out the east, howling and hungry, an endless blue-gray roil of vengeance mythological. Coiling. Crashing. Failing. Then would come once more the dragon's roar of retribution..."

There are ancient storytellers and an exceptionally brave (or, foolhardy: take your pick) protagonist, Lida Azhad, whose struggles and passion forge new paths for herself and those around her.

All this presented against the backdrop of a land replete with fierce dangers, narrated with a dialogue that takes some getting used to, but which only adds to the satisfying complexity and well-rounded attention to detail that sets Perilous Land apart from a genre standard: "It is good to hear you zay as muzh, because I had begun to wonder if my artifizer knuhs the aczhual duties of her puzt." Cool curiosity presses her brow higher, a challenging glance o'er the edge of the prop page in the hopes that if the letter itself be not thick enough, the sheer force of pretense will maintain the deception, for at the moment does this sample of a grand duke's missive sit upside down in her grasp."

These quoted passages give some idea of J.M. Haug's approach, and should serve as fair warning for the dense, realistic devices employed to make the story line believable and immediate. Through winding descriptions that take their time linking past to present events to extensive slang dialogue that initially is taxing but ultimately spices the story line, Perilous Land doesn't just set its table with light, fragile trappings: it embraces the sights, smells, and textures of a creaking ship and a journey replete with voyages and dangers.

And Lida Azhad? A woman would initially seem to hold no place in a pirate's plundering goals or in a world replete with myths, blasphemies, harsh lands and harsher labors; but Azhad has been forced into the role of a queen and leader, and seeks to win her imprisoned brother's freedom.

Her assignment takes her into jungles and loses her men. It challenges her until she becomes more than just another captain in a fleet of extraordinary ships, and pits her against dragons and politicians alike.

So if it's an easy fantasy leisure read that's desired - move along, please. Perilous Land isn't a tale to be sandwiched into lunch hours, but an epic swashbuckling, saber-rattling fantasy that challenges readers with a meaty plot, pithy slang-laced dialogue, and a woman who puts the sass back in the descriptor 'spunky'.

Oh, and no neat wrap-ups here...but then, the subtitle should warn that there's more to come, and so the cliffhanger shouldn't be entirely unexpected.

Magical aromas abound: take a breath, inhale ... then become steeped in the sights, sounds, and feel of the strange new world that Perilous Land provides. Few other fantasies come close.

A Patriot's Act
Kenneth Eade
Times Square Publishing
9781500284992, $4.99,

While readers needn't hold familiarity with Kenneth Eade's prior courtroom thriller A Predatory Kill, be forewarned: such a familiarity will provide background for A Patriot's Act, which continues Brent Marks' globe-trotting international encounters; and newcomers who enjoy this book will turn to its predecessor for another well-grounded, involving legal thriller.

A courtroom would seem the last place to find Marks when a naturalized American citizen goes missing in Iraq, but it prompts him to battle the U.S. government with its own Constitution in search of justice. Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.

And events don't stop in the courtroom's boundaries or jurisdiction, either, as they lead to detention and torture in Guantanamo Bay and involve an American citizen who is being pressed for information he doesn't have. In fact, the story opens with the bang of this detention, torture, and its ultimate result. It doesn't end there - so readers are afforded little opportunity to stop reading before they find themselves immersed in the 'who, what, where and why' of what evolves into an international thriller spiced with legal and business concerns.

A wife's determination to locate her missing husband in Iraq against all odds fuels the events to follow, which assume a winding progression of political, legal, and personal encounters.

Be forewarned: there are periods of (and graphic accounts) torture; and while these scenes are in keeping with both the plot and real-world events, that doesn't mean that A Patriot's Act is a recommendation for the light thriller reader. Sometimes the juxtapositions of life at Guantanamo and events back home in the States proves both striking and jarring: "As Ahmed choked and sputtered, the nurse put a mask over his face, and he threw up in the mask, covering his face with his own vomit. Brent placed a luscious bite of Lobster Thermidor in his mouth, savoring the creamy mixture. Debbie, the blonde bombshell, looked on affectionately."

It's all about delicate balance of power and experience - something gone awry in A Patriot's Act, and something explored through intimate descriptions: "Debbie's home cooking was great, but the company was even better. As the candles dwindled, they drained the bottle of Pinot Grigio. Brent's thoughts drifted to Ahmed. It's true that life is a balance between hardship and joy. Everybody suffers. But in Ahmed's case the balance was decidedly tipped toward suffering, and the joy was only in his memories."

As Eade deftly juxtaposes the lives of two very different Americans experiencing two very different circumstances, he delves into the politics and processes of prisoners and military men alike, exposing the wounds of their experience and psyches and the points at which man's inhumanity stems from a worldview that dehumanizes and rips apart systems and people.

It's a machine-gun staccato of relentless violence, unremitting action, and underlying issues of freedom, sacrifice, and the ultimate results of America's 'war on terror'.

If Eade's intention is to grab his readers by the collar and shake them up with an expose of detainees who have no freedoms, rights, or hopes under the Patriot Act, concluding with courtroom activities that define the very nature of freedom itself, then he's more than succeeded in providing such a story under the guise of a legal thriller that probes the foundations of America's belief system against the backdrop of terrorist activities.

Have the terrorists won their quest for freedom's erosion, exposing its underbelly of inconsistencies and repression - and will Brent Marks win his quest for justice? That's for the reader to learn in a novel that deftly winds its way around the world and through the hearts and minds of its audience as it provides a compelling, thought-provoking (and not an easy) read.

Pest Control
Sofia Diana Gabel
Escargot Books and Music
Website :
(EPUB) 9781908191991, $4.99
(Paperback) 9781908191298, $9.99

Readers suffering from arachnophobia will either have their fears confirmed or should stay away from Sofia Diana Gabel's Pest Control, an environmental thriller that revolves around a spider invasion of epic proportions. But it would be a shame for such a phobia to result in avoiding this novel; for its arachnid-based action is exquisitely different from the usual thriller and revolves around an entirely new insect deterrent a professional killer community finds revolutionary and appealing. So begins a story of convoluted horror as the new product, Arach-No-More, is touted as a pest controller's dream (soon to prove a nightmare).

There's more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek humor, here, as a neurotoxin designed to exclusively attack the DNA of spiders hits the market. With the new product comes not only the promise of ending arachnophobia, but wiping out a new breed of aggressive spiders threatening California.

But as with any new environmental killer, the "new best friend" soon turns into a nightmare of epic proportions - and that's where Pest Control really comes into its own, offering a believable premise, a variety of involving characters with special interests, and an unexpected twist that ultimately makes even the most dangerous spider more desirable than the product that kills it.

Greed, environmental battles, an outdoor world made unsafe by human meddling, and the rise of Pest No More as a top stock market company are all about to coalesce in a thunderous crash that will take down spider and human alike.

This much is predictable from the start; but what isn't predictable is Pest Control's lively twists and turns that keep readers guessing about the outcome. And as Arach-No-More's victims adopt a deadly genetic mutation in an effort to adapt to their newly poisonous environment, schoolgirl Amelia (who harbors a beloved pet tarantula) finds herself in the unlikely role of trying to saving mankind from its own fears - as well as the spiders she loves.

Has Arach-No-More succeeded in creating its own biggest spider nightmare? And can an ornery teen face down men who are richer, stronger, and nearly as clever as she?

What sets Pest Control apart from any other Michael Crichton look-alike is its attention to detail.

Amelia's motivations, background, and sassy savvy are logical and realistic and draw readers in with well-built human interest. And when the murders begin, her objectives lie at the heart of not only a personal struggle against environmental degradation and corporate greed, but a new technology that ultimately migrates into military hands and purposes.

As a new spin-off product, Insecti-Gone, threatens the world, it's Amelia and her supporter Marvin against the evil Vogorev and special interests that embrace all aspects of what is wrong about environmental management efforts. But how can teenagers win over the tide of insect fear sweeping the nation: one that will result in irreversible decisions to not just control but eradicate anything perceived as a 'pest'?

Pest Control asks some hard questions in the course of its wild ride through murder, manipulation, and environmental concerns. Its scenarios are not unlikely and in fact border on believable - and that's what makes it a powerful survey of a great scientific discovery, a world-ending decision based on greed, and an even greater experiment to possibly reverse the impossible.

Anticipate a powerful blend of environmental thriller and murder mystery, all wrapped up in the passion and concerns of a feisty teenager determined to save what she loves.

Kennedy Obohwemu
First Edition Design Publishing
9781622876785, $18.95,

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Cover art can be a big determiner of whether or not to pick up a novel; so it's worth mentioning the exceptionally memorable cover image of Twisted, featuring a giant businessman sitting amongst small urban buildings, head in hand, with lightning sparking all around him and a subtitle that compels: "Before things went sour, he needed a minor miracle. Now, he needs the Red Sea to part..."

And that's just the opener and draw for Twisted, which is inspired by actual events and which integrates themes of terrorist plots with romance and a man unwittingly caught in a net of intrigue and shocking revelations about his past.

Don't expect your usual thriller format, however; for protagonist author Mofe Esiri's only starting his impossible journey with these revelations: a trip that includes time travel, family ties, a clever killer with international and mafia ties, and more.

At times it feels that Mofe is trapped in so many ways that he will never untangle the twisted web he's spun for himself through his actions and investigations. Nigerean culture permeates the story line, from the blossoming film industry that is 'Nollywood' to the pageantry of rising wealth and the country's blossoming tourist industry. Against this backdrop, Mofe's impossible world emerges; one that evolves from his status as an acclaimed Nigerian writer who lives outside of his country and which follows his unwitting entry into danger after having lived a peaceful life filled with rare (for a Nigerian) literary acclaim.

It seems inevitable that anyone who sits in the hot seat of success will experience a downfall - but not the kind of downfall any could expect from Africa's most successful author, who serves as the role model of achievement for his generation.

Expect a story line replete with the ups and downs of success and failure, with some of these elements coming from personal achievement and others stemming from romance. Expect, also, a story filled with intrigue and action; a surreal thriller couched not just in the specter of international intrigue, but the daily challenges of infidelity, oppression, court cases and police activities, and one man's unwitting involvement in a criminal outfit more than capable of murder.

Within such a scenario the seeds of human bonds and relationships are born. Against the threat of violence emerges love. And as the hopes of a man tempted to live out his erotic fantasies becomes inexorably entwined with the world of assassins, he finds himself not just navigating a strange land, but maneuvering through the changes it will introduce to a life seemingly laced with good luck and unprecedented literary success.

Anyone unfamiliar with Nigerian politics and culture will find Twisted a welcome introduction, while those with a degree of knowledge about Africa will find it replete with truths about the state of affairs affecting not only its citizens in-country but the expats who live outside its borders.

It holds all the trappings of mystery, suspense and romance without the usually-Western settings and sentiments that permeate these genres, and it offers both believable and absorbing protagonists with a locale steeped in Africa's rich social and political milieu.

The result will especially please literary-minded readers who enjoy all three genres, but who seek more depth than the usual thriller affords.

Vanilla Milk
Chanel Brenner
Silver Birch Press
9780692267479, $16.00,

Memoirs and poetry collections flood the market; often to the point that a reviewer or editor's desk can be crowded with genre reads; many of which don't impart distinction or surprise. Such is not the case with Vanilla Milk, which holds both; not the least of which is a surprising blend of formats which melds a memoir to poetry. And so, the first prerequisite for appreciating Vanilla Milk is affection for poems and memoirs alike.

Chanel Brenner is not the first to use poems to immortalize and capture the events surrounding a child's death: Stan Rice's Some Lamb is one example of an outstanding synthesis of poem/memoir - and Vanilla Milk deserves to take its place alongside it, on the shelf of exceptional writings.

The night her son Riley died, Brenner began to write a poem - only the fifth she'd ever written in her life. She began taking her journal everywhere, channeling her grief into something cathartic and concrete.

Vanilla Milk is the result, sending the pain "somewhere" - and that 'somewhere' proves to be a collection that honors her son, keeps a piece of him alive, and transmits a small bit about him to the wider world.

A quick glance at the table of contents listing poem titles shows that these pieces adopt unusual perspectives: 'Toy Venom', 'Riley Died Again Yesterday', and 'God as a Waiter' aren't approaches to be found in every poetry collection, but are solid examples of the flood of changing emotions and perceptions death (especially the death of a child) brings to life.

The verses themselves can best be described as 'free verse tinged with unveiled emotions' - so be prepared for heart-wrenching immersion in the author's experiences: "Nothing belongs to us, not our hair, not our thoughts,/not our sons.... A washing machine outlives a little boy./These are the ruins: hair, eyes, teeth, flesh over bones./What parts of his body do we want to give away?"

Readers who choose Vanilla Milk will find the purpose here is not to rhyme stanzas nor create poetic works steeped in literary excellence, but to capture the essence of both Riley and the world that all too briefly swirled around him and his death.

Those looking for total immersion in Brenner's experiences and who want a memoir that tackles all facets of a mother's response to a son's death and the grief process will find Vanilla Milk laced with warmth and pain alike: a satisfying, involving hot drink perfect for a winter's day and an understanding of the process so blithely described as 'grieving'.

Less Than Nothing
R.E. Blake
Reprobatio Ltd.
9781634150156, $2.99,

Coming-of-age romance novels are nothing new: stories of evolving love and maturity ever proliferate against different backdrops, with dissimilar protagonists fueling change.

What sets Less Than Nothing apart from the crowd are several added facets not typical in your usual love story. For one thing, the main protagonist, Sage, is homeless; a teenage runaway living in the streets of San Francisco.

Her street savvy, quickly honed from survival instincts, includes just enough skills to evade cops and predators and make money to feed herself; but when she meets a fellow musician (Derek), her carefully polished abilities must expand to meet the unexpected challenge of including a relationship.

Less Than Nothing is about this expansion process and charts the course of two already-independent teens who have more starry eyes than street savvy, and who handle their unexpected relationship with caution. The only reliable force in her life prior to Derek has been her Yamaha guitar ("'s the one thing in my life that's a constant, and now that I'm homeless, it's doing double duty supporting me..."): now it's time for Sage to accept something into her life and heart that's not inanimate - and trust that it will support her equally well.

How trust develops, how love evolves from that, and how two people living on the streets wind up pursing a dream bigger than each of them makes for a winding series of connections and interconnections that bind the two disparate characters together and capture reader interest.

Mature teens to adults will find the story holds believable dialogue, themes of major changes and transitions between teens just beginning to realize possibilities in their lives, and a progressive discussion that is involving and tense.

A coast-to-coast journey undertaken by ambitious teens who have little but one another, their dreams, and musical connections adds spice and a sense of adventure and discovery. As with many young adult novels, adults rarely factor into the interactions and events presented - until Derek makes a deal-killing mistake that causes Sage to question their goals and more closely refine her own, separate dreams.

Less Than Nothing is a road trip undertaken on the power of dreams and the certainty of youth in meeting the seemingly-impossible head-on. It's about a spunky girl who has her own well-developed psyche and who wants more than immersion in another's dreams - and it's about how two ambitions weave together in this milieu to create something better than either alone could have achieved.

While young adults will be the likely audience for Less Than Nothing, let's not omit the adult reader who enjoys romances spiced with stories of personal transformation. It doesn't get much more realistic or optimistic than this story of how two lives collide, move apart, and then consider the pros and cons of coming back together, but in a whole new way.

Empty Shell
Ashley Fontainne
RMSW Press
9780692291368, $13.99,

One week of revelations, infidelity, a broken heart, and lives changed by romance and murder: that's the fragile shell of circumstances surrounding Melody's life, changed by one simple discovery of a pair of pink silk panties.

But what seems like an ending (of twenty years of marriage) turns out to be only the beginning of a nightmare when Jack's lover proves to be someone Melody knows. When she is murdered, Jack is arrested - and then events really begin to snowball.

Thus begins Melody's descent from a calm, ordered, predictable life into one of chaos, which leads her to question the essence of love, commitment, and rage and seems to indicate that the man she has known and trusted is not whom she thought. Or, is he?

The basic premises of Empty Shell (infidelity and murder) have been done elsewhere. What is unique about this story is its focus on the emotional changes protagonists face as they confront the turmoil of re-ordered lives - a turmoil quietly simmering even before events spiral out of hand: "With a sheepish grin, I held out the noisy thing to him. He didn't even try to hide his irritation as he yanked the screeching clock from my fumbling hands. His body language made clear his thoughts about my inability to perform such a simple task. His angry hands used to touch me with gentle caresses. God, how I miss them."

One of the story's more powerful devices is its first-person narration, intimately depicting a character's emotional response to jarring situations. Through Melody's eyes, the reader doesn't just see events, but experiences the storm of emotions ever-present throughout the sometimes-at-odds juxtaposition of wife and legal professional: "There was no way I could ever come up with the bond money. All of our remaining assets were used up in the house renovations. I didn't own anything worth the one-hundred-fifty thousand dollars it would take to secure a bond, nor did I know anyone who did. The paralegal disappeared at this latest news. The horrified wife emerged."

Throughout Empty Shell Melody navigates a thin balance between her two personas, with each strength vying for position and lending support for what will prove to be the greatest series of challenges in her life.

When you take the issue of infidelity and all its emotional conflicts and then add in the specter of murder and the possibility that one has been long married to a dangerous killer, the possibilities ramp up from a singular event to a series of body punches that just keep coming.

A fateful night, a terrified husband, and a wife (also a legal professional) who nearly overnight comes to doubt everything she's let into her world: these are the elements of superior, racy reading. And when she goes searching for answers, that's when things really get interesting - because nothing is as it first seemed when Melody learned the one truth that was a deal-breaker to her marriage.

Empty Shell is about what happens when one woman gives up, one man gives in, and another steps in to manipulate lives and hearts. It's about what's left when the love runs out, when death changes everything, and when a woman who leaves faith behind finds lives ruined because of her choices and reactions.

And the murder? Empty Shell is, most of all, about the outer edge of what some will do to get what they want. Nothing is left untouched in Melody's pursuit of truth.

With its religious overtones, emotional drive, and winding, wondering blend of spirituality and romance, Empty Shell will fill readers with a vivid story line that leads Melody away from her faith, then ultimately comes full circle with a new perspective surprisingly formed by complete strangers and uncertain old friendships.

And that's perhaps its greatest strength: the ability to shock, amaze, and ultimately bring about a conclusion that represents Melody's return to the familiar, albeit in a very different form. For more, you'll just have to read the book.

Shatter Point
Jeff Altabef
Evolved Publishing LLC
ASIN: B00N56E7ZA, $3.99 (ebook), $14.95 (PB)

Amazon Link:

A serial killer is nothing new to the mystery genre. A woman kidnapped by one who has been watching and stalking her for years is nothing special, either. But take these ingredients and add a near-future setting (2041), more than a dose of political intrigue, and the efforts of sons to retrieve their mother (only to uncover a snake's pit of family secrets entwined with deadly political and social conflict) and you have an original, gripping saga in Shatter Point.

Everything comes together with a bang, here; from decades of a killer's careful plots to a future America vastly changed, but firmly grounded on logical outcomes of actions in modern times.

One would expect the story to open with its protagonist Maggie, or perhaps her stalker Cooper: instead, it all begins in a lab where scientists are experimenting with a drug that regenerates brain tissue - a drug about to be used on a young patient, which holds the potential to end Alzheimer's and improve cognitive function - or kill.

From genetic manipulation and twists of fate to cold-blooded murder, scenarios change with a snap but succeed in bringing readers along for what evolves into a wild ride of not just murder and mayhem, but social inspection: "Without

extraordinary vines, truly superior wine cannot flourish. The same is true with humans. Only those with the proper genetic code can truly be exceptional."

As events evolve from lab to real world and spill over into 2041 interactions and political possibilities, the focus on a dangerous drug's development and use centers Shatter Point and keeps it a turbulent story with a powerful focal point. And one of the points is: the drug has its pros and cons. Like everything else in Shatter Point, nothing is simple or cut-and-dried.

It's when you add the social issues, however, that the story really gets interesting and departs from anticipated routes: "That's the best part." Wickersham laughed. "'We can brainwash the ghettos and transform them into hard-working citizens at the same time. Some will even work themselves to death without realizing what they're doing."

The promise of a cancer vaccine, the secret Project Qing that involves the highest levels of government, a Vice President of the U.S. who believes his superior genes gives him the right to not only manipulate but kill - all this coalesces in a thriller that grabs readers and doesn't let go, skillfully twisting, turning, and manipulating its plot for maximum impact.

Now, readers of the prior Fourteenth Colony (of which this reviewer is not) will likely be satisfied with a sequel which further adds social and political perspectives to the futuristic setting; but newcomers will find absolutely no prior familiarity is necessary to enjoy Shatter Point as the stand-alone thriller that it is - and that's saying a lot in a publishing world where too many books that should ideally be singular volumes are broken down into cliff-hanging trilogies and beyond.

The dystopian world posited by Shatter Point, in which wealth and privilege is concentrated in a relatively small pool and everyone else struggles with marginal lives in tightly regulated circles, is more than believable. Issues of poverty are taken to new levels here, while characters share often-cloudy degrees of responsibility to themselves and each other. At the heart of many issues is the ideal of superiority and the 'right' of some individuals to decide for others; even in life-or-death situations.

In such a scenario, individual actions and responsibility become equally murky, and even the strongest protagonist (such as Maggie) can find herself confused about the points where a little knowledge translates to social responsibility and when it should be limited to protecting one's turf.

From the moral and ethical dilemmas posed by drug testing to the control of violence in a society dominated by privilege, Shatter Point reveals much food for thought. Add the overlap of romance, murder mystery, and political thriller and you have a truly multifaceted read that grabs a hold with powerful protagonists and issues and won't let go till its logical, satisfyingly unexpected conclusion: a neat wrap-up perfect for a precisely-evolving thriller.

Neither Children Nor Gods
Warren Albrecht
Infinity Publishing
9781495803994 pbk $TBA
9781495804014 ebook $TBA

The first thing to note about Neither Children Nor Gods: A Chronicle Of Humanity And War is that it's powerful military fiction that holds descriptions and references steeped in images of battle right from the start: "The Afghanistan War (Operation Enduring Freedom) hovers over the American psyche like a drone on auto-pilot." From rules of engagement to what sets the juggernaut of a great nation on a path to war and leads it to view battle as a lofty drama instead of a bloody vision of reality, opening chapters prove merely the first round in a battering attack on the concepts and presentation of war's justifications.

It's the soldiers on the field who pick up the political will of government and people and enact these ideals through wider struggle. It's the soldiers on the field who ultimately pay the price of military and political maneuvering and decisions. And, in Neither Children Nor Gods, it's the principles of war, their careful application, and their outcome that is closely examined in a military saga that will prove, on closer inspection, to be a horse of another color.

From Kabul to a professor's chair in America, events swirl around the life of a disabled veteran and professor of military history who teaches cadets the basics of battle and how they are won - or lost. Struggling with flashbacks that can be sparked by something as simple as liquor or a computer screen, veteran G.D. can see his world change in seconds. Thus, his grasp of reality is tenuous at best, even in peaceful settings.

Events also swirl around the broken relationships between young officers, the aftermath of trauma which results in alcoholism and PRSD, a battle involving past romance and present-day dangers, and individuals forced to confront the lasting impact of their decisions.

Thus is the real cost of war chronicled from an everyday life: "...a weary and cynical historian, a cloistered shadow of himself. His presentations on the principles of war layered with doubt, he had become an atheistic military historian. A cloak of defiance and stubbornness draped a ragged and disquieted wraith that drank too much."

One almost would think this passage portends that the narrative will end with quiet conclusion - but Neither Children Nor Gods won't end with a whimper; these are only the opening salvos setting the stage of world-changing paradigms to come. G.D. faces a new breed of cadet and a military game changing with the rise of Isis and a new breed of terrorist warfare overseas.

Terrorism slowly embeds itself into military actions that sweep from America to Middle East and embrace misconceptions, ideology, and dangerous assumptions alike: "In the end, Al Malik would see that this officer lost his life in a manner befitting his misinterpretation of history and the Quran."

Few dare to confront terrorists; but then, Henry is about to die: he figures he has nothing to lose by presenting the truth: "Your lands are not holy. Arab tribes have feuded and fought over them for ages, like dogs fighting over dinner scraps. America does not occupy your land. Nineteen Muslims hijacked four of our airplanes and killed three thousand innocents. Those Muslims were Al Queda. You brought the Americans to your lands through your own hand."

A woman held hostage, a man with the savvy to inform American intelligence via hand signal Morse code about where they are being held, turbulent lives and relationships born in the military ("It was all good fun - the laughs at someone else's expense - the camaraderie developed within the four years of living the same turbulent life - the final days until graduation."): it's unusual to see so many disparate elements under the guise of military fiction - but that's actually the second strength to note about Neither Children Nor Gods. Nothing is set in stone.

Tension builds with exquisite details, but it's the military insights, firmly grounded in real-world encounters, which are its strength as cadets transition from school to battlefields ("They had learned about character and honor. Now they were going to have to live those ideals. It was one thing to be a cadet officer and give orders to their peers. Now they were going to give orders to NCO's and Joe's who did not share the same life and had not been taught in the same rigid value system.") and even the most seasoned of military men find themselves stymied by old routines that no longer work.

Most military fiction churns out formula writing and a singular focus: one battle, one perspective, one ideal, one inevitable conclusion. Neither Children Nor Gods follows none of this routine - and that's its third notable exception to the rule of tired and battle worn military scenarios: its ability to take stories of officers, cadets, retired personnel and young hearts and minds on the brink of discovery and weave all together with evolving political and military challenges to create a powerful saga of survival and evolution.

There's nothing singular about this approach; so if it's just entertainment that is desired - or descriptions of military prowess - then, best to look elsewhere. Plenty of military novels offer this brand of leisure reading distraction. Neither Children Nor Gods stands out from the crowd and examines acts of nobility. Its protagonists excel at reaching beyond the call of duty. So does this novel.

The Healers: Crystal Caverns
Donna Labermeier
9780988552616, $10.99 (paperback), $2.99 (e-book),

In order for any beginning to be truly new, worlds must be shattered and rebuilt. And in such an endeavor, there's always the risk that no phoenix will arise from such ashes. In Crystal Caverns there is no single phoenix; just three remarkable teens. And, still, the threat of complete destruction.

The Healers: Crystal Caverns is Book Three of the Healers Trilogy where three teen heroes living in different countries are destined to 'heal the world' - and by this, each is tasked with a separate mission to conquer a piece of a dark force that's spreading like cancer.

They aren't alone in their quest; they're guided by the venerable old Agostino. Evil doesn't operate without support either, on its side: guided equally expertly by Venceslao, its new goal isn't just to defeat the Healers; it's to capture them to tap their powers for its own evil purposes.

Much of the setting was described in prior books (not seen by this reviewer), but newcomers need little prior familiarity to jump right into the story line, with its liquid, flowing descriptions and ability to pinpoint protagonist interests and psyches. And, it's Donna Labermeier's evocative imagery which proves just one of the strong points that set The Healers: Crystal Caverns apart from other young adult fantasy odysseys: "His mind was quicksilver fast, but his hands were uncoor-dinated, and he approached physical tasks with a toffee-dripping care to be sure his innate clumsiness never got the better of him. He was hardly a great warrior and so trailed his prey with his cus-tomary restraint, patiently padding just out of sight behind the enemy's circle."

What appears to be a pure fantasy adventure is, in fact, a satisfying blend of spirituality, philosophical reflection, and a focus on both individual and collective transformation: themes that permeate its action and provide many opportunities for deeper reflection: "...barely a handful of non-Healers had managed to replicate any of their amazing skills. It seemed that confidence was the key. Ultimately, no one could allow themselves to fully believe in humanity's ability to ascend to the next level of spiritual evolution. As a species, it appeared we were fatally infected with doubt - a tiny gap inside of us, like a broken circuit at the heart of an elaborate electronic array, across which electricity could never flow...Almost never."

From seemingly-supernatural powers that face down disasters few others could confront to channeling healing energy that plants a seed of hope in an increasingly dysfunctional world, the teen heroes are but a microcosm of wider issues humanity faces both in this fantasy setting and now; an approach that lends to a vigorous read offering subliminal personal connections throughout.

And that's yet another strength of Book Three: The Healers: Crystal Caverns emphasizes connections that also are fluid: at times they are presented as strengths; at other times, as flaws that will "wreck the world". They can't be both; so are they attributes or dangers? That's up for the Healers to solidify and for readers to ultimately determine.

Action is swift and centers upon a series of increasingly difficult challenges which each Healer is tasked with facing down. As various truths about the mysterious crystals emerges (they don't seem to be from this planet, for one thing), a virtual maze of possibilities materializes to present both dead-ends and prospects of redemption.

Yes, it's a good-versus-evil story line; make no doubt about it. And in the course of events there are elements of manipulation, betrayal, power struggles between light and darkness, and a few good warrior heroes who may be all that straddles the line between the two.

Ultimately, it's human misery and darkness that fuels the greatest darkness of all: can three teens, however talented, defeat mankind's own inner demons?

Readers should be prepared for any possibility in The Healers: Crystal Caverns. Those who seek a singular action read might find the interwoven spiritual and philosophical perspectives here add more complexity than is desired from a purely entertaining fantasy - but that's what makes this story stand out.

"You are part of what comes next. Understand that you are on the Earth to help create wonderful and miraculous things..." It's ultimately a tale about endings and beginnings; self-defeating world paradigms and what could replace them.

In order for any beginning to be truly new, worlds must be shattered and rebuilt. And in such an endeavor, there's always the risk that no phoenix will arise from such ashes. That The Healers: Crystal Caverns leaves all possibilities open right up to the end is a final testimony to its ability to surprise, delight, and involve readers on more than a singular level.

Diane Donovan
Senior Reviewer

Kaveny's Bookshelf

Kings Highway
John Stendhal
Eau Claire Publishing and Printing
415 Galloway Street Eau Claire WI, 54703
9781427649539, $16.99,

I have a copy of John Stendhal's "King's Highway" poetry collection in front of me it and for the last several months it has been demanding my critical attention. The poems are in a number of different type faces and besides poetry and it also contains a fifty page holographic reproduction of his hand written play, as well as an interesting rejection notice or two. John and I are both poets and we live in Eau Claire Wisconsin, but we certainly are not friends so you might say I am not doing him a favor by reviewing his book.

The reason I am reviewing is because I respect Charley Shaft, a spiritually powerful and decent man who has a great deal of faith in John Stendhal's work, and has an unshakable friendship with John. Charley runs the Eau Claire Model Railroad store, and after early travels and a career as a journalist, Charley has pretty much given his life to his community. Charley is a big guy; if he were Jewish rather than the displaced Anglican clerk of the works we would call him a Mensch. That's where I got really got hooked on John Stendhal's poems: on page one he convincingly makes the claim that only the strong can be kind, and to that I would add gentle, and even play it back at him and write that he is claiming kindness equals strength. When somebody you respect believes in something you want to look into it.

"King's Highway" should be in public high school libraries, and the literary and publishing establishment is missing the boat by not giving it the attention it demands, it is poetry without pretense and moving without being sentimental. "Moonlit Side Road, "might have been written by Robert Frost, it might be paraphrased as our temporal lives play out like a jazz progression before the eternal moon. I have formally studied poetry and I know you cannot paraphrase a poem. Yet Stendhal' poetry is like a walk through history. He has seen the same sea as Langston Hughes, and his subject matter, ordinary people given poetic dignity and made an acceptable subject is not so far from what Wordsworth and Coleridge set out to do with their 1797 edition of 'Lyrical Ballads'. Some of you out there know I have been writing reviews for the last forty years, now numbering in the hundred, so when I say read the "King's Highway" you might want to look into it, and if you are teacher or librarian it is a must for your collection

Adventurer's Horn
Wayne O'Conner
Wayno's Wayside Publishing
1221 Pershing Street, Eau Claire WI 54703
9781482709513, $14.95,

Author Wayne Thomas O'Conner extends this invitation to us readers in his April 2013 "View shared post Adventurer's Horn", which I will paraphrase. Are you looking for adventure? Adventurer's Horn has them, both mundane and Fantastic. Inducing three free verse poems, "A drive through New Mexico after the Rains," "Mall of Babylon caravansary " and "Stefani." It also includes a few children's and young adult stories, and some adult stories. Many have said they could not put them down until they finished them.

Wayne Thomas O'Conner is a man of many of talents who lives profoundly Christian life where though his various endeavors form home ministry, to international book distribution, and publishing and keeping in print of at least a dozen of his own religious and non- religious titles among them Adventures Horn. Though many of Wayne's titles are available in Amazon Kindle format his omnibus Adventurer's Horn is a kind of delightful anachronism, which evokes the kind of home my grandparents mighty have grown up in the last decades of the 19th century when books where precious, and a family might only three books, the family Bible, The Sears Catalog, the latest issues and the old ones for the back house, and a book like the Adventures Horn which would have something for everybody.

"Monkey's Spectacles Adventures" had a surrealistic tone to it that took the reader through a fever dream that made one think of the early 20st century American prairie poet Vachel Lindsey (1879-1931). Particularly the way the story moved from the surreal to the mundane and then in the end left the reader with an open ended question just all the really good stories do as the construct a world crafted out of narrative grounded in subtext which then exploded into a world of its own.

Two other stories really caught my attention not so much because they were and exercise in world building but "Worm Farm Part One" & Worm Farm Part Two really wrote or if you will chanted back into existence a mid-Twentieth American world which is rapidly receding where magazine had advertisements for things you could send away for like correspondence courses, trusses, or a hundred baby chicks which would show via the US mail at some point in the future in a world with the cloud tracking numbers or cell phones. Here you should really pay attention to something I realized is being done in "Worm Farm Part One" & Worm Farm Part Two" That is to say Wayne Thomas O'Conner has not so much written a couple of stories but he has re-created the kind of culture where we see his readers actually recreated and light thrown on what is an alien world for most of us well into the second decade of the 21st Century.

Time and space allow me to only attend to one more of stories in the collection "The Parable of The Magnificent Statue which is a Parable of creation and inspiration. Here is where Wayne Thomas O'Conner shows himself capable of rising to the level of the one of the greatest science fiction writer of all time Jack Vance in his 1967 Hugo award winning story "For Breath I Tarry "

I have read all the other material work and I feel confident in giving my highest broadest recommendation to Adventurer's Horn both as a text and an artifact as at home in a university library special collections as in a public library special collection. I have noticed that I have already started to read my copy to pieces and there is a certain persistence of imagery in my mind from the stories I liked the most. But don't pay too much attention what I like buy the book for what I know you will like and then watch it sort of hang around as it gets read to pieces, which is always the sign of a great omnibus.

Need to Know
Christine Merrill
Christine Merrill
Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
B002SN9GGQ, $0.99,

Need to Know is too good a book to be pigeon holed as a romantic comedy thriller yet for those who like that, and that would include me, there is plenty of that in her work. There is a deeply psychologically interesting aspect to a novel in which everything that the heroine thought she should do, she simply doesn't, almost as if she has to find her way through a horrific house of mirrors, and hone her survival skills over time. But don't forget, protagonist Elizabeth Monahan is a librarian and librarians know how to get the answers. That is really one of the driving forces of Christine Merrill's novel as we see Elizabeth Mahoney go through the life and death transformations she must in order to survive.

Christine Merrill's Need to Know how to appeals to a broad range of readers, and I would really like to see her publisher launch this book as a series, particularly because of her highly visual, fast-paced and yet very economical use of narrative. She gives the reader just what they need and does not waste a word as she makes optimal use of the convention of the semi-omniscient narrator.

For example, shortly after Liz walked into the wrong room and finds the dead body that is a result of the interrogation gone bad, this is what is going through her mind as she thinks her life will end and tries to find a way out:

"Great. Her hit man was having a bad day."

His fingers drummed on the back of her neck. He was trying to figure out what to do with her. Shooting would be noisy. Otherwise, He would have shot the other guy. In a minute, he would start pushing down and she would struggle for a while then I would've all the over and you have to find another shower curtain."

There's a lot more I could say about this on a technical level but I'd rather have you find out the answers with Elizabeth Monahan, just like I did, and as you think about this book Remember the words of the great American writer Kurt Vonnegut, "don't borrow it buy," and if that doesn't work ask your library to get Kindle readers everybody can access. And I want to reiterate I would like to see more of Liz Monahan; as a matter of fact I'd love to see the media potential of this book realized, as either a film or perhaps an TV series. I wonder which 6 foot red-haired actress would play Liz Monahan, and I would love to see her tramp stamp used as part of the opening credits.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead
Sheryl Kara Sandberg
Amazon Kindle Edition
Print Length: 240 pages
Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition
Sold by: Random House LLC
B009LMTDL0, $4.99,

Sheryl Kara Sandberg is an American technology executive, Activist, and author and is recognized as one of the highest profile business executives in the United States. As of August 2014, she is the chief operating officer of Facebook. Given her experiences in government services and connection to former Secretary of The Treasury and Harvard president Larry Summers she may end up holding a Cabinet post after the 2016 election, if the big corporate bucks and the Tea Party do not make us all thrown in the towel, and give up on democratic political process. She was born in, Washington, D.C. in 1969 and did her undergraduate Harvard College (1987-1991) and Harvard Business School (1993-1995).

I first became aware of Sheryl Sandberg a few months ago at a University of Wisconsin Eau Claire Women's Studies function. My wife is a full professor and teaches feminist theory in Women's and I on occasion do presentations and guest lectures, and give papers on Feminist Standpoint Theory. Of course Sheryl Sandberg was not there but we were to watch her do a fascinating Ted Talks Internet Video on Lean In.

I was so impressed with Cheryl Sandberg's presentation that I had I copy of her book Lean In instantly delivered to my Amazon Kindle (Via the Cloud) while her talks were in progress.

This review may be controversial with some of my feminist colleagues. I want to write simply this: Sheryl Sandberg the author of "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead", and the CEO of Facebook has written an important book which bridges the gap between academic theoretical feminism, and the world of our wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters, mothers and cousins, and the world of lived experience which every intelligent woman or girl will have to survive in from now on as we move into the second half of the second decade of the 21st Century. I would also add, in the blindness of a lifetime of white male privilege, perhaps I forgot that men are going to have to live in that same world also.

What I mean to write is that Susan Sandberg has written a book as significant for the second decade of the 21st Century as did Simone de Beauvoir did for the 1940s, 1950s and 1960's, Betty Friedan for a somewhat later period, and in many ways Sandberg's work has incorporated much of the ground breaking work of her predecessors. Further, Sandberg is acutely aware of the difficulties women face worldwide, particular in the non--western world, yet her work has a strongly positive thread to it, drawn from her and her family, and life experiences, and has some really funny sections about the necessity of professional couples and domestic co-operation. She says if your partner gets the diaper on the right end that's progress.

I am doing this review, and actually getting back into reviewing, because of a friend Of mine, a gifted young woman, a single -parent, returning to school after several years read this book on my recommendation. Even with her limited resources, both time and otherwise, she bought up enough copies of this book is set up a kind of a loaner network for her friends, who then passed on information about the book and therefore, a kind of epidemiological approach to spreading ideas which might lead to a better world for ensuing generations, which is exactly the sort of process that Sandberg writes about in her book.

Philip Kaveny
Senior Reviewer

Klausner's Bookshelf

Fatal Conceit
Robert K. Tanenbaum
c/o Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781451635577, $26.00,

In Chechnya terrorists assault a U.S. trade mission; several people die and others abducted including the daughter of New York District Attorney Butch Karp. Eight days later in a Times Square hotel, someone murders acting CIA Director Lieutenant General Sam Allen just before he is allegedly to testify before a Congressional Committee about an Administration cover-up of the Chechnya incident.

Using the Manhattan homicide as his springboard, Karp leads a unit looking into whether the White House and/or his Reelection Committee led by Rod Fauhomme silenced Allen from exposing the Administration's propaganda on defeating terrorists around the world. When more homicides occur that imply concealment of the truth, Karp brings those who evidence points as conspirators into the courtroom.

The latest Karp and Ciampi thriller is an enjoyable, fast-paced conspiracy tale that uses the government handling of Benghazi and an alleged cover-up as the basis of an exciting storyline. There is too much in your face pontification in which K, C and their conservative sunshine band of allies are morally superior to the killing liberal corrupt axis of evil Administration (mindful of the accusations of President and First Lady Clinton arranged the death of Vernon Jordan). Still fans who believe in the Benghazi cover-up or can ignore the ethics overkill will relish this taut drama especially the incredible second half when Karp at his best kicks political butt in the courtroom.

Hellhole Inferno
Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
c/o Tor/Forge Books
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9780765322715, $27.99,

The 54 Deep World planets alliance efforts to secede from the Constellation Monarchy led to the rebels, abetted by the alien Xayans training the humans in advanced powers, defeating the royal military. However winning a pivotal battle does not mean winning their independence. The greatest threat does not come from Diadem Michella in spite of rebel chief General Adolphus believing so and the queen's angry detractors on Sonjeera demanding mass destruction of the insurgents especially their leader's home planet Hellhole; but from within the ranks of their divided alien ally.

As her fleet heads to the Deep Worlds for a return engagement, the Diadem arrives at Hellhole seeking a diplomatic end to the hostilities, but instead Michella concludes the breakaway planets will never return to her corrupt centrist reign. Meanwhile Xayan partisans using the Hellhole rebels as pawns begin the countdown to a universal cleansing on a big bang scale.

The final Hellhole military space opera (see Hellhole Awakening and HellHole) is a thrilling climax as Adolphus and his rebels with a cause realize his alien ally is the bigger threat, but reconciling with the Constellation to fight the Xayans seems a galaxy too far. Though stereotypes reign even with the Diadem breaking out of her regal pompous let them eat dreck mold, series fans will relish the Big Bang twisting climax as the royal fleet, Xayans and massive asteroids converge on Hellhole.

Moon In A Dead Eye
Pascal Garnier, author
Emily Boyce, translator
Gallic Books
59 Ebury Street, London, England, SW1W ONZ
9781908313492, $12.95,

In Midi France, as it rains constantly over the last month, Martial Sudre looks back at what now seems like paradise, their home in the Paris suburb Suresne. As their friends of two decades left the town for retirement homes or the cemetery, he acquiesced to his wife Odette's nagging for them to move to a new home Les Conviviales gated community in the Midi.

The Sudre are the first residents to arrive with only crotchety groundskeeper-security Gerard Flesh also there. Martial believes they erred coming here until several months later Maxime and Marlène Node arrive and not long after them single woman Lea moves in while social director Nadine Touchard also comes even as the rain finally ends. When gypsies take residence just outside of Les Conviviales, those inside fear these thieves will harm them.

Moon In A Dead Eye is a mesmerizing cynical character driven satire as the late Pascal Garnier takes an amusing dark surrealistic look at "The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (Luis Buñuel film) growing old ungracefully. The cast consists of fully developed middle class retirees with fears that "The Barbarians Are At The Gate" (Ancient Greek usage of the expression).

A Grand Design
Amber Stockton
Abingdon Press
PO Box 801, Nashville, TN 37202
9781426773471, $13.99,

On a dare from her BFF Libby, Alyssa Denham entered the Bride Magazine contest to win a romantic getaway for two on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Home to her grandma, Alyssa used to visit the island when she was a child until an incident shattered her heart and when her dad died she never returned. When Bride informs Alyssa she won the vacation, she struggles with whom to take with her as she has no man in her life. She sadly muses she can't even find a date for the June weddings she attends; so persuades Libby to join her as the contest says "two" not "couple".

The two BFFs delight in working with Alyssa's grandma on an heirloom quilt and enjoy the Lake Huron island immensely especially since they have access to places outsiders are banned from visiting. Meanwhile local Scott Whitman and Alyssa are attracted to each other, but her heart must let go of what happened several years ago to her and her family on Mackinaw Island so that their love can fill the vacuum.

The latest Quilts of Love inspirational (see A Promise In Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga and A Sky Without Stars by Linda S. Clare) is a warm coming of age contemporary in a wonderful setting starring a fascinating protagonist who spent years hiding in plain sight from what happened. Although the romance is rather straightforward, Alyssa's rapid maturity makes for an endearing tale.

Barbara Cameron
Abingdon Press
PO Box 801, Nashville, TN 37202
9781426740602, $14.99,

In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Emma wanted to marry Isaac since she was a tweener. They began seeing each other, but Isaac recently left on his Rumschpringe without proposing to her. Making matters worse for the heartbroken Emma, Isaac enjoys Englisher society.

Isaac pleads with Emma to leave the Amish and join him in the outside world. Emma wants to as she loves Isaac, but not only has he radically changed from the boy-man she loved, he shattered her dream of how their life together would play out. She is at perhaps the most important Crossroads of her life having to choose between her beloved Isaac and her cherished Amish. A misunderstanding over a secret he kept from her made the selection for Emma.

The second Amish Roads contemporary romance (see A Road Unknown) is a delightful tale that once again focuses on conflicted duties to the Lord, one's self, a loved one, family and friends. As Emma struggles to decide between two distinct cultures, the misinterpretation does that for her. Kate sums up this fine entry with her reference to "The Road Not Taken" (Robert Frost).

Home To Chicory Lane
Deborah Raney
Abingdon Press
PO Box 801, Nashville, TN 37202
9781426769696, $14.99,

In Langhorne, Missouri, since their five children have left the nest empty, compulsive Audrey Whitman persuades her retired husband Grant to convert their home into a B&B though their adult offspring have doubts just like their dad has. The children dislike the idea of strangers in their home and their father worries over their lack of experience and the long hours to run the place.

On the day they open up Chicory Inn for business, their spoiled youngest daughter Landyn Spencer arrives with a U-Haul trailer attached to her car. Landyn explains she left her husband of a few months Chase the artist for making unilateral decisions without consulting her. She further explains to her parents she will stay at the family home and help by marketing the inn. Meanwhile in New York, unsure what to do Chase remains mentally paralyzed that his wife left him without a word.

The grand opening of the Chicory Inn series is an enjoyable family drama with the Landyn and Chase relationship as the prime plot. Though I doubt Grant would acquiesce to renovating their home to run an inn and would prefer more insight into the operational side of preparing, managing and operating the business, this is a warm second chance (if New York and Missouri communicate) Christian tale.

Wanted: Wild Thing
Jessica Sims
Pocket Books
c/o Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 13th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781476753973, $7.99,

A decade ago, the fortune-teller informed then fourteen year old Ryder Sinclair she was a changeling who if still a virgin by twenty-five, the monster inside would replace the outer bubbly human facade. Since then Ryan has sought unsuccessfully to meet her "One" true love, but has failed to find the male who can prevent the monster inside her from taking over her outer appearance when passionate. Even working at Midnight Liaison dating service for the supernatural has proven futile.

Finian the Fae accompanied by a giant he introduces as "unimportant" arrive at the office. The arrogant Fae calls Ryan a Changeling, which shocks her as no one knows what she is. He also explains her biological parents were breeders he hired in order to own the offspring. Before leaving, Finian assigns his gigantic companion Hugh to insure his asset remains a virgin so that he can collect on his investment by selling his merchandise to the highest bidder when the monster inside of Ryder takes control. Ryder's only hope is to seduce her humongous hunk.

This Midnight Liaisons romantic urban fantasy (see "Out with a Fang" from the Undead In My Bed anthology, Must Love Fangs, Claws and Effect, Desperately Seeking Shapeshifter, and Beauty Dates The Beast) is a jocular chastity belt tale starring a frustrated "owned" couple. The storyline starts off leisurely-paced, but accelerates as readers meet all the players (including those from previous books and the primordial). Although why Finian waited until the final countdown to guard his valuable virgin (and in hindsight should have chosen a female or a eunuch), this well-written novel stars the ugly changeling and her Wild Thing falling in forbidden love.

Must Love Fangs
Jessica Sims
Pocket Books
c/o Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 13th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781451661828, $7.99,

Marie knows she is dying from the same disease that killed her mom. Her only hope to live is for one of the supernatural to turn her into one of them. Since she works at Midnight Liaison, the dating service for the supernatural, Marie comes in contact with vampire and shapeshifting hunks. Thus she thinks: Wanted: Wild Thing (next series entry) to change and save her. Alas as with Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, shifter, shifter everywhere but not a bite in sight since a recent bad conversion put a halt to this species performing the deed.

Thus her only hope resides with the vamps and she has two possible candidates. However, were-cougar Joshua Russell has been attracted to Marie since he first met her at Midnight Liaison though she constantly rejected his advances offering back only polite ennui professionalism. Josh campaigns to be her one.

This Midnight Liaisons romantic urban fantasy (see "Out with a Fang" from the Undead In My Bed anthology, Claws and Effect, Desperately Seeking Shapeshifter, and Beauty Dates The Beast) is a graveyard jocular tale starring a no-nonsense human female and an all-fun shifter male. Whereas Marie has no time for courting, flirting or loving; Josh has plenty of time for courting, flirting and especially loving. Though "cougars can't laugh", readers can and will delight in the amusing, somewhat angst, Must Love Fangs.

Season Of The Dragonflies
Sarah Creech
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
9780062307521, $25.99,

Serena Lenore found a rare flower overseas that she brought back to the Blue Ridge Mountains. For decades since Lenore women have created an extremely expensive rare perfume from that flower to sell to selective clients though many want to be their customer. This magical perfume they produce enables the chosen ones to succeed in whatever vocation they desire. However, Lenore, Inc. may be in trouble as the key ingredient, that special flower, is nearing extinction and a troublesome individual begins an extortion scheme.

Additionally, current president Willow recently has shown her age as she suffers from amnesiac gaps. Her daughter Mya, whose ambition has been to run the family company, begins to think the time for her to take charge is now; but hesitates as she does not want to hurt her mom. Her opportunity becomes threatened when her only rival her sister Lucia, who never displayed the special Lenore talent, returns to the Blue Ridge Mountains after being away for years. If the siblings compete, the firm dies; if they merge their skills the firm survives (for now) and may even thrive.

Season of The Dragonflies is a pleasant female family fantasy. The women are three dimensional even with their special skills; as their troubled relationships and the impact on the firm is the prime storyline ingredient. Though the perfume, its special potent flower and the chosen beneficiaries (with one notorious exception) are under-featured (suggest an anthology starring customers), this is an appealing drama.

Butternut Summer
Mary McNear
9780062283160, $14.99

In Butternut Lake, Minnesota, as her twentyish daughter Daisy Keegan comes home from college for the summer, fortyish Caroline worries that her Pearl's coffee shop teeters on the verge of bankruptcy. Meanwhile Daisy stops at a gas station when the battery of her mom's truck dies. Two students from different circles at their high school (Jason Weber and Will Hughes) help her though she will be late for her first lunch with her parents since her dad Jack abandoned them eighteen years ago. Daisy never told her mom that her father is joining them so while she innocently thinks this is a new family beginning the bad boy Will says emotional ambush.

Daisy dates Will over the objection of her mom who fears he is a loser like her philandering alcoholic ex. In this summer of change, over the objection of his AA sponsor concerned that vulnerable Jack will relapse, he tries to reconcile with the woman who he hurt and continue his relationship with his daughter.

The latest Butternut Lake contemporary (see Up At Butternut Lake) is a wonderful warm second chance family drama. Butternut Summer contains no spinning stunners as the plot goes as expected and the fully developed amiable cast is somewhat stereotyped. Still Mary McNear display her talent as fans will delight in this appealing relationship tale.

Clam Wake: A Bed-and-Breakfast Mystery
Mary Daheim
9780062317728, $25.99

Hillside Manor B&B owner Judith McMonigle Flynn takes a break with the inn almost empty. Accompanied by her cousin Renie Jones, Judith travels from Seattle to Whoopee Island where the pair will watch the home of Auntie Vance and Uncle Vince while the older couple is away.

While housesitting, the cousins find the small retiree community angrily divided over the Obsession Shores development referendum with a vote on sewerage soon to occur. Judith and Renie walk the beach during a rain only to find the corpse of Obsession Shores' resident Ernie Glover; someone stabbed to death the senior citizen. When suspicion points towards the two outsiders, the amateur sleuthing partners reluctantly investigate; while the unknown adversary warns them to back off or die.

The 29th Bed-and-Breakfast Mysteries (see Gone with the Win, The Wurst Is Yet to Come and All The Pretty Hearses) is a pleasant whodunit due to the zany antics of the cousins and the eccentricities of the seniors. The murder investigation takes a back seat to the geriatrics "Makin Whoopee" (composed by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson).

An Unwilling Accomplice
Charles Todd
9780062237194, $25.99

In 1918, home from the front lines, Nurse Bess Crawford escorts wheelchair bound Sergeant Jason Wilkins to Buckingham Palace where King George V awards the wounded warrior with a medal. Afterward, Jason asks Bess to give him some alone time with his friends. However, when Jason fails to return to the London hotel, Bess informs her superiors; who admonish her for negligence and place her on two weeks leave.

Though surprised when Jason asked her to push his wheelchair at his ceremony, Bess now realizes why he selected a female instead of a male orderly. Determined to find the missing veteran, Bess learns the police seek Jason as their prime suspect in a homicide. As a former family servant Sergeant Major Simon Brandon accompanies Bess, she wonders whether Jason is really Wilkins and whether he is physically injured or psychologically damaged shooting at soldiers as if he is still at the front.

Team Todd's timely sixth Bess Crawford WWI mystery (see An Unmarked Grave and A Question of Honor) is an exhilarating investigation that looks deeply into the emotional state of combat soldiers suffering from PTSD. Although there is too much coincidence, readers will appreciate this powerfully poignant psychological historical.

The 6th Extinction
James Rollins
9780061784811, $27.00

Inside of the U.S. Developmental Test Command station deep within the Sierra Nevada Mountains, people scream in anguish as Dr. Kendall Hess and Irene McIntyre know someone sabotaged Project NeoGenesis. They send out a warning message to TECCOM to insure all inside are dead before they release the fail-safe destruction of the army lab. For fifty square miles surrounding the doomed installation and widening nothing organic survived.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency assigns Sigma Force led by Commander Gray Pierce to stop the spread of this potential extinction event. The unit finds an ancient map that Charles Darwin studied with hints that in a far distant past when Antarctica was warm and green death reined on the unsuspecting ancient world. In the icy present someone targets Dr. Alex Harrington's cavern lab. Further answers can be found at Elwes Cutter's lab deep inside the Brazil rainforest as this terrorist-scientist works to trigger the sixth mass species extinction.

The terrific 10th Sigma Force drama (see The Doomsday Key, The Eye of God and Bloodline) is an adrenaline-pumping save the world thriller as once again James Rollins combines action and history with scientific theories (focusing this time on evolution especially species extinction). Series fans will relish the frantic pace as mankind's relatively small reign at the top of the food chain seems at a suicidal end.

The Splintered Kingdom
James Aitcheson
Sourcebooks Landmark
c/o Sourcebooks Inc.
1935 Brookdale Road, #139, Naperville, IL 60563
9781402286193, $24.99,

Tancred the Dinan Breton knight loyally fought for William of Normandy when he defeated Harold Godwineson at Hastings. In spite of the victory, rebellion continued and in 1069 Tancred barely survived an ambush that left his Lord Robert de Commines dead. Not long afterward his heroics earned him a title and land on the tumultuous Welsh border, and knights reporting to him (see Sworn Sword).

One year later, the land remains dangerous as English, Welsh and Viking foes of William forge an uneasy alliance to rid the land of the Normans. Like his monarch, Tancred faces problems defending his recent gains especially from the marauding border Welsh. Unlike the Conqueror, Tancred also has Norman "allies" who consider him an ambitious upstart needing to be destroyed before they fear he amasses more power including usurping theirs. Thus he is sent to lead a suicide mission across the in Wales ostensive to put down Welsh raids and Saxon rebellion while conflicts explode in other parts of the kingdom.

The second terrific Tancred Conqueror era historical is a great thriller that brings to life the eleventh century bitter hostilities that remain heated several years after Hastings; war continues seemingly everywhere and the Normans were not undefeated in these battles. Unlike most portrayals of the Conqueror's knights being chivalrous and caring, the protagonist and his equally ambitious competitor for the same promotions Berengar seem genuine as their respective BHAGs realistically lead them to disregard second order effects especially innocent collateral damage.

The Secrets of the Greaser Hotel
J. Scott Fuqua
Bancroft Press
PO Box 65360, Baltimore, MD 21209
9781610881302, $25.00,

At one time Baltimore's Greaser Hotel was considered one of the most luxurious places for a city visitor to stay. Now surrounded by downtown urban blight, the Greaser Hotel is a rundown dump with few occupants; though those residing there recognize this is a special place where magic thrives and the secrets kept sacred.

When Allie "the Rat" Argos was six, her parents went to prison for twenty years after a failed kidnapping of a Gristle. Greaser Hotel caretaker Mrs. Friendly became her foster parent bringing the child to the Greasy Blight where for the next nine years she slaved alongside other inmates (former homemaking diva Midge Darlington, elderly ex billionaire Arnold Armstrong, and tweener Rena Duchamp). Jerome the cat worries about naive Allie after she suffers an apparent concussion, and no supper. Marvin Greaser III and Herman Gristle come to stay at the hotel. Gristle inspects the teenage Rat to insure she poses no threat to him in the near future; but his arrival opens up the past to her.

The Secrets of the Greaser Hotel is a gripping modern day gothic fantasy enhanced by powerful B&W illustrations. The good vs. bad contemporary Dickensian satirical storyline looks deeply at the negative impact of the under-regulated free market on the exploited with no protection; as young adult readers (and us seniors) want the heroine and her friends to kick the ugly butts of the mean crew. No one sees Baltimore quite the same way as J. Scott Fuqua does (see Calvert the Raven in the Battle of Baltimore).

Fiction River Original Anthology Magazine #9: Fantastic Detectives
Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, editors
WMG Publishing
PO Box 269, Lincoln City, OR 97367
9781496104465, $15.99,

"Case Cracked" by Joe Cron. In Magic City, the wife fears the Goblin Collection Agency so tells cop Dumpty nothing though she witnessed her spouse's homicide.

"Living With The Past" by Dayle A. Dermatis. A Marilyn Monroe impersonator's ghost begs Nikki to help her granddaughter.

"All She Can Be" by Karen L. Abrahamson. Geological Survey cartographers Mosley and Drake try to correct the change magically made to North Dakota.

"Under Oregon" by Kara Legend. The teen attacks the fairies, but learns what reside under Willamette Valley.

"Role Model" by Kevin J. Anderson. At the Cosplay Convention, Shamble (see Slimy Underbelly), McGooh and a Shamble impersonator investigate the homicide of a Star Wars vampire.

"Death In Hathaway Tower" by Ryan M. Williams. Brookwind the elf crashes Emily's party where a goblin shifter murdered a guest.

"Trouble Aboard The Flying Scotsman" by Alistair Kimble. With help from a sentient "rat", Harland seeks to prevent a saboteur from destroying the train.

"Containing Patient Zero" by Paul Eckheart. They must prevent the execution of Little Star as the consequences will be devastating since he is patient zero zombie virus carrier.

"Canine Agent Rocky Arnold Vs. The Evil Alliance" by Judith Nordeen. FBI canine agent Rocky learns that the Evil Alliance (rabbits, squirrels and coyotes) abducted Kaya's girl-person.

"An Incursion Of Mice" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Wall T insists he leads the -feline pride, but fails to prevent a mouse incursion.

"They're Back" by Dean Wesley Smith. Poker Boy and his allies thought they saved the world from the evil ghost slots (see The Slots of Saturn), but failed to account for a time anomaly.

This fantastic Fiction River anthology runs the gamut of fantasy-detective subgenres.

Secrets Of The Lighthouse
Santa Montefiore
Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781476735375, $25.99,

Londoner Ellen Trawton feels choked by her lifestyle especially her pending marriage that she doubts she wants to happen. With an obsessive need to flee her troubles and in search of a muse, the wannabe writer travels to her mom's hometown Connemara, Ireland to stay with her Aunt Peg, whom she never met before this visit. Ellen also meets the rest of her maternal family for the first time too. She enjoys the quaint Irish town and begins to learn secrets about her mom including why she fled the picturesque coast and the rest of her Irish kin.

Her strongest attachment is to the lighthouse that seems to call to her in spite of a death several years ago. That is until Ellen meets reticent widower Conor Macausland; who mostly stays away from the town or hides in his castle to avoid the villagers as they believe he murdered his wife Caitlin. As Ellen falls in love, she and Conor begin to see each other; but a jealous Caitlin cannot let go of her spouse.

Secrets of the Lighthouse is a fascinating paranormal family drama with an intriguing relationship triangle. The cast is solid and the vivid location enhances the entertaining plot. In many ways Caitlin steals the storyline from her mate and her rival as she tells the audience her tale of woe. Although the climax seems too obvious, readers will remain spellbound throughout.

One Kick
Chelsea Cain
Simon & Schuster
9781476749785, $25.99

When Kit "Kick" Lannigan was six years old, she became the unwanted star of an Amber Alert. Five years after her abduction the FBI rescued the tweener from her "caring" capturer. Over a decade since her liberation, Kick remains emotionally damaged and particularly loathes the reminders of the worst moments of her life: her mom who still uses her bestselling memoir re the kidnapping for fame and fortune, and the high internet traffic into her life. Her only friend remains James who shared her childhood kidnapping as a fellow victim of the same adult.

Residing in Portland, Oregon twentyish Kick obsesses over child abductions with a powerful need to rescue the kidnapped kids. Private security agent John Bishop asks Kick to assist him find and rescue missing Adam Rice and Mia Turner. Hesitantly she agrees; though this means for her to envision what Adam and Mia face returning to a time and place when she answered to the name of Beth.

As the dysfunctional dance partners Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell obtain a breather, Chelsea Cain begins a new suspense series starring a kick butt heroine who has cause for her damaged psyche. The riveting taut storyline mesmerizes the audience especially the harrowing dysfunctional Stockholm Syndrome relationship between Kick and her childhood kidnapper, and an astonishing expose into child porn. One Kick will be on the short lists as 2014 best suspense thriller.

Colleen McCullough
Simon & Schuster
9781476755410, $26.00

In Corunda, New South Wales, Australia, St Mark's Church of England Reverend Thomas Latimer sires twins (Edda and Grace) with his first wife, but their mom dies in childbirth. The church rector mourns his loss, but soon marries his stern housekeeper. Two years after the birth of his first children, Thomas sires another set of twin girls (Heather and Katherine).

By 1926, Thomas encourages his four young adult daughters to leave their home to attend the nearby new Corunda nursing school though each has different BHAGs in mind. Edda wants to become a doctor though she understands the bias against female physicians. Her twin Grace's objective is more acceptable by Australian standards as she wants to be a wife and mother. Tufts, as Heather's siblings call her, wants freedom mostly from the demands of her parents. Finally Kitty wants acceptance for her brain instead of her beauty. Now as each begins their own unique adventure in independence, the quartet knows there are two sure things in life: death and through thick and thin they can always rely on her sisters to be there when it really matters.

Bittersweet is a great family epic that provides readers with a profound absorbing glimpse at Australia especially during the twentieth century decades between the World Wars. Each of the lead sisters is fully developed but also possesses differing personalities and diverse desires as to what they want out of life. As their respective lives bounce back and forth between sorrow, happiness and feelings in-between, the four siblings remain steadfast in their belief that they always have each other when the going turns ugly or simply Bittersweet regardless of distance and other relationships.

Kiss The Ring: An Urban Tale
Meesha Mink
Touchstone Books
c/o Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
9781476755304, $14.99,

An out of control hellion as a teen on the streets of Newark; as an adult Naeema Cole has become a law abiding model citizen working at a neighborhood barbershop. However, Naeema learns that four gangbangers hunted down like a rabies dog and murdered her fourteen year old son Brandon Mack who had been part of a bank robbing gang. Filled with guilt as she gave him up for adoption knowing that as a wild unsweetened sixteen with no prospects she could not raise a child nor wanted too; she simply vows vengeance.

Naeema needs to get inside the gang, but cannot do so as her responsible adult self. She needs to return to who she was just after her parents died when she was a wild tweener and teen, but a mature adult version. Thus she becomes siren "Queen" stalking her child's killers and, though attracted to the brutal chieftain, wants his head too.

The key to Meesha Mink's powerful gritty urban thriller (see the author's Real Wifeys series) is the protagonist who will remind readers of a modern day Scarlet Pimpernel as the heroine smartly struggles with good motives to keep the lifestyles of Naeema and Queen apart. The gripping storyline is filled with depth due to each of the gangbangers boasting to the sexy seductress on what went down. Kiss The Ring is a strong street lit avenging mama drama.

The Agincourt Bride
Joanna Hickson
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
9780007446971, $14.99,

In fourteen years of marriage to "Mad King" Charles VI of France, Queen Isabeau already has given birth to four boys and five girls when a sixth worthless female Catherine pops out. Royal nursery boss Madame La Bonne is pleased that the fifteen years old Parisian baker's daughter Guilliamette Dupain gave birth to a stillborn. Given no choice, Mette becomes Catherine's wet-nurse.

Over the years Princess Catherine keeps Mette at her side during her childhood and into adulthood. Though a commoner, Mette guides the child through the chaotic courts of her insane father and her ambitious brother King Charles Dauphin; both whom plan to marry her off to forge an alliance. The powerful Duke Philippe of Burgundy also has an agenda for this princess. However, after the forces of Henry V win at the Battle of Agincourt, Catherine becomes either a greater asset or liability for the ambitious plotting to use her or get rid of her. Only Mette, risking her life, protects her until the royal sibling must choose between two monarchs, her brother the French King and English King Henry V.

This is a vivid historical biographical fiction tale that brings to life early fifteenth century France (at court, in Paris and the countryside) and to a lesser degree England through the eyes of Catherine's prime confident. Though not for the casual reader as the storyline can be overwhelming in the depth of background, The Agincourt Bride is a very fresh entry in the often told tale of Catherine of Valois (see The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien and The Queen's Secret by Jean Plaidy). The pleased audience will return for the continuation of Catherine's saga (see The Tudor Bride; not yet published).

Cancel The Wedding
Carolyn T. Dingman
Harper PS
9780062276728, $15.99

Three years ago around the time her father died, Leo asked Olivia to marry him. Last year around the time her mother died from cancer, they bought a house and moved in together, but delayed the wedding. Now at dinner, Leo announces to Livie, her older sister Georgia, her brother-in-law and niece that he booked their wedding site and date.

Needing to escape and think whether she wants to marry Leo, Livie decides to fulfill her late mom's wishes. Her sibling refuses to go with her; so accompanied by her fourteen year old niece Logan, Livie drives to northern Georgia to scatter part of her mom's ashes in the man-made Lake Huntley and the rest for burial in Huntley Memorial Gardens. When Georgia calls to tell Livie she left her engagement ring behind; she stuns Gigi by telling her to hold onto it rather than ship it to her. Reaching their destination, aunt and niece find the town of Huntley under the TVA created lake so Olivia turns to nearby Tillman seeking to learn and understand her mom's secret life in the south but finds the official records under water too. She obtains help from local newspaper owner Elliot and other residents while also wondering if she wants to marry Leo.

Cancel The Wedding is a fascinating Roots saga as the TVA buried the written records under the man-made lakes impeding the research done by Olivia. Although Leo is an unnecessary throwaway excuse for the quest; the shocking revelations discovered by the heroine, her niece, and Elliot from several locals who either lived or had family residing in Huntley enhance an intriguing family drama.

The Getaway God: Sandman Slim
Richard Kadrey
Harper Voyager
9780062094612, $24.99

James "Sandman Slim" Stark still feels relief that he no longer has the Lucifer gig; even if he realizes he soon must deal with the raging creators Angra Om Ya Old Gods demanding their previous place in the universe before some upstart newbie conned them out of the lofty top spot. However, the hybrid human-angel expects that confrontation to save heaven, hell and all sorts of sh*t in between from the Old Gods reengineering the future back to their glorious ancient past is for another day.

Golden Vigil lectures Sandman Slim to hunt down the murdering machine Wildfire Ripper who is devastating Los Angeles. Instead of killing the predator as he desperately wants to, Sandman Slim learns he needs this destructive psychopath to save more than just L.A.; as apparently the insane Ripper is the only essence (besides the plotting deities) who knows how to prevent the planet and beyond from a nasty Big Crunch; he apparently can no longer delay the Old Gods confrontation.

The sixth Sandman Slim irreverent humorous urban fantasy (see Kill City Blues, Devil Said Bang, Aloha From Hell, Kill the Dead and Sandman Slim) is an amusing over the top of the Hollywood sign thriller as once again the universe is at stake. Fast-paced as always, Stark and his allies (very loose definition) team up based on Darwin's Survival of the Fittest requiring normally serial and mass killing adversaries to unite against a mutually stronger and crazier enemy with a kick the universe butt attitude.

Clockwork Dagger
Beth Cato
Harper Voyager
9780062313843, $14.99

In the kingdom of Caskentia where war with the Waste is a constant, orphaned healer Octavia Leander rides the airship to her new position of medician knowing to adhere to her mentor Miss Percival's three rules of travel. However, someone assaults her onboard roommate Mrs. Stout and almost immediately afterward Octavia. Mrs. Viola Stout and Alonzo Garrett the steward help her thwart the attempt to kill her.

Confused over why anyone would stalk a non like her, Octavia learns the kingdom and the breakaway Dallows Province have placed her in the middle of a rebellion though she wonders why her. Other violent incidents including murder occur in which Octavia survives more efforts to assassinate her as if she was important; while now also questioning who her two defenders truly are.

Clockwork Dagger is a great steampunk fantasy starring a tremendous bewildered heroine who holds the storyline focused. Fast-paced and filled with action and dangerous intrigue (readers will think twice before riding an airship) yet with a strong support cast inside the vivid Cato magical world, subgenre fans will relish Octavia's opening act while wanting more of her misadventures in Caskentia.

The Angel Of Losses
Stephanie Feldman
9780062228918, $25.99

The Burke sisters were best friends growing up off the Jersey Turnpike and listening to their Russian grandfather Eli telling tales of the White Magician. As adults Marjorie and Holly went their separate ways and rarely see each other; especially since Nathan entered their lives and destroyed Eli's sacred study and who knows what inside the den. Marjorie attends Barnard working on her Ph.D. dissertation re The Wandering Jew while Holly marries Nathan and converts from a gentile to the Orthodox Jewish Berukhim Penitents.

After Eli recently died, Holly gives birth to a child named after her late grandfather; while Marjorie found one of his notebooks that focused on the carrier of the Sabbath Light, the White Rebbe. She peruses Eli's scrawl and seeks the other tomes on the legendary White Rebbe and the Angel of Losses. Her study leads her to another scholar Simon and a strange older man who gives her an amulet. When Nathan vanishes and his son becomes very sick, Marjorie learns the legend of her grandfather.

The Angel of Losses is a strong Judaic spiritual family drama that at times is difficult to follow due to the profound but extremely complicated mysticism especially that of the Kabballah's unknown 23rd Hebrew alphabet letter to complete God's true holy name when the Messiah arrives. Not for everyone, Stephanie Feldman provides a powerful reflective Jewish mysticism saga as seen through the respective filters of the Jersey girls.

Slimy Underbelly
Kevin J. Anderson
c/o Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street, Floor 21, New York, NY 10018-2522
9781617731143, $15.00,

In the Unnatural Quarter the weather wizards (Alastair Cumulus III and Thunder Dick) compete for the bragging rights of top weathermancer; which leads to chaotic conditions from blistering heat to a whiteout blizzard in an hour. Private investigator Dan Shamble of Chambeaux and Deyer gets to the office where his girlfriend (and office assistant) Sheyenne the ghost lectures him for being out in a snowstorm. Shamble's partner Robin Deyer the human lawyer completes the Recompose Spa case for Mr. Lurmm the frog demon.

Supervillain in training and junior mad scientist, twelve year old Jody Caligari, Jr. needs their help but says his payment will make them feel good for doing it pro bono. The lad explains his slumlord evicted him from his sewage lab and kept his experiments based on his being a child. Irked Robin says that is age discrimination and accepts the case over Shamble's objection; he has doubts about a client who only reads graphic novels. Meanwhile something underground has caused deaths, bad plumbing and horrific smells above ground. With his neighborhood turning into a cesspool, Dan's inquiry leads to Ah'Chulhu.

The latest Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. paranormal investigation (see Hair Raising, Unnatural Acts and Death Warmed Over) is as always a terrific timely satirical thriller as Kevin J. Anderson amusingly lampoons values in which feuds are the weird norm. Whereas Jody is a great client, the usual suspects help the hero work the inquiries. Included is a short story (previously published as an e-book) in which the sleuth conducts a Stakeout at the Vampire Circus where performers do their final act.

Death of a Dog Whisperer: A Melanie Travis Mystery
Laurien Berenson
9780758284556, $24.00

In Fairfield County, Connecticut, Bob tells his former wife Melanie Travis the canine lover that he recently met friendly dog whisperer Nick Walden. Not long after their chat, Melanie learns her Aunt Peg and many other affluent owners think the world of Nick until he translates dog-speak to them.

When someone murders Nick in his home, his sister Claire pleads with Melanie to look into her sibling's homicide. Though she has no time to sleuth as she mothers her eight kids (two human and six poodles) Melanie makes inquiries into the murder in which the cops peg her aunt as one of several suspects.

The seventeenth Melanie Travis canine mystery (see Gone with the Woof, Hounded to Death and Doggie Day Care Murder) is a jocular amateur sleuth due to the heroine's targeted mirthful mocking retorts to characters like Bob and amusing asides to the audience. Readers will enjoy the dog shows (professional and otherwise) and the Death of a Dog Whisperer amateur sleuthing.

The Benedict Bastard
Cate Campbell
9780758292308, $15.00

In 1923 Seattle, Dr. Margot Benedict continues to practice medicine at the Women and Infants Clinic. Driven by Mr. Blake and accompanied by Nurse Sarah Church, Margot arrives at The Ryther Home to inspect the place before applying for government funds to assist the children's home. After being nasty towards Margot's two Negro companions, Mother Ryther objects to the doctor's insistence that she allow her and Nurse Church to vaccinate the orphaned or abandoned kids residing there. When Margot meets the young charges, she is taken aback by a little boy who could have been her demented brother Preston's twin (see Benedict Hall).

Stunned Margot seeks the truth while at the same time Bronwyn Morgan searches the city for her lost three years old son sired by Preston when she was sixteen. As Margot seeks proof that she has an illegitimate nephew whom she hopes to take to Benedict Hall; she and her Pater visit psychopath Preston at the asylum where he is held in a drugged state; and family matriarch Edith brings Bronwyn into the home.

The third Benedict Hall historical family drama (see Hall of Secret) is an enjoyable glimpse at a bygone era in which a changing America still feels the impact of WWI. Now married to Frank, Margot keeps the interesting storyline focused as her inclusive beliefs remain decades ahead of her time. Charlie's paternity issue enhances Cate Campbell's entertaining glimpse of the Roaring Twenties in the Pacific Northwest.

Murder With A Twist
Allyson K. Abbott
9780758280176, $7.99

In Milwaukee almost a year has passed since someone murdered Mack's Bar owner Big Mack Dalton. A few weeks ago, his daughter owner Mackenzie (called "Little Mack" by her family, friends and patrons) found the corpse of Big Mack's girlfriend realtor Ginny Rifkin near the dumpster in the alley behind the bar. Although MPD suspected Mack murdered her father and his GF, Police Detective Duncan Albright thought otherwise and teamed up with her using her unique synesthesia neurological wiring that allowed her to perceive things differently than the normal NTs to solve the double homicides (see Murder On The Rocks).

In spite of her success Mack has doubts about police work as mixology is her specialty rather than crime solving. However with her karma at stake along with the urgency to rescue a kidnapped child, Mack agrees to assist Duncan with the hunt for that abducted son of a murdered single mom.

The second Mack's Bar Mystery once again contains a super fresh investigation due to the unique heroine whose descriptions of synesthesia (chocolate will never taste the same for us NTs) is succinct and vibrant, and helps with the cases. Duncan accepts her as she is while the Capone Club Bucks brew crew patrons add amusing eccentricities to the delightful mix.

Put Your Diamonds Up
Ni-Ni Simone and Amir Abrams
Kensington KTEEN
9780758288523, $9.95

At Hollywood High, the four Pampered Princesses continue to compete for the ultimate throne of top diva. London Phillips's mom pushes her to become a model, but that means losing her shape and perhaps her billionaire BF. Raging Spencer Ellington plots revenge against those she feel betrayed her while scheming to be numero uno; even as her mom gives her rival druggie Heather Cummings a new show. Rich Montgomery fears she has lost the boy she loves due to her running around, but rationalizes there is always another male out there though she may lose a lot more this time.

The 3rd Hollywood High tale (see Get Ready For War) is an engaging entry as two generations of drama queens battle each other (and others) for the role of monarch. Although the storyline is thin, the characters more than make up for it with their respective operational schemes that make Machiavelli seem more like a kindergarten kid than the Prince of strategy.

Beach Bags And Burglaries
Dorothy Howell
9780758294944, $24.00

Event planner and Holt's Department Store employee Haley Randolph wins a seven-day all expenses paid vacation at exclusive Rowan Resort off the California coast. Ecstatic, she briefly wonders about her sudden run of luck as this is her second Holt contest reward while also refusing to dwell on her ex-boyfriend Ty Cameron, whose family runs the chain. She invites her BFFs (Marcie, Bella and Sandy) to join her.

However, the quartet's mingling with the ultra-rich and famous is interrupted when Haley searching for a Sea Vixen beach bag instead trips over the corpse of maid Jaslyn Gordon. Though ruled an accident, Haley believes someone killed the maid; her theory is affirmed when she recognizes FBI agent Luke Warner at the resort though the Fed insists he is here for a wedding only. In spite of not losing sight of what matters (obtaining a Sea Vixen) and knowing the danger of confronting a dangerous criminal (see Evening Bags And Executions, Tote Bags and Toe Tags, and Slay Bells and Satchels), Haley investigates.

The seventh Haley Randolph "Handbags and Homicide" amateur sleuth is a fun lighthearted whodunit. The jocular storyline amuses the audience as the heroine struggles to keep her priorities in order with the search for the Sea Vixen superseding the search for the killer.

Harbor Island
Carla Neggers
Mira Books
c/o Harlequin
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, ON, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780778316534, $24.95,

In Dublin FBI Agent Colin Donovan proposes to his partner Emma Sharpe, who agrees to marry him (see Declan's Cross). Now home, following a jog Emma returns to their apartment while her fiance is out when she receives a mysterious call from Rachel Bristol. The filmmaker asks the Fed to meet her on Bristol Island in Boston Harbor. Rachel promises to provide Emma with info related to a cold case art theft tied to the investigation her small FBI unit and her family-owned Maine-based Sharpe Fine Art Recovery are conducting in New England and Ireland.

Ignoring her boss Yankowski's warning for her to be extremely cautious since she is a Sharpe, Emma arrives at the rendezvous location only to find Rachel dead. In the victim's hands is a cross that Emma knows is a replica of the first theft by a clever thief who leaves these mementos behind to remind the agent of the unsuccessful pursuit by her and her grandfather for years.

The fifth fabulous Donovan and Sharpe FBI art restoration romantic thriller (see Heron's Cove and Saint's Gates) is a suspense-filled terse entry. The action starts immediately and never slows down while the expanding cast continues to enhance the drama though one needs a scorecard. Included with Harbor Island is the first printing of previously released as an e-novella Rock Point starring Father Finian who arrives in Maine where he and FBI agent Colin Donovan meet as the priest learns of violent smugglers using his family's distillery.

The Good Girl
Mary Kubica
9780778316558, $24.95

Angry with her boyfriend's latest cancelation, twentyish art teacher Mia Dennett meets Colin Thatcher. He persuades her to spend the evening with him. Whereas the unhappy Mia assumes nothing nefarious about the pick-up, Colin was hired to bring this daughter of a prominent judge and socialite to his clients as part of a scheme to extract favors from her parents especially her father.

After getting to know Mia a little, Colin changes the plan at great risk to himself from his dangerous employers. Instead of delivery, he takes Mia to a remote cabin in Minnesota before quietly returning her home though she seemingly suffers from amnesia. While she was abducted, her father ignored her plight; on the other hand Mia's hysterical mom Eve panicked over what was happening to her daughter. Chicago Police Detective Gabe Hoffman led the search while also comforting Mia's distraught mom.

The Good Girl is a refreshing stunning mystery that uses a unique technique of rotating lead between Colin, Eve and Gabe with each chapter starting with either "Before" or "After" the incident. Character-driven, Mary Kubica provides readers with one of the best psychological thrillers of the year.

Swan Point
Sherryl Woods
9780778316428, $14.99 pbk / $24.99 hc

Adelia Hernandez accepts the inevitability that her cheating husband Ernesto will always have mistresses as he does not care about her. However, Ernesto's reckless neglect of their four children, especially showing off to their thirteen year old oldest his mistresses and setting a bad example for their eight year old youngest, persuades Adelia to divorce him and start over elsewhere. Swearing off men in order to focus on raising her three daughters (Serena, Natalia and Juanita) and son (Tomas), with support from her mother and her brother (see Midnight Promises) she moves with her children to the Swan Point neighborhood in Serenity, South Carolina.

At Rosalina, Adelia and Gabe Franklin see each other for the first time and the attraction is stratospheric. She obtains her first job since having kids while he temporarily works for his cousin. However, Gabe plans to stay for a short time to rectify mistakes he made growing up in this town where his mom was the town's target of nasty gossip due to the parade of men entering and leaving her life. As he and the mother of four fall in love and he adores her kids; Ernesto plans to destroy their relationship by using the children especially vulnerable Tomas as his pawn.

The eleventh Sweet Magnolia contemporary (see Catching Fireflies and Where Azaleas Bloom) is a wonderful second chance family drama in spite of macho Ernesto's unnecessary nastiness and the repeat philandering theme (see Home In Carolina, Stealing Home and A Slice Of Heaven). Readers will root for Gabe, Adelia and her kids to find happiness together.

Getting Mama Out Of Hell
Laurie Moore
Five Star Books
10 Water Street, Suite 310, Waterville, ME 04901
9781432828806, $25.95,

Finishing a business trip in Texas, Elle Winthrop and her twenty five year old daughter Elizabeth head to DFW Airport to fly home to Britain when the car mom drives crashes; leaving both dead. Heaven welcomes Elle and Elizabeth. Elle's dad who died when he learned his beloved daughter and granddaughter were killed and other family members warmly greet the pair.

However, Elle demands to know where her Mama is. St. Peter explains Mama went to a different location. To get Mama out of Hell, Elle must find five people willing to do something incredibly nice in honor of Mama. Thus St. Peter returns insistent Elle to mortal form as a tweener African-American male delinquent Sly with a British accent and Elizabeth as wealthy white octogenarian Adelaide whose daughter and son-in-law have plans for the family money and their "incompetent" matriarch. Nothing goes right for the heavenly duet with the cops seeking Sly for mugging and robbing Adelaide. The pair tries to keep the older woman safe, the tweener out of jail and worse struggles to find a person (let alone five) willing to pay homage with a good deed in the name of universally disliked Mama.

Getting Mama Out Of Hell is a frantic-paced madcap paranormal thriller that grips the audience from the moment mother and daughter return to earth and never slows down until the coda. Mindful of the R.I.P.D. comic books in a playful way that the movie lacked, readers will root for Elle as Sly and Elizabeth as Adelaide work on Getting Mama Out of Hell by doing good deeds for their respective hosts.

Islands Of Rage And Hope
John Ringo
Baen Books
PO Box 1188, Wake Forest NC 27588
9781476736624, $25.00,

US Navy Atlantic Commander Steven John Smith leads his Wolf Squadron fleet to Guantanamo where the mission is to clean the area of the infected so that a safe lab can begin vaccine production with a long term vision of taking back North America from the insane diseased. The squadron mounts a successful beach deployment that includes rescuing civilian survivors.

Commander Smith's teenage commissioned officer daughters (Sophia Lynn and Faith Marie) lead a rescue mission of others trapped on Caribbean islands especially seeking research scientists and medical practitioners, but with the Marine mantra of no one left behind. The Squadron also sends a team to free royal Harry from the Tower of London.

The third Black Tide Rising apocalypse thriller (see Under a Graveyard Sky) is filled with plenty of island hopping action; engaging and at times satirical survivor rescues; profound mental health issues as the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders seems obsolete; and an overabundance of strategic planning. Although there is a deja vu similarity with book two (see To Sail A Darkling Sea), this is an entertaining zombie war entry.

Trial by Fire
Charles E. Gannon
9781476736648, $15.00

Diplomat Caine Riordan comes home to a devastated world at war. He was part of the negotiating team with the Accord, but during the talks the aliens, abetted by seditious corporations, attacked the earth's fleet leaving it crippled and the planet undefended from a potential genocide level assault.

As Caine tries to end the violence, he finds supporting evidence that this probably is not the first contact with another species from space. He considers what the aliens want and why as he forms a hypothesis based on the original encounter seemingly forgotten by Terran but not by the Accord. Thus he concludes that first time was catastrophic for the enemy whose objective is to bring war to the Terran terrorists on their planet before this feral race brings it to theirs.

The second Tales of the Terran Republic (see Fire with Fire) is a super futuristic science fiction in which the aliens deploy the Bush preemptive first strike doctrine as their defense of an all-out sneak attack. The keys to this strong entry are the prime cast (Terran and alien) are fully developed so that the species seem genuine and the balanced blending of the military-industrial-political complex while Riordan and readers learn many of his species are diplomacy deniers even if war most likely means Terran extermination.

Throne Of Stars
David Weber and John Ringo
9781476736662, $14.00

"March To The Sea." The bogus diplomatic mission assigned to Prince Roger was to get rid of him temporarily as the royals are tired of his boorish spoiled behavior. One thousand rugged Marines accompany Roger with every one of these tough soldiers detesting this royal pain in the butt. The assignment goes wrong and Roger and his troops become stuck on hostile Marduk. Over the next few months, as many die Roger leads his Marines and loyal Mardukans in a deadly march to reach the only spaceport held by the enemy.

"We Few." While marooned for eight months (and three books) with marines on Marduk, Roger survives while watching most of his comrades die. Death turns Roger from hedonistic "Playboy Prince" to Bravo Company leader. Freed from Marduk, he learns his biological father and Prince Adoula overthrew his mother Empress Alexandra; killed his siblings, nieces and nephews; blamed Roger for the mass regicide murders; and use the former ruler as a puppet. Roger and his few marines supplemented by a few hundred Mardukans, a ghost and a few others need allies from those who will kill him at first sight.

March to the Sea is a powerful coming of age military science fiction as Roger turns from a hedonistic rotter into a competent leader. We Few moves off Marduk but continues Roger's development into a strong leader as he and the other survivors begin a counter revolt against those who assassinated and usurped his family as rulers. Though it behooves newcomers to read the first Prince Roger Omnibus collection (contains March Upcountry and March to the Sea), series fans will enjoy this outer space saga.

The Quick
Lauren Owen
Random House
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780812993271, $27.00,

After leaving Aiskew Hall and his beloved sister Charlotte behind to attend Oxford; in 1892 reticent James Norbury graduates. He immediately heads to London where he hopes to become a successful poet. There he rooms with Christopher Paige in what starts off as a very rocky relationship but soon they become lovers.

The upper class Aegolius Club's chronicler Augustus Mould keeps journals of his research into vampirism. When the club drafts James as a revenant, he stuns them by rejecting their desires. Not long afterward, James vanishes and Charlotte rushes to London praying she can find him. As her search increasingly appears futile, Charlotte finds a secret underground of paranormal mostly calling themselves Quick, but what happened to James lies inside the feral Aegolius Club where she dare not enter if she want to leave alive.

The Quick is a tense twisting vampire thriller in which point of view switches constantly between the siblings, Mould, the Quick club members, street Undead, and vampire hunters Adeline Swift and Shadwell, etc. Subgenre fans who prefer a frantic pace will not want to read this tale; but those in the audience who appreciate a sense of being transported to late Victorian London to witness the vampire incursion will relish Lauren Owen's strong supernatural historical.

The Wandering Dragon
Irene Radford
Daw Books, Inc.
c/o Penguin Group
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780756409142, $17.00,

Coronnan begins the slow healing from the magically-generated super storm that devastated much of the kingdom. Among those who sacrificed their lives in the quest to end the raging mage Samlan's magically created tsunami are mates Brevelan the witchwoman and Jaylor the Chancellor of the University of Magicians (see The Broken Dragon). Their four children have different destinies. Lila continues her efforts to help people survive and recover from the cataclysm while her beloved Skeller the bard returns home to Amazonia as King Lokeen's heir. Her twin sister Val continues to help healed Lady Ariiell who rejects Lokeen's proposal. Their half-brother Glenndon's father King Darville recognizes him as Coronnan's heir. Finally their brother Lukan agrees to accompany Skeller on his trek home in order to find his missing mage mentor Master Robb.

None of the siblings are aware of the diabolical plotting of a beautiful witch who just escaped from a fifteen year incarceration. She plans to forge a coven loyal to her that includes Lukan and a scheme to become mad Lokeen's royal bride. Neither Skeller nor Lukan realize that the Krakatriv monsters who recently destroyed much of Coronnan during the storm run rampart in Amazonia, a land filled with chronic fear.

The third Children of the Dragon Nimbus (see The Silent Dragon) completes the latest trilogy with the prime focus on Lukan and Skeller. Though there is a deja vu feel to the entertaining storyline, the bard-prince, the new master mage, the insane ruler and the beguiling evil witch make for an exciting quest fantasy.

E.C. Blake
9780756407605, $19.95

With her father being the Autarch Master Maskmaker in Aygrima, Mara Holdfast's future seemed predestined as his apprentice. However, at her rite of passage ceremony, the mask her father made for her broke apart marking her as a traitor. Stunned and despondent, Mara is banished from her upper class existence to a deadly short life at a mining camp. Believing Mara is the key to their revolt, the Unmasked rebels rescue her (see Masks).

Still concealing her unique skill to see all the colors of magic as she always has, her new friends assign her to use her ability to abet their cause by making masks for them; but she fails as her creations crumble. Mara knows she must sneak into the city to obtain guidance from her mentor father, but unsure she can trust him after her masking debacle. Instead a boat arrives with a person demanding to meet the Unmasked Community chief.

The action-packed second Masks of Aygrima coming of age fantasy contains a strong storyline that continues to focus on the two-caste society, but with the additional effect that "Strangers from a Strange Land" (Robert A. Heinlein) have on the divided country. As she fears her magical talent will destroy everyone without prejudice towards masked and unmasked in her path, Mara continues to learn that "... great power involves great responsibility" (FDR in a speech never given).

Broken Souls
Stephen Blackmoore
9780756409425, $7.99

Necromancer Eric Carter fled Los Angeles years ago vowing to never return to the "Mad City" where too many wanted him dead. His pledge ended with the tortured shredding death of his sister Lucy in her home; that he interpreted correctly as a personalized message to him from a psychopathic essence (see Dead Things).

Things only have gotten worse with the death of his buddy Alex and the grinning grim reminders of his "wife" Death, Santa Muerte; whom Eric foolishly agreed to wed in exchange for paranormal power. He can't do anything for Alex, but Eric decides he needs to annul his vow before Death claims him. Desperate, he turns to a mage for help; unaware what lurks beneath the skin of his advisor. Eric also finds brutal assistance from Bruja and an essence that seems to be Alex yet can't be his best friend; meanwhile a predator who "steals" bodies targets the necromancer and his allies.

The latest Eric Carter urban fantasy noir is a superb paranormal thriller that grips readers throughout. The beleaguered protagonist finds his quest change from voiding his deal with "Lady Death" (not the Chaos comic book heroine) to uncovering a deadly maniac stalking him. Bruja adds depth with kick butt pulling no punches verbal shots that rip Eric's skin. Readers will enjoy the adventures of the necromancer as he walks the dangerous streets of the City of the Lost.

Stone Cold Lover
Christine Warren
St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250012661, $7.99,

As she breaks into the Abbaye Saint-Thomas l'Apost in Montreal, art restorer Felicity "Fil" Shaltis thinks of ending in prison, but also reflects back to when she helped her friend Ella Harrow with the now missing Vancouver Art and History Museum stone gargoyle (see Heart of Stone). As she illegally enters the museum, obsessed Fil, with no witnesses around, needs to understand why she finds a stone gargoyle attractive.

The Darkness sends evil to kill Fil. The malevolence fires energy bombs at her, but the assault awakens Spar the gargoyle who Fil desires. After Fil flees to safety, Spar explains he is one of seven Guardians created to keep mankind safe from the Darkness. As the couple fusses, fights and falls in love, they must overcome a curse and save mankind.

The second Gargoyle romantic urban fantasy (see Heart of Stone) is a fabulous paranormal starring an intriguing lead couple with totally opposite personalities. Whereas normally he is stone cold logical (Fil's entry into his life ends his dispassionate persona); she is impetuous and impatient to charge head first by taking the fight to the enemy. With a strong support cast (that range from the good, the naive and the evil), Christine Warren authors an awesome novel.

To Die Fur
Dixie Lyle
St. Martin's
9781250031082, $7.99

Eccentric (most would say crazy) billionaire Zelda Zoransky hosts a gala attended by affluent animal collectors interested in purchasing Augustus the rare white liger ZZ owns. Her "Gal Friday" Deidre "Foxtrot" Lancaster put together the party and in reality actually "hosts" the event.

However, to the horror of everyone except for a killer; in ZZ's private zoo someone murders Augustus. Deidre wonders who would slay the rare animal since allegedly none of the guests seemingly had a motive; all of them supposedly wanted to buy the liger not kill him. Receiving assistance from the live animals in zany ZZ's zoo and those not breathing while resting in Zelda's cemetery; Foxtrot, accompanied by her two fur buds (Whiskey the canine shapeshifter and the late Tango the feline telepathic ghost) investigates the Linger homicide.

The second Whiskey Tango Foxtrot paranormal cozy (see A Taste Fur Murder) is a jovial lighthearted whodunit due to the farcical furry frolics of the cast. The antics of the unlikely bumbling amateur sleuths, their living and dead menagerie of supporters, certifiable ZZ and the visitors make for a charming cozy.

Rogue With A Brogue
Suzanne Enoch
St. Martin's
9781250041616, $7.99

A cease fire somewhat ends the seemingly endless feud between the clans MacLawry and Campbell. Marquis Ranulf MacLawry (see The Devil Wears Kilts) asks his brother Arran to stay in London to insure both clans especially theirs adhere to the shaky peace.

At a masquerade, Arran wearing the mask of a fox eludes his chosen fiancee by dancing with a masked Lady Vixen. Attracted to her, he learns she is Mary Campbell, granddaughter of their rival clan's chief. Feeling the same about her foxy suitor, Arran and Mary begin secretly seeing each other with plans to head north to marry; each knows if caught too soon their respective chieftain relatives would end their relationship and probably the fragile truce.

The second Scandalous Highlanders Regency romance (see The Devil Wears Kilts) is a great historical starring a foxy Romeo and a vixen Juliet; as two angry feuding clans find common ground in pursuit of the runaways. Readers will relish this terrific historical as love may end a long running feud or toss fuel that turns a simmering fire into an inferno.

Why Lords Lose Their Hearts
Manda Collins
St. Martin's
9781250023865, $7.99

Her husband Gervase the Duke of Ormond abused his wife Perdita for years before she finally tries to flee for her life. Ormond catches up with his runaway spouse; and pulls out a knife, but fate intervenes and he dies by his weapon.

Now a widow, the former Duchess of Ormond vows to never allow any man to control her. However, someone threatens her peaceful widowhood by claiming Perdita murdered her husband. Fearful, Perdita needs a man to keep her safe so selects her late husband's former secretary kind Lord Archer Lisle as her protector and lover. Archer has been in love with the "wicked" widow for years and will do anything to keep her safe.

Why Lords Lose Their Hearts is an engaging Regency romance that answers who the villain threatening the three Wicked Widows (see Why Dukes Say I Do and Why Earls Fall in Love) is, but not before plenty of suspense. The romantic subplot is slower than the usual Manda Collins historical due to Perdita's realistic fears as she struggles with trusting men after her abusive marriage; while Archer keeping his beloved safe patiently understands he must go slower than he desires. Readers will appreciate the climax to Manda Collins' taut trilogy.

The Last Conception
Gabriel Constans
Melange Books
9781612358765, $12.95,

Davidia and Mira Sikand pressure their single daughter Savarna to have a child because the spiritual progeny from their late founding cult leader must not die out and she is the last survivor able to conceive. Savarna has no male prospects to sire a baby with her since unknown by her parents she is gay and thus has romantic relationships with females only.

As the embryologist looks into the instinct for the strong need to belong to a family including procreating and what a family connotes, Savarna realizes she wants a monogamous relationship with Charley who reciprocates her love; they agree on raising a child that Savarna will birth. Thus she tells her family she is gay and plans a life with a woman. Her India-American parents accept Charley, but remain adamant that they need a biological grandchild. Desperate, her grandmother arrives from India to persuade Savarna that she must give birth or thousands of years of heritage will expire with her. When artificial insemination fails, the female couple decides to adopt, which alienates Savarna with her family who demand she keep trying.

This is a fascinating look at what a family is and why people need to belong and feel accepted by caring social groups (Maslow's Hierarchy's third tier). Though why the intelligent Savarna knows so little about her family's cult lineage until the demands begin is unsatisfactory explained, she drives the intriguing storyline as she tries to please her extended family (including the cult members), her mate and ultimately herself.

Avoidable Contact: A Kate Reilly Mystery
Tammy Kaehler
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., #103, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
9781464202384, $24.95,

Racecar driver Kate Reilly prepares to drive the 24 Hours of Daytona. However, before the race begins, cops inform Kate her boyfriend United Sports Car Championship official Stuart Telerday was in a coma after a hit-and-run. Torn between ditching the race to see him, Kate decides Stuart would be irate if she failed to drive.

Kate receives a text claiming her boyfriend is a victim of attempted vehicular homicide. When a crew member dies at the track, Kate wonders whether this second accident was murder. As she watches her family working with rival teams, Kate runs the endurance race while when off the oval tries to resolve who wants Stuart dead.

The third Kate Reilly amateur sleuth (see Deadman's Switch and Braking Points) is a fast-paced whodunit in which the action on the track is thrilling and off the track chilling. The insight into the USCC adds depth as readers will enjoy Kate's racing and sleuthing while the clock ticks away like in Jack Bauer 24 mode.

The Good Know Nothing: A Tom Hickey Mystery
Ken Kuhlken
Poisoned Pen
9781464202865, $24.95,

Prior to WWI, Charlie Hickey vanished leaving his family over the next two plus decades to wonder what happened. In 1936, Bud Gallagher tells Charlie's son LAPD Detective Tom why his dad disappeared a quarter of a century ago and gives him a manuscript that he insisted Charlie wrote years ago. A stunned Tom struggles to accept Charlie fled from being framed and that the novel practically is the same as The Death Ship by popular but anonymous B. Traven.

Tom discusses what to do about Bud's alleged revelations with his sister Florence. The siblings agree they need to know the truth re the frame and the book with their only hopes being to find and confront their father if he is still alive and Traven if he is not Charlie. Neither expected the supposedly dead Sundance Kid, Betty Weaver and her gang, and William Randolph Hearst to be involved in their family quest.

The latest Tom Hickey Depression Era mystery (see The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles) is a great entry as Ken Kuhlken deftly blends what happened to Charlie with real people and events. Fast-paced, armchair readers will feel they travel the southwest with Tom and Florence in one of the best detective novels of the year.

The Spirit and the Skull
J.M. Hayes
Poisoned Pen
9781464202841, $24.95,

The Earth Mother told Raven the Spirit Man to lead the People across the land bridge into the promised land of plentiful bounty and warmth. However, once they trek over the Bering and begin heading south, one of the leaders Tall Pine dies. On the verge of becoming a woman Down insists to Raven that someone murdered Tall Pine.

Although the fortyish Raven finds it hard to believe one of the People would commit fratricide, Mother demands that her Spirit Man investigate and identify the killer. Raven realizes the only suspect is Down; a girl he is attracted to and wants once she becomes a woman though he knows as the Spirit Man his tribe demands purity from him.

The prehistoric whodunit is entertaining, but superseded by a dramatic deep look at a tribe during the Paleolithic era as armchair readers will feel as if we journey with the People. A potent cautionary environmental tale as each ripple impacts the future; the audience will marvel at the contrast between the pristine Paleolithic landscape and Raven's vision of a time when his skull lies in a lab while mankind has destroyed Mother Nature.

Sarah Fine
c/o Amazon Digital Publishing
9781477817292, $17.99,

After arranging a better place for her late BFF, Lela and Malachi return from the dead to her hometown Warwick, Rhode Island. During the day they attend Warwick High School with Malachi as a Slovakian exchange student hosted by Raphael the archangel and combat patrol at night against the soul-devouring Mazikin, whose human possession-based assaults in Providence are headline news. The pair knows who these monsters are as they have recently fought these brutal beasts who escaped from the dark city that Malachi had protected for decades.

Captain of the Guard Lela must cohesively blend in two new soldiers to her team, which previously consisted of her and Malachi. Jim comes from the Blinding City of addicts and thieves; while Henry hales from the Wasteland home to murderers. The magnificent four's mission remains the same: to defeat the numerous, perhaps thousands, of Mazikin whose possession ability makes them almost invincible. For Lela she also has to graduate from high school while enjoying the attention of student Ian especially since Malachi seems to be avoiding her except at the front line.

The middle paranormal teen Guards of the Shadowlands trilogy (see Sanctum) overall is an adrenaline-charged entry as Lela has to deal with people she knows like her mom possessed by the deadly adversary. Although younger readers will enjoy the high school shenanigans especially the romantic triangle, perhaps because I can see Medicare very soon found that distracting even if it anchors how youthful the heroine is (think of Buffy). Readers will enjoy this tale but also want stories inside the Shadowlands (suggest a short story collection in locales like the Blinding City and the Wasteland) after the Chaos finish.

Ursula Archer
Minotaur Books
c/o St. Martin's Publishing Group
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250037411, $25.99,

Salzburg State Office of Criminal Investigations Detectives Beatrice Kaspary and Floren Wenninger investigate the death of a female who fell off a cliff. On the victim's feet is tattooed GPS coordinates and the missing person's database identifies her as Nora Papenberg. After Floren informs Nora's husband Konrad, he and Beatrice travel to the coordinates where they find a hidden container. Inside is a letter containing a treasure hunt clue and a preserved human hand. A second note signed TFTH informs the finders to search for Christophe through a musical connection and a math formula leading to stage 2.

Another cop Stefan Gerlach explains that the find is part of a mystery cache in which players participating in geocaching seek objects to solve a puzzle and TFTH stands for Thanks for the Help. The coroner reports the blood on the hand belongs to Nora though the hand is not hers. Konrad provides a sample of Nora's handwriting proving she wrote the Stage 1 note and probably cut off the unknown person's hand. They locate Christophe Biel who fits the stage 1 clue. He insists he does not know Nora, but Beatrice believes he is hiding something pertinent. At the coordinates they find another container with a note written by Nora signed TFTH and the other hand; both appendages belong to missing teacher Herbert Liebscher. The trio continues to follow the latest geocaching clues left by an angry clever serial killer.

This brisk German police procedural is anchored by a fully developed strong cast of law enforcement officials and murder victims, but the freshness comes from the geocaching clues. Although Beatrice's ex-husband occasionally disrupts the flow, Five is a strong serial killer cat and mouse hunt.

City Of Ghosts
Kelli Stanley
Minotaur Books
9781250006745, $26.99

In June 1940 San Francisco, private investigator Miranda Corbie receives a postcard from the last person she expected to hear from; her missing mother. The postcard came from England where the Nazis conduct an endless aerial assault on the beleaguered nation.

Miranda considers what her options are re finding and rescuing her mom. While she ponders what she can do, State Department employee James MacLeod hires her to investigate University of California chemistry professor, Dr. Huntington Jasper; the Fed believes he is a Nazi sympathizer using his profession and his love of art to disguise his espionage activity. The P.I. agrees to make an inquiry after being offered their help in finding her mother. Miranda learns of Dr. Jasper's connections to those involved in German art looting, her inquiry turns ugly with murders leading to her framed for a homicide while MacLeod keeps his distance.

The third Miranda Corbie mystery (See City Of Secrets and City Of Dragons) is a thrilling dark gritty historical female Noir as readers learn more about the protagonist's past through the momma drama subplot. Fast-paced yet very atmospheric, readers will feel transported to the City on the Bay as attention already aimed at Japan expands towards the Nazis in the electrifying Jasper scenario.

In Perfect Time
Sarah Sundin
c/o Baker Publishing Group
PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
9780800720834, $14.99,

In 1944 in the European Theater of Operations, Army Air Force Lieutenant Kay Jobson has two reputations: that of an outrageous tease and that of a diligent flight nurse. Kay knows many soldiers want her while all she dreams of is becoming head nurse in order to avoid returning home to where her father the preacher would use her beauty to exploit sinners and believers.

When C-47 pilot Lieutenant Roger Cooper meets Kay, he joins the long list of admirers. However, Roger reacts differently to Kay from all those wannabes when he refuses to act on his desires. Still as they work together, he gives her his greatest possession, his bible. While each battles their unwanted growing attraction, Roger and Kay must team up in a different survival scenario than their usual to help to the wounded after being trapped behind Nazi lines.

The third Wings of the Nightingale WWII military romance (see On Distant Shores and With Every Letter) is an entertaining drama that focuses on relationships forged while under traumatic stress providing frontline combat medicine and trapped on the wrong side of the front. The gripping storyline balances the perilous roles of flight nurse and pilot in war ravaged France and Italy with a fine romantic subplot; summed up by the military chaplains: "there are no atheists in foxholes" or behind enemy lines.

Never Mind Miss Fox
Olivia Glazebrook
Little, Brown & Company
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
9780316242899, $25.00,

Martha and Clive met while attending Oxford. He fell in love immediately and felt fortunate when he persuaded her to join his Barkes family Easter vacation in France. Clive's brother Tom's special friend Eliot Fox joined them.

After years away from England, Eliot Fox comes home to London. One of her students Eliza Barkes informs her parents (Clive and Martha) that her piano teacher knows both of them. Whereas Martha relishes the coincidence, Clive panics as Eliot was his series of indiscretions over the years. Fearing she will expose his betrayal to his wife, Clive tries to keep the piano teacher away from her; but Eliot knowing the power she has over her occasional lover refuses to back away from the Barkes.

Appealingly rotating between the present relationships and past illicit trysts, this is an absorbing character study that looks at the impact an eccentric other woman has on her former lover and his family. The quartet is three dimensional making the cause and effect of his cheating seemingly genuine. Although the encounters over the years come across as well written but improbable happenchance, the trouble Miss Fox's return to England causes to the Barkes' seemingly happy family makes for an appealing novel.

Keepers Of Runes And The Tower Of Shadows
Andrew D. Cratsley
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781494365530, $15.98,

Though his student is over a century old, Tessius the master worries that newly promoted to Knight Corinth is too egotistical and overconfident in his magic and sword-fighting skills. Thus Tessius sends Corinth away from Enzlintine supposedly to end the trouble caused by Khalid but mostly for the pupil to learn more of the vast complex world out there.

On Corinth's trek, Aventis the swordsman and Nadine the siren join the knight. With other allies, they consistently succeed and triumph; adding to the knight's belief he can beat anyone. When Mortiscet the elven necromancer captures the trio, Corinth mentally struggles with his first setback. Mortiscet forces the trio to abet his daughter Rieka regain a magical book. However, Rieka has a different agenda as she wants freedom from her despicable father; so she persuades her companions to rebel against the evil necromancer.

Keepers Of Runes And The Tower Of Shadows is a fabulous Tolkien epic fantasy due to the vivid Cratsley world filled with fully developed species. Although nothing new is provided, subgenre fans will take immense delight in this enchanting opening act as the "young invincible" and his cohorts taste " the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat..." (ABC's Wide World of Sports).

The Vampire's Curse
Mandy Rosko
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781489521125, $9.99,

In Griffon City, with her mom ill, Jackie Moore the witch does a double shift at her mother's business Patty's Potions N' More. After closing the shop, Jackie walks home in a snowstorm when a male body lands at her feet next to a prone female; several vampires lay unconscious while others stand nearby. When Jackie goes to help the man on the snow near her, he apologetically tries to bite her; but instead she kisses him and flees.

Kyle McCane is stunned with the results of that kiss. Somehow the female turned him back to human. However, the next night the curse returns as he reverts back to vampire. Thus he seeks the witch who temporarily cured him. As they kiss every night, the pair searches for a more permanent cure though each likes the lips-locking; at the same time they investigate who or what is killing feral vampires.

The first Things In The Night paranormal investigative romance (see book two The Legend of the Werewolf and book three The Shepard's Agony) is an amusing lighthearted fantasy starring two fascinating protagonists. Whereas she is The Worst Witch (not the star of the 1980s children movie) except for her healing lips; he is the reluctant part-time vampiric outsider (mindful of the adult leads in Ladyhawke) who no longer belongs in New York City as his family fears that one night soon he will bite them.

Incense & Peppermints
Carole Bellacera
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781497355637, $16.00,

In 2011 Memphis, sexagenarian nurse Cindy Sweet receives a Facebook message from her fiance Ryan Paul Quinlan, who allegedly died in Vietnam over four decades ago. Stunned she thinks back to 1965 when idealistic Cindy voluntarily joined the military as a nurse assigned to the 24th Evacuation Hospital at Long Binh. She faced death and maimed victims on her first day and every day afterward while serving in Nam. Cindy still sees the face of her first dying soldier; a youngster from South Carolina whose last wish she could not grant.

Cindy also reflects on her first innocent love before she volunteered Gary McCartney; her passionate second in Nam with Ryan; and her calm final one with Sergeant David Ansgar whom mentored her as she adjusted to the frantic existence at the 24th. Though encouraged by her husband David, this hesitant grandma must decide whether she wants to meet Ryan at the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

This is a reflective Vietnam War tale starring an innocent growing up rather quickly when faced immediately with dying and severely wounded young soldiers; just the title (from the Strawberry Alarm Clock song) will remind boomers of the sixties furor. Carole Bellacera provides a gripping storyline due to the support cast (patients and staff) who bring a timely haunting message that the cost of war is not just in combat dollars, but also the impact on those fighting and their loved ones; that lingers on for decades after the last soldier came home.

Shark Fin Soup
Susan Klaus
Oceanview Publishing
595 Bay Isles Road, 120-G, Longboat Key, FL 34228
9781608091232, $26.95,

Christian and Allie Roberts enjoy sailing the Caribbean on their sloop Catalina. While near the Bahamas, Christian becomes irate when he observes fishermen illegally mass murdering sharks. He upsets them when he challenges what they are doing and threatens to expose them to the authorities; they retaliate by killing Allie.

Filled with remorse that he provoked the incident that led to his beloved wife's death, he is well aware FBI Agent Dave Wheeler believes depressed Christian killed his wife. Initially turning to drugs and booze to numb his anguish; Christian eventually snaps out of his stupor when he remembers Allie's last words: "save the sharks." Though still downloaded with guilt, grieving Christian begins his quest to honor his late mate's deathbed wish though well aware the growing demand for shark-fin soup makes success unlikely. To pay homage to his spouse, the widower believes he owes it to her to try; so as Captain Nemo he terrorizes those terrorizing the diminishing shark population.

The second Christian Roberts thriller (see Secretariat Reborn) is an intriguing cautionary ecological tale in which Susan Klaus warns that the exponential growing demand for Shark Fin Soup trends towards species extinction and consequently destroying critical habitats, reefs. With the shocking beginning leading to the protagonist becoming a born again eco-terrorist, readers will relish his over the top of The Great Barrier Reef efforts to save the sharks.

The Mystery of the Trinity
Richard Gid Powers
Caravel Book
c/o Pleasure Boat Studio
201 West 89 Street, New York, NY 10024
9781912887012, $19.95,

In New Orleans during mass at St. Patrick Church, someone shoots and kills controversial traditionalist Father Stan Klaves, who has demanded a return to the Faith of Our Fathers. New York Timothy Cardinal Ryan gives the eulogy at Father Stan's funeral. NOPD claims the assassin committed suicide.

Like her late father, Ann Grayce provides benefactions to Cardinal Ryan who worries his most generous supporter will take over leading the Klaves' movement. Ann and her beloved Jack Logan (whom has drawn the wrath of the Cardinal for his work on neuroscience and spirituality) meet with excommunicated Sister Patricia Sullivan and National Christian Reporter journalist Peter Newland who witnessed the assassination. Cardinal Ryan joins them; insisting that the Church will die if it supports a "culture of death" as Klaves demanded. Not long afterward in Alexandria, Louisiana, a gunman tries to kill Ann; but instead murders a cop. A Greek monk murders the captured gunman, but escapes back to Mt. Athos, Greece. This leads to Ann and her allies on a global quest to uncover a Church conspiracy of death that includes the killing of Father Romero.

The Mystery of the Trinity is an intriguing thoughtful drama that concentrates on the modern day Catholic Church; especially the schism between the traditionalists who want to return to the strict past and those who believe this return denotes a "culture of death" leading to papal suicide. The use of famous people, social media and locations enhance the overall realism of the intense theme. Not for everyone since the stimulating storyline contains a lot of passive religious debate (that I personally esteemed); Richard Gid Power authors a mesmerizing Catholic Church conspiracy thriller.

No Time To Die
Kira Piekoff
Pinnacle Books
c/o Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street, Floor 21, New York, NY 10018-2522
9780786034895, $9.99,

Though Zoe Kincaid is a twenty years old college student, her ultra-petit body looks like that of a young teenager; some would say a male tweener. While her parents insist she accept her condition and stop obsessing over it, Zoe urged by her Gramps turns to Manhattan medical geneticist Dr. Ray Carlisle who explains her unnamed condition; her entire body even her teeth stopped aging at fourteen.

Zoe sadly agrees to allow research scientists to conduct tests on her in order to learn how her DNA shut down the aging process. However, opponents want the "amoral" studies stopped and will do anything to end it. At Panax Pharmaceuticals in DC, someone releases test chimps that kill Dr. Eliot Shipley in his lab. Columbia University biochemist Dr. Helen McNair vanishes. Meanwhile in DC Justice Department Bioethics Committee Agent Les Mahler notices the trend of 27 unresolved vanishings except for the Shipley corpse. Now Zoe disappears.

No Time To Die is a mesmerizing medical suspense as Kira Piekoff deftly balances a timely deep look at the ethics of genetic research (this case involves using a human guinea pig for the well-being of others) inside of an action-packed twisting biological thriller. With a solid cast, readers care about what happens to Zoe.

The Best Kind of Trouble
Lauren Dane
Harlequin HQN
c/o Harlequin Books
225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9
9780373779345, $7.99,

In Hood River, Oregon librarian Natalie Clayton stops at Common Grounds for coffee on her way to work when Sweet Hollow Ranch rocker Paddy Hurley arrives in need of caffeine. Before even turning around, Natalie identifies by the voice a man she shared two weeks of love-making a lifetime ago. When Paddy sees her he recognizes her mouth from the greatest two weeks of his life. She denies being the tattooed pixie who worked at a dive in Portland; as she muses to herself that was a different Natalie.

Every morning when Natalie stops for her coffee, Paddy greets her by asking her to go out with him. Though she declines he refuses to quit asking. After consistent rejections, Paddy erodes some of her resistance and Natalie agrees to go on a date. As they fall in love, Paddy knows he must somehow break down the remaining protective barriers Natalie constructed as a means to escape her ugly childhood, but errs in his efforts.

The first Hurley Brothers romance is an engaging second chance at love starring two to nice protagonists. The leads come from polar opposite types of families in which his nicely supports him, and hers, especially daddy dearest, mostly trashes her; the townsfolk particularly her roommate Tuesday Eastwood have become her surrogate loving "family". Although the storyline follows the most obvious path, The Best Kind of Trouble is falling in love.

No Limits
Lori Foster
Harlequin HQN
9780373779048, $7.99

Supreme Battle Championship fighter Cannon Colter returns to the States following a victory in Japan for some needed R&R after the tough brawl. However, hometown attorney Cannon asks him to come to Warfield, Ohio to discuss the property and funds that he inherited from the recently deceased Tipton Sweeney. Stunned Cannon cannot understand why any inheritance is going to him; as all should have went to the late pawn shop owner's granddaughter Yvette; the one female he desired but avoided as she was too young for him when he left to join the SBC. From the grave Tipton needs Cannon to take care of his beloved Yvette; giving him joint ownership of half the estate to do so.

Unsure what type of greeting he will receive from Yvette who ran away to California after his "rejection" and the trouble they and her grandfather faced three years, Cannon attempts to comfort Yvette, but she rejects his condolences. Distrusting him for two reasons now, Yvette tries to hide her feelings of love by keeping her distance from Cannon; while he hopes to earn her trust as he believes he has her love and to honor Tipton's belief in him by keeping the woman they both cherish safe.

After the wonderful Love Undercover quartet, Lori Foster returns to her SBC world (see My Man Michael, Hard to Handle Causing Havoc and Simon Says) with round one of the Ultimate contemporary romance. The leisurely-paced second chance at love subplot takes a somewhat typical track though the fully developed leads and the townsfolk like Cannon, and the suspense make for a fine Buckeye drama.

B.J. Daniels
Harlequin HQN
9780373778959, $7.99

Six months ago, Rourke Kincaid failed to follow procedure and a civilian almost died. He was pulled from active duty; eventually assigned to cold cases. After reviewing several files, U.S. Marshal Rourke Kincaid notices a serial killer pattern in the files; Beartooth, Montana waitress Callie Westfield was photographed at various Sweetgrass County crime scenes. He wonders why she keeps showing up but instead of supporting his premise, his supervisor suspends him again.

Unauthorized Rourke goes rogue and in Seattle meets with his medically retired former SPD partner Laura Fuller to illicit her help. Laura hopes he came to see her to tell her he loves her like she does him; but instead he asks her to assist him on a serial killer case in Beartooth. In the Montana town, undercover Rourke meets Callie at the Branding Iron Cafe where she works. However, as the evidence mounts that Callie is a cold-blooded murderess, mortified Rourke knows he fell in love with a serial killer.

The fifth Beartooth Mountains thriller (see Atonement, Unforgiven, Forsaken and Redemption) is an exciting Big Sky romantic suspense. Although readers will solve the case much earlier than Rourke does, Mercy is a fast-paced, action-packed murder mystery.

A Match Made By Baby
Karen Rose Smith
Harlequin Special Edition
9780373658374, $5.50

In Fawn Grove, California, his frazzled former stepsister Tina dumped her two-month old daughter Erica on the infant's Uncle Adam Preston who had been home for a week. The international environmental geologist did his best to quiet his niece, but finally admitted failure. Desperate he calls the Mommy Club for help with the screaming baby.

Volunteer pediatrician Dr. Kaitlyn Foster comes to his home shocking Adam with her arrival. As she calms down Erica, Adam explains that he came home from Africa stunned to find he had a niece as he never knew his much younger stepsibling was pregnant. Both adults think back to their encounter when they first met last year in Cape Town and each currently denies to their own counsel that their attraction remains robust. As they nurture the child, the couple begins to fall in love. Nevertheless, Kaitlyn and Adam agree nothing can come of their desire since she is a stay at home doctor and he is a nomadic globetrotting geologist.

The latest Mommy Club romance (see Wanted: A Real Family) is a wonderful contemporary with an underlying supporting focus on the overwhelming responsibility of single motherhood. Character driven by a vigorous cast, A Match Made By Baby is the usual great family drama by always dependable Karen Rose Smith.

Dead Man's Curve
Paula Graves
Harlequin Intrigue
9780373697847, $5.50

FBI Agent Ava Trent arrives in Johnson City, Tennessee to investigate the kidnapping of Gabe and Alicia Cooper (see The Man from Gossamer Ridge). The Feds' interest involves Alicia's late brother Sinclair Solano, who had been on their Most Wanted List until he died five years ago. At the motel where the abduction occurred, a stunned Ava sees a very alive Sinclair; a man she was falling in love with on Mariposa eight years ago.

Worried for his sister, Sinclair believes someone in Sanselmo realized he did not die in the Tesoro Harbor warehouse explosion that killed several; and that means El Cambio's lieutenant Cabrera knows he betrayed them, most likely as a federal double agent. His sibling is a pawn to bring him out into the open where terrorists and law enforcement have a bulls-eye on his back. Now he must persuade Alicia to give him time to rescue his sister though the agent sarcastic retort eliminates him telling her the truth.

The first Gates romantic suspense is a high octane thriller with an angry enemy targeting a steadfast Solano as he risks his life to save Alicia while his FBI sidekick devastates his normally singular mission focus. With a connection to the Cooper saga, Dead Man Curve is a terrific tense opening act.

Snow Blind
Cassie Miles
Harlequin Intrigue
9780373697861, $5.50

Due to the mysterious death of nonagenarian client Virgil Westfield, Denver-based Samuels, Sorenson and Smith sends twentyish legal assistant Sasha Campbell to represent the law firm with the Arcadia Ski Resorts' investors. She stays in her boss Damien Loughlin's luxurious condo.

Though she shouldn't voyeur, using Damien's binoculars, Sasha looks out the window into other condos until she horribly witnesses a man seemingly kill a woman at the Gateway Hotel. She calls 911, but the operator thinks she is drunk. Summit County Sheriff's Deputy Brady Ellis answers the 911 call. Though they find no body or any evidence of a homicide, Brady believes Sasha's story due to her mentioning Chinese food which he faintly smells when they enter the alleged crime scene room. Now Brady fears the killer, who may be one of the four investors she is meeting with, will try to eliminate the witness.

Cassie Miles' latest Colorado romantic suspense (see Snowed In) is a thrilling tale in which rightfully so the investigation and intrigue supersedes the falling in love subplot. The exciting storyline never slows down as there are plenty of suspects among the investors and their families with one needing to silent the "voyeur"; thus turning Snow Blind into a delightful Rocky Mountain whodunit.

Stripped Down
Kelli Ireland
Harlequin Blaze
9780373798186, $5.50

In Seattle Preservations CEO Cass Jameson and her team diligently worked on water preservation and soil erosion at the site of the proposed Chok Resort on Lake Washington. When the EPA approved their proposal, Cass plans to present it next week to the resort builders, Sovereign Developments.

Eric Reeves feels good that his company Sovereign Developments won the bid for the Chok Resorts project over his more powerful established rival David Jameson. He keeps his nocturnal life as popular Beaux Hommes stripper Dalton Chase apart from his day time CEO role except for the former funding the latter. When Cass hires him to strip at her BFF Gwen's bachelorette party, neither knows of their project connection as they share a week of Pleasure Before Business intrudes.

The first Pleasure Before Business heated romance is a fun frolic though the concept of both unaware of their business link after a week together feels like a throwback to the 1961 Rock Hudson-Doris Day movie Lover Come Back but with plenty of sex and no Pillow Talk. The leads are likable ambitious individuals who fall in love just before they learn who their tryst partner truly is.

Behind Closed Doors
Debbi Rawlins
Harlequin Blaze
9780373798162, $5.50

Beth Wilson wonders about her sanity when she gave up her career that enabled her to see the world to open up a boarding house in Blackfoot Falls, Montana even if she originally came from Billings. She also tries to help her seemingly out of control teenage niece Liberty. When Jorgenson sends her lumber order to Nathan Landers, she tries calling the rancher but he ignores her before she visits him to plead her case. The widower delivers the lumber to her.

Liberty attends school, but also works for her aunt to make restitutions to victims of her art wall including Nathan. As Beth and Nathan begin seeing each other and fall in love, Liberty sabotages their relationship since she has a crush on the rancher and a greater fear of abandonment.

The latest Made in Montana tale (see Need You Now, Alone With You, From This Moment On and No One Needs To Know) is an entertaining contemporary made fresh by Liberty's issues. Although the adult relationship is the prime plot; it takes a backseat to saving Liberty.

Deadly Allure
Elle James
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
9780373278824, $5.50

In Los Angeles Stealth Operations Specialist agent Nicole "Tazer" Steele enters Ryan Technology as part of the night cleaning crew to break into the office of Brandon Ryan. Her objective is to download a database that will prove whether he is betraying his country by illegally selling American arms to the Taliban. When Ryan arrives, Tazer incapacitates him; as she leaves he tells her that his associate will pursue her with deadly force. On her way to the airport, the police chase Tazer. She tries calling her boss Fontaine and data guru Geek but when neither answers Tazer realizes something went wrong. Knowing she needs to hide off the grid until she learns what is going on, Tazer heads to Cape Churn, Oregon.

900 miles later, almost all on a motorcycle, an exhausted Nicole reaches foggy Cape Churn only to crash into a truck owned by Dave Logsdon (see Deadly Engagement). Though an emotionally-detached hermit since his friend died in combat, Dave reluctantly allows Nicole to stay with him on the Reel Dive yacht he is renovating. While she lays low until she can download the thumb drive and learn what is happening out there, these two relationship-phobic souls fall in love.

With a nod to 24: Live Another Day, the latest Deadly Stealth Operations romantic suspense (see Deadly Allure, Deadly Reckoning and Deadly Liaisons) returns series fans to the picturesque foggy Oregon coast in a taut national security thriller. Fast-paced and loaded with action, Elle James' tale grips the audience as two loners battle against a powerful unknown adversary and even more deadly to both of them the demands of their respective hearts.

The Sweetest September
Liz Talley
Harlequin SuperRomance
9780373608621, $6.75

Shelby Mackey took The Road To Bayou Bridge to see her boyfriend Darby Dufrene who came home for a visit after years away in the Navy. Instead of leaving with Darby, they learn to his shock and her chagrin he remains married to Renny Latioles who he wed before enlisting. Upset to find Darby and Renny back together, Shelby has a one night stand with a stranger, widower John Beauchamp, before fleeing from the Bayou while her sack companion wallows in guilt and remorse for betraying his late wife Rebecca.

Three months after their only evening together, Shelby, knowing she is doing the right thing, once again takes The Road To Bayou Bridge to inform John she is carrying his baby; though she believes with 100 percent certainty he will decline participating in raising their child. Instead he stuns her when John insists he will help raise their infant. Even more astonishing to Shelby, his family (especially his preacher father) does not condemn her but also wants the child to know intimately his or her paternal roots.

The strong cast with their emotional poignant reactions especially towards the pregnancy makes this Home In Magnolia Bend entry a marvelous believable contemporary. Filled with real people's humor and angst, fans will appreciate this tale while wondering about the reaction of the kid when she is old enough to learn her conception occurred in a Bayou Bengals bar bathroom.

The Reasons To Stay
Laura Drake
Harlequin SuperRomance
9780373608638, $6.75

Priscilla Hart leaves Pueblo to drive to the funeral of her mom in Widow's Grove, California. She feels no regret about not seeing her mother for over a decade before she died because they were estranged ever since she left behind her unhappy childhood. At the grave site, only Priss, a child and a woman attend. Priss realizes the boy is her half-brother Ignacio whom she never met and the adult she recognizes from her own experiences as a social worker.

Though feeling no remorse re her mom, Priss feels guilt when she considers abandoning Nacho to the system. Instead of returning to Colorado, she rents an apartment in Widow's Grove to raise Nacho while he finishes the school term and then decide what next. However as Priss struggles with her brooding, grieving gangster in training sibling, she also is attracted to her landlord pharmacist Adam Preston.

This wonderful Widow's Grove (see Her Road Home) family drama works because of Priss, whose life goal is not to be her dysfunctional mom. As Priss drowns trying to take care of Nacho; to her vexation her time with her brother turns her into her worst nightmare: her dysfunctional mom. The engaging opposites-attract romance is well written, but takes a back seat to the heroine's motherhood revelations as raising (or not) Nacho enables Priss to better understand her late mom even while she considers fleeing before her brain turns to cheese.

Cavanaugh Strong
Marie Ferrarella
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
9780373278817, $5.50

Six months ago, Aurora Vice Detectives Duncan Cavanaugh and Noelle O'Banyon became partners. While he unsuccessfully tries to break down her relationship barriers, the single mom of six year old Melinda reinforces them due to the curse of her two fiances dying just before they were to marry.

When Noelle's mom Lucy arrives to watch Melinda, she tells her daughter that she was almost late because she found her senior citizen friend Henry dead at the nursing home. Lucy also mentions not too long ago another elderly friend Sally died. Wondering if a killer murdered two healthy seniors, Noelle persuades Duncan they should investigate; while he tries to convince her they belong together off the job too.

The latest fast-paced Cavanaugh Justice romantic police procedural (see Cavanaugh Baby and Cavanaugh Hero) is a great case in which the cops doubt murders have occurred, but are unwilling to risk a third victim. Though his family can be overwhelming (a zillion more in law enforcement than the NYPD Blue Blood Reagan crew), the partner's robust teasing repartee engrosses the reader in this strong Cavanaugh mystery.

A Groom Worth Waiting For
Sophie Pembroke
Harlequin Romance
9780373743205, $5.99

To the delight of their families (with a couple of exceptions) as this further binds the Morrison-Ashton media management, Flynn Ashton and Thea Morrison will marry in two days in Tuscany. After running away from Thea eight years ago, Flynn's brother Zeke shocks everyone when he arrives on his first visit since he fled; ostensibly he came to attend the nuptials, but has a secret agenda.

While the countdown continues, a doubting Zeke considers fleeing again as he reluctantly accepts he has no prayer to achieve his quest when his beloved tells him to get a life. However, knowing this is his last chance for happiness; Zeke stays fixated on persuading his beloved Thea that she should marry him out of love instead of his sibling out of security.

This is a warm second chance at love romance starring a fine three-dimensional cast. Thea will captivate and exasperate readers as we sing the Lovin' Spoonful song "Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind" to her.

A Cowboy's Heart
Rebecca Winters
Harlequin American Romance
9780373755325, $5.50

In Montana, veterinarian Liz Henson has been half in love with World Steer Wrestling champ Conner Bannock ever since several years ago at her first disastrous professional barrel race he told her she had real talent and to ignore her poor showing. Wanting to help Liz and knowing this is each's last professional event, Conner explains how stupid it is going to contests separately because of the late Scrooge Daniel Corkin's orders when they are neighbors. He stuns her when he asks her to drive down with him to Vegas for the Pro National Finals Rodeo and stay in his RV; she stuns herself when she accepts.

In Vegas, Conner begins to realize the little girl next door is a vibrant woman whom he likes. As they fall in love, his ex-wife Los Angeles TV anchor Reva Stevens arrives with a desire for a second chance.

The second Bannock-Henson Hitting Rocks Cowboys drama (see In A Cowboy's Arms) is an engaging contemporary starring two likable leads in which their thrilling rodeo exploits and related lifestyles supersedes the romantic triangle subplot. Somewhat leisurely-paced, subgenre fans will enjoy "the thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat... the human drama of athletic competition ..." (ABC's Wide World of Sports) at the rodeo.

The Nanny Proposition
Rachel Bailey
Harlequin Desire
9780373733323, $5.25

In Los Angeles at Sacred Heart Hospital a midwife informs stunned botanist Liam Hawke that he is the father of two day old Bonnie, whose mother Rebecca Clancy dies from complications. One look at the infant convinces confirms in his mind Bonnie is his daughter although he had no idea that when he and Rebecca ended their relationship she was pregnant.

Rebecca's parents want to raise their granddaughter, but so does Liam. He hires his brother Dylan's housekeeper Jenna Peters as the new nanny and his personal parenthood coach. With Dylan's approval, she accepted the position because she can keep her eight month old infant Meg with her instead of at a daycare facility. As the adults fall in love with each other and with both babies, Jenna hides her secret that before she became pregnant out of wedlock, she was Princess Jensine Larson of Larsland.

The latest Billionaires and Babies (see His Lover's Little Secret by Andrea Lawrence) is a fun contemporary starring two likable leads supported by babies who cry and fuss. Although the plausibility is over the top of the Hollywood sign; The Nanny Proposition is a warm engaging drama as two single parents and their infants become a family of four.

Loyal Wolf
Linda O. Johnston
Harlequin Nocturne
9780373009275, $5.75

In Clifford County, Montana, Deputy Sheriff Kathlene Baylor becomes concerned when a large group of alleged hunters move onto nearby land. She fears these fully armed men are anarchists, but her supervisor Sheriff Frawley warns her to let it go; insisting they are hunters. Still, the outsiders frighten the locals and intimidate the council.

Kathlene bypasses her boss and soon the military send in three members of Alpha Force (Lieutenant Jock Larabey, Sergeant Raif Nunez and K9 Click to investigate. Attracted to Jock, Kathlene soon discovers his and Alpha Force's top secret even as the evidence mounts that the strangers are anarchists with a nasty plan for the local community.

The key to the 5th Alpha Force werewolf romantic suspense (see Undercover Wolf, Guardian Wolf, Alpha Wolf and Alaskan Wolf) is the intimidation and threat by the armed strangers in spite of these outsiders coming across as underdeveloped stereotypes. Subgenre fans will cheer on courageous Kathlene every time the kick butt heroine takes risks that frighten Jock as he fears for the woman who has hooked his inner wolf.

Dark Wolf Returning
Rhyannon Byrd
Harlequin Nocturne
9780373009268, $5.75

Three years ago, the Silvercrest Lycan pack banished Eli Drake for an unsanctioned revenge killing. He met four similar exiles and they formed a bond of mercenaries (and good deeds) while his siblings ((Eric (see Dark Wolf Rising) and Elise (see Dark Wolf Running)) begged him to come home to save the pack in peril after their late father's abominations and the current dire threat from Sebastian Claymore and the Whiteclaw pack.

Half-breed Bloodrunner Carla Reyes arrives in a dive in Texas to bring Eli home. Before he left the pack, they began the mating ritual but he stopped leaving both in limbo. After punching him in the face, she persuades him to come home to Maryland to save the pack from an enemy who uses super drugs to abduct females (like they did with Carla and Elise) and to create super soldiers. As Elise and the quintet head east, Eli wonders how he will leave Carla behind again while she insists she wants to rip him out of her heart.

The 6th action-packed Bloodrunners werewolf romantic suspense completes the "Dark Wolf" Drake siblings saga (see the previous "Last Wolf" trilogy: Last Wolf Standing, Last Wolf Hunting and Last Wolf Watching) with a fast-paced return of the prodigal alpha thriller. Series fans will relish this entry as much for the unfinished business between the lead characters as the constant confrontation between rival packs.

Expose Me
Kate Hewitt.
Harlequin Presents
9780373430390, $9.99

Ten years ago, Sarah committed suicide with the cause being Jason Treffen the women's rights advocate and philanthropist. Three of her close friends including Jason's son Austin were traumatized by this tragedy. Thus Austen (see Avenge Me by Maisey Yates), Hunter Talbot Grant III (see Scandalize Me by Caitlin Crews) and Alex Diaz formed a pact to destroy Jason.

Alex plans to take advantage of TV host Chelsea Maxwell's blind ambition to become a real reporter to help him devastate Jason on national TV by her throwing gotcha hardball questions rather than piped softies when she interviews him; though that would end her current position. To insure her loyalty without committing any journalist promises, Alex seduces Chelsea. As Alex falls in love, he knows he must choose between his decade-long revenge need and his need for Chelsea whose decade-long career at AMI will die if she does what he wants.

The third Fifth Avenue contemporary is a marvelous romance as the protagonist finds himself caught in a life changing decision when he learns revenge is a dish served cold while love is a gourmet meal served hot. Though the fascinating storyline goes as expected, mini-series readers will receive plenty of pleasure with the final confrontation of a satisfying trilogy.

Bones Never Lie
Kathy Reichs
Bantam Books
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780345544018, $27.00,

Though fighting a bad cold, forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan arrives at the Charlotte-Meckenberg Law Enforcement Center for a meeting with Cold Case Unit Chief Honor Barrow. Also attending are Vermont Detective Umpie Rodas, homicide cop Skinny Slidell and NC SBI Agent Beau Tinker. Rodas explains the known cold case details death of tweener Nellie Gower and the similar information he found in the FBI Violent Criminal Apprehension Program re the death of eleven years old Lizzie Nance in Charlotte. The New England cop also says DNA found on Nellie matched that of Canadian serial killer Anique Pomerleau. Stunned Bones thinks she has a second chance to nab the monster who got away when she worked in Montreal. Slidell brings in the working case file of missing thirteen years old Michelle Leal who shares the same traits as the dead victims.

Bones wonders if Pomerleau found where she lives so came to town for a new round of taunting killings. As the clock ticks away for Shelley, Barrow asks Bones to find quickly missing Detective Andrew Ryan who worked the original case with her; as he may bring a different perspective to the hunt for this diabolical psychopath.

The latest Bones forensics police procedural is a fresh investigation into finding a female serial killer before the apparent next victim dies; ironically the storyline will remind readers of Criminal Minds. Besides suffering from a cold that humanizes Bones, the obsessed protagonist thrives on a second opportunity to end her adversary's reign of terror, but she prays it is before Shelley and other girls die.

Harriet Klausner
Senior Reviewer

Lorraine's Bookshelf

Beginning Piano Artistry
Patricia Carter-Zagorski and Glenn Robert Kahler, authors
Cecilia Miller, editorial assistant
Privately Published
c/o University of Tennessee School of Music
336 Natalie L. Haslam Music Center, Knoxville, TN 37996-4040
9780989841900, $20.00, 60 pages, spiral bound,

"Beginning Piano Artistry: Sight-Reading With Musicality and Continuity Without Looking At the Keyboard" is a handbook of piano pedagogy for musicians who can read and perform music on other instruments and seek piano playing skills. Presented in five keyboard lessons using a 'big picture' approach that incorporates an "energetic relaxed body position," "Beginning Piano Artistry" focuses on exploring the dynamic range of the keyboard through guided improvisation, developing tactile awareness of the keyboard through 12 major five-finger patterns, 12 cadential patterns, five scales in contrary and parallel motion and analysis, and discovering the meaning and spirit of music. Lesson 1(Learning Styles and Body Position at the Keyboard) covers teaching the energetic-relaxed body position at the keyboard, using skeletal awareness plus breathing out technique as you begin to play, adding in keyboard fingerings, finding natural arm, hand and finger positions, and a quick learning assessment for visual, auditory or tactile learners. Lesson 2, Improvisation With Dynamics, Articulations and Phrasing, deals with learning controlled dynamics with the piano, articulation both staccato and legato, use of the pedal, and improvisation exercises. Lesson 3, 12 Major Five-Finger Patterns Read From Keyboard Images, teaches sight reading techniques using 12 major five-finger patterns on black and white keys, using numbered finger placement keyboard templates for visual guides plus other specific exercises and techniques. Lesson 4, 12 Major Five-Finger Patterns On the Grand Staff, covers reading notation, intervals and rhythmic five-finger patterns for both hands in preparing to sight read keyboard music on the grand staff. Lesson 5 explores sight reading groups of notes and homophony, using examples from classic compositions by Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. A summary and appendix contain additional helpful information to complete this concise piano pedagogy manual for music students. "Beginning Piano Artistry" can be used in conjunction with other traditional piano pedagogy instruction to enhance learning and performance skills. The spiral binding and brevity makes this book easily accessible for piano/keyboard use.

Sing the Songs of George & Ira Gershwin, Volume 1 of Singer's Choice
George & Ira Gershwin, composer and lyricist
Music Minus One
50 Executive Blvd., Elmsford, NY 10523
9781941566008 $29.98

"Sing the Songs of George & Ira Gershwin" is volume one of the Professional Vocal Soundtracks Series, including sheet music for the vocal parts and a CD with demonstration performances and background instrumental parts for each song. Complete tracks and Minus tracks (background only) are provided for eight beloved American jazz classics which include the following songs: Somebody Loves Me, The Man I Love, Bidin' My Time, Someone To Watch Over Me, I've Got a Crush On You, But Not For Me, S'Wonderful, and Fascinatin' Rhythm. Performers include Bobby Burnett and Pam Orlando, vocalists, Joe Wilder, trumpet, Hank Jones, piano, and more. This contemporary series is designed for professional and amateur vocalists who specialize in 20th century composers, and is an excellent aid to vocal jazz performance and study. The sheet music is for the vocal line only, to allow vocal musicians to focus on development of the solos and improvisations. This is an excellent series for developing serious vocal performers. Another highly recommended title from the Singer's Choice Series is "Sing the Songs of Cole Porter, Volume 2 (9781941566015, $29.98, book and CD)."

Songs and Solos: Creating the Right Solo for Every Song
Rikky Rooksby, author
Backbeat Books
c/o Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing
33 Plymouth St, Suite 302, Montclair, NJ 07042
9781617131035 $24.99 (paperback)

"Songs and Solos" is an eye-opening guitar solo creation text that incorporates multiple aspects of integrated guitar solo composition and performance in contemporary settings. Beginning with a handy introduction titled How To Use his Book, "Songs and Solos" presents its comprehensive information in twelve sections covering history of the guitar solo from the 50's to the 90's, basic concepts of soloing, use of other instruments besides guitar for solos, positioning and integration of the solo in the song, implications of guitar style and choice, relations of scales and harmony to solos, non-scale solos, scales and major key chord progressions, minor key soloing, out-of-key chord progression soloing, soloing over complex harmonies, and interesting quotes about soloing from famous guitarists. In addition, the accompanying CD to "Songs and Solos" contains 42 sample solos in a variety of styles, moods, and keys, plus separate backing tracks for the reader to play over. To further assist the guitarist, the solo samples are accompanied in section eleven by full score guitar notation plus tablature and additional comments. In summary, "Songs and Solos" is an invaluable tool for innovative guitar soloists and teachers seeking further depth and challenge in the creation and grounding of working guitar solos in contemporary songs.

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Margaret's Bookshelf

The Real South
Scott Romine
Louisiana State University Press
3rd Floor, Johnston Hall
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803
9780807133293, $42.50, 284pp,

Synopsis: "The Real South: Southern Narrative in the Age of Cultural Reproduction" explores the impact of globalization on contemporary southern culture and the South's persistence in an age of media and what he terms "cultural reproduction." Rather than being compromised, southern cultures are both complicated and reconfigured as they are increasingly detached from tradition in its conventional sense. In considering Souths that might appear fake (e.g. the Souths of the theme restaurant, commercial television, and popular regional magazines) "The Real South: Southern Narrative in the Age of Cultural Reproduction" contends that authenticity and reality emerge as central concepts that allow groups and individuals to imagine and navigate social worlds.

Critique: A seminal study of impressive and comprehensive scholarship throughout, "The Real South: Southern Narrative in the Age of Cultural Reproduction" by Scott Romine (Professor of English, University of North Carolina - Greensboro) explores the perception of the American south in contemporary popular culture. Enhanced with the inclusion of twenty-six pages of Notes, a fourteen page Works Cited bibliography, and a comprehensive index, "The Real South: Southern Narrative in the Age of Cultural Reproduction" is very highly recommended for academic library Literary Studies & American Popular Culture collections and supplemental studies reading lists. It should be noted that "The Real South: Southern Narrative in the Age of Cultural Reproduction" is also available in both a paperback edition (9780807156384, $24.95) and a Kindle edition ($14.97).

Indigenous Women, Work, and History: 1940-1980
Mary Jane Logan McCallum
University of Manitoba Press
301 St. John's College, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, R3T 2M5
9780887557385, $34.95, 288pp,

Synopsis: When dealing with Indigenous women's history we are conditioned to think about women as private-sphere figures, circumscribed by the home, the reserve, and the community. Moreover, in many ways Indigenous men and women have been cast in static, pre-modern, and one-dimensional identities, and their twentieth century experiences reduced to a singular story of decline and loss. "Indigenous Women, Work, and History: 1940-1980" rejects both of these long-standing conventions by presenting case studies of Indigenous domestic servants, hairdressers, community health representatives, and nurses working in "modern Native ways." By placing the history of these modern workers within a broader historical context Professor McCallum challenges us to think about Indigenous women's history in entirely new ways.

Critique: Deftly written by Mary Jane Logan McCallum (Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Winnipeg), "Indigenous Women, Work, and History: 1940-1980" is a seminal work of original scholarship providing a definitive four decade history of Canada's indigenous female population as part the Canadian labor force. Enhanced with fifty pages of Notes, twenty-two pages of Bibliography, tables, illustrations, and a comprehensive Index, "Indigenous Women, Work, and History: 1940-1980" is strongly recommended for academic library collections. It should be noted that "Indigenous Women, Work, and History: 1940-1980" is also available in a Kindle edition ($15.00).

The Formulas Of Popular Fiction
Anna Faktorovich
McFarland & Company
PO Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640
9780786474134, $45.00, 224pp,

Synopsis: In "The Formulas of Popular Fiction: Elements of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, Religious and Mystery Novels", Anna Faktorovich creates a taxonomy for the major bestselling fictional genres: romance (e.g., authors Heyer, Cartland, Woodiwiss and Roberts), religious and inspirational (Corelli and Douglas), mystery and detective (Conan Doyle, Christie and Mankell), and science fiction, horror and fantasy (Wells, Tolkien, Orwell, Niven, King and Rowling). Chapters look at a genre from its roots to its most recent works. The structural patterns in the plot, characters and setting of these genres are then explained. "The Formulas of Popular Fiction: Elements of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, Religious and Mystery Novels" also provides a critique of currently popular hyper-formulaic, hack, unliterary writings that have multiplied in recent decades. Special topics such as the publishing oligopoly and the resulting homogeneity among bestselling works and the steady movement from literary to unliterary fiction are also examined.

Critique: In the pages of "The Formulas of Popular Fiction: Elements of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, Religious and Mystery Novels", Anna Faktorovich (founder and director of the Anaphora Literary Press and the editor-in-chief of the 'Pennsylvania Literary Journal', and who has been a Professor of English for Middle Georgia College and for the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania) provides an informed and informative introduction to, and commentary on, the properties of genre fiction that makes them so successful with their respective readerships. Of special note is the beginning chapter on 'Formulaic Fiction Writing and the History of Literary Genres'. Enhanced with eight pages of Chapter Notes, a four page Bibliography, and a comprehensive Index, "The Formulas of Popular Fiction: Elements of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, Religious and Mystery Novels" is a fascinating read and very highly recommended for academic library Literary Studies reference collections and supplemental reading lists. It should be noted that "The Formulas of Popular Fiction: Elements of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, Religious and Mystery Novels" is also available in a Kindle edition ($16.49).

A Bouquet Of Love
Janice Thompson
c/o Baker Publishing Group
PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
9780800721558, $13.99, 352pp,

Synopsis: Cassia Pappas has found herself in a nearly impossible situation. She wants to spend her time immersed in her new job at a Galveston Island floral shop, arranging blooms and brightening occasions with her lovely creations. But her huge Greek family--especially her father--has other ideas. They've all relocated to Galveston to open up a new family restaurant location on the Strand--directly across the street from the Rossis' popular pizza place--and they want Cassia's full participation. To make matters worse, as Cassia is trying to develop a strong professional relationship with Galveston's premier wedding coordinator, Bella Neeley, her own father is intent on stealing all of the Rossi family's faithful customers. Not exactly the best way to get into Bella's good graces! Still, at least Alex, that hot delivery guy from the nursery, is always hanging around the flower shop . . .

Critique: "A Bouquet Of Love" is the final installment of Janice Thompson's popular 'Weddings by Design' series of romance novels and must be considered mandatory reading for her legions of fans. Solidly entertaining from first page to last, it should be noted that "A Bouquet Of Love" is also available in a Kindle edition ($4.99).

The Cheshire Cheese Cat
CarmenAgra Deedy & Randall Wright, authors
Barry Moser, illustrator
Peachtree Publishers, Ltd.
1700 Chattahoochee Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30318-2112
9781561458103, $8.95, 256p,

Synopsis: Skilley, an alley cat with an embarrassing secret, longs to escape his street-cat life. Tired of dodging fishwives' brooms and carriage wheels, he hopes to trade London's damp alleyways for the warmth of ye olde Cheshire Cheese Inn. He strikes a bargain with Pip, an erudite mouse: Skilley will protect the mice who live at the inn, and in turn, the mice will provide Skilley with the thing he desires most. But when Skilley and Pip are drawn into a crisis of monumental proportions involving a tyrannical cook, an unethical barmaid, and a malevolent tomcat, their new friendship is pushed to its limits. The escalating crisis threatens the peace not only of the Cheshire Cheese Inn but also the British Monarchy! Unbeknownst to Skilley and Pip, however, they have a secret ally: a famous author who scribbles away many an afternoon in ye olde Cheshire Cheese Inn...

Critique: The collaborative and original work of CarmenAgra Deedy & Randall Wright, "The Cheshire Cheese Cat" is destined to be a modern classic and have immense appeal for young readers ages ten and older. Wonderfully entertaining from first page to last, "The Cheshire Cheese Cat" is very highly recommended for personal reading lists, and will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community library General Fiction collections. It should be noted that "The Cheshire Cheese Cat" is available in both a hardcover edition (9781561455959, $16.95).

Bright Hopes
Annette Mahon
Five Star Books
10 Water Street, Suite 310, Waterville, ME 04901
9781432829506, $25.95, 310pp,

Synopsis: Loud explosions are ruining sleep for hundreds of Scottsdale residents in the hot July nights, including members of the St. Rose Quilting Bee. Things become serious when Maggie's police officer son is injured by one of the blasts. Then a church member dies when an explosion topples a roof onto the lounge chair where he lies sleeping. The women think bored teenagers may be playing with fireworks, but Edie is thinking terrorists. The others scoff, until a bomb at a power substation throws the entire neighborhood into darkness. Suddenly terrorism is a real possibility and national media descends on the neighborhood. But are there in fact terrorists or is there a murderer trying to offer a distraction to hide the crime?

Critique: The newest addition to the St. Rose Quilting Bee mystery series, "Bright Hopes" continues to document author Annette Mahon's considerable talents as a storyteller and reveals her master of the mystery genre. Imaginative twists and unexpected turns, memorable characters, and solidly entertaining from beginning to end, "Bright Hopes" is highly recommended for mystery fan reading lists and community library Mystery/Suspense collections.

Erika Raskin
Harvard Square Editions
2152 Beachwood Terrace, Hollywood, CA 90068
9780989596039, $19.95, 278pp,

Synopsis: Single-mom Kik Marcheson is doing the best she can. But effort doesn't seem to count for much in the parenting department. Her oldest daughter, Doone, is swimming in the deep end of adolescence. Casey, the middle-child slash good-girl is fraying along the edges and Tess, a quirky kindergartner, has installed an imaginary playmate in the family abode. When Doone falls in with the wrong crowd, a TV therapist offers to help. And things do start to look up. But only for a while.

Critique: Author Erika Raskin's ability to deftly blend humor and drama into a relentlessly entertaining novel that holds the reader's rapt attention from beginning to end without letup is truly impressive! Very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections, it should be noted that "Close" is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Margaret Lane

Richard's Bookshelf

Citizen: Your Role in the Alternative Kingdom
Rob Peabody
Monarch Books
Lion Hudson Plc., Oxford OX2 8DR, England
978057215420, $ 14.99, 192 Pages,

An Awakening to a New Perspective on Following Jesus, Rob Peabody invites his reader to join in an Awakening Movement of Christians around the world willing to live in complete abandonment to Jesus. This abandonment will require "a reimagining of your life, a repositioning of what you value, a re-identifying of who you are, and recentering on the true King of the universe Himself." This calls for radical living, honoring Jesus from Monday to Saturday in every area of life, not just for an hour on Sunday.

I appreciate Rob's keen articulate communication style, sharp focus, and descriptive word choices. He is well read, powerfully articulate; his resources, background study, and research are carefully documented. His illustrations, stories, and examples are relevant, and I enjoyed his subtle humor. I found the book to be a wakeup call to the dangers of: losing focus and falling into the trap of living a tradition functional Church life. I was reminded of the importance of being part of a unified community recognizing the impact of today globalization on our culture, traditions, and identity. He also challenges the reader to work together with what the Holy Spirit is already doing around you and to take risks to accomplish Kingdom purposes.

"Citizen" is a book for anyone experiencing "a Holy discontentment" longing to be transformed to permeate Jesus throughout their being; strongly recommended for "Vision-Casters and Kingdom Breakers," those seeking to "live out Jesus' way of life among people who are far from God who would never set foot in a traditional church."

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

Gifts of the Shovel: Lessons for Life and Business
Tom Massey and Baker Fore
Robert D. Reed Publishers
P. O. Box 1992, Bandon, Oregon 97411
9781934759929, $ 11.95, 176 pages,

Learning Successful Life Principles from the Bottom Up.

Jason Clark has everything going for him. As Chief Operating Officer with Lincoln Construction Company he has implemented the lessons for success in business which he learned from the "Shovel" as passed on by A. B. Lincoln, founder of the company. However, although successful in business, Jason is struggling with finding satisfaction and fulfillment in his personal life and relationships. A late night mystical encounter with an "older man" on a rooftop is the beginning of a number of similar chance meetings that introduce Jason to the gifts of the shovel.

The authors weave the elements of good story telling into this entertaining and informative novel. The plot is filled with conflict, resolution, unexpected twists, suspense, engaging dialog, and believable characters.

Tom Massey and Baker Fore skillfully combine their expertise and skills in life coaching, pain management and communication to encourage the reader to find happiness and well-being through the principle of servant leadership. "Gifts of the Shovel" incorporate the business principles from the book "The Shovel" and introduce four new life principles for success. "Gifts of the Shovel" is filled with motivational tips, relational practices, and insight into "Why we do what we do!"

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

Richard R. Blake, Senior Reviewer

Shelley's Bookshelf

The Spirit and the Skull
J.M. Hayes
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
9781464 202858 $14.95 U.S. / $16.95 CAN,

Mike (J.M.) Hayes is a product of Kansas, having studied Archaeology at Wichita State University. His previous books include THE GREY PILGRIM and the MAD DOG & ENGLISHMEN mysteries. He currently resides in Arizona.

Set in Paleolithic times, a tribe crossing Alaska to reach more temperate climates suffers the unthinkable...a murder. This is totally against the Earth Mother's laws, so the tribe Spirit Man, Raven, is tapped to solve the murder:

"The people believed murder - any killing outside of legitimate challenge - was the ultimate crime. The only exception was when the survival of the band required it. Sometimes the old, the ill, or the crippled had to walk away or be ejected so the rest might survive. That had happened in our band last winter, but no one had been forced. Pressured, yes, but they weren't murdered. They agreed to leave. Nothing was done secretly."

Raven is an aging man who questions his belief system. The murder and his own tribe force him into the role of detective, and latent skills he didn't know he possessed come to the forefront as he confronts the Earth Mother herself...within the person of Willow, Raven's dead wife reincarnated. The mission is to find the murderer, so the tribe can continue their journey and find a habitable home. Raven falls in love, confronts his doubts, and steps up to become a true leader of the he ensures their survival.

J.M. Hayes demonstrates rare storytelling abilities, meshed with his knowledge of Paleolithic man, to bring this dynamic tribe to life for the reader. Raven is a flawed man who finds meaning and illumination during his own trial by fire.

Shelley Glodowski
Senior Reviewer

Shirley's Bookshelf

The Bully Barn
Robert Gioia
Amazon Digital Publishing
BOO175656 45pgs $1.99 Kindle,

This is one adorable read. We meet, Marty, a very sweet but sad mouse, who has no family and no friends. Marty lives in the barn, but all the animals pick on him, call him names and daily make his life miserable. Marty is very sad.

In this read children will be taken right into the heart of a animal who is constantly bullied and beaten down, one who has few friends and nothing much to look forward to in his life. They will feel his pain and sorrow. It has quite a sad beginning, but as the story continues we find through happenings that things turn around for Marty and make a difference in all the animals.

This story brings front and center the horror of being bullied and the bullies themselves. It shows, I feel the total lack of reasoning that a Bully has. It also shows how standing together against such Bullies can change the circumstances for all. I really liked this read and feel the timing is perfect for this story to be shared with children all over the world. Well done, great illustrations, and recommended. I received a free copy of this book for an honest review.

Anthony Ant Goes to Franch
Julie Bettendorf
Outskirts Press, Inc.
10940 South Parker Road, #515, Parker, CO 80134
9781478738862, $19.95, 32 pgs,

In this delightful tale we meet, Anthony Ant, who is about to travel to France, and take us with him. He is a fun loving little Ant who will help make your trip fun as well. As we arrive we learn what the capital, learn of the Eiffel Tower, go to a Museum and many other places. Each place we stop at is brought to life with wonderful illustrations The illustrations in this book are big and very lifelike. The colors are bright and truly bring the pictures to life. This is a great children's book where they will learn about France without even know they are doing it. I'm happy I received this book for an honest review. Well done, your child and yourself will enjoy it.

Seedlings Fables from the Forest
C D Baker
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781484813898, $5.72, 58 pgs,

I want to say right up front that I truly enjoyed this read. Have you ever wondered through the forest and stood in amazement at the majesty of the mighty trees that surrounded you? Have you ever wondered if they have feelings or any kind of interaction among themselves? Sounds strange? Maybe, maybe not.

In this delightful tale you will be part of the family of trees, or at least a privileged guest. You will share their fear, their dreams, their lives, and their interaction one with another.

Quite a journey to go on, as they at times struggle and at other times rejoice. I loved the beautiful pictures as well, and having a Bible verse at each ending was perfect. This is a great learning book for young and old, and one that should make us all stop and think about the wonders of nature and the world we live in. I highly recommend this book for young and old and I am very thankful that I received it for an honest review. Very well done.

Lady Emma In Her Land of Wonder
Martha M. Harrison
Incanto Press
97819412117047, $12.95, 24 pgs,

This is a very light hearted read, yet is filled with wisdom. We meet Lady Emma, a young lady who from her youth learns that she can be independent, working through challenges, mishaps, and basically what life throws at us all, and stand a winner without the help of anyone else, other than their encouragement.

This is a good book teaching that we can stand alone and achieve, yet letting young ladies know that others are there is they need encouragement. The illustrations are very nice, drawing one in to the storyline. A very encouraging read.

Seedlings Fables From the Forest
CD Baker
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781484813898, $5.98, 58 pgs,

I absolutely love the Seedlings books, they are packed full of enjoyment and learning, and this one was no different. Inside this read we meet several trees who are rich with wisdom as different stories unfold. They are told in a beautiful warm and loving ways, teaching on being thankful, forgiving, kindness and other areas. The illustrations are wonderful as well and the Scripture verses just put the right cap on everything. I also love the questions at the end of each story, this will help children to understand and interact with what they were reading, or being read to them. I highly recommend these books, they are top of the notch, wonderful reads.

Talking With Trees What If?
Colleen Doyle Bryant
Love Well Press
9781500830441, $8.99,

In this tale we meet a young boy and his sister who are in the forest under some trees. While climbing the tree the boy gets ready to jump but hears a voice and realizes the tree is talking with him. Surprised both the boy and girl begin to talk with the tree who gives them some good wisdom, asking them 'what if' just when the boy is about to jump down, and he is high enough to get hurt. The tree talks to them about the importance of taking a moment before actions and asking yourself, what if I do this, what will happen? This is a great tale with colorful illustrations that help to bring the story alive. It is a wonderful teaching tale, helping young ones to stop and think before acting. I recommend it Great read, great illustrations, great lesson.

Anthony Ant Goes To France
Julie Bettendorf
Outskirts Press
10940 South Parker Road, #515, Parker, CO 80134
9781478738862, $12.95, 32 pgs,

In this delightful tale we meet, Anthony Ant, who is about to travel to France, and take us with him. He is a fun loving little Ant who will help make your trip fun as well. As we arrive we learn what the capital of France is, learn of the Eiffel Tower, go to a Museum and many other places. Each place we stop at is brought to life with wonderful illustrations The illustrations in this book are big and very lifelike. The colors are bright and truly bring the pictures to life in the mind's eye. This is a great children's book where they will learn about France without even knowing they are doing it. I'm happy I received this book for an honest review. Well done, your child and yourself will enjoy it.

Inca's Death Cave
Bradford G. Wheler
9780982253861, $17.97, 394pgs,

It can always be a little difficult when you are reviewing a book such as 'Inca's Death Cave' because it includes so much. This book takes you on a journey with a University professor, and his star student as they are hired to solve a mystery in a strange and foreign land. As you travel with them to a distant land they will encounter many challenges that they face and must overcome, and dangers they never saw coming. What should have been an interesting learning and discovering experience, soon becomes a mystery that must be solved without losing lives.

The author does a good job in character development and in moving the story along at a good pace. Questions come with few answers, and there is an increasing drive to get to the finish. Interesting read that will keep your attention.

Laughing in the Rain
Hillary Saffran
Balboa Press
c/o Hay House
1163 Liberty Drive Bloomington In 47403
9781452587349, $19.95, 176 pgs,

Isn't it true that ll of us live such busy lives that half the time we don't know if we are coming or going. We are stressed in more areas than we care to even think about. Our relationships, our health, and our general well-being is shattered daily, and we just don't know how to help ourselves. Well take heart for help is on the way.

In this read, "Laughing in the Rain," author Hillary Saffran takes you right to the heart of so many stressful situations that we experience daily, and gently like a flowing river shows us how we need to allow our self to bath in laughter and not look at the situations as overbearing. She covers so many areas that we all deal with such as, Parenting, Health, even the weather, and yes the weather can definitely bring on stress. After this read you'll look at situations with a new light. It's an uplifting, helpful read that is sure to be a blessing to all that put into practice the suggestions she gives. Well done. I received a free copy of this book for an honest review.

Shirley Priscilla Johnson
Senior Reviewer

Taylor's Bookshelf

American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1970s
Jason Sacks & Keith Dallas
TwoMorrows Publishing
10407 Bedfordtown Drive, Raleigh, NC 27614
9781605490564, $41.95, 240pp,

Synopsis: With this volume covering the decade of the 1970s, "The American Comic Book Chronicles" continues its ambitious series of full-color hardcovers, where Jason Sacks and Keith Dallas (two of TwoMorrows Publishing's top authors) meticulous cover all the pivotal moments and behind-the-scenes details of the emerging Bronze Age of comics! Comic fans will get a year-by-year account of the most significant publications, notable creators, and impactful trends, including: the dawn of relevance with Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' Green Lantern! Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga! Revisions to the Comics Code that opens the floodgates for monsters and the supernatural! Jenette Kahn's arrival at DC and the subsequent DC Implosion! The coming of Jim Shooter and the Direct Market! Taken together, American Comic Book Chronicles forms a cohesive, linear overview of the entire landscape of comics history, sure to be an invaluable resource for any and all comic book enthusiast!

Critique: Simply stated, the "American Comic Book Chronicles" is an outstanding history of the development of comic books and the comic book culture that they fostered. "American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1970s" is beautifully illustrated in full color throughout while providing an informed and informative commentary on the authors, illustrators, and publishers that were involved in a kind of second renaissance of the comic book in America. While highly recommended for both community and academic library collections, no dedicated comic book collector will want to be without their own copy of "American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1970s". It should be noted that "American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1970s" is also available in a digital edition ($13.95).

The Hand of the Small-Town Builder
W. Tad Pfeffer
David R. Godine, Publisher
PO Box 450, Jaffrey, NH 03452
9781567923292, $40.00, 256pp,

Synopsis: Northern New England in the late nineteenth century saw an explosion of what we now call "new home construction." The railroads had opened up the mountains to tourists while steamers regularly plied the coast. The concept of a paid summer vacation was gaining traction, and families, both rich and poor, were eager to rusticate in small villages where, close to nature, they would enjoy the blessings of a salubrious climate. Middle-class families could afford to build homes, and since their budgets precluded "name" architects, the need was answered by native builders, talented craftsmen familiar with the local resources who could draw the basic lines, muster and supervise a building crew, and meet the needs of clients. These weren't the fancy summer "cottages" of Newport or Bar Harbor, but simple structures erected on modest budgets for comfortable summer living. Many were, and still appear, very beautiful, and the best examples are shown in this striking survey of houses built by self-taught architects whose work survives as testaments to their skill.

The men behind the developments were far more than builders; they acted as land speculators, developers, and architects. They ran the typical three-man crews, house-sat over the winter, and were the liaisons with the "summer people" who would arrive in June and leave in early September. The houses they built were sensitive to the local topography and connected to the landscape as masterpieces of vernacular design. From the seacoast and islands of Maine to the hill towns, lakes, and rivers of Vermont and New Hampshire, Pfeffer has thoroughly researched and thoughtfully photographed the best examples in "The Hand of the Small-Town Builder: Summer Homes in Northern New England, 1876-1930". His text is rich with history and commentary. Far more than a pretty picture book, "The Hand of the Small-Town Builder: Summer Homes in Northern New England, 1876-1930" is a scholarly and richly documented survey of master craftsmen whose subtle but powerful influence on the northern New England landscape is poignantly recorded in these pages.

Critique: Impressive, informative, extraordinary, beautifully imaged, and exceptionally well written, "The Hand of the Small-Town Builder: Summer Homes in Northern New England, 1876-1930" is a seminal work of remarkable and detailed scholarship. Enhanced with six pages of Notes and a two-page Selected Bibliography, "The Hand of the Small-Town Builder: Summer Homes in Northern New England, 1876-1930" is an especially recommended addition for academic library American Architectural History collections and supplemental reading lists.

Ireland: One Island, No Borders
Elizabeth Billups & Gerry Adams
George F. Thompson Publishing
c/o International Publishers Marketing
22841 Quicksilver Drive, Dulles, VA 20166
9781938086144, $45.00, 196 pages,

Synopsis: Ireland is a place of mystical, enduring appeal for many, including the millions of Americans who claim its heritage over one-sixth the current US population, according to the last census. "Ireland: One Island, No Borders" is a unique collaboration between Gerry Adams, the renowned leader of Sinn Fein, and Elizabeth Billups, a Santa Fe-based photographer and activist, that reveals an Ireland not always seen in guidebooks, as well as a side of Adams not usually captured in the news. "Ireland: One Island, No Borders" presents the country as seen through the eyes of one of its most famous and passionate sons, and an equally passionate American of Irish ancestry. Adams shares personal anecdotes and family stories along with relevant historical details, legends, and myths, complemented by Elizabeth Billups photographs of their favorite places throughout the country, and her impressions culled from many visits. Although he does not focus on politics, Gerry Adams s discussion of his participation in the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement adds an important dimension to the text. While there have been a number of illustrated books on Ireland, what makes "Ireland: One Island, No Borders" so unique is the fact that Gerry Adams has written over a dozen titles, but never one on Ireland itself and his deep love for his country, as opposed to his political vision for its future.

Critique: Breathtakingly beautiful photography throughout truly enhances an deftly written, informed and informative text. The result is an armchair traveler's delight -- and one that will make an enduringly popular and highly recommended addition to personal and community library collections.

By The Red Glare
John Mark Sibley-Jones
University of South Carolina Press
718 Devine Street, Columbia, SC 29208
9781611173994, $29.95, 248pp,

Synopsis: Fear and brutality grip Columbia, South Carolina, in the harsh winter of 1865 as General William Tecumseh Sherman continues his fiery march to the sea and advances on the capital city where secession began. "By the Red Glare" takes us into the lives of representative citizens--black and white, men and women, Confederates and Unionists, civilians and combatants, freed and shackled, sane and insane--on the eve of historic destruction.

The Columbia hospital is overcrowded with wounded soldiers from both sides. As word of Sherman's advance spreads, old animosities threaten an outbreak of violence in this place of healing. Less than two miles from the hospital stands the Lunatic Asylum, whose yard is occupied by more than twelve hundred federal prisoners guarded by old men and boys too young to join the Confederate army. The most violent madman in the asylum hatches an escape plan that requires the aid of prisoners who, knowing they cannot trust him, nevertheless will risk their lives to gain freedom. In the heart of the city, Confederate leaders gather around a table in the home of General James Chesnut to study a tattered map and plan a battle strategy, only to stare at one another in disbelief as the first sound of cannon fire announces the imminent arrival of Sherman's troops.

"By The Red Glare" riveting story of the collapse of the Confederacy includes a cast of memorable characters: General Wade Hampton, stoic but fierce in his rage; Mary Boykin Chesnut, brilliant but suffering from bipolar disorder, who records the events of the war with eerie devotion; Louisa Cheves McCord, who maintains that slavery is God's will and who promises to do all in her power to abet the war that took the life of her only son; a slave who vows to kill the man who beat him mercilessly at the whipping post in the town center; two sworn-enemy soldiers who must assist each other in their jaunts to the brothel district at the city's edge; and Joseph Crawford, the hospital steward troubled by his own shifting allegiances as he wonders whether these are the end of days.

Critique: A brilliantly written novel that pays meticulous attention to historical detail, "By The Red Glare" is a compelling read from beginning to end. "By The Red Glare" is all the more impressive as it is the debut novel of author John Mark Sibley-Jones. An extraordinary work of enduring literary merit, "By The Red Glare" is very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library collections. It should be noted that "By The Red Glare" is also available in a Kindle edition ($10.09).

Book of Lies
Richard Metzger, editor
The Disinformation Company
220 East 23rd Street, Suite 405, New York, NY 10010-4659
Red Wheel/Weiser/Conari (distributor)
65 Parker Street, Suite 7, Newburyport, MA 01950
9781938875106, $21.95, 352pp,

Synopsis: Compiled and edited by Richard Metzger, "Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult" showcases a veritable cabal of occultists, esoteric scholars, and free thinkers in a compendium of the occult that includes entries on topics as diverse and dangerous as Aleister Crowley, secret societies, psychedelics, and magick in theory and practice. The result is an alchemical formula that may well rip a hole in the fabric of your reality. Featured is Mark Pesce, author of "The Playful World", comparing computer programming and spellcasting; Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, the father of Industrial Music and Rave culture, explaining how samples in a rave song can have magical consequences; William Burroughs and the occult; Nevill Drury, Australia's most noted occult writer, telling of Dion Fortune, Austin Spare, and Rosaleen Norton; Donald Tyson's "The Enochian Apocalypse Working" asking if the seeds of the end of the world sown in the Elizabethan era; a biographical essay on Marjorie Cameron, the fascinating character from Los Angeles' occult and beatnik scene; Hitler and the occult, and much, much more.

Critique: Originally published in 2003 when it quickly become an occult favorite for students of metaphysics and magic, this new edition will be welcome and is even more 'reader friendly' with a new formatting. Very highly recommended for personal, community, and academic library collections, it should be noted that "Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult" is also available in a Kindle edition ($10.99).

The Ambassadors
George Lerner
Pegasus Books
80 Broad Street, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10004
9781605986203, $24.95, 352pp,

Synopsis: Although a work of fiction, "The Ambassadors" is set against the Rwandan civil war and an provides a memorable portrait of a family at odds within the context of that war's brutality. "The Ambassadors takes its reader on an unforgettable journey through the Congo, Germany, and Brooklyn as it examines one family's passage through genocide and grief. Jacob Furman has always chosen his call to duty over his wife, Susanna, and their son, Shalom. When he's deployed to the Congo as a Mossad operative to help the Tutsis in their fight against the Hutus, Susanna and Shalom are once again left to contemplate his absence. Susanna, a Holocaust survivor and an esteemed linguistics scholar, buries herself in work as she searches for the biological roots of human language, while Shalom, overwhelmed by the accomplishments of his parents, struggles in search of his identity. After years apart, a fragile reunion borne out of illness sparks a sense of family they never had before, connecting the three in a web of emotion not just to one another, but to the political events that have defined our century.

Critique: An amazing and impressive debut for author George Lerner, "The Ambassadors" is a riveting read from beginning to end and one of those all too infrequent novels that linger in the mind long after they are finished and set back upon the shelf. "The Ambassadors" is very highly recommended for both personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections. It should be noted that "The Ambassadors" is also available in a Kindle edition ($11.99).

Tai Chi Sword Classical Yang Style
Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming
YMAA Publications
PO Box 480, Wolfeboro, NH 03894-0480
9781594392856, $26.95, 276pp,

Synopsis: Martial arts students can achieve the highest level of tai chi practice by including tai chi sword in their training regimen once they have attained proficiency in the bare hand form and have gained listening and sensing skills from pushing hands. The Tai Chi sword will help control qi, refine tai chi skills, self mastery, strengthen and relax the body, calm and focus the mind, improve balance, and develop proper tai chi breathing.. "Tai Chi Sword Classical Yang Style: The Complete Form, Qigong, And Applications" provides a solid and practical approach to learning tai chi sword accurately and quickly and is enhanced with the inclusion of more than 500 photographs with motion arrows! Featured are an historical overview of tai chi sword; fundamentals (including hand forms and footwork), generating power with the sword, 12 tai chi sword breathing exercises, 30 key tai chi sword techniques with applications, 12 fundamental tai chi sword solo drills, a complete 54-movement Yang Tai Chi Sword sequence, 48 martial applications from the tai chi sword sequence, and 10 tai chi sword 2-person matching drills.

Critique: Now in newly updated and revised edition "Tai Chi Sword Classical Yang Style: The Complete Form, Qigong, And Applications" is an essential, thoroughly 'user friendly', core addition to personal, professional, dojo, and academic library Martial Arts instructional reference collections.

Lost Republic
Paul B. Thompson
c/o Enslow Publishers, Inc.
PO Box 398, Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922-0398
9781623240004, $19.95, 256pp,

Synopsis: It all began on a sunlit day in Cherbourg, France. In 2055, the future has arrived and the past is departing as the last steamship in the world prepares to cross the Atlantic on its final voyage. Alongside, a great, glittering solar powered vessel sails, too - a beautiful ship filled with beautiful people. On board the steamer are eight teens - some dreamers, some desperate - for whom the last voyage of the S.S. SIR GUY CARLTON is only a step on a longer journey. Soon the ship is far out at sea and every layer of modern technology fails. Each teen must rely on their own special skills to survive - but where? What is the strange island in the Atlantic, where no island exists? Who are the men, speaking in an ancient tongue, who capture the survivors of the stricken ship? With every breath a new mystery appears, and the desperate dreamers of the CARLTON must find a way to escape the Lost Republic.

Critique: An impressive writer of considerable imagination and storytelling skill, Paul Thompson's "Lost Republic" is a riveting novel from beginning to end. Highly recommended for young readers ages 11 and older, "Lost Republic" will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to school and community library collections. It should be noted that "Lost Republic" is also available in a Kindle edition ($8.49).

Blood, Sweat and Tears
Tom Clonan
Liberties Press
c/o International Publishers Marketing
22841 Quicksilver Drive, Dulles, VA 20166
9781907593550, $23.95, 256pp,

Synopsis: The Irish Army has been on active duty in Lebanon on an almost continuous basis since the mid-1970s. Over forty years, 40,000 soldiers have served tours of duty in Lebanon. Forty-seven Irish soldiers died there and many hundreds more have suffered serious physical and psychological injuries in Lebanon. Of the tens of thousands of Irish troops who served in Lebanon, all were touched in one way or another by the people of Lebanon and Israel. "Blood, Sweat and Tears: An Irish Soldier's Story of Love and Loss" tells the true story of the Irish at war. It chronicles a tour of duty in Lebanon from 1995 to 1996, culminating in the massacre of 118 innocent men, women and children in the village of Qana, South Lebanon, on 18 April 1996. For the first time, the experiences of Irish troops are told in the vernacular of the Irish soldier, warts and all. "Blood, Sweat and Tears: An Irish Soldier's Story of Love and Loss" is an unvarnished account of loss of innocence on the part of one young officer; it is also a story which deals with personal loss, loneliness and the psychological trauma of military service in a time of war. As the narrator comes to terms with the slaughter of innocents around him, he will ultimately be confronted with the loss of those closest to him at home in Ireland.

Critique: Author Tom Clonan writes with vivid accuracy as a former Irish Army Officer (1989 to 2000) who helped expose bullying and sexual harassment within the army. As informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Blood, Sweat and Tears: An Irish Soldier's Story of Love and Loss" is an impressively written and detailed account that is very strongly recommended as an addition to community and academic library 20th Century Irish Military History and 20th Century Middle East Studies reference collections and supplemental reading lists. It should be noted that "Blood, Sweat and Tears: An Irish Soldier's Story of Love and Loss" is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Bury St Edmunds and the Norman Conquest
Tom License, editor
Boydell Press
c/o Boydell & Brewer Inc
668 Mount Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620-2731
9781843839316, $99.00, 280pp,

Synopsis: The abbey of Bury St Edmunds preserves the cult and memory of the last East Anglian king, in the richness of its archives, and not least in its role as a mediator of medical texts and studies. All these aspects, and more, are amply illustrated in this collection, by specialists in their respective fields. "Bury St Edmunds and the Norman Conquest" places Abbot Baldwin and his abbey squarely in the forefront of eleventh-century politics and society." Professor Ann Williams. The abbey of Bury St Edmunds, by 1100, was an international centre of learning, outstanding for its culting of St Edmund, England's patron saint, who was known through France and Italy as a miracle worker principally, but also as a survivor, who had resisted the Vikings and the invading king Swein and gained strength after 1066. Here we journey into the concerns of his community as it negotiated survival in the Anglo-Norman empire, examining, on the one hand, the roles of leading monks, such as the French physician-abbot Baldwin, and, on the other, the part played by ordinary women of the vill. The abbey of Bury provides an exceptionally rich archive, including annals, historical texts, wills, charters, and medical recipes. The chapters in this volume, written by leading experts, present differing perspectives on Bury's responses to conquest; reflecting the interests of the monks, they cover literature, music, medicine, paleography, and the history of the region in its European context.

Critique: Expertly compiled by Tom Licence (Senior Lecturer in Medieval History and Director of the Centre of East Anglian Studies at the University of East Anglia), "Bury St Edmunds and the Norman Conquest" is an anthology of twelve original and seminal articles exemplifying outstanding scholarship. Of special special note is the opening article 'The Abbey and the Norman Conquest: An Unusual Case?' by David Bates. Enhanced with the inclusion of a list of illustrations, a list of music examples, a list of contributors, and a list of abbreviations, "Bury St Edmunds and the Norman Conquest" is a critically important addition to academic library British History reference collections and supplemental reading lists.

Hunter's Witness: Trial By Terrorism
J. C. Hager
Greenstone Publishing
7253 Graal Shores, Rapid River, MI 49878
9780979754678, $14.95, 265pp,

Synopsis: "Hunter's Witness" is novel of terrorism, courageous actions, Federal law and of self preservation set in Michigan's Lower and Upper Peninsula. Islamic terrorists, a diabolical plan, deadly radiation, the beautiful daughter of a Russian gangster, all collide outside a packed stadium, raucous with cheering fans. Complex actions combine terrorists, government manipulation, multiple attacks on the witnesses and rough justice? Upper Peninsula style. Take your pick of death and drama: slow by radiation, intimate as a knife in the back from a camouflaged stalker, or sudden with the crack of high-powered firearms. The killings play against the slow grinding gears of Federal laws and politics.

Critique: The fourth novel the 'Matt Hunter' series, "Hunter's Witness: Trial By Terrorism continues to document author J. C. Hager's superb storytelling style in a complex plot that could be the stuff of tomorrow's headlines. Deftly written surprise twists and unexpected turns all leading to a climactic resolution making "Hunter's Witness: Trial By Terrorism" a highly recommended addition to personal reading lists and community library collections. For those to whom "Hunter's Witness: Trial By Terrorism" is their introduction to J. C. Hager, the would be well advised to also avail themselves of the other three titles in this outstanding series: "Hunter's Escape" (9780979754630, $14.95 PB, $2.99 Kindle); "Hunter's Secret" (9780979754661, $14.95 PB, $2.99 Kindle); and "Hunter's Choice" (9780979754654, $15.95, $2.99 Kindle). It should be noted that "Hunter's Witness: Trial By Terrorism", like the previous three Matt Hunter titles is also available in a Kindle edition ($4.95).

John Taylor

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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