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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 17, Number 10 October 2018 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

Cowper's Bookshelf Donovan's Bookshelf Dunford's Bookshelf
Gary's Bookshelf Gorden's Bookshelf Greenspan's Bookshelf
Helen's Bookshelf Lorraine's Bookshelf Micah's Bookshelf
Richard's Bookshelf Taylor's Bookshelf Theodore's Bookshelf
Vogel's Bookshelf    

Cowper's Bookshelf

The Woman Who Smashed Codes
Jason Fagone
Dey St.
c/o William Morrow & Company
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
9780062430519 $16.99 pbk. / $11.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Joining the ranks of Hidden Figures and In the Garden of Beasts, the incredible true story of the greatest codebreaking duo that ever lived, an American woman and her husband who invented the modern science of cryptology together and used it to confront the evils of their time, solving puzzles that unmasked Nazi spies and helped win World War II.

In 1916, at the height of World War I, brilliant Shakespeare expert Elizebeth Smith went to work for an eccentric tycoon on his estate outside Chicago. The tycoon had close ties to the U.S. government, and he soon asked Elizebeth to apply her language skills to an exciting new venture: code-breaking. There she met the man who would become her husband, groundbreaking cryptologist William Friedman. Though she and Friedman are in many ways the "Adam and Eve" of the NSA, Elizebeth's story, incredibly, has never been told.

In The Woman Who Smashed Codes, Jason Fagone chronicles the life of this extraordinary woman, who played an integral role in our nation's history for forty years. After World War I, Smith used her talents to catch gangsters and smugglers during Prohibition, then accepted a covert mission to discover and expose Nazi spy rings that were spreading like wildfire across South America, advancing ever closer to the United States. As World War II raged, Elizebeth fought a highly classified battle of wits against Hitler's Reich, cracking multiple versions of the Enigma machine used by German spies. Meanwhile, inside an Army vault in Washington, William worked furiously to break Purple, the Japanese version of Enigma - and eventually succeeded, at a terrible cost to his personal life.

Fagone unveils America's code-breaking history through the prism of Smith's life, bringing into focus the unforgettable events and colorful personalities that would help shape modern intelligence. Blending the lively pace and compelling detail that are the hallmarks of Erik Larson's bestsellers with the atmosphere and intensity of The Imitation Game, The Woman Who Smashed Codes is page-turning popular history at its finest.

Critique: Journalist Jason Fagone presents The Woman Who Smashed Codes, an in-depth biography of Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892-1980), an American pioneer in cryptography. She used her brilliance to hunt Nazi spies, seize enemy secrets during both world wars, and help found a new scientific discipline. The Woman Who Smashed Codes is utterly fascinating from cover to cover, highly recommended for both personal and public library biography collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that The Woman Who Smashed Codes is also available in a Kindle edition ($11.99).

How to Be Happy at Work
Annie McKee
Harvard Business Review Press
9781633696808 $16.00 pbk / $9.45 Kindle

Synopsis: "I'm working harder than I ever have, and I don't know if it's worth it anymore." If you're a manager or leader, these words have probably run through your mind. So many of us are feeling fed up, burned out, and unhappy at work: the constant pressure and stress, the unending changes, the politics - people feel as though they can't give much more, and performance is suffering.

But it's work, after all, right? Should we even expect to be fulfilled and happy at work?

Yes, we should, says Annie McKee, coauthor of the bestselling Primal Leadership. In her new transformative book, she makes the most compelling case yet that happiness?and the full engagement that comes with it?is more important than ever in today's workplace, and she sheds new light on the powerful relationship of happiness to individual, team, and organizational success.

Based on extensive research and decades of experience with leaders, this book reveals that people must have three essential elements in order to be happy at work:

A sense of purpose and the chance to contribute to something bigger than themselves
A vision that is powerful and personal, creating a real sense of hope
Resonant, friendly relationships

With vivid and moving real-life stories, the book shows how leaders can use these powerful pillars to create and sustain happiness even when they're under pressure. By emphasizing purpose, hope, and friendships they can also ensure a healthy, positive climate for their teams and throughout the organization.

How to Be Happy at Work deepens our understanding of what it means to be truly fulfilled and effective at work and provides clear, practical advice and instruction for how to get there - no matter what job you have.

Critique: Filled cover to cover with true-life stories and candid, useful advice, "How to Be Happy at Work: The Power of Purpose, Hope, and Friendships" lives up to its title with tips, tricks, and techniques for fostering a positive climate on the job for oneself, one's team, and throughout the company. "Overwork is not a good coping mechanism for stress. It makes things worse as we ignore our relationships, cut out fun, and eat and sleep poorly. Working like this doesn't help us get more done; it does just the opposite. We are too tired and worn-out to do our jobs well." How to Be Happy at Work is a "must-read" for career professionals in all walks of life, highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that How to Be Happy at Work is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.45).

The Woman's Book of Hope
Eileen Campbell
Conari Press
c/o Red Wheel/Weiser
65 Parker Street, Suite 7, Newburyport, MA 01950-4600
9781573246996, $16.95, PB, 272pp,

We live in badly troubled times where our faith in political, cultural, economic, and societal norms has been very badly damaged -- especially in reference to women's lives. "The Woman's Book of Hope: Meditations for Passion, Power, and Promise" is a book of daily meditations designed by Eileen Campbell to help restore a sense of hopefulness and purpose.

"The Woman's Book of Hope" is a volume specifically intended for women who feel overwhelmed and underappreciated. It is the perfect antidote to despair because it teaches women to practice hope -- to take concrete steps in the face of pain and despair and to make their lives happier.

"The Woman's Book of Hope" includes stories of those who have triumphed over adversity and have been sustained by hope, women such as Anne Frank, Grace Lee Boggs, Ann Davison, Marie Curie, Artemisia Gentileschi, Hildegard of Bingen, and Xiaolu Guo. Also included are the experiences of those who have been abused or kidnaped (Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, and Natascha Kampusch), as well as the stories of refugees who have made new lives for themselves, escaping from Uganda, Iran, and Syria.

Critique: Practical, friendly, and helpful, "The Woman's Book of Hope: Meditations for Passion, Power, and Promise" will prove to be immediately and enduringly appreciated by women (and men!) needing antidotes to the depressing news that assaults us all every day, the stresses and strains that are an unavoidable condition of modern life. While very highly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Woman's Book of Hope" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.10).

Sanchita Karma and Other Tales of Ethics and Choice from India
K. V. Dominic
Modern History Press
c/o Loving Healing Press
5145 Pontiac Trail, Ann Arbor, MI 48105
9781615993949, $25.95, HC, 146pp,

Synopsis: K.V. Dominic is one of India's leading contemporary English poets. In "Sanchita Karma and Other Tales of Ethics and Choice from India" he takes his readers on a trip to India in an anthology of his original short stories.

Dominic's love for his native country is exposed through stories that cover a range of humanistic concerns, including women's empowerment, the natural environment, government and corruption, the education system, crime, the power of compassion and the question of how much influence we have in our own destinies.

Critique: Each of these twenty carefully crafted and thoroughly engaging short stories is a true literary gem. Of special note is the unusual step of including four reviews collected in a section called 'Commentary and Criticism'. While very highly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Sanchita Karma and Other Tales of Ethics and Choice from India" is also available in a paperback edition (9781615993932, $15.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.03).

Mary Cowper

Donovan's Bookshelf

God Answers Science
Gary Driver
Sonrise Press
9780985278359, $17.99 paper, $7.99 ebook

God Answers Science maintains that in order to understand the mysteries of the natural universe, science and not religion must be the key; and it provides a spiritual reflection on cosmological principles that will require a Christian reader's attention: "Many have limited themselves by looking only to science or religion. Ironically enough for both camps, it is the Bible that points us in the right direction. It instructs us to "lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things" (Isaiah 40:26a). Star-gazing will not yield answers; rather, the scripture instructs us to investigate with vigor, through the discipline of science."

The discussion begins by pointing out that scientific discoveries, from the Higgs field to plate tectonics, are all phenomena found in the Bible, setting the stage for a Christian view of the universe which is firmly rooted in scriptural references.

The analytical chapters that follow are contingent on two things: a belief in and respect for the Bible, and an interest in the scriptural foundations of scientific discoveries. Take, for example, dark matter. Gary Driver summarizes the latest research surrounding dark matter, and then adds Biblical inspection and insights to the scientific process: "Did the Creator leave any clues about this enormous component of the universe? The mysteries of science have been extracted from nature at a high price, owing to the time and labor of thousands of scientists over several centuries. This knowledge is not found on the surface; it must be relentlessly sought, even against the toughest odds. In the same vein, the predictions made by the Creator are not on the surface and certainly are not conveniently enumerated in a sequential or chronological order in the Bible. These metaphors are peppered throughout, hidden until their revelation is possible."

From possible Creator logic in extinction processes ("The Creator controls the entire ecosystem and must have decided once again to institute his own life reset button. One logical question: Could humans live with huge, carnivorous dinosaurs when humans would obviously be prey? Both could not live together on the planet, so the Creator removed one to establish the other.") to overall social insights that indicate a Creator's hand in matters ("Like Solomon, the wise of this world wrestle with why and how the Creator established his world, and why and how he included entropy as a part of it. Contrary to its tendency toward disorder, the Creator established entropy for the economic benefit of society first and then for the individual who is a part of society. What a strange method to sustain life for humans. It is difficult to find any occupation that is not established to overcome some form of entropy, either directly or indirectly."), Driver documents evidence of God's hand in human affairs and in scientific processes.

Christian readers who want a Biblically-supported worldview in a synthesis that embraces scientific fact and Bible teachings alike will find God Answers Science a much better balanced and complimentary contrast than the usual pro/anti God stances of other books, and will find this offers much food for thought over evidence supporting God's hand in scientific discoveries and theories.

The Search for Rasha
Paul B. Skousen
Izzard Ink Publishing
eBook: 9781642280081, $ 9.99
Paperback: 9781642280098, $22.95
Hardback: 9781642280104, $27.95

The Search for Rasha is Book 3 of The Bassam Saga and requires little prior familiarity with others in the series in order to prove absorbing for newcomers. Its audience will include anyone interested in historical fiction and a tale that embraces the dilemma of a kidnapped young woman, features an Ancient Egyptian setting, and examines love held hostage.

Events don't entirely take place in the past, however: a series of lovely maps precedes the story of an old museum caretaker who is struggling with advanced technology as he investigates the treasure of a hidden scroll in a sarcophagus that tells the first-person story of Rasha: "My dearest Bassam, come for me, I am taken away to a dark place. It is the end of my life. I have nothing but this script to console - and my thoughts of you. If these words find you when it is too late, let them comfort you for your life without me at your side. - Forever yours, Rasha."

From a ransom scheme that carries Rasha far from her roots to old Egyptian scenes that come to life under Paul B. Skousen's powerfully descriptive pen and bring alive countryside and hearth alike ("Cala waited in a chair, her hands folded neatly with pretended interest as the men's conversation changed from a retelling of personal histories to an in-depth comparison of genealogies. An hour later they were seated for dinner. Hot barley bread and a dipping oil with ground sesame and spices, slender strips of roasted

chicken on rice, roasted papyrus tubers, with melons and dates to round out the modest feast. The smell was delicious."), readers can anticipate a journey that captures the people and atmosphere of the times.

After noting these basic strengths, it's also important to observe that The Search for Rasha is a multifaceted production that embraces both Rasha's perceptions of her changing world and the efforts of those around her. These different viewpoints create a vivid saga of tribal leaders and jungle encounters with cats and expeditions via camel that dose impressions with unexpected moments of humor ("An hour later we passed the bleached bones of a camel skeleton poking from a sand drift. I pointed them out to my stubborn camel. "One more rebellion like that," I warned him, "and I'll leave you tethered to the bones of your cousin and pick another for a ride."). Paul B. Skousen's close attention to tension and characterization nicely compliment the historical and cultural details of Rasha's life.

The result is a journey set against the pyramids and setting sun of Egypt, steeped in the countryside's villages, tribes, and Rasha's efforts. It's compelling reading for any enthusiast of historical novels that embrace not only mystery and romance, but tragedy and courage.

More vivid than most historical novels set in Egypt, Skousen's attention to deep detail in describing not only events but Rasha's times makes The Search for Rasha a compelling recommendation that's hard to put down.

My Afrikah Hair
Melanie L. Houston
Alabastar Box Media Group
978097441607, $29.95

My Afrikah Hair is a picture book that features lovely watercolors by Bahamian native Philece Roberts to compliment the theme of hair and its various incarnations. It is especially recommended as an uplifting story to be given or read aloud to young children frustrated by any perceived imperfection in their own hair and appearance.

It offers more than the usual celebration of individuality and self, mixing in an appreciation for African roots with an acknowledgment of how these roots permeate American culture as it opens with a poem ("It's mine to twine/in fiber fine,/our braids now vanity fair.") and a facing colorful drawing from the cover of 'Afrikah Hair Magazine' that celebrates locks and knots.

As readers pursue the gorgeous full-page color illustrations complimenting winning rhymes about family and spirituality, 'Afrikah hair' takes center stage in a story that is uplifting, positive, celebratory, and supportive of God, individuality, and culture.

The rainbow of colors and styles of such hair evolves as pages offer a few surprises about the narrator's background, roots, and the significance of hair throughout one's life.

Delightfully original, evocatively thought-provoking, and supportive of family, community relationships, and Christian sentiments alike, My Afrikah Hair is a unique and winning formula for not just self-acceptance, but celebrating culture and appearance. As an added note, the book is designed to be a collector's item as well, with a gold ribbon marker and gold foil lettering on the cover.

It's very highly recommended as a standout that should become both an award-winner and a foundation selection for any elementary-level picture book collections looking for a powerful multicultural read, Christian readers, and parents who want to teach a better understanding of ethnic roots and paths to empowerment.

A Lyle Saxon Reader: Lost Stories of the French Quarter and Buried Treasure
Lyle Saxon
James Michael Warner, editor
Cultured Oak Press
Kindle: 9781732540408, $2.99
Hardcover: 9780692141526, $26.00

Lyle Saxon is a New Orleans author whose previous works consist of historical novels and nonfiction. He's been writing for a long time, producing pieces for decades; but no prior familiarity with his works is required in order to appreciate

A Lyle Saxon Reader: Lost Stories of the French Quarter and Buried Treasure.

Here, perhaps holding more diversity than his full-length productions, is a compendium of writings introduced by an in-depth survey of his life, family, and New Orleans roots. While readers might wonder at the need for an extensive biographical sketch before any of Saxon's works are imbibed, it does lay a strong foundation for his many literary achievements and interests, including Saxon's long-time advocacy for the preservation of the French Quarter and his ongoing contributions to literacy in the form of New Orleans-based reflections that appeared in the Times Picayune and elsewhere.

This lead-in allows readers to better appreciate what follows: a synthesis of cultural reflection, history, and a sampler of the early years his writing career which selects writings produced between December 1919 and June 1923, each of which was originally published in the Times-Picayune nearly a century ago. The stories have been out of print since their original publication, which makes this anthology a treasure trove unequaled elsewhere.

The works are grouped into three themes: short stories, writings on preservation issues, and character sketches. As readers pursue Saxon's pieces, they should be prepared for a solid, literary range of details and discussions. Each section holds its strengths.

The short story section opens with the very short piece 'An Interlude' and presents the story of a man and his beautiful wife at a candlelit dinner on their terrace. What seems a romantic setting quickly turns to one of cruel disdain as the man looks upon this beauty and declares he is tired of it: "You are ever the same; your very beauty grows monotonous. The thing which drew me to you at first has become the heaviest chain." The punch line is unexpected and elevates what seems a cruel observation, punctuating it with irony and psychological insight that explains why this beautiful creature seems almost android-like in her responses.

More short works offer the same attention to crafting strong settings and scenarios, then changing them with laser-precise, emotionally charged insights. One example is 'Reprieved', which details the day of a prisoner's execution. The condemned man reviews the events that led him to murder and this place in time with no reprieve but the one thing he can afford to lose other than his life. Readers will find themselves right there, in the prison cell of his mind and life, through Saxon's employment of vivid reflections and imagery.

Saxon wrote his pieces about preserving the French Quarter after the fire that destroyed the French Opera House. Two of these works appeared in his book Fabulous New Orleans, but this chapter contains fine stand-alone works reproduced in full, here, which explore preservation issues and politics specific to that city.

The chapter on character sketches comes from a series of short works that appeared in the columns 'Choosing a Vocation' and 'Unusual Ways of Making a Living' and featured prominent personalities of the city. The article sketches insights into not just individual lives, but the overall influence of immigrant personalities and people on the cultural and historical development of New Orleans.

Lest one think these sketches are so intrinsic to the city's history that outsiders may not be interested in their cultural and historical value, it should be noted that the works are lively, compelling pieces that will reach far from the city's borders with interesting observations and vignettes such as 'Woman Cow-Catcher Clears, $15 During First Day Of Appointment' or the story of Sailor Toney, the tattoo artist.

If anything, these stories capture New Orleans' cultural, social, and historical evolution in a manner no outsider could have achieved. Anyone with an interest in the city's early history or the literary prowess of Lyle Saxon in particular will find these compelling, offbeat, and powerful works which, when presented together under one cover, create a solid work of literary and historical achievement. The collection should be considered an essential acquisition for any library holding purporting to be authoritative on the subject of New Orleans.

Game Piece
Alan Brenham
Black Opal Books
9781644370131, $0.99

Detective Barry Marshall's case involving a stolen pickup truck just got more complicated, because a demanding, anonymous caller is dangling the whereabouts of the truck before him, and when Barry rises to take the bait, the stolen truck case becomes a murder investigation. Once again, a dinner reservation with his love Erin has to be cancelled in favor of yet another work crisis that demands investigative skills only Barry can bring to the case.

Game Piece crafts a poignant first-person story about a detective so committed to his job that he loses track of the clues that show his home life is unraveling. He always promises that he'll slow down, let others take their turn at problem-solving, and make his wife a priority; but somehow the lure of solving murders always takes precedence over any arrangements with her.

Game Piece opens with a murder, a personal conundrum, and a clever killer who has not just victims but Barry's personal life in his crosshairs. Each murder takes another shot at the little connection Barry maintains at home, but in the opening pages it's apparent that matters have already moved from simmer to boil, both for Erin and Barry: "I tried to keep my cool, but I couldn't hold back anymore. She'd been pushing my buttons for the past few weeks. First, she'd whined about the hours. Then the weeks I spent away from home. Next it was missing date nights. Following that came her badgering about taking a teaching job. Nag. Nag. Nag."

Barry's caller is more than a random killer: he's playing a cat-and-mouse sport with Barry that becomes more apparent with each unsolved killing that lures Barry deeper into the very scenarios he needed to avoid to keep his relationship intact at home.

As the killings and Barry's frustration progresses, Barry comes to realize that a deadlier game is being played. He doesn't know its rules, he doesn't know its purpose, and most of all, he doesn't realize that the killer has a specific strategic purpose beyond murder and mayhem.

Alan Brenham does a masterful job at portraying the psychology of these events, from Erin's frustration with her workaholic cop husband to Barry's obsession with stopping a serial killer and the killer's own incentive in playing Barry for a fool.

Readers won't sense the killer's ultimate objective until quite some time into the story, and when it does surface, there's a satisfying element of surprise attached to the progression of events and their probable outcome.

Brenham provides graphic descriptions where necessary, but doesn't overdo the horror, making sure the emotional rationales are powerfully intact on all sides: "Erin was a great believer in talking out bad experiences. Said she read it helped reduce stress. It wasn't like I didn't want to talk it out with her. I couldn't. I mean, how do you describe your feelings when you come up on three people with their throats slit open ... I bury it deep inside me. Sharing the horror of my job was something I swore I'd never bring home."

A solid touch of irony (that Barry is too dedicated to not bringing job horrors home, which is the very reason why he won't communicate with Erin on a more intimate level), detailed explanations of Erin's frustration over a husband's all-consuming passion that doesn't seem to leave room for her, and especially well-done scenes in which Barry tries to warn Erin even as anger separates them, make for powerful scenes involving confrontations with self, ideals, and loved ones.

The result is much more than your standard whodunit. It's a gripping psychological inspection of how the best of intentions can go awry in a relationship, how love can be tested by the attitude that "This is my doing. My problem", and how intimacy fails and possibly regenerates from growth opportunities.

This latest case will change Barry. Or destroy his marriage. Or kill him. Whichever path it takes, one thing's for certain: Barry will change or die. So will those around him, and readers will find the process an edge-of-your-seat reading experience that belays the usual formula tone of detective works as it probes the perceptions, motivations, and consequences of all decisions in a winding, troubling series of events.

Game Piece is very highly recommended for readers seeking more psychological depth than the usual detective procedural provides.

Stuck in Manistique
Dennis Cuesta
Celestial Eyes Press
9781732410909, $24.00

Mark comes to Manistique, Michigan when his aunt dies and he inherits her estate, an old house which was a bed and breakfast establishment. He hardly arrives when the doorbell rings and his first uninvited guest arrives: a shaken female doctor who has run into a deer on the road and seeks refuge for the night. Mark's decision to help Emily for one night turns into something that neither anticipated, and is a challenge to the secrets they both harbor.

Is either one really stuck in Manistique by circumstances beyond their control, or have the events they've carefully controlled all their lives brought them to this point in time to confront something entirely different?

Stuck in Manistique uses the overtones of a romance to introduce themes of change, growth, and letting go. For Emily, the stranger she encounters challenges the affair she's cultivated and the course she's envisioned for her life after the medical school.

For Mark, his estranged aunt's inheritance is much more than an old house with family connections: it's an opportunity for a new life. As he bumbles his way through a series of lodgers and their lives, struggling with an inherited career he'd never envisioned, Mark finds his life challenged by far more than Emily and George's entry into it.

As readers come to understand the secrets and forces at work for Emily and Mark as they tread upon unfamiliar territory, they will especially appreciate Dennis Cuesta's astute eye to detail as he winds these separate stories into a fun entwined set of experiences with a light thread of humor overlaying all.

As Emily regains control of her life by throwing away something she'd coveted and Mark discovers newfound connections with family and customers that he'd never experienced before, they draw readers into a warm, cozy story of growth that's perfect for contemporary women seeking an involving beach read.

Death changes everything. But when one door closes, another opens. Stuck in Manistique details the process of these doors opening and of being both stuck and unstuck, and is a delightful read of changed lives, purposes and connections that offers hope and imparts a positive feel about life's twists, turns, ironies and the power of serendipity. Women readers will find that Stuck in Manistique holds plenty of connections between people, places, and circumstances, and will relish the read.

Stig's Flight of Encounters
Stephan von Clinkerhoffen
Waldorf Publishing
9781642048353, $16.95

Stig's Flight of Encounters is Book 1 of The Hidden City of Chelldrah-ham trilogy and opens with colorful maps of a golden city, inviting young adult to adult fantasy readers into a land that literally runs like and by clockwork. Stig is an inventor in this world and his tinkering has produced many successes, but when the innovative spiral drive which newly powers his clockwork plane fails during a test flight, Stig finds himself far from home and in situations that test even his innovations and abilities.

Many of Stig's perceptions of his world and his place in it change; from his love of all animals, which is challenged by the evil bat-like creatures he encounters who have designs on his beloved home, to his ability to navigate through unfamiliar territory with only a map and his skills.

Even Stig's new ideas are tested as his realizations about the evil threat must be modified in the face of a silver creature, Bach, which seems to be helping him. As the boundaries of good and evil and black and white thinking blur, Stig discovers that his greatest challenges may lie within rather than in this strange new land.

Stig's Flight of Encounters is vividly portrayed, from his alliance with Meg and her knowledge of unusual approaches to fixing his plane with toxic berry oil to exciting descriptions of test flights: "Stig had given up trying to steer her and was just hanging on for dear life. As they neared the bottom, he could see that the patch of yellow was sand, and they were approaching it fast. When the plane's wheels touched the soft sand, they sank into it, up to the fuselage, and suddenly came to an abrupt halt. The prop hit the ground, and the tail dug into the sand, launching Meg and Stig into the air. They somersaulted, over and over, until they hit the ground on their backs, sliding to a halt."

Stephan von Clinkerhoffen's attention to describing the sights, sounds, smells and forces of this world is what brings it to life and lends Stig's Flight of Encounters more of a 'you are there' feel than most YA fantasy reads impart. Readers aren't just fed a plot: they are embedded into Stig's world.

This creates an especially evocative, compelling story that is hard to put down, action-packed, and thought-provoking as Stig navigates not only unfamiliar terrain, but new relationships in a fantasy highly recommended for young adults.

Two Minus One
Kathryn Taylor
She Writes Press
9781631524547, $16.95 Paper/$9.95 Kindle

It's not uncommon to read about divorce, disillusionment, and growth in a memoir, and Two Minus One: A Memoir at first glance seems to cover familiar territory as it reviews Kathryn Taylor's experiences. But in any genre, there are titles which are standouts because of their approach, style, or experience. Two Minus One isn't your typical account of an ordinary marriage; but documents the process of surviving the failure of a remarriage that happens later in life, after retirement, and succumbs with an epic and unexpected bang, with no prior indication of trouble.

It's far different being sixty years old and facing a sudden mandate to begin again. Most stories of divorce, grief, and recovery take place at a younger age, when flexibility is greater and inherent wisdom somewhat less.

Kathryn Taylor's story of her second chance that didn't work out and its aftermath and impact later in life offers a perspective uncommon in many stories of divorce, documenting both a living story and the kind of moxie it took to write an account of a personal experience so profound that it challenged her self-image and devastated her ego.

How do two older people committed to giving marriage a second chance become so irrevocably alienated, and how does Taylor's perception of this chance turn out to be so wrong? Her description of this second marriage in the beginning captures the ideal of any union ("Of course, it wasn't a fairy tale - no life is - but we were both giving marriage a second chance, both committed to making it last a lifetime, benefitting and enriching each of us - the icing on the cake. We communicated openly and honestly in "state of the union" discussions about health, finances, sex, plans, and dreams. We awoke each morning with smiles on our faces. Both of us were filled with gratitude for our good fortune. We had healthy and responsible grown children, good health, solid finances, no elder-care responsibilities, and the ability to shape our days and lives as we saw fit - or so I thought.").

Her husband decided, seemingly out of the blue, that her "mean spirit" was too much to take, and his decision was presented to her as a stunning 'done deal' that took her breath away: "There's no use talking about it because it's over, things aren't as they were, and never will be, and mean and despicable people can't be changed by talk, no matter who's doing the talking."

How there came to be such a disconnect between her perception of herself and their relationship and his experience of it makes for engrossing, revealing reading. Where most accounts of separation, divorce, and relationship issues focus on the preface or aftermath, Taylor's memoir investigates the razor-sharp words that linger in the mind and heart long after they are stated, there to fester and create distance, hurt, and anger.

From final interactions with a dying brother-in-law after the revelation of irreconcilable differences to how Taylor picked up the pieces, learned from them, and eventually moved forward, Two Minus One is filled with self-reflective lessons on relationships and individuality which offers readers more than a singular approach to divorce, grief, and growth.

Anyone facing relationship challenges and changes later in life would do well to absorb Two Minus One's heart-wrenching, inspiring experiences, which hold lessons for all. Any self-help, memoir, or psychology reader will find Two Minus One holds much food for thought and insights relatively unique to Taylor's book, which is especially striking in its note about how disasters happen: "Perhaps it is human nature that even when there are concerns, we see what we want to see and close our eyes to the rest."

Dead Cats
Jesse McKinnell
Shine Box Publishing
9780692101858, $12.99

Given the name Dead Cats and Other Reflections on Parenting, readers might anticipate a treatise on parenting techniques or parent-child relationships, but this novel is actually about the descent from upper middle-class ambition to cruelty, drugs, and delusions. As Joel confronts his wealth, failed dreams, the death of ideals, family ties, and ghosts, he discovers an unexpected challenge: his family might indeed be happier without his drama in their lives.

Dead Cats may raise grave issues about wealth, happiness, masculinity and male privilege, but it is also seriously embedded with a stream of dark humor throughout which emerges from the story's opening lines: "The dead cat is starting to smell...I confidently hold its carcass up in front of the judge..."Your Honor, clearly the feline had expired prior to making contact with the undercarriage of my client's car."

As this particular case moves forward with lawyer Bill's evidence about Friskers' demise and his client's innocence in the matter, a macabre sense of irony emerges as the cat's ghost becomes involved and points out that the narrator/defendant actually is strung out and falling apart right there in the courtroom.

At this point, readers may find themselves hooked. When a story begins not with descent but seemingly at the bottom, where else can it travel but upwards? As former success Joel Peterson confronts divorce, homelessness, the loss of family, and mind-numbing drugs, the ghosts in his world become more real (and more supportive) than his former family.

It would, at this point, have become easy to turn the story into a comedy or a parody of life's ironies; but Jesse McKinnell's focus on male privilege and its decline paints a picture of the persona of Joel as the Everyman of white upper-class males, threatened from both within and outside of their ambitions and worlds.

An out-of-control system no longer supports Joel, but another undercurrent of darkness rises to take its place. Add the specter of a generation's angst, Kurt Cobain, into the picture for a multifaceted and pointed story of privilege, winning, losing, and how a successful man by any definition of the term comes to grips with the one achievement that he has tossed aside.

Those who like their stories darkly reflective will find Dead Cats evocative and revealing: a study in survival, assumption, and degeneration that uses one man's life to illustrate a personal life under siege.

Greg's Fourth Adventure in Time
C.M. Huddleston
Interpreting Time's Past Press
9780996430487, $8.99 Print/$4.99 ebook

Greg's Fourth Adventure in Time joins others in the Adventures in Time series and tells of the time-traveling duo Greg and Rose, who are separated between past and present, leading Rose on a journey to locate Greg in the mid-19th century.

This fourth book in the series for older middle grade and young adult readers imbeds quite a bit of historical fact in its story, but retains the drama, strong characterization, and action of previous books in the series.

The terrain becomes rocky as Rose faces the Pirate, who specializes in stealing from the past, the possibility that her loved ones have been killed and buried in a previous time, and the certainty that anything they attempt will become steeped in pioneer experiences.

Rose's adventures read like a combination of history lesson, science investigation into the mechanics of time travel, and detective story as she unearths clues to Greg's fate and embarks on a series of journeys made realistic and thought-provoking by family encounters with people, events, and mechanics of living in pioneer times: "Dad explained how each pair of oxen had a particular yoke that fitted them better. This kept the yoke from rubbing and making sores. "Dad, how did you learn to do this?" "Oh, I watched a YouTube video made at an historic park demonstration," he replied without even cracking a smile."

Between the action, humor, struggles with the time-thief Pirate, and exploration of pioneer history, Greg's Fourth Adventure in Time makes for a winning series addition that prior fans will welcome. It will also appeal to newcomers, offering a recap of events that sets the stage for this latest adventure, and is a fine addition to both the ongoing series and the genre of YA time-travel stories as a whole.

Longevity: The Wardens of Time
Caleb Smith
Black Rose Writing
9781684331383, $20.95

Noah feels like his life can't get much worse: his too-busy widowed mother is working three jobs and rarely has much time for him, and last year's summer was the last good time he can remember.

Being a new kid in school after school was hard enough at the elementary level; but starting in 7th grade the atmosphere moves from uncomfortable to dangerous, with bullies dominating his new way of life.

When Wendy enters his life, everything changes. It's not just that she's angry and different, but she too is a loner, and she challenges his position of being a victim in the school by helping him escape his abusers.

The discovery of a bookshop, his newfound friend, and a new rallying of peers and school administrators to help him fight against the bullies that control his life mean vast changes for Noah; but the biggest change of all comes when dark forces enter the picture to inhabit human bodies and wreck havoc.

As Noah enters the beginning stages of a more purposeful life and gains knowledge of his real purpose, he embarks on a quest to locate the dark energies that escaped from his window, feeling the overwhelming responsibility of a new secret life that places him in the hero role rather than the victim position.

As faith and imagination coalesce to introduce to him a very different world than the one he barely survives, Noah discovers a newfound resilience to not just face his world, but affect it in positive ways.

Young readers who choose Longevity: The Wardens of Time expecting a timeslip adventure will find surprising the story of a bullied loner who makes unexpected new friends, enters unknown new worlds, and must acknowledge evil forces and his own role in containing them.

While there is a healthy dose of fantasy and adventure, the real draw of Longevity lies in its ability to combine an epic fantasy quest with the real-world story of a shy loner's growth process.

Noah is transformed by his experiences, Wendy is at his side, and a new cast of good and evil characters interact in a satisfying tale that holds firmer roots in real-world encounters and dilemmas than most sagas incorporate. Middle grade readers looking for a plot more compelling than the usual fantasy will relish this story of shy Noah, spunky Wendy, the cat Keeper who watches over Noah, and a host of forces.

Miss Etta: A Novel
Deanna Lynn Sletten
Deanna Lynn Sletten, Publisher
9781941212363, $4.99
9781941212387, $14.99 paperback

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Miss Etta: A Novel is set in 1895 and opens with the story of a woman who falls in love with the Sundance Kid, follows him and his partner Butch Cassidy into a life of lawless frontier adventure, and becomes an outlaw until she finds herself pregnant and alone, and retreats to a convent to raise her newborn.

By 1911, Emily is a single woman with a young son who seeks a new life for herself far from her past, and who faces a promising future as a teacher. She has a successful businessman as her beau and only the threat of her notorious past shadows her potential for happiness.

Etta seems to have vanished. But Grandma Em holds the key to a long, nefarious saga that needs to be told, and granddaughter Susan is the initially-reluctant recipient of a story that reveals a sage grandmother's long-hidden secret.

Miss Etta builds an engrossing story of Emily's carefully reconstructed life, her notorious past, and how she transitioned from the flamboyant lifestyle of a range-riding outlaw to become a dedicated mother and the wife of a respected businessman. When a lawman and ex-Pinkerton detective gets wind of Emily's possible duplicity after a robbery forces her hand, trouble threatens, and she must again face her greatest fear: losing her little boy.

Deanna Lynn Sletten does a fine job of juxtaposing two very different frontier lifestyles and choices. Emily has long wanted to settle into a place she can call home, where she feels safe. The path to reaching this goal is convoluted and Edward finally provides her with shelter, happiness, and a lifestyle that embraces everything she loves. Will the fact that she once loved an outlaw and embraced his lifestyle return to haunt her?

The 19th and early 20th century come to life in Miss Etta, which deftly explores one woman's choices, experiences, and very different lives. It also explores Butch's changes and the tastes, sounds, and atmosphere of the times, crafting descriptions that are evocative and which cement emotional connections with physical surroundings: "Emily sat on the sofa and poured herself a cup of tea. She glanced around again, and her eyes fell to Butch as he sat in the chair opposite her. They both looked refined and dignified, dressed in nice attire and sitting in this proper room. She almost laughed. She remembered the tent the three of them had shared with only a curtain between them. The suites they'd stayed in at hotels across the country. And the log cabin in Cholila, where they'd sat in the living room together in the evenings, Butch with his stocking feet up on the table while he read a book in his favorite chair. They'd come a long way since then, but in her heart, he was still the same old Butch she'd always known."

The result is a work that brings history to life and focuses on the choices, approaches, and perspectives of a young woman who embraces love in various, very different incarnations and walks away with her life intact. It's an uplifting saga of crime, redemption, loyalty and love based on a timeline of true events that Sletten researched and used to recreate a possible scenario of what happened to the vanished Etta Place, a real woman who willingly followed Harry, the Sundance Kid.

Vivid and compelling, Miss Etta is a warm and engrossing historical novel that offers a satisfying contrast between the swashbuckling world of an outlaw and the quieter life chosen by a woman who not only has two lives, but two loves, who is tasked with making these two worlds come together without colliding.

Out of Tupelo
Mark Gilleo
2020 Press
ISBN: 9780999047231 (ebook), $2.99

A wife gone missing can spark more than an investigation: it can unravel the desperation in a husband's heart when a happy, slow-paced lifestyle in the South is suddenly upended.

Edward Winston is determined to get answers; especially when the local sheriff's department refuses to confront the prime suspect in his wife's disappearance. His determination steels when he's named a person of interest in the case and as events march towards implicating him, somehow, in the crushing fall of his own life. Bothered by the course of the investigation, Edward discovers that what seems to be a smooth life in a small community actually harbors a series of deeper secrets that threaten everything he still loves in life.

As Edward begins to suspect that his inquiries and the reluctance with which they are received indicates a deeper issue than just a missing wife, he finds himself unexpectedly immersed in the undercurrent of Southern politics which have reached out to grab his wife and now threaten him. He taps his prior connections in Japan to get a job done that requires special resources he doesn't have in his homeland.

Forced to become a sightseer in his own town, learning more about its culture and closely-held secrets, Edward begins to understand more about his world and why it may be best to vanish.

Readers are treated to an unexpected international romp through high crime, political confrontation, and murder motives as Edward navigates his much-changed world and Shiro, a man from an equally-foreign culture, joins him in the effort.

This cross-cultural flavor is just one unusual plus in a story that holds many unexpected twists. Another is that, as it evolves, the tale becomes as much one of Shiro's life, focuses, and encounters as it does Edward's struggle for justice.

One doesn't expect a story that begins in Mississippi to become thoroughly steeped in Japanese culture and settings, but Out of Tupelo lives up to its title in pushing the boundaries of not just personal experience, but geography and culture.

The result moves far from its opening inspection of a small town that serves as a safe harbor for betrayal and revenge, embracing two very different lives which become tied up in a complex struggle.

Out of Tupelo is highly recommended not just for the 'whodunnit' crowd who like political intrigue mixed into a murder scenario; but for those who like international intrigue and mercurial stories that move far from anticipated avenues of action.

The Second Law, Lynn Dayton Thriller #3
L. A. Starks
Nemaha Ridge Publishing Group, LLC
9780991110742, $18.95 Print/$8.99 ebook

The Second Law is a Lynn Dayton thriller revolving around a new challenge in Lynn's job as a top refining executive working in the busy San Francisco Bay Area. What seems like a puzzling computer glitch could turn out to be sabotage, and too many false alarms are undermining the safety warning system of the refinery, among other odd problems. Only this time the siren's warning isn't another false alarm, but a portent of the biggest disaster Lynn has yet to face: one which has roots in China and connections with California's oil history.

As the story moves to New Orleans, the challenges of risk management, Arch Webber's involvement as a top lease bidding specialist, and Reese's assistance in Lynn's investigation, it probes both domestic and overseas special interests, influences, and powerful forces that threaten not just one refinery operation, but the energy grid of interconnected power.

As near-deadly encounters with everything from bears and murderers escalate, Lynn begins to understand that someone has targeted not only refinery operations, but individual lives. Her encounters with hit men after her and whoever is with her and China's involvement in creating an oil emergency they could vastly profit from makes for a riveting blend of murder mystery and international espionage thriller.

Disintegrating safety systems, attacks, oil executive murders and traitors from within coalesce into a spellbinding story that moved between the San Francisco Bay Area, China, and New Orleans, exploring the special talents and interests of a host of intersecting characters whose lives are all dictated by special interests.

The result is a compelling thriller that's hard to put down, absorbingly powerful in both characterization and plot and filled with satisfying twists and turns that introduce readers to the world of not just refinery safety and operations, but high-stakes international intrigue between groups holding special government interests at the heart of their actions.

Readers who enjoy stories of mystery, murder, mayhem and espionage will relish the intricate, complex yet highly accessible series of events The Second Law unfolds.

The Real News! The Never-Before-Told Stories of Donald Trump & Fake News
John Bernard Ruane
Post Hill Press
164293013X, $16.00


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The Real News! blends political observation, satire, and fiction in a refreshingly different perspective about Trump that uses a series of satirical stories about Trump and his media whirlwind to poke thought-provoking fun at his presidency.

Although controversies are addressed, the real appeal of this book (as opposed to the already-many Trump exposes and revelations on the market) lies in its tongue-in-cheek satire.

Readers will find these essays based in real roots which take unexpected turns. Take the piece about Oprah's possible bid for presidency. A news interview here reveals she's just waiting for the right kind of sign ("10,000 women have lined up across the George Washington Bridge in New York holding up signs saying Oprah Please Run! They want to know if this will inspire you to run?" "It's a sign but I'm really looking for a sign with some lighting and thunder attached," she said. "You know, stuff that there's no question it's coming from the Almighty.").

From an unusual Trump protest by his base and his hilarious response ("President Trump," she began, sounding more than a bit concerned. "You need to see this protest out here." "Protest!" Trump smirked, waving her off with his right hand, which was holding the television channel controller. "There's a protest nearly every day. What do I care? I got my 37 percent base, everyone else can move to one of those shithole countries in Africa or Haiti.") to Oprah's interview with Melania Trump and her pre-election warning to America on that show, this collection's ability to offer satirical observations somewhere between fact and fiction gives it a stimulating flavor that stands out over other Trump exposes.

Political humor that comes to life in a pointed discussion of Trumpisms and their impact on social and political circles makes for both enlightening and entertaining reading especially recommended for those tired of the usual rants and raves from either side, who want a different tone with an overlay of serious irony.

The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K'inuuw Mat of Palenque
Leonide Martin
Made for Success Publishing
9781641463652, $17.99 paperback, $5.99 ebook

The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K'inuuw Mat of Palenque is Book 4 in the Mists of Palenque series, and is best savored by prior fans with a firm grasp on setting, characters, and the full flavor of its predecessors.

K'inuuw Mat is slated to wed Pakal's youngest son and produce the dynastic heir. She's devoted to the Goddess but her course in life seems set until a forbidden attraction and the prospect of the Mayan culture's values fading away comes to rest fully upon her shoulders and choices.

Readers who have enjoyed the other books in this series will find an even more compelling story in The Prophetic Mayan Queen. It takes an individual's spiritual and political perspectives and turns them on end, leading a young woman to realize her value and purpose far beyond her belief system or the duty she's been assigned to in her culture.

One notable aspect of this story is its focus on how K'inuuw struggles to embrace new ideas, a new destiny, and a much broader purpose than she's been raised to believe in. She's prophesized the very decline her culture is experiencing, but can her choices then make a difference in its ultimate preservation (albeit in a different, less familiar form)?

By illuminating various women operating at different levels of early Mayan society, Leonide Martin has already produced an award-winning series that illuminates this culture and the powerful individuals who come to make a difference in it.

Mothers, wives, daughters, and priestesses have all risen to power and strength in different ways in each of these books, and K'inuuw is no different; but the story isn't narrated through her eyes and experiences alone. As ruler Pakal receives communications about her through subliminal consciousness and comes to know her, the concept of different lives lived over various periods and the impact of past upon present and future becomes part of the Mayan belief system explored in this story.

As a work of visionary fiction, these insights on Mayan spirituality and culture are exceptional in their scope, and complexity. No light read, The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K'inuuw Mat of Palenque crafts a wide-ranging set of inspections which provide readers with an excellent foundation for understanding the historical, spiritual, and social aspects of the early Mayan world.

Readers interested in a story that brings ancient Mayan culture to life through the viewpoints of its leaders, powerful women and men who are on the cusp of experiencing a collapse of their ideals and world will find The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K'inuuw Mat of Palenque a riveting addition to a series that continues to expand Mayan knowledge through a fictional tale that is engrossing, well-detailed, and supported by Martin's detailed studies into Mayan culture and cosmology.

Having a story that is not just pure fictional construct, but which is supported by modern archaeological discoveries connecting the ancient Mayan world to modern times makes for an underlying layer of scientific and historical background that adds to reader knowledge in many unexpected ways.

The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K'inuuw Mat of Palenque is a fitting and wonderful addition to an increasingly authoritative series.

A Line in the Sand
Fred Andersen
9780463747285, $2.49

When the son of drug cartel boss is killed in Mexico in a shootout with a local businessman, his wife and children flee to the U.S. and the family is divided and goes into hiding. The ruthless cartel tracks the two boys and one day enters their elementary school intent on killing them, but school plant manager Frank Martin and teacher Brenda trap and inadvertently kill the would-be killers instead, creating a chain of events that leads the boys to flee once again; this time with U.S. citizens involved in something far beyond their experience.

As A Line in the Sand is drawn and evolves, readers are treated to a fast-paced action story that moves from Mexico into the classroom and on a flight to freedom that includes a cover-up, confrontations with determined drug lords armed with powerful tracking abilities, flights from Mexico to California to Arizona, and repeat encounters with gangsters.

With the introduction of naive college student, Mallory, and her blossoming romance with the enigmatic Teddie, a series of twists takes a seemingly straightforward plot about cartels and flight and adds several moral and ethical conundrums to create a powerful, unexpectedly multifaceted read.

The first-person passages capture the ongoing challenges to problem-solving and survival which often place characters at odds with their belief systems ("I had to do something now or they were going to die. But if I did something, I would die first, unless God wrapped me in His righteousness and made me invisible."), while ethical sacrifices must be made for the greater good ("We went in there specifically to lie to the boys and try to get them to lie. It's an awful thing to do, but we were in desperate circumstances and facing unknown dangers.").

Another note is that points of view change between Mallory, Brenda, Frank, and Teddie, adding further insights on the unique struggles within individuals as well as their shared experiences, as in the case where Mallory asks Teddie to consider his choices: "So what's your inner conflict?" she said. "That's what you need to figure out."

Use of the first person also allows for satisfying self-reflections that add extra dimensions of psychological depth and understanding as characters react to the events that challenge their lives and ultimately change them: "The question is not was I ignorant or innocent? I was certainly both. I am a little less of each now, already."

It's hard to see how so many seemingly-impossible situations will lead to satisfying resolution, but this is another strength to A Line in the Sand 's complex story: the disparate threads wind together in a conclusion that gathers all elements into a satisfying windup with a few surprises and a punch line designed to keep thriller readers thinking beyond the story's final passages.

Line in the Sand 's ability to draw Maginot lines from various perspectives and then cross them creates a memorable, highly recommended story of killers, cartels, and innocents changed by a series of deadly encounters.

The Dusty Train's Sweet Surprise: A Lesson in Kindness
Subhash Kommuru
Kommuru Books
9781946312068, $14.99 Hardcover/$2.99 Kindle

Picture book readers and parents seeking moral lessons for youngsters will delight in The Dusty Train's Sweet Surprise: A Lesson in Kindness, the lively story of a shiny red bus named Goti and a dusty coal train named Vivek. They share many qualities (both are hardworking and strong), but Goti's constant teasing and snide comments about dusty Vivek's slowness begin to erode the friendship.

One day a big festival comes to town. It's Sankrant, the festival of goodwill and kindness. Goti and Vivek each plan on attending, but it will take something special to get them both on the same page.

Bright, lovely color photos of the train and bus assume the fun facial features of the animated movie 'Cars' with the story adding an extra dimension of insight into not just kindness, but how to treat friends in a respectful manner.

Parents seeking colorful picture books with appealing transportation motifs and a powerful message will find The Dusty Train's Sweet Surprise an attractive way of imparting an important lesson to young readers.

Operation Clusterpuck
Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss
Wise Ink

Operation Clusterpuck: A B.S. Incorporated Novel adds the second book to the 'B.S. Incorporated' series of business novels and continues the story of Will Evans, Anna Reed, and their operation, Business Solutions Inc.

While one might think that the second in a business book series would require prior familiarity with the characters and setting to prove accessible, the first thing to note about Operation Clusterpuck is that it stands on its own as well as supporting the characters and contentions of its predecessor.

The story revolves around office and middle management politics, business pursuits, fiscal responsibility and investments, and two individuals who juggle holding patterns, business scripts, convention and innovation, and disconnects between boardroom 'spin' and challenging changes: "But for the next couple of weeks, our narrative needs to be: the business is running like a Rolex, Kirkland will be a pragmatic and merciful ruler, and the Canada deal is a bastion of strategic brilliance."

The kinds of business and personal decisions created in such a volatile and changing environment place Will and Anna in difficult positions and involve strategic thinking, manipulations, and project risks that seem to defy contingency planning.

Readers learn such terms as 'risk mitigation strategy', 'supply chain and delivery operations' and more; but the real meat of the title lies in its probe of business motivations, economic and social forces at work within the corporate structure, strong legacies and special interests, and the kinds of choices that can even lead to assaults and death.

From sexual harassment to team support and quasi-legal operations undertaken for the good of the company which could be offenses worthy of firing and prosecution, Operation Clusterpuck weaves intrigue and conundrums into a volatile story of business challenges and daily operations.

The insights on corporate politics, international business relationships, and colleagues vested in damage control and behind-the-scenes operations makes for a fine business novel that weaves through company operations and individual choices alike.

The result is a novel that takes real-world business operations, terminology, and objectives and injects them with the personalities and motives of two businesspeople who find themselves facing a virtual onslaught of special circumstances and potentially bad decisions. As characters step into new roles at BSI, readers follow the progression and evolution of a company that faces the challenge of locating a new CEO with the kinds of values that can drive the business in a different direction.

Readers of business novels should not hesitate to choose Operation Clusterpuck for its many insights and the dose of intrigue which makes all the business jargon not just understandable, but compelling.

A Beautiful Voice
Robert Lane
Mason Alley Publishing
9781732294516, $TBA

A Beautiful Voice is the sixth book in the Jake Travis thriller series. Jake's latest assignment is a smuggling job that is supposed to keep him on the sidelines while employing his special abilities. Unfortunately, his role as an auxiliary smuggler doesn't stay in the background for long, and so Jake finds himself at the center of yet another whirlwind of international intrigue.

While prior fans of Jake's adventures will be the most likely enthusiasts of his latest adventure, it should be noted that A Beautiful Voice is designed to be a stand-alone thriller and is thus quite accessible to those with no prior familiarity with the other five books in Jake's series.

One would expect such a scenario to begin, perhaps, on the beach where the subterfuge starts; but it opens with the perspective of 34-year-old family man and lawyer Stephen Cole, who is expecting his third child and whose beautiful voice fuels the Worthington United Methodist Church choir. All is well in his world, but it's is about to be turned upside down.

Mexican drug lords seem distant from this carefully successful life; but to Jake, they are never very far away. And a simple handoff job seems like a snap, given Jack's background. How these two and other lives coalesce in another story of intrigue and confrontation with cartels and conundrums makes for an absorbing thriller.

One strength to the story is that it flushes out Jake's personal life, as well, and includes interactions and observations that nicely probe his relationships outside of the danger zone: "I don't believe I'd ever heard her say those two words in that particular tone - a tone that, like her indecipherable walk, contained both hesitancy and confidence. Yet, I knew what it represented. It was the universal sound of your will being sucked away by the one person in the world whom you bow to."

These succinct first-person revelations create a fine juxtaposition between senses of place, daily experiences from museums to murders, and lives facing challenging transitions. Robert Lane takes time to inject personal philosophical and observational experiences into his story, which lends it a more detailed and complex flavor than thrillers that go for action over depth: "Museums are best frequented in the mid-week, when the galleries are hushed in solitude and the pictures themselves are your living companions. When the only stimulus is what you bring to them and what they bring to you. In such seclusion, your relaxed mind is free to contemplate the oil-painted expressions of those you will never know and whose time you did not share. They reach out and touch you with a depth that is lost and forgotten in the digital world."

From an investigation into money laundering for a drug cartel to execution-style murders, an investigation that runs out of leads even as bodies pile up, and issues that emerge when Cole goes AWOL, Jake's probe traverses Florida worlds and a killer's motivations to create a wide-ranging examination of one man's nightmares and dreams and situations that test Jake's vested interest in logic.

The result is a murder mystery thriller that sends readers on a riveting romp through angelic voices, divine retribution, a family's staged demise, and a fire that changes everything. Fans of Jake will especially appreciate the added explorations of his life and world as it expands to embrace Stephen Cole's dilemmas and tenacious effort to survive.

Mom's Turn
Jennika Ingram
Little Cow Books
9781732394001 $20.00 online / $22.95 retail stores

Mom's Turn: A Journal for the First Year of Motherhood and Stories for Staying Empowered should be at every new mother's baby shower along with the clothing and diaper bag: it's that essential an addition to a mother's tools for handling both baby and her own needs.

A mother's education doesn't begin at birth, here, but with guided journal entries for prebirth, from imagining the baby and providing a space to glue in an envelope for a mother's first gray hairs to Jennika Ingram's own reflections on what she envisioned motherhood to be, tips on how to prepare for it, and spaces for a new mother's notes about her baby's birth.

Most books for new mothers are filled with tips, reflections, and notes about the baby. The mother's needs, role, and perspective are too often lost in this intense focus on the new life.

Mom's Turn creates a space where both are honored with a series of tips on not just how to handle a baby's needs, but how to address a new mom's own fluctuating needs to stay mentally and physically fit.

This includes many important details to help mothers make their lives easier ("You may want to create a plan for your hair if you're hoping to look like Kate Middleton after giving birth. Rare is the mother who wants to go take a shower after giving birth and before photo opportunities. Planning ahead can minimize this dilemma."), week-by-week reflections, tips, checklists, and admonitions, and even side panels for coloring to accompany such fill-in exercises as "Five ways motherhood isn't what I expected:" or a list compiled from various experiences on "New Mom's Favorite Baby Gadgets."

The weeks and months post-birth are also given both journal space and guidelines for considering many different questions of new motherhood, from "The most memorable thing that happened this week was..." to "Food on the floor is typical of children learning to eat regular food. I'm handling it by..." and "I want a sitter or nanny who will..."

These guided exercises assist new mothers in pinpointing common causes of confusion and frustration or broader questions of how to handle a baby and mother's needs.

Having a baby not only can, but will change a woman. Reviewing the details of these changes, how they happen, and the choices a mother has along the way allows for the kind of advance preparation most new mothers will appreciate.

This is why Mom's Turn is so highly recommended as a prebirth gift for any woman new to motherhood. The only prerequisite is a willingness to fill in the journal blanks and consider the many wise tips assembled from fellow mothers.

Rock & Roll Woods
Written by Sherry Howard
Illustrated by Anika A. Wolf
Clear Fork Publishing
9781946101686, $16.99

Rock & Roll Woods is recommended reading for youngsters in kindergarten to grade 3, and features illustrator Anika K. Wolf's bright, whimsical drawings of animal friends who face a new neighbor and an assault of noise in their peaceful forest.

Bear Kuda is particularly growly about the newcomer's invasion because he doesn't like new things; particularly noises. Somehow, it seems like Bear is alone in his angst and anger; because his friends seem to be bouncing along with the music.

Kuda maintains his stance ("It's too loud. I can't hear the stream, or the birds, or even think.") but forces seem aligned against his wish for peace and quiet. What's a nature-loving bear engrained in habit supposed to do?

Kids receive a fine and thought-provoking story holding several lessons about change, sounds, and different approaches to life as they follow Kuda's dilemma and how he adjusts to the one thing in life that he hates the most: change. He adds layers over himself in an attempt to mask what he perceives as assaulting noise; but the process of his emergence is narrated in a lilting, rhythmic matter that embeds the very essence of poetry, music, and sound into the narration of the story line.

Parents of autistic children, in particular, will recognize Kuda's sensory overload and will find this gentle story offers some solutions; but the read shouldn't be limited to autistic children and their parents. It holds valuable insights for anyone resistant to noise, change, and daily life challenges; all couched in an appealing, fun story that kids and parents will easily relate to and enjoy.

This means that parents, teachers, children's caregivers, and any adult involved in a child's world will find an appealing, rollicking, and heart-warming read with an important message in this compelling story of a bear's struggles with the world around him.

The author's note concluding the story and explaining its origins and insights is a special bonus to all ages seeking to understand the concept of sensory overload and why some people find even soft sounds too noisy or overwhelming, adding practical value to an already-inviting story line. Highly recommended for any adult who would explain and explore overwhelming environmental situations to the young.

Before They Left Us
Rosemary Davis
Old Road Publishing
9781732284500 (paperback), $14.99
9781732284524 (hardcover), $24.99
9781732284517 (e-book), $7.99

Before They Left Us is the story of Midwestern artist Rosemary Davis and her move to San Francisco, where she takes on the dual challenges of a blossoming political awareness and facing an entirely different culture from the one she grew up with.

Before They Left Us captures the basics of intersecting one's traditional, familiar life and ways with an entirely new milieu, but it also commands attention to San Francisco's own evolution, as well, as Davis faces the ravages of AIDS in the community, the assassination of gay supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, and the vast differences between her Catholic Wisconsin roots and San Francisco's culture.

Davis is precise in her depiction of this world and her newfound place in it, bringing to life the times and community that sweep her into its passions and politics: "Surrounding me on the program cover were hundreds of men - black men, bearded men, men with shirts opened to their navels, Asian men in corduroy jackets. Men who were hugging, men sporting carefree smiles and leather, Chicano men standing next to lesbian couples, men with curly mop tops and those with receding hairlines, older men, men in sunglasses with big hats or middle-aged with serious expressions - they were all there. I was their comrade, and I knew what they said was important for me to hear because, in the end, this had become my world."

As she details neighborhoods from the Castro to the Mission and chooses individuals to depict that represent some of the vast changes she experiences, Davis recreates a portrait of some of the City's most volatile years through the eyes and personas of real people who represent much of its diversity.

What happens when she's absorbed these lessons and is ready to leave San Francisco to bring them back home, against all odds, makes for compelling reading, indeed, blending autobiography with social inspection in a lively and meaningful way.

Anyone interested in San Francisco's modern history from the perspective of one who lived through its AIDS crisis, the rise of ACT UP, and more will find no better way of absorbing this era than through Rosemary Davis's perspective: that of an outsider turned insider who must process many new experiences and thoughts in a clash between California culture and her own Midwest upbringing.

Dead Silent
Ivan Blake
MuseItUp Publishing
9781773920085, $3.99 Kindle/$12.99 Paper

Dead Silent is Book 2 of The Mortsafeman series for new adult and young adult horror readers, and returns the prior book's protagonist Chris to the scene of a new deadly encounter when his house-sitting getaway at a remote Vermont mansion turns into an exploration of more deaths and a special brand of horror that seems destined to haunt his life.

Grave robbers, cult rituals, vengeful spirits, and the return of a boy whose dark cloud only expands in his home turf makes for an eerily compelling story that keeps readers on their toes.

Usually the living are threatened by the dead; but in this case Chris finds the dead are in need of his assistance as rituals with human remains and the history of the thirteenth-century French Christian-era sect the Cathars comes to life in Vermont.

Chris didn't set out to be a hero under impossible, supernatural circumstances: circumstances just evolved. He also carries the burden of struggles with Mallory Dahlman's vengeful spirit, which just won't let go. The otherworld encounters keep on evolving in a fast-paced story line that will benefit from reading the prior book, but which will prove accessible to newcomers without prior familiarity with Chris and Gillian's special talents and conundrums.

As serious accidents during an artistic Goth production indicate a deeper simmering danger, Chris stumbles further into trouble when he overhears clues that keep him guessing: "They were talking about the bones which meant the bones were still in the theater somewhere. And Chris had until Monday to find them. "Terrific," he muttered."

Ivan Blake excels in crafting enjoyable, seat-of-your-pants, high-octane tension: it's around every turn and it's certainly embedded throughout not just Chris and Gillian's encounters with the world and each other, but in the overall spooky atmosphere that keeps getting more complex and intense, wrapped up in dangerous situations and death.

Readers who like fast-paced horror with a big dose of history and mystery, and who can't get enough intrigue and deadly encounters will find Dead Silent requires no prior introduction to the series to prove heady, engrossing, and nearly impossible to put down.

Disappearances and deaths mount as two young investigators find themselves confronting love, life and death in both their individual interactions, the impact of their choices, and their slowly simmering relationship with each other.

The South Side of Chicago's Glass Wall
Dr. Naomi Cooper Ro'berson
GEM Publishing

Dr. Ro'berson grew up on the south side of Chicago in the 1950s in a family with ten siblings, facing rising racial tensions in her neighborhood throughout her childhood. The South Side of Chicago's Glass Wall documents both her life and the rise of these struggles, serving as a microcosm of American racial experience and social change from the 1950s through the 60s and beyond.

The first thing to note about The South Side of Chicago's Glass Wall is that it doesn't just document the author's experience of racial violence; but considers the underlying history of relations between African Americans and other ethnic groups in this country. As she learns more about this history and its impact on present-day affairs, Dr. Ro'berson becomes more educated and cognizant about an undercurrent of inequality and prejudice which isn't just a relic of the past, but a daily presence creating and reinforcing splits between all Americans.

As the seventh child of eleven children, growing up in the projects, Amber was afforded a first-hand view of these struggles and this became as much a part of her education as fulfilling her professional dreams.

Another notable facet to her memoir is that it's embedded with important insights on the experiences of the poor and the resilience of her neighbors and community in response to oppressive conditions: "Alden Projects was designed for low income families. But the fact that it seemed like we were forgotten about by the rest of the world was prevalent because we were never given the equal opportunity to prosper. The housing management gave us nothing but rules and many of the residents were stuck there because they were very poor. Over time, the housing management developed a controlled environment. There was little unity among the residents, but a few them would share whatever they had with others whenever they could. One of the best traits about the neighbors was that they had the ability to make things work for them even when times were difficult. The irony of this is, many of the neighbors were genuinely nice people and when bad things happened, they would just shake it off as if nothing had happened then, move on from there. We never gave up hope! Never giving up is one of the strongest attributes of an African American."

Between childhood games, fun, and trials to early relationships and achieving goals, Dr. Ro'berson crafts a satisfying juxtaposition of personal experience and social and historical observation that goes beyond most memoirs to add an extra element of contemplation.

From the author's early work ethic ("My greatest gift was the fact that I had already established a strong "Work Ethic" because working was something that I always knew I could achieve.") to observations of local Chicago culture, The South Side of Chicago's Glass Wall holds a flare of insight and achievement that lends even the seemingly adverse conditions a positive touch, powered by the author's attitude about life.

Inspiring, revealing, and unexpectedly educational, The South Side of Chicago's Glass Wall is a special recommendation not just for readers of memoirs or African American experience; but for anyone who would understand the root causes of oppression, prejudice, and division in America. Its astute observations of racial profiling, terrorism, and modern-day capitalism's bow to slavery's legacy are nicely done and not to be missed.

Climbing Over Grit
Marzeeh Laleh Chini & Abnoos Mosleh-Shirazi
l'Aleph (Wisehouse, Publisher)
9789176375518, $14.00

In Shiraz, Iran in 1954, three-year-old Najma outwardly appears to have everything that she materially needs. There are many psychological things lacking in her life, however, and as Climbing Over Grit reflects on these obstacles and losses, readers are treated to a compelling novel that reads like a memoir as Najma relates her life in Iran and changing political and family dynamics during volatile times.

There's no better way of absorbing a country's culture, perspectives, and history than through a novel well steeped in not only changing social events, but the observations and psyches of those who lived through them. Najma's recollections begin at home and move outward, and so readers are treated to a compelling scenario that starts at the intersection of adult realization and a child's experiences: "If you ask anyone what would make one a good father, most of them would say one who gives love, attention, and time and is tolerant. I understood the difference between education and knowledge ever since I was a child. Money or education never turns a man into a good father. Yes, my father was an educated man, but knowledge was something he did not have. He did not know anything about love, he did not know anything about caring, and I am certain, he did not know a thing about tolerance."

Forced into an abusive marriage and motherhood at age eleven, Najma is only following the customs of her people and the common experiences shared by many women who live in Iran; but against the backdrop of Iran's eight-year war with Iraq, everything is changing.

Perhaps it's because Climbing Over Grit is based on a true story; but its characters, events, and setting feature a realistic immediacy to their tone and presentation that draws readers into a land most will find very foreign, but accessible through Najma's experiences.

It's that personal touch, and the fact that Marzeeh Laleh Chini & Abnoos Mosleh-Shirazi takes time to explore the lives of various men and women in Iran without succumbing to stereotypes, that brings this story to life. Najma's heritage and her mother's experience with wealth and power are reviewed as a precursor to her own choices (or lack of them), creating a powerful foundation for understanding some of the dynamics that can occur not only between political entities, but within families: "Usually in a marriage you do not compare or try to compete with each other, but to my mother, she was lagging far behind. Instead of enjoying the successes in her life, she started to get jealous or maybe tired of my father's huge achievements. He was extremely successful. So, she had to do something, or she would lose in the competition between them, which was in her head."

Starkly powerful are the descriptions of abuse and how a young battered wife handles her situation in this culture: "I wondered who he hit before he married me. Or maybe he saved all his power for his wife. I guess he should have married a punching bag instead. It was very important for me to show others that we were doing well; I wanted to fit in with his family. Pretending like we were happy was the only happiness I could feel."

As readers become immersed in Najma's life and times, they absorb a healthy dose of Iranian experience and culture in a story that personalizes the political and brings it home. Passages which weave her political perceptions with her heritage and the latest generation's changing beliefs and experiences are very nicely crafted: "I remembered the damage my parents caused to us older kids by having too many kids, and now we were doing it to our kids too. We accepted the blame and went on with our lives. There was nothing I could do. I was ashamed. With my being pregnant, the country's being at war, and small political groups' being secretly active, I felt very bad, confused."

Readers seeking a broader understanding of Iranian history and culture through the eyes of a young woman who comes of age to reflect on the hopes and despair of a new generation facing war will find Climbing Over Grit compelling, absorbing, and hard to put down. Its story of challenged lifestyles, broken families, and social and political challenges holds no pat conclusion, but mirrors the changes, confusion, and dreams of a nation and individuals under siege.

Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition
Second Edition Copyright (C) 2018 by Nancy J. Cohen
First Edition Copyright (C) 2014 by Nancy J. Cohen
Published November 2018 by Orange Grove Press
Printed in the United States of America
Digital Edition: ISBN 9780998531724, $3.99, Nov. 12, 2018, Orange Grove Press
Print Edition: ISBN 9780998531731, $9.99, Nov. 12, 2018, Orange Grove Press

Amazon Print:
Amazon Kindle:
BN Nook:
BN Print:
Universal Link:

Given the popularity of the cozy mystery genre, it's no surprise that a guide on how to write and market these books would be of interest to a wide audience, and this expanded second edition is highly recommended for would-be genre writers who want details on how to produce a classic cozy.

Too many writer's guides focus on style and how to write; but Nancy J. Cohen's Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition doesn't limit itself to literary mechanics alone. This makes it a highly recommended pick for all levels of writers; from those who enjoy mysteries and need a clearer definition of 'cozy' and its applications to writers already well aware of the genre, but who need tips on how to sustain suspense or sprinkle believable clues throughout a cozy production.

General mystery enthusiasts should know that the cozy format requires some notable differences from a traditional mystery writer: characters must not only solve the mystery, but should find it a transformative process; each suspect should ideally hold a secret that puzzles the investigator even if it doesn't necessarily relate to criminal activity; and reader expectations should be fulfilled at the conclusion as personal motives for the crime are revealed.

A clear formula is provided for making sure all these facets (and more) are considered by aspiring cozy mystery writers. As Cohen points out, "Cozy readers expect a certain type of story when they pick up a book in this genre. You don't want them grimacing in distaste or feeling your story is too painful for them."

From plot development, revisions, and approaches to characters and crime to publishing and marketing tips, Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition covers all aspects of production and is a 'must' for any author who would adhere to the cozy ideal while building a solid, compelling story and audience interest.

The Twisted Crown
Anita Bunkley
Rinard Publishing
9780962401244, $14.95 Paper/$9.95 ebook

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Nook.

The Twisted Crown opens in 1846 in South Carolina, where slave Mayree gives her daughter Eve something more precious than her love: her freedom.

Years later, Eva Phillips embarks on a journey back to her roots through dangerous landscapes to find the mother who gave her away, carrying readers through Reconstruction-era South Carolina as she pieces together clues about her heritage, her mother's courage, and the lasting impact of slavery on her life.

In many ways, The Twisted Crown mirrors other accounts of escapes to freedom and the different paths chosen by those born into slavery; but the difference here lies in an approach that juxtaposes the atmosphere of Abolitionist Boston with the milieu of South Carolina through the eyes of a woman immersed in both cultures.

Eva undertakes her own dangerous journey which she deems no different than the risks her Aunt Tully took to bring her to freedom; but in reality she has no idea of the foreign world she's about to enter by returning to the Stillwater Plantation to find her mother.

The big war is over and the slaves are theoretically free; but Eva encounters a different reality in the course of her investigation and comes to understand her aunt's fears as she faces elusive clues to her mother's fate and feels trapped and isolated.

As she questions what remains of value in the South and why the Civil War was really fought ("It was actually a war to hold onto land, land that brought riches to a small number of white men who planned to rule the South forever with vast numbers of enslaved people. The entire economy of the southern states depended on the wealth of those men lasting forever, and that could only happen if they owned land and slaves."), she begins to realize why her people continue to settle there, stops imagining what her life would have been like if her beloved husband Chester hadn't died, and begins to emerge from her isolation and pain as a "...stranger in this peculiar, hauntingly beautiful place."

The Twisted Crown delves into various social, political, and cultural facets of African American history and one feisty woman's confrontation with past and present, sweeping readers into a series of events that eventually place Eva in the role of saving others just as her mother made hard choices to save her daughter. The power of fictional experience based on real events successfully empowers a story that proves multifaceted and hard to put down.

Replete with thought-provoking insights about courage, choice, heritage and love, The Twisted Crown is a portrait in changing attitudes and lives, racial prejudice and tolerance, and the selfishness and altruism that divide or connect people. Eva's experience heralds and reflects a new era in American development: one revealed in a satisfyingly astute observation of how the tenants of freedom and oppression march through individual lives.

Harpoona, The Diary Of An Ugly Tuna
Thelma Allen Watkins
Oxford House Publishers
9781885618023, $24.50

The first thing to note about Harpoona's many strengths is the simply gorgeous illustrations by Shawna Tenney, who lends truly original, beautifully intricate full-color creations to the story of Harpoona, who is a loner quite different from her marine friends and any other tuna she knows.

Advanced elementary to middle grade readers receive a vivid tale of an "ugly" tuna who is an orphan surrounded by mean relatives (a marine Cinderella), who faces relatives who display their own inner and outer ugliness (Yolanda, for example, is an older tuna who is a "high-spirited, loud mouth, tattletale"), but who somehow manages to make the connections denied to Harpoona.

The second note that brings this undersea story to life is a rollicking rhyme that is nicely presented not in the usual verse form, but integrated within the structural paragraphs of a typical story, making it accessible and lively for readers not normally attracted to verse in its traditional format: "The dimming sun sank into the distant ocean. Beneath the blue green deep stirred a lot of commotion." Another pleasure is that Thelma Allen Watkins doesn't force this device throughout the story line, but weaves it in and out, at will.

This isn't just another fish waiting for her Fish Charming. Harpoona sets out on a journey to find the mysterious Valley of the Black Holes, searching for medical direction and guidance.

And it isn't just about Harpoona's quest, either: There's Prince Marlin to consider, who is filled with sorrow and so badly smitten by unrequited love that "...even a swallow of that sea weed juice he poured, wouldn't go down his throat."

This fabulous story, with its outstanding color drawings, is unparalleled in artistic innovation and a refreshing standout in the children's illustration world, and cannot be more highly recommended. Its art and its tale are perfect examples of the powerful results of a marriage between two artists who are equally adept at original inspiration via pen and colorful art.

All ages will find Harpoona, The Diary Of An Ugly Tuna a compelling draw that takes the Cinderella theme and expands its complexity and message, translating it to a whimsical undersea milieu where politics, royalty, and privilege come to life in unique ways.

Avenue of Regrets
R.J. Pineiro
Auspicious Apparatus Press
Paper: 9780996662864, $14.99
Ebook: 9780996662871, $ 4.99

David Wallace is in jail on murder charges; but surprisingly, this becomes the least of his worries when he receives word that his family is dead. As readers fast forward through his memories of the past from the vantage point of seven years in the future (where his project, a non-profit shelter for battered women, changes lives for the better), they receive a litany of regrets which David struggles with every day.

On the seven-year anniversary of the worst mistake of his life, David reflects not only on his transgressions, but the series of events that have landed him in this time and place, facing the results of his efforts to break the cycle of abuse that controlled his childhood, promised him a better adult life, and ultimately led to disaster.

His latest challenge lies in a murder which took place in a bar and happened virtually beside side him, leaving him with a concussion and a woman dead. Disaster just seems to keep following David; but the good news is that, this time, he's not been fingered as a possible perp; only a witness - a witness in a case that seems to have no easy resolution.

Kate Larson enters his life to contribute psychic insights, and he views her as a "form of celestial lifeline." As it turns out, Kate might have information that will tackle some of the puzzles and regrets of seven years ago which led him to this place and time, and which still challenges his life.

But, Kate is a mystery, too. And she's getting David to do all the dirty work of investigating painful pasts and present-day conundrums before she succumbs to a deadly force, herself. Is she alive, or is she dead; and does her legacy and charge to David linger on as a mission and path to redemption, or a formula for disaster?

What appears a simple murder mystery turns into a plethora of bodies and puzzles as David barely navigates the turbulent waters of his life and uncovers seemingly disparate clues about his role in them.

Straddling the line between a mystery investigation and a thriller, Avenue of Regrets takes one man's challenged life and expands events beyond their initial boundaries, treading on the processes of casino mafia members, police protocol, and personal evolution all in one.

The result is a hard-hitting examination of regrets, atonement, and acknowledging sins committed and those imagined. With issues of guilt, redemption, and resolution a major part of this winding investigation into past and present ills, Avenue of Regrets represents a hard-hitting and absorbing slice of one man's life that traverses its pitfalls, potentials, and the delicate art of creating lasting recovery and a meaningful life that's ultimately well-lived.

The Caged Butterfly
Marian L. Thomas
L.B. Publishing
9781732488014 $21.99 hardcover
9781732488007 $15.99 paperback / $5.99 digital


Barnes &

The Caged Butterfly begins in 1930, when Millie gives birth to a daughter and raises her with the ideals of intellectual growth, personal values, and saving physical love for marriage. As with many daughters, Millie learns only part of her mother's teachings, and her decision gives birth to and affects future generations who also dance around these ideals and interpret them in different ways.

Even though family history can become deeply buried, it can also rise to the surface like a mirror, reflecting altered images. So a great white jazz pianist comes full-circle from certainty to questioning his roots, Nina inherits a talent from him and a puzzle that sets her apart from everyone she loves, and family ties change against the backdrop of talents that alter everything: "When you sing, you sing with everything because music is where no one can touch you. No one can tell you want to do. Not your mother. Not the band. Music allows you to be you. It's your protector. That's why you belt out each note with such raw passion. It's like you're giving every lyric that drops from those beautiful lips of yours a hug. That's what I see in your eyes. That's what my heart hears when you open your mouth."

Circumstances altered relationships between blacks and whites as the decades moved on, but some things never change. Issues of love, respect, poor choices and consequences that may move from darkness to light immerse these characters, who confront their identities, different generations of fear, love and lies in the Deep South, and a approach to mixing colors that changes over the years.

Marian L. Thomas creates a logical yet passionate story that weaves in and out of the reality of what children go through to not look like or be like their parents, showing how the lessons and conundrums of the past catch up to and reach out to all involved to introduce not just angst, but transformation.

Powerfully evocative and winding in its story of uncertain connections and alienation, The Caged Butterfly will delight women's fiction readers who seek strong multicultural stories of shame, enlightenment, and family connections honed through generations of interaction and self-examination.

Shattered Dreams at Rainbow's End
Christopher Horne, PhD
Outskirts Press AND
9781478796336, $14.95

Shattered Dreams at Rainbow's End is a post-World War II novel about family legacies, failed dreams, and a woman whose three husbands impacted and changed the course of future generations through their perspectives and choices.

From a legacy that holds mixed benefits and values to impossible ideals of marriage vows as society changes over time, Shattered Dreams at Rainbow's End crafts an astute portrait of death, grief, recovery, recreation, and a repeat cycle of devastation that reaches beyond matriarch Mary's psyche and into the hearts and minds of future generations.

Against the backdrop of evolving lives lies much psychological inspection about the roots of narcissism, concepts of mortality, success and failed dreams, and emotional development that introduces drama and history into family dynamics.

This psychology is injected into the story at major transition points to consider such questions as the roots of self-absorption and insecurity, how people become control freaks and manipulators, and moral considerations that all operate against the backdrop of true and metaphorical reality processes.

Obviously, an affinity for psychological inspection is one of the prerequisites a reader will need for a through appreciation of some of the discussions and routes Dr. Horne chooses in the course of his story: elements which at times feel more like nonfiction than fiction.

Another strong point to Shattered Dreams at Rainbow's End is its ability to craft strong characters, then move beyond them into other strong characters as generations shift, change, and die out. Readers who like to follow one character throughout a story may be initially surprised at these transition points, but Shattered Dreams at Rainbow's End's focus on miracles, marriages, and dreams that evolve from playing by the rules or which are shattered by ignoring them provides no singular story; but a series of interrelated experiences.

Spiritual and moral concerns blend into the plot, creating a multifaceted and thought-provoking series of events as characters and choices change.

The result is not a light story, but a thought-provoking piece about various kinds of inheritances and the lasting impact of legacies both intended and unintended. Shattered Dreams at Rainbow's End will delight fiction readers seeking complexity and insights into how cruelty and arrogance can change into kindness under the pressures of hidden agendas, greed, and broken dreams.

Profit Wars
Mac Whitesides
Outskirts Press
9781478796992, $4.99 Digital/$17.99 Hard copy

In 2020, a powerful global military corporation, Global Force Protection (GFP), is in the business of fighting wars for a profit. Business is good until one of its vice presidents, Jake Thompson, stumbles onto an accounting irregularity that leads to stunning realizations implying that GFP is not exactly above board in how it makes its vast sums of money. By following the money, Jake learns GFP is linked to deadly operations connected to terrorist and rebellions in Romania that lead to the murder of his wife and adopted daughter.

Unrest in Europe works to GFP's benefit by fueling the conflagration of terror and political instability. As Jake pulls on the threads of discovery, his findings lead to greater implications about how foreign policy and diplomacy are manipulated for profit. As events unfold, he find himself immersed in tensions between GFP and other nations. The more he learns the more he realizes he must follow the money to find the truth, regardless of the cost.

Jake has not just lost family, but comes to discover every ideal he believes in is challenged as he returns to Romania after five years (a lifetime, to him) to a place that has left (and still has the power to leave) permanent marks on his soul.

This is an absorbing tale, which moves quickly through scenes and themes. History, economics, politics, and social observation feature heavily in a story that follows Jake, Naomi, and other characters into a crumbling normality that forces Naomi to leave her beloved country and Jake to find himself in over his head as multiple obstacles confront him at every turn.

The roots of rebellions and profit-driven motivations are closely examined as the story weaves through just enough action and psychological revelations to keep readers immersed without feeling overbearing with its many enlightening facets.

The result is an intriguing story that lingers in the mind long after reading, and which feels especially relevant to modern times given the rise of concurrent business and government special and disparate interests.

A Case of Serendipity
K.J. Farnham
K.J. Farnham, Publisher
9781732283206, $13.99 paper/$3.99 Kindle

A Case of Serendipity provides the refreshingly different story of a woman who is being besieged by unwelcome text messages from Bucky's Beans Coffee Roasters, and who takes to Facebook to complain in frustration as her attempts fail to keep the coffee discount codes at bay.

Attorney Henry Mancuso isn't trolling Facebook for more work; but when he stumbles upon Ruth's rant, he takes more than a light interest in her dilemma. It's one of those many cases of serendipity that change lives when he becomes involved, only to find a seemingly simple matter of a 'cease and desist' order becomes a class-action lawsuit holding implications for anyone with a cell phone.

From the run-around Ruth receives from Bucky's in her futile attempts to unsubscribe from something she never wanted to Henry's opening of a Pandora's Box of spam and special interests, A Case of Serendipity winds through personal frustration and legal implications to show how small decisions and ire can evolve into something bigger.

Facebook apps, Ruth's initially reluctant but increasingly involved interactions with Henry's blossoming cause, and a case that assumes a life of its own beyond its relatively low-key roots in frustration create a story that is moving, involving, and filled with messages about technology's impact on everyday people and lives.

Ruth and Henry's friendship is just one of the threads percolating through this story of a David and Goliath-type struggle, and further illustrates the concept of serendipity.

Readers seeking a light-hearted but pointed blend of romance, social and technological confrontation, and legal judgments and actions will find A Case of Serendipity crafts a moving story that is hard to put down as it tiptoes through family relationships, love, and legal challenges alike; all evolving against the backdrop of coffee and conundrums.

With Love from Poland
Linda Lee Keenan
Linda Lee Keenan, Publisher
9780692586877, $14.95 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

With Love from Poland is a young adult story set in 1920 Cracow, where, against the backdrop of a prosperous textile town, young Helena Pawlowski encounters her future husband Jan Jasinski. Knocked off her heels by her chance meeting with the "...brash young man with fiery red hair and brilliant blue eyes", Helena forms a friendship destined to take an unusual turn as political events change and challenge them to take on new purpose.

The evolution of an underground group to protect their friends and family from the Nazis in 1939 introduces the history that Poland was affected by Hitler before most other countries, and suffered some of the biggest hits as well as cultivating the most resistance.

As Helena and Jan's world expands and their relationship evolves, With Love from Poland immerses young adult to adult readers in this world, complete with diagrams about the underground resistance movement's structure, dialogue between characters who build the premise and resistance, and threats that lead the group to determine they must attempt to flee everything familiar, even though it may already be too late: "By midmorning the group had come to two decisions. First, that they should leave as soon as possible and second, that they would begin life anew in America. The decision as to how they would get to America seemed impossibly complicated. There was no good way of out Poland at that point."

Especially notable is how quickly the Second World War intrudes into the lavish and rich lives of the Polish people, and how ordinary citizens become activists, then refugees from their own beloved land and fellow citizens. The journeys they all must take, from cultural heritage and connections to political revelations, resistance, and struggle, come to life in a story that perfectly captures the politics and social issues of its times.

Weaving historical facts with cultural insights about the Polish people and add romance into a young adult saga that moves far beyond politics to show how personal relationships become affected and impacted by political and social change and it's evident that With Love from Poland offers a special brand of educational opportunity not usually afforded to young adult readers.

It's especially recommended for readers of other literature of the times, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, who would receive deeper inspections of Nazi impacts on daily lives through the fictional eyes of protagonists who face many difficult choices.

Postcards From The Void
Guy N. Smith,
Darkwater Syndicate, Inc.
9781946378156 (paperback), $19.99
9781946378163 (hardcover), $29.99

Amazon (Kindle e-book):

Postcards From The Void collects twenty-five stories of horror and dark fantasy and is especially recommended for fans of Stephen King, Joe Hill, and other top-notch writers working in the genre of eerie horror and dark fantasy. It should be noted that the collaborative prowess of this anthology was ambitious from the outset: it was published to celebrate Darkwater Syndicate's tenth year in business and the intention was that it "contains some of the best original horror and dark fantasy you'll ever read."

This lofty ideal seems to set the stage for an impossible achievement; but one satisfying note to Postcards From The Void is that its short stories more than fulfill expectations with their odd twists of plot; settings in impossible, nonexistent, yet strangely possible places; and its ability to craft hard-hitting conundrums that keep readers thinking long after the story concludes.

Take 'Blackwell, New Jersey' by Jill Hand, for example. A mysterious abandoned village has long been cordoned off, but an ambitious group of four curious explorers with an overriding mission to "...document places before they were gone, worn down by the elements, destroyed by vandals, or demolished" find a way in; and once in, the way out is not so easy. This is no stumble-in, but a deliberate plan involving a long hike, much preparation, and readers are drawn in by powerful descriptions of sights, smells, sounds, and a deadly sense of foreboding: "The air had the spicy, cinnamon scent of fallen leaves, and of rich, moist soil."

The group's fascination with history, abandoned places, and the weird is about to ramp up an extra notch in Blackwell, a town barely acknowledged in the real world - and, for good reason.

It should also be noted that, as the stories progress, a peppering of fine photos supports the text and adds atmosphere through compelling visuals.

Robb T. White's 'Spirit, Ohio' is another such place off the beaten track, where a photographer of abandoned ghost towns uncovers the ghost behind the town he's investigating which, itself, has disappeared.

As towns lost and found teeter various characters on the brink of insanity, readers will find these short stories individually compelling, each holding the power to contribute to a bigger-picture theme that runs through Postcards From The Void. Each story excels in well-developed characters, tension, horror, and a slow buildup that takes the time to properly invest in atmosphere and surprise.

The result is an exquisitely powerful anthology that does what most should and few achieve: build a series of interrelated scenarios that should not be possible in the real world, but which are most definitely pilgrimages into horror.

Genre readers receive stories that diverge from any hint of formula writing to delve into creative, compelling, and gripping scenarios that are hard to put down and unforgettable literary productions.

It is 7am in the Cardiac Ward
Kamal Malaker
9781724965165 $TBA

One anticipates, from the autobiography of a blossoming professor committed to teaching aspiring young doctors, that this account will focus on physician growth and patient treatments, but one surprise of It is 7am in the Cardiac Ward is its focus on philosophy and the underlying motivations and concepts that lend not just to being a doctor, but to being a more effective one: "Put on the patient's shoes; only then will you feel and understand your patient, and that will make you a better doctor than anyone else you might have ever known."

This focus is a fine thread that runs through the experiences presented in It is 7am in the Cardiac Ward, lending it a vivid immediacy and set of insights not seen in other medical autobiographies.

Kamal Malaker reflects on the last three years of his nine-years at the Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica; but when he winds up on the other side of the desk accepting treatments that could end his life, his narrative assumes a dual perspective. It discusses not just options for survival, but the process of presenting and making life-altering choices. In this case, the cardiac ward serves as the backdrop for these deliveries and revelations.

This is the second strength to It is 7am in the Cardiac Ward: as a medical teacher turns patient and brings his special brand of knowledge and philosophical perspective into play, readers are treated to an account that goes beyond detailing treatments and their impacts, revealing many insights not usually seen in the course of traditional medical exposes: "The slow dietary intolerance is mostly hidden, unrecognized and undertreated, resulting in various chronic illnesses, including bowel, blood and bone diseases. Diets are linked to cancer and heart diseases, the two biggest killers in general worldwide."

From handling forced unemployment to coming to grips with changes to family and personal goals, this survey offers a rare glimpse into not just the physical changes and demands involved in regaining cardiac health, but its impact on underlying personal values and approaches to life: "I feel it was a blessing that I got sick and was grounded for a very long time out of my schedules, my routine, rounds, clinics, research, presenting, publishing, teaching and directing research, all almost at the same time. I loved the life I had, but my family did not."

The blend of personal, professional, and medical insights specific to a cardiac condition makes for a powerful story that is especially recommended to new cardiac patients who will find much food for thought, both psychologically and medically, in the experiences of a medical professor who has walked the path of recovery and faced major issues both particular to cardiac conditions and related to lifestyle change. Of particular note are the insights on how aspiring doctors can cultivate empathy and fulfillment into a hectic lifestyle filled with life-or-death decisions and the kinds of treatments and choices that prompt widespread changes on all sides.

It is 7am in the Cardiac Ward is very highly recommended for its wider-reaching insights in comparison to the usual doctor/patient discovery autobiography.

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

Dunford's Bookshelf

Primate Change
Vybarr Cregan-Reid
c/o Octopus Publishing Group
9781788400220 $24.99 hc / $9.99 Kindle

Synopsis: If you think you are you, think again. Primate change is a wide-ranging, polemical look at how and why the human body has changed since humankind first got up on two feet. Spanning the entirety of human history - from primate to transhuman - Vybarr Cregan-Reid's book investigates where we came from, who we are today and how modern technology will change us beyond recognition.

In the last two hundred years, humans have made such a tremendous impact on the world that our geological epoch is about to be declared the 'Anthropocene', or the Age of Man. But while we have been busy changing the shape of the world we inhabit, the ways of living that we have been building have, as if under the cover of darkness, been transforming our bodies and altering the expression of our DNA, too.

PRIMATE CHANGE beautifully unscrambles the complex architecture of our modern human bodies, built over millions of years and only starting to give up on us now.

Critique: Primate Change: How the World We Made is Remaking Us examines how the modern world has directly impacted humans' physical bodies. Today's lifestyle is far more sedentary, with a far more sugary diet, and with technology and social media displacing social bonds more than ever before. Primate Change examines these wealth of physical and mental alterations, all too many of which are not for the better, and explores ways to improve human quality of life in an ever-changing, ever-modernizing future. Highly recommended. "While ten minutes is a world better than nothing, if you're too busy to integrate 30 minutes of activity into your day, something has gone seriously awry in your priorities. If your life does not permit you to move, as the months go by, you will shave years and years of good life from your time on Earth." It should be noted for personal reading lists that Primate Change is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Roadside Geology of West Virginia
Joseph G. Lebold and Christopher Wilkinson, authors
Photographs by Maria af Rolen
Mountain Press Publishing Company
9780878426836 $24.00

Synopsis: Within West Virginia's irregular borders, formed by winding rivers, high ridges, and the peculiarities of colonial land surveys, is a sedimentary record of the entire Paleozoic Era. Continents colliding along the eastern coast of North America built huge mountains that shed sediment into a shallow inland sea to the west. Thick wedges of sandstone, shale, and limestone piled up, all folded by later collisions to the east. In West Virginia's Valley and Ridge Province, rsistant, titled sandstones form long ridges that parallel the fold axes, while less folded rock forms the horizontal layers of the Appalachian Plateaus to the west. From Harpers Ferry at the edge of the Blue Ridge through the Allegheny Mountains west to the Ohio River valley, sedimentary rock thickens and thins, hiking valuable layers of coal and reservoirs of oil and gas.

Authors Joseph Lebold and Christopher Wilkinson lead you along roads through the Mountain State, past roadcuts exposing contorted rock layers, coral reefs, and ancient red soils. Sidebars provide more details about iconic places such as the New River Gorge, Seneca Rocks, and Dolly Sods, and about unusual geologic features such as the riverless Teays Valley and the karst topography and caverns of the Big Levels.

Critique: Part of the excellent Roadside Geology series, Roadside Geology of West Virginia introduces readers of all backgrounds to the rich natural history of West Virginia. A wealth of color photography illustrations this absorbing geographical tour of New River Gorge, Seneca Rocks, Dolly Sods, and much more. Roadside Geology of West Virginia is enthusiastically recommended as a supplementary resource for vacationers and armchair travelers alike!

Michael Dunford

Gary's Bookshelf

The Iconic Time Box
R. Bruce McGill
Legacy Book Publishing
9781947718142, $24.95,

Since the classic H. G. Wells novel "The Time Machine" a popular theme in science fiction novels has been time travel. The question is always how well is it handled. Often authors with scientific back rounds fill the work with factual speculation of what it could be and not enough with characterization. Fortunately, that is not the case with "The Iconic Time Box" Duncan Sims sacrifices his relationships with his girl friend and others to accomplish the ultimate feat of time travel with an interesting device. He is able to cruise into the future then returns to what he thinks is the present a few minutes later but is made aware he has been gone for over a year. With the aid of another person interested in time travel he is able to use a device named Pandora 8 to go back in history but is not able to control where he goes until he meets up with a noted scientist who helps him steer the device. Along the way he is able to encounter many historical figures as well as experience events firsthand. "The Iconic Time Box" moves along at a brisk pace filled with numerous conflicts solid characters as well as interesting situations Duncan encounters. The author is obviously a fan of science fiction as he also pays tribute to many different aspects of the genre in a very charming novel. "The Iconic Time Box" is left open for many sequels that is for anyone who looking for a fun filled science fiction story to read and enjoy

An Innocent Client
Scott Pratt
Phoenix Flying Inc
c/o Create Space
4900 LaCross Road, North Charleston SC 29406
9781480030473, $12.95,

"An Innocent Client" opens attorney Joe Dillard having to deal with a suspect in jail who is a scumbag that he was appointed by a judge to defend. As the book proceeds along he is hired to defend a woman for the charge of murder where he is being paid a lot of money. Throughout the work Dillard continually would like to believe there is someone he defends that is innocent. Dillard is a sympathetic character because he has a mother suffering from Alzheimer's, a drug addict sister who gets a new chance on life by coming to live with Dillard's family but screws up by stealing from them and cases he would rather not take trying to do the best job under the circumstances. There also is a cop who will stop at nothing to convict someone while Dillard goes before judges who can't stand him making "An Innocent Client" a page turner that is the first of a series.

Desperate Measures
Stuart Woods
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780735219229, $28.00,

A woman stumbles into Stone Barrington in a most unusual way that sets up a series of events that could just get Stone killed because her soon to be ex husband believes Stone is the new man in her life when Barrington is just helping a damsel in distress. There are also a series of murders of women who have certain characteristics that also fit a woman working for Stone. Once again Stuart Woods provides suspenseful doses of exciting events with rapid pacing and snappy dialogue that makes "Desperate Measures" a surefire hit with fans of the series.

Dead Reckoning: A Still Waters Suspense Novel Book 1
Dawn Lee McKenna & Axel Blackwell
A Sweet Tea Publication
9780998666914, $12.99,

Detective Evan Caldwell begins a new life in the small community of Port St. Joe in the Florida panhandle. Before he was with an agency in Brevard County where his wife sustained a fluke accident. Caldwell put her in a Hospice facility near the new area he now lives. A short time after getting settled with his new department he is summoned to go and see the police chief of the area of Wewa about a case of murder. It turns out it is the man who hired him who is the victim he now has to investigate. Also, he is made the acting sheriff by one of the county commissioners a job he would rather not have. As the case unfolds he learns about the small town and its people while also discovering things about his wife's mishap that change his perception of what happened. The story is brisk with a character who is determined to solve the occurrence to a satisfying conclusion. As the investigation moves along there many possible suspects including the dead man's wife. The authors combine their writing talents in "Dead Reckoning" turning the screws of suspense in a first-class thriller that is the first of a wonderful new series.

The Money Shot
Stuart Woods and Parnell Hall
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780735218598, $28.00,

It's always fun to see a recurring character become the main one in future novels. That is the case with one of Woods most popular ones Teddy Fay who broke out into his own series with "Smooth Operator" In "The Money Shot" Fay is acting in movies while he is contacted by one of the actresses to help settle a matter she is having of someone blackmailing her. Fay uses all of his talents to stop them from succeeding but is also the target of some thugs who want to kill him including burning down the house he is in. The two authors have once again combined their talents to tell a great story that moves along very rapidly to its final ending. "The Money Shot" is a first-class thriller that is perfect summer reading entertainment.

Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without)
Leslie C. Halpern
Cautious Optimist Publishing
9780999376331, $9.9,

"Scantily Clad Truths" is a fun filled excursion into the perceptions of a journalist from her days in college to thoughts on just about everything in the world ranging from marriage to interviewing famous people. Halpern conveys wit and humor in generous doses throughout this series of essays that show another side of her talents. She includes the Beach Boys, a science fiction convention in Orlando, a roommate at a higher education university are just some things she comments on. "Scantily Clad Truths" is an easy to read collection of writings that have very interesting perceptions on a lot of things we do not think a lot about.

Bitter Sweet: The Life and Times of the World's Leading Chocolate Taster
Angus Kennedy
Apollo Publishers
9781948062046, $24.99,

Kennedy has one of the most interesting wonderful jobs in the world of a tester of all types of chocolate. He tells in "Bitter Sweet" how he became the most famous connoisseur in the world of sweet substance that comes in so many shapes, sizes, and versions. He begins by telling when and how he began, things he has learned through the years and many events and things those of us not in the business never knew. "Bitter Sweet" is a wonderful expose of an interesting profession that only a few people have ever been fortunate to be able to do.

A Taste of Cuba: A Journey Through Cuba and Its Savory Cuisine
Cynthia Caris Alonso with Valerie Feigen and Jose Luis Alonso
Apollo Publishers
9781948062008, $35.00,

Though there are travel restrictions in place for Cuba, Americans can still go there under certain circumstances. For those of us who do not know too much about the country 90 miles off our shores there is the new book "A Taste of Cuba" that goes into detail celebrating many different aspects including the people, food, places to take in and people to know about. "A Taste of Cuba" celebrates a long-lost treasure to Americans in a very beautiful way with articulate writing and wonderful pictures.

The Frog Prince
Ranelle Golden, author
Illustrated by Hatice Bayramoglu
4900 LaCross Road, North Charleston SC 29406
9781725137110, $9.25,

Golden and Bayramoglu combine talents in "The Frog Prince" to add a new dimension to a well-loved fairy tale with a twist of an ending. Readers of all ages will love the story and artwork that is a fun filled journey of characters and situations.

The Broken Ornament
Tony Diterlizzi
Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781416939764, $17.99,

The Christmas season now begins with the charming story "The Broken Ornament." Jack tries so hard to make this particular Christmas the best ever with his family. He feels terrible when he breaks an old ornament his mother has always loved he comes up with a solution that is bound to please everyone. "The Broken Ornament" is filled with delightful artwork and writing that moves the story along to its satisfying finish.

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Gorden's Bookshelf

Space Viking
H. Beam Piper
Serapis Classics
Amazon Digital Services LLC
B0779B64SS, $0.99, ebook, US copyright 2017, 212 pages

This Space Viking edition is an off-copyright SF pulp classic produced by Serapis Classics. It is a very basic re-edition of the original without even a functional table of contents but the text is intact and readable. H. Beam Piper is best known for his classic Fuzzy series. Anyone who has read any of the Fuzzy stories will never forget the great characters and tales. Space Vikings doesn't have the originality or flair but it is a solid story. Piper uses SF to explore humanity and its culture.

The premise of Space Vikings is that in the far future humanity has expanded into the galaxy but when humanity has expanded faster and further than its culture can handle it collapses into a self-destructive interstellar war. The planets, that have survived the collapse the best, are a series of fringe worlds that are organized as feudal states. To try to build up their worlds back to level they were during the peak of human civilization, these feudal states sponsor space Vikings to raid the broken remains of the collapsed human civilization.

Lucas Trask's wedding day is interrupted when his new wife is murdered and he is wounded by a crazy noble. The noble steals a newly built Viking battleship and leaves the feudal worlds to make his own empire by sacking the remains of the old human civilization. In revenge Trask builds his own ship and goes after him.

Space Vikings is a slow read for a space opera. Piper takes a lot of time exploring governmental and cultural structures. Surprisingly the story is very current to contemporary events. Much of the tale is taken up by how a nationalist fringe can corrupt a functioning government by the use of repeated lies and the repudiation of reality. If you can handle the slow pace and keep your temper in check at the harsh look at what can happen when cultural and governmental norms are attacked by systematic lying, fear and anger, Space Vikings is recommended. It is an example of how SF can explore the current human conditions by exploring the issues in a created fantasy world.

Ric-A-Dam-Doo: The Snow Devils
Wayne Kerr
Amazon Digital Services LLC
B01E07Z314, $2.99, ebook, US copyright 2016, 289 pages
9780990417958, paper

Ric-A-Dam-Doo is a fun action/adventure novel. Unlike many books in this genre it doesn't go overboard with ultra-evil crooks or impossible physical situations. It is a fun husband and wife action/adventure tale.

Retired Canadian Special Forces soldier PB Reese and his wife Janet, ex-Interpol Agent, are trying to live under the radar in Arizona. Both PB and Janet have made a lot of enemies over the years. When the granddaughter of their neighbors is kidnap by a vicious Mexican gang, smuggled across the border and held for ransom, they need to help. The local police think the two missing girls just ran away from home but a short investigation by the Reeses prove to the police it is a kidnaping.

They wait to see how the investigation is going but with the problem of the kidnapers taking the missing girls over the border they decide they need to go to Mexico to help.

Ric-A-Dam-Doo is an easy recommendation for the action/adventure genre reader. It does have a weakness. The backstory to the tale is done by flashback chapters. These chapters are not sequential and disjoint the storyline. Even with this significant narration problem the deep characterization and the realistic action make the book better than the typical story in this genre.

S.A. Gorden, Senior Reviewer

Greenspan's Bookshelf

A Pope And A President
Paul Kengor
ISI Books
3901 Centerville Road, Wilmington, DE 19807-1938
9781610171434, $29.95, HC, 648pp,

Synopsis: In the pages of "A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century", Paul Kengor (Professor of Political Science and the Executive Director of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania) reveals a singular bond (which included a spiritual connection between the Catholic pope and the Protestant president) that drove the President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II to confront what they knew to be the great evil of the twentieth century -- Soviet communism.

Based on Professor Kengor's archival digging and his unique access to Reagan insiders, "A Pope And A President" reveals: The inside story on the 1982 meeting where the president and the pope confided their conviction that God had spared their lives for the purpose of defeating communism; Captivating new information on the attempt on John Paul II's life, including a previously unreported secret CIA investigation -- was Moscow behind the plot?; The many similarities and the spiritual bond between the pope and the president -- and how Reagan privately spoke of the "DP": the Divine Plan to take down communism; New details about how the Protestant Reagan became intensely interested in the "secrets of Fatima," which date to the reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal, starting on May 13, 1917 --sixty-four years to the day before John Paul II was shot; A startling insider account of how the USSR may have been set to invade the pope's native Poland in March 1981 -- only to pull back when news broke that Reagan had been shot.

Critique: An extraordinary and unique work of impeccable scholarship, is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of seventy pages of Notes, and a twenty page Index, "A Pope And A President" is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library 20th Century American History & Political Science collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "A Pope And A President" is also available in a paperback edition (9781610171526, $19.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.00).

Irish Transatlantics, 1980-2015
Ide B. O'Carroll
Attic Press
c/o Dufour Editions, Inc.
PO Box 7, 124 Byers Road, Chester Springs, PA 19425-0007
9781782052524, $23.00, PB, 216pp,

Synopsis: Between 1980 and 2015 the one-way story of emigration from Ireland to America changed. The Irish who arrived in the US in the 1980s could return home in the late 1990s because the economy improved. Many did so, while others remained in the US. The scale of return was unprecedented, and it happened side by side with an explosion in information and communications' technology.

Ide B. O'Carroll is an Irish-born social researcher and writer, the Visiting Scholar at Glucksman Ireland House, New York University from 2013 to 20176, and currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst.

In "Irish Transatlantics, 1980-2015", Professor O'Carroll deftly explores the stories of 20 Irish men and women who navigated a changed migration circuit to understand how they adapted to life 'here' and 'there' across the Atlantic; their stories highlight the value and complications of Transatlantism and its impact on a sense of belonging and identity for Transatlantics today.

Critique: An original, insightful, and impressively informative study of impeccable scholarship, as well as a timely and valued contribution to our on-going national discussion about immigration and immigration policies, "Irish Transatlantics, 1980-2015" is an unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Irish Transatlantics, 1980-2015" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.95).

Able Greenspan

Helen's Bookshelf

The Word: The History of the Bible and How It Came to Us
Rod Gragg
WND Books
9781944229818, $25.95, HC, 320pp,

Synopsis: With Christianity under attack in contemporary Western secular culture and the validity of the Bible repeatedly challenged, "The Word: The History of the Bible and How it Came to Us" by Rod Grass (who is a former journalist, historian and the author of more than twenty books on a variety of historical topics) offers a fresh and fascinating history of the Book of Books which billions of believers through the ages have embraced as the Word of God.

With the same compelling narrative writing and in-depth research that has earned him acclaim for his works on the Holocaust, the Civil War, the faith of America's founders, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the American Revolution, and other historical topics. Now this gifted writer and devout Christian Rod Gragg focuses on the history of the Bible. And he does so with the practiced craft of a historian and the respect of a believer who adheres to the complete and absolute inspiration of Scripture.

"The Word" provides a sweeping panorama of biblical revelation, preservation and transmission and the background story of those who devoted their lives and sometimes suffered death to translate and transmit the Word of God. In the process, Gragg's highly readable narrative likewise follows the history of Christianity and unfolds its unforgettable story with a writing style aimed at the general reader and a level of scholarship that will appeal to history-lovers and serious students of the Bible.

Critique: An ideal read specifically crafted for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the subject, "The Word: The History of the Bible and How It Came to Us" is an informed and informative as it is inspired and inspiring. While very highly recommended for church, community and academic library Biblical Studies collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Word: The History of the Bible and How It Came to Us" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Report from a Place of Burning
George Looney
Leapfrog Press
P.O. Box 505, Fredonia, NY 14063
9781948585002, $16.95, PB, 180pp,

Critique: It's summer in a small, Midwestern city, and babies are burning to death in their cribs under odd circumstances. A number of theories are presented by the six narrators of the novel, but the truth of just what is going on is elusive, and it is up to the reader to discover the truth, since one of the underlying issues of the novel is the difference between knowing and believing.

In addition to the babies burning in their cribs, there are other types of burning articulated by the six narrators, everything from a mother whose baby was one of the victims surrounding herself with her paintings of flames engulfing buildings and bodies to a widow who is dealing with her own passions released by the death of her husband to a widower who deals with the dead in a very personal manner to a detective becoming obsessed with solving the crime of the burned babies to an adulterer burning with a passion for the married woman he has been having an affair with to a prophet who sees everything that happens around him in terms of the book of Revelation.

Metaphorical and real burning is a part of the lives of each of the six narrators of this novel in which music and art are recurring elements, as is the strange miraculous behavior of memory. Memory and music and art, the novel suggests, can reshape the world as well as haunt us and devastate us and, now and then, save us.

Critique: It's no surprise that "Report from a Place of Burning" is such an impressively and deftly crafted novel since the author, George Looney, is also the founder of the BFA in Creative Writing Program at Penn State Erie, where he is Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing, Editor of the international literary journal Lake Effect, Translation Editor of Mid-American Review, and Co-Founder of the Chautauqua Writers' Festival.

A unique and inherently riveting read, that is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Report from a Place of Burning" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.81).

2019 Lunar & Seasonal Diary: Northern Hemisphere
Stacey DeMarco
Rockpool Publishing
9781925682137, $21.95, Spiral Bound, 192pp,

Synopsis: Stacey Demarco is one of Australia's most high profile and trusted metaphysicists and spiritual practitioners. Her informative website can be found at

In "2019 Lunar & Seasonal Diary: Northern Hemisphere" Stacey draws upon her years of experience and expertise to packed a metaphysical oriented diary from cover to cover with invaluable tips and techniques for increasing personal wealth, improving personal relationships, boosting vitality, and removing obstacles and fears that are holding us back.

The "2019 Lunar & Seasonal Diary: Northern Hemisphere" is a beautifully produced reference diary with full-color pages, extra space for recording notes, and a spiral binding that allows the pages to lie flat.

The diary includes gods and goddesses, seasonal spell castings, invocations for specific moon phases, and practical magical suggestions for getting the most out of the energies of the season.

Critique: An inherently fascinating browse through the commentary portions by Stacey DeMarco, and an ideal diary for recording day-to-day thoughts and experiences, "2019 Lunar & Seasonal Diary: Northern Hemisphere" is unreservedly recommended to the attention of anyone who would appreciate an astrologically dedicated personal diary for 2019.

The Food Sharing Revolution
Michael S. Carolan
Island Press
2000 M St NW Suite 650, Washington, DC 20036
9781610918862, $28.00, HC, 200pp,

Synopsis: In "The Food Sharing Revolution: How Start-Ups, Pop-Ups, and Co-Ops are Changing the Way We Eat", Michael Carolan ( Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean for Research for the College of Liberal Arts at Colorado State University) tells the stories of traditional local farmers who are being squeezed by big agribusiness, and entrepreneurs in the food industry who are bucking the corporate food system.

The key to successful sharing, Professor Carolan shows, is actually sharing. He warns that food, just like taxis or hotels, can be co-opted by moneyed interests. But when collaboration is genuine, the sharing economy can offer both producers and eaters freedom, even sovereignty. The result is a healthier, more sustainable, and more ethical way to eat.

Critique: A critically important, insightful and documented study of the economics of the food industry from field to plate, "The Foodsharing Revolution" is an extraordinary and groundbreaking study that is enhanced with the inclusion of an informative introduction (Ownership through Sharing), fourteen pages of notes, and an eight page index. While very highly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Agricultural & Food Issues collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists of students, academia, farmers, food industry entrepreneurs, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Food Sharing Revolution" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $25.27).

Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows
Ella Wall Prichard
1845 Books
c/o Baylor University Press
One Bear Place, #97363, Waco, TX 76798-7363
9781481308489, $24.95, HC, 239pp,

Synopsis: Nearly a million women are widowed each year in the United States. And despite those numbers, hardly anyone is prepared for the days, months, and years that follow the loss.

New widows grieve, but they also battle psychological, spiritual, and social upheaval from all directions. From discovering a new identity to finding different ways to relate to old friends, life becomes unfamiliar. Practical changes (both legal and financial) are inevitable. Just as there's no simple prescription that makes grief disappear, there is no clear way to address all the challenges widows face.

Ella Wall Prichard is the president of Prichard Oil Company and is highly involved in her community and church. A mother and grandmother, she is a frequent speaker on the subject of widowhood and has encouraged and supported widows around the country. Ella blogs at, where other resources on widowhood can be found.

In "Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows", Ella has basically written the book she herself needed, but could not find, after her husband died. She recounts her turn to the Apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians, a letter that features joy as a source of comfort and hope -- and that shapes Reclaiming Joy.

Ella offers practical advice on how to achieve joy. Each individual chapter focuses on a different trait needed to move from grief to joy. The primary narrative arc is spiritual, even though stories of struggle, conflict, and loss are recurrent themes.

"Reclaiming Joy" is part memoir, part guide, part inspiration. It captures the pain felt in the first years of widowhood in the move from grief to joy. It offers encouragement and advice to women who seek the strength to rebuild their lives and reclaim their joy.

Critique: An exceptional, deftly written, impressively informative, and thoroughly 'user friendly' practical in organization and presentation, "Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows" should be brought to the attention of any newly widowed woman and ought to be a part of every community library collection dealing with the sensitive subject of Death & Dying.

Helen Dumont

Lorraine's Bookshelf

Dark Sky Island: A Jennifer Dorey Mystery
Lara Dearman, author
Crooked Lane Books
34W. 27th St., 10th floor, New York, NY 10001
9781683317524 $26.99 HC, $12.99 Kindle, 296pp,

"Dark Sky Island" is the second title of the Jennifer Dorey mystery series, following "The Devil's Claw." Set on the picturesque but foreboding island of Sark, near Guernsey in the Channel Islands between the UK and France, "Dark Sky Island" brings a new thrill to a historically rich setting, well known to the author who was born there. The reader follows the aching trail of island native journalist Jennifer Dorey as she simultaneously follows clues to the long past and recent murder deaths on Sark, which are inevitably connected to the unsolved death at sea of her beloved father. Jennifer's love life is as elusive and changing as the sea moods so aptly described in the text. Plus, the danger of the ever more tightly circling killer shadows every turn of the page, on an island where only bicycles are allowed, and so few lights at night that the dark sky lights up with stars alone. Readers will e enthralled and unable to put "Dark Sky Island" down, while learning a great deal of fascinating history of the Channel Islands background and presence. "Dark Sky Island" is first class mystery writing and reading, and leaves readers wanting to know more about what happens next.

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Micah's Bookshelf

The Disaster Resiliency Challenge
James Bohland, Jack Harrald, Deboran Brosnan
Charles C. Thomas, Publisher
2600 South First Street, Springfield, IL 62704
9780398092344, $39.95, PB, 268pp,

Synopsis: Resilience as a concept has become embedded in public policy discourse within countries across the world in a wide range of contexts -- planning, education, emergency management, and supply chains.

The goal of "The Disaster Resiliency Challenge: Transforming Theory to Action" is to assist future community leaders and professionals with the subsystem components and the actions that must be taken to insure community resilience, and to alert them to the potential pitfalls when adapting their community to the challenges that continually change.

The development of trust among and between diverse members of communities and the political and economic leaders is essential if our views of how to build resilience are to change.

"The Disaster Resiliency Challenge" is organized into five sections. Section I explores the challenges of transformational change, building community resilience with alternative frameworks, and resilience in time and space with lessons from ecology.

Section II covers the building of hazard resilient communities through technology, microscale disaster and local resilience, the building of resilient cities by harnessing the power of urban analytics. and the failure to describe and communicate the possible future climate change scenarios.

Section III examines challenges for urban theory when conceptualizing financial resilience, the role of social capital in community disaster resilience, the challenges of citizen engagement and resilience in the Dutch disaster management, and the rationalities of extraction and resilience of fossil-fueling vulnerability in an age of extreme energy.

Section IV explores shifting from risks to consequences when building resilience to mega-hazards, resilience and small island nations, the sea level rise, demographics and rural resilience on Maryland's Eastern shore, and the epicenter of community resilience in the California's San Francisco Bay Area.

Section V discusses observations and challenges on building community resilience in the twenty-first century. This highly informative and indispensable volume will be meaningful for future community leaders, citizens, stakeholders, government officials, emergency mangement personnel, and crisis interveners.

Critique: Impressively comprehensive, expertly organized and presented, "The Disaster Resiliency Challenge" is an extraordinary and highly recommended addition to professional, community, governmental, college, and university library Disaster Planning, Management, and Response collections and supplemental studies lists.

India after Naxalbari: Unfinished History
Bernard D'Mello
Monthly Review Press
134 W. 29th Street, Suite 706, New York, NY 10001
9781583677070, $95.00, HC, 384pp,

Synopsis: Although the 1967 revolutionary armed peasant uprising in Naxalbari, at the foot of the Indian Himalayas, was brutally crushed, the insurgency gained new life elsewhere in India. In fact, this revolt has turned out to be the world's longest-running "people's war," and Naxalbari has come to stand for the road to revolution in India.

In "India after Naxalbari: Unfinished History", Bernard D'Mello (who a senior journalist with the Economic & Political Weekly and a civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai) provides a fascinating narrative answers the question of what had gone into the making of this protracted Maoist resistance by tracing the circumstances that gave rise to India's "1968"decade of revolutionary humanism and those that led to the triumph of the "1989" era of appallingly unequal growth condoned by Hindutva-nationalism, the Indian variant of Nazism.

Far more than a simple history of the ongoing Naxalite/Maoist resistance, "India after Naxalbari is a deeply passionate and informed work that not only captures the essence of modern Indian history but also tries to comprehend the present in the context of that history -- so that the oppressed can exercise their power to influence its shape and outcome.

Critique: An impressively definitive and erudite study, "India after Naxalbari: Unfinished History" is an informative and exceptionally well written, organized and presented historical analysis that is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library India & South Asia 20th Century History collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "India after Naxalbari: Unfinished History" is also available in a paperback edition (9781583677063, $27.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.20).

Micah Andrew

Richard's Bookshelf

Maverick Priest: A Story of Life on the Edge
Father Harry J. Bury, Ph.D.
Robert D. Reed Publishers
P. O. Box 1992, Bandon, Oregon 97411
9781944297329, $17.95, 356 Pages

Conflict, Convictions, a Focused Faith, a Maverick Priest

Father Harry J. Bury is known as a priest, professor, activist, and warrior for peace. Maverick Priest - a Story of Life on the Edge" is his story, a story of faithful obedience; a story of finding and following life's purpose; to bring to the world a message of love, peace, and nonviolence, and to build bridges of understanding between opposing ideologies of individuals and nations.

In many ways, my life parallels Father Bury's. The family heritages that influenced and formulated my life principles were conservative both in politics and theology. I also lived many of my formative years in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

When U. S. involvement in the Korean War took place in the early 50s, 18-year-olds were still required to register for the draft. I was conflicted; still feeling the impact of World War II on our family; I hated the concept of war. I considered registering as a conscious objector but never followed through. In January 1951 my draft number came up. I chose to enlist in the Navy and was assigned to an Air Transport Squadron. With the exception of one year on Midway Island and a few months at Barbers Point in Hawaii, I had stateside duty assignments.

My last assignment was at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California on the San Francisco Bay. I chose to take my discharge there and enrolled for classes at Armstrong University in Berkeley to earn a degree in business and accounting.

For the next three decades, I was exposed the "flower children" in San Francisco, the demonstrations in Berkeley, the impact of people like Angela Davis, Malcolm X, and the peace marches of Dr. Martin Luther King. I raised a family of four boys during the years of the Viet Nam War.

Father Bury's story is convincing, constructive, and challenging, packed with life-changing potential. As I read Father Bury's story I began to examine my beliefs and to consider some hard questions regarding living in the reality of the natural world, in light of the example Jesus, within the framework of today's jurisdiction; sorting out the challenge of walking in the spiritual realm in the midst of the injustice, violence, and political upheaval.

"Maverick Priest" has helped me work through the inconsistencies, injustice, struggles we face in today's culture. I want to join Father Bury in bridge building; to become an agent of change, a compassionate advocate for today's refugees, peoples imprisoned for their faith, the victims of famine, earthquakes, floods, political upheaval, and the devastation of war.

I was reminded of God's faithfulness as my heart was freshly infused with the call to focus on God, His sovereignty, in gratefulness with thanksgiving living out His message of love.

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

Richard R. Blake
Senior Reviewer

Taylor's Bookshelf

Wittgenstein's Ethics and Modern Warfare
Nil Santianez
Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Wilfrid Laurier University
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, N2L 3C5
9781771123839, $29.99, HC, 165pp,

Synopsis: Nil Santianez is a professor of Spanish and International Studies. In "Wittgenstein's Ethics and Modern Warfare" he has written an original and insightful study that establishes a reciprocal relationship between Ludwig Wittgenstein's notion of ethics and the experience of war.

Professor Santianez puts forth an interpretation of Wittgenstein's early moral philosophy that relates it to the philosopher's own war experience and applies Wittgenstein's ethics of silence to analyze the ethical dimension of literary and artistic representations of the Great War.

A compelling book-length essay, "Wittgenstein's Ethics and Modern Warfare" contends that the emphasis on "unsayability" in Wittgenstein's concept of ethics is a valuable tool for studying the ethical silences embedded in key cultural works reflecting on the Great War produced by Mary Borden, Ellen N. La Motte, Georges Duhamel, Leonhard Frank, Ernst Friedrich, and Joe Sacco.

Exploring their works through the lens of Wittgenstein's moral philosophy, "Wittgenstein's Ethics and Modern Warfare" pays particular attention to their suggestion of an ethics of war and peace by indirect means, such as prose poetry, spatial form, collage, symbolism, and expressionism.

This cultural study reveals new connections between Wittgenstein's philosophy, his experience during the First World War, and the cultural artifacts produced in its aftermath. By intertwining ethical reflection and textual analysis, "Wittgenstein's Ethics and Modern Warfare" aspires to place Wittgenstein's moral philosophy at the centre of discussions on war, literature, and the arts.

Critique: An simply fascinating read and a 'must' for students of Wittgenstein philosophy, "Wittgenstein's Ethics and Modern Warfare", this erudite study is unreservedly recommended for personal, community, college, and university library Modern Philosophy collections in general, and Wittgenstein supplemental studies reading lists in particular.

Giants: The Global Power Elite
Peter Phillips
Seven Stories Press
140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013
9781609808716, $19.95, PB, 352pp,

Synopsis: Who holds the purse strings to the majority of the world's wealth? There is a new global elite holding the majority of the world's wealth and in firm control of our economic future.

In "Giants: The Global Power Elite" former Project Censored Director and Media Monitoring Sociologist Peter Phillips unveils for the general reader just who these players are including Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon, and Warren Buffett.

As the number of men with as much wealth as half the world fell from sixty-two to just eight between January 2016 and January 2017, according to Oxfam International, fewer than 200 super-connected asset managers at only 17 asset management firms (each with well over a trillion dollars in assets under management) now represent the financial core of the world's transnational capitalist class.

Members of the global power elite are the management (the facilitators) of world capitalism, the firewall protecting the capital investment, growth, and debt collection that keeps the status quo from changing.

Each individual chapter in "Giants: The Global Power Elite" identifies by name the members of this international club of multi-millionaires, their 17 global financial companies (and including NGOs such as the Group of Thirty and the Trilateral Commission) and their transnational military protectors, so the reader, for the first time anywhere, can identify who constitutes this network of influence, where the wealth is concentrated, how it suppresses social movements, and how it can be redistributed for maximum systemic change.

Critique: Insightful, exceptional, informed and informative, "Giants: The Global Power Elite" is an extraordinary study of impeccable and extraordinary scholarship. While unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Economics collections and supplemental studies lists, it should be noted that "Giants: The Global Power Elite" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

John Taylor

Theodore's Bookshelf

The Middleman
Olen Steinhauer
Minotaur Books
c/o St. Martin's Publishing Group
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9780250036179, $26.99A$, Hardcover, 368 pp., August 7, 2018

A thriller wrapped in a mystery which cannot make up its mind where it is going, or even coming from. At the heart of the plot, Special Agent Rachel Proulx of the FBI is studying and preparing a report on terrorist groups. Consequently, she spearheads the FBI's efforts to monitor a group whose leader does not favor active terrorism, but cerebral efforts to change society.

The FBI plants an undercover agent in the group and he is forced to act as a sniper on July 4, 2017, shooting a Congresswoman spearheading an investigation into a couple of financial institutions, Three other members of Congress are killed, although the Congresswoman is only shot in the neck and survives. One of the other three is also a leader in the investigation of the financial companies. So much for peaceful demonstrations, and the group is now classified as a terrorist organization.

What remains is for Rachel and the undercover agent to team up and try to find out what really took place along the way and discover the answers to unexplained questions and events, making these attempts while outcasts from their own FBI. While the novel is constructed to move along and keep the reader interested, it is buried in obscurity and sometimes difficult to follow. For the most part, the story meanders back and forth, past to present, adding little to forward movement. It really is a tale of conspiracies compounded by double-crosses, but not a bad read, and is recommended.

The Sinners
Ace Atkins
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014
9780399576744, $27.00, Hardcover, 365 pages, July 17, 2018

Quinn Colson finally is going to tie the knot, but events tend to interfere with the planning, much less the ceremony itself. It's a good thing Maggie Powers, his betrothed, is an understanding woman. As sheriff of Tibbehah County, Mississippi, Colon is hoping for some quiet, but an invasion of a couple of gangsters, a drug war and assorted underworld internecine strife tends to interfere.

Moreover, Quinn's best man, Boom Kimbrough, gets a job driving trucks for a shady outfit that traffics in drugs and women. When a couple of wannabes, the Pritchard brothers, who grow the best weed, want to branch out and hijack Boom's semi, the gangsters blame Boom as a conspirator and almost kill him, giving Quinn additional incentive to take action.

The latest in this long-running series, the novel is written in the inimitable style Ace Atkins has developed to portray the south inhabited by the characters he writes about. The series consists of excellent crime novels, filled with colorful characters. Recommended.

Solemn Graves: A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery
James R. Benn
Soho Crime
9781616958497, $26.95, Hardcover, 360 pp., September 4, 2018

The adventures of Billy Boyle during World War II bring him close to the front lines shortly after the D-Day invasion of Normandy to investigate a suspicious murder of a communications major in a farmhouse. He arrives with Big Mike at the house which was occupied by a Nazi military police group and now serves as headquarters for an American battalion.

The investigation is hampered by the existence of a ghost army nearby operated by actors and technicians who perform theatrical stunts to mislead the German forces. Shrouded in secrecy, it makes Billy's task more difficult. And, of course, the various potential witnesses have their own agenda, withholding information vital to Billy's solving the case. As a result, Billy dives into the biggest operation of the invasion forces, seeking to interview a Nazi officer behind German lines.

Like all the previous novels in this wonderful series, the descriptions of the battles and army operations are real and gripping. The Billy Boyle series only gets better with each new book. Each has been highly recommended, and Solemn Graves joins that list.

Walking Shadows
Faye Kellerman
William Morrow
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
195 Broadway New York, New York 10007
9780062424983, $27.99, Hardcover, 367 pp., August 28, 2018

After 35 years with the LAPD, Peter Decker took his well-earned pension and a supposedly softer job in a small town in upstate New York. So much for wishes. Now two years later and a homicide in each, he now has a third, when residents complain about vandalism, and a body is discovered in the area. This discovery leads Decker (with the help of his wife Rina Lazarus) on a wild chase involving a 20-year-old double murder and a robbery of a jewelry store in a nearby town.

Complicating the task of finding the murderer is the fact that Decker needs the cooperation of the police department of the neighboring town, whose chief of police was the one who made his reputation in solving the old case. Another complication is that the persons convicted of the robbery-murder, one of whom is the father of the victim serving a 20-year term, and providing Decker with no help.

It's kind of hard to believe that Walking Shadows is the 25th novel in the series. I guess it has stood the test of time. Like its predecessors, the novel is a police procedural in which Decker logically solves the crime step by step, applying logic and asking questions, lots of questions.


Robert B. Parker's Colorblind
Reed Farrel Coleman
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780399574948, $27.00, Hardcover, 368 pp., September 11, 2018

One would not expect racial unrest in the sleepy town of Paradise, MA, but Jesse Stone and his cops have their hands full. To begin with, a black woman is assaulted in a neighboring town and it is made to look like a murder that occurred in Paradise years before. The woman was in a relationship with a white man, and unfortunately she dies. Then another black female, Alisha, who Jesse hired for diversity purposes, responds to a call at a bar and is taunted by bikers. She also has a relationship with a white man. Soon, however, things get worse.

A cross is burned on the lawn of Jesse's old house, which was bought by a couple, a white woman and a dark Indian man, with two children. Apparently the fire was set with kerosene, and a check of places where it could have been bought turns up a CCTV image. When Alisha spots the person captured in the CCTV as she emerges from a bar, legally over the limit, she chases him into a blind alley and responds to what she believes is a shot by shooting and killing him.

It turns out that the victim is the son of a strident agitator seeking to incite a race war. Of course, a black cop killing a white person is the perfect excuse. Especially when the investigation turns up no weapon by or near the victim. Jesse to the rescue. As a side story, Jesse now is abstaining from alcohol and is attending AA meetings.

Mr. Coleman continues to live up to the standards set by Robert B. Parker in this latest addition to the Jesse Stone series, and it is recommended.

Theodore Feit
Senior Reviewer

Vogel's Bookshelf

Heaven on Earth: Painting and the Life to Come
T. J. Clark
Thames & Hudson, Inc.
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110-0017
9780500021385, $34.95, HC, 256pp,

Synopsis: The author of many books including the seminal "The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers" and "Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism", T.J. Clark is Professor Emeritus of the History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley.

In his latest study, "Heaven on Earth: Painting and the Life to Come" Professor Clark sets out to investigate the different ways painting has depicted the dream of God's kingdom come: heaven descended to earth.

Professor Clark goes back to the late Middle Ages and Renaissance -- to Giotto in Padua, Bruegel facing the horrors of religious war, Poussin painting the Sacraments, and Veronese unfolding the human comedy, in particular his inscrutable Allegory of Love.

Was it ultimately to painting's advantage that in an age of orthodoxy and enforced censorship (threats of hellfire, burnings at the stake) artists found ways reflect on the powers and limitations of religion without putting their thoughts into words?

"Heaven on Earth: Painting and the Life to Come" concludes with the Nuclear Age and Picasso's Fall of Icarus, made for UNESCO in 1958, which already seems to signal, or even prescribe, an age when all futures are dead.

Critique: Enhanced with the inclusion of 101 color illustrations, an informative Introduction, twenty pages of Notes, a one page listing of Picture Credits, and a four page Index, "Heaven on Earth: Painting and the Life to Come" is an impressively researched, exceptionally informed, thoroughly 'reader friendly in organization and presentation, making it an ideal and unreservedl recommended addition to personal, community, college, and university library Art History collections and supplemental studies reading lists.

The Who, What, and Where of America, sixth edition
Deirdre A. Gaquin & Mary Meghan Ryan, editors
Bernan Press
c/o Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706
9781641432863, $135.00, HC, 486pp,

Synopsis: Professionally compiled and co-edited by Deidre A. Gaquin who has been a data use consultant to private organizations, government agencies, and universities for over 30 years and Mary Meghan Ryan who is a senior research editor with Bernan Press, this newly updated and expanded sixth edition of "The Who, What, and Where of America: Understanding the American Community Survey" is specifically designed to provide a sampling of key demographic information.

It covers the United States, every state, each metropolitan statistical area, and all the counties and cities with a population of 20,000 or more.

The layout includes -- Who: Age, Race and Ethnicity, and Household Structure; What: Education, Employment, and Income; Where: Migration, Housing, and Transportation.

Each individual part is preceded by highlights and ranking tables that show how areas diverge from the national norm. These research aids are invaluable for understanding data from the ACS and for highlighting what it tells us about who we are, what we do, and where we live.

Each topic is divided into four tables revealing the results of the data collected from different types of geographic areas in the United States, generally with populations greater than 20,000 and organized into four distinctive categories: States; Counties; Metropolitan Areas; Cities.

"The Who, What, and Where of America" is a detailed compendium providing social and economic estimates on the ways American communities are changing with regard to: Age and race; Health care coverage; Marital history; Education attainment; Income and occupation; Commute time to work; Employment status; Home values and monthly costs; Veteran status; Size of home or rental unit

Critique: Authoritative, comprehensive, up to date, exceptionally well organized, "The Who, What, and Where of America: Understanding the American Community Survey" is unreservedly recommended as a core addition to highschool, community, college, and university library Contemporary American Demographic reference collections. It should be noted that "The Who, What, and Where of America: Understanding the American Community Survey" is also available in ebook format (9781641432870, $84.43).

Paul T. Vogel

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