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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 20, Number 10 October 2021 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf Diane Donovan's Bookshelf Gary Roen's Bookshelf
Helen Dumont's Bookshelf John Taylor's Bookshelf Laurel Johnson's Bookshelf
Mary Cowper's Bookshelf Micah Andrew's Bookshelf Michael Dunford's Bookshelf
Nancy Lorraine's Bookshelf Paul Vogel's Bookshelf S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf

Centered: Autism, Basketball, and One Athlete's Dreams
Anthony Ianni, author
Rob Keast, author
Red Lightning Books
9781684351541, $70.00, HC, 344pp

Synopsis: "They don't know me. They don't know what I'm capable of." Diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, a form of autism, as a toddler, Anthony Ianni wasn't expected to succeed in school or participate in sports, but he had other ideas. As a child, Ianni told anybody who would listen, including head coach Tom Izzo, that he would one day play for the Michigan State Spartans.

With the assistance of Rob Keast, "Centered: Autism, Basketball, and One Athlete's Dreams" is the firsthand account of Ianni's social, academic, and athletic struggles and his determination to reach his goals. In this remarkable memoir, Ianni reflects on his experiences with both basketball and the autism spectrum. Centered, an inspirational sports story in the vein of Rudy, reveals Ianni to be unflinching in his honesty, generous in his gratitude, and gracious in his compassion.

Sports fans will root for the underdog. Parents, teachers, and coaches will gain insight into the experience of an autistic child. And everyone will triumph in the achievements of "Centered".

Critique: An exceptionally well written, inherently fascinating, impressively candid, memorable and inspiring memoir, "Centered: Autism, Basketball, and One Athlete's Dreams" is especially and unreservedly recommended, especially for community, college, and university library Contemporary American Biography collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Centered: Autism, Basketball, and One Athlete's Dreams" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781684351534, $20.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.68).

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

Tiny Tim and the Ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge
Norman Whaler
Read by David Deighton
Beneath Another Sky Books
B08MKJT2YH, $8.99

A Christmas Carol is such a classic that one might initially wonder at the need for a sequel, but there is so much more happening in Tiny Tim and the Ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge that this interactive audio edition for young listeners is highly recommended as a companion piece to the original. It should become a seasonal classic, in its own right.

Here, Christmas carols accompany an audio narration directed to listeners who receive the tale of a now-grown Tiny Tim, who faces his own ghost of Christmas past in the form of Ebenezer Scrooge.

The audio and sound bring to life the story of Tiny Tom's reminder of what the holiday really entails, adding sound effects as well as music and narration to engross both young readers and adults who work with them. These lively embellishments reinforce the underlying message of this story.

The accompanying book holds lovely full-page, artistic color illustrations by VoxIllustrations, delves more into Tiny Tim's interactions at a young age versus his journey into adulthood, and traces the steps of his emotional growth and challenges.

There is also a religious message in his growth as he enters adulthood "Strong in faith that he was part of God's plan." This will please adults who want to reinforce the spiritual aspects of the holiday season as the story pursues the now-adult Tim's romance tragedy, his choice to blame God for his loss, and how the lessons of Mr. Scrooge about giving and loving begin to fade over time.

While these may seem fairly adult themes for ages 4-10, the rhyming nature of the story, its simple presentation, and its musical embellishments allow it to reach younger ears than might be expected; especially with parental input and family interaction.

Mr. Scrooge's appearance as a ghost brings lessons for Tim and an audience of all ages, equating Christmas with kindness, tolerance, and love as it follows Tim's progression into darkness and back again.

Adults who want an interactive experience the entire family can enjoy, backed with powerful visuals, music, and a compelling lesson on kindness, will find Tiny Tim and the Ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge just the ticket for a follow-up to the classic, that reinforces its basic intentions through word, rhythm, and sound.

Of the Lilin
Paulette Hampton
Independently Published
9798500067159 $9.00 print/$4.99 ebook

Of the Lilin is the first book in the Sage Chronicles about Sage Frankle, who is traumatized by the loss of her mother and her stepfather Warren's mental breakdown.

When she is sent to live with an aunt to recover from these dual blows, Sage instead falls deeper into darkness, entering a fantasy realm that might reflect her own mental illness. When her choices result in the death of Warren's best friend David, Sage is forced to consider the real nature of reality and fantasy in this fast-paced story, which opens at David's funeral. Even her father has come to believe she had something to do with David's heart attack.

After a compelling opening, Paulette Hampton moves the story to the beginning of how this scenario came to be - after her mother's death, as Sage is sent to live with her Aunt Madeline in Kennard, Vermont.

Sage thinks she is having her own mental breakdown when she hears Aunt Madeline's daughter Lily's thoughts, and considers the far-fetched possibility of moving in with her friend Will to avoid going crazy.

Hampton creates a series of encounters in which Sage slowly comes to realize that what is happening around and within her are just as real as her everyday life, which seems to have vanished under a cloud of grief.

She excels at crafting scenarios in which Sage tackles her emotions with therapeutic help from Dr. Waver, the first psychiatrist with whom she finally feels a connection: "Well, I feel sad and depressed, but not like I should." "Who says that?" "Society, I guess." "Society sucks," she said with a grunt. "So, how do you feel?" "Actually, the feeling that is beginning to overshadow the sadness and depression is fear." "Of what?" "Myself," I said. "I don't trust myself."

As events unfold, Sage confronts not only her own loss and emotional fragility, but the search for something she's lost which somehow involves Lily, who is not what she initially appears to be.

As Sage and head restaurant chef Cameron Winters's son Thomas face an emerging evil threat, Sage begins to realize that everything she'd taken for granted about her life and her role in it is changing.

Hampton builds an excellent young adult fantasy firmly grounded not just in otherworldly elements and powerful forces, but a fragile teen's grasp on her mental condition and her place in the world.

This powerful characterization drives a story that offers a compelling examination of heredity, purpose, and power. As rituals and opposing forces clash, Sage must make the kinds of decisions that embrace not just her power, but her ability to love.

The conclusion ends in a cliffhanger, paving the way for further Sage adventures.

Urban fantasy young adult readers will find the strong focus on Sage's mental struggles a convincing draw that keeps her character three-dimensional and the story compelling from beginning to end as it creates and builds upon mystery, mental illness, recovery, and struggles.

The Assassin's Legacy
D. Lieber
Ink & Magick
9781951239190, $24.95 Hardcover, $14.95 Paperback, $4.99 Ebook

The Assassin's Legacy is a "Minte and Magic Adventure" that tells of a retired monster hunter who is only trying to find some peace in his life. He assumes a new identity as Sasha, a deckhand who moves from job to job.

His legacy follows close behind, however, when Sasha's sister sends an assassin to kill him, forcing him to return to his homeland to renounce his title in hopes of finally finding peace.

D. Lieber employs the first person to bring Sasha and his world to life. This adds intrigue and allure from the opening paragraphs of the story, which introduce an inviting scenario as Sasha reacts almost automatically to a threat that calls forth his killing expertise and instincts: "I should not waste what I have left. I do not know how long it will be before I get another job. Though my position on the merchant airship had been ideal for staying on the move, I wasn't keen to fly anytime soon after what had happened with the pirates. Closing my eyes, I could still feel the warmth of their blood as it streamed down my blade to my hand. Mac's astonishment echoed in my mind. "Sasha, where did you learn to do that?" he'd asked as I stared blankly at their lifeless forms sprawled on the deck."

Surprised at how easily he breaks his own vow not to be a murderer, Sasha faces not only challenges from his family, but his own too-familiar knee-jerk responses to threat which make it hard to set aside his vocation in favor of a more peaceful life.

When his Russian homeland is threatened by supernatural creatures, Sasha faces difficult choices on whether to stay true to his stated desires or fall into organizations and paths that lead into all too familiar scenarios of conflict and confrontation.

D. Lieber excels in crafting a fantasy steeped in intrigue, diabolical threats, changing interpersonal relationships, and Russian culture. She takes the time to inject psychological insights into the mercurial relationships Sasha forms and the conflicts between his alter ego, the killer Aleksandr, and his efforts to change.

The relationship tides that ebb and flow throughout the story are particularly well described, cementing the action with believable characters and realistic reactions to dilemmas of mind, body, and heart: " that those feelings were real, it all felt like a farce, a buffoonish mockery of things too serious to joke about. Perhaps if she'd shown any real interest in those times, I would tell her what I was feeling now. Then again, if she had shown real interest, I would've felt guilty for teasing her to begin with."

While those looking for nonstop action and cursory characterization may not fully appreciate the time taken to fully explore motivation and feeling, this is one of the strengths of The Assassin's Legacy. It exposes the depth of conundrums faced by a protagonist who wants to truly change his ways even when life calls upon him to repeat and rely upon them.

The dichotomy and irony of old versus new intentions and how they play out in a world which poses the same types of threats as in the past contributes to a particularly absorbing and thought-provoking read.

The Assassin's Legacy is made all the more powerful by the moral and ethical dilemmas of its protagonist and his first-person reflections on the value of his and others' lives.

Its special blend of intrigue, fantasy, and psychological self-inspection will enthrall readers to an ending which leaves the door open for more adventures.

Healing the Stormy Marriage
R. Christian Bohlen with Helen M. Bohlen
Carpenter's Son Publishing
9781949572773 $14.99

Healing the Stormy Marriage: Hope and Help for YOU When Your Loved One Has Mental Health or Addiction Issues is highly recommended reading for Christians seeking insights on successful marriage and family life. It reviews the kinds of marital situations revolving around mental health that can lead to spiritual doubt and interpersonal conflicts.

If this sounds like the book is another general marital advice guide, be advised that Healing the Stormy Marriage narrows its focus to the addiction and mental health issues that affect relationships rooted in Christian belief, in particular. This different focus is refreshing: "Most adults with mental illness are in a close relationship with a loved one - someone like you. This book is specifically for you, their spouse."

The central thesis of the book is clear: "If spouses of the mentally ill or addicted can be spiritually strengthened and learn practical things they can do independently, more marriages can be saved."

Another big plus is that the authors have lived through these experiences and lessons, and inject their different perspectives (both individually and in their own marriage) into the case history examples. This perspective supports psychological and spiritual approaches to problem-solving, adding an authoritative note that backs statistics with personal insights to validate the applications of the psychological and spiritual principles recommended.

The authors advise taking in the first chapter, then skipping around the book, choosing subjects that resonate from such chapter headings as "My Hopes for My Life Are Unraveling" and "My Needs Are Not Being Met."

Those who live with mentally ill spouses well know that each heading represents a main topic of concern and struggle. This audience will welcome admonitions that embrace the realities and spiritual impact of such struggles.

Take the insights about boundaries, a common psychological discussion, for example. This is neatly wound into Christian beliefs in a way that psychological perspective alone can't fully address: "Setting boundaries is one of the hardest things you will have to do, but it's also what God does with us. It is right and it is necessary. When the people of Israel went too far, God enforced significant consequences. When His people failed to establish boundaries with their neighboring nations, they ended up in dire straits, felt miserable, and were ultimately destroyed. I promise you that if you will set and enforce boundaries with love and do your best to apply flexible judgment with the help of the Holy Spirit (not based on whims and bad moods), you will gradually see order and stability enter your relationship - or it will become clear that you must separate."

The added value of Biblical quotes, spiritual discussion, and Christian analysis melds nicely with the traditional advice that supports marital analysis and different communication avenues. All this offers inspiration to Christians who seek faith-based solutions to their marital problems.

Christians who want a very different form of marital advice guide that embraces the special challenges of mental illness and communication issues will find Healing the Stormy Marriage a unique discussion. It addresses topics that more general marital advice books often fail to consider.

Quickwater Oracles
Ruth Thompson
Two Fine Crows Books
9781736525814 $7.99 Kindle/$20.00 Paper

Quickwater Oracles: Conversations and Meditations is not a series of life admonitions, as is usually the case with meditative literary works; but a poetic channeling of intuitions and experiences into creative expression, introspection, and broader understanding.

Ruth Thompson uses these experiences to delve into many issues of life, from explorations of unconditional love to the process of becoming a writer and capturing words of truth and wisdom.

As the pieces move through nature, self, and philosophical contemplation, Thompson brings to life a vivid set of memories in words that will resonate with readers.

These aren't your typical imaginings or explorations. Thompson offers many surprises, as in the piece narrated from the point of view of horse Lucky: "Here is this place, this air, the smells of this particular time, and I Lucky am merged too with this. It's the wind here now. Wind coming across much land. And smell of grass. New grass. And it goes forever. We can run forever. And we, we, we enjoy this sun. It was hard in winter with ice and snow but now, now is best time! All of us around all of us. And there is more here than horse. We are cloud and cloud shadow moving and we are all the growings, all colors, smells. We are smells. It is much space here. Water too here. Fast, quick water. I Lucky am not wanting to talk. I am liking the wind and the moving and the wind blows the bugs away. But I am not joy in having you or anyone on my back! Yes, it is a bonding when a horse and a person know one another for a long time, but that is a different thing."

This passage also illustrates that Thompson's choices of language and punctuation in this book may not always embrace the usual literary precision of form and grammatical accuracy, but often set aside more staid choices in the interest of embracing a freer-flowing form of expression.

"Stay true to you" is one of the many messages Thompson imparts about the creative process. Her admonitions and insights support every writer's effort to please not just others, but especially themselves: "There is nothing wrong with enjoying that feeling of creating, expressing, and connecting - having your creative work be transformative, magical, alchemical. There is an "Aha!" when someone reads your words, or when they hear and see and experience through your presence. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have your work connect with those who are in affinity with it. That is fine! But we say, just release what is finished and let it go. And turn back to doing what gives you joy."

While Quickwater Oracles should be considered for literary collections, this added value makes it a recommended pick for philosophy, self-help, and creative writers and readers, as well.

The fervor of its voice, the unconventional pieces that eschew propriety for passion, and the many insights into personal power and integrity that support these reflections are poignant, revealing, and powerful.

Ideally, Quickwater Oracles will reach a wide, diverse audience with its rich, joyful channeling of nature, purpose, and spiritual, spirited reflections.

Challenge Accepted: 1 Facebook Post, 7 Days, 900 Photos and Counting
Chris Maltby
Cresting Wave Publishing, LLC
9781735413556 $29.95/$14.99

Challenge Accepted: 1 Facebook Post, 7 Days, 900 Photos and Counting is rich with Chris Maltby's black and white photos and tells stories in a series of black and white images that reflect Maltby's passion for the medium.

A photo challenge that came through his Facebook feed (to post seven black and white photos in seven days - images that held no people and came with no explanations) led to an unexpected creative effort that resulted in far more than Maltby anticipated.

What he thought would be a piece of cake turned into a passion that solidified his attraction to black and white photography: "Black and white pictures spoke; color pictures objected."

But, Challenge Accepted: 1 Facebook Post, 7 Days, 900 Photos and Counting is more than just a photo collection (although this forms the foundation of the presentation). It's also an artist's notebook explaining how he came to take these photos. Herein lays the nuggets of inspirational wisdom that make this production a standout: "If you ask me, stairs are the most critical part of a building. A ranch house is fine, but a four-story townhouse is fantastic. And a set of sweeping spiral stairs is Well, if nothing else, they're the reason I took this shot the second I saw it.!"

From San Francisco's architectural scenarios to a cathedral in Florence on Day 738, Maltby's observations and insights are creative forces that move beyond explanation to celebrate the reasons why the image stood out and deserved to be captured: "My silence screams humility. When looking with stunned eyes. At the magnificence of this cathedral."

The result is a powerful synthesis of written word and black and white art that delves into a sense of place, purpose, and creative efforts to capture atmosphere and action.

Whether representing a speeding car in Oakland, a horse mobile at the San Francisco Airport, or the surprising geometry of the Life Sciences Building that is the Annex of the University of California at Berkeley, these artistic representations will delight contemporary artists and enthusiasts of the black and white medium.

Like the works of Ansel Adams and others who have devoted lives and art to black and white, the contemporary works of Chris Maltby are not to be missed. Challenge Accepted: 1 Facebook Post, 7 Days, 900 Photos and Counting should be in every contemporary arts library, and should also be considered a foundation work for students of modern black and white photographic art.

Understanding Modern Health Care
Steve Fredman, MD
Independently Published
9780578883175 $14.95 Paper/$11.99 ebook

Finally, there's a reasoned history of modern health care processes and how we arrived at this tipping point of modern times, in Understanding Modern Health Care: The Wonders We Created and the Potholes We Dug.

The coverage comes from a physician who reviews the challenges of building a healthcare system that addresses a wide range of users and needs. It begins in the late 1700s with discoveries that would cement the foundations of healthcare promises and challenges.

At each step of the history, Dr. Fredman covers how initial concepts were fostered, promoted, and came to be interpreted in society in general; as well as the political, economic, and medical forces that formed the crux of healthcare manifestos.

From an early dentist who introduced anesthesia, to patents covering treatments, discoveries are explored and dovetail with Dr. Fredman's own process of becoming a doctor and navigating modern healthcare systems.

From Holland and Russia to the formation of the World Health Organization, Medicare, and other entities, Dr. Fredman juxtaposes history, his own experiences, and the changes which advanced another layer of healthcare regulation into moral and ethical considerations over how and why people were and are treated.

From hormones to transplants to the development and deployment of medical devices, the entirety of this historical background sounds extensive and daunting...but, off-putting it is not.

Understanding Modern Health Care's weave of personal encounters with medical options and bigger-picture thinking about the history and choices that went into these systems and their availability creates a memorable and informative survey. This clearly documents both the achievements of the industry and the pitfalls it's fallen into along the way.

Readers who want a well-reasoned history combined with an assessment that is accessible and thought-provoking will find Understanding Modern Health Care essential reading.

It provides the first step in understanding the influences on the system we navigate today, as well as an overview of how modern medicine developed. Its historical connections to real-life experience promote an understanding that is needed among not just healthcare providers, but patients.

Nermina's Chance
Dina Greenberg
Atmosphere Press
9781639446254 $19.95

Nermina's Chance is a novel of war, violation, and women's lives during the Balkan War in the 1990s. It is a stark portrait of survival which brings to mind the shocking circumstances of women's lives in the hard-hitting classic movie Two Women, in which actress Sophia Loren portrayed a woman determined to protect her vulnerable daughter during a 1940s siege in Italy.

Contrast this to Nermina's Chance, where refugee and survivor Nermina Beganovi faces brutality and atrocities that destroy everything she's loved, and she struggles to survive both physically and mentally.

As past and present experiences coalesce, Nermina makes her way through a new world and faces different opportunities affected by the traumas she's endured as she strives to keep her daughter, Atika, safe after fleeing her homeland.

Nermina faces the results of her drive for independence and the choices she's made on behalf of her young daughter, revealing the foundations of her quest to build the best life she can even as ghosts of the past haunt her: "Her cuticles sting from the soapy hot water and her mind re-traces her rationale for raising Atika on her own - her choice, she maintains - to stay single all these years. Just as it had been her choice to leave Carl out of the equation from the start. And now his choice, it seems, to be a father to Atika. Even now. And this is a good thing, a sweet thing like this cake baking in the oven."

Where the classic movie Two Women was a story that focused on brutality and nodded to its aftermath and impact, Nermina's Chance focuses on the survival and recovery process that affects several generations and results in choices that lead to both sadness and happiness.

How Nermina builds the foundations of family upon the ashes of brutal experience makes for a compelling story that should be in the collections of any fiction reader interested in accounts of survival and the elusive, tricky nature of learning to love and trust again.

Kevin Cox
9780578944883 $12.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

Teen Ambrielle faces "veiled monsters" in her mind in the opening sentences of Bewilderness - but the real problem is that she doesn't recognize her surroundings, has no idea where home is or how to find it, and must take the risk of leaving what appears to be a safe haven if she is to regain her memory and sense of place and purpose.

Even her name isn't hers. It's a label given to her by the alien who discovers her in this desolate world of sand dunes and oddities.

This must be a dream. But, it's not. As Ambrielle slowly pieces together the many missing pieces of her life and begins to understand her new environment, readers receive an engrossing sci-fi story set not just in one world, but multiple ones, as she embarks on an extraordinary journey of discovery.

Young adult fantasy and sci-fi fans will relish the clues that fall into place as Ambrielle encounters a variety of aliens, learns whom to trust and what she has to confront, and faces the elusive Whisperer in her mind, who drives her to find answers.

Kevin Cox provides an engrossing story that captivates from the start, from the dilemma of a young girl's missing memories to how she arrives at her past and purpose, including emotional reflections and insights during the course of this journey: "Why do I feel afraid? I need to go toward it. This could be the answer, the way home. It could be something better. An end to this loneliness. Pain and sadness are no more . . . in The Hollow."

From the difference between her own thoughts and the whispered influences in her mind to memories which surface and new friends who help her, Cox moves his story along nicely, from a tabula rasa of vanished connections to a tale in which connections evolve from a wide range of unexpected sources.

Ambrielle's ability to tap her powers to navigate these many worlds and challenging new situations are complimented by touches of philosophical inspection which inject bigger-picture thinking into her adventures: "After everything she'd lived through, did it ultimately mean nothing? She liked to imagine that when she finally died, she would be satisfied knowing all the answers to the mysteries of the universe, to the meaning of life. If this was the answer, then life meant nothing."

Young adult sci-fi fans who look for elements of mystery and psychological growth in their adventure reading will find Bewilderness a compelling introduction to a series. Ambrielle is a formidable, capable young protagonist as she reconnects with friends and gains new knowledge.

It should be noted that a cliffhanger conclusion paves the way for further adventures even as it resolves her first dilemma.

Nightlord: Sunset
Garon Whited
Independently Published
9780692614471 $25.99 Hardcover/$4.99 ebook

Nightlord: Sunset is a metaphysical fantasy that also holds the rare attribute of incorporating humor throughout as it tells of Eric, who is egged on by his friends into getting drunk at a bar, meets a beautiful woman, and awakens the next morning not just in her bed, but in her life.

There's only one problem. He's become a vampire; then a nightlord. Sasha's lure has introduced him to a world he didn't even believe in, much less thought he'd have to navigate, as he becomes a powerful force to contend with.

Garon Whited provides quips, fun, and scenarios which impart laugh-out-loud moments to this and other revelations as Eric changes physically and mentally: "If I had body fat, I couldn't find it. I knew I hadn't looked like this when I stepped out of the shower on Friday morning. Whatever it was, it would make a fortune as a diet plan."

From dragon fighting to avenging death, Eric's mind-boggling journey keeps sending him in new directions with some unusual allies at his side, including a horse: "I wondered who held conversations with his golem besides me. Then again, who else do I really have that knows me for what I am?"

It may be difficult to envision an epic fantasy wound into a playful series of encounters juxtaposed with serious threats and transformations, yet Garon Whited achieves this dance between darkness and light with a hand both heavy on the action and equally adept at ironic injections of drama.

Sunset appears to be a weighty read at almost seven hundred pages, sporting an introduction that portends an ongoing series by presenting itself as the first book.

But, there's nothing light or artificially divided about Sunset. Its ability to open with the realistic scenario of a jilted man who drinks too much and awakens in the arms of another world, its epic adventures with unexpected allies and impossible scenarios, and an unlikely hero in the form of an ordinary man who confronts the implausible creates a complex, well-rounded, yet inviting fantasy. This will delight readers looking for something refreshingly original in the realm of vampires and dragons.

To call Sunset a vampire story is to do it a disservice. Whited creates a multifaceted read that is thoroughly engaging, world-building, and hard to put down. Replete with action and fun, its movements between worlds takes readers along for a rollicking, unpredictable ride as Eric comes into powers he'd never imagined and forms some unusual relationships and a new purpose to life...and death.

Tides Beneath Unshattered Love: Paris
L.C. Renie
Independently Published
9781736498101, $TBA

In Tides Beneath Unshattered Love: Paris, psychiatrist Alexandria Belmont well knows the challenge of managing inherited traits. Her struggles with the albinism that runs in her family is part of not only her life, but the reason why she became a psychiatrist.

A new chapter opens in that life when her best friend invites her to join her on a Paris vacation, and she is set to enjoy new experiences. But when Samantha backs out at the last minute and leaves Alexandria on her own, she enters uncharted waters that test her resolve to try something new, as well as challenges to her friendship with Samantha.

The holiday that was supposed to offer a respite from her recent divorce becomes a trial in and of itself as Alexandria faces uncertainty about not just the solo trip, but being newly single.

She misses her ex-husband, who was a steady rock in her life since high school. She also recognizes that she would have bailed on this trip were it not for the very person who is bailing on her with the admonition of "Ms. Unapologetic takes no crap."

However, Samantha is not out of her life yet. As she learns new truths about her friend and herself, Alexandria's life expands, introducing readers to past secrets and new future opportunities.

L.C. Renie is adept at weaving accounts of intrigue, identity crisis, romance, and new developments into a story replete with character fragilities and strong commitments.

Readers receive more than a light development of love in Paris. It's a tale that considers Alexandria's own well-built barriers and how she comes to reveal more of herself to others and herself in unexpected ways as she becomes much more of a risk-taker than she ever has in the past.

The process by which Alexandria overcomes many engrained fears and preconceptions of who she is and her future makes for particularly involving reading...perhaps as compelling as the head-over-heals romance she finds herself entwined in.

Tides Beneath Unshattered Love: Paris is a powerful probe of matters of the heart and psyche. Its ability to take a psychiatrist's growth and evolution to the next level beyond a romantic interest alone lends it a three-dimensional heart that will appeal to romance readers looking for more depth than most genre romances offer.

Peanut's Time Out
Rachel Nee Hall
Cresting Wave Publishing
9781956048261 $17.95

Peanut's Time Out is a picture book story about parental incarceration, and provides the very young with an accessible explanation of events that will help them understand a parent's absence.

The story is introduced by dog Junebug, who presents a cheery welcome as he explains the absence of his beloved littermate brother Peanut, who can't be with him for an extended period of time.

The focus is on how Junebug understands and handles this absence. The story rests upon an interactive series of questions designed to help young ones engage with the tale to better understand and express their feelings.

As the story progresses, the emotions of sadness and loss, the expressions of crying and anger, and the deeper consideration of whether Peanut's absence is Junebug's fault helps young readers work through their own emotions about a loved one's absence.

As the savvy pup's mother says that it's ok to be sad sometimes, more details are provided about the events that led Peanut away from his family, which involve a stolen bone that leads to a puppy prison sentence.

Adults who choose Peanut's Time Out for the very young have a rare opportunity to help this age group process their reactions to (and foster their understanding of) incarceration.

It's a fine story that links this unique loss to better understanding, and is highly recommended for families facing a family member's absence due to crime and a child's confusion and responses.

Mama's Time Out
Rachel Nee Hall
Cresting Wave Publishing
9781735413594 $17.95

Mama's Time Out introduces Butters, an otter who loved to go fishing with his mother - until suddenly, one day, she doesn't live with them any longer.

"Has this happened to you?" the young Butters wonders as he addresses young readers, inviting them to connect with his situation.

Butters is often sad, and cries because he "doesn't understand why she isn't with me." The good times are gone. Is it his fault?

An understanding grandmother explains that his mother broke the rules and needs a "time out" in prison. Shoplifting fish at the market comes with a price tag!

As Butters considers rules, the concept of time out, and the need for better choices, kids receive more than a story of loss and grief. It's an account of poor choices, learning from mistakes, and moving on.

By story's end, youngsters will be ready to understand not only absence, but the impact of breaking rules, parental absence, and how mistakes don't translate to loss of love on either side.

Kids with incarcerated parents need this message...and an adult reading this picture book story, to invite open discussions.

Daddy's Time Out
Rachel Nee Hall
Cresting Wave Publishing
9781956048254 $17.95

Daddy's Time Out joins a three-book trilogy about incarceration of family members, providing a picture book story for the very young that embraces themes of consequence, redemption, and transformation.

Its ability to approach these very adult subjects from a child's perspective and encourage the kinds of dialogues and understanding that promote and support family interactions during this difficult period makes for an important guide. Adults should consider it essential for any children's book collection strong in social issues, psychological understanding, and stories about choices, consequences, and recovery.

Nibblit the rabbit likes to play catch with his daddy...but his father no longer lives with them.

As Nibblit considers this loss and his revised role in the family, kids receive a warm story that embraces a mother's love for her child and her explanation about how the father is paying the price for stolen carrots.

Rachel Nee Hall's use of a 'time out' concept kids already likely understand well allows them to receive adult information in a manner they can relate to.

The strength of all three of these books, even though their structure is very similar, lies in their ability to help kids understand bigger pictures of crime, punishment, and good and bad behaviors, as well as their own loss.

Individually, the books are important, as they apply to different family incarceration scenarios. Together, the trilogy forms a foundation of better understanding that adults can use to help the very young adjust to a family member's incarceration.

All are essential stories that should be given to any new prisoner's family where small children are involved.

The Kingmaker's Redemption
Harry Pinkus
BQB (An imprint of Quality Books)
9781952782169 $18.95 Paper/$8.99 ebook

The Kingmaker's Redemption is recommended reading for political intrigue readers seeking high-octane action, and provides a story of winners, losers, and subterfuge steeped in the power, money, and processes of the American political system.

Departing from the status quo and prior precedents comes with its problems, as Jack McKay discovers when he decides to support a candidate he really believes in rather than the party he's usually led to victory. His business is winning elections, but it's about to become the center of a whirlwind of controversy when Jack lends his considerable influence to a campaign for an Opposition candidate against the Party.

Liberty Party leader Randall Davies knows what McKay's decision means to his chances. Forces that operate behind the scenes contrive to implicate McKay in a crime that will sully his reputation and limit his ability to be a political influencer.

As the conspiracy gains momentum in the courts, McKay and his team are drawn away from their original objective and into a trial that leaves him fighting for more than his reputation, even as he learns new things about the process and the people behind it: "Jack was getting a real insight into what the prosecution was likely planning to present. He might have actually enjoyed the education had his life not hung in the balance."

Harry Pinkus crafts the perfect intersection between legal and political thriller, cementing action with strong characters that operate on both sides of the election process, with special interests and influencers on all sides.

The personal challenges McKay faces as his choices affect family relationships and career are as much on the line as the question of who will win the election.

More than just a story of innocence and guilt, Pinkus calls into question motivation, political and legal processes, and fluctuating relationships changed by new realizations.

The Kingmaker's Redemption is as much a story of survival, enlightenment, and changing interpersonal connections as it is a political legal thriller. Audiences who enjoy investigative mysteries operating at high levels of political circles will relish a story that winds through drama and action, adding a dash of romance as icing on the cake of intrigue.

Stoking Hope
C. K. McDonough
D.X. Varos, Ltd.
9781955065108 $3.49 ebook

Stoking Hope will attract readers who enjoy historical novels featuring strong women who act decisively to build lives and careers for themselves and generations to follow.

The prologue opens in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania in 1909, when young Martha and Frederic are exploring their possibilities and heritages. C.K. McDonough draws readers into the social and cultural milieu of these times through these young eyes: "Why don't you like sauerkraut?" Frederic asked. Martha shrugged. "I like it," she said. "But not every day." "Would you rather eat potatoes every day? Like the McMurphy's? Or the Doyles?" Frederic lifted his chin, tented a hand over his eyes and looked towards the apex of the street, the steepest section of the patch where the houses were nearly stacked on top of each other. The Irish section."

This ability to set the stage with an atmospheric observation of environment and social norms succeeds in cementing the influences and attitudes of the first generation that McDonough presents in this sweeping story.

The second chapter, set nine years later in 1918 Webster Hill, Pennsylvania, moves Martha Kraus into adulthood. Here, she considers marriage to beau Peter Doyle, whom her father considers a scoundrel. She then faces becoming a single mother devoted to her daughter Frances, whose life follows a path that too closely mirrors her mother's mistakes.

McDonough's ability to move through time to capture and juxtapose these very different lives makes for a sweeping, yet smooth, story that easily traverses time and place. Her approach brings readers into different eras in which two women and their families pursue new lives and develop revised perspectives.

Her ability to take five decades of change and incorporate them into a story that is satisfyingly filled with social and political observation, yet firmly rooted in the choices and challenges of women who evolve into their strengths and roles as influencers of their times, is especially notable.

From struggles with loss, grief, and social and legal challenges to how women become pioneers and trailblazers as social norms changed, McDonough crafts a story that is a powerful testimony to family ties and the ability of hearts to heal and change with the times.

As characters that were "not raised that way" rise to the challenges and calls to change their lives and perspectives of propriety and justice, Stoking Hope moves through and between worlds changed by adversity and courage.

The final message imparted by women who "never give up" and never let go of hope is stunningly represented in the conclusion of a story that will delight readers who enjoy American history epics strong in psychological growth, revelations, and changing lives.

Historical fiction and women's literature libraries will find Stoking Hope an attractive addition.

Eudora Space Kid: The Great Engine Room Takeover
David Horn
Independently Published
9781736677407 $4.99 Paperback

The Great Engine Room Takeover pairs engaging art by Talitha Shipman with an equally-captivating story for elementary-level chapter book readers that follows the adventure of a young space-faring hero who lives on an Astroliner with "lots of weapons and five swimming pools."

It's unusual to see humor blend into a space adventure for this age group, but David Horn provides both with healthy doses of action that keep kids engaged and laughing. The story opens with a bang of refreshingly original first-person observation: "Ouch!" Lootenant (I'm not sure how to spell it, but this looks right) Londo screamed as he bent down to look at his toe, which I had just stepped on. He is the AstroLiner Athena's biggest, strongest officer. More than big, he's not even human."

What has hurt the monstrous Londo? Third grader Eudora Jenkins, "the all-around most awesome girl on the Athena," has stepped on his foot in an effort to provide a distraction for the narrator's goal - reaching the plasma cannon controls.

Illustrator Talitha Shipman keeps up nicely with black and white drawings that also add touches of humor, as in her portrait of the spaceship bridge, which shows a crew member piloting the craft with one hand while sipping a drink.

The third-grade class that resides on the ship is on a rare tour of the bridge. But, the young narrator wants more: "Captain Jax just doesn't realize how I absolutely need and cannot live without actually firing the Athena's plasma cannons."

Kids will find the first-person narrator and adventure to be thoroughly engrossing, offering many capricious moments that stray, in a satisfying manner, from the usual sci-fi adventure scenario.

This makes for an unpredictable read that keeps young readers guessing as trouble emerges for the juvenile heroes.

From "toe incidents" to encounters with young officers, the story's whimsical aspects are simply delightful.

Read-aloud parents and elementary grade to early middle school readers will find The Great Engine Room Takeover the perfect ticket to outer space encounters and adventure. It's couched in a level of humor that invites them to laugh and better understand the use and impact of comedy in creative writing as young troublemakers learn from their mistakes and become more savvy about the rules...and when to break them.

Love's Legacy
Daniel Fallon
Amazonas Publishing
9781735999609 $25.00 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Love's Legacy: Viscount Chateaubriand and the Irish Girl is at once a romance, a memoir, and a genealogical mystery. Author Daniel Fallon inherits letters addressed to his great-great-grandfather, written in the summer of 1817 by noted French writer Fran‡ois-Rene de Chateaubriand.

Luckily, Fallon's inheritance wasn't just ephemera. He also acquired a family oral history about his great-great-great grandmother, a woman named Mary Neale, the Irish girl who becomes a focus of his detective work. The tale, passed down through five generations, placed the inherited letters in context. Because Fallon's career surrounded him with scholars who were used to solving puzzles of the past, he was in the perfect position to investigate Chateaubriand and his ancestry.

Readers who know something about Chateaubriand will be the perfect audience for this survey, but newcomers to the man - those who enjoy genealogical searches, memoirs, and literary mysteries - will require no prior familiarity with him in order to find Love's Legacy a captivating read.

From a review of Chateaubriand's life and times to how Fallon solves many questions that reveal more about his family history, readers receive a lively probe that embraces both facets: "Several items of evidence passed down in my family, however, offered alternative perspectives. One was a document that had survived over generations and ended up in my father's files, which led me to believe, in contrast to Levaillant, that Thomas had remained at Amiens for a four-year term."

Love's Legacy is more than a love story or a family history. In charting how family memories, inherited documents, and information can revise history and knowledge, readers are encouraged to take more seriously the papers and stories that are often handed down between generations.

This message comes at an especially timely point in history because many modern young people eschew inheritances of papers as being fairly useless.

If it does nothing else (and, it does many things), Love's Legacy entertains, educates, and is an especially revealing, good read highly recommended for a wide audience; especially literature and history buffs with a penchant for stories of the past and how they often parallel and explain events in modern times.

He Was Our Man in Washington
Owen Symes
Zero Books
9781789043310 $29.95 Paper/$20.99 ebook

He Was Our Man in Washington: A History of the Obama Years joins a host of other books about the Obama era, but offers a difference - it narrows its inspection to six key struggles and actions which marked Obama's legacy. Thus, it holds the opportunity to provide in-depth insights where more general Obama discourses only lightly touch upon these issues.

The six areas of focus are the War on Terror; the legacy of the recession of 2007; marginal group struggles; the Affordable Care Act; climate change; and Indigenous peoples' struggles. Each issue receives its own section and numerous chapters which outline various aspects of these concerns, often criticizing the impact and effects of presidential choices and approaches to the problems: "Obama's policy in Libya was the loudest example of a typically quiet approach. Across the African continent, AFRICOM spent the two terms of the first black president dotting the landscape with outposts, bases, forward supply positions. Local airfields allowed US spy drones to operate, local troops made use of US equipment and training to hunt down their enemies (or topple their government, as was the case with Mali), and US special forces spread themselves across Africa, engaging in some 546 "activities" over the course of 2013 alone, a 217 percent increase from 2008. The sustained expansion of this battlespace over the course of Obama's presidency, occurring as it did almost entirely out of the public's view, bodes ill for the future."

Readers anticipating a one-sided laudatory review may be stymied by this critical treatise, but those who want a more even assessment of not just the pros but the cons of this administration's decisions will find He Was Our Man in Washington offers much food for thought.

Another important fact is that this book comes heavily footnoted with research supporting both the history and the author's analysis. This attention to detail provides not just facts, but more materials for further reading, for those who would pursue source materials and statistical references.

The result is a fine, in-depth survey of a wide range of topics, from civil rights to the environmental and political issues which received decisive action and influence from the Obama administration.

Political science readers who would go beyond surface reports to truly understand political process and influence will find He Was Our Man in Washington a well-researched and thought-provoking analysis, especially well suited for classroom discussion and debate, as well as individual study.

I Quit! The Life-Affirming Joy of Giving Up
Coonoor Behal
New Degree Press
9781636769486, $29.99 Hardcover/$19.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Many have been raised with the admonition to not be a quitter in life; but I Quit! The Life-Affirming Joy of Giving Up presents a different viewpoint as it illustrates how, sometimes, giving up is actually the best thing to do.

Most will associate the call to quit with work, but Coonoor Behal extends the sentiment to habits, self-identity, relationships, and goals and aspirations to provide a broader view of what it means to re-assess one's direction and choose a different, better path.

Readers slow to change or question their set course may find many of these concepts daunting. It's not in the nature of most to reconsider their trajectory once a path has been set and time and effort put into staying the course.

But, Behal provides many keys to understanding definitions of achievement and success, pointing out when it's time to quit and make a change, and how to effectively do so.

As chapters unfold, they provide a blueprint for this reconsideration process with diverse case histories that reinforce the idea that "Sometimes our capacity to endure failure is much larger than we know." She also links many concepts to white supremacy cultural edicts. This approach offers much food for thought for not just self-help circles, but social and cultural issues readers.

Behal's culturally inclusive focus embraces and contrasts the experiences of many different cultures. One example is her survey of family relationships and what these mean in different ethnic groups, and how "dysfunctional normal" is different not just in families in different cultures, but from friends of choice.

These approaches provide far more depth than the usual psychological survey, giving readers insights about the process of not just re-envisioning life, but reconsidering the underlying cultural and social prejudices that dictate a belief structure, course, or the definition of what constitutes success.

I Quit! The Life-Affirming Joy of Giving Up should be digested slowly. It's a much wider-ranging survey than most will anticipate, and provides reconsiderations of Western traditions and concepts that should be part of any discussion of values, cultural differences, and the importance of quitting comfortable routines to take risks that lead to better outcomes.

The Star of Atlantis
Tricia D. Wagner
Independently Published
9798534001235 $3.99

The Star of Atlantis joins other books in the series of the same name, providing young adult audiences with a riveting adventure story that both stands well on its own and supports the series as a whole.

It opens with a recap of eight-year-old Swift and his best friend Ash, neatly introducing relationships, past events, and deeper insights from prior adventures: "Sometimes it felt like this game of swordplay - Ash perpetually losing - was his attempt to keep Swift, tiring of always trailing behind, from shaking him off."

From Swift's uncanny ability to absorb different languages to his proficiency at math, Tricia D. Wagner nicely sets up the scenario of adventure that makes The Star of Atlantis a worthy read for middle grade and young adult readers looking for attention-grabbing action.

As a life-saving encounter drags Swift into a strong current of danger to a search for the elusive Star of Atlantis (the most renowned lost sea relic in Wales), the brothers find themselves on a nautical treasure hunt nicely steeped in the nautical world: "Swift studied the open sky with its eastern edge deepening, and the sun in its western hemisphere swelling with the latening hours. The idea of night falling on these deep waters agitated the restlessness he'd been suffering all afternoon, watching Caius at the sails struggling against wind. And the ache in his own body, more keen now at the end of his day heightened the sense of exposure to the sea and its strength."

Wagner excels in juxtaposing mystery with philosophical and interpersonal observations as the brothers are tested and changed by their adventures, and by a sense of urgency and desperation that grips them during their pursuits.

The Star Strider dinghy of previous story brings them into and out of trouble once again as Swift finds a Sunstone ("Bits of crystal ancient Norse sailors used to navigate. Something special about them. They show the way when the way's not plain.") and comes to feel that even the object of his pursuit, the legendary Star of Atlantis, won't be able to solve all his problems.

The blend of intrigue, supernatural influences, and the dilemma faced by Swift as he tries to save his brother Caius highlights a journey far from home that might never bring him back.

Wagner does a particularly fine job of portraying shifting friendships as Swift comes to find that his friendship with Ash is changed by the Star of Atlantis. These underlying probes of the impact of an adventure add a dimension of psychological introspection to the story that places it more than a notch above the usual action story.

Young readers seeking a thought-provoking blend of adventure, mystery, and interpersonal relationship changes will find much to like about The Star of Atlantis, whether it's read as a stand-alone story or in conjunction with the other series titles.

Little Garlic
Avideh Shashaani
Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing
9781954332010, $14.00 pbk / $4.99 ebook

Little Garlic: Enchanted Tales for All Ages is a collection of spiritual parables recommended not just for all ages, but as adult read-alouds to the very young. It provides children with warm stories that hold messages about belief, understanding, experience, and love.

Little Garlic is born into the world "alone and alienated." Through a series of life encounters and lessons, he learns about kindness, the influence of life experiences, and the magical allure of wisdom and working for the greater good.

Avideh Shashaani emphasizes a spiritually-centered journey as Little Garlic grows. When Onion enters his life and introduces elements which result in a series of transformations, adults have much opportunity to gently guide young listeners to the deeper aspects of Little Garlic's experiences.

Having someone who truly listens to and cares about him changes Little Garlic's life and perception of himself.

Readers who absorb the underlying messages of his journey will find Little Garlic: Enchanted Tales for All Ages excels in stories replete with the allure and elements of magic, but equally strong in the philosophical and social lessons of life.

Through Onion's friendship, Lotus Blossom's wisdom, and hopefulness and love stem from others, Little Garlic grows under the comforting affection of his relationships: "Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes and feel all the beauty and goodness you experienced today. Feel it in your heart and in your wings."

Adults looking for a gentle read-aloud series of stories, and young readers able to read these on their own, will find much to like about Little Garlic's life encounters and changing perception of life friends, and his role in and influence on the world around him.

You've Got Red On You
Clark Collis
1984 Publishing
9781948221153 $26.99 Hardcover/$12.99 ebook

You've Got Red On You: How Shaun of the Dead Was Brought to Life is a highly recommended read for horror film enthusiasts in general, those attracted to British productions, and Shaun of the Dead viewers in particular.

It provides a clear history of the making of this film and its unexpected meteoric rise to fame against all odds: "The chances that the movie would get made, let alone be a suc-cess, were slim. There was no guarantee that Pegg's small-screen fame would translate into box-office takings, and Wright's sole previous movie, the comedy-Western A Fistful of Fingers, had been released for just one week at a single London cinema almost a decade earlier. British horror films were a rarity at the time, and zombie movies had long fallen out of fashion."

From the start, the film was an out-of-the-box production that defied all rules; from the notion of what made a best-selling horror production to the budget involved in such a venture. Interviews with director Edgar Wright, the cast of actors, and others involved in scripting and production lend an insider's depth to the story, which traverses not just the making of Shaun, but the milieu of the British film industry of the times.

From its choreography and music to rehearsal experiences, Clark Collis lends a rare "you are here" flavor to his coverage, which is backed by the strength of its interviews: "Hewitt-Davis spent a day at Ealing with Tim Chipping and some of the other actors playing zombies, working out how the undead should fall down in the film. 'We hadn't quite figured out how zom-bies would react to being shot,' says Chipping. 'We had a big empty studio room with a huge crash mat in it where we could just fall continually. There was an attempt to have us do spectacular falls. In the end, it was like, no, what's funny about them is [that] they just crumble; they don't know they've been shot. So each of us then had a workshop of how we would fall when we got shot. It was like a really good drama lesson with everyone taking a very silly thing seriously, where you go, 'Maybe you would be more floppy.'"

Black and white photos from the movie and behind-the-scenes production liberally pepper the account, bringing it to life with visuals that capture its nuances, actors, and key moments.

An added bonus lies in its candid portraits of problem scenes, creative solutions, and interactions between production members: "David Dunlap argued against the shot, believing that it would eat up too much time and not benefit the film. 'To sustain that shot for as long as was originally intended, it would just die on the screen,' says the cinematographer."

Obviously, a prior interest in horror filmmaking and Shaun of the Dead is a requirement for complete enjoyment of this title. Readers with such an affection, as well as media studies and filmmaking students, will find its depth and details both educational and satisfying, making You've Got Red On You highly recommended not just for individual enthusiasts, but any film studies library collection.

Monologues for Kids and Tweens II
Mike Kimmel
9781953057037 $14.99 Print, $9.99 Kindle

Monologues for Kids and Tweens II: 100 New Comedy and Drama Monologues for Young Actors will prove a treasure trove of opportunities for drama teachers seeking monologue exercises for the young, aspiring actor.

It provides a wealth of scripts that young performers can utilize to improve their drama skills, using rich and diverse scenarios and material that can serve as fodder for either auditions or drama class tutorials.

Each monologue is inviting, which addresses the usual problems all ages have with performing the monologue format. Mike Kimmel believes the process of selecting and performing the monologue is one that needs to be "embraced" as much as any full-cast production. These selections are designed to illustrate the strength and possibilities of the monologue for a wide age range of kids and tweens - those who often struggle to find age-appropriate examples.

From "The Secret of Their Success," which addresses parental relationships from a child's viewpoint, to "I'm Tough On Myself," which reveals the feelings of a young perfectionist, each monologue goes beyond dramatic teaching to provide insights into the emotions and social issues affecting young people in a variety of settings, from home to school and interpersonal relationships.

With pieces moving from history to self-control experiments, reflections on talking without thinking, and discussions of adult jobs and their meaning and impact, these monologues go beyond illustrating acting devices alone.

They get youngsters thinking about bigger issues in life and provide broader perceptions of emotional maturity.

Thus, Monologues for Kids and Tweens II is recommended not just for the young drama audiences and their teachers, but anyone working with these age groups, who look for short pieces reflecting on life and psychological growth.

Jacquie Anter
Archway Publishing
9781665706957, $22.95 Hardcover/$13.95 Paper/$2.99 ebook

You is a spiritual children's picture book that provides early readers with an absorbing introduction to the idea of God and universal presence and connections. It is especially recommended for parental read-aloud use, as discussions stemming from these insights will expand Jacquie Anter's positive message.

The broader encouragement of a child's place in this universe is represented through short two-line rhymes that are accompanied by lovely drawings: "As a bird spreads its wings to fly,/you, too, are destined to soar high!"

Another strong facet of this wide-ranging story is that scenes of nature are wound into the tale to provide a grounded sense of connection to the spiritual components within the plot.

A savvy adult who uses You as a read-aloud will find many opportunities to start dialogues with the very young on how they are connected to the universe, to nature, and to God: "As horses run free and wild,/your Spirit is limitless, my child!"

Parents looking to instill a feeling of opportunity and positive connections at an earlier age than most such coverages offer will find You the perfect starting place for cultivating a sense of place, purpose, and perspective.

The gentle rhymes and accompanying colorful nature-centric visuals reinforce lessons about how everyone is connected.

Wild Happy
Ryan Casseau
Cresting Wave Publishing, LLC
9781956048001 $17.95 Paper/$1.99 ebook

Wild Happy follows author Ryan Casseau's journey to an area about as far from the United States as one can get: to a small, remote Papua New Guinea island where (as the memoir opens) he struggles with malaria and primitive treatments and wonders how he arrived at this point in his life.

Ironically, he's in Papua New Guinea as a researcher to study medicinal plants for malaria. As he drifts into unconsciousness, Casseau wonders: "I'll wake up again, right? In between, the space is filled with cyclic brooding over what the hell I was going to do, why the hell this was happening, and how the hell I had gotten here." The answers to these questions form the central themes of Wild Happy, a blend of travelogue and search for self.

From the start, Casseau cultivates a reflective piece that explores how a middle-class American arrives in this jungle world. The first section covers his privileged world, and acknowledges its lack of real strife: "We never know exactly how we're formed, how the billion pieces of life come together to make us who we are in an exact moment of time. What I've learned, what I know, is that there needs to be a mix. Some good, some bad, some happy, some sad. Malcolm X, whose upbringing was nowhere near as cushy as mine, said, "There is no better teacher than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time." And this, in its own disturbing way, was the problem."

Unlike most, even as a child, Casseau was able to "see behind the curtain of my easy life," and resolved to pursue the kinds of life experiences that deviated from any set path towards an easy life with predictable outcomes.

This led to his journey, at age 24, to Papua New Guinea to study medicinal plants from natives in the jungle. And to his encounter with malaria, and ultimately himself.

It's rare to receive humor, self-awareness, and growth under one cover, but Casseau cultivates this tone in a way that makes Wild Happy as fun a read as it is revealing.

As he works through his research and cultivates a type of wisdom his elders certainly never anticipated, he imparts these forks in the road and the reality versus his childhood imagination in a manner that draws readers into making the journey alongside him (albeit via armchair).

The cultural insights are just as powerful as he crafts descriptions of research findings and interpersonal relationships alike: "I'm still learning how to get things done here. For example, I learned you have to ask and confirm about planning details three or four times in order to get to the truth because no one ever gives you a straight answer. They always lie to make the situation sound easier and better, because they don't want to admit that in PNG, things are always slow and will take five times longer than planned.

They don't see it as lying though. It's just the way everyone handles things."

Readers who want a blend of travelogue, self-awakening, and a sense of joie de vivre that resonates in heart and mind will find Wild Happy a celebration and a revelation, all in one.

Collections strong in health, self-help, and travel alike will find it a strong addition, offering insights that translate into ideas for "not living life superficially," but with the wild, happy abandon of unpredictability.

The Whisper of Dragons
Michelle Picard
Independently Published
9780998783550 $15.99 Print/$6.99 Kindle

Urban fantasy readers who enjoy stories replete with magic, intrigue, and adventure will find The Whisper of Dragons the perfect choice. It's a pick for readers who want a compellingly original story that doesn't just draw from the start, but yanks one's attention with surprising descriptions reflective of the power of Michelle Picard's writing: "The first moments of an Earth dive kicked ass compared to any rodeo bull ride. All tingling rush and alive, nerve-popping symphonies and color. Full dissolution into the body of the Earth was a potent, verdant, breakneck speed descent, except done in exquisite slow motion. Being ripped out of an Earth dive? That sucked worse than unexpected jalape¤o bits in your breakfast cereal."

From these first compelling moments, Picard demonstrates an ability to capture twenty-nine-year-old narrator Kavi Kindra's wild romp through her world in search of Stories of miracles large and small, disasters, birth - and way too many Death Stories.

Kavi harbors a secret relationship with a Dragon, and holds the power to bend and change these Stories. She's being pressured to become a Guardian, but is not sure this move will save her people. Instead, she seeks an alternative and ignores both the cautions of the Dragon and her own clan to become the kind of Guardian she believes her world needs.

Readers will find this land both familiar and alien, at the same time. It's replete with powerful women, dragons, sages, whispered Stories, and influences that build upon nature and human worlds alike, from California's Calaveras Big Trees State Park to experiences which illustrate that Kavi harbors different goals than the Guardians or her own people.

Dialogues between Kavi and both these forces offer philosophical inspections that will delight readers seeking more than action and adventure alone: "The dragon drawled a response. *Are you not willing to pay a price? Is the goal not important enough to push aside foolish rules and protests over personal rights? Is it not inconsequential to worry about forcing others without their permission?*

As supervolcanos, earthquakes, and other forces of nature enter the picture and are affected by Kavi's decisions and talents, readers are treated to a compelling saga that takes the urban fantasy genre and turns it on end with a fresh tone of originality and action that is compelling and creatively new.

The Whisper of Dragons holds few of the familiar trappings of either dragons or magic that have grown old over the decades with such writers as Anne McCaffrey and those who followed her.

Instead, it's a satisfyingly refreshing, surprising introduction to an entirely new world where dragons are just one facet of a tale which embraces romance, rebirth, and duty alike.

Fantasy readers seeking a new perspective that rocks with power and rolls with force will relish The Whisper of Dragons and its ability to forge a new world replete with revised Stories and a compellingly wild life.

It's highly recommended for fantasy, urban fantasy, and paranormal collections seeking a standout new voice.

The Munchkins
Candice Zee
Independently Published
9781737233909 $7.99 paperback; $4.99 ebook

Book 1 of the series The Munchkins introduces a rather large, magical family of children left outside a children's home. Capricorn Munch and her twelve siblings are a mystery. At ten years old, each stops aging and develops extraordinary powers.

Narrator Capricorn provides the first-person story of their lives, which have been completely changed. The story opens with a tragic outcome of this change, but Capricorn rewinds her memories to provide readers with what she can recall of their mysterious origins and how she came to be in a cage, imprisoned with her sister Kitty.

Her decision to review their story and how they fell into the hands of a psychopath traverses their adoption, their magical abilities, and their lives. This provides young adults with all the information needed to enter their world.

Neighbor Big Boss is dangerous. He seems intent on dividing their family with adversity and threat, and as Capricorn observes his influence, little does she know that these devices of division are only the beginning of the end for her happy life.

This story will appeal to middle grades and older; but because of the references to psychopathic behaviors, cruelty, and other psychological insights, earlier grade readers will ideally be more mature, and capable of handling the depths that The Munchkins probes.

Candice Zee injects reflections on growth and problem-solving into her magical adventure that often give satisfying pause for thought: "Chase, stop calling yourself dumb. You're not dumb. You know, you should really work on your self-esteem issues. It's okay. I know you don't always see how serious things are."

As the siblings struggle to confront a growing evil and support one another, readers are drawn into a tale replete with magic, insight, and unexpected twists and turns, all woven into an adventure of connection and evolving abilities.

Although the Munch children face endings and new beginnings, Zee leaves the door wide open for another adventure, with a cliffhanger.

Readers who like stories of family relationships, changing abilities, magic, and adversity will find all these elements and more in The Munchkins. Its action-packed story is more firmly rooted in family and interpersonal connections than most, and creates a satisfying adventure as siblings fight to preserve their family.

Collections strong in stories of magic and family evolution will find The Munchkins a fine addition.

The Moscow Affair
Nancy Boyarsky
Light Messages
9781611533811 $14.99 Paper/$7.99 ebook

Fans of Nancy Boyarsky's Nicole Graves mysteries will find Nicole's latest challenges in The Moscow Affair to be just as compelling as her prior adventures.

Here, she faces Russian intrigue when she accepts a short-term assignment working for the British government MI6. Her task is to observe fellow passengers for two weeks on a luxury cruise up the Volga, reporting back to MI6 about their activities without involving the Russian police or any other elements that may be equally interested in her findings.

A murder aboard ship changes everything and places Nicole in the middle of a swirl of controversy and special interests, challenging her to uncover the truth while surviving the process of its investigation.

As the action heats up, Nicole gains a new identity as Slovak woman Nicola Pavlikova Antonovich, and struggles with events that come to threaten her identity and purpose on the Queen of the Volga. Her friend Abby recommends her to Olga, who has heard of the American tourist wanted for murder, and wants to help Nicole.

As Nicole's P.I. skills are challenged by her need to maintain her realistic persona as "just another American on vacation," readers are treated to a story of murder, subterfuge, and as cat-and-mouse games between criminal and political entities trap her in the maelstrom of danger.

Boyarsky takes the time to thoroughly describe the sights, sounds, culture and architecture of Russia: "The living room was in amazing shape compared with the rest of the building. Its decor included a huge chandelier and a large gilt-framed mirror that reflected itself over and over in an identical mirror on the opposite wall. The rest of the room featured panels of verdant landscapes that appeared to have been applied directly to the walls. The furnishings had a pink and white motif: white walls and carpeting with one pink sofa flanked by two white ones. Three white stools stood in front of the couch arrangement, each topped with a fuchsia cushion."

These observations compliment the action as Nicole tries to leave the country via whatever means are available to her, hampered by her lack of knowledge of the Russian language and her inability to discern who is on her side and who is not.

Add a vanished fiancee, the secretive Ronald Reinhardt, and the possibility of seeing him again to the action, and it's evident that the personal touches Boyarsky adds to the murder mystery and political intrigue work together to create a compelling story.

Mystery readers will enjoy depictions of Soviet culture, the backdrop of Russian operatives, and a story of intrigue that circles around the murder of a tourist on a Russian cruise ship. The plot twists and turns as Nicole navigates unfamiliar territory and matters of the heart alike.

The Moscow Affair will also cross over to thriller fans, with its astute examination of love, death, politics, and mystery.

War Story
Rolf C. Margenau
Independently Published
9780997615876. $16.95 Paperback, $4.99 eBook

Readers of World War II fiction will find War Story a compelling novel because, unlike most such fiction which takes place either on the home front or on the battlefield, this story juxtaposes the changed lives and perspectives of four very different characters during the war.

Three of the characters are from New Haven, Connecticut. They are a nine-year-old boy who recalls growing up during the war; an aviatrix who transports war planes for Allied forces; and an engineering graduate from Yale who foregoes his career to become an Army officer, traveling to Britain to become involved with the Enigma code and the OSS.

The fourth character is a German tank commander captured in North Africa and sent to a POW camp in Mississippi.

These diverse people from different age groups and walks of life find their purposes, training, and trajectory changed by a war which leads them to encounter each other in ways peacetime never could have brought about.

Descriptions are very vividly portrayed, lending a "you are here" feel to the story line: "The peacefulness of the scene ended as a brilliant orange explosion shat-tered the mid-section of the ship opposite them, throwing pieces of steel into the air. The ship shuddered, then slowed. Horst saw a sizeable hole at the waterline amidships, but all was quiet, as though the detonation shocked the world into stillness. Then another explosion shook the ship, and flames and thick greasy smoke poured from the deck hatches. The ship listed toward its damaged side, and men clambered to the railings opposite. Horst heard explosions like corn popping and blaring horns of the destroyer as it turned east-ward, making smoke."

Rolf C. Margenau is also adept at twists and turns of plot bringing these disparate individuals into contact with one another, introducing elements of romance and transformation that requires each to rely on their training, experience, and abilities to not just survive, but contribute to their causes.

The sense of humor that peppers these encounters is unexpected and subdued, but provides additional surprises in the course of a story that embraces World War II's many political, personal, and technological challenges.

The result, more than most in its genre, is a multifaceted, appealing read that utilizes four characters' very different perspectives and objectives to contrast the war's evolution and outcome in realistic, diverse ways.

Historical fiction readers with a special interest in the times, as well as those who appreciate a strongly rooted wartime story, will find War Story a standout for its depth, contrasts, and ability to mine the field of conflict for deeper underlying influences and messages.

The Color of Rain
John W. Feist
Winter Wheat Press
9781735749730, $14.95

The Color of Rain: A Kansas Courtship in Letters takes historical romance to a different level in choosing the form of correspondence to cement its story of an 1800s love between a handsome banker widower and a schoolteacher who lives some distance from him.

What makes this story even more compelling is that it is real. The letters are reproduced for this saga (including envelopes with dates that reinforce their authentic roots), and are presented in the form of fiction reinforced by John W. Feist's research into newspaper and photography archives and his discussions with the letter writers' descendants.

As Frank and Irene's story evolves, so does the reinforcing presence of writings between them and a death that sparks the rebirth of love and correspondence.

Frank fell deeply in love with his former wife Allie, and has no desire to enter into marriage again, even though he's now a coveted eligible bachelor.

Irene Webb felt that Allie was her ideal of "all that is pure and womanly and good." As she learns truths about Allie, Frank, and the ties that lead her to consider him a dear friend worthy of candid correspondence and emotional revelations, readers absorb the lives of each and the 1800s Kansas backdrop that supports them.

The seamless move between letters and fictional narrative is particularly well done. Feist's ability to create a blend of interactive communications in a fictional story succeeds in bringing to life the times, the issues facing the two as their long-distance friendship evolves, and the kind of correspondence that moves into realms of greater intimacy and even love, against all odds.

The chapter headings are also particularly notable as they sum up the changing circumstances of each writer (i.e. "I Am Rather At a Standstill to Know What To Do").

As the story evolves, the combination of historical backdrop, emotional growth and interactions between Irene and Frank, and the impact of their letter-writing efforts nicely supplement the attention Feist gives to capturing atmosphere: "She stood at the window looking out at the pear tree. Rose stems had tumbled into the yard in the wind, their flowers shattered. Brown petals curled in cracks of the bark of the tree. This is not dreary, she thought. It's actually cheery. If this were a novel - really, Irene, a novel of Nortonville - well, then a story, the symbolism would be unmistakable. Death and decay. Shattered hopes. Withering romance. But actually, what she saw cheered her. To Irene the roses spoke of love."

With their real-world roots, evocative questions, and richly presented descriptions, these letters evolve a romance that will delight readers looking for stories not just about interpersonal relationships, but recovery from grief and new beginnings, all wound into a history of 1890s Kansas.

Vintage black and white photos of the letters and family involved are the icing on the cake of historical accuracy that cements a delightful story of developing love and changing times.

The Grifter
Sean Campbell & Ali Gunn
Partners in Crime
9798542099224 $17.99 pbk
B094W1PN3M $4.99, ebook

The narrator, who could be a "Ronnie Kray reincarnate," opens the story by holding another man hostage at knifepoint in the opening salvo of The Grifter. The timeline then quickly moves to three months prior, when the narrator is more an observer than one taking action: "Time doesn't matter much anymore, 'cept for when I watch him. No matter how much the police move me on, I have to be back here, sittin' in this very doorway every morning. Can't help it. I don't fancy him or nothin'. Not that there's nowt wrong with that. But I want what he's got. I want the money, the posh suit, my own business, even my own skyscraper emblazoned with my name in twenty-foot-high letters. I wish it were me blabbering away on the blower non-stop while I smoke my morning Marlboro. Important. That's what he is. People pay attention to him. He's obviously a busy man. Why else would he need to spend his morning break glued to his iPhone? Funny thing is, in another life, I could've been him. We even smoke the same brand, 'cept I had the good sense to give 'em up twenty years ago. Not that it helped much. Can't be Mr Healthy when you're in my condition."

This early passage perfectly captures the unique sense of intrigue and perspective in the voice of a down-and-out character that experiences cruelty and promises revenge - only one of the perspectives cultivated in The Grifter.

When lowly schoolteacher Kent Bancroft fell into a fortune, cruelty was cultivated alongside his success. Less evident was the kind of fortune that gives rise to generosity and any sense of understanding about the lives of those less fortunate - which is ironic, in this story, in many ways.

As Kent's trading prowess leads him into dangerous moral, financial, and personal territory, readers receive a vivid account of blackmail; past, present and future possibilities; and a Machiavellian problem that weaves tendrils of uncertainty and dilemmas into virtually every facet of Kent's personal and financial life.

Sean Campbell & Ali Gunn cultivate many surprises in the course of their exploration, which toes the line between a thriller, a mystery, and a story of justice and redemption.

Their ability to bring to light different threats and possibilities against the evolving scenario of a blackmail scheme that changes everything creates a satisfying interplay between intrigue and moral and ethical conundrums. These keep readers not just guessing and second-guessing, but inspecting their own ideas about justice and ethical behaviours in financial and personal worlds alike.

Is it enough to get even? To get ahead? Or to get away, escaping into a new life powered by another's financial gain?

Readers who choose The Grifter will find its tension exquisitely drawn; its action swift; and its psychological and ethical concerns a compelling piece of the puzzle. The juxtaposition of other characters as well as Kent and the grifter are particularly solid contrasts that keep readers thinking about what's worth fighting and dying for.

The Wanderer
Edward W. Hudson
Archway Publishing
9781480872516 $14.95

The Wanderer: The Story of Sgt. Wesley Foster is a World War I biography that should be in military collections and on the reading lists of anyone who would absorb the history of this conflict from eyewitness perspectives.

Wesley David Foster was Edward W. Hudson's great-uncle. The letters he left behind represented a family mystery that resulted in a genealogical exercise as Hudson probed his experiences and family roots - but when details were vague, Hudson added fictional embellishments to make The Wanderer more free-flowing and attractive to readers.

The blend of World War I history, personal narrative, and fictional additions that build on fact to smooth the way create a nicely paced, appealing novel that will attract not just history buffs, but those interested in memoirs and genealogical backdrops.

Hudson provides an astute recreation of Foster's times, as American was becoming urbanized and world patterns of interaction and power were changing.

Wesley's emotions and observations are the central themes of the story, but these inspections prove more wider-ranging than most might anticipate as he moved from riding the rails across America to participating in World War I in France, on the Western Front.

The first sections use flashbacks to capture these early years, then resort to the immediacy of war experiences, capturing many insights during the process: "The psychological strain on the young men is enormous as they are hardened into soldiers. Under the relentless pressure, many require added coaching and private talks, which Wesley is only too glad to give."

The juxtaposition of Wesley's feelings as he prepares for war, faces the death of friends and comrades, and experiences new kinds of environments in which battle challenges combine with navigating very different physical milieus makes for a hard-hitting story. It incorporates plenty of World War I background history for readers who may lack such knowledge.

The result lies somewhere between memoir, history, and fiction. Dramatic embellishments and powerful descriptions enhance Wesley's firsthand observations, while many historical details outline not just battle strategies and military approaches, but the psychological challenges experienced by all.

The Wanderer's multifaceted approach sets it apart from most World War I surveys that are either memoirs or histories alone, making it highly recommended reading for those looking for a satisfying blend of intimate experience, fiction, and history.

Straight Up
Cathi Stoler
Level Best Books
9781953789983 $15.95 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Straight Up is a Murder on the Rocks mystery that revolves around Jude Dillane, who remains caught in the dangerous crosshairs of serial killer Art Bevins, who has targeted her and is still on the loose.

The story doesn't open with Jude, however, but introduces the character of Dolores Castel, who is flying to New York in style, and plotting her next move. Dolores plays a key role in Jude's life because she rents an apartment from her friend and landlord Sully, who has fallen for the new renter in a big way.

Jude's instincts say that Dolores is trouble. How big a heartache this trouble will introduce to her life evolves as a series of clashes emerge to test Jude's friendships, perseverance, and ability to survive more than a serial killer's attention.

Cathi Stoler excels in crafting a story which holds many satisfying twists and turns. The chapters shift between the third-person Dolores's perspective and the first-person experiences of Jude, which easily clarify the two points of view and adds an extra dimension to a story that shifts between Dolores's plot and Jude's judgment calls and experiences.

With Sully acting weird and Dolores facing her own grief over the past and changing motivations for addressing her future, Straight Up incorporates many different shifts in life approach and decision-making as the characters confront their past, present, and future roles.

As surprising connections build between Jude, Dolores, Art, Sully, and Diego, readers will find the story satisfyingly replete in changing events and threats that eventually reach out to consume all involved.

Each character and their special interests come to life in a story filled with revelations about friendships, adversity, and the nightmare of a serial killer's relentless obsession.

Especially astute and compelling is the process by which friendships become shaken and questionable as threats emerge and change.

Soler's ability to bring emotional connections to life, giving them a twist to keep her characters growing and changing, makes Straight Up a fine story of growth that will keep even seasoned mystery readers involved and on their toes.

It deserves a place in any mystery library as an involving story of traps which emerge not just from perps, but victims' choices.

Puppies and Portals
Loralee Evans
Independently Published
9781792372704, $12.95

Puppies and Portals will reach advanced elementary to middle grade readers who enjoy fantasy tales of time travel and adventure. It opens in the 1800s in the Ohio River Valley, where nineteen-year-old Kinjeino is getting ready to offer help to Howard.

Fast forward to present-day Maryland, where twelve-year-old Amy Yellow Horse is finding relief from her past time-travel adventure in the ordinary task of babysitting.

The day proves anything but typical, however, when a girl shows up with technology from the future, bringing Amy and her friend Will into another adventure and a mission that tests them both.

Loralee Evans does a fine job of summarizing past events so that newcomers receive a smooth transition to this story, while prior fans won't be stymied by too much detail about what they might already know of the events from prior time travel adventures.

Will and Amy's struggle to help a girl from the future get back home and a mischievous puppy's ability to pull them all into a time-travel conundrum gives young readers a fun story of talking dogs, Kinjeino's attempts to save these visitors, and the intersection of past and present-day technologies which streamline communications and create new problems.

It's unusual to find a toddler and dogs involved in a time travel tale, but Evans surrounds all participants in an atmosphere of discovery and struggle that gives dogs, children, and babies equal time.

Puppies and Portals excels in a special blend of non-stop action, surprising twists of plot, and discoveries made by a diverse circle of young characters of all ages. Part of the story's realistic feel comes from the fact that some of its characters are based on real people, from kidnappers to Native Americans. Another draw lies in the story's evolving friendships as Will, Jax, Amy and Leah join forces in unexpected ways.

The result will delight young time travel readers with a multifaceted adventure that romps through kidnappings, interactions between past and future worlds, and memories that might fade with the time travel experience, but result in lasting connections.

Collections strong in time travel stories for youth will find Puppies and Portals an appealing mix of characters and satisfyingly unpredictable action.

This Is How You Vagina
Nicole E. Williams, MD
Greenleaf Book Group Press
9781626348783 $18.95

This Is How You Vagina: All About Your Vajayjay and Why You Probably Shouldn't Call it That should be in every women's health library as a unique blend of medical history, science, and discussions of vagina health.

Women who are older may well recall Our Bodies, Our Selves, the "bible" of women's health information which appeared decades ago and become a standard read.

This Is How You Vagina takes women's health information a notch further in considering modern concerns against the backdrop of past history. From changing ideas about what treatments and approaches are useful to maintain vaginal health to common conditions and concerns that range from moles to itching, birthing, and orgasms, this book covers any subject related to women's vaginas. It provides an easy juxtaposition of historical treatments and modern-day concerns.

From self-exams and understanding abnormalities versus normal differences to pharmacological treatments for various conditions and considering racial differences in women's health quality, This Is How You Vagina leaves nothing to wonder; whether it's the political impact of women's health decisions, or health concerns.

Dr. Williams provides particularly astute observations of these approaches which will reach health discussion to social issues classes with thought-provoking, bigger-picture-thinking inspections: "While White and Black women alike are afflicted by anxiety and depression from being subjugated for centuries, Black women deal with the added indignity of no one seeming to care or even believe we are in pain. So when we present with symptoms of anxiety, depression, or pain, we receive a different diagnosis from White women. Why? Vaginalisms that have developed throughout the centuries have solidified our otherness into easy to quantify categories and thus explain away our very humanity."

A wealth of references and research notes linked to each chapter at the end of the book provide plenty of supportive background material for further reading, while the political and social messages embedded in it provide invaluable keys to reconsidering many myths and points of misunderstanding about women's bodies and how they function.

Readers expecting another medical approach alone will find This Is How You Vagina far wider-ranging, which is why it deserves a place not just in medical and women's health holdings, but in any collection addressing the social issues surrounding women's bodies, mental well-being, and the history and politics affecting them.

The Rhythm of the Beach
Russell Irving
Independently Published
9780645238211, $9.99

The Rhythm of the Beach provides picture book readers with a celebration of the seasonal changes of a beach, from Spring's herald of the hooded plovers that "return from far away winter homes" to summertime, when "Terns dive like jet fighters, feasting on the bait balls of small fish."

The plovers cement the beach's rhythms as Russell Irving follows their changes, from arrival to nest-building, rearing young, and coming full circle; but a host of other changes take place on the beach and are included in this story.

More than just a natural history of the beach, Russell's book provides kids with observations that encourage them to appreciate how the beach environment changes with the seasons.

Even more importantly, it advocates linking this sense of rhythm and purpose to a more mindful approach to experiencing nature: "Take rambling walks in nature with no outcome in mind. Find time and rituals to observe your daily and seasonal rhythm."

The result goes beyond the usual focus to introduce kids to life rhythms and how their own choices and experiences intersect with and affect the environment.

Adults who want youngsters to feel more connected to and engaged with this world will find The Rhythm of the Beach's simple nature drawings and its survey of selected beach creatures recreates that rhythm in print and art for picture book audiences. This lends to a bigger picture than is usually presented to the young.

The Manhattan Swindle
Jay Perin
East River Books
9781736468036 $3.99 ebook

The Manhattan Swindle represents Book 2 in the One Hundred Years of War historical thriller series. It takes place in the 1970s and opens in Washington, DC, where the Kingsley clan is butting heads over the family business.

Senator Temple and others keep oil kingpin and criminal Jared Sanders from controlling the White House, but there are other forces at work, both domestically and internationally, that will sway the course of not just American, but world politics.

From the start, Jay Perin cultivates an intriguing blend of interpersonal interactions and family dynamics and political and criminal clashes. Sanders faces formidable adversaries in the form of three powerful, diverse individuals, but he still holds a powerful card in the way of family secrets that could ruin all his adversaries.

Perin's story is not your usual thriller genre read. His ability to twist the tale with words that are powerful and unique set this story apart from any anticipation of a staid progression of events: "The world was in chaos. Truth and untruth were constantly at war, the moral with the immoral, and few were willing to take up arms on behalf of that which was good. Somewhere, the chronicler of humanity's story must've despaired over the selfishness and shameful cowardice, but he didn't possess the power to meddle. Here was Lilah being offered the chance to rewrite a small part of the tale. Did she have the strength in her spine to battle evil, faith enough in her heart to see it through? She'd have to end her life as she knew it."

Special interests range from the adopted (yet pedigreed) aristocrat Lilah (Delilah Sheppard Barrons) and her forceful influence on the people around her to those involved in a conspiracy that traverses the globe. There are many characters that clash in the arena of contracts, interpersonal relationships, and struggles for power as the story moves from the 70s to the 80s, following both national influence and the interpersonal relationships and politics that affect both.

Perin's ability to wind all these characters into a story filled with struggles over rightful legacies, slaughters, and tarnished reputations makes for a fast-paced tale that is hard to put down.

It should be noted that The Manhattan Swindle is not a read recommended for casual thriller audiences interested in action alone. It is steeped in multifaceted political and interpersonal tension that evolves in a myriad of characters and influences, and requires of its reader an astute attention to detail even as it weaves these events into a thoroughly engrossing feature filled with twists and turns.

Thriller readers looking for depth, complexity, historical foundations (the novel is replete with references to American history) and satisfying surprises as three dynasties embark on long-term struggles will find The Manhattan Swindle akin to The Raj Quartet in its ability to bring to life the influences and evolving politics of nations under siege both from internal and external forces.

Social issues ranging from rape to power plays make for a backdrop that is thought-provoking throughout, elevating The Manhattan Swindle beyond the usual thriller read and lending to its appeal to history and social issues audiences, as well.

Osama's Skull
Michael David Urban
Igtba Enterprises
9780985359942, $18.95 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Osama's Skull: A Zach Colt Adventure pairs an alternate history premise with high-octane thriller elements to provide readers of both genres with an absorbing adventure story.

In this scenario, Osama bin Laden was kidnapped and hidden in Poland, where he died. Forces on both sides covet his skull as a souvenir, but there's more going on.

The adventure opens in 1917 Oklahoma, where Prescott Bush's actions result in a crime and a mystery.

Fast forward to present-day Boston, where Zach Colt's reputation for confronting terrorists results in not only fame, but new clients who desire his services. The label of being an American hero comes with a price, because his new clients bring on a sniper attack that brings Zach into a new milieu of world-hopping danger.

Readers will expect this story to center on Zach alone, but a host of other operatives, special interests, and political and military forces interact on a variety of playing fields to keep it action-packed and unpredictable.

Thriller readers will find Zach's involvement not peripheral, but directed, on different levels, by his objectives and secrets, which come to light as competing factions vie for control and the ultimate prize.

Michael David Urban excels at outlining these special interests, intersecting them in a manner that keeps the story fast-paced and compelling. Thriller fans and alternate history readers will especially appreciate the blur between truth and fiction and the various scenarios which emerge to keep not just Zach, but all the players on their toes.

Readers who like their stories satisfyingly diverse and different will appreciate the character interplays, the grey area between good and evil, and the forces which keep Zach and his audience guessing.

Think a blend of Indiana Jones combined with Tom Clancy as the terrorism and confrontation emerges to give readers a rollicking ride through possibilities that revolve around and beyond gaining possession of Osama's skull.

TBI or CTE: What the Hell is Wrong with Me?
Mark Tullius
Vincere Press
9781938475658 $19.99 Hardcover/$3.99 Kindle

Many books have been written about the challenges of recovering from brain injury, but TBI or CTE: What the Hell is Wrong with Me? takes a different approach. It comes from an ordinary guy who tackles the results of a deteriorating brain, the result of his history of sports concussions.

Where other books outline the physical challenges of brain injury's effect on bodily functions, Tullius provides a different focus on the mental effects of brain injury, from addiction to emotional instability and depression. He addresses, identifies, and overcomes all these challenges, and this approach creates a health inspection that stands out from the many brain injury books already on the market today.

As readers follow his journey, one early standout statement is that his issues were not immediately connected to a particular injury. Indeed, tests showed that, initially at least, he quickly recovered from head trauma in his youth: "Back when I was fighting and playing football, I worried about weeklong headaches and speech problems, but I seemed to bounce back from all of them. The last blow to my head had been in 2004 and I felt fine, my high scores on the brain-training app Lumosity proof enough that somehow I'd made it through unscathed."

The fact that these old injuries have lasting impact that changed his life, psychology, and abilities is only one of the hard-hitting truths revealed in the course of his life.

If there's one book that should be read about brain damage in football players and MMA fighters and its long-term impact, it's TBI or CTE: What the Hell is Wrong with Me? It emphasizes aspects of the issues that are long-term; unlike brain injury sports coverages that only consider the immediate aftereffects of injuries.

As Tullius researches not only the issues, but what he can do to improve his health and life, readers receive many thought-provoking assessments of the lasting results of sports injuries: "The cumulative brain trauma makes me a prime candidate for dementia and was likely responsible for my spotty memory."

As he reviews poor and good choices and anger issues, exposing and exploring correlations between traumatic brain injuries and cognitive and behavioral problems, readers receive much insight into the effects of these injuries which hold startling ramifications not only for those with a history of sports involvement, but for anyone who has suffered brain trauma.

Even more important are the techniques Tullius pursues to mitigate or alleviate the lifelong impact of his early activities.

More than just an autobiography about martial arts or mental development, TBI or CTE: What the Hell is Wrong with Me? is essential reading for anyone interested in brain health and recovery processes.

It provides a road map of experience that is unparalleled in health literature, offering both thought-provoking assessments and hope to all ages who either participate in sports or are recovering from head injury. It should be in any health collection, as well as in libraries strong in memoirs containing deep psychological self-assessments.

The Mystery of Christ
Thales of Argos
Radiant Books
9781639940004, $19.99 Hardback; $12.99 Paperback; $3.99 ebook

The Mystery of Christ: The Life-Changing Revelation of the Great Initiate will reach Christian and new age spirituality readers alike with its travel through time and experience, translated from the Russian by Alexander Gerasimchuk, with John Woodsworth.

The story, "born in the period after the 1917 Russian revolution in the city of Odessa, Ukraine," holds powerful meaning for modern audiences as it traverses the world of Thales, the Great Initiate of the Theban Sanctuary, whose experiences chart a foray into mysticism and spirituality that some Christians might initially dismiss as fantasy.

Those who read past these initial fantastic reflections ("I, Thales of Argos, was left alone with my Wisdom. I delved into my past, I remembered everything that was in the Great Atlantis. I bravely soared to the Highest Planes of Reason. I audaciously set out to fathom all the secret teachings. I knew that if I did not call the Goddess, I would never make my way out of this temple, just as those who had descended here before me had failed to escape.") are in for a treat, because Thales offers a blend of mysticism, Christian inspection, philosophy and spirituality that is vividly portrayed and unique.

What were the experiences of those who saw Christ with their own eyes? This story delves into deeper questions of belief, responsibility, and choice: "You who have now been abandoned by your protector and left face to face with your Wisdom alone, must find your own way out of the situation. Though the Great Initiate of the Theban Sanctuary, Thales of Argos, has comprehended Truth himself, he cannot convey it to you, for Truth is not something that can be imparted - it must be comprehended."

Its history and mystery are unparalleled and provide Christian and new age readers with a rare glimpse into the past as it discusses the enigma of Jesus the Nazarene, reviews ancient spiritual texts and experiences, and narrates the Crucifixion and Resurrection using poetic, evocative language unequalled in any other survey.

The wise observations of Thales of Argos and his reflections on spiritual mysteries, past lives, and Christian connections to some of the greatest questions of the times creates a powerful account that should be considered a mainstay of any Christian literature, history, or spirituality collection.

The words and experiences of Thales of Argos are especially recommended for theological debate and discussion groups, where their interpretation and experiences promise a lively discourse, indeed.

One Star Away
Imogene Salva
Independently Published
9798685307378 $14.99

Readers of World War II history and biographies well know just how much literature competes in this category. But the reason why One Star Away differs from many others lies in Imogene Salva's ability to translate her family's stories of fleeing wartime Poland into a compelling story that juxtaposes family adversity and struggles to survive with the inherent kindnesses of others who allow them to do so.

This is most assuredly not your typical World War II story. Salva unfolds a little-known piece of history through the eyes of her mother Ziuta, who was 8 years old when her WWII odyssey began. The story of Ziuta's family's arrest and deportation from Poland to prison camps in the Soviet Union and the tale of India's role in refugee politics, a kindly Maharaja's interjection in saving children from far-away Poland, and how a Hindu prince becomes involved in overseas struggles is one that does not appear in most World War II accounts.

While this novel is based on family experience and history, Imogene Salva chooses a format that will gain it a wider audience, building upon the dramatic "you are there" feel of fiction to incorporate all the facts into a story based not just on facts, but on the emotions, responses, influences upon, and values of people in different countries, of all ages and races.

As readers move through a chronological exploration from 1922 Switzerland to 1942 India, there are plenty of tools to help even those with marginal history knowledge with the milieu of these struggles, from maps and a recap of history to a list of characters and a Polish pronunciation guide. All these appear before the prologue in a succinct set-up that places history buffs on even ground with newcomers to these events, places, and peoples.

Kind gestures and religious sentiments blend with teachings about how "The world can be a sad place...greed and desire live in the hearts of many men." In the end, good triumphs over evil in the benevolent gestures of the Maharaja who gives refugee children a safe harbor despite political and social pressures against it, the effects of kindness as a ripple reflected in others is portrayed as a powerful force for change.

This is not just a story of survival. It's a tale of hope, kindness, and the ultimate effects of risk-taking and moral and ethical convictions, all blended into a heartfelt spiritual and social journey that strays far from any anticipated World War II tale of survival.

One Star Away doesn't just deserve a spot in any World War II history or memoir collection. It demands it, providing prospective and a backdrop largely unexplored elsewhere. It fills in many gaps while providing a fine, engrossing read that captivates on many levels and even entertains while delivering its heartfelt messages.

Coordinating the Chaos: Through Birth and Burnout
Dr. Christy Matusiak
Outskirts Press
9781977243799 $22.95 Paper/$2.99 ebook

If you're a new parent, welcome to mayhem.

Many gifts come to new parents through baby showers, but there is perhaps no better gift to provide a mother new to parenting and babies than Coordinating the Chaos: Through Birth and Burnout, which reviews the survival tactics key to a mother and child's survival of the early years of life, after birth.

Dr. Christy Matusiak, herself a mother of three, is a holistic physician who has treated many a parent for exhaustion. She has developed tried-and-tested, simple techniques for returning physical, mental, and spiritual strength and equilibrium to stressed-out new parents.

These techniques ideally will be absorbed before the birth of a baby, but can be read any time there is a moment to comprehend their applications and importance.

They range from a system called Neuro-Emotional Technique (NET), which "helps disconnect the stress from your past and subconscious beliefs from your body," to tips and techniques that directly address a mother's physical ability to care for her child.

From handling over- and under-supply of milk during breastfeeding to considering homeopathic remedies for common childhood ailments and establishing a good foundation for the successful transition from milk to solid food that is nutritional and well-balanced, Dr. Matusiak addresses and resolves many of the common problems of early child-rearing which tend to contribute a sense of chaos and confusion to new parents.

Between the focuses on a baby's physiological and neurological development to understanding the importance of parental self-care during these critical early years of a baby's life, Coordinating the Chaos is key to addressing all kinds of issues with a supportive view to long-term success: "...any love language is that what we focus on and put energy towards will grow. If we focus on the energy drain, fatigue, disconnection, lack of intimacy, and decreased support, then we will get less of our needs met and our relationship will become further challenged. This is why I said in the last chapter - our children are very important, but they are not the only important thing in our lives. We need to come first. If our cup isn't full, there is nothing left for us to give our family."

New parents need this book's solid advice on how to care for the entire family to make the chaotic feeling dissolve into one of loving nurture and purposeful, informed child-rearing actions that support everyone involved with the new arrival.

Coordinating the Chaos should be the gift of choice at a wedding shower, on the shelves of health and parenting libraries, and on the radar of new moms interested in making a smoother transition into parenthood.

Reunion of the Good Weather Suicide Cult
Kyle McCord
Atmosphere Press
9781639880447 $17.99

Tom Duncan is the sole survivor of a massive suicide cult. You'd think his survival and recovery would be something to applaud; but think again. Tom's been accused of masterminding these deaths. And there's nobody left alive to defend him.

Reunion of the Good Weather Suicide Cult is a vivid story probing the fictional Good Weather Community and its ultimate statement, but goes beyond the examination of one spiritual cult's final message to consider what it leaves behind in the way of shattered lives, shocking perceptions, and a survivor's vastly revised world.

Those who lived through the shocking news of the Jim Jones story will find much familiar about this story; but many new insights emerge from it, as well.

Some of these include survivor guilt and recovery processes; contrasts between belief systems, truth, and lies; the motivations behind joining or leaving religious communities; and how men become prophets to lead followers down difficult roads that ordinarily would seem false, if common sense were applied to the equation.

Kyle McCord details Tom's survival process on many different levels; from physical to spiritual and psychological.

With an investigative detective force certain of his guilt and determined never to quit until this is revealed and proven, to trips down memory lane, murder charges, sacrifices, and cruelty, McCord details Tom's multifaceted journey with an astute eye to social inspection and processes of judgment and redemption alike.

As faith at its best and worst are closely examined, readers receive a thought-provoking study in perspectives and survival traits that contrasts individual and group decision-making processes and the psychological impacts of both.

Readers interested in spiritual communities, murder mysteries, recovery processes, and group dynamics alike will find Reunion of the Good Weather Suicide Cult hard to put down.

As gripping as it is in its portrait of Tom's challenges and recovery, it's equally thought-provoking in its depiction of cult attitudes, social and criminal response systems, and how survivors and cult members are judged both within that system and outside of it.

For these reasons and more, Reunion of the Good Weather Suicide Cult stands apart from other fiction about cults as an astute, revealing, and highly recommended read.

Not Today!
David E. Feldman
Independently Published
9780578951850 $11.95 paper/$4.99 ebook

Not Today! is Book 1 in the Dora's Rage mystery series. It presents a physically and mentally strong woman who is first drawn into MMA fighting by her supportive partner, Beach City Police Lieutenant Francesca Hart; then into a political and murder milieu fostered by political special interests that awaken Dora's inherent determination to fight bullies.

The prologue opens not with a determined perp, however, but with an accidental murder with young lovers involved. The first chapter sets the stage with a mysterious caller who informs Detective Hart that widespread corruption in City Hall stems from an accidental death's cover-up that has spread a cancer through the system.

The main character, Deborah "Dora" Ellison, doesn't enter the picture until some paragraphs later; but when she does, it's with a bang. The bang of clanging garbage cans in a job where her super-strength is an asset (obviously set in an era before more automated garbage trucks began to roam the streets, hoisting cans automatically).

Dora is portrayed as a physically large, confident woman. Her stature and psyche are nonetheless challenged when she's drawn into a scenario more in the realm of her partner's expertise than her own experiences with garbage cans, fighting, and weight lifting.

To Dora, loyalty is everything. This and many other concepts she's held close are tested in the course of a vivid story that immerses this outsider in murder and political affairs where her determination and strength are the only assets.

David E. Feldman's choice of an unusual protagonist who is anything but a murder investigator, and his deployment of personality traits that lend to both her successes and failures in many different arenas, creates an action-packed story filled with surprises and satisfying twists.

One of Dora's assets lies in a familiarity with city processes that is challenged as events unfold. Feldman does a great job of capturing her revelations as she works alongside others who manipulate and gain access to a playing field she's never fully worked: "Really!" Dora said, impressed. "I'm surprised the city was so open. I've worked there most of my life, and open is not how I'd describe them."

The blend of murder investigation, political corruption, tragedy, recovery, and accusations and fights operate on different levels between personal and political experience, growing both the characters and the milieu in which they operate, and revealing how they perceive and act upon their roles and morals.

As intriguing as these complicated connections are, the revelations that come back to a single event are especially well drawn and unexpected, leading readers on a journey from individual responsibility to long-term political impact.

The result is a story that grips and compels on many levels, moving from personal to political experience in a reasoned yet unexpected manner that draws a myriad of characters, special interests, and decisions into a thought-provoking mix.

Readers who anticipate a murder mystery alone should be advised that, in fact, Not Today! is so much more. Its special brand of inspection will delight those seeking more complex, enlightening stories of survival, choice, consequences, and change - all powered by the dynamic Dora and her changing world.

Musings, Woolgathering, & Ghosts
CK Sobey
Inner Harvesting
9781737506119, $19.95 Paperback/$29.95 Hardcover/$9.95 ebook

Musings, Woolgathering, & Ghosts blends poetic prose and photos by CK Sobey in a reflective collection that bows to spirituality, philosophical discourse, and poetic literary life inspections without fully adhering to these genres alone. Her ability to weave these stories into a collection filled with coherent, rambling, yet pointed probes into life's surprises and evolutionary processes lends to a collection ripe with the fruits of a poetic time out that consider different processes of living.

The Foreword provides an autobiographical introduction that maintains, "I had been in a cocoon of solitude for over two years./When the Coronavirus arrived, the forced isolation already felt familiar."

As Sobey reflects that, "The creative spirit yearns for ideas to be born," these emergences are traced in a series of poetic vignettes that incorporate a sense of mindfulness about world observations, nature, and one's place within it.

Take "Offerings," for one example. The poem begins with a close observation of a restaurant experience, then moves to broader horizons: "Each selection was deliciously described./He looked right in my eyes as he spoke./By the end, I was spellbound./How to choose one dish over the other?/Would my palate be satisfied with just one choice?/...I have come to realize that every day offers me something special."

The experience boils down to accepting all kinds of offerings, realizing that life's smorgasbord involves making the right decision at the right time.

"Reminiscing" talks about one door closing and another opening as Sobey visits a soon-to-be-closed store ("I went to visit the store today and mourn.") and acknowledges the sense of "community grief" in a shared experience of demise.

"A Yield of Plenty" maintains that "At times there is so much want inside us." The result? "We live our life day to day,/just existing./We forget how to harvest our yield of plenty."

Musings, Woolgathering, & Ghosts is about yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows. It's about absorbing the grief of time's passage, moving on, and learning to reap that harvest.

Readers who look for nuggets of wisdom from those who routinely hide from life, then emerge into its wonders like butterflies will find Musings, Woolgathering, & Ghosts a powerful display of reflections. It blends mourning and mindfulness with nature-rooted words to keep readers thinking about their own isolation, growth, and interactions with the world.

Musings, Woolgathering, & Ghosts is the perfect panacea and reflection for these Covid-bound years, and will reach many hearts which have taken the time to move from artificially fast-paced living to incorporate meaning and purpose into the beat of life.

Given the treat provided here, readers should look forward to more works by CK Sobey currently in the pipeline.

Orpheus Rising By Sam And His Father, John / With The Help Of A Very Wise Elephant/ Who Likes To Dance
Lance Lee
LWL Books
9780578790558 $23.95

Orpheus Rising By Sam And His Father, John / With The Help Of A Very Wise Elephant/ Who Likes To Dance is a modern rendition of the Orpheus myth. It blends philosophical reflection with an inspection of loss and whimsy, as experienced by ten-year-old Sam.

While readers might think this translates to a children's book, be advised that the parable and meaning of Orpheus Rising is designed to appeal not just to kids, but many an adult reader, who will find its special blend of fantasy, philosophical inspection, and adventure equally engaging.

Many vivid scenes are presented in the course of this epic journey, as when Lepanto, Sam, and John's yacht sails through an ocean of floating faces..."faces of every imaginable variety dotting the ocean, round, flat, wet, floating faces that kept up a continuous chatter unless disturbed by the yacht. "Fine day," one said. "I've seen worse," another replied. "Beautiful." "Ohh How I like to crest!" "I like the troughs, myself." "Never down but up." "Never up but down."

"Fine weather." "You're looking well."

As ocean fades to desert journeys, evading pursuers, and navigating strange worlds, readers of all ages are treated to a blend of poetic imagery, nonstop action, and adventure centered on the unlikely relationship between a well-dressed dancing elephant and his charges.

Lance Lee's story is hard to easily categorize - and that is one of its charms. Fantasy readers will appreciate the whimsical world he creates, poetry enthusiasts will relish the metaphors and descriptions in prose that form the backbone of adventure, and children (as well as adults) will value the multifaceted action that keeps them guessing about relationships, outcomes, and the story's outcome.

With all these elements intersecting in a satisfyingly vivid manner, it's easy to highly recommend Orpheus Rising By Sam And His Father, John / With The Help Of A Very Wise Elephant/ Who Likes To Dance as a standout from the crowd, even if its exuberant story defies simple categorization. This translates to an expansive audience who will appreciate its charm.

One of Us
Lorie Lewis Ham
Independently Published
9798544783145 $12.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook

Cozy mystery readers who enjoy female sleuths; stories of animal rescue with pet rats, cats, and pit bulls; and a woman tired of failure who wants to come out on top for once will find One of Us a mystery that features many attractions.

First, Lorie Lewis Ham surrounds her protagonist with a healthy dose of change as she follows middle-aged children's book author Roxi Carlucci's relocation to Fresno, California and the events that emerge from her move into the city's Tower District to live with her PI cousin Stephen Carlucci, who involves her in his investigative California world.

Roxi feels she doesn't have many choices left in life...and she's tired of feeling that way.

When she is called upon to help out in an animal rescue fundraiser, Roxi finds that her volunteer contribution becomes personal when a murder drags her and Stephen into a search for the truth that traverses the theater community and poses an uncommon threat to normally-staid Fresno residents.

As Roxi probes social media, the demise of a seemingly "invisible" woman whom nobody knew very well, and a motive that might turn friends into enemies, she uncovers a host of possibilities that brings her and Stephen into different arenas of Fresno culture.

Suddenly, Roxi's romp through cultural norms and murderer intentions takes a dangerous, personal turn. This tests her newfound sleuthing abilities as well as her ability to stay alive long enough to uncover some close-held secrets.

Lorie Lewis Ham brings many elements to life; from Fresno's cultural milieu to modern society as Roxi seeks respite in watching Star Trek as she cultivates lists of likely killers.

Her ability to weave this cultural backdrop into a story replete with satisfying twists, animal issues, and intrigue in a whodunit that takes many personal turns makes for a story that is firmly grounded in both compelling characters and a sense of place.

Cozy mystery readers who hold affection for animals and intrigue will find One of Us a close inspection of a murderer's profile and how an investigator with a degree in criminology and basic skills manages to reveal truths that others have missed.

The warm, contemporary story juxtaposes bookish fun with a tale of how Roxi restarts her life in unexpected ways, and provides just the ticket for an involving evening read.

Happy Here and Now
Matt Tracy
Chiloe Press
9781736645901, $27.00 Hardcover/$17.00 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Happy Here and Now: Lasting Happiness You Can Count On is a basic primer on finding happiness that delves into how happiness is defined, recognized, and incorporated into life. Many books have been written on the subject, but Matt Tracy's differs in several ways.

First, he begins with an examination of "where you are now." Without this reference point, it's difficult to identify, define, and progress to locating happiness. This process acknowledges some of the special challenges involved: "One problem you might encounter when reading this book is that what works to bring happiness might sound wrong the first time you hear it. It may go against what you've been told about success and happiness. What's true is that the very things that seem like they should make you happy instead make you stressed, and things that seem like they will only make you poorer make you happier."

The only requirement for the successful enactment of Tracy's tips are to keep an open mind and take small steps. His advice traverses how to choose and reshape one's life and goals to add a sense of control where there is currently little to none, drawing connections between beliefs and action.

From how bad and good experiences are described and identified to learning how to assimilate meaning from life, Tracy takes readers through a host of underlying attitudes affecting the identification and experience of happiness.

He adds examples from his own life and cements this journey with ideas on how to identify important concepts and separate them from less positive words and thoughts.

The result is a treatise that will best be appreciated by self-help readers willing to take the first step towards self-empowerment and cultivating a happier perspective.

Without action, there is no reaction or change.

Readers willing to put in the work to self-examine and make these effective transitions will find Happy Here and Now an intrinsic guide to a process that ideally needs a roadmap - this book - in order to streamline the goals.

Heal the Hurt
Michael D. McGee, MD
WellMind Press
9781735691411 $14.99 pbk / $6.99 Kindle

Heal the Hurt: 20 Ways To Ease Emotional Suffering is a testimony to the power of individual purpose in the healing process, and discusses the treatment and various approaches involved in addressing psychological trauma.

Dr. McGee cultivates a three-step program that anyone can embark upon, offering lessons for mitigating past, present, and future emotional pain and its influence on engrained responses to life.

There are many sources of emotional pain, but most struggles come from a combination of life circumstance and personal response. While many concepts and approaches are outlined here, the foundation of McGee's discussion lies in the contention that "...all of us suffer from what I call a "Love Wound" - even the most fortunate among us. The only differences between us are the specifics and degree of our individual trauma. This is a wounding of our sense of our goodness, our interconnectedness to others, and our sense of living in a loving Universe that has our back. It's also a wounding of our capacity to love ourselves and others. This Love Wound is the source of tremendous suffering in the world, and only through healing it can we ease our emotional pain."

As chapters reveal the connections between these 'Love Wounds' and self-esteem, they support the idea that suffering can lead to strength and a better life through revised attitudes, approaches, and self-inspection. But, this is only possible if readers undertake the journey outlined in Heal the Hurt.

One would anticipate the focus would be on preventing such hurt, but Dr. McGee promotes a transformative process that shows how to heal from pain in a positive manner that doesn't just translate the pain to harmful actions towards self and others: "...our harmful actions don't make us bad people - they make us harmful people. That's something that can change with willingness, effort, and support."

The dual focus on the processes and impact of harming either self or others is covered in chapters which offer the surprise of moving from a self-centered focus to a concern for others. This brings readers into an area defined more by personal responsibility than self-healing efforts alone.

By healing ourselves, we each have the opportunity to transmit these positive actions to the world at large. The onus is on the reader to adopt many of the techniques Dr. McGee covers here; from lovingly holding people accountable to cultivating a sense of unconditional kindness and acceptance and "starting each day with an intention to love."

That's the ultimate message in a self-help book that will make a difference not just in the approaches of readers, but for the greater good. This is the reason why Heal the Hurt is recommended above others: it offers a broader perspective of the experience, purpose, translation, and reflection of pain on both an individual and social level.

A White Star in a Red Sky
Chris Berman
Fireship Press
9781736620304 $19.99 Paper/$7.99 ebook

Historical fiction readers interested in stories that revolve around women's military efforts during World War II will be pleased to learn that A White Star in a Red Sky presents women in active combat roles in a story that goes beyond the usual depiction of nurses on the front lines.

Chris Berman adds extra dimensions of depth in presenting the unlikely, evolving friendship of two very different female fighters: 19-year-old Angela Moretti, a WAFS ferry pilot charged with bringing equipment into Alaska for Russian pilots to fly into battle; and her Russian counterpart Katya Leonova, a Red Air Force fighter pilot.

Bonded by the shared circumstance of both their opposition efforts and the fact that beloved family members have been killed by the Nazis, Angela and Katya embark on a journey that places them in the center of battles on land and air.

Based on the first women to fly military aircraft, this story of how these two strike up a friendship and join forces above the Eastern Front focuses on gripping, action-packed descriptions that typically are regulated to male characters, but come to life through their eyes.

The story begins with the new-aged Angela's vivid 1992 flashback memory of an air battle.

Angela is a mother, grandmother, and wife. 49 years later, she's flying back to Russia in a very different manner than when she left it. Her memories and experiences power a vivid reenactment of events from a woman's perspective that reviews the source of her rage over the death of her brother at Nazi hands and her determination to become not just an effective fighter, but one not easily forgotten.

As Berman spins his yarn, his background in military history helps satisfy readers who want their characters set against a realistic backdrop. His ability to portray a woman's heart and mind might seem questionable, at first, coming from a male writer; but the perspectives and insights are impeccable, blending emotional reactions and overlays into a history that is vibrant and thoroughly engrossing.

The Battle of Kursk is a historical fact, and Berman is quite clear about separating the fiction from actual events and controversies that still swirl around its historical depiction today. An Afterword proves just as compelling in its roundup as the story itself, providing information many readers won't have previously absorbed elsewhere.

Too many World War II stories hold the same themes, familiar-sounding characters, and battle descriptions. The women involved in this effort are usually regulated to supportive roles in combat, so it's especially refreshing to see an action-packed scenario led by women and powered by their friendships, reactions, motivations, and, especially, their strengths.

All these factors set A White Star in a Red Sky apart from the usual World War II story, incorporating history and fiction in a seamless, compelling manner to delight readers of military strategy, World War II history, and women's experiences alike.

The Living Christmas Tree
Kristin Sponaugle
Mascot Books
9781645438229, $15.95

The Living Christmas Tree enjoys colorful holiday illustrations by Agus Prajogo as it tells of the Miller family, who delight in the ritual of tree-decorating in their living room.

The story differs once the tree is assembled and everyone goes to bed, though, because the living Christmas tree is truly an embodiment of life itself, with all its unpredictability and joy. The ornaments hold unique powers and personalities that come to life in the quiet of night and the holiday season.

And so parents receive a different kind of read-aloud story that embraces magic and a world beyond human ken. A challenge evolves for the yearly ornament celebrations when curious little Hannah is too excited to sleep, and decides to get up in the middle of the night to search for Santa.

As Hannah and her brother William make new friends and absorb new realizations about life, they also face a post-holiday trauma and change.

Parents who want to reflect the magic of the season and teach about change and hope for the future will find The Living Christmas Tree a delightful fantasy about the power of magic and friends, and how seasonal rituals reflect new hope and opportunities. It's a lovely holiday picture book read that offers a satisfying twist, and will encourage discussion and insights from all ages.

Fair Now, Later Rain
Jeremy Long
9780578947594, $14.95

Fair Now, Later Rain gathers poems of sorrow, hope, and opportunity, reflecting struggles with life and perspective to offer succinct free verse insights that are especially powerful metaphors for life and emotional reaction: "I could redraw the roof of my world,/throw stars in the sand, but perhaps/first I should start with the stones."

Jeremy Long writes with an evocative hand as he explores experiences and the emotions connected to them. One example of the vivid imagery that results from this probe is the long evolutionary poem "Crumble, I'm a Mountain": "Love was a mountain/love was the mountain of you and I./Love could have crumbled and kept together/fell and never withered, never /withered its flowers and sighed."

The pathos, yearning, and connections between the natural world and emotional response are pivot points of knowledge and understanding that carry readers on a journey through lilting, lyrical life: "Spanish music/calling to my window,/like a long day ahead it's not/the lullaby I've come to know:/heat pipe secrets and the wind/merryling round, to and fro./Oh, Maria, please go."

Jeremy Long cultivates a unique voice that is expressive as he embraces change and its unsettling roots. As his poems move between periods of rain, showers, and the nearly-spent experience of love, readers will be thoroughly immersed in their reflections.

Poets who like vivid imagery, emotional connection, and ideas that keep them thinking will relish the observations and descriptions that make Fair Now, Later Rain such a lively and unique collection: "Fog is the laziness of the rain/content with running at a stroll."

The Bone Elixir
Carrie Rubin
Indigo Dot Press
9781732854185 $13.99 Paper/ $3.99 ebook

Fans of Benjamin Oris who enjoyed Carrie Rubin's portrait of him in The Bone Hunger will find his return in The Bone Elixir to be an exciting event...especially since it opens with a family inheritance that both mystifies and attracts the young orthopedic surgeon with a family legacy.

Ben's mother is in a coma, and he's tracked down her estranged family to let them know. Now, this...a hotel has been bequeathed to him by a great-aunt he never knew. Why?

Solving this mystery involves a journey that seems to take him away from the medical setting that evolved his past challenges, but Ben finds that, actually, medical conundrums lie at the heart of this mystery to bring him into quite a different world, albeit with many too-familiar trappings.

From a family burial ground and a ghost from the past in a mirror to the inn's supernatural energy which rises the dead and gives Ben more to think about than medical challenges, The Bone Elixir excels in a haunting series of events that draw Ben into the past and lead him to reconsider its relationship to present-day events.

Carrie Rubin is a master at blending medical and personal issues into a mystery that challenges problem-solving abilities on both sides. Her character, Ben, is intelligent and inquisitive, while the atmosphere of intrigue surrounding him is impeccably detailed: "He swore and shuffled his feet forward, using the phone's beam to guide him. Although he was aware Jake's cries were muted inside the workroom, he felt compelled to search it. The concrete cave had torture chamber written all over it. The room's frigid air smelled like soot and paint chemicals, and above them the exposed pipes clunked. Up ahead, the sump pit gurgled. When Laurette grabbed Ben's hand, he jumped from the unexpected contact. He squeezed hers back and told her to stay close."

Readers who like stories about ghosts, medical mysteries, and family issues alike will find all three facets wound into an intriguing story of spells gone awry and the consequences of decisions that lead dead Claxwells to return to life.

Those who enjoyed Ben's approach in The Bone Hunger will find that The Bone Elixir takes quite a different turn, but ramps up the plot's intrigue and paranormal portions to satisfy audiences who enjoy a mix of spirits and intrigue.

While prior fans will be an ongoing audience for Ben's exploits, newcomers, too, will find it a very accessible, stand-alone story that needs no prior introduction to prove just as immediately gripping as its predecessor.

Mystery collections and readers who enjoy supernatural overtones in their stories will find The Bone Elixir a compelling foray into spiritual drama, struggles with faith, and the legacy of family choices.

Gently at Twilight
Marydale Stewart
Big Table Publishing Company
9781945917684, $TBA

Gently at Twilight is a prequel to The Wanderers, and is a story of chance, love, interracial friendship, and a ghostly intervention that links two centuries, two families, and two young people.

It opens in 1990 Illinois before moving to pastoral Kentucky's Thoroughbred horse world, offering a focus on the lives of black people in this white-dominated world. Black teen Darrell Thomas, whose father works on a Thoroughbred breeding farm in Kentucky, is secretly raising an unwanted foal. While he is focused on his horse-rearing efforts, his parents are concerned about imparting survival skills of how to navigate the white-dominated milieu around them.

In stark contrast is the life and aspirations of Sarah, a 16-year-old white girl in northern Illinois who dreams of owning and showing her young American Saddlebred horse.

Two very different lives and two very different worlds, both connected by a love of horses, receive a fine contrast in Gently at Twilight.

As Marydale Stewart unfolds the different layers of these worlds, readers are drawn into the lives, objectives, and perspectives of horse-driven families and individuals who view their legacies in different ways, as well as those whose family legacies aren't as structured or fortunate. Many blacks contributed to the horse world in meaningful ways that are under-represented or rarely discussed; one example being that of Tom Bass, the black horse trainer in the 19th century story of Rex McDonald.

Sarah's evolving attraction to David, who thinks that, because of their disparate future courses, they shouldn't pursue a romance; his request for her to wait for him for a year, when their lives will be more settled and determined; and the Quaker community milieu which supports them all comes to life under Stewart's pen.

Even more important are the challenges to faith (both in the Black church and Quaker community) which lead to uprootings, community changes, and reflections on racism: "God was everywhere. She knew what he meant. She'd miss those layered hills and the way their colors and shadows changed by the hour and by the season. She'd miss the quiet narrow roads she took on her way to clean houses for well-off folks in town. She'd even miss a couple of them, too, the nicer ladies who treated her like an equal. But the truth was, it was because of them, even the nice ones, that she and her family had to tear their lives up by the roots and move away. Because of white people, her husband and her son had to live every minute of their lives like they'd done something wrong and were about to get caught. They were born black, that's what they'd done wrong."

Stewart's ability to layer and depict these very different peoples and perspectives that are part of a greater whole and a broader series of social and personal concerns makes Gently at Twilight come to life.

Character reflections on this history connect past and present choices and their consequences in an enlightening, thought-provoking manner. Zennia Thomas says: "When our people figured out they shouldn't have to be slaves after all - and some white folks agreed with them - well, then, we had this Civil War. And ever since then, white people just don't quite know what to do about us. They been sending us off on a Trail of Tears ever since. But it's a different trail. It takes us all over the country. Big northern cities, little ol' towns down South here where nobody cares what's going on, street corners, back alleys, parking lots anyplace they think we got no right to be."

As each character maintains connections to the past and considers present-day dilemmas, readers are drawn into a changing world that rests firmly on the experiences of horses, the Thomas family's true inheritance, and a literal, physical point where the Thomas clan makes a decision that will forever change the future.

The ghosts of past and present and experiences that haunt black and white worlds alike are thought-provoking, as is the notion that love proves a solution to adversity and as well as an impetus for change, acceptance, and, ultimately, transformation.

Gently at Twilight is the perfect contemplative story for those interested in a candid look at evolving race relationships: "At times Dewayne seemed to defend their white friends, but always with the same reservations, the same warnings. "They're not stupid, Darrell. And they like to do things right, just like we do. It's just " He rubbed his face, closed his eyes. " it's just they're white. They've been believing their own shit about black people so long - that we're lower IQ, can't handle responsibility, or we just got it in us to be criminals - they got us believing it too. Don't you fall into that hell-hole."

The story's bright, involving sense of community connections and history and how descendants are influenced by past perspectives makes for a fine saga of small town life, prejudice, and recovery. It will linger in the mind long after the reading.

Monica's War
Jo Horne
Bucket Line Books LLC
9781736346358, $13.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Monica's War follows the life of Monica Beresford Wichfeld, who has always lived on her own terms. The story cultivates a vivid world of the rich and famous in Copenhagen, where she proceeds to both raise a family and foster an ongoing affair with a neighbor - with her husband's approval.

But, Monica's main act to defy convention is still to come: when the Nazis invade her country, she turns her home into a pivot point for the Resistance and refuses to allow them to intimidate her or infect her world.

Monica's spunk is revealed in a refreshingly candid manner: "There are times when having lived an entitled life prepares one for situations such as this - situations where others believe they are in control. At such times, the natural reaction of someone like me is to be momentarily stunned by their very daring, followed by getting immediately to the business of reminding them of their place."

As she makes a conscious decision to stay and fight rather than flee, Monica evolves a sense of responsibility motivated by visions of her children's' futures, accepting her role as an individual who can make a difference against all odds.

This is one of the strongest messages embedded in Monica's War as the Nazi confrontations play out and she continually circumvents disaster while making conscious decisions to remain a key player, resisting their powers.

When is a war truly won? Jo Horne encourages readers to think about this and other issues revolving around courage, choice, consequence, and the preservation of one's moral and ethical compass during periods of conflict and life-challenging change.

Perhaps one of the reasons why this story feels especially vivid is that its fiction rests firmly upon facts about the life of the real Monica Beresford Wichfeld. While Jo Horne adds extrapolations about what her thoughts and feelings would have been, the background of this world and its challenges are all too real. Wichfeld's courage and efforts are well documented.

Readers who look for stories of resistance, survival, and personal perseverance against all odds will find much to relish about Monica's War and its messages of survival.

This compelling saga deserves a spot in a wide range of collections; from historical novels to those that revolve around World War II Nazi resistance techniques.

It's a vivid account that assures that Monica Beresford Wichfeld won't be forgotten.

Teddy Talks
Vanessa Messenger
Messenger Publishing
9781736999714 $18.99

Teddy Talks provides picture book readers with a primer about Type 1 diabetes and uses a playful puppy (cunningly depicted through illustrations by Emma Latham) to present a "paws-itive" view of diabetes and its management.

Parents will want to choose Teddy's lessons as a read-aloud to help explain and explore the medical facts imparted in this fun story, which lends to interactive education and leisure read enjoyment alike.

Teddy's human, Emma, is a Type 1 diabetic. Teddy joins her on her regimens, supporting her with play and reviewing health routines for young readers that not only outline methods, but help explain the complexity of diabetes in terms that kids can easily understand.

More importantly, there's an underlying message about maintaining healthy habits, with the end goal of health being a better life with more opportunities for play and achievement.

This message, and the fun approach of a dog's observations of his young human's diabetes management processes, makes Teddy Talks an especially highly recommended picture book for parents seeking to help their young child understand not only the disease and health regimens, but the role of a pet in supporting its young charge.

Searching for Jimmy Page
Christy Alexander Hallberg
Livingston Press/University of West Alabama
9781604892918 $19.95 Paper/$29.95 Hardcover

Searching for Jimmy Page begins its journey the night the eighteen-year-old narrator's faith healer great-grandfather dies, when he speaks (for the first time in nearly a decade) to inform his granddaughter that he hears owls "like music," which portend his death.

Luna Kane hears something different - the haunting lure of family memories of music and absent parents: "Long ago, I'd heard a song about owls crying in the night, the singer's wail primeval, in synch with marauding guitar licks, the beat like jungle drums. I felt them vibrating inside me just then, like a distant echo from another life, one that still included my mother."

Luna has always forged forward in her life, steadied by her grandparents' religious upbringing and determination. But this death brings with it something new: "I'd never looked back. Never. Until that winter's night in February 1988, when I was eighteen years old, the past summoned like fire in my great-grandfather's shack, phantom owls crying in the night."

His last words help her grasp a long-repressed memory of her dead mother's fascination with Jimmy Page, which may ultimately hold a key to her mother's suicide and insights into her life. This revelation prompts her to leave the sheltering farm she's always known and venture out into the world.

Luna's journey to reveal family secrets, a better sense of self, and the impact of musical and cultural influences on all their lives brings readers into a close examination of music, spirituality, suicide, and a foray into musician Jimmy Page's life.

The revelations are anything but staid and often emerge unexpectedly, backed by the care Christy Hallberg takes to capture the sights, smells, sounds and feelings of these times and people: "My whole body wanted a cigarette. I wanted to smell like the fecund tobacco field I'd left behind, the numinous fire in my great-grandfather's shack. I wanted to smell like home. I wanted Jimmy to remember the rich fragrance of North Carolina winter woods. Isn't smell the most likely of the five senses to trigger memory?"

Literary (almost poetic) metaphors and phrases pepper Luna's story to reach readers looking for more evocative, compelling reads that incorporate a sense of place and purpose.

Luna's travels take her from North Carolina to England in search of Jimmy Page, her mother's dreams, and answers to family mysteries and close-held secrets. They bring the reader along for an intense variation on the usual themes of suicide, family secrets, and connections, creating musical interludes and history that are compelling and touching.

Readers seeking strong literary works that focus on a daughter's journey to grasp the essence of family relationships through cultural icons and musical references will find Searching for Jimmy Page a powerful story. It is very highly recommended reading; especially for those on their own trajectories toward enlightenment on levels ranging from spiritual to psychological, that incorporate family history and healing.

The connections between musical influence and icons and a daughter's still-evolving relationship with a mother who has long passed makes for an evocative, involving story that is hard to put down...or forget.

The Last First Kiss
Walter Bennett
Lystra Books & Literary Services, LLC
9781733681698 $15.95 Paperback/$6.99 ebook

It's more challenging to start (or restart) a romance in one's seventies, but Ace Sinclair attempts the seemingly impossible in The Last First Kiss when he invites his former high school sweetheart, J'nelle Reade, to visit him at his beach home.

His beloved wife Pam is long dead, and as the story opens, he awaits J'nelle's appearance with uncertainty and trepidation over his intentions and the visit's results.

J'Nelle, too was married. Her husband vanished and is presumed dead. Email communiques between them renewed connections long dormant, which now appear set to move to the next stage.

Or, will they?

Walter Bennett creates a story of new possibilities, angst stemming from past and present experiences, and the evolving late-life relationship of individuals who each are keeping secrets not only from each other, but from themselves.

Readers who enjoy razor-sharp inspections of truth and consequences and the impact of past decisions on present-day circumstances will especially appreciate the time Bennett takes to allow each character to bare their souls to the other: "I was such a believer, so chock full of moral certainty." "You were young." "I was an arrogant shit, another version of that intellectual arrogance I affected in high school. It was a cover." "For what?" She drops her fork and stares at her plate. "Insecurity, uncertainty, fear of something, sort of like that fear I told you about in high school before I met you."

As passages about the past connect these two disparate lives, each finds within the other a reason for better understanding the choices made during socially turbulent times, and for keeping secrets that finally blossom into present-day revelations.

Those who anticipate an easy romance will be surprised by the depth and confessional tone of this relationship. It also delights in employing the same elements that go beyond a traditional romance story to entwine the experiences of two very different individuals facing advanced years in different ways.

The injection of broader philosophical reflections on end-of-life and these choices is also revealing and unexpectedly satisfying: "...he was scared - he might as well admit it - but it was not of death so much, it was of defeat, an end to that desperate illusion that he could escape a reckoning with the great unknown."

The result is a powerful novel about endings, new beginnings, and forays into the past that provides a literary examination of hurricanes that batter both the Outer Banks and the inner souls of those who live in the eye of the storm.

It's an inspection of survival that is vivid in its realistic portraits, and examines both the "cling of the past" and the promises of redemption.

Romance and contemporary fiction readers will find The Last First Kiss thought-provoking and evocative.

Chipper Makes Merry
Kimber Fox Morgan
Creative, Simple Wonder Press
9781737038603 $5.99 ebook

Chipper Makes Merry opens with a bleak, especially harsh winter faced by the animals of the Arctic. There is little to celebrate...which is why Chipper Fox decides to inject some of his own homemade joy into a weary world burdened by winter woes.

And, so he does.

Kimber Fox Morgan's lively rhymes are complimented by fine drawings by Kim Sponaugle that capture the Arctic animals, from the positive-thinking Chipper to grumpy Gus.

As well-meaning Chipper finds that his "day of mischief filled with good" turns bad for many he tries to help, young picture book readers will readily relate to this story of good intentions gone awry.

Also important is the depiction of the effects of winter on various creatures, from a moose's loneliness to an otter's chilly abode and a hungry walrus who just wants a nice fish dinner.

Read-aloud parents will find the combination of alluring images, rollicking rhyme, and thought-provoking discussions of seasonal affective disorder and good intentions the perfect remedy for a cold winter's night, best treated with this snuggly bedtime story.

The story's conclusion reinforces the idea of sharing joy and offers young listeners opportunities to consider ways in which they can empower the world through a revised attitude and different approach to facing life's adversities.

Lashes of Lightning
Anoop Chandola
9781663225023, $23.99 Hardcover; $13.99 Paper; $3.99 ebook

Readers of satirical literature and multicultural experience will find the combination in Lashes of Lightning makes for a different kind of read. The story documents social injustices and racism in America from the viewpoint and life of Bijli Kandyal, an Indian Himalayan girl.

Bijli vividly recalls her childhood and the world she came from. It's both a world of celebration and one in which a polygamous wife abuser and sex maniac's violence leads a relative to rescue her and her mother from their home, where she is taken to San Francisco to absorb a very different cultural milieu.

When her maternal uncle and rescuer, Gunanand, passes away, the writings he leaves behind will supercharge a generation in this story of abuse, recovery, and an emerging desire for revenge.

Now, "Gunanand was determined to teach the relative a lesson without any violence." Sometimes choices towards violence seem the only option, as Bijli comes to recognize her own rage and decides to direct it as she deems appropriate.

Anoop Chandola creates a compelling novelette that injects Indian and Pakistani history and culture into the story of a girl who considers the folklore of her ancestry, the spiritual connections it carries, and the influences it brings into her new life.

Her social inspections are astutely presented as she cultivates a form of rebellion that departs from her upbringing, yet comes full circle to reflect it in various ways: "Bijli encouraged Chaiti, "Just ignore your critics. You have the right to free speech. You have the right to debunk religion. Otherwise, no reforms are possible if we don't protest. Tell them to send their girls to school. Teaching girls how to pray is not going to improve their future. Reading, writing, and science would."

Satire blends into social inspection in a satisfying manner as readers absorb Bijli and other characters who reflect their heritages in different ways.

The result is a compelling story of cultural change, family dynamics, and the struggle for freedom and recovery both within and outside of India that is highly recommended reading for fiction enthusiasts looking for psychological and social depth from their stories.

The Devil Inside
Susan K. Hamilton
Inkshares, Inc.
9781950301201 $18.99 paper/$5.99 ebook

The Devil Inside is a paranormal romance about angels, devils, and the uncertain connections between them. It portrays Mara Dullahan as she follows her devilish roots and knack for finding corruption in others.

Mara's goal is simple: to become Hell's highest Sales & Acquisitions devil. But, her nefarious mission is when she unexpectedly falls in love with an angel stuck in his life, and begins to act in a manner unbefitting of a devil incarnate.

As Mara's special abilities prove to be obstacles to her success in the underworld, readers embark on a journey that ripples through human and extraordinary worlds alike. Mara is adept at identifying the intentions and hearts of others ("As annoyed as she was, Mara could smell the waves of discontent rolling off him."); but, as savvy as she is, she has spent centuries without confronting the fallacies and follies that reside in her own heart.

Everything changes as a result of her illicit relationship and choices. As she begins to listen to quite a different message, Mara finds her feelings are interrupting not just her life's work, but its devilish philosophy and belief system.

Susan K. Hamilton creates a fine story that juxtaposes not only issues of good and evil, but affairs of love and the soul.

Lovemaking scenes are vividly portrayed - but so are the emotional connections that represent a sea change for Mara, testing her options and future alike: "He'd never pushed her, never asked for anything she wasn't willing to share, and there was something deep inside her, a crystal pinpoint of light, that resonated when she touched him."

Romance readers will find the philosophical and ethical considerations of Mara's choices create a more complex story than the usual paranormal or romance tale, injecting tongue-in-cheek humor into the mix as Lucifer gets wind of these events and must craft his own responses to her newfound relationship.

As The Devil Inside evolves a special set of conundrums, romance and paranormal readers will find its involving story of angels and devils who are challenged by something that lies in the gray area of their experience and relationships to be satisfyingly unexpected: "There was shuffling and whispering as the angels began to disperse, and on the other side there was just as much whispering as the devils tried to figure how to process what had happened."

While this playful consideration of an illicit affair that changes more than its two major players is not recommended for religious believers without a flexible sense of humor, The Devil Inside will prove delightfully fun and intriguing for those who enjoy interplays between good, evil, and the forces that lie between them.

Sins of the Fathers
Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter
Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor. New York, NY 10018
9781510769427 $29.99 Hardcover/$19.99 Kindle

Sins of the Fathers represents historical fiction at its best, revolves around World War II events, and tells of the efforts of German leaders to engage England's aid in bringing down Hitler in 1938.

The prologue that opens in 1936 reviews prior the events in the novel Wolf, creating a seamless backdrop for the story that evolves here, as general Friedrich pursues the truth: that Hitler is a psychopath, and his rise to power portends a disaster that only he may be able to stop: "The French are afraid of Hitler. Half the British Lords support him. The Americans bury their collective heads in the sand believing they are protected by two great oceans. And the Jews. My people are crushed between a tyrant determined to force them to leave and the indifferent world that refuses to accept them. Friedrich, when war comes - and we both know it will - there must be someone inside to help save those who can be saved, to help defeat Hitler anyway we can. If not you, then who?"

As events unfold in 1934 Berlin, readers are carried into a world poised for a coup that will change everything. It takes one prime minister to thwart this coup, bringing on a disaster that comes to life with first-person experiences of an insider who lives in two very different worlds: "Simultaneously being a member of Hitler's inner circle while working behind the scenes to stop his march toward war caused me many sleepless nights. Christmas dinner provided a reprieve."

Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter take a lesser-known incident of World War II history and politics and uses it to explore the changes and events that affected the outcome of Hitler's rise to power. History buffs will find the use of the first person lends authenticity and immediacy to the story, as does the care taken to capture the atmosphere (both personal and political) of the times.

From court cases and lies to betrayal, subterfuge, and the perspectives that paved the path to war, Stern and Winter provide a chilling portrait of both military men and leaders and ordinary individuals caught up in a series of events that lead to a deadly outcome.

More so than most World War II books about Hitler's rise to power, Sins of the Fathers takes an especially hard look at the social, legal, and political processes that contributed to Hitler's rule. Long before the Holocaust actually began, there were plenty of warning signs and deliberate decisions made surrounding them. Germany's national physical assault on Jews began on a psychological and social level long before these moments. Sins of the Fathers does an outstanding job of documenting these early indicators and influences.

This is a story that should not only be in any World War II collection, but assigned reading in classes as a prime example of the thought processes and inclination to dehumanize people to justify genocide that became such a big part of the formula for disaster.

Perfect for debate, discussion, and deeper insights, Sins of the Fathers is highly recommended reading as the perfect example of how historical fiction offers the opportunity for readers to dig further under the emotional layers of influence, responsibility that led to devastating social consequences for all.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Kathleen T. Pelley
Journey with Story Press
9780578651965 $15.99

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a fine children's picture book for holiday pursuit, and opens with a child's prayer to God.

Jesus has the same name as God's son, so he's hoping this personal connection will help reach God with his special wish to receive a key part in his school's holiday Nativity play.

When he wins the part of Innkeeper #2, his mother is proud. But, now he needs God to help him with his part in the play...and when he messes up, he wonders why God hasn't made his role easier.

Dubravka Kolanovic's drawings enhance Kathleen Pelley's message, providing a simple yet appealing visual embellishment to a school play's challenges and achievement.

In the course of appealing to God to help him in his efforts, Jesus learns more about God's presence in everyday life, year-round: "Christmas is not just a long ago story. She says every time we love a lot, Jesus is born again in our hearts."

Adults seeking to impart spiritual lessons in a manner familiar to the very young will appreciate Jesus, Mary, and Joseph's ability to bring the Christmas experience to life in a very different manner. It embraces Latino family interactions, school events, and a holiday effort that reflects the spirit of Christmas, making Jesus, Mary, and Joseph a highly recommended pick for multicultural, Christian, and holiday picture book holdings alike.

More Than the Game
Jenni Bara
Point Publishing
9781737560012 $16.00 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

More Than the Game is a sports romance centered upon two things: love and baseball. Readers who love the sport and also appreciate romance tales will find the story explores female Olympic athletes and their challenges as well as the arena of relationship-building.

Former Olympian Beth Evans settles down to what she thinks will be a quiet small-time life, only to find there's more to the game than retirement. Her story opens not on the ball field, but with a Twitter blow-up as her late husband's brothers return fire over an accusation her father has made on social media. Beth doesn't really use Twitter, but the fallout of these ill-made postings reaches her anyway, and affects her life.

This single mother of two has enough on her hands, but life is about to get more complicated. Beth is drawn into scandal during an unexpected encounter with Twitter bad boy Marc (also an ex-athlete, whose sordid reputation precludes him getting a job in the sports industry).

The two seem the most unlikely to succeed. But, each has cultivated a determination and sense of strength that attracts the other.

Beth's life without her husband has helped build her courage and convictions: "It'd been four years since she buried him; four years since she had been able to hide behind the man who protected her. He'd been everything her younger self needed. It was more comfortable, more normal, being Bob's wife - Beth Evans - than it was to be her father's infamous daughter, Elizabeth Campbell."

But as she enters into a new arena with Marc, lit with fiery encounters and lost men filled with hate, Beth faces yet another struggle to meld her newfound independence with another's goals.

Jenni Bara creates an intricate dance between sports and interpersonal relationships that will satisfy romance readers seeking more action than an evolving relationship alone. She considers relationships born of obligation that move into something more, the challenge of changing bad images through good intentions, and the influence of role-playing, which brings an extra charge into the evolving relationship.

The baseball world revolves around these developments and maintains a strong backdrop as Marc and Beth let their pasts and future play out. Forced, once, to give up what they loved for the sake of romance, each must find a new way to integrate all their passions, this time around.

The integration of sports into the equation of commitments and sacrifice creates a story that excels in emotional and sexual passion. More Than the Game's heady inspections of relationship-building and an evolving new sense of self will satisfy romance readers who are also interested in sports and career decision-making processes.

Gabrielle David
2Leaf Press
c/o University of Chicago Press (distribution)
9781940939797 $34.99

Librarians typically attracted to biography collections will find Trailblazers, Black Women Who Helped Make America Great, American Firsts/American Icons offers a depth unequalled in the arena of black women achievers, making this first volume in a six-book series a top recommendation for judicious collections.

Volume 1 focuses on activism, dance, and sports; and offers profiles separated into chapters covering these three areas. The profiles range from the familiar (Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks) to names which deserve attention, but may be less recognizable (Pauli Murray, Betty Shabazz, Leah Penniman).

Each biography is also presented with information that ties each iconic woman to history via their social contributions. Leah Penniman, for example, receives coverage that links her efforts to an evolving community purpose: "Leah Penniman is a farmer, educator, author, and food sovereignty activist. She is the co-founder and co-director of Soul Fire Farm, in Grafton, New York, an Afro-Indigenous-centered community farm committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system. They teach farming skills and distribute life-giving food as a means to end food apartheid."

This translates to more than the typical biography sketch of individual achievement, providing a series of powerful links to the combined effort to change black experiences around the world.

David's history also takes into account the forces on all sides which kept women repressed and their achievements lesser-known even within the civil rights community: "...for all their work, Black women made little progress in convincing their male counterparts of their right to exercise full leadership within the civil rights movement."

As each biography explores the history, the attitudes of community and each individual, and how their work and social experiences led to revolutionary changes and contributions, it becomes evident that Trailblazers offers far more depth and a wider-ranging approach your typical biographical anthology.

Its coverage of flagship programs, cooperative and individual efforts to effect positive changes, and personal ambition leading to broader social changes is unparalleled in its details: "Miller put the spotlight for women's basketball onto the court and above the rim. With tremendous grace and athletic dexterity, she established a legacy from her brief high school and college career that remains unparalleled. Miles ahead of most female players in her generation, Miller helped make the case for the WNBA before it existed, and has inspired the next evolution of college women's basketball that we are witnessing today."

Readers of all ages need this survey because, unlike other biographical collections, it fills in the blanks that connect individual lives and achievement to effecting real changes within communities.

The historical overviews for each section, written from the viewpoint of African American women, also offer powerful guidelines for change that are not just educational, but inspirational.

Trailblazers, Black Women Who Helped Make America Great, American Firsts/American Icons is highly recommended for collections strong in women's issues, minority history and social change, and biography alike. There's nothing in print that holds the same depth of historical and social analysis, the attention to researched, footnoted facts...or the same ability to inspire.

Barking at the Moon
Tracy Beckerman
River Grove Books
9781632993939 $15.29

Fans of canines, humor, and memoirs of life with animals will relish Barking at the Moon: A Story of Life, Love, and Kibble. There simply aren't enough of these positive animal stories on the market, so Beckerman's tale adds a note of positivity and fun for pet owners, who receive a hilarious series of vignettes.

Think of Erma Bombeck's style, mixed with canine conundrums and family life. Humor columnist Beckerman offers this special blend in a warm cup of comfort that is comical and educational as she tackles a home beset upon by children and animals. A Halloween effort to be inclusive is just one example: "The kids and the dog were about the same size. The dog could borrow one of the kids' old costumes. After so many years of my kids trick-or-treating, we had enough costumes to outfit a whole kennel of dogs, and not just one costume-challenged retriever."

Levity is often lacking during these challenging years. Those who miss its laughter need Beckerman's stories, brought alive by family ironies, interactions, and insights, as in her daughter's observations:

"I think Riley is lonely," [my daughter] said, glancing at the dog who did not look very lonely at all, but rather, asleep. "We should get a puppy."

"Not on your life," I responded succinctly.


"Because we have one dog, a chinchilla, a bearded dragon, and two goldfish that I have to feed every day."

"I'll feed the puppy!"

"No puppy!" I shouted. She pouted and stomped out of the room. I didn't care. If pouting and stomping actually worked, we would have had ten dogs, an Icelandic pony out back, his llama friend, and a dolphin in the pool."

As the combination of kids, pets, and parenting provides many laugh-out-loud moments, readers also learn about dogs and the process of integrating pets into one's family.

From loving goofy retriever Riley to facing empty nest syndrome, Beckerman's world will resonate with many.

Whether you choose Barking at the Moon for its pet management insights or peek into the window of family follies, suffice it to say that the story is a rollicking good read and a welcome dose of humor that will captivate and entertain new and seasoned pet owners alike.

It deserves a prominent place in any collection strong in pets, family life, or humor biographies.

Of Love and Deception
Kayla Lowe
Independently Published
9781795233453, $19.99 Hardcover, $14.99 Paperback, $2.99 eBook

Teens who enjoy coming of age stories will find Of Love and Deception a testimony to the power of adaptation and survival. It follows eighteen-year-old college student Sarah MacKenzie's disrupted trajectory when her studies become compromised by an online romance.

Book 1 in the Tainted Love Saga series introduces the young aspiring woman's changing course in life as she becomes more and more involved in an addicting allure to a stranger who begins to feel dangerously familiar.

As these online transactions begin to take over her life and alter her ambitions, Sarah finds herself increasingly questioning her goals, attitude, and studies.

Kayla Lowe does an excellent job of capturing the backdrop of Sarah's contemporary world, from music and books to the types of connections she values in life (and thinks she's found in Bruce Spencer).

She also neatly depicts Sarah's move away from warning signs and solid advice into a world in which she is codependent and increasingly vulnerable to Bruce's allure: "I don't care what they think. It's my life. They'll have to come around eventually." He sighed. "I don't want to cause problems between you and your parents, though, Sarah." "You're not causing problems. They are." "What if they never come to accept it?" "They will," I affirmed again. "I know they will." He glanced away from me and shook his head again.

"And if they don't, I don't care. I still want to be with you." I rushed on with, "I won't let them tell me how to live my life - who I can be with, who I can't." The thought of losing him after how close we'd gotten...I couldn't bear to think of it. Then I thought that maybe he wanted to leave. Maybe he didn't think I was worth the aggravation of dealing with my parents. I looked down as this new thought settled over me."

Her initial attraction is based on all the interests they seem to share, but it is fraught with dangerous assumptions about these connections: "The way I saw it, any man who truly loved the tale of the Phantom of the Opera had to be deeply compassionate and romantic."

Part of college's attraction is the lessons it provides and opportunities to meet and interact with different types of people. But, nobody has prepared Sarah for the emotional conundrums of romance, or the signs of an abusive relationship.

Teens receive a winning lesson in both as they absorb Sarah's move from blossoming independence to limiting codependence, and will find her story realistically drawn, between the allure of online worlds and the reality of face-to-face encounters.

As much is this is a tale of evolving danger, it's an account of changing relationships between parents and their almost-adult children. Both interact in a moving saga that feels realistic and deeply impactful as Sarah navigates a strange new world of love and danger.

Young adults interested in stories about romance, ideals of relationships, and dangerous paths will find Sarah's story compelling and hard to put down. The warning is couched in a very realistic scenario that will resonate with those who desire the deep connections of love, but don't know how to identify the concurrent warning signs of abuse.

Mindful Mondays
Kimberly V. Dwyer, Ph.D.
Dwyer Psychological Services, PC
9781737325314 $9.99 Kindle

Mindful Mondays: Transforming the Everyday to Claim Calm and Reduce Stress is recommended reading for new age and self-help audiences who want specific guidelines to reduce daily stress and develop a mindful approach to living in a too-busy world. It offers keys to adding meditation into daily routines with the purposeful goal of "claiming calm."

It's that simple...and, as Dr. Dwyer points out, it also can be that complicated to achieve without a road map for success, one of the strengths of Mindful Mondays.

Herein lays a guideline for success that goes beyond teaching how to meditate, outlining what can be absorbed during that process: "Sitting with feelings may also lead to the realization that some of our feelings, especially anger, can be ego-driven and not reflective of our soul's deepest longings."

The tools for achieving a more mindful state are juxtaposed with analysis of the possibilities inherent in this achievement to help direct readers towards a new response to stress.

Each chapter outlines the "what and the why" of the process. Each considers the definition of goals, success, and their ultimate impact on one's life perception and trajectory. Each also specifically outlines how to get to these places using exercises to help readers better connect with their values and priorities in life.

Even more importantly, Mindful Mondays takes the guesswork out of developing clear intentions, moving beyond the concept of mindfulness alone to consider how its opportunities apply to and appear in everyday living.

More so than most books about either mindfulness or meditation, Dwyer's specific approaches represent keys to understanding that lead to important takeaways. Fill-in pages for action, implementation, and realization invite hands-on self-help readers to journal their progress and feelings in a logical progression of self-assessments throughout the journey.

The result is a collection of strategies synthesized into small chunks of achievable goals that will lend to even the busiest reader's use.

Mindful Mondays will reach both newcomers to meditation and mindful concepts and those more seasoned, who want a game plan accessible to a busy lifestyle. It should be in any new age, self-help, and psychology collection as a solid game plan for positive directions and growth-inducing habits.

What They Didn't Burn
Mel Laytner
9781684631032 $16.95 Paper/$9.95 Kindle

Mel Laytner knew his father as a quiet, unassuming man. What he didn't know was a personality that only emerged 20 years after his father died and he began uncovering Nazi documents that revealed quite a different alter ego.

What They Didn't Burn: Uncovering My Father's Holocaust Secrets is eye-opening, to say the least. Its different Holocaust story portrays a family shaken by Nazi secrets uncovered as a black legacy which are, now, shared here with the world in a book that belongs in any definitive collection of Holocaust experience.

The Nazis burned everything, to bury this world. And, "When they couldn't burn any more people, they set about burning the records and documents to hide their sins. What they didn't burn was a paper trail that tracked the man's journey through ghettoes, slave labor, concentration camps, death marches, and more. They didn't burn the hidden records that revealed surprising and painful incidents he had never talked about - at least not to me, his son."

That Laytner saw fit to bring these buried papers to life, adding to the world's record about camp life and survivor choices and experiences during the Holocaust, is testimony to a strength of historical resolve that gives the world more information and insights on that process of survival and the legacy of truth passed between generations. Truths like these are still coming to light through revelations and sharing.

Laytner embarked on a personal investigative journey to prove his father's unlikely stories authentic. This quest led him to new revelations about his father and the choices he made.

The Nazi documents were uncovered by Laytner, many from musty town hall and museum archives in Poland, Germany, Israel and the United States.

Readers might wonder at the need for exposure now, generations after Holocaust events. No other author explains this purpose as effectively as Laytner, in his introduction: "After Dad's death, and especially after my mother's passing seven years later, I felt their stories fading like family snapshots in a shoebox. Our children may know who they are, intellectually. However, they will never speak Yiddish, the lingua franca of my parents' generation. They will never have a Grandpa Joe or a Grandma Helen as links to a world long gone. Something very important was being lost."

It helped that Laytner was a former journalist. This provided him with the research background and keys to embarking on his expedition, and also made the evidence he uncovered more of a vetted operation. As he seeks corroboration and truth, readers become immersed in a journey that combines a family probe, a memoir, and a historical review under one cover.

Black and white sketches, photos, and copies of the rare documents themselves pepper the narrative, which is often painful: "A dull weight compresses my sternum, making it hard to take in air. I study the Gothic typeface legalisms, the check boxes and fill-in-the-blank spaces, the multiple signatures and rubber-stamped approvals, all the bureaucratic gloss to whitewash utter barbarity. Dad never spoke of this official torture. Yet again, I realize I know more about the camps than the man."

Much Holocaust literature assumes familiar scenarios, events, and insights. It's refreshing to see a coverage that takes quite a different turn as a reporter son's investigations return more background details about Nazi camp management, politics, atrocities, and impact than his own father could have realized.

This depth, authentic probe, and its special form of presentation which embraces the author's emotions at uncovering these pieces of evidence create a memoir and history like no other Holocaust story.

What They Didn't Burn: Uncovering My Father's Holocaust Secrets is essential for any collection that seeks a different perspective on Holocaust events. More so than most books on the subject, it juxtaposes the personal with the political, psychological, social, and moral and ethical issues facing survivors and Nazi executioners alike.

Its eye-opening impact makes What They Didn't Burn unparalleled, powerful, and essential reading that will ideally prompt debates and group studies about Holocaust survivors and Nazi experiences.

Blind Man's Labyrinth
Daryl Potter
Paper Stone Press
9781777307394, $23.95 Hardcover, $12.95 Paperback, $3.99 eBook
$23.95 Large Print Hardcover, $21.95 Audiobook

Historical fiction readers interested in a vivid story of ancient times set in 92 BCE will find Blind Man's Labyrinth an inviting, detailed read about a Jewish civil war that test Haim's ability to survive into adulthood.

Haim is not the son of the dye maker, his mother's non-Jewish husband who died years before Haim's birth. His mother, however, is Jewish and Haim is cursed, at this time, by such a lineage. After the dye maker's death, the Tyrant of Dora enslaves his family until forces rise up to kill the Tyrant and make the region Jewish again...including his mother. Haim's story begins here.

This back-and-forth of power struggles between Jewish and Egyptian forces affects his upbringing by his widowed mother and an old scribe, who also struggle against the give and take of the politics, tyrants, and trials of this ancient world.

The boy is hungry not just for food, but "something that he cannot name." Touched by poverty and prejudices held by all sides, Haim's world come alive under Daryl Potter's hand as he encounters new ideas that lead him to question the foundations of his various beliefs about himself and the world: "Do you Jews think that in other countries we don't have our own customs? No laws of our own? No manner of conducting ourselves?" He crouched down, still staring at Haim. "Are we just animals to you Jews?" "No," Haim said. "We were just trying to escape the war in Eretz Israel."

As Haim's journeys change his internal dialogue, readers also receive a health dose of self-inspection surrounding the logic and brutality of the times, crafted in poetic observations that are moving metaphors of transformation: "He was as deeply enmeshed in the art of ruin as these men were in the particulars of making pots. Their tools were clay and kiln. His tools were sling, knife, fist, and somehow finding and befriending poisonous people. The betrayal of innocents. A forest of crosses. Those were his tools, and his harvest was always rich."

Haim's discovery of the truth about his father, his legacy, and his decisions to either embrace or reject it makes for a powerful story of struggle, self-inspection, and the undercurrents and waves of a changing world and, through its events, Haim's own mercurial sense of self and purpose.

These drive a story that brings these ancient times to life and examines the motivations, influences, and choices faced by individuals who navigate its murky ethical and moral waters.

Perhaps the strongest message of all lies in Potter's portrait of a spiritual journey of the soul that examines not just the foundations of Haim's teachings, but the forces that bring it into his world as logical perceptions of his place in it: "Everywhere I've gone, I've found corruption, and I've taken corruption with me from place to place and added it to the corruption that was already there. I've come much farther than Jericho. I've travelled for twenty six years on the road behind me. I want to know how to be clean of everything that is."

How do individuals rise above their heritage, teachings, and lives to transform in an entirely new way? Haim's journey is that of "everyman" and will resonate even with readers not normally attracted to historical fiction, or who have little grounding in the era under consideration in Blind Man's Labyrinth.

Recommended for history, spirituality, and philosophy readers alike, the story is powerful in its juxtaposition of orphans struggling to uncover meaning in a world at war, and brings the times to life in a manner that will appeal to a wide audience.

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

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

The Fog Ladies: In The Soup
Susan McCormick
The Wild Rose Press
9781509233075, $17.99 pbk / $4.99 Kindle

The third installment of the series "The Fog Ladies" is a beautifully crafted tale once again of murder. This time the ladies have become involved in a situation with a soup kitchen to find a dead man in the concoction. As always, the retired ladies and Nurse Sarh go about their lives even though they get caught up as well in the circumstances of another murder. Like the two other novels in the series "The Fog Ladies: In The Soup" is a fun filled cozy mystery for all to enjoy.

The Melbourne Connection
Joanne Fisher
Joannes Books
9781087973368, $20.00 pbk / $4.75 Kindle

I recently reviewed and loved "Magnolia Blossom" by this author who filled it with fantastic fast pacing story that raced along to the very end. "The Melbourne Connection" does not contain many of the same elements. In fact, "Melbourne Connection" is a much slower paced work, packed with so much overuse words too close to each other as shown in this example "Nora ran into her bedroom, grabbing the phone, just as she was taught. And just as she was taught..." The pacing is uneven with exceedingly coincidental situations that just are not believable. "The Melbourne Connection" story a good one, of a husband obsessed with his wife should have been a lot crisper.

A Little Christmas Spirit
Sheila Roberts
c/o Harlequin
9780778311287, $16.99 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

With all that we are going through, a need for more positive things has arisen. Just in time to begin the holiday season "A Little Christmas Spirit" an uplifting novel delivers a beautiful story for any period but most especially for what we all now face. Filled with charming characters, snappy dialogue and a story that is entertaining reminiscent, of many films of the season Roberts, a master story teller, propels readers along until the final pages. To tell anymore would ruin the long-lasting effect of a work that should be an instant classic. "A Little Christmas Spirit" will give pause to realize we are all special in our own way.

Jeffrey Kluger
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593184691 $26.00 hc / $13.99 Kindle

A lone astronaut knows something is wrong with the order given her so she defies it to begin a search for the real reason for the mandate. Jeffrey Kluger masterfully handles the tense situations in a page turning suspenseful tale set in the near future. "Holdout" is also a character driven work that is rapid fire storytelling.

Legacy And The Double
Created by Kobe Bryant
Written by Annie Matthew
Granity Studios
9781949520194, $15.99 hc / $8.49 Kindle

To classify "Legacy And The Double" is to diminish the beautifully told story. There are several levels it is on including a sports novel on the thoughts of many athletes, a fantasy tale for young children in the fold of "Wizard of Oz" or Alice in Wonderland" and it's a science fiction where one character meets herself. "Legacy And The Double" presentation is so interesting because like titles of old there is a ribbon inside the book for you to mark your place while its appearance is a very charming appearance. The one sad thing is that Kobe Bryant who created this special title is no longer with us to enjoy the success of the beautifully crafted work that celebrates many different factors. "Legacy And The Double" is a charismatic piece of writing for all ages to devour.

Anvils, Mallets & Dynamite The Unauthorized Biography of Loony Tunes
Jaime Weinman
Sutherland House
9781989555460, $27.95 hc

Warner Brothers cartoons are as fun today as ever before and "Anvil, Mallets & Dynamite" presents so much about how the animation was made and the teams that reigned for so many years as the top studio producing the short films. Weinman tells the many different versions of some of the most famous characters including Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig and of course Bugs Bunny. He also reveals more about Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn and Sylvester and Tweety. It's always fun to know more about the behind the scenes of these ageless characters who are still giants in the genre. I am sure after people read "Anvils, Mallets & Dynamite" readers will find on whatever stream service the classic works to enjoy even more for their brilliance.

Cougar Crossing
Written by Meeg Pincus
Illustrated by Alexander Vidal
Beach Lane Books
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781534461857, $17.99 hc / $10.99 Kindle

Everyday all over the country we hear stories of stray animals moving around different subdivisions in search of food. "Cougar Crossing" details one cougar just trying to get across the road to the a more familiar area. The author and artist recreate through the cougar eyes real events that happened to change the way animals are treated in California. "Cougar Crossing" is a beautiful educational tool for all of us to follow in our own neighborhoods to live in harmony with other animals that also live in and around us.

Is Was
Deborah Freedman
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781534475106, $17.99 hc / $10.99 Kindle

Author/artist Deborah Freedman gives new meaning to two words for all ages to enjoy in "Is Was". Filled with fantastic artwork that adds to the mood, "Is Was" is a unique labor of love to define different usages of each for all to think about. "Is Was" is for all ages to savor for a long time.

Dragons Are The Worst!
Alex Willan
Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781534485112, $17.99 HC / $10.99 Kindle

I loved Willan's "Unicorns Are The Worst! Unfortunately, I cannot say that about "Dragons Are The Worst!" Like its predecessor "Dragons Are The Worst!" begins with a Dragon story that seems to be a charming account of a dragon looking to hook up with other animals. Towards the end of the story is where I drew a line. I fail to see why toilet humor is so funny to anyone. In the future I will be more cautious of this writer's works. "Dragons Are The Worst!" struts along with a charming character until the author presents an uncalled-for scenario that at best is tasteless and inappropriate for children of the target ages of 4 to 8

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

Tattoo Monologues: Indelible Marks on the Body and Soul
Donna L. Torrisi, author
John Giugliano, author
Kenneth Kauffman, photographer
She Writes Press
9781647423117, $29.95, HC, 112pp

Synopsis: Body art in the form of tattooscan tell personal stories. When linked to a difficult or traumatic life, it can even restore one's sense of well-being. As director of a community health center for twenty-seven years and as a nurse practitioner for over forty years, Donna Torrisi became fascinated with the stories behind her patients' tattoos. When she began to ask her female patients about their markings, themes of trauma, pain, and loss emerged, and it became clear that the art indelibly marked on their bodies had played a part in their healing and redemption.

The women featured in "Tattoo Monologues: Indelible Marks on the Body and Soul" demonstrate vulnerability and courage as they share both their personal tattoo narratives and photos of the images on their bodies. These women represent diverse cultures, ethnicities, and professional contexts, but they are united by their use of tattoos as a tool for processing traumatic life experiences. The images, stories, emotions, and journeys in this unique volumn collectively tell a compelling story. A story of skin and ink. A story of trauma and adversity. A story of courage and resilience.

Critique: An inherently fascinating combination of commentaries by Donna Torrisi and John Giugliano, and photographic images by Kenneth Kauffman, "Tattoo Monologues: Indelible Marks on the Body and Soul" is a unique and memorable read that will of special interest to academia and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Tattoo Monologues: Indelible Marks on the Body and Soul" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Editorial Note #1: Donna L. Torrisi, MSN has been a nurse practitioner since 1976. In 1992 she founded a community health center in Philadelphia, where she continues today to provide primary care to low-income communities. It was here that she was inspired by her patients to write this book. The center's model, and Torrisi's work, are recognized nationally and have been the recipient of multiple awards. She is a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.

Editorial Note #2: Dr. John Giugliano originally started working psycho-dynamically with people suffering from trauma, mood regulation, and sexuality issues. He received his Masters of Social Welfare at UCLA and his doctorate from Smith College. Dr. Giugliano was President of the Board of Directors for the Society for Advancement for Sexual Health and has national and international notoriety in his field. His research and clinical work is published in scholarly journals and has been translated into five languages.

Editorial Note #3: Ken Kauffman's ability to decisively capture the serendipitous moments in people's real-life situations has been his specialty for years. He has brought the sensitivity and visual language from the genre of "Street Photography" to his chosen photographic career areas, both fine and commercial art. His ability to connect with people from all walks of life has influenced his work and is the source of his commercial and artistic success. Ken's photographs have been published in many business, healthcare, and nonprofit web and traditional mediums.

48 Whispers: From Pine Ridge and the Northern Plains
Kevin Hancock
Post Hill Press
9781637580622, $30.00, HC, 76pp

Synopsis: When author, photographer, and CEO, Kevin Hancock acquired a rare neurological voice disorder (spasmodic dysphonia/ SD) in 2010, He set out from his home in Maine on a series of travel adventures to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the surrounding northern plains in search of voice recovery through self-reflection and immersion in nature.

On the Reservation, Kevin encountered an entire community (the Oglala Sioux Tribe) that felt a piece of their authentic voice had been taken or stolen from them. From this experience, Kevin came to see life as a quest for self-actualization. He then wrote a series of short meditations designed to advance the concepts of shared leaders, dispersed power, and respect for all voices.

Kevin's full-page color photos and writings comprising "48 Whispers: From Pine Ridge and the Northern Plains" span a decade of over twenty visits to the region -- during which time he builds a series of deep friendships on the reservation and takes two Lakota names.

Critique: An inherently fascinating volume of striking images and meditatively descriptive captions, "48 Whispers: From Pine Ridge and the Northern Plains" is a book to browse through and will linger in the mind and memory long after it is finished and set back upon the shelf. Simply stated, "48 Whispers: From Pine Ridge and the Northern Plains" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Contemporary American Photography collections.

America's Top Dog Model Book of Fairy Tails
Jo Jo Harder
TriMark Press
9780578895314, $19.95 Hardcover

Synopsis: America's Top Dog Model Book of Fairy Tails showcases adorable canines cloaked as fairy tale characters living fantastic adventures worthy of kings and queens. Readers are taken on an adventurous romp through beautiful gardens, scary forests, and enchanted castles, with amazing dogs as trusted guides.

This compilation of creative and inspired stories illuminates the essence of twelve top dogs through photographic images in charming, vivid settings. The book follows the America's Top Dog Model 2020 national contest, which carried a theme of "Fairy Tails." Each magical and captivating "tail" is written by the loving moms of contest winner Shai, and finalists Griffin, AvaGrace, Delilah, Willow, Betsey, Mocha, Haven Camille, Jewels, Royal, Aria, and Charlie.

Critique: America's Top Dog Model Book of Fairy Tails is a charming delight for dog lovers everywhere. A full-color photograph of a beautiful, dressed-up dog complements the color illustrations and heartwarming text renditions of each fairy tale in this anthology. The short, lovely stories have upbeat endings, and make wonderful read-aloud stories for parents and children, or a cozy curl-up reading at the end of a long day. America's Top Dog Model Book of Fairy Tails also makes an excellent gift for one's canine enthusiast friends!

Editorial Note: A devout dog lover who is mom to Italian Greyhound Romeo, author Jo Jo Harder transitioned from creating fashions for people to the world of doggie glamour by founding America's Top Dog Model (R) Contest in 2005. America's Top Dog Model (R) brand is recognized nationally and includes ecommerce, model management, production company, YouTube reality series, and support for animals in need.

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

Border and Rule
Harsha Walia
Haymarket Books
PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618
9781642594065, $45.00, HC, 200pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism", author Harsha Walia disrupts easy explanations for the migrant and refugee crises, instead showing them to be the inevitable outcomes of conquest, capitalist globalization, and climate change generating mass dispossession worldwide.

"Border and Rule" explores a number of seemingly disparate global geographies with shared logics of border rule that displace, immobilize, criminalize, exploit, and expel migrants and refugees. With her keen ability to connect the dots, Walia demonstrates how borders divide the international working class and consolidate imperial, capitalist, ruling class, and racist nationalist rule.

Ambitious in scope and internationalist in orientation, "Border and Rule" breaks through American exceptionalist and liberal responses to the migration crisis and cogently maps the lucrative connections between state violence, capitalism, and right-wing nationalism around the world.

Illuminating the brutal mechanics of state formation, Walia exposes US border policy as a product of violent territorial expansion, settler-colonialism, enslavement, and gendered racial exclusion.

Further, she compellingly details how Fortress Europe and White Australia are using immigration diplomacy and externalized borders to maintain a colonial present, how temporary labor migration in the Arab Gulf states and Canada is central to citizenship regulation and labor control, and how far-right nationalism is escalating deadly violence in the US, Israel, India, the Philippines, Brazil, and across Europe, while producing a disaster of statelessness for millions elsewhere.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, insightful, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism" is an extraordinary study and a vitally important addition for community, college, and university library Contemporary International Studies collections in general, and supplemental studies curriculum in the areas of immigration policy, the politics of globalization, and the destructive rise of nationalism. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781642592696, $19.95,) and in digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Trained in the law, Harsha Walia is a community organizer and campaigner in migrant justice, anti-capitalist, feminist, and anti-imperialist movements, including No One Is Illegal and Women's Memorial March Committee. She is also the author of Undoing Border Imperialism (2013).

John Taylor

Laurel Johnson's Bookshelf

After Her
Joyce Scarbrough
Blue Attitude Books
9781686612756, $16.99 hc / $12.99 pbk / $2.99 ebook, 292 pages

In book two of her young adult series, Ms. Scarbrough tackles realistic problems with charismatic characters and genuine portrayals of friendship. She writes from the heart with humor and a reality I found most touching in a young adult novel this senior citizen could not put down. The supernatural aspect of the story only added to its appeal.

Adolescence is hard enough without parental abuse and lost love adding to the misery. Wade Strickland is a gifted high school athlete tormented by effects from the steroids his father forces him to take. His thought processes are skewed and his acting out behaviors are at a point where he loses the only girl he'll ever love. In one final fit of steroid-driven rage, Wade wraps his car around a tree. His last conscious thought is that he'll love Jeana as long as he lives, and longer.

Wade wakes up in what he thinks might be heaven, in the Afterlife Admissions Office. Flo, his Afterlife Advisor, tells him his assignment is to return to earth and complete unfinished business by keeping another high school athlete from ruining his life with steroids. Because of a promise Wade made to God years before, he's in a transitional state, neither dead nor alive. His assignment is to befriend Bud Stanton, a fun loving, hard drinking and partying teen with bad grades and a bad relationship with his father. Bud is a baseball star whose coach is enticing him to take steroids. Wade soon becomes close friends with Bud, plus two troubled friends -- Marah and Charity. Can he fulfill his assignment to keep Bud off steroids? And what part will Marah and Charity play in his assignment? Wade's blind rages are gone but what can cure the dull ache of losing Jeana? You'll have to read the book to find out.

I found the plot, the relatable characters, and Wade's gradually maturing thoughts to be quite intriguing. Ms. Scarbrough nailed the joys, sorrows and struggles of high school relationships and did so with deep understanding and compassion. Highly recommended.

Laurel Johnson
Senior Reviewer

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

Lessons in Liberation: An Abolitionist Toolkit for Educators
The Education for Liberation Network & Critical Resistance Editorial Collective
AK Press
9781849354363, $25.00, PB, 376pp

Synopsis: Born from sustained organizing, and rooted in Black and women of color feminisms, disability justice, and other movements, abolition calls for an end to our reliance on imprisonment, policing and surveillance, and to imagine a safer future for our communities.

"Lessons in Liberation: An Abolitionist Toolkit for Educators" offers entry points to build critical and intentional bridges between educational practice and the growing movement for abolition. Designed for educators, parents, and young people, this toolkit shines a light on innovative abolitionist projects, particularly in pre-K - 12 learning contexts.

Sections are dedicated to entry points into Prison Industrial Complex abolition and education; the application of the lessons and principles of abolition; and stories about growing abolition outside of school settings. Topics addressed throughout include student organizing, immigrant justice in the face of ICE, approaches to sex education, arts-based curriculum, and building abolitionist skills and thinking in lesson plans.

The result of patient and urgent work, and more than five years in the making, "Lessons in Liberation" invites educators into the work of abolition.

Critique: The Education for Liberation Network & Critical Resistance Editorial Collective are a team of writers, educators, and thinkers from various backgrounds and social movements working toward abolition in our time. With the assistance of knowledgeable contributors they have published "Lessons in Liberation: An Abolitionist Toolkit for Educators" and given classroom educators, community activists, and home schooling parents an ideal and practical manual for setting up effective classroom curriculums for students Preschool through K-12. Exceptionally well written, thoroughly 'user friendly in organization and presentation, "Lessons in Liberation: An Abolitionist Toolkit for Educators" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, school district, college, and university library Contemporary Political & Social Issues Education collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

A Year without Men
Allison Carmen
9781510764125, $19.99 hc / $12.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Glass ceilings. #MeToo. Less than equal pay for equal work. After decades fighting to free ourselves from male-dominated social and economic structures, women still struggle. But many of us are poised to rise up with innovative ways to approach the many problems facing today's world. A Year without Men is an essential guide to every woman's success and liberation.

Using the events of a very painful year in her own personal and professional life - her husband left her, her consulting business took an unexpected hit, and she faced a serious health scare - business consultant and life strategist Allison Carmen explores the forces in women's personal and professional lives that hold us back. In A Year without Men, she offers twelve simple, practical tools to help us look within, find our own values, morals, and passions, work on our skills, call on other women, and forge new ways to do business. Together, we can create a new way to earn money, a new way to look at beauty, and so many other new ways to be in the world.

Take a stand and gain the power to overcome any obstacle with A Year without Men.

Critique: A Year without Men: A Twelve-Point Guide to Inspire + Empower Women is a self-help guide written especially for women struggling in a man's world. Chapters focus on learning how to empower oneself, trust one's emotions, and break free of the trap of excessively comparing oneself to others. "The comparisons we make between ourselves and others can keep us locked in a company, a relationship, or a society that might not see us as equal. When we stop comparing, we can figure out our own truth, what we love, how we want to work, and what we want to achieve." A Year without Men is a welcome addition to women's self-help and inspirational shelves, highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that A Year without Men is also available in a Kindle edition ($12.99).

Editorial Note: Allison Carmen is a business consultant, life strategist, podcaster, and author of The Gift of Maybe. She currently serves as CFO of The Motherhood Center, a female-run day hospital for women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Allison writes for several large publications and is a sought-after guest on radio and other media platforms.

Grandmother Ayahuasca: Plant Medicine and the Psychedelic Brain
Christian Funder
Park Street Press
c/o Inner Traditions
9781644112359, $19.99 pbk / $13.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Brewed from a combination of two plants--the leaves of Psychotria viridis and the vine stalks of Banisteriopsis caapi--ayahuasca has been used for millennia by indigenous tribes throughout the Upper Amazon for healing and spiritual exploration. The shamans of the Peruvian Amazon call the plant spirit within the vine Abuela Ayahuasca, Grandmother Ayahuasca.

Exploring the history, lore, traditional use, psychoactive effects, and current scientific studies, Christian Funder reveals how Grandmother Ayahuasca is a profound healer, wise teacher, and life-changing guide. Examining ayahuasca from a neuroscientific perspective, the author looks at recent research on the effects of DMT--one of the psychoactive compounds in ayahuasca--as well as fMRI studies of brain activity during altered states. He explores these findings as they relate to the teachings on unified states of consciousness in ancient esoteric texts and to Aldous Huxley's theory of psychedelics inhibiting the "reducing valve" mechanism of the brain.

Sharing interviews with people who have experienced ayahuasca's powerful "spirit doctor" effects, Funder also details his own revolutionary ayahuasca healing journey from suicidal depression to a soul at peace. He explores ayahuasca's relationship to indigenous Amazonian shamanism, including an inside look at the Shipibo tribe and the healing songs known as icaros.

Critique: Grandmother Ayahuasca: Plant Medicine and the Psychedelic Brain explores uses of the psychoactive compound ayahuasca from historical, scientific, cultural, and spiritual perspectives. Drawing upon interviews with people who have experienced the powerful effects of ayahuasca, Grandmother Ayahuasca examines Native American shaman traditions connected to the substance, particularly among the Shipibo indigenous tribe and their healing songs (called "icaros"). Extensively researched, extraordinarily insightful, and enhanced with notes, a bibliography, and an index, Grandmother Ayahuasca is highly recommended reading for anyone curious about its oft-misunderstood subject matter. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Grandmother Ayahuasca is also available in a Kindle edition ($13.99).

Editorial Note: Christian Funder is an English and mathematics teacher. After attending several ayahuasca retreats in the Peruvian jungle, he is now focused on reuniting humanity with the plant teachers. He is a board member of the Psychedelic Society of Denmark.

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

Jekyll & Hyde Inc.
Simon R. Green
Baen Books
Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing
9781982125288, $25.00, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: Daniel Carter was a London cop who just wanted to do the right thing. But during a raid on an organ-selling chop shop, he is almost torn to pieces by monsters. And no one believes him. Hurt and crippled, his career over and his life in ruins, Daniel is suddenly presented with a chance at redemption. And revenge.

It seems that more than two centuries ago, the monsters of the world disappeared into the underworld of crime. Guild-like Clans now have control over all the dark and illegal trades, from the awful surgeries of the Frankenstein Clan, to the shadowy and seductive Vampire Clan, to the dreaded purveyors of drugs and death, the Clan of Mummies. And there's always the Werewolf Clan, to keep order.

Only one force stands opposed to the monster Clans: the superstrong, extremely sexy, quick-witted Hydes! Now Daniel is just one sip of Dr. Jekyll's Elixir away from joining their company -- Jekyll & Hyde Inc.

Critique: A thoroughly fun read from first page to last, "Jekyll & Hyde Inc." showcases author Simon R. Green's extraordinary flair for originality and a new perspective on classic monster villains and heros alike. While certain to be an immediately welcome and enduringly popular addition to community library Science Fiction & Fantasy collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Jekyll & Hyde Inc." is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) and in a Book/CD paperback bunko Singer's Edition (Hal Leonard Corporation, B01N1WAKNQ, $37.98).

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

Wolfe Trap
Matt Cost
Encircle Publications, LLC
9781645991694, $17.99 pbk / $4.99 Kindle

Synopsis: What evil lurks in Port Essex, Maine?

Clay Wolfe is a former Boston homicide detective who has left the police department to return home to Maine to care for his elderly grandfather and open a private detective agency. Haunted by being orphaned at an early age, and jaded by the corruption of the big city, Clay is happy to hit pause and investigate minor crimes.

"I want you to find the person who sold the drugs that killed my grandbaby."

When he is hired to find out who sold the drugs that killed a six-month-old baby girl, he has no idea of the evil that he is going to uncover in the underbelly of his hometown.

Wolfe Trap is a thrilling ride set in a small Maine town with rich characters and shocking plot twists that will keep the reader rapt until the final pages.

Critique: Wolfe Trap is the first novel of the Clay Wolfe / Port Essex Mystery series, Wolfe Trap follows former Boston detective turned private eye Clay Wolfe, who gets drawn into a dark web of criminal undertakings when he is tasked with tracking down a seedy drug dealer. An intense, riveting page turner, Wolfe Trap will keep connoisseurs of hard-boiled modern detective stories riveted to the end. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Wolfe Trapis also available in a Kindle edition ($4.99), and that two sequels are forthcoming, "Mind Trap" and "Mouse Trap".

Editorial Note: Matt Cost has taught history and coached just about every sport imaginable. I Am Cuba: Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution (Encircle Publications, March, 2020) was his first traditionally published novel. Mainely Power, the first of the Mainely Mysteries featuring private detective Goff Langdon, was published by Encircle in September, 2020, followed by book two, Mainely Fear, in December, 2020, and book three, Mainely Money, in March of 2021. Also from Encircle Publications are his Clay Wolfe / Port Essex Mystery series: Wolfe Trap (June 23, 2021), Mind Trap (October 6, 2021), and Mouse Trap (April 13, 2022); as well as his new historical fiction novel, Love in a Time of Hate (August 25, 2021).

Michael Dunford

Nancy Lorraine's Bookshelf

Rosalind Creasy's Recipes from the Garden
Rosalind Creasy, author/photographer
Tuttle Publishing
9780804854948 $9.99 pb 208 pages

From the author of "The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping" comes the brilliantly photo-illustrated "Rosalind Creasy's Recipes from the Garden." Creative recipes using fresh garden produce accompanied by beautiful color photos of finished dishes pack a dual power delivery system both tempts and inspires cooks to create healthy foods and to garden themselves or to shop for greenest garden produce available. From the simple to the complex, here are 200 + recipes offering up the very best of garden produce translated into delicious and healthful meals. The combination of fresh produce, herbs, vegetables and even flowers, and savory recipes with stunningly composed photographs is unbeatable. The talented and famous author gives full credit to Wendy Krupnik, an experienced food gardener, for helping her create and manage a succession of front yard garden beds to help raise produce for Mexican, French, German, Asian, and even native American, herbs and salad themed recipes.

Included are just a sampling of the many mouth watering results in recipes: Rainbow Slaw, Watermelon spicy salad, Wonton dumpling soup with oriental chives, Sunny delight squash blossom omelet, Deep-fried squash blossoms with chili cream, Thai chicken soup with pigeon peas, kaleidoscope tacos, Savory bread pudding with sorrel and baby artichokes, Babyback ribs with ancho chilies, Vietnamese salad rolls, Classic gumbo, Chayote sauce with chilies, Fava beans with tomatoes, Corn pudding, Baked winter squash with maple nut/seed butter, Spicy bean sprouts, Rhubarb and strawberry cobbler, Lavender shortbread, and Persimmon smoothie. Recipes are divided into seven sections; Herb Blends, Salad Dressings, and More, Sensational Salads, Irresistible Soups and Starters, Hearty Vegetable Dishes, Delicious Meat, Poultry, and Seafood Dishes, Flavorful Sides, and Drinks and Desserts.

If your culinary goals include exploring multiple cuisines with fresh foods emphasis, this is the cookbook for you. Filled with updated classics and new creations of beloved vegetable pairings, "Rosalind Creasy's Recipes from the Garden" is sure to appeal to the most sophisticated palate while remaining accessible to the garden variety of today's home chefs. It also makes a fabulous gift.

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

Two Spies in Caracas: A Novel
Moises Naim
Daniel Hahn, translator
Amazon Crossing
9781542016698, $14.95 pbk / $4.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Venezuela, 1992. Unknown colonel Hugo Chavez stages an ill-fated coup against a corrupt government, igniting the passions of Venezuela's poor and catapulting the oil-rich country to international attention. For two rival spies hurriedly dispatched to Caracas - one from Washington, DC, and the other from Fidel Castro's Cuba - this is a career-defining mission.

Smooth-talking Ivan Rincon of Cuba's Intelligence Directorate needs a rebel ally to secure the future of his own country. His job: support Chavez and the revolution by rallying the militants and neutralizing any opposing agents.

Meanwhile, the CIA's Cristina Garza will do everything in her power to cut Chavez's influence short. Her priority: stabilize the greatest oil reserves on the planet by ferreting out and eliminating Cuba's principal operative.

As Chavez surges to power, Ivan and Cristina are caught in the fallout of a toxic political time bomb: an intrepid female reporter and unwitting informant, a drug lord and key architect in Chavez's rise, and personal entanglements between the spies themselves. With everything at stake, the adversaries find themselves at the center of a game of espionage, seduction, murder, and shifting alliances playing out against the precarious backdrop of a nation in free fall. A thrilling fictional story based on unimaginable real-life events.

Critique: A nail-biting modern-history thriller set in 1990's Venezuela, Two Spies in Caracas: A Novel is a tale of criss- cross alliances, easily betrayed. When Hugo Chavez ignites political turmoil in Venezuela, two rival spies are tasked with opposed missions; a Cuban spy seeks to ally with Chavez and aid his own country, while a CIA spy is tasked with stop Chavez and secure Venezuela's oil reserves. Intense, and written with the realism drawn directly from the author's personal experience serving as a former member of Venezuela's economic cabinet, Two Spies in Caracas is enthusiastically recommended especially for connoisseurs of the genre. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Two Spies in Caracas is also available in a Kindle edition ($4.99).

Editorial Note: Moises Naim is a Venezuelan author and prize-winning journalist whose writing on international affairs is read worldwide, appearing in such publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, El Pais, and many others. He is the author of twelve nonfiction books, including Illicit and the New York Times bestseller The End of Power. A former contributing editor to The Atlantic, Naim was also the editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine for fourteen years. Two Spies in Caracas, his first work of fiction, is based on his experience as a former member of Venezuela's economic cabinet. For more information visit

Paul T. Vogel

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

Aurora Sky: Vampire Hunter
Nikki Jefford
Caffeinated Books Publishing LLC
9781939997487 $12.95
B00AEGD5XY, $0.00 Kindle, 2012, 285 pages

Aurora Sky is a monster fantasy tale that is mainly focused on adolescent/traumatic stress and not on fantasy. Good fantasy stories require a logical framework that fits the tale. Aurora Sky has logical jumps that make little sense. The one thing the story does well is explore adolescent angst blended with major traumatic stress.

Aurora is a senior in high school when she gets in a car accident. Her mother permits the government to rebuild her lethally damaged body using a technique that makes her blood poisonous to vampires. To stay alive, she has to get an injection once a month. The government releases her back to her final year in school without training but with the mission to kill vampires. Will she give up or can she learn to survive?

Aurora Sky is priced right. It is free as an ebook. It is just an introduction into a series with major logical (within the fantasy world created by the author) flaws. No government agency will spend a million dollars in medical costs to create a vampire hunter with poisonous blood and not fully train the person in how to kill and surveil suspected vampires. In the story, no training is supplied to Aurora. She is forced to learn this by herself. The main protagonist is an interesting character and, for many, this will be enough to continue reading the series. Try the book, it is priced right. If you enjoy Aurora, you will have fun. For most monster fantasy readers, the weaknesses in the story will keep the reader from going further.

A Killing At The Track (The Jeri Howard Series Book 9)
Janet Dawson
Fawcett (paperback)
9780449005316, $1.99 used
B005GIGEDI, $4.99 Kindle, 2011, 234 pages

A Killing At The Track is a cozy mystery that carries the reader deep into the world of horse racing including the stables behind the race track and the lives of the grooms, jockeys, trainers and owners.

Private detective Jeri Howard is invited to Edgewater Downs by David Vanitsky. He has a case for her about horse trainer Molly Torrance receiving threats. As Jeri starts her investigation she discovers a questionable death and suspicious events. The deeper she looks the more shady things look. When jockeys are murdered, the case becomes more dangerous.

A Killing At The Track is an easy recommendation for aficionados of the cozy mystery genre and horses. It is a slower read. The murder mystery clues are worked into the fine details of everyone involved in racing. The reader learns about the behind-the-scenes life of the people who make a race track work and how the horses live between races. These details both slow the story and add richness to the telling. A Killing might be a bit slow for readers who enjoy action.

S.A. Gorden, Senior Reviewer

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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