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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 9 September 2022 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

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

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf

Celebrity in the Time of Covid
Christina S. Beck
McFarland & Company
PO Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640
9781476684925, $39.95, PB, 200pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Celebrity in the Time of Covid: Fandom and the Influence of Pandemic Messaging", Professor Christina Beck describes the crucial role celebrities played in the emergence of two competing narratives about COVID-19, one a pro-science narrative that advocated for preventive measures and the other a skeptical counter narrative that denied the disease's existence or downplayed its severity.

During the first postmodern pandemic, a slew of interactions took place across a variety of platforms between prominent figures and those who connected with them, forming parasocial communities that framed perspectives on COVID-19. Professor Beck first describes how COVID-19 unfolded in the world of sports, then goes on to explain how supportive behavior toward public officials fueled the two competing narratives, emphasizing how celebrities themselves aided in the development of common perspectives.

The text concludes with a description of how citizens initially regarded health care professionals as "heroes," but even the most powerful public appeals could not persuade some that COVID-19 posed a genuine threat. Exploring the polarity of publicly held beliefs, "Celebrity in the Time of Covid" documents how celebrity advocacy had a lasting effect on people's health choices during a global pandemic.

Critique: Informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of an Introduction (Are We All Really 'In This Together?: Fandom, Celebrity, Politics, and Covid-19), a ten page bibliography of References, and a three page Index, "Celebrity in the Time of Covid: Fandom and the Influence of Pandemic Messaging" is a timely, ground-breaking, and impressively presented study. While also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $23.99), "Celebrity in the Time of Covid" is an impeccable work of original scholarship and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Contemporary Public Health History collections in general, and Covid-19 Pandemic supplemental curriculum studies lists in particular.

Editorial Note: Christina S. Beck is a professor and associate director of graduate studies in the School of Communication Studies at Ohio University. She has authored or edited 11 books, in addition to multiple book chapters and journal articles, and her current research interests are at the intersections of health communication, fandom, and media studies. She has a web page on the Ohio University website at

Just Go Down to the Road
James Campbell
Paul Dry Books
1700 Sansom Street, Suite 700. Philadelphia, PA 19103-5214
9781589881648, $16.95, PB, 282pp

Synopsis: A dedicated writer and bibliophile, with the publication of "Just Go Down to the Road: A Memoir of Trouble and Travel ", James Campbell recounts his years in Glasgow, Scotland as an incipient juvenile delinquent (arrested for stealing books!) and his young adulthood spent "on the road" in the early 1970s.

After dropping out of school at fifteen, Campbell struggled with family relations and factory work. Soon he threw it all off and went traveling through Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. His was a bohemian existence; he got along by hitchhiking and trading work for shelter.

In time, Campbell settled back in Scotland. Long a reader and writer, he began working for local magazines and attending University. His early encounters with well-known authors including John Fowles and James Baldwin set him on his true path, which took him to the position of long-time writer of the NB column for the Times Literary Supplement.

"Just Go Down to the Road" concludes with Campbell getting his first book deal, and, after an unlikely start and unorthodox education, begins to find his place in the world of literature.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and well crafted read from cover to cover, "Just Go Down to the Road: A Memoir of Trouble and Travel" by James Campbell will have a particular appeal and special to readers with an interest in literary memoirs. While unreservedly recommended for community and academic library Literary Biography & Memoir collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Just Go Down to the Road: A Memoir of Trouble and Travel" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Currently residing in London, England, James Campbell was born in Glasgow, Scotland. Between 1978 and 1982, he was the editor of the New Edinburgh Review. His books include Invisible Country: A Journey through Scotland (1984), Gate Fever: Voices from a Prison (1986), Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin (1991), and a collection of essays, Syncopations (2007). For many years he was an editor and columnist at the Times Literary Supplement. He is on Wikipedia at

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

Rail Against Injustice
John Marks
Black Rose Writing
9781685130374, $23.95

Rail Against Injustice is third in a trilogy and opens in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in April, where Stuart Lazar faces the specter of a railroad brakeman's ghost who returns to haunt the scene of his untimely demise. Student Stuart doesn't believe in spirits. Indeed, he and fellow students have already spent much time debunking the famous Mystery Light by applying their training in photo-optical instrumentation to the mystery, only to see unsatisfyingly inconclusive results.

Now Professor Lorna Rybicki adds her expertise to matters as Stuart maintains that what he has seen cannot be explained by the science they both believe in.

Neither expected that their pursuit of the Paulding Light would reveal, instead of a supernatural solution, the body of a dead tax attorney. This involves them in a murder investigation neither is equipped to handle.

Also unexpected are the series of twists and turns that take them from supernatural to human forces that affect not just Stuart and Lorna, but investigators Harlan Holmes, his former partner Detective Riley Summers, and his life partner Roz Cortez, who are on their own journeys of discovery and proof.

John Marks presents a satisfyingly complex mystery that evolves with a special flair for intrigue and interpersonal relationships as a myriad of characters and special interests intersect.

He is especially adept at covering evolving motives and events that lead Riley, Harlan, and Roz to consider the real meaning behind the mysterious Light that nobody can quite pinpoint, creating a milieu that blends supernatural influences with a murderer's reality.

Rail Against Injustice is highly recommended to readers who enjoy whodunit mysteries filled with history and emotional twists and turns. The story contributes to prior installments of the trilogy, but stands nicely alone for newcomers. Both audiences will find it excels in tension, characterization, and intrigue, both supernatural and human-based.

Grave Intervention
Shira Shiloah
Salty Air Publishing
9781735193090, $15.99 Paper/$1.99 Kindle

Physician Shira Shiloah's novel Emergence received much acclaim for its unusual blend of romance and medical thriller. Prior fans who enjoyed her approach will find Grave Intervention poses another fine medical conundrum.

It opens with Dr. Amir Hadad's unusual experience during a routine procedure. Someone has whispered to him. And nobody in the operating room was involved.

This is only the opening salvo of a situation which grows as he continues to hear voices that force Amir and radiology nurse Lexi to navigate the increasingly uncertain worlds of medical procedures and criminal justice.

Is the voice a ghost, an electrical failure, or something more sinister? The latter seems to be the case, as further conundrums rise to challenge Amir's work and home worlds.

Shira Shiloah creates a masterful story of intrigue, but couches events in Amir's personal life as well as his work world. This dual attention to different emotional landscapes lends Grave Intervention a satisfyingly diverse atmosphere as readers absorb his personal goals, values, and home life as he embarks on a search for ghosts, skeletons, and kidnappers.

As the things he loves most in life are threatened, Amir must field medical and ethical issues and the increasing influence hanged Irishman Patrick Doyle holds on his family.

Readers who want a good ghostly investigation will find Grave Intervention a compelling mystery, but it's just as strong in its medical and personal conundrums, as Amir delves ever deeper into the truth about murders and mayhem.

Readers who look for medical mystery alone will find Grave Intervention is a much more multifaceted read than most. It embraces different themes and portrays the good doctor's personal world as effectively and in-depth as it does his professional background.

Grave Intervention will thus appeal to thriller and mystery audiences, as well as those who appreciate a solid story filled with satisfyingly unpredictable twists and turns throughout.

Colin Dodds
Dodds Amalgamated
9780578287669, $20.20

Pharoni is a novel about a thirty-six-year-old friend's death that is deemed accidental, but awakens questions in the mind of narrator and screenplay writer Tommy Pharoni: "What was Harry doing in the ocean in October? The question twisted the jolt of his death into something else."

As the inspection moves from Tommy's considerations of mystery and revised purposes to the screenplay he writes about this and other conundrums, readers receive a vivid survey that at times reads like a movie script, and at others like the story of a life under siege. Tommy deftly hones his talents for writing, observation, and decision-making: "I knew how to write marketing. I knew how to write a three-act screenplay. What did I know about writing anything else? Nothing. My long months in the void of unemployment suddenly felt like a qualification to do an insane thing. Back then, I didn't know that not knowing what you're doing is the only way to write scripture."

Humor and ironic inspections of life are replete in a mercurial story that takes many satisfyingly surprising twists and turns, observing life events from unexpected vantage points: "It started with an attempted suicide and ended with an accidental death but was otherwise a lovely wedding."

From scandals and friendships to capturing moments, weekends, and life events, Colin Dodds displays the highlights and downturns of Tommy Pharoni's world with an astute eye to detail and social inspection.

Through his development of a different approach to and definition of success, Tommy makes important observations that provide readers with much food for thought: "It takes talent to not answer a question and still make someone feel like they've received an answer. It was a talent I'd developed when I sold slick marketing concepts to corporations. And I wasn't happy to be leaning on it so heavily again. But when I looked around those rooms, I didn't like what I saw. They may have been my followers, but they weren't friends, and they weren't my people."

Is work the best thing for everyone? Can Tommy explain to himself and his readers the logic behind investigating murders, pursuing questions about nefarious purposes and what Harry became before he died?

It's hard to easily define Pharoni. Many threads of inspection run through its tale - religious, social, psychological, and criminal processes come to life as Tommy uses his screenwriting prowess to undertake a strange journey, indeed.

This multifaceted story should enjoy a wide audience, from novel readers interested in writers' conundrums and business special interests to those who will appreciate the intrigue and wry humor surrounding Tommy's probe of Harry's long-lasting impact from the choices he made.

Perilous Obsession
Geoffrey M. Cooper
Maine Authors Publishing
9781633813236, $16.95

Perilous Obsession: A Medical Thriller is especially recommended for readers of Robin Cook and his ilk, who will find in Geoffrey M. Cooper's story a riveting tale every bit as absorbing as any production by a bigger-name author.

This is not to say that Cooper is any less effective than better-known medical thriller writers. He's cut his teeth on more than a few prior books, creating themes and stories that are memorable in different ways.

Perilous Obsession represents the fifth foray into the world of Brad Parker and Karen Richmond, whose exploits were covered in previous books, and here follows their dangerous venture into a world of disease, death, and opportunistic actions.

A patient's demise in a prologue that introduces the hospital realm leads to the first chapter in Brad Parker's first-person story. Brad maintains a delicate balance between investigating and work as the director of MTRI (the Maine Translational Research Institute). This balance is about to be upset in a big way when he is pulled into a case involving the Bateman Cancer Center and its president's plea for help.

At first the Center's latest tragedy seems like a tragic error, but as Brad probes further, he comes to realize that this mishap is anything but accidental.

As a suicide turns into a murder case, Karen and Brad piece together clues that lead to a dangerous conclusion - dangerous to many facets of the medical community in general and to their lives, in particular.

Geoffrey M. Cooper does an outstanding job of presenting a puzzle where Brad walks a tightrope of intrigue and balances precariously between several special interests.

He creates a fine interplay between Karen and Brad and the fictitious personas and circumstances they use to arrive at the truth, but then turns their methodical approach on end as they become caught in their own deception and in a trap carefully set by an obsessive killer.
He is particularly skilled at creating the kinds of twists and turns that lead readers up one avenue of possibility before taking a quick turn in the opposite direction.

This will especially please readers of medical thrillers who may think they know the outcome of the story, only to find it contains more depth and possibilities than they'd anticipated.

Cemented by Brad and Karen's relationship and investigative skills and their connections to the medical world, Perilous Obsession is a thoroughly absorbing drama highly recommended for any fan of medical thrillers, and for library collections catering to them.

Margie Blumberg, author
Tammie Lyon, illustrator
MB Publishing
9780999446386, $12.95 Paper/$19.95 Hardcover

Sukkah-Doodle-Doo! A Holiday to Crow About is a picture book story about the fall festival of Sukkot. It features lively illustrations by Tammie Lyon, which depict the Mindel family. The family's preparations for a "sweet celebration" lunch are presented in appealing rhymes, accompanied by action-packed pictures.

The activities and excitement command attention as the phone rings with RSVPs, building begins, and the sukkah is decorated. A peppering of riddles engages young readers and provides them with fun, whimsical moments. The result is a lovely presentation of the togetherness and sweetness, physical and spiritual, of Sukkot.

The holiday's history and a glossary containing the Yiddish and Hebrew words sprinkled throughout are included in the back matter.

Libraries looking for picture book stories about Jewish celebrations will find Sukkah-Doodle-Doo! A Holiday to Crow About an outstanding choice.

Nope-Nope Emu
R.C. Chizhov
Blissful Conch LLC
9781737952633, $9.99

Picture book readers ages 4-8 who enjoy fun stories pairing humorous observations with ethical conundrums will find Anastasia Yezhela's engaging drawings the perfect accompaniment to R.C. Chizhov's Nope-Nope Emu, which tells of a emu who turns down all invitations to participate in Emu Town.

She perceives danger everywhere she goes, and just knows that her joining in the fun will result in her being left behind or stuck. And so she cultivates saying "nope" over "maybe" or "yes."

Kids who tend to avoid new experiences will readily relate to Nope-Nope Emu's active mission to say no to anything that could challenge her.

As she steadfastly turns down any and all invitations to explore and play, the young emu's past optimistic endeavors come to light during a playful rhyme that captures when and how she changed her positive life perspective.

Aiding her in this endeavor towards positivity and saying 'yes' are the insights and efforts of other creatures who are pursuing their dreams against difficult odds, such as monkey (" day as emu strolled,/she saw a monkey looking bold./Reaching, stretching, grasping - why?/Monkey on a climbing try!") and puppy (who "...tried to win,/and kept at it, not giving in."). These examples teach Emu about the possibilities created by perseverance.

Parents who choose Nope-Nope Emu for read-aloud enlightenment will find it offers important lessons about positivity and courage that deserve to be discussed with the very young.

The wisdom gained from learning how the emu responds to losing a contest by drawing back from the world are particularly important points of enlightenment for adults who would teach their kids to respond differently to failure: "...from that day, all games were done./No trying, doing, no more fun./Afraid to fail, afraid to lose,/the safest bet was to refuse!"

Parents seeking a positive example of how a young emu copes with her shortcomings and regains her ability to interact positively with the world will find Nope-Nope Emu the perfect choice for teaching kids about perseverance.

The Seed of Corruption
A.I. Fabler
Wild & Lawless
9780473623241, $5.99 Kindle/$16.99 Paperback

The Seed of Corruption blends a thriller with a romantic mystery as the seeds of past events reach out to sprout new adversity and elusive truths in the future.

The story opens with the author's prologue, which explains this novel's origins and its focus on events stemming from the bird flu outbreak in Asia in 2004.

The parallels between the bird flu version of SARS then and COVID-19 now emerge as the story unfolds, but this preface firmly cements its fictional possibilities in real-world events, making the plot especially relevant and absorbing from the beginning.

Recluse Faraday is a painter of wildlife. He's the last person one could imagine becoming caught up in a romance, much less a mystery and a conspiracy that rocks the world.

Carolyn's offer to Violet and others (of a chance for redemption and making amends) leads to a host of dangerous liaisons and choices that blends social inspection and projects designed to improve life with deeper undercurrents of options intended to destroy it.

What does a reclusive group of people trapped between Vietnamese and Chinese special interests have to do with events that spin out of control to impact the world?

A.I. Fabler does an outstanding job of juxtaposing descriptions of dangerous subterfuge with the moral and ethical developments of individuals who form mindsets and ideals about their place in the world: 'Anyone who isn't cynical hasn't been paying attention to life. And being a cynic, there's nothing to stop you from believing that people are equally motivated by self-interest as by altruism. It makes good financial sense to save habitat, and the wildlife that goes with it, because the economic benefits derived from the virtuous circle of nature's activity is measurable. There's no future in being a lord of the universe if the universe is being destroyed before your eyes. But all the little things we do may not be enough, because the world is reaching the point where it can't sustain us; there are just too many of us. The longer I live, the clearer that becomes. Fact is, the world is polluted with people, and none of them matter - except to each other.'

As special interests and politics collide on the unexpected battlefield of cultural clashes, opportunity, and devastating decisions, readers receive a multifaceted story that is unexpected in its twists and turns.

Is it a romance? Not quite. Love develops against the backdrop of these thriller elements. Is it a thriller? Social and cultural inspections are deeply woven into a story that centers upon interpersonal relationships and mystery as much as fine tension development. Is it a mystery, then? Certainly, much intrigue revolves around Faraday's investigation.

Suffice it to say that The Seed of Corruption both embraces these genres and elevates its plot beyond pat categorization, making for an astute, involving novel deserving inclusion in libraries seeing patron interest in any of these genres.

Fabler's ability to draw on his own experiences to portray a struggle with no easy escapes makes for a compelling story. It ultimately catapults protagonist Faraday into the world with dangerous results that hold thought-provoking implications for modern pandemic scenarios, making for an especially timely and involving read that will attract interest on many different levels and from different types of readers.

Using My Word Power
Janice S. Ellis, Ph.D.
USARiseUp, Inc.
9798218044794, $14.99

Using My Word Power: Advocating for a More Civilized Society focuses on Ethics and Values, the first book of a 3-book series, drawing important connections between words and actions as it discusses a myriad of contemporary issues ranging from gun usage to global warming, racism, and economics.

Lessons from the black experience in America and major thinkers about policy-setting and social issues come into play as Dr. Ellis considers a range of issues relating to national values and the changing course and nature of American politics and society.

The first thing to note about her work is that it comes from the perspective of an active journalist who not only reports on these conditions, but participates in the democratic process of enacting change.

This allows for a more personal and passionate tone that's injected into the mix of reflections, creating an accessible document of American experience that resonates on personal as well as political levels because of this background and focus: "The writings of an advocate journalist always boil down, directly, or indirectly, intentionally, or unintentionally, to a plea - imploring the reader or listener to think, to consider the facts, the circumstances, the workable solutions for the issues at hand, and when appropriate and necessary to engage in action."

The book contains commentaries written over the past four decades for radio, a major metropolitan daily newspaper, community newspapers, an online state news publication, and the author's website. The commentaries have been chosen for their timeliness and well as timelessness. They also reflect snapshots of history.

The writings tackle a myriad of evolving situations and present candid analysis that often conclude in a plea for reconsideration on the reader's part: "Given the circumstances, to wear a mask is the least that we as Americans can do for ourselves, our family, our neighbors, the overworked doctors and nurses, shuttered businesses, and the health and economic well-being of America. To wear a mask or not wear a mask? Please consider the consequences of your answer to that question."

These wide-ranging questions also emphasize the power of words to outline, convince, and provide alternate perspectives, making these pieces perfect for book clubs, debates, and other interactive forms of dialogue from high school into adult circles.

The result of these works is an effective example of how the written word can change hearts and minds through powerful writing and meaningful discourse.

Here are the keys to not just employing but reading and interpreting words wisely. Replete in examples of ethical and moral conundrums, Using My Word Power serves as the starting point for effecting change, and is highly recommended for a variety of libraries and book reading groups, from those that focus on contemporary social issues and questions of ethical and moral value to others who seek examples of powerful literacy's effects on society as a whole.

California Sister
Gloria Mattioni
Atmosphere Press
9781639883998, $17.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle

California Sister is a story of family, love, and siblings who draw apart, then come back together in unpredictable ways. As a study in relationships and evolutionary processes, it's completely engrossing; but especially notable is an explanation of the book's title that also defines its subject: "The California Sister, whose Latin name is Adelpha Californica, is a species of butterfly common in California, unpalatable to predators thanks to its enhanced mimicry."

The story opens in 1972 Italy, employing the first-person to explore the life of a narrator whose family is broken before her birth. Claire's world is changed by family connections that prove challenging in the face of illness and end of life, and she makes her sister promise that they won't let the other remain alive if something terrible happen and there isn't any hope of healing.

Fast forward to 2006. Claire now lives in L.A. and cultivates a very different lifestyle from her Italian roots. But when her sister experiences a devastating brain hemorrhage that disables her, Claire recalls their pact and wonders what she should do for her sister if complete recovery proves impossible.

What determines life or death, and how promises are kept, are some of the topics in a story which traverses not just sibling relationships, but moral and ethical questions about the end of life.

Gloria Mattioni crafts an engrossing, emotional story of love tested by distance, experience, and health crisis. Claire faces both calls to step back into her successful world and to help her sister achieve whatever she can under vastly revised circumstances that may hold no resolution.

Mattioni's story is a study in contrasts between Italy and Los Angeles; two siblings who are connected by birth, love, and promises; and the difference between taking charge and stepping aside. Plenty of people attempt to advise her, but ultimately it's up to Claire to tap her relationship history with her sister to make decisions she never imagined facing: "What's up with all these people who feel it's their right to tell me what to do? Like they know what'd be best for me? It'd be best for me to think about my interests and career? Right. Eating good meals, resting more, sleeping at night, and making time for myself? But what about Ondina? Who's going to do what's best for her? I wasn't about to give up and be like many of Ondina's friends, who'd stopped coming around because she 'wasn't the same person.'"

As questions about suicide, life, and death permeate and direct Claire's revised world and life, readers receive an emotionally evocative story that lays bare the rudiments of adversity and impossible life and death decision-making.

Readers who choose California Sister will find its study in contrasts astute and involving. It's a story that will find its place in any collection and on the reading lists of those who would consider and debate family connections and relationships, the different strengths and weaknesses of siblings, and forms of comfort and support that emerge from unexpected sources during times of turmoil.

Its powerful story of hard decisions, locked-in syndrome, and a sister's love touches the heart, making California Sister highly recommended reading for those who look for emotionally charged stories of love, independence, and control.

Still, the Sky
Tom Pearson
Ransom Poet LLC
9781088047682, $21.00


Still, the Sky is a poetry collection that blends mythology and art in a metaphysical consideration designed to appeal to poets and literature students alike.

Many of these pieces take the form of fragments that create powerful intersections between myth, daily life, and memories which connect in interrelated thoughts in much the manner of an internet search. One such example is "Fragments of Icarus": "Let god folly and father fracture matter/Not, this immortalization, for us, a curse,/Constellations for others to navigate/By what to avoid./There was a great voice in my head the morning/After my death that woke me from sleep, whispered/Into my ear, Get up, go - go write, urging/Me to confession - "

This opening piece sets the stage for the works that follow, which offer "divine code" and revelations that move through life as moments captured in time's liquid amber: "We walk to untangle, to tell how it has been/To love this Gordian place and the stories/It ties itself up in, the comedies and/Tragedies we seek - /Simple verse, sublime code, so natural/The testimony in all its stank, in its/Sculptural play, its blinding need, and its/Colors splintering."

Thought-provoking, full-size color photos accompany these poems, adding intrigue and images that accent expressions of growing old, death, and the literary and metaphysical boundaries that reflect life experiences.

The Greek mythology references provide a special draw to scholarly readers; but the travel through history fueled by Tom Pearson's employment of various poetic devices creates its own unique blend of observation and philosophy.

Now, the Greek myths retold here do not necessarily require a background in Greek literature - but those who do hold such interests and background will find the poetry especially evocative, filled with references that offer thought-provoking connections between past and present.

Pearson's photos of his artifacts, from minerals to jars of animal teeth, embellish the book with a flare and inspirational visual component that connects image to word to expand both.

The result is a work of literature that ideally should be assigned reading for any class strong in Greek mythology and contemporary poetic reflections of history and lore.

Like his retelling of the Minotaur and its Labyrinth, the poems both stand strongly alone and work together as a unit to take readers on a literary, historical, and philosophical journey.

Still, the Sky is highly recommended for college-level readers and courses strong in contemporary reflections on myth and history.

Black and Blue
Frank F. Weber
Moon Finder Press
9781638213567, $20.00

Mystery readers who choose Black and Blue for its intrigue will also find the story a powerful social inspection. It is set in Minneapolis and tells of an unusual connection between a young black man and a police officer as the search continues for 19-year-old Sadie Sullivan's killer.

Racial conflicts and insights are presented from the start: "Don't tell me I speak too white. That comment is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Did Martin Luther King Jr.,

Malcolm X, or Shirley Chisolm speak too white? Do Melvin

Carter, Robyne Robinson, or Ilhan Omar speak too white?

They have a message for all of America and in 1795, our government decided everyone should speak English ... If you want to change America, you need to be fluent in English. Former slave, Frederick Douglas, told Black America this back in 1845."

The narrator doesn't "speak too white." He is guilty, however, of speaking "too money." This habit threatens his world when a chance meeting with Sadie draws him into a murder investigation that challenges his African American roots and interactions with society as a whole.

The focus on finding Sadie's murderer is tempered by the legal, political, and social conflicts Xavier experiences. Frank F. Weber's use of the first person gives readers intimate access into the heart and mind of not just the narrator, but the African American experience as a whole: "While my intentions were altruistic, I initially had that weird sensation black men got when they were alone, talking to a white woman - like I was doing something wrong."

Xavier isn't the only character to provide first-person details that enlighten about their attitude and social standing. Points of view shift between Cheyenne Schmidt, another victim of events, and others, with chapter headings clearly setting place, time, and narrators so that these individual perceptions form a seamless interplay of experiences. The name in bold at the beginning of each chapter contributes the story from that character's perspective and solidifies the identity of the speaker.

The interplays between these narrators as their connections are revealed adds to the evolving mystery, carrying readers deep into Minneapolis culture and the underlying prejudices and influences which motivate each character.

The result, while certainly a murder mystery of interest to genre readers, should ideally reach out from its genre boundaries to attract those also interested in fiction that explores America's social undercurrents and the African-American community.

Black and Blue's astute ability to build a mystery and disparate individual lives and influences also makes it recommended reading for book clubs that look beyond simple genre intrigue for that rare fictional inspection that lends insights into the heartbeat of America's ethnic melting pot.

The Wall
L.J. Sellers
Spellbinder Press
9781734541847, $13.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

The Wall is a YA dystopian romance thriller. If this feels like too many genres under one cover, it should be noted that L.J. Sellers pulls off the genre-busting effort with a satisfying attention to detail and description that embraces unexpected combinations of intrigue from its opening sentence: "Jayla pushed the knife out of her way and mixed a bucket of mortar. She couldn't do masonry with the blade against her chest, but she couldn't take off the sheath either. They were out there, watching and waiting."

Jayla is part of a separatist enclave that has isolated itself from the world outside. Marked by rigid structures and powerful Enforcers, her faith in the enclave's rules and realities is shaken when her sister is killed and she is arrested for displaying grief in public.

This is only the beginning of her journey as, when imprisoned, she meets Ronin, falls in love with a forbidden man of another class, and discovers that, together, they can make dents in the wall that has shaped their lives and belief systems.

L.J. Sellers creates a powerful story that moves between Jayla and Ronin's points of view and experiences. As Ronin is challenged with identifying phone messages which seem to come from an alien world and which lead him on the path of rebelling against and exposing the authoritarian rulers who dictate their lives, young adults will appreciate the social, political, and psychological insights as the story evolves.

Containing more intrigue than the usual love story, more love than the usual thriller, and more hope than the typical futuristic dystopian scenario, The Wall proves a satisfying and unique story that promises unexpected twists and turns, then delivers them with finesse.

Will Jayla spend the rest of her life in prison? How can Ronin love someone so different?

The story holds many inviting connections that will keep readers actively involved and on edge until the end, which fulfills its promise for Jayla, Ronin, and the world they influence.

Libraries looking for strong examples of thought-provoking leisure reads will find The Wall a fine choice, worthy not just of recommendation, but group discussion on topics of authoritarian settings and proactive individual choice.

My Cat Brother, Sterling
Mayra Hernandez
Independently Published
9798986290508, $12.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Picture book readers who enjoy animal stories will relish the rollicking tale (accompanied by illustrations from Kate Teves) in My Cat Brother, Sterling.

Rocky the dog introduces his "cat brother" Sterling and advises that Sterling thinks he is (and acts like) a dog.

From barking at a postal person to watching his older doggy brother go potty on trees and choosing that method over the usual cat litter box, Sterling's goal in life is to emulate his older brother.

The other (more normal) household cats want to play with him on the cat tree, but Sterling has eyes only for his big brother Rocky.

A hilarious story evolves which teaches kids about differences between cats and dogs while providing plenty of laughs about a stubborn little cat who strives to emulate his older brother in non-kitty ways.

Adults who choose My Cat Brother, Sterling for its whimsical notes, story of the love shared between a family dog and cat, and its opportunities to explore pet differences with the very young will appreciate the focus and delightful adventures in this picture book story, which is highly recommended for library collections and parents alike.

Abandon Us
E.T. Gunnarsson
Bragi Press
9781736377369, $19.99 Hardcover/$11.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

A global plague, a collapsing economy, a civil war ... what else could possibly go wrong? The scenario feels frighteningly akin to modern times; yet Abandon Us is a post-apocalyptic story of a struggle for survival that adds a twist as a former service technician and his partner abandon a dying city to take to the underworld, underground.

Robert's move from above-ground activities and life to nefarious pursuits allow he and his partner to survive; but when events above-ground force him to return, it's to confront the aftermath of World War III in a deadly new environment that further confounds survival efforts.

The plot that E.T. Gunnarsson cultivates may sound similar to many other dystopian, post-apocalyptic stories; but the real meat that differentiates this book from others in the genre lies in protagonist Robert's efforts to transform his life not just once, but again and again, in response to world-changing events.

In 2070, the world may be dying, but Robert is not. His ability to survive this new world depends on his flexibility in coping with the "age of the wasteland" caused by nuclear war and the end of the United States as we know it.

Perhaps the dialogue between characters says it all:

"What are we going to do?, Robert asked. Live, William said."

Gunnarsson's focus on how life is revised and the methods and reasons for continuing on are the focal point in a story that is delivered in two parts: before, and after the fall of mankind.

This gives readers a fine contrast, builds Robert's personality and world, and creates a smooth segue between what was and what is, examining how and why the survivors act and react the way they do.

Why live? As further trials challenge the survivors, Gunnarsson asks pertinent questions about the process of struggling onward when everything formerly valued is gone: "What could one do against such a wicked creation? How does one cope with the idea that they are the living dead, conscious of their impending mortality yet powerless to mend it?"

Readers of post-apocalyptic fiction need not have prior familiarity with the first book in the Odemark series (Forgive Us) in order to seamlessly absorb the ongoing saga in Abandon Us.

Its satisfying twist, which asks not only how one survives disaster, but why, creates a riveting account highly recommended for sci-fi readers with special interest in post-apocalyptic scenarios of what rises from the ashes.

The Mask
Clayton Marshall Adams
CJ Sparrow Publication
9780578569932, $18.95 Hardcover/$2.99 ebook

It's unusual to see short, allegorical, literary works written for the 10-13-year-old age group, but The Mask is a presentation whose attraction demonstrates that young readers needn't be intellectuals in order to appreciate the social and psychological messages in fiction.

Mil's appearance is off-setting, to say the least. He is disfigured and is too often the subject of cruelty not only from his peers, but from adults.

Mil is "...referred to as the village idiot, the monster, and the freak. Mil had been born deformed and ugly, raised by his parents until he was old enough to care for himself, and then abandoned in the forest."

This would seem to preclude any possibility that he will have friends or lead a normal life, but when he unearths a mysterious mask in the forest, his life changes. The mask is alive, it feels evil, and it delivers an impossible quandary: "Toss me," it said, "and you toss away your chance for beauty."

The mask offers transformation - but at what price? As Mil explores new options and determines their costs, readers receive a thought-provoking inspection about beauty, beasts, and the impact of walking away from one's old life and self.

Clayton Marshall Adams creates a thoroughly thought-provoking tale that packs lots of punch into a short piece.

From issues of attraction and appearances to the moral and ethical dilemmas of seeking beauty against all odds, Adams crafts a thought-provoking scenario disguised as fantasy. The Mask will thus ideally be chosen not just by leisure readers, but those interested in contemporary allegorical literature.

Teachers of creative writing, especially, will find much to point out in this provocative short piece, which gains even more impact from Rohan Daniel Eason's powerful illustrations throughout.

A detailed biography of the young author at book's end surveys the roots of his inspiration and the many themes embedded in this gripping tale of wonder and revelation.

Libraries looking for writings by young people which demonstrate prowess and power beyond the usual writing abilities of a sixteen-year-old will find The Mask the perfect portrait of issues ranging from body image and bullying to choices demonstrating inner courage and strength.

Miss Diagnosis
Derek Dubois
Filament Press
9781678005504, $17.98 Paper/.99 Kindle

The novel Miss Diagnosis is a study in suspense, providing readers with a medical thriller that revolves around struggling young medical student Kate White, whose personal life changes are impacting her studies.

The hospital she works at is conducting terrifying hidden research. These draw her into medical and moral conundrums alike as Kate becomes immersed in breakthrough experiments that test her ability to remain true to the medical community and her own ethics.

Usually, crime stories, medical thrillers, and horror pieces walk a fine line of separation, but in Miss Diagnosis, enthusiasts of all three genres will find their strengths meld in satisfyingly original ways, here.

Part of the story's potency lies in the author's ability to juxtapose descriptions, ironies, and challenges with surprising language that lends thought-provoking contrasts to the suspense elements throughout: "This place was hell. And she was freezing."

As Kate's dreams become nightmares and test her ability to function with blackouts that become ever more a part of her tangled life scenario, readers are led into a deepening mystery that moves from medical to social and psychological conundrums.

Dubois is particularly well versed in evolving the unexpected from situations that, under another hand, might be all too predictable. This lends a constant element of surprise to Kate's experiences and revelations, a further attraction for readers who absorb her logic, struggles, and changing intentions.

As Kate seeks a way out of these dilemmas, only to find herself mired ever deeper in activities that cross professional, moral, and ethical boundaries, readers will find the insights about her psyche and perspectives to be rich and full-flavored with description and unexpected surprises.

Far more multifaceted than the usual medical thriller, Miss Diagnosis is highly recommended for suspense and medical novel readers seeking a satisfying blend of mystery and social inspection iced with psychological struggles as gritty and realistic as the hospital milieu that's turned deadly for all.

Libraries looking for thrillers that cross the line between suspense and horror will find Miss Diagnosis uniquely riveting and thought-provoking, appealing to a wide audience of patrons looking for something different.

Ike's Journey
Robert Kofman
Lion Valley Publishing
9781732991026, $17.95 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Ike's Journey is a World War II novel that adopts a broader political inspection than the usual military/soldier experience.

It also presents a focus on the early years of the war's development, contributing to a different sense of events that most World War II stories don't explore.

Dwight Eisenhower's challenges to his leadership and the facts surrounding the growing war milieu, which sports shifting alliances even before battle, are brought to light with a fictional attention to drama and nonfiction's equally powerful historical details: "Eisenhower thought about his four years in Manila as General Douglas MacArthur's chief of staff. He had closely followed Japan's growing militarism. Its invasion of China showed a thirst for conquest. "The fact Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Hitler and Mussolini has everyone in East Asia on edge. My major duty in the Philippines was training the Filipino army to resist a Japanese invasion."

Dialogue and insights permeate the plot to offer contrasts via each participant's focus on different aspects of the evolving scenario: "I doubt FDR wants a war with Japan," replied Eisenhower. "If anything, he wants to fight Germany."

As the story evolves, familiar history merges with events to personalize both the wartime experience and Ike's personality and changing objectives. Robert Kofman's juxtaposition of political, military, social, and personal challenges throughout the story juxtaposes an absorbing emotional draw and lends an historically intriguing accuracy to the novel.

Because so many World War II stories narrow the focus to battle experience, it's especially pleasing to see a work which includes this aspect, but expands its focus to consider the general leadership challenges of decision-making and second-guessing during the war, and the specific routines, thoughts, and personal angst faced by Ike himself.

As in many good novels, romance and moral dilemmas arise to test the protagonist's resolve ... as if he didn't already have enough on his plate, fielding strategic fighting decisions and commanding men who must defy a growing tide of invaders.

But that's the test of a good novel - its ability to bring to life not a singular focus and experience, but the mettle of great men tested by extraordinary times, who face both bigger-picture challenges and personal strife simultaneously.

World War II brought out the best in men. It also brought out the best and worst in the leaders who commanded them.

Ike's growing involvements well outside his comfort zone and expertise lend a realistic, gripping atmosphere to Ike's Journey which helps reinforce the idea that, even during wartime, personal life-changing decisions arise.

The specific strategic planning and thinking are nicely documented: "Eisenhower knew Montgomery had a legitimate point - he was violating the rule of concentration of force. He was doing so for supply reasons: none of the Sicilian ports were large enough to support both armies. Two ports were considered essential, one for the British and one for the Americans. If a second port was not taken, one of the armies would have to receive all its supplies over beaches, for which there was no historical precedent. Eisenhower's planners had convinced him the need for a second port was worth the risk of not concentrating the armies."

Of equal strength and description, however, are the accompanying personal challenges as romance and moral conundrums collide: "He had to do what was right, even though the temptation to continue the relationship with Kay was strong, almost overwhelming."

More so than most World War II novels, the expansive setting and atmosphere of Ike's Journey makes it a highly recommended choice. It ideally will not just repose on library shelves, but will receive both active librarian recommendation and book club attention as a fuller-bodied examination of the war's military, social, political, and psychological impact.

Hoo's Driving the Bus?
Nikki Estridge
9798985903409, $25.00

Picture book readers and read-aloud parents will both find a delightful story in Hoo's Driving the Bus?, which presents a dilemma when a bus assigned to go to the big sports game has no driver. Gigi makes the bus barely on time, only to hear Chuckie Chicken proclaim that the driver hasn't made it at all.

Illustrator Syama Mithun provides whimsical, colorful drawings of animals that join together with Gigi Giraffe as they face curveball after curveball while trying to get to the game.

The clock counts down as the minutes tick by, offering read-aloud adults the perfect opportunity to introduce the concept of time management to young listeners.

The engaging drawings highlight Nikki Estridge's vivid story and dilemma as the proactive efforts of animals join together in a common goal of beating all odds to make the big game.

Estridge's humor is another fine feature that will have readers giggling over the inquiries and problems that arise: "Chuckie - surprised he was asked to drive- questioned, "Me? You want me to drive?"

"What are you... chicken?" Dudley Duck blurted as "Animal "Quacker" crumbs fell from his beak.

Chuckie chuckled. "Why, yes! Yes, I am!"

The result is a delightful lesson not just in time and its management, but in problem-solving and group interactions.

Adults who choose Hoo's Driving the Bus? for its whimsical educational opportunities won't be disappointed.

Impress of the Seventh Surge
Jessica Mae Stover
Independently Published
9780997054439, $5.95 Kindle

Fans of speculative sci-fi and thrillers (especially those who look for succinct, hard-hitting pieces that are captivating and quickly read) will relish the power and lure of Impress of the Seventh Surge, which chronicles the now-familiar world of a pandemic survivor who struggles to help others overcome the virus.

The novella opens with a series of instructions to the reader/protagonist that neatly set the stage for the futuristic setting and technology involved in the plot: "Remember that your Impress File is experimental and internal: your Halo Cap observes your dominant thoughts while you're in the field and translates these into a text record adapted from your personal state of mind and thought patterns."

As the interactions between an internal computer interface and protagonist Shan continue, readers are drawn into a world both familiar and yet vastly different from modern times.

Now inject a staccato of description that captures the sensual touch, perceptions, and tastes of this world: "Fingertips tapping fast inside gloves, rubbery bend of touch controllers, ridged texture of silicon grips, texted COPY HOLD. Folded hands. Breathed deep. Waited. A sense of relief. Tapped foot. Gripped fist."

With each display, the scenario of "virus deniers" and evolving social and personal dilemmas plays out against the backdrop of technology interactions, chat history, and a unique form of social inspection. This technique makes the most of the fewest words in a manner that will prove especially accessible to Twitter users and others who enjoy powerful messages that omit the power-mitigating devices of wordy passages.

The associations drawn between what was, what is, and the observer's record are thus especially powerful attractors juxtaposing scenes in an unusual manner: "Three million dead Americans. Old barn peeling. Dry weeds feathering the walls. Boots picking up red paint flecks. Paint-flecked porch - no time for that. Focused. Ping of birdie on strings. Focused. Checked the progress on Display. Toggled READY."

By now, it should be evident that Impress of the Seventh Surge is all about impressions and living through the eyes of the observer of this world, who is tied to it in many different ways.

Sci-fi readers looking for something satisfyingly, uniquely different will relish the story's ability to pull them into a world both familiar and alien. It's a powerful novella highly recommended for libraries strong in sci-fi, cyberpunk, and thrillers, and for discussion groups centered on unique creative writing techniques.

Out of the Shadows: Voices of American Women Soldiers
Ron Farina
Lagrange Books
9781957780009, $29.95

Out of the Shadows: Voices of American Women Soldiers gathers the experiences of American military women who saw combat, collecting not just battlefield experiences, but reviewing the special challenges facing female warriors who return to civilian life.

These contemporary women served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The stories come from the hearts and minds of women who confront the popular myth that female soldiers are sidelined and rarely placed in the front lines of danger, documenting the personal experiences of nine women who moved from civilian to military life and back again.

The first thing to note about these accounts is their unified strengths of voice. Each transformative experience is captured by unique discussions that emphasize diversity and shared adversity, all at once.

The collection opens with "Saddle Up," which reads with the excitement of page-turning fiction as seventeen-year-old horsewoman Connie Neill faces a new competition with her barrel racing horse Lady.

What does this have to do with combat experiences?

Several months later, Connie is in Kuwait, waiting her injection into Iraq and the experiences of war that place her and her fellow soldiers in the heart of action that civilian readers will find eye-opening with its moment-by-moment action and intense descriptions: "Caught in the hurry-up-and-wait, the archetypal motif of all things military, trained for action, constantly on edge, soldiers grew restless. Rumor was they'd be rolling into Iraq any day, but the hurry-up-and-wait was mostly wait, punctuated with harassing Scud missile attacks that sent Connie and her fellow soldiers scrambling. When the missiles, rumored to contain gas, rained down, shouts of "Gas! Gas! Gas!" replaced shouts of "Incoming," a more common refrain of previous wars, particularly the Vietnam War. Well over one hundred soldiers scrambled into metal shipping containers, packed in together, "asshole to belly button...The attack went on for more than thirty minutes. Eighteen-year-old PVT2 Connie Neill, sobbed into her mask. She felt a fear so deep that it changed her life forever."

Each narrative offers a different voice, capturing encounters that challenge not just their ability to survive, but their role as women on the front lines of battle.

Of special note are the uniquely female experiences and challenges during war that come from differences between male counterparts. These can involve something as basic as bathroom functions: "The biggest issue for women stuck in a jarring Humvee bouncing around a war-torn countryside was relieving themselves...Mary, the only woman in her squad, had to tap her male counterpart on the shoulder. "Gotta go," she'd whisper into her mic. All heads would turn in her direction. The Humvee would stop. Everyone except the turret gunner would leave the Humvee. The team would set up a security perimeter. Turret gunner took the twelve and three. The driver stayed behind the open door. He'd rest his M4 over the rolled-down window, taking the nine. Mary would find a spot near the vehicle's five. Another soldier had the six. They turned away. Mary would shed her battle rattle and drop half her uniform while the patrol waited for her to finish. In the summer heat, she'd sweat so much, it was almost impossible to get her gear back on. She hated asking. She hated stopping, embarrassing herself - and so she quit asking, refusing to give in to nature's call for hours. The result: multiple UTIs."

Punctuated with color photos throughout, Out of the Shadows succeeds in crafting a "you are here" feel to these military women's experiences, choices, and challenges.

The result is a powerful collection that deserves a place not just in military libraries, but in holdings specializing in women's issues and voices.

Its ability to capture a variety of fights, both physical and psychic, that these contributors experienced from their military service creates a collection that is riveting and diverse from beginning to end, serving as an eye-opener to many about the roles women play in active duty and the special challenges they face both in country and back at home.

Finding Santeria...Losing Sanity
Mike Beetlestone
Independently Published
9781739658908, $4.99 Kindle; $12.99 paperback;$16 hardback

Finding Santeria...Losing Sanity is a Ben Molina novel of self-inspection that represents a stand-alone story in a series of three Ben-based stories. It blends a thriller with powerful psychological components to keep readers involved and guessing as political and personal challenges dovetail in unexpected ways.

Ben Molina attacked a total stranger during a trip to Cuba. For this, he has been committed to the Dundrum Central Mental Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The problem is that he holds no memories of going to Cuba, much less the rationale behind his aggression.

As counseling leads him down the dangerous road of recollection, Ben discovers that his charge to investigate political corruption in Ireland led him on a long journey into love and through Europe to this final destination.

His self-analysis results in many powerful moments as Ben unravels the tangled meanings of his life and how he has come to this point: "On one hand, it was uplifting to realise my memories were intact in some dark recess; alternatively, it was worrying that the message I received from my subliminal world made no sense at all."

As disillusionment, idealism, and love begin to build a dangerous picture, Ben finds himself mired in not only the consequences of his actions and choices, but in a political and personal dilemma that well explains his repressed memories.

Readers who follow Ben into this quagmire of interpersonal and political revelation will find the story offers many surprising twists and thought-provoking inspections.

More than a tale of subterfuge, Finding Santeria...Losing Sanity considers the foundations of logical behaviors and the impact of poor and good choices alike, offering readers a breathtaking foray into foreign lands and a psychic battle even Ben is unlikely to win.

Mike Beetlestone's ability to juxtapose personal and political influences and developments which challenge Ben's perception of not only how the world operates, but his own place in it, lends to a suspense story that produces different levels of inspection and tension.

Pair a mid-life crisis with a world-hopping tour of desperation for a sense of the special forms of action depicted in Finding Santeria...Losing Sanity.

"How much trauma do you need to send you over the edge?"

Finding Santeria...Losing Sanity is recommended not just for thriller readers, but for libraries looking for the added value of strong psychological inspection powered by events that swing around the world in a desperate, unpredictable dance of revelation.

Owl's Gifts
Dr. Karla-La
Marigold Methods
9798805466725, $12.95

Owl's Gifts features lovely color illustrations by Judith Hankes as it unfolds a picture book story of magical adventure surrounding very special learning issue that affects squirrel Spruce's self-perception and abilities.

Spruce has many extraordinary talents, but the one talent everyone else has (that he does not) is the ability to read. Somehow, he just can't learn.

He spends his days "wishing he were anywhere other than at school," but no matter how hard he tries, Spruce just can't seem to master the reading that comes seemingly easily to his fellow squirrel students.

Dr. Karla-La paints an exceptionally evocative story of a smart squirrel that lacks a basic skill: "Spruce was determined and confident. He promised himself he would slow down and try harder to translate the squiggles on the pages. He opened his book excitedly. And although the moon was bright, and although Spruce was focused, the letters did their usual flips and flops and mumbled and jumbled on the page."

Kids who also struggle with learning disabilities receive plenty of familiar scenarios as Spruce tries to change, but finds his daydreaming and deeper insights into his environment keep overtaking his efforts to learn.

"The nut doesn't fall far from the tree." As Spruce discovers that he's not alone, he also absorbs some keys to resolution that lead to empowerment and increased self-confidence.

Kids who struggle to read but demonstrate brilliance in other areas will understand and empathize with Spruce's dilemmas, and will find much to learn from in Owl's Gifts.

The magic comes not just from fantasy, but from a renewed opportunity to reassess one's skills and strengths, which are among the supportive insights imparted in Owl's Gifts.

The Light Among Us
Jill George with John Dirring
Atmosphere Press
9781639884841, $17.99

The Light Among Us: The Story of Elizabeth Carne, Cornwall is a novel set in England that tackles the dilemma faced by an heiress who confronts the nation's class system and finds herself fighting not only for her legacy, but for love.

The story is based on the real life of Elizabeth Carne, a notable, important civic and social scientist in the Victorian era who became a mineralogist and the first woman to be elected to the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall.

Set in the early 1800s and moving through her life to the late 1800s, this novel fills a gap in the literature surrounding her world because relatively little has been written about this amazing woman's life.

Placing it in the realm of fiction, with added drama and attraction, makes The Light Among Us accessible to a much wider audience than a nonfiction approach could have achieved.

From Elizabeth's interest in "educating people across the classes" to her astute involvement in efforts to reach populations not normally afforded educational opportunities, Jill George and John Dirring capture the atmosphere and concerns of the era with engrossing detail and lively first-person descriptions and observations: "Henry and I had discussed the advantages of the Poly-technic Society several times during our continuing charitable work and excursions, which also included occasional visits to geological sites of importance. Sadly, we were all too aware that the educational needs of the mining communities were far more elementary than what the new Society would be offering. Many could not read or write, as Henry noted. Nevertheless, we hoped the society would encourage and elevate thinking across all the varied stations in life. Henry was an enthusiastic advocate and his energy was exactly what we needed to bring the Society into being."

Elizabeth's philosophical as well as her social reflections come to life even in the midst of the happiness she builds for herself: "I remembered what Father said about time. That we always thought we had more of it than we did."

It's rare that a historical biography holds the power to come alive in a novel format while providing realistic, studied details of the politics and social norms of the times.

As The Light Among Us progresses, readers will absorb these insights easily, powered by the high drama and intelligent observations of a woman who rose above her station and training to achieve many breakthroughs in her life.

The result is a novel steeped in a sense of place, time, and the abilities of one woman to change her course in life as she makes her name in banking, science, and society.

Elizabeth's story is highly recommended for a wide range of libraries, from those strong in women's issues and biography to others who look for historical novels firmly based on and embedded with interesting facts about changing times and the women who fostered revolutions through their choices and actions.

End Man
Alex Austin
Cursed Dragon Ship Publishing
9781951445348, $17.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Dromophobia is the fear of crossing streets. In an urban environment, this condition dictates that work and daily life take place in a carefully manipulated and close environment where no streets need to be navigated.

Fortunately, 26-year-old dromophobic Raphael Lennon has carved out just such a niche for his life. Unfortunately, this is about to change.

End Man is a study of not just fear, but in self-imposed prisons and attempts to hide from death. Ironically, Raphael's job is to ferret out those hiders who "play possum" and fake their deaths. Death may be a good place to hide, for nefarious reasons. But it's not a good place to conduct business.

Readers who pursue End Man will find its special blend of mystery and sci-fi create compelling scenarios and opportunities for higher-level thinking as moral and ethical quandaries mix with philosophical life inspections: "They're dead, but not less valuable. That's our business."

Raphael may have carved out a life for himself, in control of his world, but as events force him out of his comfort zone, readers follow his progression into chaos: "Why is this happening, he thought to himself ... Because of the limitations of his world (and his apartment was the center of his world), he knew its mechanisms well."

If End Man were simply a story of dromophobia, this rare exploration would be enough of a draw to gain an audience. But its real value lies in the pursuit of Raphael's expanding world and the dilemmas it introduces as his carefully organized existence undergoes a sea change.

Alex Austin is a master at building tension, psychological inquiry, and intrigue that tests his protagonist in unexpected ways.

The sci-fi elements introduce a futuristic setting with revised moral and ethical boundaries that offer particularly notable, compelling dilemmas throughout its action-packed scenes.

Austin takes the time to build character, setting, and personal and corporate thinking processes. This lends both a sense of realistic fatalism to the story and creates fine tension replete with unpredictable twists and turns.

The result is a tale of not just a mystery that engulfs the unwitting Raphael, but one that shifts from personal to corporate responsibility and values as events unfold.

Readers and libraries seeking exceptional sci-fi mystery settings and quandaries worthy of book club discussion will find all this and more in droves in a story packed with intrigue, growth, and a wry dash of humor for added impact.

More Than Words
Kirsten Anderson
Indigo River Publishing
9781954676251, $17.95

More Than Words: Turn #MeToo Into #ISaidSomething is a memoir that describes a workplace experience, a lawsuit, and a struggle for justice. It was written for those who feel lost and who encounter the similar obstacles of bullying and retaliation in life situations, and it provides a voice that documents these circumstances and the process of overcoming silence to express and expose them.

The impact of working for years in a verbally abusive environment and making the decision to pursue legal recourse when, on the cusp of protest, Kirsten Anderson was summarily fired from her job, is revealed in chapters that outline the short- and long-term effects of navigating a toxic workplace.

Any who would identify and overcome sexual harassment in the workplace needs this story.

As More Than Words documents Anderson's progression through her job and her efforts to mitigate the constant aggression displayed every working day, it provides important keys to both understanding and action that all employees need to know.

Why would intelligent people persevere under such conditions? Anderson pulls no punches in laying out the rationale for remaining on the job: "Living under a mountain of fear, shame, and guilt is all-consuming. I made every effort to project an image of professionalism and strength, pretending that I could handle any situation that came my way. I felt strongly that no one needed to know my business, including the fact that I was being sexually harassed and bullied daily."

The book is even easier to read with its bullet points of information which take the form of 'Think About It' food for thought and case history examples of others who have endured workplace struggles.

The emotional component of questions which readers are prompted to ask themselves creates a special form of understanding and healing that work hand in hand to explore not just toxic conditions, but how to recover from and address them appropriately.

Ultimately, More Than Words lives up to its name by offering a series of actions readers can apply to their own lives, from initial understanding and adjusting reactions along the way to the legal paths Anderson chose.

While More Than Words is highly recommended for business, psychology, and social and women's issues library collections, it ideally should play a starring role in not just book club discussions, but groups where victims of bullying and harassment have the chance to voice their experiences - and then (thanks to this book's blueprints and examples) do something about them.

The Myrtle Wand
Margaret Porter
Gallica Press
9798985673494, $15.95 Paper/$5.99 ebook

The Myrtle Wand adds to historical fiction set in 17th century France with an evocative story of Princess Bathilde de Sevreau, her school friend Myrte, and the peasant girl Giselle (subject of the famous ballet).

Princess Bathilde is destined for a marriage of convenience, but her life is turned upside down by suitor Albin's decision and King Louis XIV's pursuit of yet another mistress.

As politics, personalities, and life divide them and seem to quash any chance of happiness, readers absorb the backdrop of the times against the friendship between three very different young women who each reflect diverse choices, directions, and their rapidly changing times.

Margaret Porter creates a story whose main characters are fictional, but powered by the real-world experiences of minor players in the story.

At stake is not only Bathilde's happiness, but Giselle's future.

As Bathilde takes the time to assure that other women have stable futures and get the opportunity to realize their dreams, readers are immersed in a world of court and commoner. This injects political and social dilemmas so seamlessly that the story takes on a life of its own, apart from its historical foundations.

Porter's is a story of women called upon to navigate matrimony, arrangements of convenience, and their own powers in affecting the course of their lives.

Against the backdrop of 17th century France, these social and psychological currents of change come to life.

Libraries strong in historical novels that center on women's issues and changing worlds will find The Myrtle Wand a powerful story, highly recommended for its realistic quandaries and strong female characters that both lie in the center of social and political storms and rise above their stations in life.

The Plot to Save America
Avraham Azrieli
Independently Published
9781953648112, $9.98 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

The Plot to Save America is a timely novel of political conspiracy that inspects the January 6th events to create a different alternative history based on the successful sacking of the nation's capital and the rule of marshal law that settles over the country in its wake.

In this scenario, a Domestic Terror Tribunal condemns a Baltimore PD detective to death, prompting the need to uncover additional evidence to both save his life and provide different facts about the January 6th attack.

Avraham Azrieli employs a particularly evocative method of presenting these scenarios from the novel's opening lines: "This is a Death Penalty Investigation Report in the case of Stuart Tenison, who was sentenced to death by the Domestic Terror Tribunal on June 5th, 2024. This is my 137th case in three years of service as a Death Penalty Investigator."

As the narrator recounts the history that carries him to this point in time, readers receive insights into Trump's fictional War on Domestic Terror which evolves after the siege kills nearly half the members of the House and Senate.

One of the especially inviting features of this story is its ability to craft a particularly realistic alternate future from the events that took place on January 6th.

This lends a realistic, especially engrossing flavor to the story which will draw not only the usual audience of alternate history readers, but those who typically read other genres, from political intrigue and conspiracy thrillers to suspense stories that reflect social issues and community makeup.

Azrieli delves into minority community experience, mainstream white America, political figures and individual lives, and an investigation of a plot, employing the first person viewpoint to personalize its mission and changing focus: "The tremor in Mrs. Strickland's voice saddens me. I don't have the heart to disappoint her with the truth, that I'm a tiny cog in a giant machine and have no power to hurt or help them."

The personal touch and focus on a process of uncovering the truth will capture and hold reader interest as the investigation leads to a series of insights and events that change the world, once again.

Novel readers who look for political intrigue, investigative action, and a creative mystery fueled by a dogged investigator's ability to travel routes that few dare to consider will find The Plot to Save America not just timely and familiar, but absolutely riveting. It's cemented by a powerful narrator whose changing perspective mirrors the conundrums and quandaries of a nation under siege, and should find a strong place in any library featuring alternative history, political fiction, or thrillers.

The Missing Cats
Sally Alexander
Independently Published
9798986070018, $24.99 hc, $9.99 pbk, $3.99 Kindle

The Missing Cats provides Book 2 in The Adventures of Caitlin & Rio series, but prior familiarity with the first book is not a requirement. Sally Alexander provides a fine summary that recaps characters, setting, and past events, opening this latest saga with an intriguing premise: "Rio, Caitlin Maggert's Ragdoll cat, concentrated on trying to speak like a human. This was unusual. Everyone knows that cats can't speak. But Rio was a very special cat. Three weeks before the end of school and the start of the summer vacation something had happened that had changed Rio."

The recap ends with the fact that the criminal mastermind MacDougal, who stole the colors from the world, escaped to create more havoc, and The Missing Cats details this escapade.

There is no rest for the weary. Still recovering from his last struggle, Rio is drawn back into the fold of mystery and adversity when blue-eyed neighborhood cats begin to go missing. It's a cat-tastrophy that only he can solve, and the answers to the mystery drive a riveting tale that ages 8-12 will find fun and absorbing.

The story involves more than cats. Human relationships are tested, as well: "Caitlin didn't want Molly in her attic bedroom. She was still hurt and angry that Molly had betrayed her and Rio, just because the meanest girl in the world had been nice to her."

From missing cats and the clues left by catnip mice to human and cat interactions, readers receive an engaging romp through Rio's life and the children that surround him.

As in Alexander's first story, the characters come to life to exhibit traits of problem-solving, tackling interpersonal dilemmas, and driving action-laced intrigue that keeps kids guessing about not just outcomes, but relationships.

The result is a cat-centric mystery that returns mastermind MacDougal to the center of a new dilemma that requires felines and humans to work together to avert disaster.

Elementary-level libraries looking for attractive leisure reads will find The Missing Cats delightfully whimsical and appealing.

The Wild Turkeys
Sally Alexander
Independently Published
9781958459003, $24.99 hc, $9.99 pbk, $3.99 Kindle

The Wild Turkeys, the third book in the Rio and Caitlin series for ages 8-12, again employs a winning combination of look-back summary to inform newcomers, using engaging action to keep prior fans involved in the latest mystery escapade involving the Ragdoll cat Rio and his young entourage.

It's unusual to have the chief investigator be a cat, much less one harboring extraordinary powers of deduction akin to Sherlock Holmes. But Rio is a worthy protagonist who excels in working with his young humans to get at the root of mysterious events.

This time, they involve the sudden appearance of wild turkeys in the neighborhood. Is the flock really watching the house? What are they up to? What if Rio isn't alone in having powers produced by the evil MacDougal's prior efforts?

Though nefarious purposes are at first suspected, Rio, Caitlin, and her best friends Trudie and Molly soon come to find that the wild turkeys have another mission. And it's one the team had better become involved with, lest MacDougal wreak havoc and chaos once again.

As in her previous Rio and Caitlin adventures, Sally Alexander harbors a fine ability to cultivate mystery, peppering it with fantasy and interpersonal interactions that teach kids about psychology and teamwork.

Humorous overtones add elements of fun to the evolving surprises: "Seven wild turkeys stood in the kitchen. Caitlin was glad that the roasting turkey they planned to eat for thanksgiving was in the oven. It seemed rude to be planning to eat a possible relation of their new guests."

Intercultural explorations also occur as Thanksgiving is celebrated by newcomers from Botswana, and environmental issues enter the fray with the observation that the "wild turkey habitat is dwindling."

These elements dovetail to create a story that draws with action, adventure, and mystery, but incorporates auxiliary subjects ranging from problem-solving and teamwork to social and environmental challenges.

Libraries and adults who point the way to The Wild Turkeys will appreciate its special ability to employ action, strong characterization, fantasy, mystery, and humor as it explores issues that arise from newcomers to the neighborhood who offer educational insights on more than one level.

Its appeal to young leisure readers will make all these elements attractive and fun to absorb.

When I Was Better
Rita Bozi
Atmosphere Press
9781639883646, $24.99

Historical fiction readers are in for a treat with When I Was Better, a love story set in Hungary and Canada which follows the journey of Istv n and Tereza, who flee the Nazi and Soviet invasions and the Hungarian Revolution to finally make their home in Winnipeg in the 1960s.

Maps and a cast of characters portend an attention to details that history buffs will appreciate, but the lively chapter headings that begin with "This is What Dying Feels Like" are the real draw, promising inviting scenarios that compel readers to learn more about the characters' lives and influences.

Few other books about immigrant experience hold the descriptive power of When I Was Better: "Her world had transformed into a place of gestures and facial expressions, making her feel more vigilant now than she had ever been under Communism. No one understood her but Zolti. Already she ached for her language and the family she left behind."

Rita Bozi's ability to capture not just the history and milieu of the times, but the life and passions of those who live it is a sterling example of what sets an extraordinary read apart from a mundane narration of circumstance and history.

Her ability to depict the everyday experiences and insights of her protagonist bonds reader to the subject in an intimate manner that brings not just the era, but the psychology of its participants to life through inner reflection, influence and experience, and even dialogue: "Four lengths of sausage, please?" Tereza watched as the man pulled two small lengths from the hook and wrapped them in course paper. "I beg your pardon, sir, but would you kindly add in two more lengths?"

"We got an aristocrat here? If you take four lengths, what d'you imagine the workers are gonna eat at the end of the day?"

The account of a seven-year separation, Budapest and Winnipeg cultures and contrasts, and refugee experiences brings history to life through the eyes of its beholders.

That which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger. This saying applies especially strongly to When I Was Better 's powerful story, highly recommended for historical fiction readers and library collections interested in powerfully compelling writing packed with insights: "Why is it so agonizing to be truthful?" Istv n asked, not expecting an answer.

"It depends on what truth you're about to reveal. And how you expect it to be received. If you're expecting an execution, you have two choices. Die for what you believe in or lie to save your life."

"So in the end, it all comes down to values." Istv n reached for the martini, took another sip.

Bela smiled. "Without truth, there's no real connection. The truth hurts, but love eventually heals what hurts."

Paris Gone Dark
Jerome G. Silbert
Independently Published
9780578266855, $14.95 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Paris Gone Dark comes from author Jerome G. Silbert's background as an attorney in Illinois, where he encountered all kinds of people and situations. He was especially affected by his involvement with the case of the Serbian Liberation Army (SLA). This influence forms the basis of a mystery series and Paris Gone Dark, which follows A Bomb in the Palace, the first book in a trilogy.

Newcomers to the series who choose Paris Gone Dark will find that past events are neatly recapped as Susan reflects on how she came to be in Paris without Dumond, the man who first introduced her to Paris, a brilliant and alluring criminal mastermind who was killed.

Although mourning reflections open Susan's story, it's important to note that she's also a tenacious survivor with a history of recovery and courage. These qualities serve her well as she becomes the target of a powerful, nefarious group that believes she holds dangerous knowledge.

Jerome G. Silbert creates a supporting cast of characters who swirl around Susan's life, and who move from America to Paris with different objectives in mind. The international mix of action and disparate individuals creates a moving story that embraces the culture, sexuality, and crime scene of Paris on different levels.

Readers seeking a singular whodunit or an espionage story receive these elements, but will discover that more is involved in the tightening web of intrigue Silbert weaves around three disparate lives.

The intrigue is neatly accented by a sense of place and culture unique to Paris and this book, cementing action and mystery with a psychological and social tension that helps the story become much more than the sum of either its characters or their divergent special interests.

Paris Gone Dark is a crime story with a difference, flavored with the depth of place and people that moves it beyond a whodunit scenario and into the realm of high intrigue and international cat-and-mouse games conducted on psychological and social levels.

From mystery men who may be killers, arms dealers, or innocents simply caught in the line of fire in the wrong place to events that center on Parisian special interests, Silbert creates a memorable, complex story. It is especially recommended reading for fans of intrigue, espionage, and crime underworld connections.

Perhaps its foundation in real scenarios lends it the especially realistic feel and characterization, but libraries interested in crime scenes that are a cut above the ordinary will find Paris Gone Dark a fine acquisition, whether as part of its trilogy or as a stand-alone read.

Through The Soul Into Life
Shoushan B
Atmosphere Press
9781639881321, $16.99

Through The Soul Into Life represents poetry that operates on a personal level, exploring existential, philosophical, and psychological realms with a dovetailing of author experience and spiritual inspection that comes alive in free verse.

The first thing to note about Through The Soul Into Life is its ability to capture conditions of overwhelm and adversity. One such poem is "I am descending Downward the spiral Into the abyss," which delineates the process of drowning: "I am/under/Under the burden of life/Under the thumb of death/I am under/Moments of obscurity invade me/Distort all my visions of eternity/Despair drowns me/Fear devours me ..."

As the poems move from the microcosm of personal experience to the macrocosm of social and political change, readers receive astute reflections upon and connections between personal experience and evolution and the wider world: "Under the brim of superiority, exclusivity/Civilization is relapsing, deteriorating/In a collective shame and disfunction./Under the delusion for their entitlement/For discrimination, for prejudice/The idealism of visionaries/Of civil rights pioneers is nullified."

As dramatic sea changes and shifts are experienced, both individually and in society, Shoushan B draws important connections between soul and life, exploring the intersections and interconnections between different growth experiences that propel the narrator (and her audience) to reconsider "self-imposed chains" and obstacles to freedom.

The expression of these experiences, reflections, and changes creates a unified quest for not just one woman's empowerment, but the circumstances and conditions which affect her transformation.

Poetry readers will, of course, be the logical audience for this collection, but Through The Soul Into Life ideally will reach a broader audience of social and philosophical thinkers who can use these poems to discuss such diverse issues as women's empowerment processes, personal transformation and self-help, and human rights issues that impact spiritual and personal thinking.

Through The Soul Into Life represents a personal journey highly recommended not just for individual digestion, but for group discussion. It should have a place in any contemporary poetry collection.

Twas The Night
Pamela McColl
Grafton and Scratch Publishers
9781927979303, $36.00 Hardcover

Readers looking for a keepsake holiday celebration suitable for individual study and family sharing alike will find the perfect combination of art and scholarship in Twas the Night: The Art and History of the Classic Christmas Poem.

The book is an unexpected treasure trove, surprising because, with so very many books centered on Christmas traditions and history, it's refreshing to see an artistic and literary review of a classic poem that breathes new life into traditional perceptions.

Pamela McColl achieves this goal by reviewing the history of the world's most cited poem. While one might think this should have been done already, over the years, if not time and again, it might come as a surprise to note that hers is the first in-depth coverage of the poem's origins and incarnations.

One of the foundations of Twas the Night's strength is its inclusion of hundreds of vintage images and works of art which accompany the analysis.

The classic Christmas poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (also

known as Twas The Night Before Christmas) is on the cusp of enjoying two bicentennial mile markers, so this is the perfect time to absorb its ongoing impact and alluring history.

These aren't just McColl's reflections. Dozens of excerpts from a wide range of literary sources illustrate the centuries of influence that birthed this poem and others which continue to drive its classic popularity through the years.

Tracing these influences also results in a deeper understanding of Christmas culture, holiday traditions, and the art, publications, individual influencers, and evolution of the holiday spirit.

Readers also likely won't anticipate the degree and depth of American and world history that enter the stage of this poem's origins, but McColl adds all these elements to vastly expand Twas the Night's many facets: "At the 1809 New York Historical Society St. Nicholas Banquet a toast was read: "To the memory of St. Nicholas. May the virtuous habit simple manners of our Dutch ancestors be not lost in the luxuries and refinement of the present time." The interest in the revival or establishment of Saint Nicholas reflected Pintard's desire to create a sense of identify for the city."

The result begins with the poem's origins, but it's really a representation of changing artistic, cultural, social, and historical atmosphere swirling around the poem that offers a deeper understanding of not just its history, but the changing social focuses that kept it relevant against the sands of time.

Any collection looking for superior, solid, artistic, historical examinations of Christmas must include Twas the Night as a highly recommended mainstay. Whether a library is focused on art, history, popular culture, or Christmas, Twas the Night represents an outstanding work of literature and a compelling read the entire family can enjoy.

The Clients
Bonny Fawn
Kirby Books
9798986341811, $21.99 hc, $14.99 pbk, $4.99 ebook

The events of September 11th come to life once again with the opening scenario of The Clients, in which "ragged pieces of sky" rain down on the narrator. At a critical point of rescue and life or death, the narrator resists the former, but questions the latter: "But wait ... isn't that what I've wanted? Wouldn't life be easier if they thought I died today?"

Missing and presumed dead, stockbroker and con artist Mel Green uses 9/11 to walk out of her life, where the noose has been tightening around her activities with the threat of discovery creating an impossible situation with seemingly no way out. Until one literally lands in her lap.

Fast forward twenty years later to find a different dilemma based on Mel's past decisions: "How do you tell someone you love you're not dead?" Even more importantly, how do you keep from walking the path that brought you to that critical juncture in life in the first place? Engrained habits die slowly. So do secrets.

Mel and her equally secretive colleague Riley Brown don't have to search out each others' pasts. It reaches out and grabs them, pulling them into a quagmire of uncertainty and ironies that lead them to realize their presumptions of scammers, and who is being scammed, are dead wrong.

Nothing is as it seems. And that's one of the strengths of The Clients: just as readers receive a path that seems predictable, it turns and twists to introduce new options, revelations, and threats.

What could be more important than a rodeo, to some? A life. Mel (aka Mandy) well knows this, but saving herself and others is an instinct she's set aside over two decades. How she brings forth and dusts off innate skills to address and represent treachery and deceit that brings terrorists into her new life makes for a riveting cat-and-mouse game of suspense.

Bonny Fawn's use of the first person to introduce these experiences and the mind-boggling decisions they represent makes for a more compellingly emotional story than one might expect from a thriller.

At every turn, Mel faces the past, its reincarnation in her future, and the regrets that emerge from choices that destroy those around her: "Squeezing her hand, I reply, 'No. I totally get that you don't know me, don't trust me.' My breath is ragged. 'You were acting on instinct ... But I'm not going to hurt you.' I know I already did."

These revelations influence a story that rocks back and forth between disparate individuals and lives connected by opportunity, circumstance, and tough decisions.

Readers who choose The Clients for its thriller and suspense components will be delighted to find these elements powered by an astute attention to powerful characters whose headline news and choices reflect not just individual strength, but similar dilemmas affecting those around them.

Libraries looking for stories of characters that evolve beyond their scams to embrace bigger-picture thinking will find The Clients a well-written firecracker of a thriller.

Ron Dakron
Montag Press
9781957010076, $14.95 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Tricky is a dystopian fairy tale romp that embraces humor, flagrant social disrespect, and vivid language. These elements challenge readers to absorb the sassy tone and inspection of Tricky, a renegade body part that assumes a life of its own.

It should be cautioned that the language alone brings cause for pause in this fun, literary exploration. The story begins with the rhythmic bang of candid street lingo: "I'm lightning wrapped in a strait-jacket - I spit hummingbirds crowned with barbed wire. Hoodoo you luv? Me - Tricky! I'm pink and straight and full of hate! Wait, don't - no more voltage, please! I admit it all - my bonehead sexism, my stiff arrogance, my jizz privilege, tch tch. I've been a bad, bad dangler, a big Cissy - I'm so hetero-normative. My XY mutation explains all flaws! I'm a genetic devil - all hot evil spurts from me, mwah ha ha - oops, sorry, I know - I know! No phallic raves - no gangsta rapping for you, Tricky. Think of all the chicks your rape-culture lyrics hurt - strong, vibrant, smart, empathetic, stinky, cheating, devious harpy - ow! Somehow I done got shocked again."

Consider Tricky a "penile madhouse confession" of a story whose fast paced and mind-boggling descriptors are designed to both entertain and challenge the reader to think about life, body, and mind in new ways.

Those who continue the saga will discover that Tricky is dirty, dastardly, and determined. Those who are faint of heart will likely not want to read through his rollicking observation of life from 'down under', but readers who enjoy surprising blends of street lingo paired with a wry, critical assessment of life from an unusual perspective will find Tricky's adventures to be revealing and fun.

As the romp progresses, Tricky is imprisoned in Male Re-education Kamp, faces a 90-foot moray eel, and finds himself both representing the male condition, suffering from it, and finding it a blast.

The roller coaster ride through body parts, the seas and tides of unpredictable confrontations, and observations of a sexual and social nature are delightfully original even as they are graphic and thought-provoking.

It's rare to find such a combination in contemporary literature, but Tricky is all these things and more.

As testosterone-laden as it is embedded in fun and whimsy, Tricky is a special read for a special kind of reader not flummoxed by odd scenarios and encounters. Libraries looking for unique representations of modern literary form and function will find Tricky worth recommending, especially for reluctant readers tired of the usual devices of description and character. This audience will find, in Tricky's countenance, a satisfying yarn blending depravity with fun.

The Doctor of Bellechester
Margaret A. Blenkush
Pond Reads Press
c/o Beaver's Pond Press
939 Seventh Street West, St. Paul, MN 55102
9781643436906, $17.95, Large Print, PB, 288pp

The Doctor of Bellechester is a novel set in 1959 that centers on Dr. Harold Merton, the kindly GP of the village of Bellechester who decides to undertake a rare journey to London to find a younger doctor to mentor, to be his replacement in the village when retirement time comes.

He has a plan on how to locate this perfect candidate, but as with all good plans, life enters the picture and things go awry as Dr. Merton meets a young American woman destined to change his life and its carefully-laid trajectory.

The themes embraced in this story, from aging and life planning to revised gender roles and perceptions of professionalism and competency, are concepts contemporary readers will find engrossing as they evolve against the backdrop of 1959 thinking.

Margaret A. Blenkush takes the time to build characters, premises, logical courses of action and illogical challenges to set ideas that will resonate with modern readers. From the England setting and its culture to the focus on acts of kindness, discovery, and changing hearts and minds, The Doctor of Bellechester creates a story that draws connections between different generations and shows how, with a little effort, their lives and interests can intersect and compliment one another.

As Dr. Basil Applegate, Mary Elizabeth, and Dr. Merton's lives grow increasingly complicated and interlinked, readers will appreciate the growth exhibited by all three characters as events introduce them to new concepts, goals, and worlds.

The 1950s medical processes and hospital milieu are captured in prose rooted in precise descriptions of England culture and society and the medical community that operated during these times.

From diagnostic procedures and the routines of doctors-in-training to the special challenges Mary Elizabeth faces in making a name for herself, The Doctor of Bellechester creates an astute examination of a would-be professional woman whose encounter with a possible mentor changes her life.

The result is a novel steeped in an adventure powered by a determined young woman and an equally memorable, aging doctor who find their lives and seemingly disparate purposes unexpectedly entwined. Women's book clubs will find much food for thought and discussion embedded in the novel's progressive considerations of career women in medicine.

Libraries that look for engaging novels about women struggling to make careers and names for themselves against all odds will find The Doctor of Bellechester a compelling story that depicts both sides of changing traditions and plans for careers.

Journey to the West
Devanath Thenabadu
AIA Publishing
9781922329363, $13.99

Journey to the West: One Man's Odyssey Into His Own Mind follows a quest for meaning and spiritual enlightenment as Devanath Thenabadu sojourns from Sri Lanka to the streets of Paris in search of a life that lies not in the East, but to the West. His initial reaction to this distant world is not the sense of wonder that readers would anticipate: "It should have felt extraordinary to be standing there in the heart of iconic Paris. But it didn't. I wasn't really seeing the beauty and rich history all around me. Instead, it was as if I were looking at everything through an impenetrable fog."

A pressure to conform led this twenty-one-year-old traveler to the other side of the world in search of freedom and a sense of purpose and life meaning that he couldn't find in the too-familiar streets of home.

As Thenabadu explores the culture, language, and different psychology of France, he receives cultural, social, and spiritual insights that are incorporated into the travel components of Journey to the West: "When I started taking French classes, I was surprised to learn various parts of French grammar are inflected for gender. It occurred to me then that language could have something to do with femininity. As words are what we all use to explain the world around us, our worldview is undoubtedly conditioned by our own specific linguistic structures. So as soon as French girls start to talk, language is another fact of life that sets them apart from the boys."
These revelations pique the reader's intelligence with thought-provoking reflections that not only contrast very different cultures, but offer insights on life perspective and its influences and development.

Thenabadu's ability to contrast the sights, sounds, smells, and experience of France, Warsaw, London, and Sri Lanka creates an intriguing interplay between experiences past and present, leading readers to consider the metaphysical changes and options that accompany forays into the world.

It is rarely said that enlightenment can bring with it the chaos of repressed memories and abuses that affect the growth and direction of new adults. But as readers follow Thenabadu's awakening mindfulness, they also embark on a psychic journey into the past which considers the wide-ranging affects of early childhood trauma, whether repressed or realized.

The psychological and spiritual revelations in this memoir form the central force of its attraction, earning it high recommendation not just for the typical travel library and readers of On the Road and other works of travel literature, but for libraries interested in books that hold discussion points about growth, awakening, and the ongoing impact of childhood culture and trauma.

Its ability to rise above the usual work of travel literature and cultural examination makes Journey to the West: One Man's Odyssey Into His Own Mind an inward and outward reflection of epiphany, revised beliefs, and, ultimately, redemption and wisdom: "Aren't we all guilty of the same offences? Don't we all give an exaggerated importance to our limited separate self and carry on living as if there's nothing more? And don't we all deceive ourselves, thinking that we know ourselves when we really don't? That we're separated from the world, others and our true selves when we're really not?"

Travel and new age readers looking for more icing on the cake of captivating memoirs will find Journey to the West just the ticket for added value that makes for more than either a memoir or a work of spiritual and psychological enlightenment alone.

The Study of Sentient Things and Other Stories
Trevor McCall
Independently Published
B0B2SFRFKF, $2.99

The Study of Sentient Things and Other Stories represents adaptations of four selected classic short stories by gothic horror writer Edgar Allan Poe and an interconnected fifth stand-alone tale, and is highly recommended for literary horror readers interested in contemporary takeoffs on the gothic theme in general and Poe in particular.

Trevor McCall excels in thought-provoking insights: "I often wonder if this quality I have of hearing what others can't makes me unique. Perhaps I have some role to play on this earth which is important and only I can fulfill. Could this be why I did the things that I will do? If this is true, then I must be beyond blame. You see that, don't you? I can still be a good person. It's so important to me that when we get to the end of this, you don't lose your faith in me. You were right to like me from the moment we first met. I am a pawn in a supernatural game played by dark actors. If you were me, you would have done what I did."

Readers of Poe will appreciate the outtakes and creative reinterpretation of his classic pieces, but in the original piece "Broken Vessels," the concluding power of Poe's influence reaches a crescendo of strength. It's here that McCall's literary abilities, finely tuned in the prior Poe-influenced pieces, come to life: "The city is leaking life. It tastes like blood because it is blood, the blood of the myth of progress."

Flavored by urban environment, lingering pandemic habits, and the mercurial influence of Hydrant, the confrontations between killer and survivor evolve in a novelette which is as decisive and powerful as any piece Poe could have written.

As both a conclusion to the prior works and a stand-alone powerhouse of revelation on its own, "Broken Vessels" is the icing on the cake of horror that leads readers to reflect, draw back, and absorb visions and "subterfuge in the guise of a well-formed sentence."

Highly recommended for Gothic horror readers looking for contemporary reinterpretations of classics and new representations of the genre's force, The Study of Sentient Things and Other Stories is a foundation pick for literary readers of Gothic fiction and Poe and contemporary horror enthusiasts alike.

Controlling Chaos
Michael Estabrook
Atmosphere Press
9781639884544, $15.00

Controlling Chaos: A Hybrid Poem raises the question of how a 'hybrid poem' is defined. In this case, 'hybrid' refers to the blends of poetry, autobiography, and philosophical reflection that, at times, read like journal notes and, at others, like a long (130-page) poem about life.

Michael Estabrook notes, in the first pages of his production, that "I Write Poetry Because the Muse makes me and sometimes the Devil (mostly the Devil)." This sense of humor is incorporated into many experiences that receive equal attention in often-disparate, wide-ranging notes of irony: "Coronavirus Pandemic has us sheltering-in-place only coming out to grab some food every week or two during the time set aside for the oldsters: 7-8 AM."

Readers receive short vignettes that range from philosophical inspection to statements observing, reflecting upon, and describing life processes.

What is poetry? Readers who define poetry as involving structure and rhymes may be more likely to call this collection a hybrid blend of autobiography, prose, and poem. Its vignettes touch upon many different topics ranging from literary to scientific and social, often reflecting the life chaos it portends to control.

The result is a true synthesis of reflective thinking.

"What a piece of work is man!"

What a piece of work is Controlling Chaos, recommended for libraries seeking examples of contemporary prose, poetry, and the boundaries that lay between them.

Waiting in the Wings
Tiffany Haas with Genna Glatzer
St. Martin's Griffin
c/o St. Martin's Press
120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271
9781250193735, $21.49 Paper/$7.99 Kindle

Waiting in the Wings: How to Launch Your Performing Career on Broadway and Beyond demonstrates the power of perseverance in the performing arts world and comes from an actor who had over seventy rejections in a row before landing the star role of "Glinda the Good" in the Broadway stage production of Wicked.

Those who aspire to succeed in theater would do well to consider this memoir, which documents her career path to New York and Broadway and the ups and downs which marked it.

The nuts and bolts of a good guide to theater careers are included here, from finding an agent and auditioning to developing professional relationships and building a reputation in the theater world.

Supplementing this array of practical considerations is a lively set of experiences that explore the underlying basis for performer success: how to stand out and build one's reputation in a good way.

As Tiffany Haas discovered early on, there is no end of competitive talent in this world: "There we all were, young brunette soprano ingenues, all holding our books of sheet music, all wearing flowing dresses. My confidence shriveled up as I got my first reality check: This wasn't high school or college anymore. I knew the real world of professional theatre was going to be competitive, but until I stood in that hallway surrounded by talented women, I didn't realize how competitive. I had no idea how I would ever stand out, and in the end, I didn't - I didn't even get a callback for the role I was so sure was meant to be mine."

From how to frame shots for different types of auditions to tapping the supportive theater community for success, Waiting in the Wings uses the author's experience and others around her to document various courses that embrace the advice and experience of other talented movers and shakers in the industry: "I know Broadway is the goal, but I've seen plenty of people who work at The Muny with Chris Bailey or Kathleen Marshall or Dan Knechtges, and the next thing you know, they're going into Broadway auditions because they've worked with that person," says a casting director friend of mine. "The priority should be going to calls where there's a viable possibility you could get a job. Go to the Papermill. Go to the SETA contract tours. Go to the Mean Girls call if you're a young person - we cast a lot of those actors through the EPAs and ECCs."

It's a pleasure to see not just idealistic views of the industry, but to receive an insider's "how I became successful" story supplemented by tested strategies from others who know how these paths work, and why.

Aspiring actors who want better insights into the theater world and their options for landing a role in it should consider

Waiting in the Wings a key read for launching a successful acting career.

It deserves a place in any library collection where performance arts careers and theater jobs are of interest, but ideally will be talked about between aspiring actors, its pointers to success seeing the light of day and discussion.

Still On Fire
Renee Linnell
Pink Skeleton Publishing, Inc.
9798986164731, $16.95

Still On Fire is a memoir of self-realization and growth that continues the globe-hopping saga begun in The Burn Zone.

No prior familiarity with Renee Linnell's life is required in order to jump right into the fire and take off (vicariously) through her wild ride here, throughout circumstances of love, spiritual evolution, and growth.

Renee Linnell's 'fire' lies in a passion for life that embraces the concept of evolutionary growth from the start: "We think we want to see the entire future. We think we want to know all the steps and turns in the path ahead. But the truth is that would bore us and make life not worth living. It really is so much more fun to follow our desires, listen to our Inner Guidance, and take the next right step, then the next right step, and then the next right step, not knowing where each step will lead but trusting that it is going to lead to someplace amazing, where we can learn and grow from all our "mistakes" and enjoy all the beautiful gifts offered along the way."

Linnell acknowledges that "we are guided more than we know," but also observes that "...when trying to decide between two options, always pick the one that will leave the better story. I have tried to do that my entire life."

And, what a life it is. As the stories unfold in a riot of experience and philosophical and psychological insight, Still On Fire offers a fine contrast in subject and approach to her prior memoir, showing how tapping into one's inner direction leads to better paths than plowing full speed ahead, willy-nilly.

More than just a series of rollicking good stories (which they are), the added value in these experiences comes from accompanying reflections about the best way to live life to its fullest: "Our body is so incredibly wise. It is always looking out for us, warning us, but we have to pay attention. We must learn to stop overriding it. Stop clogging it up and numbing it out by eating, drinking, and inhaling non-foods, toxins, and poisons. We must make it our best friend, not our enemy. We must learn to love this selfhealing, divinely gifted, amphibious, miraculous machine. And we must learn to be more present."

That sense of presence is represented in nuggets of wisdom that emerge from a diverse range of encounters and journeys, chronicled here.

It is captured in a sense of fire, passion, and evolving wisdom that Linnell cultivates from these experiences, making Still On Fire a fiery account of accomplishment, mindfulness, and a determined journey through life that doesn't just acknowledge inner guidance, but embraces it fully.

Libraries strong in self-help, women's issues, travel, empowerment, and new age thinking alike will find Still On Fire a worthy acquisition. Ideally, it will also serve as a discussion point for reading groups interested in any of the above topics.

One thing is certain: Still On Fire is not a boring read or a series of wise admonitions alone, but represents the flames of a life on fire, moving towards enlightenment.

Bishop's Endgame
Michael Frost Beckner
Montrose Station Press
9798985597448, $28.00, Hardcover

The second book in The Aiken Trilogy needs no prior introduction for newcomers to appreciate the spy gambit and espionage focus of its characters. As a Spy Game novel, it serves as a sequel to Michael Frost Beckner's Spy Game film, taking place ten years after events in the film and its prequel Muir's Gambit.

Think Ian Fleming's James Bond character, a plot which holds its foundations in a real-world encounter experienced by Beckner, and a setting in Malaysia which receives the fictional invention of terrorist drama paired with real-world insights into this Asian nation's culture.

Beckner made a concerted effort to avoid stereotyping in converting his experiences to the thriller format. This awareness is evident in carefully crafted scenarios that inject a sense of real people and situations that defy the usual Asian stereotypes and settings.

Literary, political, and social allusions are replete in a first-person story that invites readers on a journey that offers much food for thought: "Anyone who reads "Jack and Jill" comes away from it with a kindly aspect for its twin protagonists. Forever after, when you recall the pair or repeat their legend, your allegiance carries forward. We like Jack and Jill. We regret their mishap. But we see no reason to assign malintent or affix any blame. Jack and Jill: how a Russell Aiken CONPLAN gets approved for operational planning. Hand in hand, the cutie-pie pair skips you past the big lie I've gotten the government to sign off on. A deception operation staring you right in the face."

This attention to detail, allusion, and gripping language is a hallmark of a story that reaches out to grab its readers from the beginning: "The operation is the hill. Lives or dies there in plain-view, signed-off secrecy. And the endgame is as drastic and impactful as the beheading of a king over lost booze by a primed populace incensed at receiving less buzz for their buck. Or as meaningless as the dish chasing the spoon to Malaysia is prelude to the cow jumping over Manhattan. No one ever dug a well at the top of a hill."

In addition to linguistic prowess and descriptions that draw connections between seemingly disparate circumstances, Beckner excels in creating powerful characters that move through their worlds with purpose and insight.

The tension, too, is finely tuned as the narrator, Agency lawyer Russell Aiken, navigates his own challenging personal endgame and the ability to step out of his staid legal life and into the cat-and-mouse realms of the criminal underworld.

As retired spymaster Nathan Muir finds his professional networks suddenly don't work on the cusp of the Malaysian summit where al-Qaeda is planning the September 11 attacks, Bishop joins forces with the daughter of a spy to fill in the gaps.

As each plays the Spy Game that demands extraordinary expansions of their skill sets and perceptions of not just the world, but their place in it, readers embark on a globe-hopping journey that keeps them engaged, involved, and on edge about what will happen.

Strategy is key in any chess game, but the special strategic scenario presented here represents a stretch for two characters that have yet to solidify their new roles in a changing world.

The result is a thriller that juxtaposes life-or-death questions with political and social processes that are sparklingly original and satisfyingly hard to predict.

Libraries strong in espionage and thriller stories set against the backdrop of terrorist activities will welcome Bishop's Endgame as a powerful story offering many strengths and attractions.

Stone Heart
Susan K. Hamilton
Writing Bloc
9781737353683, $15.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Stone Heart tells of singer/songwriter Lauren Stone, whose upward trajectory into fame has left behind a jilted heart and an ex-boyfriend who once meant the world to her.

Usually this is the end of the story, but in Stone Heart, it's the beginning, because life moves full circle to bring these alienated former lovers in close proximity again.

Readers who enjoy emotion-laden women's fiction and characters that move from present back to the past to recreate their destinies will find much to enjoy here.

Lauren well knows that money can't buy everything: " couldn't buy happiness. It could, however, buy some very awesome toys." Her success has fulfilled all her dreams - but she has nobody to share them with, and no partner to enjoy on a deeper, more intimate level.

Danny Padovano, too, holds a vested interest in clearing the air with Lauren that goes beyond any need for redemption from past choices. He's now married to Heather, but there remains a link between him and his ex which comes to light when she returns to New York and again falls onto his radar.

This time will be different. They are different. Neither has actually moved on, in some ways, and so their meeting sparks new possibilities and dilemmas as each not only attempts to resolve the past, but reconsiders their futures.

Susan K. Hamilton crafts a satisfying saga of two individuals who seek to overcome obstacles to redemption to form new relationships. Each arrives at more mature revelations about themselves and each other, which contributes an added sense of self-growth to the process: "When Lauren left him behind all those years ago, he'd wondered how she could just go so easily. Care so little that she could leave and not look back. Now that he was the one leaving, he realized it might not have been so easy after all."

Heather adds an extra layer of complexity because she's not just a throw-away second choice but a strong, different, compelling attraction apart from Lauren's allure.

Lauren realizes she needs to change. But, just how much? "I need to write a different happy ending for myself. And it's not with Danny."

As Lauren's life unfolds both within her band and career and in her relationships, readers receive a compelling saga that places both characters in the position of confronting their successes and failures, as well as their futures.

The result is a work of women's fiction that will attract a wide audience interested in how love evolves, how hearts are protected, and what happens when the boundary between friends and lovers is breached.

Libraries and readers seeking a solid example of contemporary women's fiction that tug on the heartstrings by presenting a successful, career-minded young woman's reconsideration of her choices and life will find Stone Heart a winner.

Walk Out the Door
Pearl Wolfe and Evelyn Anderton
Atmosphere Press
9781639883400, $17.99

"You can't just walk away." This idea leads to more murders by batterers, and more reasons for staying in dangerous situations.

Walk Out the Door opens with Emily and Becca's quest to save Molly, breaking protocol to leave the women's shelter, Jill's Place, to go to a home where a batterer is threatening.

The fact that they escape and make it to the hospital successfully doesn't free them from Danny's efforts to locate his fleeing wife and kids. It also doesn't mitigate the impact of his charm on the strangers who fall under his spell: "Becca never ceased to be amazed by how quickly these guys could pull themselves together in front of witnesses and turn on the charm when the situation demanded it."

As the story moves from this initial escape and dilemma to fifteen-year-old independent orphan Liz's fall into similar issues with boyfriend Matt, it becomes clear how abusive relationships develop and how domestic violence moves from one generation to the next in the alluring guise of a familiar feel of love that turns deadly after marriage.

Pearl Wolfe and Evelyn Anderton create a story that entwines the lives of Liz, Becca, Molly and Emily as Matt's threat comes to life and moves them from familiar scenarios of abuse to extraordinary efforts to survive.

From handling crisis line calls and rescues to women's shelter dilemmas and ignoring brutal behaviors for the sake of friendship, Walk Out the Door chronicles not just the obvious path of making a break from dangerous or toxic people, but the rationale involved in choosing to stay in such a situation.

It uses the lives of four disparate women who operate on different sides of the question to create a thoroughly engrossing story that examines processes, rationales, and the evolution of love and hate that often lead to abusive relationships.

The result is more insightful and multifaceted than most stories of domestic abuse and flight. While it may serve as a trigger to those in or from similar circumstances, ideally Walk Out the Door will be chosen for book club discussion as an important inspection of how domestic abuse is passed down between generations and tolerated by victims before the final act - whether it be walking away or dying - is completed.

Highly recommended for its astute considerations of various decision-making influences, Walk Out the Door is recommended for any fiction library looking for profiles of abusers, victims, and how such relationships evolve and are handled by those who would protect women.

Aiken in Check
Michael Frost Beckner
Montrose Station Press
9798985597479, $28.00, Hardcover

Aiken in Check is the third book in the Spy Game trilogy of espionage thrillers, and again finds CIA lawyer Russell Aiken (the main character in the other books) at odds with his environment. This time, he's defected to Cuba where he clashes with Havana spymasters over the fate of kidnapped CIA agent Nina Estrada.

That isn't the only minefield he must navigate. Father and son Nathan Muir and Tom Bishop also are players on this complex chess board of cat-and-mouse games, and their interactions and decisions affect Aiken's ability to achieve his goals as he undertakes an impossible rescue effort that centers on one pivotal night.

As in the prior Spy Game books complimenting the film of the same name, Michael Frost Beckner excels in crafting scenarios that not only involve intrigue and unexpected twists, but equally surprising challenges on the parts of major players who find their lives both entwined and at odds with one another.

Under Beckner's hand, the social, political, and psychological strategies and moves of spies and rescuers alike come to a head in unexpected ways that keep readers not just thoroughly engaged, but guessing about outcomes and mercurial relationships.

The moment-by-moment tension is exquisitely captured in scenes which come to life with delicate descriptions: "I twitched. I wanted to act. But I did nothing. She opened a hand behind her father's back, opened and closed it like the gills of a dying fish, clutching for me. I reached out. I wasn't close enough. A pit burned in my stomach."

The "you are here" feel of these first-person revelations brings the plot to life as Beckner explores three men's interconnected lives, loves, and the threat that draws them together in an impossible gambit.

Readers won't expect the wry wit which underlies many of the interactions, but it's alive and well even as the characters struggle to stay the same.

Aiken in Check is an espionage thriller that embraces more literary prowess than most genre reads, and is highly recommended for readers who enjoy tie-in movie fiction and rollickingly active plots.

True North, Down South: Tales of a Professional Canadian in America
David Wayne Stewart
True North Press
9798985883602, $7.99 ebook/$13.95 Paper

True North, Down South: Tales of a Professional Canadian in America considers the roots of national identity and cultural misunderstandings, and comes from a Canadian emigre to the U.S. His Canadian identity was tested not just by his position as an immigrant, but by the Quebec separatists who challenged his youth in Canada before he immigrated to this country.

This examination takes the form of autobiographical essays which collect humorous and pointed experiences in his life, presenting them as vignette examples of cultural understanding and identity crisis.

As readers move through these twenty-eight essays, they gain a sense not just of one man's life and evolving perspectives, but of the contrasts between Canadian and US psyches and the forces that influence the making of cultural identity and personal and professional belief systems.

The stories not only capture life-changing moments and situations, but trace the author's search for self that holds its roots in being Canadian and understanding its regional differences and their impact: "My thoughts returned to Bert and Gene, the hospitable Newfoundlanders we'd met on our journey. I admired their warm humour and joyful senses of place. They also made me aware of how relatively little I knew about my own home province of Quebec. I yearned for a deeper understanding of the separatist era there that had impacted my family. And what better place than Quebec's largest city to delve into my past?"

Especially intriguing and notable are considerations of how cultural identity passes between generations as part of their values and heritage lessons: "I've long stowed my kids' American and Canadian passports in a fireproof safe in the garage of our California home. I realize now that I had embraced my role as keeper of the passports as much for my benefit as for theirs. I saw their Canadian passports in particular as symbols of a national identity that I wanted to share with them. As each new child arrived, I would promptly file applications for a Canadian citizenship card and, later, a passport. And since Canadian citizenship cards are never updated, all three of my kids' cards still feature their cute baby photos, lasting proof not only of their second nationality but also of my own compulsive need to prove their Canadianness."

From coming of age experiences to leaving the next generation with the mindset and tools for better understanding Canadian and American connections and disparities, David Wayne Stewart provides far more than a memoir, here.

True North, Down South is a highly recommended documentation of social inspection and contrasts that should ideally be chosen by libraries interested in Canadian and American relationships, cultural identity, and immigrant experience; as well as book clubs discussing any of these elements and how they pass between generations.

The Guitar Player and Other Songs of Exile
Jo Ann Kiser
Atmosphere Press
9781639884384, $16.99

The Guitar Player and Other Songs of Exile provides narratives about individuals who leave home, bond with life in unusual ways, and often return to their roots changed, to find new meaning and reconsider the goals and connections which once drove them into the world.

Consider the title and opening story, "The Guitar Player." Here, Clara has left home and moved forward into her life, but returns to reconsider the goals she once held to be motivating forces: "I looked at the photograph of the two of them taken on the beach by a passing stranger and thought that when I went to college, perhaps I would meet a man like Edward, but now I asked myself if I wanted to."

As the story takes readers through Clara's life, from childhood to new adult wisdom, several husbands, and the oddities of being older, she reflects on the incongruities of her paths and choices: "Sometimes, though, on awakening in the night, Clara feels some great event in her head, a rush of imminence like an impending heart attack or a sudden psychosis. She sits up in bed and cries silently for the barefoot child who does not recognize the stranger who sleeps beside her."

As the story unfolds, readers receive an inspection that delights mind and heart as it reveals the progress of a life under flux and constantly changing in its goals and nature.

Each story is a microcosm of discovery and change that resonates and blossoms into unexpected revelations.

They are interconnected not by characters and circumstances, but by the manner in which life evolves and transforms the perspectives and choices of each character.

The Guitar Player and Other Songs of Exile's literary, social and psychological series of inspections tantalize on many different levels. It's highly recommended for library collections seeking powerful descriptions of past and present lives in flux: "He must sleep, but he is afraid to dream. Now is the time for all good men to pluck gentle memories from the dark and bathe their burning eyes."

Moody Moody Cars
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD
Magination Press
c/o American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242
9781433836992, $16.99 Hardcover/$13.36 Kindle

Picture book readers who choose Moody Moody Cars will find it not only a fun collection of cars, but a whimsical lesson in emotion recognition, as each car represents a different mood.

Classic car illustrations occupy a facing page as their emotional states are revealed through rhyme ("Hello!" said a car/with a sweet little smile./"Can you chat? Can you play?/We could visit awhile!/I am feeling very FRIENDLY...").

Parents can use this story as a read-aloud, with its many sound effects and car-centered displays, to reinforce the concept of different moods and getting in touch with them.

From Lincolns to Bugattis, this picture book will especially attract young readers who are already interested in cars, but may be less in touch with their emotions.

That's what makes the book so eye-catching: its ability to attract kids who harbor a prior interest in vehicles, but require emotional examples to achieve a better understanding of self and others.

Moody Moody Cars captures both in a survey that will attract not only read-aloud parents, but teachers, counselors, and other adults working with kids to help them identify and understand emotions in themselves and others.

MacKenzie's Last Run
Gayle Rosengren
Three Towers Press
c/o Haus Publishing
9781595989048, $9.95 paper/$5.99 Kindle

In MacKenzie's Last Run, thirteen-year-old Mac Lawrence blames himself for his father's death. That's a heady load of guilt for a young man to bear, and he pulls away from everyone, including his family.

When his mother announces her remarriage less than two year later, Mac is furious. There's only one way to deal with her betrayal. Run away from home.

Gayle Rosengren creates a twist to the story when Mac is seriously injured and it evolves that he's likely been kidnapped. It's up to his twin sister Tessa to not only find her brother, but uncover the clues to his situation and why their lives may be in danger.

MacKenzie's Last Run draws teen readers on several different levels. It's a story of guilt, grief, bad decisions, and intrigue that blends all these elements with a probe into how Mac really felt about his father and family.

The dialogue captures these complex interpersonal relationships and how Mac finally begins to come to terms with his past:

"I was always disappointing him. I wasn't good at sports. I hated camping out..." Mac shook his head and cracked the knuckles on his other hand.

"I'm sure that wasn't the case, MacKenzie," Martell said. "But that aside, how did you feel about your father?"

"What do you mean?" Mac stared at him. "He was my father. I loved him."

"That not what I meant. I meant did he ever disappoint you?"

Both Mac and Tessa are at a crossroads, with different directions attracting them. Readers, too, will find their hearts pulled by both the intrigue and their dilemmas as they search for one another, themselves, and the truth about their family.

Driven by strong characters, the story proves both compelling and entertaining as Mac and Tessa's lives coalesce in different ways, and as their decisions change their futures. The lessons embedded in the story invite young readers to consider their own lives and choices from different angles.

The result is a winning story in a highly recommended, emotionally compelling survival tale. It should be on the reading lists of young people ages 11 and up who look for stories of not just suspense, but revelation.

Nunzio's Way
Nicholas Chiarkas
Three Towers Press
c/o Haus Publishing
9781595959086, $TBA print / $9.99 Kindle

Nunzio's Way, a stand-alone sequel to Weepers, needs no prior introduction to prove riveting. This is because a cast of characters featured in both books appear at the beginning to help newcomers understand the primary and secondary players of each story, from NYPD detectives to family and gang members.

A prologue also reviews the setting and atmosphere begun in Weepers, introducing character Nunzio Sabino, as told by Father Joe to Father Casimiro (Father Cas) in Weepers.

This means that the background, influences, motivations, and settings for Nunzio's Way are firmly in mind before the thriller begins.

As the most powerful crime boss in New York City, Nunzio believes that "you can have anything you want if you kill the right four people."

Violent confrontations, gang clashes, and death rule his world. Readers who become involved in Nunzio's Way will find these elements provide a logic and force that dictates lives and the evolution of different sides to New York's gritty street life.

Nicholas Chiarkas creates a fast-paced story as various gang members find they are at odds and involved in a plot to end Nunzio's life.

All ages are involved in gang life, which juxtaposes nicely with school and other urban opportunities for many of its members. Chiarkas is especially skilled at contrasting street life with New York City experiences outside of gang and interpersonal relationships and conflicts. This lends a realistically compelling tone to the situations that evolve.

To be "king of the streets" is not the only driving force in these disparate lives. The contest between fluid, differing goals plays out nicely as the characters interact and build their own goals and interests both within and outside that life.

Blending into the physical confrontations and power plays are cultural and social forces that connect and sometimes divide the characters: "Listen, Danny, these guys can't honor your friend," Henry said. "They don't know how dumb they are. They think the reason they ain't rich and famous is because of the Coloreds, Jews, Italians, Catholics, and anyone else who's not them."

Nunzio's Way is a gripping story of rivalries, mob connections, gangs, and love and hate which all boils down to family connections.

Readers looking for evocative surveys of street life and power struggles will find Nunzio's Way a compelling saga of redemption and revenge that offers a broad cast of characters and special interests.

Libraries catering to fans of West Side Story and other tales of gang relationships will find Nunzio's Way a powerful contemporary twist on the themes of cops, lawyers, and mob activities.

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

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

The Godel Operation
James L. Cambias
Baen Publishing Enterprises
9781982191887, $8.99 pbk / $6.99 Kindle

Every so often its nice to find a new author and title to enjoy. "The Godel Operation" unfolds with brilliant writing as well as solid characters caught up in the chain of conflicts they have to face. "The Godel Operation is told through the eyes of Al Daslajh who works with a human named Zee to explore different worlds, as well as challenges to their relationship that develop, along the way. "The Godel Operation" is a gem of science fiction in the mold of authors Arthur C. Clarke or James P Hogan that should please fans of those two authors.

Black Dog: A Stone Barrington Novel
Stuart Woods
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593540008, $29.00 HC / $14.99 Kindle

Stone Barrington is back in a brand-new thriller in "Black Dog" After more than 60 novels in the series it is amazing it has gone on so long. Often novels with this many get jaded but "Black Dog" has renewed energy that spills over to the reader to continue to the last page. Joan, Stone's secretary tells him she has a new client to see him that turns out to be an aunt of hers who would like Stone to create a new will as well as create a trust for her stepson Eddie while the rest is awarded to someone else. A short time after the document is executed Eddie shows up to confront Stone. From then on Eddie is a thorn in the side to Stone Joan and anyone else tied to Stone. "Black Dog" is a page turner as readers marvel how unhinged Eddie becomes to the very end.

An Extravagant Life
Stuart Woods
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593188514, $35.00 HC/ $14.99 Kindle

Stuart Woods serves up "An Extravagant Life" the story of his own life that gives a lot of insight how and where some of the characters we all know from his books came from as well as more detail the author himself. Told in three portions the work reads very quickly as readers learn a lot more about one of our favorite authors. What's a bit different here though, is the second section originally released as "Blue Water, Green Skipper" is the full book thrown in to enjoy. "An Extravagant Life" is a wonderful addition to the many books written by this prolific author for fans of his numerous series of fiction tales.

James Patterson The Stories of My Life
James Patterson
Little Brown And Company
c/o Hachette Book Group USA
9780316397537, $29.00 HC // $14.99 Kindle

For so long many have asked for some details about the life of James Patterson. Patterson now provides lots of aspects in "James Patterson The Stories of My Life" that read like one of his Alex Cross thrillers. We learn where he came, from schools he attended, why he is very big on more people reading and a lot of funny things like when he has been in a book store observing what customers have done with copies of his books that is laugh out loud stories. "James Patterson The Stories of My Life" is a totally captivating auto biography that will give readers a deeper appreciation of the author and his works.

By Your Command: The Unofficial and Unauthorized Guide to Battlestar Galactica Volume 1 The Original Series and Galactica 1980
Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Foreword by Richard Hatch
978145839215, $28.99 p/ $14.99 Kindle

Through the years there have been several titles on the original show Battlestar Galactica. "By Your Command Volume 1" is the best of any I have seen. The authors provide many new details of behind-the-scenes information while there are episode guides including guest stars, the writers, and story line while they also delve into the very unpopular sequel Battlestar Galactica 1980. "By Your Command Volume 1" is to be enjoyed fans while viewing both of the original Battlestar Galactica series.

By Your Command: The Unofficial and Unauthorized Guide to Battlestar Galactica Volume 2 The Reimagined Series
Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Foreword by Mathew Bennett
978145839222, $34.99 pbk/ $5.99 Kindle

"By Your Command Volume 2" bigger than Volume 1 is understandable because the two other series only ran one season each, while the reboot was 4. So, it stands to reason there would be more to cover. Stevens and Moore delve into the whole new universe including the prequel Caprica, with many different perspectives that should help anyone understand this updated adaptation. Even though the original and reboot are similar there were too many differences for me to ever enjoy the most recent telling of Battlestar Galactica. Caprica is a bit different and I thank the authors for their input that changed my perspective on that show "By Your Command Volume 2" is filled with a wealth of information that unlike my view, may change other's opinion of this series.

Why Didn't I Think of That? Better Ideas & Decision Making At Home And At Work
Robert L. Firestien Ph.D.
Green Tractor Publishing
9780578821887, $12.95 pbk No Kindle

Originally published in 1988 "Why Didn't I Think of That?" is still a valuable resource to think out of the normal box. The writing, reminiscent of the bestseller title by Og Mandino "The Greatest Salesman in the World" takes readers on a fictitious journey to lead how to achieve so much of what you want by thinking in a different way. This current version now has added bonus material that is even more helpful than ever before. Though technology and societies change, people today have relied too much on new devices we daily use "Why Didn't I Think of That?" is more valuable today to get people to think for themselves again.

The Way I Feel
Written and illustrated by Jannan Cain
Parenting Press
c/o Chicago Review Press
9781884734724, $14.95 HC $7.97 Kindle

"The Way I Feel" is a short informative kids book that is fun reading for all ages. The author who also did the artwork shows the difference being positive to negative in life for all of us to follow to a better day to day living.

The Night Before The Nutcracker
John Robert Allman, author
Julianna Swaney, illustrator
Doubleday Books For Young Readers
c/o Penguin Random House Children's Books
9780593180914, $18.99 HC/ $10.99 Kindle

For those of us who have ever been to a ballet "The Night Before The is thought provoking work of what the performers dream the night before they do a show in front of a live audience "The Night Before The Nutcracker" is a beautiful retelling of the well-known story of the "The Nutcracker" we all know, in a very different way, for all of us to enjoy.

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

Spunky Grandmas and Other Amusing Characters
Ken Mogren, author
Joella Goyette, illustrator
MSI Press
1760-F Airline Hwy, #203, Hollister, CA 950243
9781957354040, $16.95, PB, 178pp

Synopsis: "Spunky Grandmas and Other Amusing Characters" is a collection of over 100 entertaining, fictional mini stories by Ken Mogren about comical human behavior. Written in sonnet form, each of 22 chapters starts with a cartoonish illustration by Joella Goyette that introduces the theme of the stories that follow. As a talented humorist, Ken Mogren features grandmothers who are anything but stereotypical, as well as other folks whose behavior is best described as unconventional.

Critique: With a very special appeal to readers who enjoy limericks and humorous verse. "Spunky Grandmas and Other Amusing Characters" is a lighthearted joy to read from first page to last. Written and illustrated with wit and comedic insight into human foibles, fables, and fun, "Spunky Grandmas and Other Amusing Characters" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists and community library Contemporary Poetry & Humor collections.

Editorial Note #1: When enrolled at Winona State University, Ken Mogren majored in Psychology and English and credits an understanding of human nature and good communication skills for his success in a 43-year insurance industry career. At about age 60, he rekindled a dormant interest in creative writing and began entering humorous sonnets in contests, enjoying a bit of success. In retirement, he has picked up the pace, resulting in a collection of nearly 200 sonnets. Ken 'The Sonnet Guy' Mogren has a dedicated website at

Dancing with Angels in Heaven
Garnet Schulhauser
Ozark Mountain Publishing, Inc.
PO Box 754, Huntsville, AR 72740
9781950608034, $18.00, PB, 248pp

Synopsis: "Dancing with Angels in Heaven: Tidings of Hope from the Spirit Realm" is the fifth book in the pentalogy of author Garnet Schulhauser's encounters with his spirit guide that began when he was confronted on the street by a homeless man named Albert, who turned out to be a wise spirit in disguise.

His first four books, Dancing on a Stamp, Dancing Forever with Spirit, Dance of Heavenly Bliss, and Dance of Eternal Rapture, recount his dialogue and astral trips with his guide, who took him to the Spirit Realm and other planets in our galaxy.

In his fifth book, he recalls a trip to the Spirit Side to observe an orientation class about planet Earth for souls planning to incarnate on our planet. In this session, souls learn about the origin of the universe, the true nature of souls, the preparation of Life Plans for each new incarnation, the purpose of a human journey on Earth, the role of spirit guides and guardian angels in our lives, the joyful transition of souls back to the Spirit Side in the afterlife, and the illuminating aspects of the Life Review we will all enjoy after leaving our bodies behind.

"Dancing with Angels in Heaven: Tidings of Hope from the Spirit Realm" confirms that God (Source) does not make rules for us to follow and does not judge or punish souls for what they did on Earth, which means that all souls return to the Spirit Side regardless of what they did during their lives.

In the Spirit Realm, he was thrilled to meet several famous historical figures, including Albert Einstein, Marie Antoinette, and Mother Teresa, who recalled the wisdom they had gained from their lives on Earth.

He also describes an astral excursion to a distant planet inhabited with intelligent reptiles who are able to convert energy from their sun into sustenance for their bodies. He also describes a trip to Earth in a parallel universe where humans learned to drastically reduce pollution by developing a technique to teleport people and goods from place to place without burning fossil fuel.

On the Earth plane, he traveled to the underground caverns in Area 51 where he saw the spacecraft that crashed near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, along with the bodies of the little aliens who perished in the mishap. Albert confirmed to the author that these aliens are one of several advanced and benevolent ET races who have been visiting our planet for eons.

And his most fascinating experience was listening to a conversation with three wise Masters, Jesus, Mohammad, and Moses, who discussed returning to Earth someday as a much-needed messiah to lead humans onto the path of spiritual enlightenment.

Critique: Certain to appeal to readers with an interest in Metaphysical Studies, "Dancing with Angels in Heaven: Tidings of Hope from the Spirit Realm" by Garnet Schulhauser offers an inherently interesting series of perspectives that will make a worthwhile contribution to personal, professional, and community library New Age Spirituality & Metaphysical Studies collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Dancing with Angels in Heaven: Tidings of Hope from the Spirit Realm" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Garnet Schulhauser has published five books in the spiritual/metaphysical genre which recount his dialogue and astral travels with his spirit guide, Albert. Garnet is a Level 2 Quantum Healing Hypnosis Technique (QHHT) Practitioner, a modality that guides clients to experience past lives and connect with their Higher Selves. He has a dedicated website at

Blood West
Thomas D. Clagett
Five Star Books
c/o Gale Cengage Learning, Inc.
20 Channel Center Street, Boston, MA 02210
9781432892647, $25.35, HC, 253pp

Synopsis: In the summer of 1885 something inexplicable came to the railroad town of Las Vegas in the Territory of New Mexico. Asked to investigate, the Pinkerton Detective Agency sends their best detective. Her name is Hattie Lawton.

But no one can know her true identity or why she has been sent, because, as Hattie knows well, no one can keep a secret. She poses as a nurse, hired to tend the consumptive patients staying at the Montezuma, the newest and grandest hotel in the famous Harvey House chain.

Finding information proves difficult for Hattie. Deputy Sheriff Antonio Valdes resents her attempts. Father John Lanigan fears her, but something else frightens the priest even more: a creature that some people swear can change its shape-a creature that is afraid of nothing!

Critique: An original and deftly crafted novel that will have a special appeal to readers with an interest in historical mysteries and women sleuths against a gothic western background, "Blood West" by novelist Thomas D. Clagett is a riveting read from first page to last and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists and community library collections.

Editorial Note: Thomas D. Clagett has always had a love of the West, of film and of writing. He spent more than twenty years in Hollywood working as an assistant film editor, as well as freelance writing. Devoting himself to writing historical fiction full-time, he has a dedicated website at

The Kitchen Is Closed
Sandra Butler
Both/And Productions
9798985756005, $14.99, PB, 180pp

Synopsis: "The Kitchen Is Closed: And Other Benefits of Being Old" is a compilation of funny and intensely personal collection of essays in which author Sandra Butler deftly chronicles her experience moving from aging to old, remembering and forgetting all the wrong things, feeling frustrated with technology, keeping up with the avalanche of cultural and political news, mothering two middle-aged daughters, surveying her old body, and ultimately, preparing for her death.

Written with sharp humor and a refreshing honesty, "The Kitchen Is Closed: And Other Benefits of Being Old" is of particular interest for aging women, eldercare workers, and adult children who want to gain a fuller sense of their mother's life.

Old women are cast aside in white American culture, Butler argues, and it is both disheartening and disrespectful. Butler is not a senior -- she's a mother, a lesbian, a Jew, a feminist, and at times, a "rabble-rousing hectorer." And now that her time is running out, Butler doesn't mess around with things that don't matter. She is supremely motivated, and she's so much braver than ever before.

Critique: A fascinating, humorous, insightful, and compelling read from first page to last, "The Kitchen Is Closed: And Other Benefits of Being Old" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, academic, and senior citizen center library collections. For the personal reading lists of those interest in the subjects of aging parents, their own aging, and contemporary American women's biographies, it should be noted that "The Kitchen Is Closed: And Other Benefits of Being Old" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.49).

Editorial Note: Sandra Butler is the author of several books, each designed to identify something unspoken and move those issues into public conversation. Conspiracy of Silence: The Trauma of Incest brought attention to the sexual violation of girls, Cancer in Two Voices frankly explored how a lesbian couple navigates the death of a partner, and It Never Ends: Mothering Middle-Aged Daughters described the intersection of aging and mothering while challenging the myths around both. Over the past three decades, Butler has written dozens of articles, reviews, and essays that have appeared in a range of periodicals and anthologies. She has facilitated workshops for community activists, social workers, and psychologists on violence against women and has lectured on women's issues nationally and internationally. She has a dedicated website at

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

Trees: An Anthology of Writings and Paintings
Hermann Hesse, author
Volker Michels, editor
Damion Searls, translator
Kales Press
9781737832713, $28.00, HC, 136pp

Synopsis: A German-Swiss poet, novelist, and painter, Hermann Hesse (2 July 1877 - 9 August 1962) understood trees to be symbols of transcendence and rebirth, of instinctive growth present in all natural life. Ably translated into English by Damion Searls and deftly edited by Volker Michels, "Trees: An Anthology of Writings and Paintings" is an elegant collection of his essays, poems, and passages on trees, accompanied by thirty-one of his watercolor illustrations, revealing his inspired thoughts on nature, spirituality, and self-knowledge. Together, his writings and paintings mirror the seasons and landscapes as he experienced them, and help remind us that trees' annual rings are representations of our own days' struggle, happiness, and purpose.

In the author's words: "They struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws . . . Whoever has learned to listen to trees no longer wants to be one. He wants to be nothing except who he is."

Critique: Superbly illustrated with 31 full-color watercolors painted by Hermann Hesse, "Trees: An Anthology of Writings and Paintings" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library German Poetry, Philosophy & Literary Criticism collections in general, and Herman Hess supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Trees: An Anthology of Writings and Paintings" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note #1: The best-known works of Hermann Karl Hesse include Demian, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game, each of which explores an individual's search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Editorial Note #2: Volker Michels has a page (in the German language) on Wikipedia at

Editorial Note #3: Damion Searls is a prize-winning translator of fifty books from German, French, Norwegian, and Dutch. Liveright published his translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet in 2020. He has a dedicated website at

Building Something Better
Stephanie A. Molin, author
Meghan Elizabeth Kallman, author
Rutgers University Press
106 Somerset St., 3rd Floor, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
9781978823693, $69.95, HC, 230pp

Synopsis: As the turmoil of interlinked crises unfolds across the world ranging from climate change, to growing inequality, to the rise of authoritarian governments, social scientists are examining what is happening and why. Can communities devise alternatives to the systems that are doing so much harm to the planet and people?

With the publication of "Building Something Better: Environmental Crises and the Promise of Community Change", sociologists Stephanie A. Malin and Meghan Elizabeth Kallman offer a clear, accessible study that demonstrates the ways that communities adapt in the face of crises and explains that sociology can help us understand how and why they do this challenging work.

Tackling neoliberalism head-on, these communities are making big changes by crafting distributive and regenerative systems that depart from capitalist approaches. The vivid case studies presented range from activist water protectors to hemp farmers to renewable energy cooperatives led by Indigenous peoples and nations. Alongside these studies, Malin and Kallman present incisive critiques of colonialism, extractive capitalism, and neoliberalism, while demonstrating how sociology's own disciplinary traditions have been complicit with those ideologies -- and must expand beyond them.

Showing that it is possible to challenge social inequality and environmental degradation by refusing to continue business-as-usual, "Building Something Better" offers both a call to action and a dose of hope in a time of crises.

Critique: Especially timely and germane in light of today's political, cultural, and environmental driven instabilities, "Building Something Better: Environmental Crises and the Promise of Community Change" is a seminal, informative, and accessibly organized and presented study that is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Environmental & Economic Policy collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, governmental policy makers, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Building Something Better: Environmental Crises and the Promise of Community Change" is also available in a paperback edition (9781978823686, $29.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $28.45).

Editorial Note #1: Stephanie A. Malin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. She is also the author of The Price of Nuclear Power: Uranium Communities and Environmental Justice (Rutgers University Press) and a co-founder and co-director of the Center for Environmental Justice at CSU. She has a web page on the Colorado State University website at

Editorial Note #2: Meghan Elizabeth Kallman is an Assistant Professor at the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development and is affiliated faculty in the Department of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She is also the author of The Death of Idealism: Development and Anti-Politics in the Peace Corps, and is a State Senator in Rhode Island. She has a dedicated website at

John Taylor

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

Louisiana Herb Journal: Healing on Home Ground
Corinne Martin
Louisiana State University Press
338 Johnston Hall, Baton Rouge, LA 70803
9780807177402, $34.95, PB, 296pp

Synopsis: In a world of constant change and medical crisis, the relationship between humans and their environment has never been more vital. With the publication of "Louisiana Herb Journal: Healing on Home Ground", herbalist expert Corinne Martin invites her readers into the world of medicinal herbs, introducing fifty herbs found in Louisiana, with details on identification, habitat, distribution, healing properties, and traditional uses, including instruction on popular preparation methods such as tinctures and teas.

Interspersed with these practical details, herbalist Corinne Martin shares stories that foster a true connection between readers and the world around them, from tales of childhood cherry picking to harvest mishaps to folklife traditions passed down through the generations. Accessible to experienced and rookie herbalists alike, the "Louisiana Herb Journal" offers a new way of looking at the natural world, getting to know one's "home ground" through a lens of healing and participation.

Family connections, an intimate knowledge of the surrounding lands and waters, strong community bonds, an irrepressible resilience, and a great capacity for celebrating life despite hardships are part and parcel of what it means to be from Louisiana. A celebration of the state and the cultures of those who live there, the "Louisiana Herb Journal" reflects on the value of medicinal herbs in promoting personal healing and addressing current challenges to the state's environmental and economic stability. Readers will gain a deeper recognition of the natural wealth Louisiana enjoys and the ways that our stewardship of wild plants can impact our personal health as well as the state's ecological future.

Critique: Illustrated with full color photos of various plants, "Louisiana Herb Journal: Healing on Home Ground" is impressively well organized and presented. Informed and informative, this guide to the identification and utilization of herbs and other plants is an invaluable and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library Gardening, Health & Medicine collections, as well as Herbal Medicine supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for medical students and doctors, as well as non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Louisiana Herb Journal: Healing on Home Ground" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $34.95).

Editorial Note: A certified clinical herbalist and amateur naturalist, Corinne Martin has practiced as an herbalist for more than thirty years. She recently retired from teaching holistic and integrative health at the University of Southern Maine Nursing School. She has a dedicated website at

In the Eye of the Storm
Andy Clapp
End Game Press
9781637970324, $22.99, HC, 180pp

Synopsis: A unique devotional by Andy Clapp, "In the Eye of the Storm: Withstanding the Fury of Life's Storms" prepares the reader for the approaching storms of life. Remembering the uniqueness of storms of the past, Andy uses Scripture to address the storms we face in life, each one unique.

From financial storms to storms of doubt, life presents a plethora of turbulent waters and threatening skies. This devotional guide draws in weather enthusiasts and speaks to the heart of all people.

Every person faces storms in life. Though some experience health storms, others find a storm of fear threatening life each day. This devotional supports the reader, encourages the reader, and prepares the reader for storms that will arise one day.

Each devotion features facts about actual hurricanes and deeply applies Scripture, while giving insight on the storms through the eyes of those who lived through them. With the nature of the world in a pandemic age, offering a volume comprised of encouragement and guidance benefits those who have lost their way in the struggle.

"In the Eye of the Storm" reminds the reader that though life presents storms, they are not alone. The Lord is with us in the storm.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, "In the Eye of the Storm: Withstanding the Fury of Life's Storms" is a both timely and timeless resource in helping to cope with the stresses, strains, and threats to our daily lives and well-being. While also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99), "In the Eye of the Storm: Withstanding the Fury of Life's Storms" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, college, and university library Spirituality/Religion and Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections and reading lists.

Editorial Note: Andy Clapp is a pastor and author based in North Carolina. His first book, Under the Lights: Living Their Faith with Everyone Watching, was released in 2011. His first novel, Midnight, Christmas Eve released in October of 2021 (Firefly Southern Fiction). His devotional, Springtime for Your Spirit, co-authored with Michelle Medlock Adams, was released in February 2022. Andy writes about life and faith, contributing to multiple publications and has over 250 published credits. He has a dedicated website at

The Art of the Travel Journal
Abbey Sy
Quarry Books
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
400 First Avenue North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401-1722
9780760376218, $24.99, PB, 128pp

Synopsis: Travel journaling is a fun, creative way to record the sights, sounds, smells, and flavors of life on the road. With the publication of "The Art of the Travel Journal: Chronicle Your Life with Drawing, Painting, Lettering, and Mixed Media - Document Your Adventures, Wherever They Take You", author and travel expert Abbey Sy presents techniques, ideas, inspiration, and instructions for creating a lasting record of your travels that you'll treasure for years to come. No experience is necessary, and you can bring your signature style or develop new ones as you discover exciting new artistic opportunities.

With "The Art of the Travel Journal" as an instructional guide and 'how to' manual, you will discover how to make your journal pages come to life with easy techniques for sketching the big picture or small details, adding simple lettering, creating stunning color palettes, and decorating pages with fun mementos that travelers love to collect, such as tickets, packaging, maps, and more. "The Art of the Travel Journal" also includes tips on how to work in transit and how to plan and pack for maximum efficiency and enjoyment. Best of all, the techniques also work for documenting life right where you are, and beginners can dive in and create with confidence.

Critique: All facets of journaling are covered, from start to finish: pre-trip planning, setting intentions, gathering supplies, staying motivated, and how to archive completed journals. A comprehensive, methodical, profusely illustrated, and inspiring 'how to' guide, "The Art of the Travel Journal" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, and community library travel oriented collections. It should be noted that "The Art of the Travel Journal" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Author, artist, and travel expert Abbey Sy (Instagram: @abbeysy) is a veteran traveler who has created her own travel journals for years, sharing the records of her global escapades on her social media platforms. In addition to filling her book with step-by-step instructions for a variety of techniques, she takes a holistic approach to journaling by including information on the benefits of journaling, how to hone a creative habit, and how to develop a unique style. She has a dedicated website at

Women and the Olympic Dream
Maria Kaj
McFarland & Company
PO Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640
9781476686479, $39.95, PB, 306pp

Synopsis: On an April morning in 1896, unemployed single mother Stamata Revithi ran the 40 kilometers from Marathon to Athens, finishing in 5 hours 30 minutes. Barred from the first Olympic marathon, she was determined to prove herself.

Through more than a century of Olympic Games history, women athletes (who were held back from swimming because long skirts were required), were limited to running single-lap races because of fallacies about fragility, or forced to endure invasive gender exams -- competed in spite of endless challenges.

From Athens 1896 to Tokyo 2020, "Women and the Olympic Dream: The Continuing Struggle for Equality, 1896-2021" by Maria Kaj is remarkable history of women's participation in the Olympic Games and centers on female athletes who overcame entrenched inequity to gain inclusion.

Critique: Occasionally illustrated with black-and-white images and an absolutely fascinating and informative read bringing out of an undeserved obscurity the story of women in sports overcoming discrimination on the Olympic Games level, Women and the Olympic Dream: The Continuing Struggle for Equality, 1896-2021" is a singularly and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Women's Sports History collections in general, and Olympic Games History supplemental curriculum studies lists in particular. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Women and the Olympic Dream: The Continuing Struggle for Equality, 1896-2021" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.99).

Editorial Note: Maria Kaj is a blogger and the author of multiple books about the Olympic Games. Her Linked In entry can be found at

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations
Benedict Beckeld
Northern Illinois University Press
9781501763182, $32.95, HC, 264pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations", philosopher Benedict Beckeld explores oikophobia -- a word described by its coiner Sir Roger Scruton as "the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably 'ours,'" in its political and philosophical applications.

Beckeld analyzes the theories behind oikophobia along with their historical sources, revealing why oikophobia is best described as a cultural malaise that befalls civilizations during their declining days.

Beckeld also gives a framework for why today's society is so fragmented and self-critical. He demonstrates that oikophobia is the antithesis of xenophobia. By this definition, the riots and civil unrest in the summer of 2020 were an expression of oikophobia. Excessive political correctness that attacks tradition and history is an expression of oikophobia. Beckeld argues that if we are to understand these behaviors and attitudes, we must understand oikophobia as a sociohistorical phenomenon.

"Western Self-Contempt" is a systematic analysis of oikophobia, combining political philosophy and history to examine how Western civilizations and cultures evolve from naive and self-promoting beginnings to states of self-loathing and decline. Concluding with a philosophical portrait of an increasingly interconnected Western civilization, Beckeld reveals how past events and ideologies, both in the US and in Europe, have led to a modern culture of self-questioning and self-rejection.

Critique: Informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of a ten-page Epilogue (On Personal Freedom), twenty- four pages of Notes, and a nine page Index, "Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations" is a seminal study that will have a special appeal to students of European political philosophy and cultural anthropology. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Political Theory & Philosophy collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non- specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Benedict Beckeld holds a PhD in Philosophy and Classical Philology from the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He is the author of Die Notwendigkeit der Notwendigkeit, Art and Aesthetics, and Statements. He can be followed on Twitter @BenedictBeckeld

Cobblestones, Conversations, and Corks
Giovanni Ruscitti
Radius Book Group
9781635768176, $26.99, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: On November 11, 1943, the Nazis invaded Cansano, Italy, forcing its two thousand inhabitants to make a tough decision -- fight and be killed or surrender and be sent to a POW camp, or stay behind as servants to the Nazis, or move into the unforgiving mountains of Abruzzo while the Nazis used their village as a home base.

Giovanni Ruscitti's family chose the latter and spent the next few months living in horrendous winter conditions in the rugged mountains. When the war ended, they returned to a village so ravaged by the Nazis that, today, the town has less than two hundred citizens and remains in a dilapidated state.

"Cobblestones, Conversations, and Corks: A Son's Discovery of His Italian Heritage" is a deeply personal memoir in which Ruscitti visits Cansano for the first time with his family, including parents Emiliano and Maria. As he walks Cansano's cobblestones, his father's stories and life are illuminated by the town piazza, the steep valley, and the surrounding mountains. He relives the tales of his parents' struggles during World War II, their extreme post-war misery and poverty, their budding romance after, and their decision to immigrate to the US in search of the American Dream.

Ruscitti's memoir is not just an exploration of his homeland but reveals what family, culture, wisdom, and love really means. And what our heritage really tells us about who we are.

Critique: A deftly scripted, inherently engaging, and ultimately inspiring account of the impact of war upon a community and a family, "Cobblestones, Conversations, and Corks: A Son's Discovery of His Italian Heritage" is also a story of survival and immigration -- especially timely in today's denigration of the value and causes of immigrants to America by families seeking asylum from the horrors and aftermath of war, and for a better life for themselves and their children. A compelling read from cover to cover, and one that is also available in a paperback edition (9781635767964, $18.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99), "Cobblestones, Conversations, and Corks: A Son's Discovery of His Italian Heritage" is strongly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Biography & Memoir collections.

Editorial Note: Giovanni Ruscitti, Esq. is a first generation Italian-American who grew up in Frederick, Colorado, a small coal mining town that his parents and grandparents immigrated to in the 1950s and early 1960s. A nationally recognized attorney, arbitrator, and mediator, as well as a frequent speaker at national legal events, Giovanni is the Managing Partner of national law firm Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti, LLP. He holds a degree in Economics and a M.B.A from the University of Colorado, as well as a J.D. from Denver University. In 2022, he was named as one of the most influential business leaders in Colorado, and has served on numerous non-profit boards. He is currently the Chair of the Executive Committee of the Boulder Economic Council, on the Board of Directors of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, and a member of Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. Board of Governors.

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

Return of the Artisan
Grant McCracken
Simon Element
c/o Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781982143978, $27.99, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: In the 1950s, America was a world of immaculate grocery stores, brightly packaged consumer goods, relentless big brand advertising, homes that were much too clean, and diets so rich in salt, sugar, fat, and preservatives you nearly have a heart attack just thinking about them. And while this approach made a great fortune for large consumer packaged goods companies it has been detrimental to American's overall health and wellbeing.

Then, towards the end of the 20th century, Alice Waters and other pioneers figured out how to market natural, handmade, small-batch products to the American consumer again -- and the rest is American cultural history.

Now, we are in the third wave of a revolution. Thanks to COVID-19, millions of Americans went from being consumers of artisanal goods to being producers. People in the mainstream are baking bread, keeping bees, growing vegetables, and even raising chickens. Gardens are flourishing, workshops are growing, and sewing machines are whirring. Thousands have left the cities for the countryside, and if their companies don't require it, they might never return.

"Return of the Artisan: How America Went from Industrial to Handmade" by Grant McCracken is a collection of stories and interviews with artisanal businesses across America including family farms and collectives. "Return of the Artisan" explores their business models, their motivations, and explores how you can join them by turning your own hobby or passion into your work. Whether you want to make this a profession or simply enjoy providing artisanal goods to your family and friends, "Return of the Artisan" is an ideal reference for navigating the ups and downs of the latest artisanal revolution.

Critique: With a special and particular appeal to readers with an interest in the retail industry, the small business community, and the pandemic induced rise in DIY home-based economic and life-style activities, "Return of the Artisan: How America Went from Industrial to Handmade" is as informed and informative and it is thoughtful and thought- provoking. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99), "Return of the Artisan: How America Went from Industrial to Handmade" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary American Business Culture collections and supplemental curriculum studies syllabus.

Editorial Note: Grant McCracken is a cultural anthropologist who holds a PhD from the University of Chicago. He was the founder of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum, and a cofounder of the Artisanal Economies Project. Grant has taught at Harvard, the University of Cambridge, and MIT. He advises a wide variety of companies and individuals, including Google, Netflix, Nike, the Ford Foundation, Kanye West, the Boston Book Festival, and the White House. He has an informative web page on the Wikipedia website at

Curious Minds: The Power of Connection
Perry Zurn, author
Dani S. Bassett, author
The MIT Press
One Rogers Street, Cambridge MA 02142-1209
9780262047036, $27.95, HC, 312pp

Synopsis: An exhilarating, genre-bending exploration of curiosity's powerful capacity to connect ideas and people.

Curious about something? Google it. Look at it. Ask a question. But is curiosity simply information seeking? According to "Curious Minds: The Power of Connection" by academicians Perry Zurn and Dani S. Bassett, what's left out of the conventional understanding of curiosity are the wandering tracks, the weaving concepts, the knitting of ideas, and the thatching of knowledge systems -- the networks, the relations between ideas and between people. The message is that curiosity is a practice of connection: it connects ideas into networks of knowledge, and it connects knowers themselves, both to the knowledge they seek and to each other.

Zurn and Bassett (identical twins who write that their book "represents the thought of one mind and two bodies") harness their respective expertise in the humanities and the sciences to get irrepressibly curious about curiosity. Traipsing across literatures of antiquity and medieval science, Victorian poetry and nature essays, as well as work by writers from a variety of marginalized communities, they trace a multitudinous curiosity.

They identify three styles of curiosity: The busybody, who collects stories, creating loose knowledge networks; The hunter, who hunts down secrets or discoveries, creating tight networks; The dancer, who takes leaps of creative imagination, creating loopy ones.

Investigating what happens in a curious brain, they offer an accessible account of the network neuroscience of curiosity. And they sketch out a new kind of curiosity-centric and inclusive education that embraces everyone's curiosity. "Curious Minds: The Power of Connection" performs the very curiosity that it describes, inviting readers to participate -- to be curious with this book and not simply about it.

Critique: Informatively enhanced for the reader with an Appendix (A Curious Bestiary), thirty pages of Notes, and a twelve page Index, "Curious Minds: The Power of Connection" is an original, inherently fascinating, impressively well written, organized and presented study that is as thoughtfully insightful as it is intellectually provocative. Highly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Psychology collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of anyone with an interest in Cognitive Neuroscience & Neuropsychology, Consciousness & Thought Philosophy, and Medical Cognitive Psychology that "Curious Minds: The Power of Connection" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.99).

Editorial Note: Perry Zurn is Associate Professor of Philosophy at American University. He is the author of Curiosity and Power: The Politics of Inquiry. His twin sister, Dani S. Bassett, is the J. Peter Skirkanich Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. They are the author of more than 300 scientific research articles in neuroscience, physics, network science, and complex systems science.

Michael Dunford

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

Inventing Greenland: Designing an Arctic Nation
Bert De Jonghe, author
Mia M. Bennett, editor
Actar D
c/o Actar Publishers
440 Park Avenue S, 17th FL, New York, NY 10016
9781638409892, $34.95, PB, 160pp

Synopsis: Today, especially within architectural design discipline, there is a lack of understanding of Greenland as a complex constellation of perspectives, histories, and forces. With the publication of "Inventing Greenland: Designing an Arctic Nation", BertDe Jonghe (with the editorial assistance of Mia M. Bennett) aims to fill that knowledge vacuum.

Geared towards architects, landscape architects, and urban planners, "Inventing Greenland: Designing an Arctic Nation" combines spatial sensibilities with local cultural, social, and environmental realities. More specifically, spatial sensibility is a way of responding to and reading beyond a diverse array of relationships in the built environment. Furthermore, "Inventing Greenland: Designing an Arctic Nation" provides a broad understanding of a unique island undergoing intense transformation while drawing attention to its historical and current challenges and emerging opportunities.

Distinctly, each individual story comprising "Inventing Greenland: Designing an Arctic Nation" is anchored to a common thread and interest in architecture, landscape architecture, and urbanism. Such discourse may serve to prepare designers at large as they take on projects in a rapidly developing Arctic.

In the past, the extremeness of Greenland's landscape did not impede the first immigration of Inuit hunting tribes, Norsemen from becoming Greenland Vikings, and European explorers from searching for new trade routes and eventually reaching the North Pole. Every single one of them read, saw, and understood the Greenlandic landscape differently, while projecting their hopes and dreams onto new landscapes, seascapes, and icescapes.

As will become apparent, similar hopes and dreams of the early settlers and explorers continue in postcolonial times in a different set of actors, among them the U.S. military, foreign investors, and an Inuit-run government.

Critique: With a special appeal for readers with an interest in Regional Architecture, Vernacular Architecture, and Landscape Architecture, "Inventing Greenland: Designing an Arctic Nation" is impressively researched, written, organized and presented -- making it a unique and very highly recommended addition to college and university library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Inventing Greenland: Designing an Arctic Nation" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $20.95).

Editorial Note #1: Bert De Jonghe is a Belgian landscape architect, founder of Transpolar Studio, and a graduate student at Harvard University. He earned his Master of Landscape Architecture degree at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design after completing a Bachelor of Landscape and Garden Architecture at the School of Arts in Ghent. He has worked as a research assistant at Harvard GSD's Office for Urbanization and with landscape architecture office Bureau Bas Smets in Brussels. He has a dedicated website at

Editorial Note #2: Mia M. Bennett is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Hong Kong. Mia received a PhD in Geography from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, and an MPhil in Polar Studies from the University of Cambridge, where she was a Gates Scholar. She has published extensively in academic and public outlets and edits a long-running blog on the Arctic at

Oil, the State, and War: The Foreign Policies of Petrostates
Emma Ashford
Georgetown University Press
3240 Prospect Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
9781647122379, $34.95, HC, 365pp

Synopsis: In a world where oil-rich states are more likely to start war than their oil-dependent counterparts, it's surprising how little attention is still paid to these so-called petrostates. The wealth of these petrostates props up the global arms trade, provides diplomatic leverage, and allows them to support violent and nonviolent proxies.

With the publication of "Oil, the State, and War: The Foreign Policies of Petrostates", academician Emma Ashford explores the many potential links between domestic oil production and foreign policy behavior and how oil production influences global politics.

Not all petrostates have the same characteristics or capabilities. To help us conceptualize these differences, Ashford creates an original classification of three types of petrostates: oil-dependent states (those weakened by the resource curse), oil-wealthy states (those made rich by oil exports), and super-producer states (those that form the backbone of the global oil market).

Through a combination of case studies and analysis, Professor Ashford illustrates how oil shapes petrostates' behavior, filling a major gap in our understanding of the international implications of oil wealth. Experts have too often treated oil-rich states as passive objects, subject to the energy security needs of Western importing states. Instead, "Oil, the State, and War: The Foreign Policies of Petrostates" highlights the agency and power enjoyed by petrostates.

Critique: Informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of Illustrations (Figures/Tables), four Appendices (Methods and Measurements; Oil and Conflict; Military Spending and Arms Sales; Soft Power, Sanctions, and Oil), thirty- two pages of Notes, and a fourteen page Index, "Oil, the State, and War: The Foreign Policies of Petrostates" is a seminal study that will have special value for students, academia, governmental policy makers, peace activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject. While highly recommended for community, governmental, college, and university library Oil & Energy Policy and National & International Security collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that it is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $26.49).

Editorial Note: Emma Ashford is a senior fellow in the New American Engagement Initiative at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council and a nonresident fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. Her work focuses on questions of grand strategy, international security, and the future of US foreign policy. Ashford is a regular columnist for Foreign Policy, and a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has a dedicated web page on the Atlantic Council website at

Paul T. Vogel

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

Dead & Buried (Partners in Crime Book 1)
T.K. Eldridge
Graffridge Publishing
9798734129968, $10.99 paper
B08R6NDCZN, $0.00 ebook, 263 pages

Dead & Buried is a detective murder mystery with a paranormal twist. It is a solid police procedural but it is obvious that you need to look at the narration as a fun and not accurate read.

Detective Kennedy's partner Donovan is murdered. After Kennedy finds out what has happened, he decides to get a bit drunk. He gets mugged and while trying to recover Donovan's ghost starts appearing to him wanting him to solve his murder. Nearly everyone becomes a suspect as the investigation unfurls and attempts on Kennedy's life follow.

Dead & Buried is a nice escapist read with a very complex mesh of suspects. The detective ghost slant is an enjoyable addition in the detective genre. It is an easy recommendation for a mystery reader who wants something different.

ALTDORF: The Forest Knights: Book 1
J. K. Swift
UE Publishing Co.
9781468012903, $14.99 paper
B005TU1GKE, $2.99 ebook, 321pages

Altdorf is a fictional story about the founding of the area now known as Switzerland. In the Middle Ages, orphans were a commodity. The Hospitallers pick up a few hundred orphans from the region and take them to the Middle East turning them into warriors. Handfuls survive the years of war and are released from the Hospitallers. They decided to head back to their previous homes and into a rebellion which is building between the region and the kings ruling the region.

Altdorf doesn't overly romanticizes the dark history of royalty, commoners and peasants. But the story is still a contemporary fiction and bends the tale to a more modern feel. The single-minded acceptance of grotesque and subservient ideas is still common today but reading these ideas in a historical fiction makes them easier to accept.

Thomas Schwyzer is the leader of the small group of released warriors and tries to retire as a ferryman but, as a commoner, he is faced with the abuse from the local rulers and is forced back into his old profession.

Altdorf is a solid enjoyable historical tale that hints at possible underlying sources for the William Tell mythology. It has an ending but the threads of the storylines are not complete. It is an obvious book one in a series. I give Altdorf a mixed recommendation. History buffs will enjoy the story but it is dark tale. Many will be put off by the stark life of the commoners and the brutality.

S.A. Gorden
Senior Reviewer

Shelley Glodowski's Bookshelf

21st Century Courtesan (Books 1-5)
Pamela DuMond
Amazon Kindle
Pamela DuMond Media
B0B4HTJ772, $23.99

Pamela DuMond is the acclaimed bestselling author of the Annie Graceland Cozy Mysteries, Von Pumpernickle Cozy Mysteries, Mortal Beloved Time Travel Thrillers, and the 21st Century Courtesan Psychological Thrillers. Hailing originally from Chicago, she made her way to California. She was the driving force behind convincing movie producers to make Erin Brockovich. She and Erin are close friends. She was a chiropractor during her professional working career.

21st Century Courtesan is a collection of five books: The Player, The Movie Star, The Beloved, The Husband, and The Devoted Fan. The story is based around the life of Evie Berlinger, kindergarten teacher turned escort for the Ma Maison Agency, a high-end escort service. Evie's talents include being breathtakingly beautiful with empathic abilities. Her speciality at the agency? She fixes gorgeous billionaires who have run off the rails. Evie meets up with Dylan McAlister, poker player extraordinaire, in Book 1. Dylan, heir to the Lighthouse Cathedral, has lost his mojo and winning ways. Evie heals him and falls in love. In Book 2, Evie finds herself in Hollywood with dream man Jake Keller, and again uses her wiles to heal him. But in the meantime, Evie has a stalker. Could it be her mother's boyfriend who broke her own family? There are only hidden fan letters that act as clues. In the remaining three books, the fan gets crazier, and Evie finds herself being forced to come to terms with her own life and that of her mortal beloved.

Once you start reading 21st Century Courtesan, you're hooked. The books are beautifully written, with romantic scenes worthy of Outlander and Bridgerton. The plot is brilliant, sexy, and terrifyingly suspenseful. The characters are well drawn, hot and psychologically complicated. DuMond is a masterful writer with a keen imagination. The reader will be drawn in, wrung out, and thoroughly satisfied. An astounding read, and great entertainment!

Shelley Glodowski
Senior Reviewer

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