Return to home
page Book Reviews, Book Lover Resources, Advice for Writers and Publishers
Home / Reviewer's Bookwatch

Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 10, Number 4 April 2010 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Bethany's Bookshelf Buhle's Bookshelf
Burroughs' Bookshelf Carson's Bookshelf Christy's Bookshelf
Clark's Bookshelf Daniel's Bookshelf Debra's Bookshelf
Edward's Bookshelf Erica's Bookshelf Gary's Bookshelf
Georganna's Bookshelf Gloria's Bookshelf Gorden's Bookshelf
Harwood's Bookshelf Janie's Bookshelf Jennifer's Bookshelf
Jessica's Bookshelf Karyn's Bookshelf Logan's Bookshelf
Margaret's Bookshelf Molly's Bookshelf Nicole's Bookshelf
Peggy's Bookshelf Ramsey's Bookshelf Regis' Bookshelf
Richard's Bookshelf Riva's Bookshelf Sandra's Bookshelf
Suzie's Bookshelf Theodore's Bookshelf Victoria's Bookshelf

Reviewer's Choice

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Helen Simonson
Allen Unwin
PO Box 8500, 83 Alexander Street, NSW 2065, Australia
9781742371849 AU$32.99
Random House
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, NY, NY 10019
9781400068937, $25.00,

Ann Skea, Reviewer

"A modern love-story" says the blurb. But this book is more than that, and no brief description captures the freshness, the humour, and the sheer energy and variety with which Helen Simonson has shaped it. As well as a wonderfully dramatic adventure and an hilarious and disastrous village ball, she has woven in plenty of things to think about. The conflicts created for her characters by the casual bigotry, class-discrimination and racism of ordinary and very nice people; the struggle to reconcile old traditions with modern materialism; a glimpse of family conflicts and the misunderstanding arising from the generation gap; and the common dreams of companionship and freedom which all of us share, no matter how old we are: all these are part of the mix. Simonson's greatest achievement, however, is to make her main characters wonderfully fallible, complex, sensitive, stubborn, sharp and intelligent human beings, so that we feel for them and with them, and rejoice when they behave like a mythical hero and heroine and follow their impossible dream, to the outrage of their families and the censure and disapproval of society in general.

From the moment that sixty-eight-year-old Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) answers the doorbell wearing a clematis-patterned housecoat, it is clear that he is not your usual romantic hero. Nor is Mrs Jasmina Ali, the Muslim owner of the village Supersaver Supermart (the name says much about recent changes in village England), your run-of-the mill heroine. Both are strong, outspoken, independent characters with a wry sense-of-humour and a sometimes caustic wit, and both have lost a loved spouse in recent years and have adapted to a solitary life. Neither is looking for romance but a friendship with someone who shares their love of literature would certainly be acceptable.

Major Pettigrew (he is almost always 'Major', just as Jasmina is almost always 'Mrs Ali') has decided views on "honour, duty, decorum and a properly brewed cup of tea". The society in which he lives is a conventional English village society, almost a caricature of such a place, and his position in it is established and taken-for-granted. Mrs Ali, is a fifty-six-year-old, English born, Urdu-speaking widow, whose Indian relatives are starting to exert pressure on her to behave as a traditional Indian widow should, allow the men to take charge, and retire into the family to look after an elderly relative. Circumstancs bring them together and friendship blossoms. But circumstances, relatives and the expectations of others also part them. The course of true love never did run smooth, as they say, but modern society seems able to throws more twists and turns into the course than might be expected and Simonson exploits a surprising range of them.

There are many different character is this book and some, especially the Americans in the story, are very close to caricature, but generally, all the characters are given a human side which saves them from being shallow stereotypes. Simonson is good, too, as suggesting underlying tensions without spelling them out. Altogether, she handles the story with great skill and although she does not tell us the final outcome of the adventurous romance she allows us to dream on, happily convinced that love may, indeed, conquer all.

The advertising material sent to reviewers of this book suggests that if readers enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society, which was published by the same publishers who are handling Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, then they will enjoy this book. They are very different books, but both treat the reader as intelligent, both deal with more than romance, and both are fresh and interesting first novels.

The Gamble
Thomas E. Ricks
The Penguin Press
c/o The Penguin Group, Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9781594201974, $27.95,

G. Richard Bozarth

"The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008" is Thomas Ricks' second book about the Iraq War. His first was Fiasco in 2006. Gamble is a happier book than Fiasco, which was about all the wrong things W. Bush and his gang and the U.S. military did to turn the successful regime change into a quagmire that has cost over 4,300 U.S. KIAs, 31,000 WIAs (many thousands of them permanently physically damaged), and over $1,000,000,000,000 in direct and indirect spending. Gamble is about the changes in strategy and tactics that have corrected those terrible mistakes - well, at least the military ones.

Ricks obviously enjoyed writing about the Surge. It is a story of a faction of U.S. military leaders who knew the U.S. had to change what it was doing in Iraq to prevent defeat. They overcame the stubborn opposition in the Pentagon and White House with cunning and persistence, though they could not have done it without Iraq deteriorating so badly that even the Bush 2 Gang had to admit they had been wrong about Iraq in about every way possible except for how easily Saddam Hussein could be tossed out of Baghdad. Ricks obviously deeply admires these commanders and the members of their staffs that deserve their fair share of the credit.

Gamble begins with the Haditha Massacre that happened on 19 November 2005. The Marines who murdered women, children, and one old man in a wheelchair signaled to the Surge's creators that the U.S. troops in Iraq were suffering psychological degradation in a war that supposedly had been won on 9 April 2003 and now was a terribly dangerous tunnel without a light at its end. The troops had also become hostile towards and alienated from the people they were supposed to be protecting after having liberated them, an attitude encouraged by the callous indifference to collateral damage most U.S. commanders had. The Surge was as much about saving the U.S. military as it was saving the Iraq War.

The second event essential to the creation and launching of the Surge happened on 22 February 2006. Sunni insurgents blew up the Golden Dome Mosque in Samarra. This is one of the most important Shi'a shrines. The sectarian civil war that had been going on at a low level suddenly exploded into catastrophe that threatened to demolish Iraq. B2G's state of denial was massively invaded by violent reality, and U.S. support for the war, which now looked hopeless, evaporated. However, there was one more necessary event before W. Bush could be persuaded to give the Surge a chance. After Election 2006 gave the Democrats control of Congress and it was brutally obvious that anti-war sentiment fueled voter rage against the Republican Party, even W. Bush understood the futile tactics and strategy in Iraq had to be changed. The Surge's creators were ready with a solution to the problem and he was persuaded to allow them to launch the Surge.

Ricks describes the origin and implementation of the Surge. He gives credit to Gen. Raymond Odierno as its "biological parent". In fact, Odierno is obviously Ricks's favorite and his book has as one of its missions to give Odierno the credit he deserves. "Without question, Odierno hasn't gotten the public recognition he deserves, not only for his role in developing and implementing the surge, but also for his overall adaptation to the Iraq war. If the ability to adjust effectively in wartime is the measure of generalship, then Odierno has come further than any other American general in the war and is as successful as any of them, including Petraeus." What he is referring to as "overall adaptation" is the fact that, when he commanded the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq in 2003-4, Odierno was one of the best examples of why the Iraq War became a fiasco.

The other Surge creator who also has not gotten the credit he deserves in Retired Gen. Jack Keane, who realized the Joint Chiefs of Staff were paralyzed by the debacle in Iraq. He stepped into the vacuum created by their incompetence and indecision and for a while was the unofficial chairman of the JCS. He was primarily responsible for putting Odierno and Petraeus in their commands in Iraq. He was a contributing architect of the Surge, helping Odierno and also the American Enterprise Institute (the neo-con think tank where "the 2003 invasion of Iraq arguably was conceived") construct the Surge, and then selling it to W. Bush. Ricks calls him the "spiritual godfather" of the Surge. The third most important Surge creator, Petraeus, deserves plenty of credit, but not as much as he has been given. Ricks calls him the Surge's "adoptive father".

The creation of the Surge was more interesting than the part of the book that describes the Surge after it was launched, probably because all that material is so familiar to any person who viewed or read the news stories about it. Ricks provides many details and quotes from a lot of the people who helped Petraeus and Odierno make the Surge work, yet none of it felt like new revelations. All of it was interesting, yet none of it seemed to be an important contribution to my understanding of the Iraq War. A reader who had not paid such close attention to the Surge as it happened would probably not have that same reaction.

A significant flaw in the book is insufficient content about the Iraq government and security forces. The strategy of the Surge, which after all was intended to end the war in a way that can be called victory, depended heavily on how Iraq's government performed - actually, reformed - and how soon and how competently Iraq's security forces could defend the nation against the insurgency and control the criminals who have become a threat almost as dangerous as the insurgents. Ricks does offer content on this, but it is insufficiently detailed. Without adequate analysis of Iraq's government and security forces, Gamble is only a U.S.-centered history of the Surge.

Ricks also never points out that the Surge was not fully tested because it did not face a united insurgency. News stories about the Surge gave the impression that the Sunni rebellion against Al-Qaeda in Iraq began when they were seduced by Petraeus and his commanders after the Surge started. The Awakening Council was created by Sunni sheikhs before the Surge. Fifty of them met in Ramadi on 9 September 2006 in response to a call by Sheikh Sittar abu-Risha. This was after the Army's 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division under Col. Sean MacFarland took over the U.S. mission there. MacFarland was bold enough to try using the counterinsurgency tactics that later were used in all of Iraq after the Surge was launched. The Sunni sheikhs were some of the many who had turned against Al-Qaeda in Iraq when that group redefined itself. No longer would it be a group of Sunni mujahideen fighting the foreign occupiers and the Shi'a. Al-Qaeda in Iraq wants to be the arbiter of how Islam is practiced as a religion and lived as a culture like the Wahhabi sect is in Saudi Arabia and the Taliban had been in Afghanistan. The sheikhs who didn't submit became enemies to be eliminated, which motivated them to quit the insurgency and become U.S. allies. This was amazingly stupid of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, but surely the most important reason why the Surge worked as well and as quickly as it did. The anti-al-Qaeda tribes made an important cultural dynamic work for the U.S. instead of against it. Ricks calls it "the tribal vengeance structure" and the switching of sides meant that "where Americans once had been the target of Iraqis seeking revenge, now they were helping direct that impulse against al Qaeda and its allies in the insurgency." It also means we will never know if the Surge would have succeeded tactically in Iraq against the full insurgency or, if it would have succeeded tactically, how long it would have taken.

Did the Surge succeed strategically? Ricks does not think so. "The surge campaign was effective in many ways, but the best grade it can be given is a solid incomplete. It succeeded tactically but fell short strategically. There is no question that the surge was an important contributor to the reduction in violence in Iraq and perhaps the main cause of that improvement. Buts its larger purpose had been to create a breathing space that would then enable Iraqi politicians to find a way forward and that hadn't happened. As 2008 proceeded, not only were some top Iraqi officials not seizing the opportunity, some were regressing...What's more, some of the country's political tensions were worsening, most notably between Arabs and Kurds over oil and the status of Kirkuk." Another dynamic that did not and still has not improved is one of the major reasons why the U.S. lost the Vietnam War: government corruption.

He finishes the book with a dismal view of Iraq's future. If the U.S. ends its involvement in Iraq, he does not believe Iraq will be a stable, secular democracy that is a good ally of the U.S. Iran will probably be the foreign nation that wins the Iraq War. Most likely Iraq will be a dictatorship under Muqtada al-Sadr or an Iraqi general. There will be more slaughter because Sunnis do not want to be ruled by Shi'a and Kurds do not want to be ruled by Arabs and both are all too willing to fight to prevent submission to a government they hate. If the U.S. does not want any of this to happen, the only way to prevent it is maintaining sufficient U.S. troops in Iraq to do it, continuing to spend billions of U.S. dollars annually, and using the influence both give to U.S. diplomacy to apply the pressure needed for as long as it takes to get Iraq's government to reform itself. If the U.S. wants to win in Iraq, its military, economic, and political commitments to that wretched nation will have to continue for decades. The only U.S. readers who will be gung-ho for that scenario are those who are employees and/or shareholders of the corporations that have enjoyed making tons of profit from the Iraq War.

The Gamble is a good book even though not as good as it could have been. Any person who is interested in the history of the Iraq War will not regret reading it.

A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir
Elena Gorokhova
Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Avenues, NY, NY 10020
9781439125670, $26.00,

Mary Crocco

A Mountain of Crumbs is an extraordinary memoir of Elena Gorokhova. Elena was born in former Leningrad, Russia, and grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia. The story of Elena's life is written as an honest, fascinating, historical, Russian novel. As readers enjoy sharing the day to day struggles and real life discoveries of Elena, along with her family and friends, we also learn historical facts and knowledge of Russia.

The title originates from Elena's childhood of poverty; Elena's grandmother invented the crumb game. With stomachs growling and making do with a piece of black bread and a cube of sugar, she broke the bread and sugar with her fingers saying, "Look at how much you've got, a whole mountain of crumbs."

This began Elena's disillusion regarding her country's deprivation and oppression. She felt in her heart there must be a better life beyond Russia. This is the journey Elena takes her readers on with every chapter being a new age which brings enlightenment to Elena.

There is a passion for the English language that allows Elena to reach her goal of leaving Russia. She educates herself regarding the collective vs. capitalism. It is a wonderful read to see Elena succeed and immigrate to the U.S.

I recommend this book, A Mountain of Crumbs, by Elena Gorokhova to all readers. However; I would have liked a glossary of the Russian vocabulary Elena included in her memoir. Also, the Epilogue is a mere three pages and does not do justice to my curiosity about Elena's new life in the U.S. I am thinking and hoping a sequel may be the reason for this. This book possesses all the elements of an informative text and a great story.

Snake River Slaughter
William W. Johnstone with J. A. Johnstone
c/o Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018
9780786021291, $5.99,

A.H. Holt

Snake River Slaughter is the fifth book in the 'Last Mountain Man' series about Matt Jensen, adopted son of mountain man Smoke Jensen a character beloved by Johnstone fans. Living true to Smoke Jensen's teaching, Matt wanders the west always looking over the next horizon. Occasionally wearing a badge, but always operating on the side of the law, Matt has become so famous dime novels are published with him as hero.

This story immediately demonstrates Matt's character and abilities by following his capture and eventual killing of two brothers who murdered a friend, his wife and two small children to steal their money. A story about this exploit appeared in the Boise, Idaho Statesman, increasing Matt's fame and announcing his location.

When a girl Matt remembered as Katherine from when they were in the orphanage together asks for his help, Matt and his gun are ready. Kitty Wellington's husband recently died, willing her ownership of Coventry on the Snake, 20,000 acres of prime ranch land. She is striving to build a thriving horse ranch.

Marcus Kincaid was Thomas Wellington's stepson and expected to inherit the ranch. Angry and determined to wrest the property away from Kitty by any means, he buys her note at the bank and hires Poke Terrell a member of an auxiliary police group from Boise to prevent her selling horses to pay the note so he can foreclose.

When Matt Jensen kills Poke Terrell and his minions, Kincaid travels to Boise and hires the entire Idaho Auxiliary Peace Officers Posse, a private police group famous for twisting the law and ruling by the gun. The posse takes over the little town of King Hill, drives residents out of the hotel so they can have the rooms and eventually kills the sheriff.

Under cover of a trumped up charge that Kitty is violating an obscure law, Colonel Clay Sherman, leader of the posse and sixteen uniformed men with badges set out to stop Kitty from selling horses her to the army in time to pay the note Kincaid holds. These men are tough and brutal, without any regard for human life, but they soon find that Matt Jensen not only stands by his friends, he is more than this private police force can handle.

This story moves quickly, leading the reader smoothly from scene to scene with plenty of suspense to keep the pages turning. Matt Jensen and the other main characters, Kitty Wellington, Poke Terrell, Colonel Sherman and Marcus Kincaid, are well-drawn and complete, fitting well in
this story of a rip-roaring battle for justice.

Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision
N. T. Wright
IVP Academic
PO Box 1400, Downer's Grove, Ill
9780830838639, $25.00,

James Korsmo

Justification is one of the core doctrines of the Christian faith, concerning how one is made right before God, and in both evangelical and more mainline circles it has been contested territory for a generation or more. N. T. Wright is one of the giants of biblical studies today, with broad recognition in both academic and in more popular circles, with an important multi-volume series from Fortress Press, Christian Origins and the Question of God, and with a string of popular presentations of important facets of the Christian faith, Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, and After You Believe, all from HarperOne. He is also important because of his rather unique ability to attract admirers and detractors from across the theological spectrum. With his keen insight into Paul, both building on his past work and in anticipation of his forthcoming academic work on the Apostle, this important work zeroing in on the doctrine of justification is one for which I eagerly awaited. And Justification is truly a book to be reckoned with. It is a comprehensive (though, as the author admits, not exhaustive) statement of the place of justification in Paul's thought, and I find myself far more appreciative than anything for this carefully reasoned book.

Wright begins by laying out some important groundwork for the present book by locating it especially within the evangelical conversation concerning the classical "Reformed" view of justification, especially as espoused by John Piper (whose recent book, The Future of Justification, was a sustained critique of Wright's perspective particularly on this issue), and locating his views with reference to the new perspective on Paul, of which Wright could be considered one of the primary contemporary proponents, though he seeks to provide "fresh" perspectives that move beyond what is often termed the "new" perspective. I'd like to proceed in a thematic way by extending some words of appreciation and interest toward a couple of Wright's major themes.

Clearly, the largest idea that Wright advocates is locating of the doctrine of justification, and the understanding of the "righteousness of God," firmly within the context of covenant. He describes God's righteousness as God's covenant faithfulness, and, more specifically, God's faithfulness to the one-plan-through-Israel-to-the-world. The problem that God addresses in the Messiah is that Israel has failed in its part of the plan, to be God's instrument in and to the world, so the plan becomes one-plan-through-the-faithful-Israelite-to-the-world, as Jesus the Messiah becomes the instrument of God's work in and to the world, fulfilling God's covenant plans, demonstrating God's faithfulness to the covenant with Abraham even though it seemed to be foiled by sin.

Wright seeks not to upend the traditional Reformation emphases of justification by faith, God's grace, forgiveness of sins, but instead to locate them in the broader, deeper, and what he asserts to be more truly Pauline story of God's covenant and God's covenant people. He writes,

"Justification by faith - God's declaration in the present time that all those who believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, all those who confess him as Lord, are true members in the renewed covenant, and are assured thereby of final salvation - belongs inextricably . . . within the framework of Paul's vision of God's single plan of salvation, through Israel and hence through Israel's Messiah, for the sake of all the nations and ultimately for the whole cosmos." (247)

I think there can be no doubt that Wright has illumined some of the questions that were clearly on Paul's mind, and has demonstrated a certain logic, especially about Israel, that helps to fill out much that is right but incomplete in traditional thinking. He also stresses repeatedly that much of the "old perspective" is right and true, just as he often distances himself from or modifies the "new perspective" take, seeking to move beyond both to a more complete theology of Paul that incorporates both the sin-salvation and one-people-of-God facets into a more robust way of thinking.

Another interesting facet to Wright's argument concerns present justification and future judgment. He asserts, very clearly, that justification entails a present verdict that someone (or, maybe more properly, some people) are in the right with God, have achieved the status of righteous/righteousness. The second thing he discusses, at some length, is how this relates to the final judgment. Wright proposes that present justification corresponds to the future verdict of righteousness, but that the two aren't the same. The final verdict, as Romans 2 makes clear, is based on being "doers" of the law. But, and here is the pivotal move for Wright, this doesn't mean a return to the merit theology of the Medieval era, or a works righteousness, but it does mean living a new life enslaved not to the law and sin but to righteousness. This obviously raises some important questions, both about how we in fact live a life that attains this final verdict and how we know it - in short, the question of assurance. This is the topic Paul takes up in Romans 5 to 8, in explaining how the "verdict already announced is indeed a true anticipation of the verdict yet to be announced" (225). The answer for Paul, according to Wright, is the Spirit. It is the Spirit "who makes that victory [of Jesus Christ and of the Father's love triumphing in his Son's death] operative in our moral lives and who enables us to love God in return" (239).

So much more could be said about this insightful and wide-ranging book. It is highlighted not only by his insightful restatement of the doctrine of justification but also by two chapters that provide a sustained and systematic reading of Romans and Galatians, to see how Paul's logic in those two central letters, as interpreted by Wright, informs the doctrine.

Wright has clearly taken the arguments back to Paul and sought to show how fresh readings of the original texts of Scripture can bring new light. His writing is always well-crafted and clear, and he does an admirable job of presenting his arguments at a level that appeal to an interested general reader in addition to those more thoroughly versed in the current debates within biblical studies. It certainly remains to be seen which of his readings will win the day, but there is without doubt much of value in the overall framework he proposes, especially of setting the gospel in the larger framework of God's work in the world. I look forward to seeing where this conversation goes in the future.

Hot Issues and Cool Choices
Sandra McLeod Humphrey, author
Brian Strassberg, illustrator
Prometheus Books
59 John Glen Dr., Amherst, NY 14228-21109
9781591025696 $14.98,

Joe L. Blevins

HOT ISSUES and COOL CHOICES by Sandra McLeod Humphrey's recent book has some thought provoking issues raised for today's youth. Ms. Humphrey is a clinical psychologist with a book that provides scenarios and suggestions on how to deal with the tough issues faced by today's youth. Parents, teachers, grandparents, and students will find insightful details on dealing with bullies, peer pressure, popularity, and often how a child will feel left out of 'clicks' of certain groups of popular kids. These things have always been a problem, but it seems that certain media such as popular television shows portray mean-spirited action, and vengeance filled attitudes as being acceptable. This premise is often portrayed as normal behavior as this is to be pushed off as this is to be 'expected' as a part of growing up. Even so, it is not so easy, as often parents find that life is tougher today than 'when they were children.' Every generation has its own specific problems. The question is: 'how do we best deal with these issues?' We need some answers and we need them quick!

HOT ISSUES and COOL CHOICES gives us a glimpse into the lives of some students of the fictional Emerson Elementary. The school may be fictional, but their problems are not. A person can walk into any town, into any school, or go do any street and see where life takes a young person these days. The students experience many scenarios and solutions are offered with how to best deal with the issues portrayed. They are often very insightfully detailed and many times these events have marked a person for the rest of their life. At the end of each chapter there are questions called 'More to Think About' and 'Trading Places' where the shoe is literally put on the other foot. Characters then trade places and change to the opposite roles. Important issues are covered carefully. These are: rumor mongers, physical and sexual harassment, exclusion, retaliation, name calling, dealing with suicidal thoughts, cyber bullies, and a number of other issues that children face. Having some thoughtful answers is something that a parent can't get enough of. This book should be required reading as part of a junior high curriculum.

September University
Charles D. Hayes
Autodidactic Press
P.O. Box 872749, Wasilla, Alaska 99687
9780962197970 $16.95.

Lois Henderson, Reviewer

Self Education is the Key to Worthwhile Aging

To sum up your entire approach in an equation takes guts, and that is exactly what Charles D. Hayes has plenty of. "September University: Summoning Passion for an Unfinished Life" is an aspirational work, based on the author's assumption that "age + curiosity × attitude = a greater quality of life and hope for humanity".

Whether you agree with Hayes' Democratic standpoint or not, September University is bound to arouse the desire of any reader who is thoughtful about their future, and about that of the world around them, to embark on a lively discussion of pertinent topics. His work is wide-ranging in scope, encompassing the fields of culture, economics, education, politics and philosophy. No matter what the issue, he probes it in provocative depth, supporting his arguments by drawing on acknowledged experts in the field. His arguments are based on a pragmatic understanding of the world in which he lives, rather than a manifestation of indulgence in rhetoric for its own sake.

Hayes disputes the value of securing a higher education, when all that emerges from the over-priced traditional system is credentialed individuals who are immediately submerged in a consumer-driven society. In contrast, he urges his readers to consider and be aware of their environs, as well as the hype to which they are made subject on a daily basis. He argues in favor of an existential education, expressing his hope that "this book provides a good start not only in helping you make insightful progress in existential matters, but also in helping you embody the kind of living example that inspires others to do so as well".

Despite the work being largely geared towards a consideration of the developed world, Hayes' consideration of such issues as democracy and culture has a great deal of relevance to those in the developing world as well. Though he inveighs against terrorists, such as those responsible for the 9/11 disaster, he lays the blame for not being alert to the warning signs of such an onslaught on the neglect of issues of national interest in favor of over-commercialization in the media. His assertiveness of approach propels the reader into taking a stance in relation to his clearly stated arguments. In labeling terrorists as criminals, for example, he exposes himself fearlessly to criticism - in fact, it is Hayes' very fearlessness that sets him free to pinpoint the major failings of contemporary society.

September University is logically arranged, and effectively signposted with incisive headings, clearly indicating the major topics discussed throughout the work. The extensive sixteen-page long bibliography directs the reader towards other leading works in the field of personal and public awareness. The reader should also be aware that September University is the latest in a phalanx of other worthwhile and thought-provoking texts that Hayes has produced in the past, including The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning and Beyond the American Dream: Lifelong Learning and the Search for Meaning in a Postmodern World. The twelve-page index to September University is both comprehensive and insightful, as well as appropriately cross-referenced.

Though his work is geared towards the older generation, all who are involved with 50+ baby boomers stand to benefit from the perspective that is granted by such a mature outlook on life. Hayes argues in favor of courtesy and mutual respect between all those in a society, no matter their background. If you come away from your reading of this insightful text without an enhanced respect for the older generation, you have only yourself to blame.

Paul A. Toth
Bleak House Books
1524 South Commercial Street, 3N, Neenah, WI 54956
1932557091, $12.95,

Mitchell Waldman

Fishnet, by Paul A. Toth, is a story about a marriage falling apart which parallels the story of the deterioration of the small California town of Mercy, in which the couple - Maurice and Sheila - live. Maurice is an artist who inherited money from his father and is obsess

sed in his attempts to capture an image of his wife, the Sheila he used to know. He has a habit of escaping reality, hearing voices talking to him, voices that come in the form and shape of various persons, real and imagined. Both Sheila and Maurice are trying to reconnect with the people they used to be and the relationship they used to have. Meanwhile, the small California town where they live is falling about, on the verge of bankruptcy. A cast of colorful characters converge to try to save the town, just as Maurice attempts to salvage his marriage.

Paul Toth is a unique, inventive writer who, in Fishnet, tells a Vonnegutian-type tale. His writing is fresh and his tale is one that keeps the pages turning. What will become of Sheila and Maurice, who waffles between reality and the fantasy world he takes refuge in? What will become of the small town and its people, who we are shown glimpses of in the book? There is an assorted cast of characters - Holly, Sheila's closest friend, Uncle Albert, who is in love with a younger woman from Norway, Phipps, the rock star, Ray Pulaski, the security guard, and .the father and sons who diverge on Mercy to stage the fireworks show that is part of the town officials' scheme to save the town from financial ruin with a huge Fourth of July celebration.

Fishnet is a quirky tale that wanders between reality and fantasy and one that will keep you riding the wave of the impending disaster that is headed for Maurice, Sheila, and the entire town of Mercy, until the very last page.

The Maverick Room
Thomas Sayers Ellis
Graywolf Press
2402 University Avenue, Suite 203, St. Paul, MN 55114
1555974147, $14.00,

Rick Marlatt, Reviewer

Igniting the Groove: Thomas Sayers Ellis's The Maverick Room

Thomas Sayers Ellis's sonic-driven collection of poems, The Maverick Room, functions as an artistic and topographic exploration of society and the poetics which celebrate that existence. Ellis's structure is as dynamically diverse as his underlying theme of geography which he infuses into his entire collection. While many of Ellis's lines splash over the page interspersing unique caesura and line breaks, as in "Stalking Another Man's Hands," and progress through enumerated thought fragments with "Sir Nose D'VoidofFunk," Ellis also demonstrates a thoroughly honed, effective mastery at more formal structures, which he exhibits in "Atomic Bride" and "Kiss in the Dark." The sections of the book, themselves, are arranged according to intermediate directions, an element that accentuates the atmosphere of direction. Through a range of subjects including family, death, and the power of music and sound, Ellis explores geography of the self, ("Practice," "My Autopsy," and "My Own-Stones") childhood, ("View-Master," "Sticks," and "Fatal April") the neighborhood, ("Break of Dawn," "Block Party," and "Tambourine Tommy") nostalgic objects, ("Tapes," "A Pack of Cigarettes," and "Photograph of Dr. Funkenstein") and the nation's consciousness. ("Bright Moments" "Baptist Beat," and "View of the Library of Congress from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School")

"Cowbell" is an exemplary piece to study in that an investigation of its form and process indicates how Ellis's poems operate so vibrantly on so many different levels. The poem's topic reveals Ellis's fascination with the tactility of inanimate, yet powerfully symbolic objects. The first stanza of four beautifully constructed quatrains states: "You're how we found the Maverick Room, / The Cave Yard, The Black Hole, and block parties / In hard-to-find inner-city neighborhoods / With names like Congress Heights and Valley Green." (52) As the speaker pays tribute to the cowbell with personal reflections, we see Ellis broaden out from individualized meaning into commemorating descriptions of place and community. And as the piece continues in the second stanza, Ellis coordinates the layout of the speaker's memory with that of the neighborhood and the composition of memory: "You're the real McCoy, / What we used to used to teach timid beginners to hit back. / When the power went out and you gathered kin, / A family discussion of percussion." (52) The physicality of Ellis's locations both external and internal shifts to a focus on the human connection and reaction to this stimuli. This transition is marked by a keen attention to rhythm and rhyme.

The third stanza builds on this newly generated momentum: "Tambourine, vibra-slap, ratchet. / We met reaching into the same pocket. / Agreed a crowded one is equivalent to sin. / Sticks can't harm the real you." (52) Ellis's vivid musicality and imagery is enhanced by his uncanny ability to breathe myth into the ordinary, a skill he returns to in many pieces throughout the book. Ellis culminates "Cowbell" with a final, moving endearment: You're what gets heard, / A prayer above crowd noise and soul. / Down-to-earth, hardheaded, hollow, loud. / I know your weak spots. You know mine." (52) As Ellis brings his creative homage to a close, he tightens the speaker's pacing, a move which forces the reader to focus in on the final moments of the poem. Ellis leads us to the final destination of this remarkable journey in which we end up at the point of its origin, in the perspective and personality of the speaker. Through this lyrical memory crossing, Ellis has created a memorable exchange of consciousnesses, an aspect of his poetics which serves as a microcosm of the entire text.

"Grooveallegiance" is another significant piece in The Maverick Room, as it showcases Ellis's innovative composition and of the political poem. In this free-flowing fountain of hip-hop harmony, Ellis explores the myth of the American institution. The poem begins, "A Dream. A democracy. A savage liberty. / And yet another anthem and yet another heaven / and yet another party wants you." (116) By initiating the piece with a litany of paradoxes, Ellis is summoning the entire spectrum of perspectives on the American experience. After beginning the poem with universal interpretation, Ellis then narrows the speaker's voice inward, offering personal reactions and relationships cemented and severed by American philosophies. Ellis consistently fuses poetic elements such as onomatopoeia, assonance, consonance, alliteration, and personification together with his recurring themes of liberty, survival, and geography, and presents with amazingly accessible musicality. Ellis ends with "I owe roots and books to groundwork's underground crosstalk / of African Telephone Churches. / All one all one all one, star-spangled funky." (120) Ellis celebrates the American groove by conjuring the communicative voices and experiences of a nation by surveying the geography of the political landscape with a carefully orchestrated style that is urban, literary, and swift, and a tempo that gives way to the spoken word. Always attentive and truth-seeking, Ellis's voice is carried by a hopeful tone and playful phrasing. This poem, like the book it embodies, is an elaborate, prosodic framework connected by individual links of heritage, voice, and intellect.

The Maverick Room's author and architect, Thomas Sayers Ellis, is a gracious, gifted guide who leads us through the dark streets of our humanity, and sets fire to our desire to understand that existence. His torch is bright, his craft is cunning, and his prosody illuminates what is simultaneously alive and historic in contemporary American poetics. Ellis is at the forefront of what correlates the significance of our past with the hopefulness of our future, and his poetry demonstrates a need for that understanding. As he states in "Balloon Dog," Ellis is a vital voice in "what goes / pop & / art."

Bethany's Bookshelf

Gloria Barltrop
Aventine Press
750 State St., #319, San Diego, CA 92101
Epic Book Promotions (publicity)
594 Serrano Lane, Chula Vista, CA 91910
1593305451, $15.50

Being able to fling spells is good and all until you throw in inexperience on top of it. "Omatarah: The Blue Dragon Legacy" tells the story of Annie, as the young fifteen year old girl gets an abrupt introduction to the worlds of mystical creatures. And on top of all that, she needs to save the world in an endless stream of trying to make the world work. "Omatarah" is a choice pick for young fantasy readers, recommended.

Journey Beckons
Kileen Prather
Privately Published
9781934666562, $15.95,

Hopes and dreams never truly die, but are pushed to the side. "Journey Beckons" tells the tale of Cassie as she finds herself in the city of Seattle where her already quite lived life may be going another direction. Faced with her own health concerns and her own husband devastated by his own depression, her life seems grim. But when she meets Ryan, her life may radically change and she has little idea of what the future will bring her when romance sparks once more. "Journey Beckons" is a fine read many women will relish and relate to.

The Black Hand of God
R. S. Basi
Privately Published
c/o PR/PR Public Relations (publicity)
775 South Kirkman Road, Suite 104, Orlando, FL 32811
9780984147403, $15.95,

Exploitation can only continue for so long. "The Black Hand of God" is a take on the story of Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita. Following a story where one woman stands against the rampant abuse of Africa's land and faith were being used and run to oblivion by European powers, one woman gave some African lands the power to resist. "The Black Hand of God" is a riveting dramatization of a key continental Africa religious icon.

Healing and Transformation Through Self-Guided Imagery
Leslie Davenport
Celestial Arts
PO Box 7123, Berkeley, CA 94707
9781587613241, $15.95,

Trauma is a powerful thing, and people need to be powerful to conquer it. "Healing and Transformation Through Self-Guided Imagery" is a guide for readers who want to face down their tragedy and use the power of their own spirit and mind to overcome it. Self-guided imagery is a device one can use to enhance any self-improvement pursuit one may take, and Leslie Davenport does well in explaining it. "Healing and Transformation Through Self-Guided Imagery" is a top pick that should not be missed.

Decorating with God
Jan Scurlock
Tate Publishing & Enterprises
127 E. Trade Center Terrace, Mustang, OK 73064
9781615662494, $11.99,

Faith can be applied to many things, even how one decorates their home. "Decorating with God: An Inspiring New Way to Decorate" delves into how bringing a little bit of God into one's home can lighten up one's life. Christian Feng Shui is Jan Scurlock's goal, and through her writing, she will give many tips and tricks to make a home that much more Christian and faith inspiring. "Decorating with God" is not one to be missed for Christians planning a bit of sprucing up around the house.

The Saving of Aris
Outskirts Press
10940 South Parker Road, #515, Parker, CO 80134
9781432751333, #16.95,

The control one has over their own fate is always up to debate. "The Saving of Aris" tells the story of Aristophanes Ball, as he tries to find the medium in his life through a long chain of events that leaves him confused and uncertain about his own future. He learns much about the world through these vents and soon learns the power to take control of his own life. "The Saving of Aris" is an uplifting read of facing the harshness of life, recommended.

What Can You Do, When There's Nothing Else to Do?
Patricia J. White
Vantage Press
419 Park Ave. South, New York, NY 10016
9780533156702, $8.95,

There is no such thing as nothing to do. "What Can You Do, When There's Nothing Else to Do?" is a collection of simple tips and advice to remind readers that there's no such thing as a wasted moment and there's always something one can do to improve their lives even further. From simply calling one's parents to changing one's life with an education, Patricia White encourages readers to always keep busy. "What Can You Do, When There's Nothing Else to Do?" is a choice pick for those looking for some way to improve their lives.

Any Tom, Dick, or Harry Can Get a Job
Kelly Wibbenmeyer
Outskirts Press
10940 South Parker Road, #515, Parker, CO 80134
9781432753061, $12.95,

You always need a way to bring home the bacon, and fortunately, it's not too hard. "Any Tom, Dick, or Harry Can Get a Job: A Sure Fire Way to Land a Job" is Kelly Wibbenmeyer's guide to inspiring readers to find that job they want in order to keep themselves on the employed side of the world. With plenty of inspirational advice to help readers get that career they've always wanted, "Any Tom, Dick, or Harry Can Get a Job" is a fine pick for the unemployed who want to end that status.

Believing Bones
Jill Jackard
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781440178658, $10.95,

Wisdom can come in many shapes and sizes. "Believing Bones" is told from the perspective of Bones, a small white cat who travels the countryside and the city trying to understand nature and humanity, and along the way touching and inspiring the lives of those he meets. An entertaining and uplifting tale, "Believing Bones" is a story young readers and cat lovers alike will simply relish.

Susan Bethany

Buhle's Bookshelf

West to the Sun
T. G. Good
Outskirts Press
1330 Avenue of the Americans, 35th floor, NY, NY 10019
9781432751623, $16.95,

The Oregon trail was a brutal road, but the promise of a better life pushed people through it. "West to the Sun" tells the story of one family journeying westward and the adventure they face. Told through the eyes of young eleven year old Jeremiah, this adventure rings out strong and shows a vivid picture of this time and the people who took this risk. "West to the Sun" is a choice read, well worth considering for juvenile fiction collections.

Our Hart
Lloyd Lofthouse
Three Clover
PO Box 4221, Walnut Creek, CA 94596
9780981955315, $15.95

There are fathers of modernization for every country, and China's may well be an Irishman. "Our Hart" is a follow up to Lloyd Lofthouse's previous novel, 'My Splendid Concubine'. Historical fiction, Lofthouse tells the story of Robert Hart, the man responsible for China reinventing itself in the nineteenth century and how modern China purged him from the history books when the Communists took over. "Our Hart" is a unique and entertaining read, recommended.

Good Medicine
Carol L. Roberts
Outskirts Press
10940 S Parker Road - 515, Parker, CO 80134
9780977931620, $19.95,

The basics always remain surprisingly effective. "Good Medicine: A Return to Common Sense" is a collection of traditional wisdom and holistic ideas for better health in every day life. Carol L. Roberts comes to readers suggesting how to fully embrace Superfoods, how you are what you eat is a more accurate proverb than some know, and how good spirituality and spirit has benefits from the physical health all the way to the bed room. "Good Medicine" is a recommended read for any looking for new ways to achieve better health in their life.

Georg Letham
Ernst Weiss, author
Joel Rotenburg, translator
Archipelago Books
232 Third St., #A111, Brooklyn, NY 11215
9780980033038, $17.00

The words of the criminally insane always bring a unique perspective. "Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer" is a translation of the chilling German novel that follows Georg Letham, a physician who is baffled by his own actions as a doctor as he studies himself as he continues his crimes. A truly intriguing and thought provoking read, the character conflicted in his interests of silence and his passion for murder leads to a unique read unlike any other. "Georg Letham" is expertly translated by Joel Rotenburg, a top grade pick for literary fiction collections.

The Greatest & Strangest Money Making Secrets
Abib Olamitoye
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
Smith Publicity (publicity)
1930 E. Marlton Pike, Suite I-46, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003
9781440189579, $14.95,

There is more than one road to fortune. "The Greatest & Strangest Money Making Secrets" is a financial guide from Dr. Abib Olamitoye, advising readers how to increase their cash flow by saving and spending effectively. The economic power of charity is one of the tips and tricks suggested, many of which are not the most obvious in the world. "The Greatest & Strangest Money Making Secrets" is a choice pick for those looking to gain a greater understanding practical personal finances.

Willis M. Buhle

Burroughs' Bookshelf

Tried, Tested, & Being Approved
Ernie Berry
Privately Published
9780578038650, $14.99,

When some people are beat down, they try even harder to not surrender. "Tried, Tested, & Being Approved" is the memoir of Ernie Berry, a man who overcame paralysis and blindness to make his mark on the world and become a well versed individual in many aspects of life. A moving story of taking adversity as motivation to drive one's life, "Tried, Tested, and Being Approved" is a choice and highly motivating read for memoir collections.

Two Scoops
Alex Carrick
7290-B Investment Drive, Charleston, SC 29418
9781439253922, $20.95,

When you have fun with something, you run with it. "Two Scoops is Just Right: 78 Funny Short Original Stories" is a compilation of short stories from Alex Carrick. He developed his love of writing while learning the blog, and he enjoyed it so much he ran with it. His stories are a labor of love, and it shows, making "Two Scoops is Just Right" a choice pick for short fiction fans.

The Scientific Method
Jeff Thomason
Privately Published
9781439250556, $12.95

Never underestimate the selfishness of man. "The Scientific Method" tells the story of Brent Jakes, a man who has uncovered the Unified Field Theory, a major scientific breakthrough that can change the world as we know it. Despite the overwhelming goodness the discovery can bring, Jakes is pitted against the greed of three people who don't see this discovery as profitable today. But one unnamed individual has progressive minded intentions. "The Scientific Method" is a choice pick of science fiction, highly recommended.

Gregory J. Stang
Outskirts Press
10940 South Parker Road, #515, Parker, CO 80134
9781432747756, $31.95,

Poetry is words designed to express the soul. "Lifelines: Empowering You to Happiness, Success, and Salvation" is a collection of poetry from Gregory J. Stang, written to invoke hope and help people embrace their own relationships to find that connection that brings them closer to God. "Lifelines" is uplifting and hopeful, recommended. "A Hymn to Life": The key to life lies in the unexpected!/The key to one's heart opens with a turn,/And a turn reflects the direction one is pursuing-/and is a sign that life lies in the unexpected!

Notes on the Dynamics Man
Robert Mercer-Nairne
601 Union Street, Suite 4900, Seattle, WA 98001-3906
Smith Publicity (publciity)
1930 E. Marlton, Suite I-46, Cherry Hills, NJ 08003
9780974814148, $39.00

Evolution is more than just an ever changing physical state. "Notes on the Dynamics of Man" is a scholarly discussion of the current state of man and where's it's going, focusing on the mental power and where it has come from and where it seems to be heading. Stating that the type of matter that mankind works with is changing from biological to cerebral, as the brainpower of man is now what's truly in control of where man is heading and where it is taking his universe with it. Discussing a wide array of concepts, "Notes on the Dynamics of Man" is a fascinating and very highly recommended read for philosophical readers and collections.

The Legacy Of Flight
David Romanowski & Melissa Keiser
Bunker Hill Publishing
285 River Road, Piermont, NH 03779
Pigtail Public Relations (publicity)
32 Hazelton St., Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660
9781593730833, $25.00,

Replete with deftly compiled historical photographs and featuring succinctly informative essays, "The Legacy of Flight: Images from the Archives of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum" is the collaborative project of authors David Romanowski (writer-editor in the Exhibits Design Division of the National Air and Space Museum) and Melissa Keiser (photo archivist for the National Air and Space Museum). Showcased in this superbly presented, 288-page compendium is a profusely illustrated historical overview of aviation and space flight over the last one hundred years, including not just key personalities and every major aircraft category, but all of the thematically related occupations including from mechanics and designers, to ground and air crews, to astronauts and scientists. "The Legacy Of Flight" is thoroughly 'reader friendly' and an especially recommended addition to personal, academic, and community library Aviation supplemental reading lists and reference collections.

M. B. Izard
Acheve Consulting
c/o KSB Promotions (publicity)
55 Honey Creek, NE, Ada, MI 49301
9780972874830 $25.95

BoomerPreneurs: How Baby Boomers Can Start Their Own Business, Make Money and Enjoy Life is a guide to starting one's own business that specifically addresses the issues of the age 50+ baby boomers. Chapters cover how to evaluate the viability of one's business idea, how to research and write a business plan, reducing financial risks, the value of catching the wave of trends, securing one's first customers and much more. "Fledgling entrepreneurs often underestimate the difficulty of accessing firmly established, mature distributions systems. One question to ask others as you plan your business is how receptive members of your industry's distribution system are to new providers?" BoomerPreneurs includes a wealth of anecdotes and testimonials from individual entrepreneurs, and is a welcome general reference for anyone interested in starting their own business, regardless of age.

John Burroughs

Carson's Bookshelf

Connecting the Dots
Robert Howard
Welcome Rain Publishers
532 LaGuardia Place #473, New York, NY 10012
George Allen Communications (publicity)
230 Fifth Avenue, Ste 612, New York City, NY 10001
9781566499576, $25.00

Some people have more ideas than they know what to do with. "Connecting the Dots: My Life and Inventions, From X-Rays to Death Rays" tells the life story of inventor and man of the world Robert Howard as he brings a unique tale of an inventor's life. At eighty five, he has quite the tale ranging back into history as he revolutionized and improved upon common tools like television, X-rays, and even has even more out there ideas such as the Death Ray. "Connecting the Dots" is an entertaining and fascinating read about a major icon of science.

The Gettysburg Conspiracy
Will Hutchison
Infinity Publishing
1094 New DeHaven Street, Suite 100, West Conshohocken, PA 19428-2713
9780741456502, $19.95,

The work of some battle weary veterans is never truly done. "The Gettysburg Conspiracy: The Ian Carlyle Series: Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War" tells the tale of Crimean War veteran Ian Carlyle finds himself in American amidst it bloodiest and most violent American conflict. The Scottish Noble is faced with saving the President and foiling a corrupt plot, "The Gettysburg Conspiracy" is an intriguing piece of historical fiction, very original.

The Mine
Daniel R. Cobb
Privately Published
9781441474353, $14.95,

There is no cost of money, and life is worthless. "The Mine" tells the story of Ryan Evans, a biologist standing against a deadly mine in Oregon country. The mine is a valuable source for gold, but Evans is distraught over the amount of cyanide, arsenic and other deadly objects removed from it, making the cost of life too high for Evans' liking. But there are those who like their gold, and won't let some nosy biologist stop them. "The Mine" is a riveting thriller that is sure to entertain and please.

I Sense Humor
Jobe Writes
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781449018061, $12.99,

The best weapon in life is the ability to laugh at everything. "I Sense Humor" is a collection of anecdotes and pondering from Jobe Writes as he thinks of the world around him and muses on them. Through his muses, he discusses the world and points out the many unique truths about it and hopes that readers too will relate to these truths and remember them in life. "I Sense Humor" is a strong pick for any thinking of the world.

Natural Selection's Paradox
Carter Stroud
Privately Published
9781419692741, $17.99

The start of all life could bring it to an end as well. "Natural Selection's Paradox: The Mot Provocative Observation Since Natural Selection" is Carter Stroud's own investigation of natural selection's flaws as he states that if Darwin's theories are correct, mankind may lead itself to oblivion and the world along with it. Drawing on religion, flaws in human nature, and more, "Natural Selection's Paradox" is a read that is well worth considering.

Stirring Among the Playthings
Philip J. Hodgetts
Vantage Press
419 Park Ave. South, New York, NY 10016
9780533162246, $11.95,

The wisdom of World War II veterans is not something outdated, rather something depleting fast. "Stirring Among the Playthings" is a memoir from Philip J. Hodgetts, telling of how he made his own way in life suing what he learned as a solider and from his education. Critical and honest of the events of his time and since, "Stirring Among the Playthings" is wise and highly recommended reading.

Denial of Sunlight
Robert Troy
Outskirts Press
10940 S. Parker Rd, - 515, Parker, CO 80134
9781432751265, $27.95,

When it comes to the next big source of energy, whoever finds it will have a huge edge on the rest of the world. "Denial of Sunlight" tells of a tactical CIA operation where one scientist has made the discovery and advances needed to end the world's dependence on fossil fuels, but his technology finds itself split between China and the United States. Whoever masters this technology controls the world's energy, and Jim Newberry is the CIA agent to make sure it's America. "Denial of Sunlight" is a riveting and highly recommended read that should not be missed.

Michael J. Carson

Christy's Bookshelf

Last Call
James Grippando
Harper Collins
10 East 53rd St., New York, NY 10022
9780060831165 $24.95

This installment of Grippando's Jack Swytek series focuses on Jack's best friend Theo Knight, a man Jack saved from death row. Theo owns his own bar and is on the verge of expanding his business when Isaac Reems, former gang member and an escaped convict, shows up asking for help. Theo isn't so inclined but Reems's bargaining chip is that he can reveal the identity of the person who killed Theo's mother 20 years earlier. The FBI, hot on the trail of Reems, suspects Theo is helping the convict, and when Reems is murdered, their focus is on Theo. Jack and Theo suspect all is tied to his mother's death but that road leads to danger.

This addition to the series is middle-of-the-road, better than some, not as good as others. Grippando brings back FBI agent Andie Henning, and although chemistry is hinted at between Andie and Jack, it's just not there. Swytek seems off his game and Theo's constant emotion is anger, although there is good cause. More is learned of Theo's Uncle Cy, an interesting character.

The Eleventh Victim
Nancy Grace
114 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10011
9781401303457 $25.99

Hailey Dean's interest in psychology falters when her fiancee is murdered weeks before their wedding. From that point, Hailey, committed to seeking justice, obtains her law degree. As an assistant district attorney in Atlanta, she becomes known for her success record and vigilance in seeing criminals fully prosecuted. But her final case, that of a serial killer who murders prostitutes, takes its toll. After the killer is sentenced to death, Hailey packs up her belongings and heads to New York City, where she begins her psychology practice in hopes of leaving her past behind. But two years later, two of her patients are murdered, similar to those in Atlanta, and the evidence points to Hailey, who must find the killer before she herself ends up on death row.

Grace's fiction debut seems to be loosely based on herself, which is interesting, but at times reads like a first novel with awkward dialogue, overuse of exclamation points, and repetitions of the same words. Confusing to this reviewer are the two separate plots which are not related to one another and the way the author switches back and forth between the two. Each is viable enough to stand alone without sharing space in the same book. Hailey Dean is a very likable character and the mystery regarding her portion of the book intriguing, although inconsistencies (such as the fact that the serial killer's conviction is reversed and no one seems to know about it) are distracting. Now that Dean has established herself as a mystery writer, it will be interesting to see what's next.

The Imposter?
Kip Kreiling
TransformationHelp Press
9780615320557, $17.77,

From an early age, Kip Kreiling stole from his family, set fires, was arrested, and ended up in juvenile detention centers. He spent time in group homes, street shelters and living with foster families and, between the ages of 11 and 26, moved 34 times among these facilities. By the time he was 16, he had been arrested 13 times and was a drug dealer and small-time crime operator. His mother was told by a counselor that Kip would most likely spend most of his life in prison and to let go of her son. So, how did Kip go from this traumatic, damaging lifestyle to obtaining a master's degree in business and working for companies highly regarded in the business world? The author explains his eight principles of transformation in this "The Imposter?: How a Juvenile Criminal Succeeded in Business and Life", an insightful, moving book.

This isn't your typical self-help book heaped with platitudes and banal statistics. The author uses his life story as an exemplar as he explains the principles he utilized to transform his life. His story is intriguing and the historical anecdotes he presents interesting and on-point as he takes his reader on his journey toward changing negative behavior to positive in an effort to lead a better, more productive life. His plan doesn't limit itself to those dealing with addiction but reaches out to everyone. Even those who may feel their lives don't need changing or improving will benefit from reading this book. Its positive format and didactic message are uplifting and eye-opening and truly inspiring.

The Life in the Wood with Joni-pip
Carrie King
Bothy Books
c/o Grace & Patrick Ltd
9780955524646 $17.90,

Joni-Pip lived a pampered life with her family in Bath, England until the bombings of World War II forced them to escape to Knotty Knook, their cottage in Windy Woods on the outskirts of Sherwood Forest. On their journey there, Joni-Pip meets three young strangers who suddenly appear, briefly speak to her, and then disappear. Unaware they will play an important part in her life, Joni-Pip soon forgets about them. At Knotty Knook, Joni-Pip and her teddy bear Ethelred-Ted (who is much, much more than an ordinary teddy bear) play in the woods and visit her grandfather at his nearby cottage. But magical things happen in Sherwood Forest, and through what appears to be a tragic event, Joni-Pip begins a magical journey through time.

It's hard to attribute any one genre to this wonderful book. It offers readers everything they could ask for: time-travel, action and adventure, suspense, mystery, science fiction, and bits of history. Carrie King's poetic, imaginative prose delivers a delightful book for all readers, no matter the age. Her creative imagination, the gorgeous illustrations, and magical story are enthralling. Filled with enchanting characters (animal and human alike), humor, and a heartwarming tale involving friendship, family, and a quest for a better future, this first book in the Circles trilogy is sure to garner many fans. Readers (including this reviewer) will be anxious to read the next two books in the series.

Certainly, the literary field needs more writers like the talented Carrie King who takes her readers on a fascinating journey as she opens their minds to the extraordinary while delivering a very important message. Here's hoping this fantastic book finds its place in libraries, classrooms, and children's homes across the world.

The Way Home
George Pelecanos
Little, Brown and Company
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
9780316156493 $24.99

Although Thomas Flynn never attended college, he became a successful entrepreneur. All he wants for his son, Chris, is to see him go to college and succeed in life. But Chris has no interest in school and drifts toward a life of drugs and petty crime. Placed in a juvenile facility until 18, Chris takes a job with his father once he graduates high school. Although Flynn is disappointed in Chris and Chris resents his father's plans for his future, the two learn to work together without conflict. Thomas begins to hope that Chris is maturing and leaving behind the past, but when one of Chris's friends is murdered and Chris begins acting suspiciously, Flynn fears his son has slipped back into the past, to a place he can never leave behind.

The predominant theme is a character study of two men in a contentious relationship, one not uncommon to many fathers and sons. Through characters and plot, Pelecanos relays his own message concerning juvenile detention centers and rehabilitating young criminals. He adds suspense to the story with the murder of Chris's friend and nicely develops a back story reflecting on Chris's time in the juvenile facility, touching upon the injustices Chris endures in that center as well as his relationship with the other young boys facing the same fate.

Ashes of the Red Heifer
Shannon Baker
L&L Dreamspell
P.O.Box 1984, Friendswood, TX 77549-1984
9781603181600, $17.95,

Veterinarian Annie Grant grew up on a cattle ranch in Nebraska, working closely with her father, whose religiosity eventually caused a break in their relationship. Because of this, Annie shuns all forms of religion and has not spoken to her family for years. Working for a pharmaceutical company in Israel, she thinks she's found the cure for a deadly bovine disease which has crossed over to humans. But before she can verify this, her lab is bombed and Annie, her best friend and lab partner Hassan, and her boss David (whom she is attracted to) are forced to flee to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, Annie and Hassan are kidnapped by a Jewish corporation threatening Hassan's life if Annie doesn't find the cure for the virus and subsequently fulfill a Jewish prophecy by producing a perfect red heifer. Annie is caught between fanatics on all sides: the Jewish corporation willing to murder for the red heifer, the Muslim Silim who are intent on finding Annie before she can produce the red heifer, and her father, unwilling to help her or forgive her. She faces danger at every turn as she tries to find a way to save bovine and human populations without giving in to the wishes of the fanatics.

From the bombing at the beginning of the book to the last page, this action-packed thriller moves at a fast pace with suspense around every corner. Annie is an appealing character: a compassionate woman loyal to her friends who loves deeply yet is torn about her own beliefs. The grief she feels over the rift with her father is nicely and realistically portrayed. The author's exceptional visuals draw the reader into a world of warring religions set in the desert sands of the Middle East. Action scenes, characterization, and plot excel in this debut thriller.

Without Hesitation
Mark Rosendorf
L&L Dreamspell
P.O.Box 1984, Friendswood, TX 77549-1984
9781603182126 $17.95

In this sequel to The Rasner Effect, adolescent Clara Blue is back where she started, as a resident of a mental institution for children, where she, once more, is in constant conflict with the director. After the death of Rick Rasner, member of the Duke Organization and the one who helped Clara escape the psychiatric residence in book one, Clara longs for nothing more than her freedom. When Jennifer Duke appears, posing as a counselor, Clara reluctantly agrees to recruit young people for the Duke Organization, which Jen wants to revitalize. Jake Scarberry, the man responsible for the death of Rick Rasner and the breakup of the Duke Organization, is now living a normal life under the witness protection program. Jake enjoys his life and plans to never return to his former occupation as mercenary. But if Jennifer Duke has her way, Jake may be forced back into a life he wants to leave behind.

The only likable character in this series is Jake Scarberry, and that isn't constant. However, the lack of likable characters works for this series. Clara Blue at times evokes empathy and one searches for redeeming qualities, but her propensity to kill without plan or intent is unsettling and places her more in the psychotic range than normal. Jennifer Duke, well-portrayed by the author, is evil personified among an array of maniacal, ominous characters, some supposedly on the side of good, others on the side of evil. Rosendorf nicely delivers a couple of unexpected twists which readers will not see coming. This intense, action-packed thriller packs quite a wallop and leaves the reader anxious for the next book.

Christy Tillery French

Clark's Bookshelf

35 Things Your Teen Won't Tell You So I Will
Ellen Pober Rittberg
Turner Publishing
200 4th Avenue North, Suite 950, Nashville, Tennessee 37219
9781596525542 $9.99,

Today's world demands a more challenging approach to raising teens. In the past, we gave our children the benefit of the doubt. We were wrong. Ellen Pober Rittberg gives good sound advice by showing how to cope and direct the teenager of today. Her perspectives are invaluable in relation to the inner life of a teen and their bizarre behavior. She sets out in clear detail, with a whole lot of humor, "35 Things Your Teen Won't Tell You So I Will." Rittberg is a knowledgeable mother who has raised three children very close in age. She says, "you are never alone and there is definitely intelligent life out there…"

Parents want to be successful in rearing their children. Rittberg calls attention to the facts that a "positive mental attitude…." together with "good values, common sense, a well-developed sense of responsibility…" and most important, "a sense of humor…" are needed. And, do not try to sleep during those teenage years, as a watchful eye is needed at all times.

In her book, she indicates that one of the most significant factors in building a good child-parent relationship is to know your teen's friends. One way to get to know your child's friends is to car pool. Surprisingly, a great deal of information can be obtained about other teens, as many teenagers love to gossip about each other. So, the more they gossip, the more you will know. Also, get to know your child's friends' parents. Networking with them is a means to know where your child is, as teens are "always on the move".

Rittberg goes on to discuss with conviction, that parents should never, ever, let teens have a party when you are not home. Parents need to be there, and when they are, this gives teens a feeling of comfort. This is a perfect opportunity to circulate, meet and observe your child's friends. Encouraging parties at home will discourage teens from going elsewhere where alcohol might be present. Parents, who think their teens don't drink, oftentimes, find they do drink. They seem to always be seeking places to party. Teenagers respect parents who show concern and have rules which are enforced.

Rittberg discusses teens and working. "Work gives them a sense of responsibility and keeps them out of trouble." However, to be a responsible parent, you will need to be sure they do not work too late while in school and that they work in a safe place.

Be prepared, Rittberg advises, that almost all teenagers lie. Yes, they lie to avoid detection and generally will not tell on their friends. This, she says, will only lead to bad behavior. Unless you deal with lying immediately, they may become dishonest adults. She believes in grounding and taking away privileges as a means of punishment for lying.

Ellen Pober Rittberg is a mom, a writer, attorney, an award-winning journalist, and a law guardian in family, supreme, and surrogate's court. She writes with an attitude, having great wisdom and personal insight. She says, her book does not contain any guaranties.

Parents don't give up on your teens! There is hope for you. Every chapter in this book is informative by teaching 35 valuable lessons. All parents raising teenagers should read this book!

Chris Knopf
The Permanent Press
4170 Noyac Road, Sag Harbor, NY 11963
97815796218988, $28.00,

Authors who have written a series of books have a tendency to keep the same characters, locale, and a sameness which translates into a single dimension of their ability as a writer. Chris Knopf in "Elysiana" steps out of that safety zone into a new realm which showcases his ability to develop new characters, describes a South Jersey ocean front island, and captures a interesting dimension by interweaving various characters who could have been stand-alone-heroes, heroines, or villains. Unlike his private eye Sam Acquillo, who has been the mainstay of Knopf's writing to-date, "Elysiana" showcases another side which grabs your attention within the first few pages.

The summer of 1969 is when all the action takes place in this fast-paced novel. Knopf introduces one of the main players in this summertime adventure at the Jersey shore as a strung-out Midwestern gal who wakes up in Elysiana, a 25 mile long island, located south of Atlantic City. Gwendalynn Anders becomes the connection between the good guys and the bad ones. Without attempting to have her become the entire focal point of the story, Knopf moves from one character to another by developing their individuality as players in this beach thriller.

A mayor's scheme to become the only governmental leader of the island, various underworld drug dealers, and the owner of an oceanfront hotel are all connected in the storyline. Combining all these individual pieces into a believable conclusion is what makes this novel stand out. The ability of this author to describe in accurate detail the interaction of everyone as they traverse the island makes this novel realistic. You are swept up in currents of the ocean, smell of the salt air, and the taste of the briny waters while walking among the sand dunes. Some books and television series have recognized life on the shore as different from any other place in the United States. Here, we have a truism, which is universally accepted by those who have been exposed to events which transpire along the ocean frontage known as the Jersey shore.

Young adults who live along the shore, or lived there and moved away, fondly recollect the great times they had. Youths dancing, drinking, and all that goes with the partying will quickly rekindle those wonderful memories of walking boardwalks, seeing rides, eating food, and most of all, the sticky, clingy, sand which permeates everything, including floor mats of cars.

This book will be hitting the books stores in May and is a good adult read for the summer of 2010.

Missions of Fire and Mercy Until Death Do Us Part
William E. Peterson
Booksurge LLC
7290-B Investment Drive, Charleston, SC 29418
9781439258378, $28.00,

At the age of 19, William E. Peterson embarked upon a life mission which many of us would gladly have missed. He went to war in Vietnam! That war is long over and our troops are now engaged in other battles on foreign soils and their stories are yet to be told. Peterson was excited to engage in battle as a gunner and crew chief on a helicopter and has brought his experiences to life.

Vietnam turned out to be an unpopular war causing heartache for many families who lost their kin and also for those brave men and women who returned leaving their comrades slain on the fields of Vietnam or on choppers bringing back their remains. Peterson says, "The goal of this story is to reach out to families and loved ones who never understood why their "warrior" has been so quiet about Vietnam."

One of the most outstanding characteristics of this saga is the manner in which Peterson presents his story and that of his comrades. Letters to home usually are buried away in shoeboxes to be unearthed later in life as remembrances of days gone by. Uniquely, he republishes the original letters and then adds anecdotal recollections of what he left out. Reading both views of this material makes it poignant to the reader. Your senses are heightened as you literally smell burnt gun smoke, feel the vibrations of the helicopter, and dodge bullets as they cascade around you. All the while, you realize Peterson's missions were always to protect his comrades on the ground.

Receiving a commendation is never the goal of a soldier, it is only an afterthought. What is most important is the mission itself. However, Peterson did receive 3 Purple Hearts for being injured during his stint in Vietnam. What was most notable was that he received 36 air medals (2 with Valor) and numerous other medals for his service to his country.

His time in Vietnam was one year and what he accomplished during that time was astonishing.

"White Robe 6" is a reverent call sign that flight crews have created for God. "Yellow One" is the lead ship in an aerial assault flown by the flight leader. A pamphlet for the troops was created and printed by William Peterson's father. 20,000 pamphlets were sent to the troops giving inspiration that God was with them. This gesture was so outstanding that a letter of commendation was placed in Peterson's permanent service record. There are many references to prayer and belief in God and service to country.

This book is one of those epilogues in life which not only tells the story of what it was like to be defending and fighting for freedom, but how well we have raised our children to believe in the American Way. "Missions of Fire and Mercy Until Death Do Us Part" is highly recommended, being based on facts, and documented by letters contemporaneously written showing the true life experiences of a Vietnam War hero.

Clark Isaacs

Daniel's Bookshelf

Douglas Preston
Forge Book
c/o Tor Books
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9780765317681, $25.99,

I have read Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston Pendergast series from their first book Relic and also some of Preston's solo novels including The Codex and Tyrannosaur Canyon. I do plan to go back and catch up on his novels. I regret I have spread my reading time with this author so thin. I don't mind moving to so many different books enjoying the reads of many good authors. That is why my wife and I have found reading to be a good past time passion, and it has kept us clued to so many good stories. We read many types of genre, but haven't managed to narrow down the goal to maybe sticking to just a few types. General fiction, detective, mysteries, science fiction, political thrillers, and historical fiction are spreading our varieties to quite a mix. We keep exploring the offerings of new authors along with the existing ones.

A meteor strikes earth, and the adventure begins as the government seeks to find strange beautiful gems found in Cambodia, while a scientist is noticing strange activity on another planet. Meanwhile two young women seek out the location of where the meteor hit off the Maine coast. Wyman Ford is sent on a secret expedition to check out gemstones, which appear from not of this world close to a meteor crater. Also a scientist at the National Propulsion facility discovers an inexplicable source of gamma rays coming from somewhere in the distant solar system. He is found decapitated and the data he discovered missing. High resolution NASA images reveal an unnatural feature hidden on the depths of a crater on Mars. It seems something was activated and the source of a disturbance. The young women borrow a boat and set out for a distant island off the coast of Maine. They are search for a meteor crater which appears to have struck in that location. Douglas Preston juggles these three threads, and that knowledge becomes an additional danger for those who uncover information of the meteor data. The outer space unusual activity then has been explained, and this thriller starts to become an interesting sci-fi adventure.

Douglas Preston has dabbled before in science fiction with Blasphemy and his joint book with Lincoln entitled Relic. His joint book with Mario Spezi The Monster of Florence is in the development stage with a movie by Tom Cruise. His latest books include Blasphemy and Tyrannosaur Canyon. I liked the latter and will read the previous one as soon as I locate a copy. His next book is a joint one with Lincoln Child Fever Dream coming out according to their joint site on May 11, 2010. I eagerly await any offers from either authors writing jointly or when they write their solo novels.

A Reliable Wife
Robert Goolrick
Algonquin Book of Chapel Hill
c/o Workman Publishing
225 Varick Street, New York, NY 10014
9781565129771 $14.95

I have managed to find this book under recommendation of a bookstore employee. The store was promoting the book along with The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. I was fortunate to obtain a courteous copy from one of my book reading friends. I haven't read many books from the historical fiction genre. I did re-discover good historical fiction with Robert McCammon new series regarding a early New York city clerk progressing to a young detective by the name of Matthew Corbett. I like the setting of those books, and I hope to catch Corbett in the third installment of those first two books. I selected this book mainly due to the setting of my home state of Wisconsin. I thought it would be fun to try an another historical fiction novel too. It is in the period of the fall in 1907. The nudge to read this book intrigued me due to the plot and the writing that was considerably more literate along with a descriptive style. I could envision more out of the story by the choice of the author's words and use of them. I was glad I chose this book, and although his first book was non-fiction, he mentioned at the end of this book in an interview discussion to continue with a different setting in fiction.

A wealthy businessman Ralph Truitt places a notice in a Chicago newspaper seeking "a reliable wife" stating he wants her for practical and not romantic reasons. The notice asks to respond by letter, and Catherine Land does explaining she understands his motives. She also tells about her life in summary. Catherine does not reveal her true motives and plans for this arrangement. She knows the realm of being a wealthy woman suits her, and doesn't know that the wealthy Wisconsin business man has plans of his own. It is a rich historic period novel captivating the reader while the story unfolds with its gothic tale and its narrative prose. The novel reads like a psychological thriller which unravels in a setting of very early twentieth century Wisconsin. The story begins in Wisconsin in the fall of 1907. A sublime murder ballad that doesn't turn out anyway one would expect with its raw power and eroticism that keeps the sexual tension at a fever pitch. The pace of the novel is a page turner leaving the reader dazzled by some of the scenes portrayed and events unfolded. The main characters described by the author manage to convey their complex emotions reiterating love, lust, lies, deception, heartbreak, and resiliency but all done in an elegant way.

Robert Goolrick is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir The End of the World as We Know It. The book A Reliable Wife is his first fiction novel. He is working on new novel based on a true story about a crime of passion, that happened on a remote island of Greece. It has three characters a man, a woman, and a child entitled Harbor of Love. I imagine I have extended myself one more author, and that is the fate of the active readers today. My general opinion is that there are so many good books, and stories.

Daniel Allen

Debra's Bookshelf

The 13th Hour
Richard Doetsch
Atria Books
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
9781439147917, $25.99,

At the start of Richard Doetsch's The 13th Hour, Nick Quinn is being interrogated by the police. He's suspected of killing his wife, who was shot dead in their mud room. The gun that killed her was locked in Nick's trunk, which doesn't look good for him, but Nick is innocent. At least one person believes that, the enigmatic European who hands him a watch that will allow Nick to travel back in time, one hour at a time, up to 12 hours in all, so that he can solve his wife's murder before it happens. With each leap backward, Nick has a new chance to alter the future, but his actions in the past have consequences, and they're usually bad ones. Time is running out, and new obstacles present themselves at every turn.

This is a great book. There were times reading it when I thought I'd caught the author misthinking some time-travel conundrum or other, but in the end it all hangs together. The plot is carefully worked out and increasingly complex as the hours rewind. It's a clever book, a
surprising read up to and including the epilogue: I was fully expecting a gushy scene at the end, but happily the author had another twist up his sleeve. The final scene is a great way to end the book. The 13th Hour offers a clever premise, then, and it's well carried out. I think I need to see what else Mr. Doetsch has written....

Homer & Langley
E.L. Doctorow
Random House
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, NY, NY 10019
9781400064946, $26.00,

Homer & Langley is a fictionalized account of the lives of the Collyer brothers, hoarders who were found dead in their Fifth Avenue home in 1947. One brother had been crushed under their toppled posessions, his body being eaten by rats when it was discovered. The other brother, Homer, who was blind and paralyzed, starved to death after Langley died. Doctorow has changed the story up some. His Homer seems to go blind at an earlier age than the historical brother. And the fictional Collyers live at least into the 1960s. But the author has woven many real-life details into the story as well.

The book is chapterless, the prose uncomplicated. It purports to be an account written in the first person by Homer, who details the adventures the brothers had during their decades of cohabitation: the parties, early on; the attentions of a piano student; outings with gangsters and hippies. At the same time there is a more important development, Langley's hoarding, his descent into paranoia, the brothers' growing isolation from society. The book succeeds in providing Homer with an inner life. We are made to understand the increasingly desperate situation as it might have been experienced by him. The shocking development from gregarious members of society to cloistered madmen makes sense.

Unfortunately, though the story is one I'm happy to have read, Homer & Langley dragged for me. Rarely could I muster the energy to read more than twenty pages at a time, so that the book seemed to stretch out endlessly before me, even when I was nearing the end. A mixed bag, then, at least for me. But other readers may find the book a more exciting read.

Murder at the Universe
Daniel Edward Craig
Midnight Ink
2143 Wooddale Drive, Woodbury, MN 55125-2989
9780738711188, $14.95,

In this first installment in Daniel Edward Craig's Five-Star Mystery series, Trevor Lambert is employed as Manager of Rooms at the swanky, space-themed Universe Hotel in New York. Trevor is really more than an employee: he's swallowed whole the guiding principles articulated by the Universe's founder, workaholic Willard Godfrey, in his book, Universal Values. Trevor's life, like his mentor's, revolves around the Universe. He is the quintessential host and model employee, polite and spit-polished and concerned at all times that the hotel's guests, however obnoxious they may be, enjoy a world-class hospitality experience. When Murder at the Universe begins, the hotel is gearing up to host an anti-impaired driving conference, an important source of
revenue during an otherwise slow period. Unfortunately, the conference's organizer, Brenda Rathberger, has a less than satisfactory Guest Arrival Experience when she shows up at the hotel
to prepare for the conference: the book's title will suggest what it is that mars Mrs. Rathberger's early impressions of the hotel. The same unpleasantness throws the hotel's staff into a tailspin and prompts a number of them to reassess their situations. Trevor in particular is forced to consider the possibility that, as friends and family have been insisting, he has lost a part of himself over the last few years while absorbed in his job.

Having read and enjoyed the author's third Trevor Lambert novel, I was happy to go back and begin the series from the start. I am equally impressed with this one. The book is billed as a mystery, and it does offer one, but while Trevor does a small amount of amateur sleuthing the book is really less about who done it and more about Trevor's character. We get to watch as the crisis at the Universe leads slowly to his seeing past the hospitable veneer of life in the hotel. The
book is also about the hotel industry itself. The Universe is as much a character in the book as any of its staff. Craig, who has had a long career managing hotels, provides a fascinating inside look at hotel life, and one can understand the allure of its superficial charms. There's one more book (to date) in Craig's series, Murder at Hotel Cinema. I'll surely be reading that installment soon as well.

Peter Birkenhead
Free Press
9781416598831 $25.00

Peter Birkenhead is an actor and writer who grew up in New York in the 1960s and 70s. His autobiography, Gonville, centers around his father, an economics professor at Brooklyn College who terrorized his family during Peter's childhood with his unpredictable, violent rages. (The title of the book comes from Michael Caine's character in Zulu, a movie much admired by Peter's father.) At the best of times Birkenhead's father is eccentric, requiring that Peter hold his legs down while he does naked sit-ups, or walking around postcoitally semi-erect in front of Peter's friends. As these incidents suggest, the book can be very funny. More often, at least in the first half, Birkenhead's memories are emotionally searing, powerful and horrifying. Having suppressed a lot of this earlier in his life--the Birkenhead's were not a family that talked about their problems--Peter began finally to address his half-buried memories, a period of catharsis that culminated in this book.

Gonville, when it's at its best, is very well-written. Unfortunately, the story becomes much less interesting in its third section. The last fifty or so pages of the book could have been omitted or dramatically abridged. In particular, Birkenhead's discussion of his failed relationship with a girlfriend, Nora, aren't very interesting. (Birkenhead paints himself as the bad guy in a series of quasi-arguments with her, but she in fact comes off as irritating and oversensitive and as not the sharpest thinker. He blames himself for their breakup, but his account suggests he's lucky to be rid of her.) A tighter story would have made for a much improved book, but Gonville is still definitely recommended as is.

Debra Hamel, Reviewer

Edward's Bookshelf

The Silent Man
Alex Berenson
G.P. Putnam's Sons
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
9780399155383 $25.95

Two nuclear bombs are stolen from a Russian storage facility in Mayak by Muslim jihadists. Their plan, to bring the bombs to the United States and explode them in Washington, D.C. at the time of the President's State of the Union speech. So starts another nail biting thriller by Alex Berenson, a master of the anti-terror genre.

Enter John Wells, a skilled special operative in the United States' anti-terror unit. An attempt on his life and that of his wife by an old, bitter adversary sends him to Zurich to "even the score." While in Zurich, he is contacted by his handlers to pursue the zealots who stole the two bombs and recover the weapons. He follows their trail with hard nosed tenacity and eventually it brings him back to the States for a thrilling showdown with the terrorists.

Alex Berenson shows us his world class writing abilities, creating a novel that is exciting, compelling and believable. In John Wells, he has a hero we can look up to, but also recognize his minor flaws as a real person.

Nine Dragons
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown and Company
237 Park Avenue, New York, New York 11017
9780316166317 $27.99

A holdup and murder of a liquor store owner in a tough L.A. neighborhood is assigned to seasoned Detective Harry Bosch. It is bad news for the bad guys when the rumpled, middle-aged, but brilliant crime detector is on the case. This crime novel is departure from the author's previous work, because Bosch has to go well beyond the L.A. area and out of the country to pursue the criminals.

During his local investigation Harry Bosch crowds organized crime people and someone close to him is abducted in Hong Kong as a message to back off. With the approval of his superiors he is off to the Far East and quickly enters the criminal underground of Nine Dragons in Hong Kong. Much blood is spilled as Detective Bosch goes forward, as always, like a runaway locomotive. The exciting climax of his detective work there is as riveting and satisfying to the reader as anything the author has written.

Michael Connelly once again underscores his reputation of being, not only one of our top writers of Crime Fiction, but arguably the heavyweight champion.

The First Rule
Robert Crais
G.P.Putnam's Sons
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780399156137 $26.95,

Elvis Cole is the star private detective of Mr. Crais' series of exciting crime novels. However, from the beginning Elvis' partner and wing man, Joe Pike, has been there when the fists and the bullets start flying. Last year, Joe Pike came front and center as the main man in The Watchman. Now, in the author's newest novel, Joe Pike is again at center stage.

Frank Meyer, a friend from the past, a former member of Pike's mercenary band of military for hire, is the victim of a home invasion in the upscale neighborhood of Westwood, California. Meyer his wife, two young children and their Russian nanny are all murdered. While L.A. homicide detectives are investigating the crime, Pike begins his own parallel investigation, utilizing his acquired skills to find the killers.

A chance meeting with the nanny's sister gives Joe Pike a clue to open up the case and move quickly toward the perpetrators. He finds himself facing a powerful boss from the Russian branch of organized crime. Calling upon his partner, Elvis Cole and another former mercenary friend, Pike involves the reader in a confrontation with the criminals that crackles with tension resulting in a complex conclusion.

Robert Crais continues to deliver crime novels that are both compelling and believable.

Edward Smith

Erica's Bookshelf

Garlic and Sapphires
Ruth Reichl
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780143036616, $16.00,

Ruth Reichl spent several years as food critic at the New York Times and this memoir is primarily focused on that portion of her life. While flying to New York just prior to starting her new job, Reichl discovers that all the major restaurants' staff know her by sight and will be watching for her visits to their establishments. Believing anonymity to be essential to her job, she begins creating disguises for herself. She gives each of these new covers a name, personality, life-story, and mode of dress, immersing herself into the role. Through this medium, Reichl discovers the sometimes stark contrast between how she is treated when appearing as the New York Time's restaurant critic and as an ordinary customer. Near the end, the reader may tire of the established pattern of creating a disguise, visiting restaurants, and writing the final reviews, but these feelings will perfectly reflect the author's own flagging interest in her job.

"Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise" is a marvelous example of what happens when journalists write books. The writing is excellent, making the book a joy to read. Every well-crafted chapter flows by in an endless succession of sensations as she describes each meal, location, and encounter with perfect clarity. The readers can easily share the tastes, sights, and emotions that fill the pages, allowing them to enter the world of fine dining.

Trial by Ice
Richard Parry
Ballantine Books
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
9780345439260, $14.00,

One of many unsuccessful polar expeditions, the 1871 attempt is distinctive more because of the mystery surrounding the death of its leader, Charles Francis Hall, than for any accomplishments. The expedition had trouble remaining a cohesive whole even before Hall's death. Afterward, differences split the crew into factions loyal to either the scientific or exploratory missions of the ship and the putative leader of each of those aspects of the voyage. After one miserable attempt to reach the North Pole, they settled down in their damaged ship to await a rescue team they hoped would arrive before their food and fuel ran out. Conditions slowly deteriorated. Part of the crew became separated from the ship and spent months on the ice while the rest (mainly non-sailors) worked to keep their ship afloat until warm weather and help arrived.

The beginning and end of "Trial by Ice: The True Story of Murder and Survival on the 1871 Polaris Expedition" are what make it remarkable and those are the points at which the book becomes truly engrossing. Unfortunately, the middle progresses with a depressing inevitability that will weary most readers unless they have an inherent interest in Arctic exploration.

Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar
James Marcus Bach
Scribner/Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
9781439109083, $19.99,

An eighth grade school dropout, Bach seeks to encourage and inform anyone who finds learning easier outside a classroom. He does not reject formal education but demonstrates that it is not the only answer. For him, it simply didn't work. Hence his term buccaneer-scholar for anyone who doesn't fit within the parameters of the normal learning environment but is still dedicated to self-education by whatever means come to hand. In "Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar: How Self-Education and the Pursuit of Passion Can Lead to a Lifetime of Success" James Bach outlines his approach to learning new skills in a series of almost stand-alone chapters, integrating some of his own life-story along the way for illustrative purposes. It is arranged for easy skimming and contains many tips and summaries. The only drawback is his exclusive experience in the computer programming industry which fits more closely with his method of unstructured learning than might other career paths.

The Devil's Company
David Liss
Random House
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
9781400064199, $25.00,

Liss continues the adventures of Benjamin Weaver begun in "A Conspiracy of Paper" and "A Spectacle of Corruption". The setting is once again the seedier side of London in the 18th century where Weaver earns his living by private commissions to retrieve stolen belongings, collect debts, find missing persons, or any other task that a city without a regular police force might need. The focus of this book is the internal plotting and political maneuvering of the East India Trading Company. Forced into an investigation he would rather avoid, Weaver must unravel several interwoven intrigues before the book concludes. This particularly complex plot becomes somewhat unmanageable and unbelievable by the end but does resolve itself eventually. In "The Devil's Company" David Liss once again combines his pleasingly archaic writing style and authentic details of 18th century daily life that make his books great historical reads.

Erica Dorsey

Gary's Bookshelf

Still Life
Joy Fielding
Pocket Books
1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
9781416585282, $7.99,

Casey Marshall is the victim of a driver who hits her with his car then runs from the scene. At first police think it was an accident. Later they begin to realize she was deliberately targeted in the meantime Casey is in a coma in the hospital. Though she is in this state, she is aware of everything going on around her damaged body. She begins to learn things about those close to her that she never would have believed, because she learns someone is trying to kill her. Fielding has written a very interesting novel that races along to its final revealing ending. The characters are finely drawn while the reader pulls for Casey to get out of the comatose state and prevent the person out to kill her from succeeding. Fielding once again shows why she is one of the best writers in the suspense genre.

Not My Daughter
Barbara Delinsky
Doubleday & Company
c/o Random House
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
9780385524988, $24.95,

I recently started to read and review this author and love the way she writes and fills her stories with realistic characters. She once again has an interesting plot of several high school girls who make a pact to get pregnant and raise their children. One in particular is the principal's daughter. The story moves along with several conflicts for the three girls and their parents. The principal could easily lose her job over this because many in the town wonder how she could allow this kind of activity to take place. Delinsky does a great job of telling her tale. My only problem was keeping straight who each of the female characters is and the relationship of mother and daughter.

True Compass
Edward M. Kennedy
c/o Hachette Book Group USA
1271 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
9780446539258, $35.00,

For many people there are several things they remember about Edward M. Kennedy and they are all bad. Now with this memoir he tells al, even about the cancer that took his life. He honestly takes the reader through his family and his life. He talks about the highs and lows. He is very candid. By the time you have finished you have to like the man. The book is also very special because he also takes the reader on a journey of historical events that unfolded around him. He talks about the Kennedy legacy, the assassinations of his brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His challenge to sitting President Jimmy Carter, the civil rights movement and the Viet Nam war, just a few of the things he delves into. We also see the man for the first time and how he always cared about the people of his state he served. There is so much about this Kennedy that we never knew until now. This work is a remarkable achievement by a man who loved serving his country in the best way he knew how.

The Body Mafia
Stacy Ditrich
Leisure Books
Dorchester Publishing Company
200 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10016
9780843962895, $7.99,

Ceecee Gallagher is back in action in the third of the series. She is on a case that is truly bizarre. Several homeless mens' dead bodies are turning up minus major organs. They have been, it appears, surgically removed. What she begins to uncover could get her and her husband FBI agent Hagerman, killed. This one is full of surprises with a story that moves along to its surprising ending. Gallagher is a very strong willed character who is determined to find the answers in a deadly cat and mouse chase. The author once again draws the reader into her web of suspense and never lets go. This is the most explosive of the series. I wonder how she can top this one.

Donald E. Westlake
Leisure Books
200 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10016
9780843963755, $7.99,

With little fanfare Donald E. Westlake died more than a year ago and that is so sad because he had us laughing out loud while reading his brilliant comic mystery capers and he was also known for many other novels in the genre. There are many things different about this last published novel by a great author who never got the recognition from readers that he deserved. Critics loved him and his work, but the general public never really knew much about him. I can't count how many times I have recommended his work to other readers over the years. This is the last book written by Westlake and oddly enough it was something he wrote very early in his career. It is the story of a man trying to find out who he is. There are several clues I found that show it was written back in the 1960's. One of those is a reference to the soap operas that are no longer live like they were then. The novel is very interesting and extremely different. For those of us who are familiar with his work, I have to say this is nothing like the Dortmunder capers or anything else I can recall by him. All in all, this is a surprising ending to a large body of work.

Another Memory
Pamela Ridley
Genesis Press Inc
P.O. Box 101, Columbus, MS 39703
9781585713677, $6.99

Kelvin Price is dying of cancer. His friend Chelly Whitaker makes a call to Kelvin's son Sean Price. At first Sean isn't really interested. He then realizes that life is too precious to hold grudges so he puts his life on hold and begins to take care of his ailing father. Chelly has her own demons and knows that one way or the other things have to be resolved. As the book unfolds situations become more involved for everyone. The author takes the reader on a ride with memorable characters in realistic situations. Ridley has written a delightful romance novel that is sure to please any reader of the genre.

The Box
Richard Matheson
Tor Books
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9780765361431, $7.99,

The short story "Button Button" was the basis for the movie "The Box" and this renamed collection of stories. Button is the first awesome tale by one of the masters of horror suspense. The premise is simple: a woman is given a box and told that she will be paid a certain amount of money if she presses the button because someone she does not know will die as a result if she follows through on what she has been told. The piece is typical Matheson with a twist of an ending. This collection is a great example of why Matheson is still one of the best in the field.

Able One
Ben Bova
Tor Books
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9780765323866 $24.99

Bova is always a great read but this one is the scariest because the events that lead up to the confrontation between the United States and North Korea are not so far fetched. as evidenced by how North Korea has handled recent events dealing with nuclear weapons. Also much of the technology presented does already exist. This is more a tecno-thriller in the mode of Tom Clancy. The story moves along at a fast pace to a walloping ending. This one has the trademark conflicts with believable characters that always set Bova's novels apart from other science fiction stories.

Bikini Wednesday With More Stories
Charles H. Bertram
Infinity Publishing
1094 New DeHaven Street, Suite 100, West Conshohocken PA 19428-2713
00741457165, $15.95,

There are eight delightful short stories in this collection but the one that is bound to get the most attention is titled "Bikini Wednesday." Two high school girls decide to skip school and go to the beach. They both are wearing bikinis while enjoying their day at the shore. Nothing wrong with that; teenagers do it all the time. What's different is that one of the females is a Muslim who is not allowed very much because of her strict upbringing. The girl's problem is that several men took pictures of the girls with their cell phones and posted them on the internet, and then all hell breaks loose as the young lady is kidnapped by her own family and taken to Iraq to be killed for her crime against the religion. A series of events unfold as the story gets more complicated. The author deals with several religious issues as well as shows the fallout from one action that a person does and he handles the situation tastefully. Still there are some who may not agree and to them I say, that is their problem.

The Heart of Nine Tigers
Keith Lawrence Roman, author
Summer Clancy, illustrator
Legacy Publishing Services Inc
1883 Lee Road, Winter Park, FL 32789
9781934449561, $16.95

This is a kid's book that has very interesting characters and also teaches lessons of life. Chen Li, a man rumored to be over 300 years old is a town storyteller. He tells tales of a time long ago that many have never known about. The artwork and the bright colors add to the story as both adults and children can read and enjoy the both art forms.

Gary Roen

Georganna's Bookshelf

The Spellmans Strike Again
Lisa Lutz
Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
9781416593409, $25.00,

For fans of the crazy detective family, "Izzy" finally agrees to take over the business as little sister Rae interns doing research on pro bono legal cases that might land her behind bars! Mama Spellman blackmails Izzy into an agreement to periodic blind dates with "promising professionals", which does not amuse Irish boyfriend, Connor, the bartender. Comic mayhem ensues as is to be expected from Lutz's award-nominated series.

Write Starts
Hal Zina Bennett
New World Library
14 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 94949
9781577316893, $14.00,

"Write Starts: Prompts, Quotes, and Exercises to Jumpstart Your Creativity" is so much more than the subtitle promises. Reading the thoughts of a seasoned writer was such a joy and a comfort. I saw my own advice to beginners echoed on these printed pages and found nothing that contradicts my experiences as a writer.

Little books, small in size, always grab my attention. Hal Bennett's "Write Starts: Prompts, Quotes, and Exercises to Jumpstart Your Creativity" from New World Library is just the right size to read at one sitting. The facts that Zinna has over 25 years as a writing coach, workshop facilitator, developmental editor, and is the author of more than thirty books suggested this "slim volume" on pumping up your creativity might hold value.

Belle's Star
Connie Gotsch
Kinkajou Press
c/o Artemesia Publishing
9 Mockingbird Hill Road, Tijeras, NM 87059
978932926019, $7.99,

Written in the first person from a dog's point of view, this novel empowers young people ages 10 to 14 who have experienced abuse and bullying. Adventure and colorful characters help to build new lives by facing the painful issues and finding the strength to heal from them. This book was a finalist in the 2009 New Mexico Book Awards for Juvenile Books.

Philippe Djian

Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
9781439164419, $24.00,

Djian is a reknown author of more than 20 novels. The Paris version of Vogue magazine has called him "...the most American of French writers." To some degree this small book resembles contemporary American short stories and longer literary executions. However, readers should be warned not to hope for a happy ending or to find all the loose ends tied up in a neat package. No, this novel is more realistic, like real life where everyone disappoints everyone else in the family and finds reasons not to forgive one another for something. Is grudge-bearing a genetic heritage? Translated from the French by Euan Cameron, "Unforgivable" by Philippe Djian is also a writer's novel about a writer, possibly a sign that the author is running out of material.

Lighting out for the Territory
Roy Morris, Jr.
Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
9781416598664, $26.00,

"Lighting out for the Territory: How Samuel Clemens Headed West and Became Mark Twain" by Roy Morris, Jr. is a nonfiction offering will delight Mark Twain fans, as well as those of the old West and rollicking true stories. Written by an expert in the post-Civil War era, it expolores Clemens exodus from Missouri to escape conscription. In the subsequent six "lost" years, he adventures from Nevada to Hawaii, with stopovers in San Francisco (of course), meeting true life characters who later turn up as characters in Twain's fiction.

Georganna Hancock

Gloria's Bookshelf

Blood Moon
Garry Disher
Soho Press
853 Broadway, NY, NY 10003
9781569476314, $14.00,

To say that Adrian Wishart was a control freak would be an understatement. It is, therefore, perhaps understandable that when he reports his wife missing, the police are less concerned than Mr. Wishart might have hoped. After all, his wife has not been missing for very long. His fears, however, ultimately prove to be well-founded. But is he in fact the person responsible for his wife's death? They'd only been married for three years. He was known to have been extremely jealous, and given to following his wife around and keeping close track of her movements at all times, whether she was at work or having lunch with a girlfriend. But he appears to have an airtight alibi for the relevant time frame.

The police are already involved in another investigation: the severe beating of the chaplain at a prestigious boarding school, who is also the head of a local fundamentalist church. The victim is in a coma, and the fact that the man's brother is an aide to a local politician, one given to loud criticism of the police, makes matters even more 'delicate.'

The expectations of a lunar eclipse seems to heighten the already intense atmosphere, and on the night of the highly anticipated event Pam Murphy, a new member of the detective squad, stands "transfixed. All human activity except the need to congregate and worship was suspended for an hour or so. . . The red moon mellowed them. They swayed to inner choruses and seemed inclined to kiss and hug each other."

Inspector Hal Challis of the Australian Victoria Police has become 'involved' with Sergeant Ellen Destry, a member of his squad, the Crime Investigation Unit. Though their relationship is only of 3 weeks duration, things have already been getting 'sticky,' on both personal and professional levels. All of these disparate themes are played out with subtlety and precision.

This is the fifth in the Inspector Challis series, set in the Melbourne area. On its most basic level, it is a police procedural, done as well as anything in the genre, but it is more than that, with wonderful characters and sense of place. It is thoroughly enjoyable, and highly recommended.

Buried Strangers
Leighton Gage
Soho Press
853 Broadway, NY, NY 10003
9781569476147, $13.00,

Chief Inspector Mario Silva is Brazil's top cop, working out of the capital city, Brasilia. His new case arises out of the discovery, deep in the recesses of a rain forest, of what appears to be a clandestine cemetery, a spot where 37 bodies have been discovered, 24 of them children, as young as six, having been buried years ago, many of them in family groupings. The investigation uncovers an almost unbelievable history to the killings, and uncertainty as to whether or not they have stopped or merely that the bodies have been buried elsewhere.

For at least the early parts of the book, most chapters have a shifting pov from one to another of the police team working varying aspects of the investigation, which at first was unsettling but moves the plot along quickly and of course all coming together very neatly. The suspense builds steadily, and although much of the writing is wryly humorous, an ever more chilling scenario unfolds, one that has the ring of a frightening reality.

The author's secondary characters, the Federal cops working under Silva, are very strong and likeable, from Silva's nephew, Hector Costa; Arnaldo Nunes, on temporary assignment in Brasilia; Danusa Marcus, "the only child of a Rabbi who'd spent all of her teenage vacations working on a kibbutz" in Israel; Rosa Amorim, mother of three with black belts in three martial arts and a degree in criminal justice; and Geraldo Goncalves, nicknamed Babyface. There are many others equally as well-drawn, including Gilda Caropreso, Sao Paolo's chief medical examiner; who finds a mutual attraction with Hector. There is a real sense of place of the Brazilian cities of Sao Paulo and Brasilia, their people and politics, the rampant nepotism and corruption [referred to as "justice through enrichment"] and their allegiances to sports teams.

Silva in particular is a wonderful protagonist, honest and dedicated, and not without personal demons: his wife has a 'drinking problem,' mostly stemming from the death of their only child from leukemia at age eight years of age. The book kept me turning pages and losing complete track of time, and the pace, rapid throughout, picks up even more as the end of the book nears. Silva has been called South America's Kurt Wallander, and I can't disagree with that assessment. Happily, next up for this reader is the author's new novel, also featuring Mario Silva, just out in hardcover from Soho Press and entitled "Dying Gasp." I can't wait! Highly recommended.

Dying Gasp
Leighton Gage
Soho Press
853 Broadway, NY, NY 10003
9781569476130, $24.00,

When the fifteen-year-old granddaughter of one of the most important and influential men in Recife, and indeed in all of Brazil, goes missing, the case lands on the desk of Chief Inspector Mario Silva, who makes his third appearance in this latest in the series. [The politician's office is described as "decorated partly in nineteenth-century French colonial and partly in twenty-first-century Brazilian egomaniac."] As the Brazilian Federal Police is apparently "a smaller organization than the police departments of many major cities," Silva is forced to call upon the local police. This would seem to be a good thing, until one realizes how thoroughly corrupt are those so-called officers of the law.

The early action in the book takes place in Amsterdam, before settling in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital, and Manaus, deep in Amazon country. The description of the latter city in these pages will not raise any tourism interest, depicted as it is as a place rife with corruption and crime to incredible degrees. Silva's investigation is hampered on all sides: When outright bribery is not the motivating force, it is political expediency.

In this novel the author delves a bit more into the back-story of Inspector Silva. As well, he brings back Claudia Andrade, the hugely sadistic woman who readers met in "Buried Strangers," the second novel in the series. This book is darker and more violent than the prior entry, dealing as it does with the exploitation of under-age girls, some as young as 10, sold into prostitution and worse, much worse. The suspense steadily builds towards a page-turning denouement, and the fast pace, tight plotting and well-drawn characters all make it a book which is highly recommended.

Cemetery Road
Gar Anthony Haywood
Severn House
595 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022
9780727868510, $28.95,

In 1979 Los Angeles, three young black men, best friends since high school - Errol ["Handy"] White, O'Neal ["O' "] Holden, and R.J. ["RJ"] Burrow - self-described as petty thieves, decide to make a bold move, something that will bring them a high score at low risk. But the proverbial best-laid plans go unbelievably awry, in the aftermath of which they make a pact to rid themselves of the stolen goods [money and drugs] and to never contact each other again, each aspect of which a difficult decision. But since the original owner of the goods is a feared drug dealer, they agree it must be done. Handy fled to St. Paul, Minnesota; O'Neal is now the mayor of Bellwood, just outside of LA; and RJ has been murdered - shot four times and left in the trunk of a stolen car. Handy and O'Neal meet for the first time in 25 years at RJ's funeral, although Handy returns to Minnesota later that same day.

The tale is told from the p.o.v.of Handy, who describes O'Neal as one "born to be a mover and a shaker, a force of nature wrapped tightly if precariously in human form;" RJ as "not nearly so complex. If any of us was predisposed to a life of crime, it was him. R.J. was short and lean and forever on the lookout for any sign of disrespect, and there was no fight or challenge he would not take on with the zeal of a man possessed;" and himself as "a sad-eyed, middle-aged black man with a salt-and-pepper beard . . . who'd never married but had a grown daughter he rarely saw and barely knew, turning screws on broken toasters and washing machines just to eat."

One week later, Handy returns to LA: "I'd come back to Los Angeles following R.J.'s funeral in pursuit of a pipe dream, the preposterous belief that I could involve myself in the fallout from my old friend's murder just enough to keep the past in the past. But it couldn't be done. I could see that now. Wheels had been set in motion that would eventually, inexorably bring what R.J., O' and I had done twenty-six years ago to light, and I no longer had the hubris nor the energy to fight it."

The title of the book derives from something Handy was told many years ago by his grandfather: "there were many paths a man could take during his time on earth, but sooner or later, they all brought him down the same one: cemetery road. There was no running from it, there was no hiding from it."

The writing put this reader in mind of Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins books. But ultimately that is unfair to Mr. Haywood. This is a wholly original and powerful book, with the answers not revealed till the final pages, and is recommended.

Fell Purpose
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Severn House
595 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022
9780727868428, $28.95,

The twelfth book in the Bill Slider series finds the Detective Inspector and his team from the Shepherd's Bush police station investigating the murder of a young girl, not quite seventeen years old, strangled with a pair of women's tights. There is no evidence of rape, but the crime is quite awful enough - Slider's own daughter is nearing that same age, and he can't help but relate to the horror her parents must now face.

When the parents are interviewed, an interesting scenario is presented: The mother wanted nothing more than for her daughter to attend the 'right' school and make a 'good' marriage, whereas the father wanted to keep her in a regimented lifestyle which would not expose her to the superficial and boy-crazed delights of her friends. She was a beautiful and apparently talented and brilliant young woman. But was she as innocent as her parents were convinced she was? The investigation ultimately turns up at least three viable suspects, but getting inside the head of this enigmatic victim to identify the man who killed her is not easily done.

The cops on Slider's team are, as always, wonderfully drawn characters, and I smiled when Superintendent Porson made his appearance, he of the mixed metaphors and endearing malapropisms, of whom the author says: "In his headlong and tempestuous battle with crime, and with life in general, Porson's way was to fling whatever words came first to hand in the general direction of meaning, and hope some of them stuck." Others are described as follows: One cop's coat "was so vast and long it looked as if it was taking him for a walk rather than vice versa. His massive and strangely bumpy bald head shone in the muted sunlight, a beacon of hope and a symbol of courage in adversity." Of another: "He was tall, and so thin he had to run around in the shower to get wet . . . People trusted him and told him things they wouldn't tell someone who looked more like a paid-up member of the human race," and interviews a woman "who was so dense that light bent around her." Yet another is described as "so slow, you should have your own time zone."

Despite the horrendous nature of the crime at the center of it, the book is nevertheless a pleasure to read. The author's descriptions of even the smallest scenes are letter-perfect, bringing them to life for the reader. It is another wonderful novel by Ms. Harrod-Eagles, and is highly recommended.

Corpus Delicti
Keith McCarthy
Severn House
595 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022
9780727868367, $28.95,

The first several pages of this book one by one introduce various characters in seemingly unrelated settings, in somewhat disconcerting fashion. Initially we meet Inspector Beverley Wharton, of the CID, held up in her homeward travel by a fatal traffic accident. Then we are introduced to Violet Esterly, a hematology technician at work in her lab; followed shortly by a scene with Helena Flemming, criminal defense solicitor, disturbed at the realization that she is no longer in love with her live-in lover, forensic pathologist John Eisenmenger; and then, one page later, Billy Whipple, a young petty thief looking for a hookup with a pretty girl who apparently has just broken up with her violent, mean-tempered thug of a boyfriend. We shortly thereafter come upon Dr. Eugenie Lyon, pathologist in the department of histopathology at Cheltenham General Hospital, startled to find that the remains on which she is performing an autopsy seems to have one too many body parts.

These characters are soon, of course, more fully fleshed out - Violet has allowed herself to become involved in something possibly illegal at the behest of a man calling himself a "blood merchant," and hoping against hope that she can end that involvement and all it implies for her future. Helena has embarked on a new relationship. Billy is murdered for reasons the reader can only start to guess at. And the lives of the other characters are explored as well, all of them, or the fallout thereof, intersecting at some point, in fairly ingenious fashion.

The plot is intriguing, the writing wonderful in surprising ways. Billy's mother, being questioned by Beverley after she reports her son missing, "donned a smile but it must have been too uncomfortable, perhaps chafing around her collar, because she soon let it drop to the carpet." A photo of her son "did not strike Beverley as overwhelmingly attractive, but then ugly people went missing, were abused, tortured or murdered, every day; they had as much right to the benefits of modern society as the beautiful ones." She visits a house where "there was a small garden of sorts, one that sported a single rosebush and a dustbin in a sort of microcosmic representation of modern urban living . . . posters outside tried to provoke excitement in Beverley's breast by promising her a night of prize bingo yet, unaccountably, failed in this mission." And one character is described as "not worth the price of omission." [I must admit that the author increased my vocabulary by a factor of several, e.g., cachectic, immiscible, incunabula, scrofulous . . .]

Though the reader will have figured out some aspects of the resolution of the plot before the end, it takes nothing at all away from the enjoyment of the novel, which is not to say that I was not ultimately wholly unprepared for the ending. I was not familiar with this author's work - this book is the seventh in what is billed as the John Eisenmenger and Helena Flemming forensic mystery series - but I will not miss future novels by him if I can help it - it was, quite simply, terrific, and is recommended.

Thereby Hangs a Tail
Spencer Quinn
Atria Books
1230 Sixth Ave., NY, NY 10020 800-223-2336
9781416585855, $25.00,

This book has two protagonists. Bernie Little, West Point graduate, veteran of the Gulf wars and ex-cop, is the human component, and Chet the K-9 schooled [notwithstanding that he washed out on the last day of that training] one-hundred pound canine with mis-matched ears who communicates with his owner/partner in his own doggie shorthand, an ability that can be confirmed by any dog owner.

Chet the dog and Bernie together comprise the Little Detective Agency. As Chet says, speaking of Bernie, "His interviewing skills and my nose: if you want my opinion, that's what raised the Little Detective Agency above the rest." When the prospect of a job paying $2,000 a day comes their way, and since Bernie finds himself in dire financial straits, he is sorely tempted, until he finds out that the job consists of guarding a blue-ribbon-winning show dog nicknamed Princess. It seems that threats have been made. Ultimately Bernie accepts the job, followed promptly by his being fired when Chet misbehaves. But when Princess and her owner are kidnapped, and the current object of Bernie's affections, Suzie Sanchez, a journalist investigating the story, disappears as well, Bernie and Chet are on the case.

Chet is a devoted and loyal canine partner. He periodically reminds the reader that Bernie is "always the smartest human in the room," and certainly has invaluable skills of his own. Chet faces his own dangerous situations in this second entry in the series. The book, and the series, is many things: Charming, funny, compulsively readable, suspenseful, and altogether delightful. I must admit that in general books with animals who talk - and especially animals which also solve, or assist in solving, crimes - are not among my favorite things. But Chet defies pigeonholing. The book is wholly original and hugely entertaining, and is highly recommended.

The Unnamed
Joshua Ferris
Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown & Co.
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
9780316034012, $24.99,

Tim Farnsworth is apparently the victim of a strange malady, part narcolepsy, part something else entirely, something which seems to be unknown in the annals of medicine to date: an inexplicable and completely irresistible, uncontrollable compulsion to walk. When an "attack" begins, it can last for days, or months, for miles and miles, even from one State to another, until his legs can no longer move. Then and only then can he stop moving, usually to fall where he stands into an exhausted sleep, only to start walking endlessly again upon waking. If in mid-winter, he may be dressed only in jacket and slacks, although he is sometimes moved to discard even these, proceeding barefoot and clad only in his boxer shorts, and continue on as far and as long as his legs just keep carrying him forward. A strange affliction, to be sure. And an unusual book.

Tim, a handsome man and successful partner in a prestigious midtown Manhattan law firm, has in the past had a routine of calling his wife, Jane, telling her where he was, and waiting patiently for her to arrive and bring him home. Together they have explored a diagnosis and treatment, from Mayo Institute in the US to clinics in Europe, to no avail. As the book opens, the second recurrence has just started, even as he is in the midst of preparing to defend a Very Important Client against a murder charge.

Tim and Jane have in addition had to deal with their daughter Becka's teenage angst. She was nine when her father symptoms first appeared. Now seventeen, she wears her hair in dreadlocks, is grossly overweight, and plays the guitar to the exclusion of almost all else, but as the book progresses must take her turn overseeing her father and rescuing him when necessary. A grueling business for all concerned. As to the marriage, the author says about Jane: "She couldn't know about walking. They were like two inviolable spheres touching at a fine point in their curves, touching but failing to penetrate, failing to breathe the other's air. She chose to believe him when he told her that his condition was not a disorder of the mind but a malfunction of the body." On its face a medical mystery, this is also a compelling and powerful tale dealing with some of the most basic and human of emotions, of commitment to one's loved ones, of hope and despair, at once disturbing and surprising. Recommended.

The Lock Artist
Steve Hamilton
Minotaur Books
c/o St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010
9780312380427, $24.99,

The story of "The Lock Artist," the wonderful new standalone by Steve Hamilton, the author of the justly popular Alex McKnight series, is told in a series of flashbacks covering the decade of the '90's. Not written in linear fashion, each chapter's time frame helpfully appears atop each page, but the reader nonetheless has no choice but to stay sharply focused on the plot, which is no problem at all: I was riveted throughout.

Michael, the protagonist and eponymous professional safecracker, is well-known in the town just north of Detroit, Michigan, where he grew up. He has been called, among other things, the Milford Mute, for he is and has been apparently incapable of speech, or indeed of sound of any kind, since barely surviving unspeakable trauma at the age of eight, though the several doctors consulted believe that there is no physical cause. As the flashbacks begin, he is seventeen years old, and describes himself as "the specialist, brought in at the last minute to do my part. It didn't help that I looked like I hadn't even started shaving yet, and that beyond that I was some kind of mutant freak who couldn't even say one word out loud." He is The Boxman, able to open any lock, crack any safe, and is the one called upon when only the best will do.

The reader completely accepts Michael's life and his condition, so expertly is it laid out. Equally so his "indenture" to a man who remains nameless other than "the man in Detroit" through whom arrangements are made for the jobs Michael is given, for a fee to Michael of course and a cut off the top to "the man." While the specifics went right over my head, great pains are taken to describe the process he follows when opening a lock, or a safe. [In an author's note we are assured that just enough of the details are changed so that no illegal acts will result.] The author certainly makes the troubling point that "[n]obody is safe. Ever. Anywhere."

Parenthetically, it was delightful to find Michael using a fake identity, at one point, in the name of Robin Agnew, real-life Michigan bookseller extraordinaire.

To call this novel compelling is an understatement; it was nearly mesmerizing. Mr. Hamilton has created a unique protagonist in this thoroughly original tale, and it is highly recommended.

Fatally Flaky
Diane Mott Davidson
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
9780061348143, $7.99,

Goldy Schulz, caterer deluxe, returns in her 15th appearance in this series. It is summer in Colorado, and she is about to do a wedding for the bride from hell, who has already changed the wedding date twice, along with every other aspect of the nuptials, Bridezilla Billie, as Goldy thinks of her, is 36 years old, and getting married for the first time after having been jilted by two fiances, and is also apparently a complete flake. The change of venue from Goldy's own catering space to the Gold Gulch Spa, owned by her nemesis, Victor Lane, is the last straw. When the big day finally arrives, Goldy's primary thought was a prayer that it would all be over quickly, an emotion I found myself sharing. [The minutiae of the planning was getting to be a bit much, for both of us.]

Goldy's husband, Tom, is an investigator with the Furman County Sheriff's Department, and he has his hands full when two days before Bridezilla's wedding Doc Finn, the best friend of Goldy's beloved godfather, Jack, is found murdered. Not long afterwards Jack himself, a 58-year-old "recovering lawyer," is attacked and, after being taken to the hospital, dies from an apparent heart attack. Tom believes the two incidents are related. Goldy is burdened by guilt feelings: Jack had recently moved from New Jersey and bought the house across the street from her just so that they could re-establish their close relationship [in addition to his generous help and support after the break-up of her first marriage]. Just before he dies he gives Goldy a note that appears to refer to the spa, and Goldy arranges to work there to try to find out what Jack was trying to tell her.

There is apparently more going on at the spa, whose clients pay $7,000 per week for the privilege of eating impossibly drab food, than meets the eye. How else to explain why the place is always fully booked, all year long [in Colorado, mind you!], with a waiting list? Goldy's investigation involves a lot of snooping, a lot of cooking [all gone into in great detail, recipes included at the end of the book], and a lot of danger to herself. I found myself wondering how even a small-town Sheriff's Department could spare a deputy to not only guard Goldy but assist her in numerous ways in and around the kitchen. But the book is a light read that will be sure to please readers wanting some good cooking tips [and those recipes!] along with their mystery.

The Bricklayer
Noah Boyd
William Morrow
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
9780061827013, $24.99,

The reader is introduced to Steve Vail, the titular brick mason, in the opening pages of this book as he calmly and efficiently thwarts a bank robbery by two armed men, in the aftermath of which he just as calmly disappears. Just a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. For both Vail and the gunmen.

The FBI is in the midst of a case involving a group calling itself the Rubaco Pentad, which has pulled off a series of high-profile kidnappings across the country over a span of six weeks and demanded millions of dollars in ransom money directly from the FBI, ultimately killing the hostages. Their planning in each instance is flawless, the Bureau made to look ridiculous and inept. Since each of the victims had had serious public problems with the FBI, the media has dubbed the case 'the Enemies of the FBI murders.'

The author's background has more than a passing similarity to that of his protagonist: Noah Boyd is a pseudonym for a former agent with the Detroit FBI. He retired in 1993 after writing a book unflattering to the Bureau, earning him a suspension, and later wrote a scathing article for a national magazine. In the novel, Steve Vail was an agent for three years before being fired for insubordination. Now, five years later, after the FBI has been duly impressed with the video taken at the scene of the bank robbery, they have sent a female Deputy Assistant Director, Kate Bannon, to try to prevail upon him to help them where all other efforts have failed, and try to bring down the extortionists and prevent any more killings, believing him to have the requisite skills and discretion they need. One agent is killed in the course of one payoff attempt and another disappears during the course of a second.

Vail is an extraordinary protagonist, displaying what he calls 'world-class scorn' toward the world in general and the FBI in particular, but is persuaded to assist in the case. He is fearless, has great instincts, brains and courage. [In short, another Jack Reacher.] The writing contains just enough humor to release the tension, sexual and otherwise, as it ratchets up higher and higher. And the ending is masterful. The book is fast-paced and compulsively readable, and is highly recommended.

Gloria Feit

Gorden's Bookshelf

Grave Peril
Jim Butcher
c/o Penguin Publishing Group
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780451458445, $7.99,

Butcher continues with his building of a parallel magical world with Grave Peril. The story is as rich and complex as the first two books in the series. The plot line is a little more complex than the first two because of an increase in backstory. The only weakness in the tales is a tendency to build the perils too high. By the end of the story Dresden is so battered and abused he is at death's door, literally. And this peril happens too frequently. A little pacing to the high intensity storyline would help build in the details that are too thinly covered when a storyline is continually building in intensity.

Ghosts are coming to life in Chicago and Harry with the help of Michael, a True Knight of the faith with a Holy sword, speed from one deadly haunting to the next. Someone or something is weakening the boundary between the NeverNever and the real world and sending ghosts through the boundary to wreak havoc. People close to Harry seem to be primarily targeted by the ghosts and soon Harry realizes that he has been slated for destruction. A minefield of ancient taboos and magic has to be navigated if Harry and his friends will survive.

Book 3 of the 'Dresden Files' series, Grave Peril is recommended as pure fun escapism. Do not expect more from it but good escapism is hard to find. Reading should be fun and that is what you will find in this horror action adventure. Just don't expect to get much done until you finish the book.

Final Theory
Mark Alpert
Pocket Star Books
c/o Pocket Books
1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
9781439109410, $7.99,

Action/adventure stories with a strong speculative science subplot are harder to find today than in the past. Final Theory is a good mainstream tale in this genre. Hard science SF purists will find that the storyline feels a little pushed with a too deep dependence on popular action themes and character stereotypes. For the average reader, it is a fast paced action story that you can get lost in.

David Swift is a professor and writer specializing in scientific history. He is stopped by the police and asked to come to a hospital where Hans Walter Klienman, theoretical physicist and colleague of Einstein, is dying from an assault. He has asked to speak to David before he dies. Hans whispers to him a series of numbers and 'Einheitliche Feldtheorie,' the German words for Unified Field Theory. David realizes that Einstein might have solved the problem of explaining both Relativity and Quantum Mechanics with one set of equations. Something physicists have been trying to do for nearly 100 years.

But he is not alone in this realization. The FBI, terrorists and the Department of Defense all have a stake in this theory. All are willing to do anything to get it, even torture and kill. Soon David is running for his life from a killer wanting to torture the information from him and the FBI trying to coerce and blackmail him. His only possible help is a girlfriend he hasn't seen in years. Monique Reynolds is a String Theorist living in Princeton in the home Einstein had once lived in. The body count rises as he runs for his life.

Final Theory is a good weekend action/adventure read. The story is fast with enough action so the small problems in the storyline can be ignored. It is enough different from the usual action fare that you will be glad you picked it up. It is a bit of variety in the current contemporary market that has been missing for the last few years. It is a treasured find in the used bookstore and worth the effort to find at full price.

S.A. Gorden, Reviewer

Harwood's Bookshelf

Exuberant Skepticism
Paul Kurtz
Prometheus Books
59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst NY 14228-2119
9781591027782, $19.00,

"Was there a Great Flood and a Noah's Ark? I don't see how or why we should declare that those historical religious claims are immune to scientific investigation." Compare that delineation by Paul Kurtz (p. 88) of nontheism's pragmatic starting point, with the rant of a hate cult called In God We Trust, which described a coalition demanding that President Obama grant equal treatment to the 36 percent of Americans who are nontheists as, "some of the most hate-filled, anti-religion groups in the nation." Pushers of theocracy (as their objection to the President even meeting with nontheists reveals them to be) calling nontheists "hate-filled" is analogous to Adolf Hitler calling Winston Churchill a Nazi, and I would have liked to see Kurtz pointing out that religion is not merely falsifiable, but also the source of 90 percent of all manmade evil for more than three thousand years. Unfortunately, that is an issue he does not pursue.

Kurtz rightly blames the perpetuation of ignorance on two factors: the media's "hands off" attitude toward religion, and the extension of that policy to other contrary-to-fact beliefs. For example (p. 76), "On the current world scene, belief in the paranormal is fed and reinforced by a vast media industry that profits from it, and it has been transformed into a folk religion, perhaps the dominant one today." He points out (p. 82) that, "Until the religious is submitted to intellectual critique openly and forthrightly, the paranormal will continue to flourish on the fringe of science." But despite even United Nations resolutions equating criticism of religion with hatemongering, it remains true that (p. 29), "Whether tar water can cure the hives or whether the moon is made of green cheese can presumably be tested and confirmed or disconfirmed rather conclusively."

"After two decades of investigation by skeptical inquirers, we are continually astonished by the fact that no matter how often we criticize paranormal belief claims, they still persist. Indeed, even if they are thoroughly examined and refuted in one age, they seem to reemerge within the next, and people will continue to believe in them in spite of evidence to the contrary. This is what I have called the 'unsinkable rubber duck' syndrome" (p. 179). "No matter how many times they are submerged, they tend to surface again" (p. 215).

Kurtz acknowledges (p. 18) that, "Some skeptics deny paranormal phenomena on a priori grounds, that is, they are to be rejected because they violate well-established physical laws. They can be considered dogmatists only if they refuse to examine the evidence brought by proponents of the paranormal." His own position is (p. 21) that, "there are methodological criteria by which we are able to test claims to knowledge: empirical tests based on observation, logical standards of coherence and consistency, and experimental tests in which ideas are judged by their consequences."

On the parallel between disbelief in religion and disbelief in the paranormal, Kurtz declares (pp. 96-97) that, "a skeptic is a nontheist or an atheist. The better way to describe this stance, I submit, is to say that such a person is a skeptic about religious claims…. The expression 'a skeptic about religious claims' is more appropriate in my opinion than the term atheist, for it emphasizes inquiry." Pardon me if I disagree. There are many extraordinary claims about which I am skeptical, but which may conceivably turn out to be true. But given the quantity and quality of the falsifying evidence I would assuredly not describe myself as merely "skeptical" about religion and the paranormal. Those belief systems have been researched and falsified beyond even a vanishingly small probability of new evidence some day proving them valid. But I do agree that the term "atheist" should be abandoned, for the same reason persons who agree that they are happy, carefree and contented are no longer willing to describe themselves as "gay." With the masses brainwashed into equating "atheism" with "dogmatism," a replacement for the word is indeed needed. My recommendation is "nontheist."

Kurtz concentrates on demonstrating the reasonableness of free inquiry. But he does offer arguments against some of the most absurd religious claims. For example (p. 98), "The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 that accidentally killed more than two hundred thousand innocent men, women, and children was due to a shift in tectonic plates. This hardly indicates fine-tuning - after all, this tragedy could be avoided had a supposed fine-tuner troubled to correct defects in the surface strata of the planet…. [If the world was intelligently designed] should we not also attribute the errors and mistakes encountered in nature to the designer?"

He lists among "a number of principles parapsychologists apparently wish to overthrow (p. 41); (1) that future events cannot affect the present before they happen (backward causation); (2) that a person's mind cannot effect a change in the material world: there has to be intervention by some physical energy or force; … (5) that discarnate beings do not exist as persons separable from physical bodies. These general principles have been built up from a mass of observations and should not be abandoned until there is an overabundant degree of evidence that would make their rejection more plausible than their acceptance."

After citing some of the fraudulent claims made by believers in the paranormal, Kurtz clarifies (p. 211), "I surely do not wish to suggest that conscious deception is the primary explanation for all or even most paranormal beliefs. Rather, it is self-deception that accounts for so much credulity." He summarizes (p. 206), "Looking ahead, I think that we can expect, unfortunately, that spiritual-paranormal beliefs will continue to lure large sectors of humanity."

Kurtz devotes a chapter, first published in 1990, to a defence of the concept of "eupraxsophy" (a word he invented). Since the term has failed to take off in twenty years, perhaps it is time it was quietly put out to pasture? But his view of ethics does not need a new vocabulary to legitimize it. He reports (p. 103) that, "theists maintain that one cannot be good unless one believes in God," and responds, "It has been demonstrated time and time again, by countless human beings, that it is possible to be morally concerned with the needs of others, to be a good citizen, and to lead a life of nobility and excellence, all without religion." Perhaps because that observation is self-evident and easily verifiable, he does not point out that the number of nontheists in correctional institutions, less than 2 percent compared to 36 percent in the general population, supports the implication that belief in a deity willing to forgive any transgression on demand actually diminishes the impulse to avoid antisocial behavior.

He also rejects the vacuous absurdity that all concepts of morality and ethics exist only in the eye of the beholder. He asks (p. 125), "if there are no objective standards of ethical value, is the statement that 'the policies of Hitler and Stalin were evil' without any other basis than that we or I do not like them? … To argue the position of the ethical neutralist - that is, that one must be 'morally neutral' about all moral questions - is similarly mistaken."

Concerning claims that life-after-death has been proven by near-death experiences, Kurtz reports the fact (not opinion) that (p. 103), "we never hear from anyone who has truly died by any clinical standard, gone to 'the other side,' and returned." He asks (p. 108), "What, then, is the proper domain of religion? Is anything left to religion? My answer is in the affirmative." He justifies that defence of the indefensible by defining religion to include metaphysical postulations that do not involve a "he who must be obeyed" lawgiver. Such belief systems exist, but they do not conform to what a predominance of skeptics perceive "religion" to mean. Buddhism, for example, is an ethical philosophy. While post-Gautama forms of Buddhism that involve one or more gods is a religion, original Buddhism (that Kurtz presumably sees as the proper domain of religion) is not.

Prometheus publishes far more books than its Founder and Chairman could personally read. Among those Professor Kurtz clearly has not read are Robert Baker's They Call it Hypnosis, which did to the hypnotism delusion what Richard Dawkins did to the god delusion. That explains why Kurtz limits his criticism of hypnotism to specific claims of what it has allegedly accomplished. He asks (p. 176), "Is hypnosis a special 'trance state' induced in a subject, or is he or she simply acting out the suggestion of the hypnotist?" Perhaps because his determined pragmatism disbars him from expressing a conclusion in an area outside of his expertise, he refrains from offering a specific answer to that question. But he does report (p. 196) that a psychiatrist "put Betty and Barney Hill under hypnosis. He said that he did not believe such an event [kidnapping by extraterrestrials who resembled human beings in Star Trek makeup] occurred, though the Hills themselves were convinced they had seen something."

In the case of Dr John Mack, who wrote a book expressing his belief in fantasies, including alien abductions, past lives, time travel, and a flying horse, fed to him by "hypnotized" patients, Kurtz writes (p. 196), "Mack said he was convinced that these abductions were real; he had a number of otherwise trustworthy people who reported such experiences under hypnosis, and he had to accept their claims as true." Kurtz leaves little doubt that he dismisses tall tales told under alleged hypnosis as confabulations, fantasies that the tellers may or may not believe themselves. He knows that (p. 77), "for many people the fact that something is possible converts it into the actual." More specifically, because intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is a plausible hypothesis, in the minds of the ignoranti that means that misidentified aerial objects must be extraterrestrial spaceships - as they clearly are not. But he refuses to recognize that the evidence for the reality of hypnosis is as nonexistent as the evidence for Erich von Daniken's space gods. Pragmatism is good, but it can be carried to unreasonable lengths.

Perhaps because Kurtz is a philosopher, an occupation Mark Twain described as "a blind man in a dark room searching for a black cat that is not there," he strategically refuses to recognize other disciplines in which, like his own, there are no issues on which experts hold near-unanimous opinions, as contentless doubletalk. Thus he writes (p. 67) that, "Another illustration of antiscience is the growing opposition to psychiatry. Thomas Szasz has no doubt played a key role here." In fact what Szasz has been trying to get through to the culturally brainwashed for a half-century is that, while "insane" may be a useful metaphor for an individual whose thought patterns are so undisciplined that they appear to be involuntary even though they are not, "mental illness" simply does not exist. Psychiatrists practise the same combination of sympathetic listening and cold reading as bartenders, taxi drivers and hetaeras, but without the real experts' ability to recognize that their guesses are as likely to be wrong as right. When a psychiatrist recognizes that talk therapy (oxymoron) is not working, and prescribes a mood-altering drug (does anyone really think that moodiness is an illness?), that may be the only time in his life that he actually practises medicine.

Kurtz is aware (p. 217) that, "Many skeptics have likewise been very critical of schools of psychotherapy, notably psychoanalysis, for lacking clinical data about the efficacy of their methods." He also knows (p. 177) that, "Critics point out that psychology, sociology, anthropology, and political science are riddled with inadequate experimental designs and questionable studies…. It is not the belief or disbelief that is the main issue, but the facts, theories, and methods of verification."

Competing religions are so incompatible that, for any one of them to be true, all others must be false. Is it such a big step to recognize that competing schools of psychology (Freudian, Gestalt, Skinnerian, Rogerian, Adlerian, etc ad nauseum) are likewise so incompatible that, for any one of them to qualify as "science," all others must be masturbation fantasies? In the twenty years that Law and Order has been on television, there have been at least one or two episode every year in which, every time the prosecution or defence calls a psychiatrist as an expert witness, the other side calls its own psychiatrist who vehemently disagrees with the first psychiatrist. Do persons who watch such episodes imagine that the disagreements portrayed are aberrations, rather than accurate portrayals of the reality that fifty percent of all psychiatrists will dispute any conclusion by any other psychiatrist? Can a discipline in which there is no near-universally accepted theory be considered any more scientifically credible than tealeaf reading?

Kurtz does not get everything right. Does anybody? As his editor John Shook says in his Preface (p. 9), "If there is a brighter future for humanity, a future in which every person enjoys a realistic opportunity for the pursuit of excellence, Kurtz's exuberant skepticism can show us the way." Indeed it can.

The Book of Genesis
Illustrated by R. Crumb
W.W. Norton
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110
9780393061024, $24.95,

As someone who spent several years "translating a bible bigger than any now in use," to quote from Frank Zindler's review in American Atheist, with no reasonable expectation of ever receiving even a minimum wage for the time I invested, I am probably not the best person to be asking illustrator R. Crumb why he turned Genesis into a graphic novel. A climber's comment about why he climbed Mount Everest, "because it's there," seems to be the only explanation.

Certainly Crumb neither draws attention to Genesis's absurdity and moral depravity nor attempts to do so. An Amazon reviewer suggested that he was a guilty Catholic trying to make amends for his use of satire in his previous less-then-pious comics, and I see no evidence here that such an assessment was inaccurate. An illustrated version of the collection of fairy tales found in ninety percent of American homes and actually read in only a tiny fraction of that number serves the cause of religion considerably more than it serves the cause of freedom from religion. Given how unteachable the organized crime syndicate known as the Catholic Church is, it is unlikely to recognize that Crumb has provided it with a useful tool for propagating its pretence that human beings are the domesticated livestock of the most sadistic, evil, mass-murdering psychopath in all fiction. After all, for several centuries the RC Church refused to allow its bible to be translated into languages its mindslaves could read, out of fear that if they learned what their bible really says they would cease to be godworshippers. That did not happen, not because believers were saner or more intelligent than the church hierarchy feared, but because the masses were no more willing to read a vernacular bible than a Latin bible. So if the Vatican fears that an illustrated bible might draw the attention of pope addicts to the book's status as the most obscene paean to evil even written, with the possible exception of the Koran, they are still crediting the godphuqt with functioning human brains that they do not have.

Crumb appends his illustrations to the 2004 bible translation by Robert Alter, not the worst choice he could have made, but certainly a version that continues a centuries-long tradition of falsifying every passage that, in the original language, diametrically contradicted the mythology the translator wanted to perpetuate. (See my review of Alter's The Five Books of Moses in MBR July 2005.) Thus Alter's translation begins, "When God began to create the heaven and earth." Compare that to The Protestant Bible Correctly Translated, which renders the same passage, "At commencement the gods conjured up the skies and the land." Crumb reproduces the entire content of Alter's translation unabridged, and adds comic-strip illustrations to each verse, creating a graphic novel.

For persons not familiar with the term "graphic novel," it means simply "illustrated novel." The illustrations are not "graphic" as some persons use that word, meaning permeated with images that the squeamish call "pornography." In a couple of places (chapters 19, 24) Crumb illustrates expressions such as "lay with him" and "loved her" with depictions of the individuals copulating. But the drawings are not explicit, and a child would perceive the couples as simply cuddling.

As much as I hate to give aid and comfort to pushers of the most contagious form of mind-AIDS that has ever existed, I feel obliged to acknowledge that a religion that adopted this book and distributed paperback copies could greatly increase its following. I can only hope that does not happen.

Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future
Chris Mooney & Sheril Kirshenbaum
Basic Books
c/o Perseus Book Group
2300 Chestnut St., #200, Philadelphia, PA 19103
9780465013050, $24.00,

My review of Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science was generally laudatory. I am less impressed by this follow-up. While it is more than a mere replication of points he had already made, the new material is, by comparison with the previous book, at best trivial. His recognition (p. ix) that, in combating the anti-science of 2001-2009, "the solution required far more than throwing George W. Bush out of the White House," cannot be faulted. But it foreshadowed a solution that Mooney and Kirshenbaum then failed to deliver.

Consider (p. 3), "College-educated Democrats are now more than twice as likely as college-educated Republicans to believe that global warming is real and is caused by human activities." Perhaps readers do need this further reminder of where the problem lies. He continues (p. 5), "From 2001 through 2008, the United States was governed by an administration widely denounced for a disdain of science unprecedented in modern American history. Judged next to this staggering low, President Barack Obama's administration gives us great reason for hope." I can only assume that, given the delay in getting a book into print, those words were written before Obama significantly expanded Bush's "faith-based initiatives" and other policies designed to criminalize science and turn America into a Christian theocracy. But his warning is timely that (p. 10), "even though the scientific community's old foes (anti-evolutionists, global warming deniers, and so on) may have fallen out of political power, they are no less determined."

M & K are well aware who science's-and America's-enemies are. Their report (p. 13) that "Only half of the adult population knows the earth orbits the sun once a year," is as definitive an indictment of high school science classes as anything else in the book. They recognize (p. 29) that "The emergence of the Religious Right onto the political stage . was also a major factor in curtailing the role of science in public policy." They recognize (p. 54) that, "By early 2008, for example, TV's top five Sunday talk-show hosts . had interviewed the various [presidential] candidates more than 175 times and asked some 3,000 questions. Yet only six of those exchanges even mentioned 'global warming' or 'climate change.'.. Sciencedebate2008 found its invitation declined by the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns and ignored entirely by the John McCain campaign."

They have harsh words for proponents of scientific illiteracy: "Jenny McCarthy, celebrity vaccine critic extraordinaire, is proud of her degree from the 'University of Google'" (p. 6). "When John McCain and Sarah Palin ridiculed research on fruit flies and grizzly bears on the 2008 campaign trail, they were appealing to precisely this anti-intellectual strand in the American character" (p. 5). "President Ronald Reagan . brought anti-science into the American political mainstream as never before" (p. 37). And they point out that many scientists "think we're still in the age of Edward R. Murrow. In fact it's the age of Bill O'Reilly" (p. 74). Anyone who does not see the transformation from Murrow to O'Reilly as analogous to the way strawberry cheesecake is transformed after passing through the human intestines is probably a Republican.

In contrast (p. 61), they advise scientists who wish to communicate with the media to "take a page from Canadian politician Preston Manning." Are they unaware that Manning was the most unabashed theofascist in Canadian history? If he had remained leader of the party that is now governing Canada, he would have already tried to restore heretic-burning. Or do they see the overthrow of democracy and its replacement by theocracy as a good thing? Nothing in their book convinces me that they do not favor theocracy. Just because they share my repulsion for the Republican religion, it does not necessarily follow that they would support the separation of church and state if the threatened theocracy was their concept of a science-friendly "liberal" religion.

M & K are not unaware of the arguments raised by prominent nontheists against pandering to religion in any form. He reports (p. 97) that, "Sam Harris questions the very notion of tolerating religious moderates; he thinks they merely enable extremists. For Richard Dawkins, meanwhile, those who do not criticize religion but still want to defend the teaching of good science in schools fall into the 'Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists' and 'the appeasement lobby.'" By referring to "the appeasement lobby" in the third person, are the authors implying that they are not part of it without actually saying so? Or do they really belong to the faction being appeased? It is a question they carefully avoid answering.

M & K do reveal their less-than-hidden agenda when in at least three places they disdain the neutral term "religion," and replace it with "faith," a term that carries the connotation that belief in Mother Goose's male counterpart is as legitimate as belief in Napoleon and Caesar. They state (pp. 97-98) that, "if forced to choose between faith and science, vast numbers of Americans will select the former. The New Atheists err in insisting that such a choice needs to be made." They cite the Quisling resolution of the NAS and NAAS that, "faith and science are perfectly compatible," and argue (p. 103) that, "It is not only the most tolerant but also the most intellectually responsible position for scientists to take in light of the complexities of history and world religion."

Belief in a universe billions of years old, in which all terrestrial lifeforms including humans and mushrooms are descended from a common ancestor, is compatible with belief in a biblical universe that is barely six thousand years old, in which all lifeforms were separately created in a six-day period? Surely you jest. NEWSFLASH: Moral cowards so terrified of death that they are able to shut out all reality in order to retain the afterlife belief that is the only thing that gets them through the day without having to be institutionalized and diapered, really are "demented fuckwits," as PZ Myers (p. 87) described them.

Mooney and Kirshenbaum support their contention that evolution is compatible with biblical religion by pointing out (p.105) that Catholic, Jewish, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Methodist authorities have expressed the same conclusion. In other words, if enough demented fuckwits agree that "A" and "not A" can both be true, that makes such a claim less insane. They even argue (p. 44) that, "Although the creationist movement had certainly set up the false dichotomy between science and religion, a handful of influential public scientists welcomed and enflamed the battle."

"False dichotomy" between proven reality and fairy tales that only two percent of AAAS members take seriously? What planet have these authors been living on? The rationalizers are correct that the discoveries of science are not incompatible with a metaphorical interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis. Just because evolution happened, that does not mean that a god did not trigger it. And just because the Genesis author showed trees bearing fruit before there was a sun to trigger the necessary photosynthesis, that confusion of chronology does not invalidate the whole "creator" concept. The problem with such an interpretation is that the people endorsing it are either historically illiterate ignoramuses, unaware that the Yahwist, author of the relevant Genesis chapters, intended his readers to believe that he was writing literal truth, or are prostitutes willing to peddle any absurdity the ignoranti will swallow in order to preserve their bread and butter.

I will not go so far as to ask, "With friends who refuse to denounce religion as a vile, anti-human perversion that, if not stopped, is within two centuries of turning planet earth into the former habitat of an intelligent species, who needs enemies?" But I do suggest that anyone who is not part of the solution is part of the problem. Mooney and Kirshenbaum need to choose which side they are on: toleration of the god-virus that is ultimately deadlier than HIV, or survival of the human race. They cannot have both.

God and His Demons
Michael Parenti
Prometheus Books
59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst, NY 14228-2119
9781616141776, $25.00,

"It's not God I have a problem with; it's his fan club." (inside cover) That was an early promise that Michael Parenti would be looking past religion's intrinsic absurdity and focusing on its status as a justification for man's inhumanity to man. It was a promise he only partly managed to fulfill.

My initial reaction to the absence of a bibliography was that, since Parenti was focusing on the crimes and intolerance of Christians, a listing of authors who agreed with him would have been superfluous. The reality, that much of this book is devoted to biblical criticism, an area in which the author is totally, indefensibly incompetent, makes his ignorance of the findings of historians intolerable. The only prominent biblical scholars whom he does cite are Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, and Gerd Ludemann, and the only things he gets right are taken from those authors, or from Burton Mack, a scholar of debatable reliability. There are books by apologists for the god delusion that contain fewer inaccuracies. It is no coincidence that none of the laudatory reviews quoted in the book's opening pages is by an expert in the field into which Parenti is trespassing.

For example, he more than once uses the archaic dating system, "AD," that even liberal Christians have abandoned in recognition that it is a calculated insult to the 5.5 billion persons on this planet who do not believe they are living in the "Year of the Master." Is he unaware that there is a scientifically neutral alternative, "CE" for Common Era? He refers to "Jesus Christ" in his narrative as if it were a proper name. He calls Jesus "the man from Nazareth," unaware that there was no village named Nazareth until one was built (or renamed) long after Jesus' death by a Christian emperor out of embarrassment at the nonexistence of Jesus' pretended hometown. He calls Jesus "the first Christian," even though his sources made clear that Jesus was a xenophobe who would have repudiated the Christians as infidels if he had not been dead before they came into existence.

He refers to Paul of Tarsus as "St. Paul," as if a title bestowed on a dead man by a pope had objective validity. He interprets a passage in Leviticus about a man who "blasphemed the name of the LORD" (KJV), as "he took God's name in vain." Since his source is the KJV, he is not surprisingly unaware that "take the LORD's name in vain" should have been translated, "swear in Yahweh's name anything that is untrue." In citing anti-adultery passages, he shows no awareness that adultery was an impregnation taboo, not a recreation taboo. And he refers to "A man who sleeps with another's wife," as if "sleep with" is a legitimate description of an activity that requires at least one of the participants to be awake.

He writes that "all of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because a goodly number of the inhabitants indulged in same sex liaisons." WRONG. The crime of the Sodomites was their blatant violation of the universally recognized laws of hospitality. The Yahwist composed the Sodom fable three centuries before Judaism even had a homosexuality taboo. He thinks that "Masturbation seems to be a capital crime in Yahweh's book.. There is the notorious case of Onan, who was struck dead by the Lord for spilling his seed on the ground." INACCURATE. Onan's crime was his refusal to fulfill the levirate law by impregnating his brother's widow, his reason being that he resented fathering a child who would be obligated to keep his brother's name alive by ancestor worship rather than Onan's name. There is no biblical condemnation of masturbation. And he is unaware that "fornication" is a misleading translation of a word used by Paul to refer to the false-god worship of sacramentally tupping a fertility goddess's nun.

"God then restores Job's seven sons and three daughters to life" (p. 31). Neither the KJV or any other translation I have ever seen, nor the Hebrew, can reasonably be interpreted as meaning anything of the sort. Yahweh is portrayed as giving Job ten new children to replace those Yahweh had murdered. To the Sadducee author, who had no afterlife belief, long life and riches were Yahweh's maximum reward for Job's patience and credulity.

Parenti (p. 42) follows a long line of amateur bible interpreters in reading a fable in Luke as evidence that Jesus "orders his followers to bring such nonbelievers to him 'and slay them before me.'" In fact the anonymous author of Luke put the line into the mouth of a thinly disguised Archelaus for the purpose of portraying Archelaus as a homicidal monster. Luke had no intention of showing his ultimate hero, Jesus, as endorsing Archelaus's atrocity. The Jesus of history may have been a fatuous poseur who fantasized sentencing "those who spurn the idea that I should reign over them" to be tortured with flamethrowers in an underworld Auschwitz. But Luke assuredly did not intend to portray Jesus in such a light.

Parenti writes, "Slavery is often disguised in the Bible because slaves are regularly described as 'servants.'" Essentially accurate, but he might have mentioned that "servant" was an intentional falsification by bible translators of a word that unambiguously meant "slave" in the original language.

He declares that Jesus "denounces the scribes and Pharisees for their avarice and hypocrisy," unaware that "scribes" is a misleading translation of "lawteachers." He elsewhere acknowledges that, "I utilize only the King James Version because it . is the Bible most widely used by English-speaking Protestants. When today's Pentecostal preachers and fundamentalists talk about the Bible, it is the King James that they have in mind." It was therefore foreseeable that he would be unaware that, whenever the anonymous author of Mark quoted Jesus' rantings against the Sadducees who did not share his afterlife belief, he changed the target of Jesus' invective to the Pharisees for the purpose of appeasing the Roman authorities who recognized the Pharisees as the architects of the war currently in progress. This despite being aware that Paul (p. 55) "put the blame for Jesus death squarely on the Jews rather than the Romans in hope of currying favor with the empire."

According to Parenti, Jesus "advises the rich to give away all their possessions to the poor." What Parenti does not know is that "the poor," ebionim, was Jesus' name for his communistic cult. What he instructed converts to do was, "Sell everything you own and give the proceeds to my communal treasury." (Compare Acts 4:32-34.) And on the same page (50) that he records Jesus' instruction to his apprentices to stay away from the hated Samaritans and gentiles, he credits Jesus with preaching a sermon composed by the non-Jewish author of Luke for the purpose of suppressing Jesus' xenophobia, the fable of the "Good Samaritan," an ethnic slur as offensive as "good nigger."

Parenti writes that, "In the face of unspeakable atrocities during the Holocaust, Pope Pius XII remained silent." Even that moderate whitewash is denied by the Vatican. The reality is that Pius XII ordered German Catholics not to speak out against the Nazis, in exchange for Hitler agreeing to act as his tax collector in Germany. The concordat between Hitler and Pius XII is German law to this day.

Parenti is aware that the fourth gospel is "falsely ascribed to the apostle John." What he does not know is that the fourth gospel was only called John in the belief that it was written by the same author as Revelation, or that Revelation was falsely ascribed to John of Patmos, a redactor who wrote only the first three and last three chapters. While he is correct in describing Revelation as the Christian Testament's most "hallucinatory" book (p. 49), he is wrong in crediting it to a mythical "St. John the Divine." Presumably he does know that "divine" is a pretentious synonym for a theologian?

Parenti reports that Jesus "repeatedly describes himself as . 'the only begotten Son of God.'" Does he consider it insignificant or did he not notice that the only gospel in which Jesus makes such a claim is John? Prior to 130 CE, no one had ever heard of "Jesus the god." To the synoptic authors and Paul, Jesus was Yahweh's adopted king of the Jews and nothing more than that. The claim that Paul "transformed Jesus from a Jewish preacher and prophet into a universal godhead" (p. 55) is plain wrong. It was the fourth gospel author who deified Jesus, decades after Paul's death.

When Parenti abandons biblical analysis and turns to areas in which his journalistic skills outweigh other considerations, he makes many valid points. For example (p. 29), "One wonders why Yahweh's present-day fundamentalist believers are so upset about abortion, equating it with the killing of children and claiming that it violates biblical dictate. As we saw in the previous chapter, butchering innocent babies (actual infants, not fetuses) is a common and much-encouraged practice in the [allegedly] Holy Bible.. So why all the fuss nowadays about doing away with a fertilized ovum?" As he correctly observes (p. 36), "the Bible does not mention abortion or same-sex marriage."

Some biblical passages are self-evidently a paean to evil, and Parenti recognizes them as such. "God instructs Moses to kill all the men and male children and every woman who was not a virgin. 'But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves'-an unsettling heavenly mandate if ever there was one from a god who ordains war, conquest, mass murder, enslavement, and child rape" (p. 25). Echoing Richard Dawkins, he recognizes (p. 39) that, "The God of the Holy Bible . is ferociously vindictive, neurotically jealous, intolerant, vainglorious, punitive, wrathful, sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sadistic, and homicidal. As they say, it's all in the Bible." He points out (p. 26) that, "We criticize some US presidents for trying to act like God. Equally unsettling is when God acts like some US presidents." Anyone who does not know which US presidents displayed those godlike qualities has been living on another planet.

Parenti's description of circumcision as "a multimillion-dollar medical practice" might better have been "a multimillion-dollar medical malpractice." As he recognizes, "Studies have shown that circumcision offers no reliable protection from sexually transmitted diseases or any other disease."

Parenti repeats the evidence of dozens of predecessors that, if the human body was intelligently designed, the designer must have flunked bioengineering 101. He cannot be unaware that trying to get past the firewall creationists have installed around their brains to keep out facts, evidence and reality is like trying to drown a swan by deepening the lake. But he presumably also recognizes that allowing the ignoranti to win by default is not a good idea. So he at least tries.

Reporting on the $2.3 million that the Bush administration spent on "prayer research," Parenti reports (p. 69) that, "In each case hundreds of coronary patients were prayed for but showed no superior survival rate than among control groups that went without prayer.. Does God operate like some political officeholder, responding only to the more persistent lobbyists?" He identifies the medical journals in which the studies were published.

"The histories of Christianity and other major religions are heavily laced with violence and repression. Religionists have claimed a divine mandate to massacre rival denominations, with each murder hailed as an act of moral cleansing in God's name" (p. 71). "There have been violent and even homicidal incidents involving fundamentalist 'soldiers of Christ' who have bombed or otherwise attacked hundreds of abortion clinics, killing several clinical workers and doctors.. Timothy McVeigh went to his execution firmly believing he had struck a blow against Jews, liberals, nonbelievers, and all those who had supposedly dislodged white Christian America from its spiritual moorings. Violence and death have never been far from religious ethos, promoted by those who believe they are carrying out their deity's mandate" (p. 74). What is most frightening about that information is that it adds nothing to what is already known, not only by every reader of this book, but also by theocratic fanatics like Rick Warren and Glenn Beck, and yet it affects their observable behavior in no way whatsoever.

For persons who have not read the definitive exposes of "Mother" Teresa as a lying, swindling, self-serving hybrid of Imalda Marcos, Leona Helmsley and Bernard Maddoff written by Aroup Chatterjee and Christopher Hitchens, Parenti's six pages on the dead hypocrite convincingly summarize her worst atrocities. The rest of the chapter on recent and ongoing deifications of such subhuman monsters as Pius IX, Pius XII, the mass murderer (through his ban on sane birth control and sane disease control) John Paul II, and Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, show the current and previous popes to be callously indifferent to historical truth when it comes to establishing precedents for their own eventual deification/canonization (same thing). Robert Graves's novel, I Claudius, showed the Emperor Augustus's widow persuading her protege to have the Roman Senate deify her, in the belief that a popular vote could actually guarantee her a favored place in Cloud Cuckoo Land. One can only wonder if the same kind of thinking motivates the unrepentant Nazi, Joseph Ratzinger, and his Down syndrome predecessor.

Parenti attributes to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (p. 113) the philosophy, "Money cannot make you happy, so give it to me." But he devotes a chapter to showing that the same philosophy is practised by the RC Church, "a worldwide organization that possesses more wealth . than any other single institution or transnational corporation"; the Mormon Church, whose propaganda that it has thirteen million members (actually between two and four million) he gullibly parrots; the Moonies; the Aga Khan; and the Scientology swindle that judges have ruled to be "schizophrenic and paranoid" and "corrupt, sinister and dangerous" (p. 112).

The chapter, "Pious Predators," catalogues the crimes against children by pedophile priests, and the decades-long conspiracy by the Catholic Church to cover-up the thousands of cases of child molesting that is the big incentive for Catholic men to become priests in the first place. That reality is already known to everyone who watches television news or reads a newspaper. But Parenti details the lesser-known reality that similar child-buggering and an official policy of cover-ups to protect the cult's reputation is also prevalent in such organizations as the Southern Baptists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Boy Scouts.

The chapter, "Politicos and Other Pharisees," contains information that I endorse, but offends me by its use of the word "Pharisees" to mean hypocrites, since as a biblical historian I am aware that the Pharisees were Judaism's most liberal sect, falsely accused of hypocrisy by gospel authors for the self-serving purpose of dissociating Christianity from the Pharisee-led intifada against Roman rule. Parenti writes (p. 159), "There are three classic cases of ultraconservative antigay gays who go back half a century: FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, McCarthyite investigator and Washington lobbyist Roy Cohn, and Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York's Roman Catholic archdiocese . back in the days when the press dared not touch such stories." It is no coincidence that, with rare exceptions, such hypocrites tend to be Republicans. However (p. 162), "Right-wing moral hypocrisy and malfeasance is not confined to the sexual realm. House majority leader Ton Delay, a Texas Republican and born-again Baptist ... was indicted for criminal conspiracy and money laundering." While the criminal indictments of such swindlers as Charles Keating, the Hunt brothers, Ken Lay and Andrew Fastow are common knowledge, their status as proselytizing Christian activists has never been stressed by the Christian press.

The chapter "For Lords and Lamas" demolishes the pretence that pre-1951 Tibet was a virtual Shangri La of equality and freedom. In fact the Dalai Lamas were without exception totalitarian tyrants every bit as oppressive and self-serving as the medieval popes. "Old Tibet was much more like Europe during the religious wars of the Counter Reformation" (p. 197. "In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation-including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputations-were favored punishments inflicted on the troublesome serfs" (p. 200). "Whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese after 1959, they did abolish slavery and the Tibetan serfdom system of unpaid labor" (p. 202). Just as the god-infested media portray Mother Teresa as a plaster saint, so do they metaphorically fellate the Dalai Lama who wants nothing less than Tibet's restoration as an absolute theocracy not unlike Khomeini's Iran.

Parenti concludes (p. 222) that, "In the years to come, millions of people will continue to turn to religion for solace and inner peace... The very best we can do . is roll back theocratic aggrandizement while strengthening our right to entertain our beliefs and disbeliefs openly and with impunity. Only secular strength and organized democratic activism on our part will counter the sectarian intolerance and state-assisted tyranny of reactionary theocrats." Doubled, redoubled and in spades.

Despite the cited errors when he trespasses into the area of biblical criticism in which he gets practically nothing right, Parenti has written a useful book. To the average non-theist who basically does not care whether Jesus was a purely mythical character or a historical person onto whose biography the Christian fairy tales were posthumously grafted, it can be unequivocally recommended.

William Harwood

Janie's Bookshelf

Embarking on Murder
Sue Owens Wright
Five Star Publishing
295 Kennedy Memorial Dr., Waterville ME 04901
9781594147807, $25.95,
9781410419668, $25.95,

Sue Owens Wright's third adventure with mystery writer/tabloid reporter Elsie MacBean and her basset hound Cruiser, known locally as Beanie and Cruiser. Elsie has been helping out Sheriff Skip Cassidy on a couple of cases before this one and they have become good friends. So, it is no surprise that he and Elsie's daughter Nona want to celebrate Elsie's 50th birthday in style with a Fourth of July dinner cruise on Lake Tahoe. But this is one celebration that is will be forever imprinted in Elsie's memories. Not only does the Dixie Queen paddle wheeler seem to get rammed a few times by some unknown critter, but Ivy Diggs, the young wife of an elderly local entrepreneur vanishes and Elsie suspects foul play.

While Elsie and Skip begin to investigate a suspected homicide, attractive British professor Crispin Blayne who has come to study the legend of the Tahoe Tessie, the lake's own Loch Ness monster, enters the picture. He enlists Elsie's help by romancing her, much to her friend Skip's discomfort.

Adding to this romantic complication is Elsie's daughter Nona who is trying to bring her mother into the twenty-first century by giving her a cell phone and gifting Cruiser with a canine collar equipped with a GPS. She's also trying to update Elsie's look with a complete makeover at a local spa and keep her mother from nattering after her because she's dating one of the prime suspects, the youngest son of the widower Diggs.

Wright creates a fun cozy mystery with plenty of red herrings and surprises to keep the reader turning pages. Elsie and her curious dog Cruiser are a great sleuthing pair and friend Skip Cassidy is a great side-kick who just happens to be the law in Tahoe. It is an infectious mix that will keep readers coming back for more. "Embarking on Murder " is also available in a large print edition from Thorndike Press

Do It or Age Quickly
JB Berns
Privately Published
9780578039107 $24.95 hardcover, $19.95 paperback

JB Berns has been a teacher of martial arts and yoga, as well as a personal and wellness trainer for many years. His low-impact Urban Rebounder (something like a mini-trampoline) has been in use in gyms and fitness centers all across the US. He has made DVDs for exercise and wellness and even designed the Jackie Chan Cable-Flex System for resistance and aerobic exercise for home use. It is natural then that JB Berns would turn to writing the definitive book for healthy living for the fast-pace of the twenty-first century.

Berns' "Do It or Age Quickly: 60-Second Practices to Live Better, Stronger, and Longer" offers 21 anti-aging techniques, including products for men's hair preservation, natural toothpaste, supplements skin and eye health, and herbal teas for energy and boosting the immune system. Berns also offers tips on weight control and ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Berns suggests that practitioners of his methods select as many of the practices mentioned in the book and do them each for 21 consecutive days. He is adamant about keeping to a 21 day regime because he, like other behavioral trainers, believes that it takes 21 days of doing an act before it becomes a habit.

Though Berns says each of the techniques is supposed to only take 60 seconds, there are more than 21 practices in the 21 chapters, and many of them will take longer than 60 seconds each. The total techniques in the book could take as much time as any other workout session. However, a lot of these techniques can be done throughout the day in minute amounts of time. For example, some of the massage acupressure points around the eyes could be done any time of day.

I did find some of the positions were geared more for flexible people and for people without hip or back problems. Though Berns does put in a caveat for people with neck, back, or heartburn/acid reflux to consult their doctors for the best sleep position in the first chapter on sleep and sitting positions, he does not consider people with hip problems. Older people in particular who suffer from periodic hip bursitis or sciatic nerve problems cannot sit in a lotus-type position. Even his modified version has one leg outstretched and the foot of the bent knee pressed into the groin. People with hip extension problems cannot achieve that level of turn out, even with gentle modified practice over time.

Berns also dips heavily into Taoist practice that wants to limit sexual energy by controlling male ejaculation and female menstruation. A component of the exercises for women involve breast stimulation which like efficient infant nursing can suppress menstruation but even that varies from woman to woman. Berns makes an erroneous statement that uterine blood (re: menstruation) is only supposed to nourish a growing fetus or support breastfeeding. Here Berns missed basic biology. Controlling male ejaculation and female menstruation is an extreme practice and would not be something many people would want to do or could do well - and perhaps should not do.

In addition, Berns' diet suggestions are complicated. People have enough trouble distinguishing between a protein and a carb and getting enough fruits and vegetables. Berns here wants folks to basically eat foods separately, giving reasons for not combining certain foods with others. There is nothing wrong with that, but it can make for a very bland diet.

Though there are some good ideas and practices in Do It or Age Quickly: 60-second Practices to Live Better, Stronger, and Longer, I would advise readers to pick and choose these practices carefully. For me, I'll do the isometrics and many of what Berns calls the internal exercises (eye exercises, facial acupressure massage, and yoga positions).

Janie Franz

Jennifer's Bookshelf

A Dark Matter
Peter Straub
9780385516389 $26.95

My rating: Fair

How do you take a fairly uninspired short story about a bunch of hippies who accidently open a portal to hell and turn it into a full length novel? Tell that same short story over and over again from 5 different points of view. Throw in a cast of equally uninspired characters, a dash of gore (to offset the lack of scariness) and some big words like "obstreperous" and you've got the recipe for A Dark Matter. Ta da.

Gosh, the premise of this one sounded SO good: a bunch of kids follow their guru into a meadow, something horrible happens, and the ones that don't die or disappear emerge broken, blind or insane…. It's grim, but it sounds interesting, doesn't it? Sadly, the reality didn't live up to the premise. The story never really gets moving. It just gets retold by each of the central characters with an extra detail here and there and with not so much as an "aha!" moment at the end. I can't quite put my finger on exactly what's missing here. It just wasn't good… or scary… or spine-tingling…

What I CAN put my finger on is how one-dimensional the characters are. They are cut-and-pasted out of any nameless teen slasher movie: the hopelessly beautiful girl who doesn't do or contribute anything except being hopelessly beautiful, the menacing frat guy, the menacing frat guy's side-kick, the tomboy who's "just one of the guys," the handsome natural-leader guy. Blah blah blah. And of course every one of them has "daddy issues," which is why they fall for the spellbinding, father-replacing guru guy. Why is he spellbinding? Don't know, really. Even he isn't developed much beyond the fact that he looks like Indiana Jones.

There is one exception in this cast of pancake-flat characters… and that exception is Howard "Hootie" Bly. Driven insane by the events in the meadow, he spends his life in an asylum unable to communicate except in quotes from Nathaniel Hawthorne. I was fascinated by Hootie Bly. In fact, Hootie alone was the deciding factor between a "Poor" rating and the "Fair" that I actually give this book. Loved Hootie!

The bottom line: A lackluster, largely uninteresting read with one notable character.

Glenapp Castle: A Scottish Intrigue
Tina Rosenberg
9781440197147 $26.95

Tina Rosenberg's Glenapp Castle: A Scottish Intrigue originally caught my eye for local interest reasons. The author lives in Columbus, Ohio so the press release stood out amongst the scores of PR materials that cross my desk. Interestingly, Rosenberg undertook the writing of this book after a trip to Scotland - and a stay at the real Glenapp Castle. The owners graciously agreed to let her use it as the setting for this book. It is illustrated by her daughter, Brooke Rosenberg Marvin.

The Description (from the press release): Tina Rosenberg's debut novel, "Glenapp Castle - A Scottish Intrigue," published by iUniverse, brings the folklore and beauty of Scotland's coastline to life in the midst of a couple's struggle to discover the dark secrets haunting their newly purchased castle. When Eva and Andrew Campbell buy the fire-ravaged Victorian castle and its thirty-acre estate on a whim with plans to create a world-class hotel-by-the-sea, they dismiss warnings of ghostly spirits inhabiting their new home. It soon becomes clear there is indeed something mysterious within the walls of Glenapp Castle, something they cannot explain but which holds the key to age-old rivalries and long-held secrets … and murder.

The Review: What better setting for a ghostly tale of love, loss and murder than a Victorian Castle on Scotland's shore? Glenapp Castle is told from several points of view, particularly those of Tom Hutcheson and Andrew and Eva Campbell. As the story opens, Eva and Andrew have purchased the run-down, dilapidated, burned-out ruin of a castle with plans for refurbishing it and opening a hotel there. They hire a reluctant Tom Hutcheson to revive the castle gardens with no knowledge of the history of Glenapp Castle… or Tom's role in that history. With each chapter, the story shifts between narrators… and between past and present… slowly unveiling the grim history of Glenapp as it relates to the present day and the ghosts therein. In the hands of a lesser writer, this round-robin approach to the narrative would very likely have resulted in a choppy and disjointed story line. But Rosenberg masterfully blends points of view with past and present so seamlessly that I barely noticed the transitions.

The best character in this novel by far is Tom Hutcheson. The reader follows Tom as he grows up in the servant's quarters at Glenapp (the son of a former maid), falls in love, wins a curling championship, endures tragedy, and witnesses the crimes of the castle's utterly soulless previous owner, Sir John McPhee. (Readers who re-discover an interest in curling at each winter Olympic games will enjoy the timely occurrence of the sport here!) Tom's story is at once heartbreaking and enthralling… and it is through his eyes that we learn the history of evil at Glenapp: events that ultimately lead to murder.

In the present, Eva and Andrew Campbell renovate and revive Glenapp Castle in every way. Unable to bear children of their own, they find themselves legal guardians of Issie, a vivacious little girl whose mother (Andrew's cousin) is killed in a car crash. Andrew, a skeptic, is shocked to learn that people in this modern day and age actually believe that Glenapp Castle is haunted. Their story largely follows Andrew's unwilling transition from skeptic to believer as well as Eva's awkward transition from a life with no hope of children to that of unexpected motherhood. All are startled to learn that even Issie's biological father has shadowy ties to Glenapp's past. As the Campbell's interest in their castle's history grows, their story merges with Tom's to paint a complete picture of Glenapp Castle and it's inhabitants… both living and dead. Toss in a colorful cast of supporting characters (my favorite amongst those being Andrew's clairvoyant mother) and you've got one heck of a supernatural page-turner! Rosenberg also does an admirable job of weaving traditional Scottish folklore into the story. (Never, EVER build your home in the path of a fairy trail!)

For all of its extraordinary strengths, Glenapp Castle does have a few weaknesses. Some of the characters who play large parts in the castle's initial story of betrayal and murder just sort of get dropped from the ranks without much explanation for what becomes of them. The resolution of the ghost story within the story is disappointingly anti-climactic. The story's villian, Sir John McPhee, is so completely depraved and disgusting a human being that he comes off a bit one-dimensional. And for all my admiration of Tina Rosenberg and her efforts here, I must admit that she lost me a little when one of the later chapters was narrated by the family dog. All of that aside, I can readily forgive those little flaws in exchange for a ripping good read. I can unhesitatingly recommend this book to my friends.

Is there a monster over there?
Sally O. Lee
Create Space
9781450531023 $17.99

I had the pleasure of reviewing Sally O. Lee's latest children's book, Is there a monster over there?, with my own two little readers this week. This is author/illustrator Sally O. Lee's 23rd children's book.

The Description: "Is there a monster over there?" tells the story of Mabel (and her cat, Tiffany) who are afraid of monsters. Mabel thinks they are hiding under her bed or in her closet. One day, she decides to face the monster, and she learns an important lesson about overcoming fears.

The Review: Is there a monster over there? is a sweet little story about Mabel and her cat, Tiffany, and their fear of monsters. One day, Mabel stops and considers that perhaps monsters aren't so different from her! The book has a nice message for children about facing their fears and finding common ground. Think of it as 'Monsters, Inc.' meets Maya Angelou: "We are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike." Both of my children related readily to the story and each immediately had a 'favorite part.'

While the story is nice, the real strength in this book lies in the illustrations. Sally O. Lee is a well-respected artist and her watercolor illustrations in Is there a monster over there? are a delight. My daughter is still giggling over the final picture where that cat is perched atop the monster's head. My only complaint (and it's a minor one!) is that the illustrations inexplicably continue after the story has ended, giving me - as an adult reader, at least - the vague feeling that the author ran out of story before she ran out of pictures to show. Fortunately, these illustrations are well worth the extra time and space.

The Bottom Line: A well-done, artistic children's book that is well-suited to very early readers.

**My sincere thanks to the author for providing us with a review copy of this book.

Jennifer A. Palombi

Jessica's Bookshelf

Where the Serpent Lives
Ruth Padel
Little Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DY
9781408702024 12.99 Brit. pounds

For those of you interested in snakes the first part of this book is very interesting. The author describes the kind cobra, its movements and how it relies on scent and taste to get around its environment.

The descriptions of the snake's black zig-zag lines and her gold horizontal throat scales helps to conjure up this magnificent creature of the deep-forest.

The next part of this story we meet Rosamund who feels increasingly lonely at forty-two. Despite having a husband and a son Rosamund feels there is something missing. Gardening offers her some sort of escape - a place of safety. She loves to feel the earth beneath her fingers and the roots of the plants. Yet she questions is this enough?

Rosamund is also struggling with her relationship to her son and the fact they've just had to have their beloved dog put to sleep.

She is to learn that revisiting the long-forgotten world of her Indian childhood may be her only chance to save and heal herself. Will her family be able to cope?

Other people's lives intermingle with hers and the author also highlights issues such as the global destruction of wildlife.

This is without a doubt an enthralling novel of love, renewal and how nature and our feelings are so connected. It almost feels as though the scenes are being played out before your eyes and some of the imagery which comes to mind as you read this is breath-taking.

Definitely a book to read for snake lovers, those of you who dream of warmer countries and anyone who enjoys a good story.

Friends Like These
Danny Wallace
Little Brown and Company
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
9780316042772, $24.99,

For some of us friends pass through our life leaving footprints in our hearts and memories to cherish. We stay friends with our childhood mates even after we've reached adulthood and found ourselves in college or University.

For the rest we probably forget them, make new friends and move on. For Danny, settled in life but still in wonder, this is simply not enough. The age of thirty is fast approaching and he cannot help but remember his childhood friends. What are they doing now? How has life treated them?

Armed with an address book containing twelve names and addresses of his childhood friends Danny sets off on a journey from London to Berlin, Tokyo, Australia and California to try and locate them. He knows he may face rejection along the way but his mind is made up and his quest is set before him. Can Danny really locate all those friends and what will their reaction be when they come face to face with the person from their past?

The beginning of this novel is interesting. Danny, like so many of us, found himself faced with the following scenario - he was rapidly approaching thirty and had swapped clubs for bars, nights out at the pub had been exchanged for dinner with close friends and those Doritos had now become low-fat Pretzels. Life had become routine and (dare it be said) a bit too grown-up. For Danny it was time to make a change.

Throughout Danny's journey he learns what friend really means and discovers that sometimes you shouldn't book a room without seeing it first.

This is a very long book with many pages but if you like Danny Wallace you'll still be able to enjoy this without a problem. It is packed with funny episodes - including the one of Danny dressing up as a bunny and waiting to meet his childhood friend. There are pictures included in this book but sadly not enough for my liking. It is still wonderful to read however and comical throughout.

All Pets go to Heaven
Sylvia Browne
Little Brown
c/o Little Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DY
9780749940126 6.99 Brit. pounds

Most of us believe there is a heaven we travel to when we die but what about a heaven for animals?

This book aims to explore this question and is one of the best I have come across.

With the help of psychic Sylvia Browne we are given hope that there is a beautiful place in the sky our pets travel to when their work on earth is done.

Browne introduces her readers to her beliefs and how animal totems and her spirit guide constantly remind her there is life after death for not just humans but animals.

It is incredibly touching to understand the way Browne looks on these Divine beings and how she refers to them as our planet's guardian angels. They are pure, they never cause wars and always remind us to love. Again and again we are made aware of these points and how right she is. Browne is a person who clearly loves animals and firmly believes all animals are here to protect us - they are indeed pure entities sent from God.

To prove her point we are given many, many stories from people who have had experiences of animals and pets showing bravery, loyalty, love and of course companionship. Some of these stories will make you smile and others cry. The more you read the more you understand how pure and untainted these beings are.

Just ask yourself: would we instinctively feel someone else's pain without them telling us something was wrong? Would we know how to react to a life-or-death situation without first learning?

They have continued to amaze Browne and astonish the rest of us with their special abilities, kindness and knowledge. Surely these animal angels are worthy of a heaven?

The question is will society ever accept these spiritual beings as intelligent or will certain individuals continue to abuse and mistreat them? Hopefully this book will show people that animals feel pain, anguish, love, hurt, anger, fear, happiness, loneliness amongst many other emotions and feelings we all experience. I can see no reason that these pure beings are not worthy of a heaven.

We should all read this book, learn from it and look after our pets as they continue to look after us.

A wonderful book which has helped me gain a little faith in the knowledge there might be a heaven that our animals find after they die.

Baour: Strands of Death
Dirk Vandereyken
BlackWyrm Publications
10307 Chimney Ridge Ct., Louisville, KY 40299
9780982006726, $11.95,

It takes supreme confidence in one's ability to put on the cover: "The book everyone is talking about." Not to mention Dirk Vandereyken is shown sticking out his tongue in his author photo. Does Baour: Strands of Death live up to its own hype? It delivers as a fascinating look at mind manipulation in a sci-fi courtroom setting.

Baour (picture actor Jason Isaacs in all his glory as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter series) is a necromancer, a sorcerer who conjures the dead in order to predict the future. He makes a splash when he enters the tiny hamlet of Barnsby - taking up residence with the local witch, ordering expensive fabrics from the tailor and spending time in the woods with young boys.

Baour is brought to trial when the innkeeper accuses him of communing with a dead man, who was infected with the mysterious disease plaguing the town. Those in authority are the temple priests. They claim to have the Sight - the ability to see and manipulate the strands of power that emanate from an all-knowing spider. The strands encircling those with the disease are thick, black, oily. Baour can see these strands as can his new apprentice, Matthayas.

Matthayas is a 16-year-old local boy whose younger brother, Baour saved from a monster attack. Baour brought back what little life was left in the boy, who was already infected with the disease. This earns him the undying loyalty of Matthayas who discovers under Baour's tutelage that he also has the Sight.

Five witnesses take the stand during the trial - a witch, a tailor, a innkeeper, a priest and Matthayas. The chapters are divided into testimony followed by Baour's cross-examination. This is an excellent way to tell a story and Vandereyken is like the spider weaving all of the threads together to form a powerful conclusion. Like most science fiction writers, he creates an entire society, but he is able to immerse readers without losing them in an avalanche of details. He provides just enough signposts to guide the way into the customs of Barnsby.

Baour is arrogant in his precision at playing a crowd. He knows what buttons to push to elicit the reaction he desires. He is always one step ahead - of the priests, of the witnesses, of his supposed allies. His ultimate goal is to illuminate the fact that while gods exist who hold supreme power, the priests who wield that influence are not beyond reproach.

Overall, the creation of this master manipulator is brought to life through the skill of a truly talented writer.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter
Seth Grahame-Smith
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue New York, NY 10017
9780446563086, $21.99,

At first I thought this novel would be your usual run-of-the-mill stories, fun but lacking in depth. However my first impressions were completely wrong and I found myself flicking through those pages and thoroughly enjoying it.

Vampire Hunter is a very well-written book of escapism and lots of horror. There are also historical references and much of this book is a reflection of history combined with a really good fictitious slant.

The story is about the great President Abraham Lincoln who, thanks to Grahame-Smith's imagination, is thrust into a world where blood-thirsty vampires lurk.

This gripping horror tale is told through a series of Abraham's journals, beginning when he was a child and a witness to his mother's untimely demise at the hands of none other than the blood-sucking demon of his darkest nightmare.

To avenge his mother's death Abraham makes a promise to himself to slay all vampires who walk the streets of America. But can he?

The story progresses to a time when Abraham is to make another vow: to end slavery.

Slavery proves to be very much a part of the story with the actual vampires themselves. Why is there a connection between slavery and vampires? You really will have to read this to find out.

Vampire Hunter is filled with gore, blood and violence but it works. There are also undertones of wit here to amuse you and make you inwardly grin.

It definitely doesn't fail to amuse, scare, entertain and thrill you. Perfect for those of you who love dark, foreboding reads. Another fetch on the vampire phenomenon which has become ever more popular.

This book will certainly quench your thirst for the darker side of life.

Jessica Roberts

Karyn's Bookshelf

Angel on my Handlebars
Patricia Starr, author
Summerland Publishing
21 Oxford Drive, Lompoc, CA 93436
9780979544484, $19.95,

Most of have things we'd like to do before we die. Few of us will actually do them. Patricia Starr can say she did.

In "Angel on My Handlebars" the California resident recounts how, at age 67, she abruptly decided to join in a seven-week, 3,622-mile group bicycle ride from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans.

After initially arguing that she was nuts - she'd done a handful of short charity rides but nothing like this - her husband came along for support, driving their van across the country. She also had other support vans and riders to share the experience.

But with the other riders younger and more experienced, she found herself on most days struggling far behind the pack. There was a lot of time by herself on days in which they sometimes covered 100 miles. On the toughest days, she writes, she swore angels hovered nearby.

Written journal-style with a chapter per day, it's not spectacular prose that makes "Angels" memorable.

The writing isn't bad but it is often pedestrian. Starr doesn't expound deeply on what she's thinking as she rides along; the text is mostly a play-by-play description of the terrain, traffic, extreme weather and physical demands, rarely probing beyond the external.

The photos are small, not masterfully reproduced, black and white shots taken by her husband.

But that Starr is neither a world-class biker nor a perfectly polished writer may be, in fact, why "Angels" lingers.

That this very real person set her mind to do something hard, and then actually chronicled her journey in a book and succeeded in interesting a publisher in it, is something most people never begin to dream about.

In snatches of personal background we glimpse Starr's childhood in poor, rural Nebraska. She deserves commendation - with not one other thing accomplished -- for simply not accepting a dead-end Midwestern life.

Aside from her bike riding, Starr today is a concert pianist and senior-circuit beauty queen, with titles that have included Ms. Senior California.

She continues to do charity rides and is an inspirational speaker. The ride detailed in "Angel" raised funds for a college music scholarship.

"Angel on My Handlebars" speaks to the determination of the human spirit, the ability of us all to accomplish so much more than we think we can and the importance of accepting that the results of our efforts don't have to be perfect to have great meaning.

Readers may ultimately relate to Starr, a regular person doing something extraordinary, better than they would to a slickly written account of a similar trip by a professional bicyclist.

That it's an everyman's account of an everyman's journey makes "Angel on My Handlebars" special.

The Pirate Cruncher
Jonny Duddle, author and illustrator
Templar Books
c/o Candlewick Press
99 Dover St., Somerville, MA 02144
9780763648763, $15.99,

It's an age-old plot line - pirates seeking treasure purportedly buried on a remote island.

It's been fodder for legions of tales including, most famously, Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island"

In his new picture book "The Pirate Cruncher" author/ illustrator Jonny Duddle kicks things up an additional notch, throwing a sea monster into the intrigue. Greedy as they are for gold, a band of pirates fails to heed warnings that the monster might want to eat them.

The telling of the tale largely through the ballads of an old fiddler, who accompanies the pirates on their quest, will lure in young readers with a rollicking rhythm you don't find in straight prose.

Add to the great plot twists and the musical cadence a marvelous use of digital imagery. The boldly hued, sharply lined illustrations are crammed with a wealth of tiny details that make for a rich experience. Duddle does a particularly good job of capturing facial emotions as the crew swings from jubilation to uncertainty to fear.

Elementary-aged readers will be spurred to copy the many small monster inset illustrations sprinkled throughout, and to create their own.

The ending is just scary enough to satisfy the kindergarten set, but not terrifying enough to keep them up at night. A great confluence of storytelling and art, "The Pirate Cruncher" is destined for young readers' top pick lists.

Stormy Weather
Debi Gliori, author and illustrator
Walker & Company
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9780802794192, $15.99,

When the weather outside worries little ones, they need extra assurance to settle to sleep.

Blowing, snowing, torrentially raining, lightening, thundering - none of that need be a concern when you're snuggled under a quilt with a loving adult and a good bedtime book.

In "Stormy Weather," author/illustrator Debi Gliori serves up just about every fearsome weather pattern Mother Nature can muster, while parents and children cuddle together, watching it from a safe vantage point. The adult/child duo takes a variety of forms, from snails to polar bears to gingerbread people.

Parents hold anxious children in gentle embraces as leaves whip, waves crash and snow piles up.

Throughout it all the message resonates - no matter what, you're safe.

"Stormy Weather" could be read as a deeper metaphor for getting through life's tough times but its intent seems simpler than that. For young children, drifting off to sleep while a storm rages outdoors is more stressful than adults might remember.

Quietly child-centered, "Stormy Weather" reminds us that in the midst of a gale, a warm embrace and a little adult compassion may be all that's required.

Karyn Saemann

Logan's Bookshelf

A Conformation of Family
Bobby J. Jones
Author House
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781449045944, $13.95,

A lost time that many Americans no longer recall. "A Conformation of Family: Paul's Testament" is the story of a young man named Paul, born to a black family in the early 1960s. Using authentic dialogue and speech patterns, Bobby Jones does well in painting a vivid picture of rural life as a child in this period. "A Conformation of Family" is a fine and riveting read, not to be missed.

Rainbow Plantation Blues
Robert L. Sheeley
1663 Liberty Drive, IN 47403
9780595444687, $16.95,

Love knows no freedom, gender, or faith. "Rainbow Plantation Blues" is a gay romance novel from Robert L. Sheeley, set in pre-civil War South as Jonathan Thomas inherits a plantation. Concerned about the well being of his men, he finds that his old childhood friend is still under his family's ownership and that he may well be a sodomite on top of hating himself for owning slaves. "Rainbow Plantation Blues" is an intriguing twist on slavery and romance, recommended.

Prison Dreams
Carol Oschmann
Outskirts Press
10940 South Parker Road, #515, Parker, CO 80134
9781432739362, $19.95,

The world is radically different when you live an imprisoned life. "Prison Dreams" is Carol Oshchmann collecting records of prisoners she has interviewed and presents some intriguing philosophy from what she has learned. With many ideas to that she believes should be applied to rehabilitation, among other thoughts. "Prison Dreams" is well worth considering for those who ponder prisoner welfare.

Carl Logan

Margaret's Bookshelf

Selene of Alexandria
Faith L. Justice
Privately Published
9781601458131, $18.95,

The desire to heal is one that knows know gender. "Selene of Alexandria" is a tale of Selene, a woman who wants to stand against the cultural traditions of Christian Rome in the fifth century to become a physician. Under Hypatia of Alexandria, she may get her wish, be she finds that her road may not be an easy one as the cruelties and superstitions of the time may rise up and trump reason. "Selene of Alexandria" is an entertaining and enlightening novel of the classical era, and a fine read through and through.

Operation Attitude
J. Lissner
Author House
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
Smith Publicity (publicity)
1930 E. Marlton Pike, Suite I-46, Chery Hill, NJ 08003
9781449012793, $29.99,

A good attitude makes everything better. "Operation Attitude: God's Secret Weapon: Humor" is a memoir of J. Lissner and her unique facing off against cancer. Through her tragic disease, she hoped to rise up and make herself succeed through her will and attitude alone, hoping to conquer her cancer by never it letting it take control of her life. Uplifting and cheery and never a downer, "Operation Attitude" is a read that should not be underrated.

Talking with God in Old Age
Meditations and Psalms
Upper Room Books
PO Box 340003, Nashville, TN 37203-0003
9780835810166, $12.00

God knows no age. "Talking with God in Old Age" is a Christian inspirational book aimed at seniors who wish to understand God's plan for them even as they go into old age. Drawing much inspiration from Psalms, presented in large print for easier reading, Missy Buchanan does well in reminding seniors that even at an advanced age, you can do well inspiring others. "Talking with God in Old Age" is a treasure trove of knowledge, recommended.

The Unveiling
Leah Rae Lambertt
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9780595505975, $19.95,

A single death can rock the foundation of one's life. "The Unveiling" is a novel following Ettie Burin as her husband passes on after years of denying his life to her friends. Through this deception, she learns much about her life and her friends, revealing to her children her history and facing the mental illness that has been affecting them all. "The Unveiling" is a unique and thought provoking novel, highly recommended.

Think Twice Before Crossing
Beatriz Garcia Nin
Privately Published
9781608000029, $16.95,

Even amidst the turmoil of life, you should never stop living it. "Think Twice Before Crossing: A Memoir" tells the story of Beatriz Garcia Nin, as she reflects on her life eluding several attempts on her freedom and life. Reflecting on her ignorance of psychics, she tells a riveting and uplifting story of living one's life even in the face of danger. "Think Twice Before Crossing" is a moving memoir, highly recommended.

Workplace Woman Stuff
Linda Marshall
Infinity Publishing
1094 New DeHaven Street, Suite 100, West Conshohocken, PA 19428-2713
9780741456762, $13.95,

Fifty percent of the population is quickly becoming fifty percent of the workforce. "Workplace Woman Stuff" is Linda Marshall composing an inspirational guide for women in the workplace. Condemning the secret rivalry that often pits working women against each other and leads to an uneasy work place where overall success is decreased for everyone. Plainly spoken and helpful reading, any career woman should consider "Workplace Woman Stuff".

Margaret Lane

Molly's Bookshelf

Your Family Constitution
Scott Gale
Spectrum International Press
105 Symphony, Irvine, CA 92603
9780982296134, $15.95,

Scott Gale's "Your Family Constitution: A Modern Approach to Family Values and Household Structure" holds a disclaimer on the frontspiece: "Neither the publisher nor the author is engaged in rendering professional advice or services to the individual reader."

Your Family Constitution: A Modern Approach to Family Values and Household Structure is a 140 page book comprised of two sections. Section presents Our Family Constitution with explanation for how the book came about, as well as delineation as to what a Family Constitution actually entails. Writer Gale explains how it was BC, before constitution and how his family was able to climb back from rock bottom.

Section 2 explains how to construct a family constitution, how to live according to it. A household bill of rights, ideas and activities of today's family explain practical parenting to continue to work. Gale's last chapter is perhaps the most telling; 'End of the Book, But Not The Journey.' Parenting is a continuing process.

Gale reveals that a family crisis centered on parental role vs whining child which quickly escalated out of hand to culminate in a memorable Mother's Day trip home from what was to be a quiet family celebration at the beach.

Unambiguous and reliable expectations, clearly voiced, were not a part of the workings of the family at that time as their too busy, uptight way of life propelled them forward. Following that family meltdown, Writer Gale began evaluating his family's challenges as he began formulation of the method for bringing about positive change and family harmony.

Filled with first person accounts, this easily readily work is filled with insight, cartoons dot the pages, explanations for how the author and his family set about to improve their own situation, and explanation for how using some or all of their learning just might help others.

One important fact begins to become visible early and continues through the work: Mutually understood boundaries, along with all important structure and understanding of roles of each member holds within the family structure are an absolute necessity lest chaos reign.

Chapter 10 wraps up the work with a copy of the Gale Family Constitution as well as a variety of work pages, templates and specifics for expected individual and family behaviors.

I enjoyed the read and found many notions with which I can applaud. One single facet I find often missing in the homes from which my students arrive is a clear leader of the family. Roles are often blurred with little persons demanding rights and while wanting to abrogate any responsibility including picking up their own toys or helping to set the table for evening meals. I can quickly find among my students those who have a parenting parental figure and those who have a befuddled not quite sure how to parent adult in the household. Those who have expectations, boundaries and structure in their homes are those children who listen to lessons, quickly move to get independent work done and smile. Those who have no clearly understandable expectations, boundaries or structure at home are the children who do not attend to lessons, whine as they move to the work site, do not get independent work finish, sob as they try to lay guilt on me for the fact that their parent will hit, restrict, take away, or whatever as the child carries home the independent work to be completed at home. And, sad to say these are children who often do not return finished work, parents do not sign the daily report and kids begin lagging behind from day one.

The importance of clarity, consistency and commitment, those factors which the author believes is needed for enabling his family, and perhaps other families too, enjoy mutually understood boundaries and much-needed structure cannot be overstated.

While individual parents may want to use some of Gale's particular parental techniques and others may opt not to do so; a read through the book, formulation of a plan by the reader to develop his/her own workable plan, and improving family harmony is a good thing.

Writer Gale steers readers along the path toward creating their own personal Family Constitution, or whatever the plan may be called, along with sharing many entertaining and personal tales of parenting victory and breakdown. Sometimes just knowing others are also facing many of the problems we too face helps us see more clearly the light at the end of the tunnel whether we put the specific techniques into play or not.

I found Your Family Constitution offers positive, life improving notions and methods for achieving familial harmony that parents can apply without difficulty to make their own families more solid, more harmonious and more cohesive.

Happy to recommend Scott Gale - Your Family Constitution: A Modern Approach to Family Values and Household Structure

Lady Justice Takes a C R A P: City Retiree Action Patrol
Robert Thornhill
Author House
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200
Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
9781449031992, $14.49,

Lady Justice Takes a C R A P: City Retiree Action Patrol, A Walt Williams Novel opens in the first person, not always an easy method for writing or reading. In this case, it has proven to be excellent.

Walt Williams ruminates a bit about his life, his thoughts on justice and his retirement. Living in Kansas City, Missouri, Walt faced retirement a bit askew of the norm. He was not content to sit and rock, watch grass grow or otherwise meditate. Walt's goal was to give Lady Justice a hand.

Thus a new career is born, a book is launched and a whole array of characters come to life under the pen of this skilled writer. We meet Walt and his cohorts. There is his new partner in the Police Department where Walt calls upon old friendship with Captain Dwayne Short to help him launch a career as - a cop.

Initially Walt is a more or less glorified, albeit, gun toting reserve officer partnered with Ox, George Wilson, a long time patrol officer weighing in at some 220 pounds.

Back on the home front are Maggie, Walt's longtime love, Willie who shares the apartment building owned by Walt. The oldtime huckster is now Walt's handyman who keeps both the apartment building, and the remodeled hotel also owned by Walt, in working order. Apartment manage over in the hold hotel is Mary, 75 years old and never far from her trusty bat, just in case. Rounding out the circle of compadres is octogenarian Professor Leopold Skinner master of the one liner.

Before long Walt and Ox become a bonafide Dynamic Duo relying heavily on experience Ox has gained during his tenure in police work coupled to the experience Walt has accrued by simply living to his mid sixties. Between the pair one knotty police problem after another evaporate to the delight of many and the chagrin of one grumpy officer who just doesn't thing there is room for old guys on the force.

I do not keep all the books I receive for review, this is one I will not soon give away. I thoroughly enjoyed writer Thornhill's humor, expertise with words and wit.

Settings are believable, characters are people with whom we can identify, we have all known a skinny high school geek or two, and a con man now and then. We have met and been charmed by gals such as realtor Maggie McBride, and have hoped to know a Police Office like Ox when we need help. Mary, while she outweighs both of my own not your average old lady aunties is representative of that generation of women who met the world and dared it to blink. In her 90s my auntie Poll donned her levis to go up on the roof of the church and get repair work done because the 60 year old preacher was -too old to do that kind of work. I like Mary, all 220 pounds and flowery muumuus of her.

Thornhill adds enough police procedure to keep the story moving, enough romance to keep interest high, enough action to keep readers turning the page and enough out of the ordinary to create a book that is highly readable and is not the least bit ordinary.

I'm looking forward to the next in the series.

I am happy to recommend Lady Justice Takes a C R A P: City Retiree Action Patrol A Walt
Williams Novel.

Miracles, Messages & Metaphors
Norm Carroll
Synergy Books
PO Box 80107, Austin, Texas 78758
9780982314012, $16.95,

Norm Carroll's "Miracles, Messages & Metaphors: Unlocking the Wisdom of the Bible" is dedicated to readers who are searching for the truth.

This 370 page work features a Foreword, Preface, Acknowledgments, Introduction, with 30 segments, Transitions having 39 segments, an Epilogue, Follow up Point/Counterpoint and Notes. That is a lot to pack into 370 pages.

Realizing that of the 2 billion or so professing Christians world wide; only an abysmal 10% have actually read the Bible through, and of those fewer still have continued to read and re read, is demoralizing.

On the pages of Norm Carroll - Miracles, Messages & Metaphors: Unlocking the Wisdom of the Bible the writer sets out to help readers develop an awareness for the importance of scripture, and aid readers toward developing an enjoyment for reading the Bible as not only the Christian guide, but as a true work of art.

I particularly enjoyed reading the writer's explanation for the difference between Religion and Spirituality. For many the line seems blurred, Dr. Carroll helps to clear up the blur.

Each of the segments is a short, quick read designed for busy folk, while the book is a tad thick at 300 plus pages it is still small enough to tuck into brief case to be taken out for a quick segment read over lunch or waiting for the train to pass.

I like that Writer Carroll includes specific scripture verses for locating the source for his various segements. Segment topics follow Biblical order to introduce readers to well recognized characters including Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Moses, and figures whose names may be recognized as coming from the Bible, but who they were and how they are important to history as a whole and Christian history in particular may be a little more murky. Joshua, Samuel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah all come to life, clearly.

I found Carroll's explanation for why the four evangelical books seem to be at odds at times, for why sisters Mary and Martha found different important tasks while visiting with Christ and How Walking on Water can be achieved.

Norm Carroll - Miracles, Messages & Metaphors: Unlocking the Wisdom of the Bible is presented in clear, lucid manner, writing is interesting, filled with the culmination of the writer's understanding, study and belief. I did not feel preached at, rather, felt as I did as a child while sitting and chatting with my preacher Uncle as he shared his love of the Bible with me.

On the pages of Miracles, Messages and Metaphors, Writer Carroll moves past the obvious, exact verbiage to formulate an analysis of the Bible based on how this writer understands the meaning intended by the sacred author.

Carroll investigates biblical characters, times, and thesis to help reader's gain an understanding of spiritual implication from chronological framework of historical fact. I have long been a Bible reader, and while I may not always see each segment precisely as does Dr. Carroll, I am not at all diminished in my enjoyment of the work as a whole. This is one of the books I will be keeping and using again and again in future as I continue my own search into Biblical context.

Do not need to be Spiritual, Religious or even Christian to find much to ponder and enjoy on the pages of Dr Carroll's well written work.

Happy to recommend Norm Carroll - Miracles, Messages & Metaphors: Unlocking the Wisdom of the Bible for readers who enjoy context, and seek more understanding of what it is that motivates the human psyche. Biblical students will likely enjoy the work as well.

That's Good! That's Bad!
Margery Culyer, author
David Catrow, illustrator
Henry Holt & Company
175 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, NY, NY 10010-7725
9780805029543, $7.99,

A work of children's fiction, Margery Cuyler's "That's Good! That's Bad!" is a fun read in our Osage County First Grade.

Setting for this particular Cuyler work is a zoo.

When a little boy went to the zoo with his mother and father they bought him a shiny red balloon. And that was the beginning of his good/bad adventures.

The balloon lifted him high up into the sky, and that was good, ummm, no that was bad because the balloon drifted for hours before it came to a jungle, and popped when it touched the branch of a tall, prickly tree. And that was bad, errr, no that was good.

And so the adventures went from a tumble into a muddy river full of hippos to meeting 10 noisy baboons, locating a vine to grab for his getaway, meeting elephants and lions and a big billed stork; until at last he is reunited with his parents.

That's Good, That's Bad is a super story about assumptions. First Graders, and much of the population in general it seems; are prone to very black and white thinking, and never consider the grey that is reality most of the time. A dropped pencil immediately elicits cries of 'somebody stole my pencil', a child sitting and reading may be accused of taking the book of another despite the fact that the book he/she is holding is the one checked out by the reader, and so it goes. Teaching that assumptions, jumping to conclusions and conjecture are often wrong is an ongoing process beginning in Kindergarten and continuing throughout life.

Cuyler's whimsical narrative is animated, filled with motivating exclamations Osage First Grade enjoys; WOW, PANT PANT, SSSSS, GLUG, SLOP, WHOOSH, ZZZZZ, PURRR, SLURP, YUCK, OOOOO, BOO HOO, FLAP FLAP, to encourage Little Listener Readers to chime in as the story is read.

Osage County First Grade quickly grasps that each page is going to introduce a new set of oh good, no bad, however, the transition to life has yet to begin.

Writer Cuyler's little boy and his misadventures are well portrayed by illustrator David Catrow's droll and clever graphics depict the little boy's sporadic respite and panic.

Child essential repetition, vivacious kid friendly illustrations and a jungle filled with capricious critters is one fun read for Osage County First Grade.

Writer Cuyler's "That's Good! That's Bad!" is a magnificently ingenious and delightfully illustrated escapade crowded full of untamed critters as well as extraordinary state of affairs. I like that children are introduced to the notion that everything does not necessarily turn out as first seemed, and that what may look like a disaster may well be a very good thing while what seems so positive at first blush may be anything but.

A real child pleaser, happy to recommend Margery Cuyler's "That's Good! That's Bad!".

Molly Martin, Reviewer

Nicole's Bookshelf

The Vast White
Jason Walters
BlackWyrm Publications
10307 Chimney Ridge Ct., Louisville, KY 40299
9780982006702, $11.95,

Sometimes the cover says it all. Desert setting. Mythological creatures. Warriors battling to the death. An overemphasis on the female anatomy. The Vast White is one for the guys.

The author, Jason Walters, is an interesting character. His biography describes him as "surrounded by firearms and semi-feral dogs." He lives in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, "a billowing sea of sand not unlike the one featured in the book."

Walters has Highdome, the main character (picture a cross between the bald Billy Zane from Titanic and Vin Diesel), narrate the book as if he is recording the actions of his Red Regiment for the imperial archives. Highdome is loathe to accept this assignment and insults the reader at every turn for lounging in civilized luxury while he is toiling away in a vast wasteland.

His rag-tag army of misfits has sworn an oath of loyalty to the regiment, even if they are mercenary soldiers. Walters refers to them as a group of murderers. They are made up of an odorous pedophile, a defiant young girl, canine-like beasts, insane wizards and lizard-men - just to name a few. The goal of this motley crew is to seize the prosperous city of Salt. There are just two problems. The city has never fallen to an invading force, and the regiment must first defeat another army also bent on conquering the lucrative city.

Walters is at his best when he delves into fantasy. He brings the vengeance of a wicked sandstorm to life. He creates terror with a marsh creature arising from a tepid bog. However, he stumbles a bit by having the reader rely on a nine-page glossary in order to translate his prolific terminology. The characters themselves border on unlikeable. Crude. Perverted. Drunk. Think The Lord of the Flies meets Animal House. They bicker more with each other, than fight against the enemy.

This first installment in Walters' saga ends with the regiment joining forces with the opposing army in order to survive a debilitating sandstorm. In the final scene, what is left of the two armies gain access to the illusive city of Salt in exchange for relinquishing their weapons.

Overall, this is a book that a teenage boy would love.

Voices of the Children: A Poetic Expose
Lenora Trice
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781441586322, $19.95,

Child abuse is an uncomfortable topic. It happens behind closed doors, yet becomes visible through a bruised arm or a cigarette-burned back. Sometimes it is brought to a mandated end in a hospital or courtroom. Otherwise, finality is often reached at the grave.

Most poetry celebrates the romantic experience of love, or it takes a philosophical bent pondering the meaning of existence. What inspired the verses of poet Lenora Trice is the violence afflicted upon the youngest members of society in Voices of the Children: A Poetic Expose. The poems are not based on actual abuse cases, but the details are so true to life they can likely be found in the headlines of any newspaper across the country.

Trice describes her writing process as a empathetic catharsis. She delves deep to her emotional core in order to connect with the victims' pain. A mother employs her daughter as a prostitute to pay for her drug habit. Parents starve their child to death. A babysitter smothers the baby in her care. A girl is lured to a secluded spot by a molester. The situations are imagined, but the gut reaction Trice causes the reader to experience is real. Horror. Shock. Pity. Disgust. Sympathy. Anger. The intensity of feeling is inescapable.

A mother beats her daughter to death.

When I began to cry, she hit me hard once more
With her pointed toe shoes, she kicked me several times
- "A Matter of Time"

A mother ignores the sexual abuse committed by her husband.

There is one thing, mommy
That I don't understand
Why didn't you notice the blood
On my panties and even in my bed?
If you did notice, mommy, why was nothing ever said?
- "Mommy, Why?"

A father slams the head of his screaming infant into the wall.

You see, my face was unrecognizable
Because much of it was forced back into my head
- "He Didn't Love Me"

Why does Trice write of such unspeakable horrors? The answer is found in the opening lines of her poem "Nobody Listened:"

It's too late for me, but maybe not for you.

Overall, this is a poetry collection that addresses the societal taboo of child abuse in order to raise awareness on how it can be prevented.

Tugger's Down
Tommie Lyn
100 Enterprise Way, Suite A200, Scotts Valley, CA 95066
9781450527934 $12.99,

If only Ouija boards didn't hold such a fascination over teenage girls. If only they knew what truly lurked beneath their sliding fingertips. They would think twice before summoning a power beyond their reckoning. A power with the ability to kill.

In Tommie Lyn's Tugger's Down, Tiffani and Olivia awaken a demonic entity on their grandmother's Ouija board - it kills Olivia while attempting to infiltrate the baby in her womb. The baby, Tugger, survives to be constantly plagued by the demon who continually assaults the boy for control of his soul.

At age three, Tugger is at the point of complete physical deterioration. His emotionally detached grandmother sends him along with his nanny to live with his Aunt Regina and her family in Florida. Escaping from the proximity of the demon's hold, Tugger begins to flourish in his new surroundings especially when he meets Lacey.

Lacey is a struggling college student. Raised in a Christian group home, religious values are an essential part of her character. Now living on her own, she tries to make ends meet working at a jewelry kiosk in the mall. It's not until she meets fellow student Porter O'Brien (who happens to be Regina's brother-in-law) that she begins to let down her guard.

One problem - Porter has a notorious past as a ladies man. When Lacey initially rebuffs his advances, he turns his attention to another classmate, Jennie. This proves to be a major error in Porter's calculations when his interest in Lacey turns into an undeniable attraction. Lacey finds herself falling for Porter when he takes a genuine interest in her - repairing her car, buying her lunch and driving her to work. However, Jennie sews seeds of distrust in Lacey's mind in regards to Porter's fidelity. Just when Lacey begins to rely on Porter, she doesn't know whether to pursue the relationship or withdraw before Porter can hurt her.

In the meantime, the demon continues to pursue Tugger. When Tiffani and her sister, Heather, once again use the Ouija board, the demon takes over Heather's body and kills Tiffani. Traveling to Regina's home in Florida, a final showdown occurs when only Lacey and Porter stand between Tugger and the demon's wrath.

Tommie Lyn is a master at creating realistic characters. Characters that readers care about. Her talent is apparent in fleshing out their personalities with believable details. Tugger's internal struggle with the demon is depicted by his nanny having to relax his clenched toes in order to put on his socks. Porter's issues with the harsh Navy discipline of his father illustrate the root cause behind his teenage rebellion. Lacey's abandonment by her mother taught her to push people away instead of allowing anyone to get close enough to hurt her. The emotional detachment of Tugger's grandmother derives from her familial connection to a woman convicted in the Salem witch trials. The characters are multi-dimensional with relationships that are imperfect yet real.

Overall, this is a supernatural thriller with a whole lot of heart.

A Man and His Maniac: The Bunkie Story
Charles Franklin Emery III
Bunkiedog Press
9780615308012 $9.99

Dog stories are meant to tug at the heartstrings. But "A Man and His Maniac: The Bunkie Story" does so in a down-to-earth way. Charles Franklin Emery III realistically depicts the highs and lows of pet ownership. What emerges is a complete portrait of a yellow Labrador Retriever named Bunkie and the powerful relationship between a man and his dog.

A chance encounter brings the two together. While running errands, Emery happens upon a woman selling puppies. On an impulse, he purchases one for the asking price of $10. As a former Navy man, he names the dog Bunkie, a nickname for a sailor's favored sleeping quarters.

One thing Bunkie quickly becomes known for is making a mess. Before officially becoming an outside dog, several carpets and pieces of furniture are victims of his bowel movements. Another time while Emery was landscaping the yard, Bunkie got into the manure. Before Emery could stop him, he entered the house and began rolling on the living room floor.

When riding in the car, Bunkie would sit directly behind Emery with his paws on his shoulders. This seating arrangement while humorous turned tragic when the two were involved in a car accident and Bunkie was sent hurtling through the windshield, down the hood of the car and onto the road. Amazingly, he survived and was found barking at oncoming traffic. On another drive, Bunkie chased a squirrel by jumping out of a moving truck bed. Unfortunately, his timing was off and his head connected with a large boulder. Yet once again, he made it through the ordeal.

On another occasion, Bunkie left the safety of his backyard and was missing for over a month. Emery was determined to find him keeping in close contact with the local animal shelters. He received many leads and even had to ID a body. One day while Emery was making a routine visit to a shelter, Bunkie burst through the door with a shipment of new dogs. He had a tire tread mark right between his eyes, but he was finally found.

The two formed a strong bond over a shared love of hunting. Bunkie was a natural. His body would go as stiff as a board when he would hone in on his prey. While on point, he would alert Emery to the presence of a bird and then flush it out. After Emery's successful shot, Bunkie would proudly retrieve the catch for his master. Bunkie's hunting prowess became a tale of legend among Emery's co-workers and fellow hunters. Yet due to loyalty or stubbornness, Bunkie refused to hunt for anyone but Emery.

The most touching part of the story can be found in its final pages. At age 14, Bunkie was blind, deaf and in serious pain. Emery made the heart-wrenching decision to put him down. He died in the vet's office in the arms of his lifelong friend.

Emery makes many significant points about his life with Bunkie that apply to every pet owner. Here are just a few:

Owning and caring for an animal is a responsibility. Most of the time that responsibility is a happy, welcome and magnificently enriching experience. It's very fulfilling and usually brings years of enjoyment and countless happy memories. Unfortunately, that responsibility also includes the necessity of making decisions that will prolong or end your charge's life. There is one thing for certain: unless you die first, you are going to have to cope with the fact that you will probably outlive your pet.

That is the primary reason for the Bunkie chapters: to honor Bunkie's memory and immortalize him; it's the least that I can do for my friend. It would bring me no greater pleasure than to have people read this book and derive enjoyment from the tales of Bunkie's life.

Then when I found Bunkie in that cardboard box on a Bremerton street corner, I knew that [God was] thinking of me. I saw [God] in his eyes. When Bunkie died, I consigned him [God's] care. I knew [God] would take care of my old buddy and that I would see him again.

Overall, if you're a fan of Marley & Me, you'll fall in love with Bunkie.

The Legend of Gwerinatha: Branwen's Garden
Brad Parnell
Blackwyrm Publications
10307 Chimney Ridge Ct., Louisville, KY 40299
9780982006764, $11.95,

Brad Parnell is first and foremost an illustrator. His debut novel, The Legend of Gwerinatha: Branwen's Garden would have better suited a children's picture book or possibly a young adult graphic novel. The plot is too simplistic to stand on its own without intensive visual support.

Robert Moore discovers a key to Gwerinatha, an alternate world where his ancestor is thought to have disappeared over 300 years ago. He enters a dangerous land teeming with poisonous plants and malformed creatures. Animals talk and Robert quickly befriends the young wolf, Louie.

The two of them set out to rescue the governor's daughter, Branwen. Gwerinatha is currently divided over civil strife. The southern House of Fates has been against the northern Lords of Wisdom since Robert's ancestor, Samuel More, walked away from his flock. Samuel was the first person from the real world to discover Gwerinatha, and he brought a group of English pilgrims with him. He hoped to set up a civilization based on free choice and a lifestyle based on the common good. However, things spiraled out of control culminating with the kidnapping of Branwen by the Southern Guard.

Branwen is a remarkable 16-year-old girl. She is an activist fighting to preserve the natural habitat and the animals who reside in it. Her garden in the midst of wolf headquarters exemplifies her beliefs. Here's how Robert describes her: "It wasn't that she was cute or had a great personality or anything like that, though she was extraordinarily attractive in every manner conceivable. I just couldn't get over how someone so young could stand up to so many authority figures for principles that she believed in so strongly. She was willing to risk her safety and comfort for others."

Along the way, Robert and Louie team up with Branwen's younger sister, Seren; a two-mouthed donkey, Gefell and a guide from the Village of Idiots named Borb. They wander through 19th century-style towns and barren wastelands like the Unfinished Lands where they encounter the self-exiled Samuel. Inspired by young Robert's enthusiasm, the esteemed patriarch agrees to help them rescue Branwen and come back to advise the governance of Gwerinatha. However, a host of monstrous creatures not to mention the Southern Guard stand in their way.

The strength of Parnell's work is in its imagery. The creatures, the landscape, the clothing - all deserve his illustrative touch. Some of the chapters are introduced by a graphic, however the entire story would benefit from extensive full-color illustration. Its scope resembles that of a fairy tale and a younger audience would appreciate a concrete interpretation of Parnell's vision.

Overall, the images issuing from such a creative mind deserve to be fully captured on paper.

Explorer X-Alpha
L.M. Preston
Phenomenal One Press
PO Box 8231, Elkridge, MD 21075
9780984198900, $14.99,

First time novelist L.M. Preston succeeds in writing a book boys will want to read. Not an easy task when 12-year-olds are more captivated by a flashing screen than a stationary page. But Explorer X-Alpha primes its audience for an action-filled look at space camp in the year 2080.

Aadi is the book's title character. His team is comprised of Eirena (his potential love interest), Scott (his new best friend), Raiko (the petite martial artist), Dakota (the weapons expert), Damien (his arch rival), Carter (the tool with inside connections), Tacitus (the indestructible) and Ebu (his pet robot). The sponsor of the camp is the Technical Exploration and Genome Research Corporation (TERG), their parents' employer. Little do they know that their parents willingly provided TERG with their DNA for experimental purposes. With their artificially enhanced births, they became company property.

Upon arrival at space camp, TERG issues an immunization against the alleged threat of intergalactic disease. However, some cadets fall seriously ill and are hidden in the bowels of the ship. Aadi and his crew uncover the conspiracy, but before they can expose TERG they are sent on a mission to Mars. Things go awry when a black hole unexpectedly appears. The spacecraft piloted by Aadi and Eirena ends up crashing on the distant planet of Shrenas.

Forced to cope in a hostile environment, Aadi and Eirena befriend a native named Jantik who draws them into the midst of a civil war. Their scientifically engineered DNA begins to transform their bodies as they begin to take on the physical characteristics of the planet's inhabitants. Aadi grows a red reptilian skin while Eirena's hair takes on gray and black stripes. As they struggle to hold onto their humanity, their bodies become infused with an innate power that they are able to unleash on command. As they struggle to find a way home, Aadi worries if it is too late for Eirena who becomes enamored with her killing prowess.

Preston hits the mark in the first half of the book. When the cadets are together at space camp, their different personalities add life and dimension to the story. They are a realistically depicted group of adolescents who get on each other's nerves more than they get along. They jostle to compete in simulated video games, for attention from the opposite sex and to lead the camp's mission to Mars.

The story veers off course when Aadi and Eirena get separated from the others. An entirely new plot line is introduced regarding the internal conflicts on Shrenas. This jars the book's momentum at the halfway point. No mention is made of the other cadets until the final pages. The reader is left wondering what happened to them. It is unsettling to be left without a smoother transition.

The book is listed as suitable for children age 10 and above, but it is quite violent for those not yet in their teens. For example, to knock another out of simulation training, a cadet must issue a stunning blow to the head. When Eirena is captured on Shrenas, she is tortured quite graphically. Violence is viewed as a solution, and physical strength is relied upon more than ingenuity. Aadi does struggle to hold onto a moral code, but even he is forced to abandon his principles in the book's culminating bloodbath.

Overall, young boys will fly through these pages at a hyper-accelerated speed.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family
Jack Canfield, et al.
Chicken Soup for the Soul
PO Box 700, Cos Cob, CT 06807
9781935096399, $14.95,

Story vignettes are like hors d'oeuvres. They pique your interest, but they're not very filling. The anecdotes by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Amy Newmark, Susan M. Heim, found in Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family are palatable because they are taken from real-life families, but due to their brevity they fail to leave a lasting impression. Editor Susan M. Heim does an admirable job sifting through thousands of submissions to arrive at the 101 included entries, but the limitations of the Chicken Soup framework produce superficial, glossy tidbits instead of deeply resonating personal accounts.

The stories while divided into sections such as vacations, holidays and in-laws tend to blend together due to a lack of significant detail. The tales are quickly forgotten since many are based on worn-out cliches - the insufferable mother-in-law, the inept father, the doting grandmother. While some delve into serious issues like abandonment, alcoholism and mental illness, most unwittingly reach a tidy conclusion within two to three pages. These easily portrayed resolutions are likely to create a disconnect for the majority of the book's audience.

Yet there are a few that rise to the occasion of providing substance in a condensed format. In "Right from Wrong," author Michael T. Smith states: "I learned a lot from my dad. I learned how not to treat my wife. I learned to give my children love and attention. Dad didn't teach by example. He taught by making me aware of what is wrong." A mental burden is revealed in Marijoyce Porcelli's "Grandma's Beads:" "Somehow [Grandma] let go of that frigid, bitter persona that was her usual self and talked, really talked. Unfortunately, these pleasant lulls didn't last long." The struggle to reconnect with an estranged son is depicted in Marsha D. Teeling's "A Tiny Piece of Paper:" "Why does [my son] hate me? I see him with his children, and I know that at least he is breaking the cycle because he is a loving, caring father."

Some humorous moments deserve a mention. April Knight's family arrives in the Ozarks only to attend the wrong reunion in "Who Are All These Strange People?" Melanie Adams Hardy learns a whole new vocabulary while riding in "Grandma Lillie's Red Cadillac." Mimi Greenwood Knight deals with a husband whose mouth lacks an off switch in "What Did You Say?" While all the mischievous Ben Kennedy has to say is the key phrase: "That Did It!" to cause his little brother to take off running and screaming.

Overall, this is a book for a location where reading options are limited such as a doctor's waiting room or an airport gift shop. It's a good time killer when there's nothing better to read.

Nicole Langan, Reviewer

Peggy's Bookshelf

So Many Days
Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
9781416958574, $15.99,

"So Many Days" is meant to inspire young children to open the door to the endless possibilities each day has to offer. Through the use of free verse, Alison McGhee highlights familiar things like wind and snow, and the sun and moon to challenge young readers to use their imaginations and enrich their lives.

Taeeun Yoo's illustrations bring this simple, yet powerful message to life. The colorful, action-packed scenes show a young child, who could be a boy or girl, and a little dog sharing great adventures and making the most of every single day.

The questions posed, "Who will you be and where will you go? And how will you know?" make for good conversation starters after reading. This book offers a fun and imaginative way to build self-esteem.

Mama Miti
Donna Jo Napoli, author
Kadir Nelson, illustrator
Paula Wiseman Book
c/o Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
9781416935056, $15.99,

"Mama Miti" means mother of trees. "Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya" is the folktale version of how one woman saved Kenya from deforestation one tree at a time. As a child, Wangari Maathai listened to stories about the old days and learned to love trees. When she grew up, she planted all kinds of trees in her backyard. Poor women came from all over the country to see her and told her their problems. She gave each of them a seedling from the right kind of tree to solve their problem, along with a blessing, "Thayu nyumba - Peace, my people."

Napoli accomplishes much with this simple tale. She portrays African culture and educates readers about the life sustaining qualities of specific trees. The glossary in the back of the book lists each tree and summarizes its use. The afterword contains a short biography of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. A note from the author describes the Green Belt Movement which she founded.

Nelson's stunning illustrations, done with oil paints and printed fabrics on gessoed board, bring African culture to life. Each page is an exquisite work of art depicting the beautiful faces and rich colorful landscape of Kenya.

"Mama Miti" is both a treasured keepsake and a unique way to show young children about the importance of trees in our environment.

Laura Rotter
Author House
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781449030926, $12.99,

Sarah and Sean plan to spend a rainy afternoon cooped up in Dan's room playing computer games. But Dan's new cat Wix has other ideas. To grab their attention he knocks over a blue bucket and much to their surprise he speaks. He tells them he is a Rimor from Terratorva. But the Rimoras very existence is threatened by the Extraxis, a race of fire-breathing, flying dragons. He begs for their help. Since they have nothing better to do, they follow Wix through the blue bucket portal toward a daring adventure in the fascinating and dangerous land of Terratorva. But how can three kids possibly rescue an entire species?

"Terratorva" is a fast-paced chapter book for young readers who want to read fantasy but are not ready to take on a hefty, complex series. Laura Rotter has created an enchanting fantasyworld with a limited variety of character species and a simple plot that is easily understood. Then she has cleverly blended in a hint of Narnia here, and a touch of Lord of the Rings there, with humor sprinkled through plenty of peril to keep young readers turning the pages.

Peggy Tibbetts, Reviewer

Ramsey's Bookshelf

Under the Moonlight
Isabelle Rose
Cacoethes Publishing House LLC
9781606950104, $14.50, 9781606950111 (eBook)

Detective Morgan Carbone has finally caught the psycho serial killer suspected of slaughtering many young girls, but during the interrogation session, this suspect is about to reveal much more about himself than Morgan bargained for. After shifting into a werewolf the predator escapes, but not before biting Morgan, infecting her with the werewolf virus.

As a newly turned werewolf, Morgan develops an infatuation towards her newfound abilities. However, when the unquenchable bloodlust emerges, her sense of guilt is overridden by her primal desire. After withdrawing from her way of life, Morgan spent months in the forest hunting as a feral beast, until she was apprehended by Mario and his pack of commando werewolves.

Mario wants Morgan to infiltrate Castle Cachtice to assassinate the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a century old barbaric vampire who murdered his twin sister. If Morgan refuses to do this, Mario will kill her by detonating the chip he placed in her head. The only reason Morgan agrees to this task is because of the resemblance between the Countess and Morgan's first female love, Sophia. Will Morgan find out what happened to Sophia and maybe rekindle the old flame she once had without being blown apart by a revengeful brother?

Under the Moonlight is an intensely sadistic and oppressively seductive story that will pull the reader into the midst of sorrow and later, lifting their spirits making them hopeful and optimistic about the end. The sense of despair and desolation exuding from Morgan is deeply heartfelt and the sexual attraction between Morgan and Elizabeth is emotionally overpowering. Isabelle Rose has entered into a very dark and dismal place in order to weave a tale about the woes of existing as a vicious werewolf and a barbaric vampire who are both suffering with their own horrible bloodlust. This story is not for the faint-hearted, but for those who wish to relish in a scene of carnage with a side of erotica. The characters and background development is vividly portrayed and the plot was on track through the entire story. Isabelle Rose has created a uniquely interesting and entertaining tale. I recommend this e-book to readers who are captivated with Paranormal Romance, Shape Shifters, Vampires and Erotica genres.

The Dream House: Visions and Nightmares
Victoria Roder
Asylett Press Publication
3616 Devils Three Jump Road, Little Plymouth, VA 23091
1934337633, $3.59 (eBook)

Rating: 5 Stars

For the past several months, Hope Graham has been suffering from a series of reoccurring frightening nightmares of her old rental house her family once lived in when she was a child. Her visions of a woman in a white nightgown, that always ended up soaked in blood, along with the presence of a baby that turns to bones, keeps her awake at night. With the constant insomnia, Hope's job is at risk at the Resource Center where she helps troubled families. If she doesn't get herself under control soon, she will be out of a job. After an incident with one of the parents, her boss was nice enough to give her two weeks off, without pay. That's when she decided to visit her older sister, Samantha, who lives near the house haunting her dreams, in hopes of putting a stop to whatever is summoning her and getting her life back on track.

After arriving at her sister's house, Hope begins her investigation into the prior ownership of the mysterious old house. She plans to masquerade as a writer who is writing about haunted houses and conducting research to find out if anyone has witnessed strange happenings there. When she visit's the bakery next door, Hope braves a glance at the house which appears exactly as in her dreams, a decrepit old shack looming over her. At least she doesn't appear to be going crazy when she meets Brock, the owner of the Bakery. Who knew a Bakery man could look so handsomely yummy? They have something else in common, besides being attracted to one another. Brock has also witnessed the apparition of the woman reaching out pleading for help, "Please help me, Please. Don't you hear my children screaming?"

How will Hope solve the mysteries lingering within the sinister old house and bring an end to the horrible dreams that are haunting her at night? Will she be able to put to rest the ghostly woman and baby who are desperately pleading for someone to resolve the injustice that was committed against them?

The Dream House: Visions and Nightmares is an astounding, spine-tingling read that will capture the readers' attention from the start, ensnaring them within its pages. Victoria Roder has, without a doubt, created a flawless whodunit story, in addition to producing credible characters and a well-organized plot. The reader honestly will feel the immense sorrow and grief that Hope exhibits and the frustration of unknowingly repressing a part of her childhood from long ago. This e-book should come with a warning label: Readers will neglect there everyday activities once they begin this story.(I most certainly did) I recommend this story to anyone who loves a good haunted house mystery.

Amy J Ramsey, Reviewer

Regis' Bookshelf

The Lumby Lines
Gail Fraser
New American Library
375 Hudson Street, NY, NY 10014-3657
0451221397, $14.00,

The Lumby Lines is a friendly laid-back tale that takes place in a remote northwestern town. Here, 4200 relaxed townspeople never seem to take themselves too seriously. All appear rather happy, quaintly removed from anything sinister in the outside world. Lumby moves at its own pace with its own small newspaper: The Lumby Lines. Use your imagination to couple Andy Griffith's friendly town of Mayberry with Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon and you will approximate Lumby.

The story line is not complicated.

1) Vacationing in Lumby where they fall in love with the town's simplicity and tranquil spirit, Mark and Pam Walker pull up their roots and relocate to rebuild Lumby's Montis Abbey. It was built in 1893. Until a fire ravaged the abbey, the main building and its grounds earned historic landmark status. But Pam and Mark are determined to rebuild the abbey and its thirty-four acres into a profitable inn.

2) The monks from the burned out abbey have moved to another location. These men befriend Mark and Pam when they learn of the reconstruction of their beloved former home, yet they are deeply troubled because the skills of penning calligraphy are no longer needed because of today's computerized printing techniques. Once again, the monks can no longer afford the expenses of their present location and are faced with moving again.

3) Not all townsfolk are happy about the restructuring of Montis Abbey. In particular is the owner of the town's newspaper who writes an editorial about the influences Montis Inn might wreak on the towns economy and its inhabitants. "Simply because the Walkers have obtained a business license does not mean their plans are a good thing for Lumby."

How Gail Fraser's quirky characters bring her winsome tale to a believable conclusion is the magic behind Lumby Lines. There are Mark and his wife Pam who leave the East Coast far behind to build a dream in humble Lumby. Both are highly intelligent professionals who desert well-paying jobs to strike out as business entrepreneurs with little or no real experience. But both are willing to learn as they go. They are convinced that love will get them through any difficulty.

There is ninety-year-old Charlotte, an extremely wealthy widow who loves books. She wears simple house dresses about town with her stockings rolled down below her knees. She is extremely generous with her money and decides she needs more excitement in her life than mere gardening. She will remarry. Better known as Charley, Charlotte has married several times.

There is Joshua, a former brother who lived at Montis Abbey before it burned. He seems intrigued by Brook, an architect friend whom Mark and Pam have invited to Lumby to draw up plans for renovating the burned out structure. Fate has brought them together in this picturesque town but will fate also separate them?

Then, too, an artificial flamingo appears around town dressed appropriately or inappropriately for any occasion. Although Hank "prefers" not to talk, nevertheless, author Fraser often includes his probable mental imaginings and self talk.

Where else but in Lumby could a four-year-old Golden Retriever be placed on the ballot for mayor. After a thorough examination of Lumby's law books, "there is no law on the books to prevent a canine from running for, or taking office."

Then there is the fiasco where a ranch in Anchorage, Alaska ships a female moose to Lumby. The Lumby Farmers Association hoped to begin processing moose milk into special "moose cheese." The moose, of course protested because the beast turned out to be an elk - a male elk at that!

Lumby Lines is one of several books by Gail Fraser about this remote town. If you are seeking something light to read, something humorous, something different - an adventurous fun tale that will distract you from the perils of modern reality and help lower your stress level and blood pressure, Lumby Lines can be your tonic.

House Rules
Jodi Picoult
Atria Books
1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
0743296435, $13.99,

Emma is the mother of two boys, Theo and Jacob, and husbandless. Because her spouse was unwilling to share the burden of massive amounts of time Emma devotes to their autistic son, Jacob, her husband abandons the family. Alone, she deals with the difficulties of raising their brilliantly autistic son who also has Asperger's Syndrome so he appears as normal as possible.

In truth, the makeup of Jacob's Asperger's brain does not allow him to express feelings. People treat him as an alien to the human race because he knows only frankness. Case in point: in the seventh grade, Jacob sits beside a girl in the cafeteria:

Girl: You wanna taste my slushie?
Jacob: Sharing drinks could give me mono. So can kissing.
Girl (leaving table): I'm going to sit somewhere else …

Emma's second son, Theo, grows up in this home dominated by constant care for Jacob. Theo feels neglected. To escape their home when Jacob is "freakin' out," Theo becomes a bandit; after school, he often cases out homes. Then, when owners are away, he sneaks inside and steals items he loves: MP3 players, video games, iPods, and CDs.

Jacob, on the otherhand, has an obsession with forensics. He solves murder mysteries on television keeping notes of the clues that led to his conclusions. He reads everything he can to learn about detective work, forensic procedures and techniques, and autopsy discoveries. Often, he stages a murder in his own home and delights when he stumps his mother with the clues he creates.

Jacob's mother pays young Jess, to help befriend Jacob and teach him more appropriate social behaviors. Jess does her very best, which is not enough to keep Jacob's Aspergers's from constantly needing her attention. Jess' boyfriend angrily deserts her because he feels she dotes on Jacob.

After receiving an anonymous tip, police are shocked to find Jess dead not far from her apartment. Her body lies near a culvert in a wooded area with Jacob's favorite blanket wrapped around her. When questioned, his Asperger's forces him to answer every probing question accurately and truthfully. During his trial, he admits to being in Jess' home, repulsed by all the blood found in and around her bathroom. He admits carrying Jess' corpse to the culvert and placing her broken tooth in one of her pockets.

Horrified beyond grief, his mother cannot imagine Jacob surviving in prison. She admits her autistic son occasionally thrashes out in a physical way but surely not in a murderous way. And yet, Jacob's own damning testimony along with convincing forensic evidence undermines hers and Theo's belief in Jacob's innocence.

Jacob's lawyer attempts to enter an insanity plea but psychiatric testing proves Jacob was fully aware of the crime committed. He seems to have a motive. He didn't like the attention Jess gave her boyfriend whom he considered an inferior dimwit. All hope of acquittal seems lost.

This masterful story will have you racing to find out what happens to this young man. Will he survive his court trial? Will he finally admit murdering Jess and deliberately planting clues to mislead police? Or will his absolute honesty somehow save him from what seems like an inevitable guilty conviction?

House Rules will not disappoint. The simple series of events is easy to follow and so well thought out you will find yourself in the story questioning Jacob's innocence. How could the evidence be otherwise? The various chapters move quickly because the tale is told from inside the heads of the main characters: Jacob, his mother Emma, his brother Theo, Officer Rich, and defense lawyer Oliver.

Since I used to work with students with special needs, I must admit that author Jodi Picoult has written the character of Jacob with his Asberger's disorder in an often humorous and yet pathetic way. With his high IQ (140), he will fascinate you. Although his absolute straightforwardness wins him few friends, he always plays by the rules, House Rules. He is incapable of doing otherwise. One can only imagine the hardships his mother and brother encountered trying to train Jacob to act normal.

Jacob: "I have a joke:
Two muffins are in an oven.
One muffin says, "Wow, it's really hot in here."
The other one jumps and says, "Yikes! A talking muffin."

Regis Schilken, Reviewer

Richard's Bookshelf

Shooting the Mailbox
David Curkendall
Robert D. Reed Publishers
P. O. Box 1992, Bandon, Oregon 87411
9781934759424, $14.95,

Teenagers on the Lam - An Experiment in Independent Living

A teenage prank which turned sour found three teenagers answering questions asked by representatives of the law in a rural community in Upstate New York. "Shooting the Mailbox" is a memoir of the adventures of Dave, Mack, and Ed. Rather than face the prospect of Reform School the trio leave home in Ed's car, Dave's $200 savings, and a few personal belonging, and head for Burbank, California.

The adventures have only begun. In their farewell letters to their parents they promise to start school when they arrive at their destination, get jobs, and keep out of trouble. Two days after arriving in Burbank they are asked for an explanation of their reason for being in California. They respond with a trumped up story of being part of an experiment in "Independent Living" sponsored by their high school and endorsed by their parents.

The "experiment" soon turns to "experience" as they again find themselves in trouble with the authorities, living in cramped quarters, working out finances, with no mothers to act as "maids" for them. This is a story of coming of age with just a hint of risque yet maintains the innocence of childhood, adolescence, and youth.

Dave Curkendall spokesman for the three recognizes the impact a teacher can have on an individual student. Unofficially classified as trouble makers by the school system the three found themselves pigeon holed as incorrigible. Fortunately there were others who saw some potential and each of the boys became men, successful in their chosen endeavors.

As an avid reader I cover a broad range of subjects. Sometimes I am reading for information, for inspiration, motivation, etc. "Shooting the Mailbox" is one of those books that provided a rare blend of sheer entertainment and a subtle take away message.

"Shooting the Mailbox: Coming of Age in Mid-Century America" provides a brief respite for the nostalgic reader ready to reflect on an era remembered with larger than life perceptions exaggerated with the repeated telling, minimizing man of the unpleasant realities. Highly entertaining.

A Better Tomorrow
Thomas Finn
Millennial Mind Publishing
5442 South 900 East, #146, Salt Lake City, Utah 84117-7204
9781589826144, $19.95

Keys to Self Actualization and Positive Transformation

Thomas Finn invites the reader to take the first step to "explosive" living in his book "A Better Tomorrow: Affirmations and Visualization the Keys to Success". As a licensed life coach Finn is passionate about life change. In his book he introduces and describes principles and methods of meditation, relaxation, and positive affirmations that change attitudes, which in turn change life patterns.

Finn addresses the subjects of self-help and self-improvement with the layman in mind. His writing is direct, eliminating the technical and theoretical information so often detailed in this genre of book. He talks about communicating with the subconscious through auto-suggestion and creative visualization. He consistently lays a ground work of general and specific guidelines. Finn speaks from personal experience and intimately shares his own experiences, struggles, and discoveries throughout his journey on the road to self-actualization.

The chapters on "Guilt and Forgiveness" and "Human Relationships" are both helpful and practical. The inspirational quotes from recognized "greats" at the end of each chapter and the "Soothing Words from Scripture" at the end of the book were favorite features of mine. I especially appreciated the chapter summaries which capture the essence of the principles covered. He also provided some thought provoking and helpful questions and answers to re-enforcing the key principles.

"A Better Tomorrow" is a valuable addition to the library of anyone wanting to experience a new sense of fulfillment and successful living. It is a book that crosses cultural, religious, and economic backgrounds providing inspiration and guidelines for positive personal growth.

Gringa in a Strange Land
Linda Dahl
Robert D. Reed Publishers, Inc.
P. O. Box 1992, Bandon, OR 97411
9781934759394, $14.95,

An Era of Delusion and Discovery

Linda Dahl has captured the essence of a unique era, created a cast of eccentric characters, and placed them in another time and place the Mayan pyramids, and the Mexico of the 1970s in her novel "Gringa in a Strange Land."

Erica Mason has a dream of finding herself through her art. She visits the colonial city of Merida in the Yucatan peninsula and is torn between working to become an artist and giving in to the enticement and lure of the drug culture. The story takes Erica to the Mayan ruins and to the beaches of Belize and the city of Oaxaca.
Twenty-three year old Erica Mason is a well educated middle class youth enamored by the counter culture of the 1960's and 70's. She became engaged as an advocate in causes such as: women's lib, legalized abortion, and anti-war rallies. Erica soon came to the realization that she had become trapped by an addiction to prescription drugs.

Erica traveled to the Mayan world of the Yucatan. It is Erica's hope that she will find herself. It is her dream to become an established proficient skilled artist. Disillusioned and overcome with the unbearable heat of Merida, she lost herself in the drug culture and in an alcoholic stupor. She was plagued with loneliness and feelings of despair.

Erica observed the scarcity of basic needs, the wretched conditions, the personal disasters, and the plight of those destined to poverty. Her paintings took on a matching depth of reality as her clear vivid strokes came to life on canvas as her own life continued in a downward spiral.

"Gringa in a Strange Land" is written from Linda Dahl's own personal observation gained from time spent in the Yucatan and throughout Latin America during her college training in Latin American studies and while growing up in the 60's, the era and setting of the book.

Dahl's writes is literary in style. She writes with depth of feeling. I especially appreciated the character development of her protagonist, Erica, her supporting characters, and the various antagonists.

Dahl writes with diligent detail. Her descriptions of the topography and ethos are breathtaking conveying understanding and insight into the background of the Yucatan, its culture and its people.

"Gringa in a Strange Land" is dynamic writing and absorbing reading. Powerfully gripping.

As The Pendulum Swings
Lindsay A. Brady
Robert D. Reed Publishers
P. O. Box 1992, Bandon, OR 97411
9781934759363, $18.95,

Finding the Connection Connecting Peace of Mind and the Joy of Consciousness

"As The Pendulum Swings: The Mind/Brain Connection" is Lindsay A. Brady's true life story. Brady is a nationally recognized clinical hypnotherapist. The book is divided into two parts. Part one tells of Brady's early interest in hypnosis and of his curiosity regarding the mind/brain connection. It talks about his search for answers to unresolved questions and about how he overcame his lack of confidence, his inhibitions, his scholastic deficits, and of his low self perception.

Brady uses sketches as illustrative case studies to provide the reader with an understanding of the process and objectives of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. He explains how "perceptionism" is the force in hypnotherapy. Brady describes how he developed an approach to help his clients overcome their self destructive behaviors.

Part two explores his theory behind hypnosis and of the influences that led to his conclusions. He discusses perception, regression, and altered consciousness. Brady shares illustrations of "conversations" held in his own "inner room." He tells of drawing on wisdom from conversations with an inner wisdom he named "Socrates."

The book includes a comprehensive appendix which with detailed information on the structure of a typical perceptionism session, perception's influence, the nervous system, and muscular behavior. He also provides insight into eliminating the difficulties of stress and anxiety. I appreciated the excellent bibliography which includes book resources and available courses.

Brady is intellectually stimulating. His writing is fast moving, and hilarious. His self deprecating humor hides his true genius. He is very entertaining, rich in profound insight and understanding in areas of consciousness and self fulfillment.

"As the Pendulum Swings" is a welcome addition to the reading list or library of all who are interested in investigating the "mind/brain" connection. Worthwhile, stimulating, and entertaining.

Richard R. Blake

Riva's Bookshelf

Afterlife Agreements: A Gift From Beyond
Chris Mulligan
2021 Pine Lake Road, Suite 100, Lincoln, NE 68512
9780595428649, $16.95,

The book is available from Amazon, as well as other online and large book stores. Most smaller booksellers can order the book for you, or you can purchase the book yourself through Chris's website or from the publisher at

I chose this book because it deals with topics of interest to me: death, grief and the afterlife. I'm not a masochist, I, like most people have dear ones who have died. Anything which can help me cope with their deaths, deal with the grieving process and know they are happy in an afterlife is welcome to me. It is a search for peace and not morbid curiosity which motivates me.

Afterlife Agreements: A Gift From Beyond is by Chris Mulligan, a mother whose twenty-one-year-old son, Zac, was killed in an accident on Sunday, October 1, 2000. In Afterlife Agreements: A Gift From Beyond Chris takes a frank and often painful look at her grieving process as she and her other son, Tyler, adjust to life after the death of her son, Zac.

I feel this book is of critical importance for those who are grieving themselves. It doesn't picture grief as a series of "clear-cut" stages, but rather as stages you continue to cycle through even years later. It is honest in the portrayal of recovery as "one step forward and two steps back". It is very frank in representing that while the pain may lessen and life will go on, there is no such thing as a total recovery from the death of a loved one.

A good overview of Chris's pain and her steps in her recovery comes in the following passages:

"Having Tyler was a Godsend throughout this whole process. Of course he was! There was no doubt that we all arranged it this way! He was quite incredible! We talked about our growth, our changes, and our conversations with Zac. Talking with him I realized that one year ago I could have never, ever imagined being where I was now. This unknown is all part of the grief process. There was no way I could have prepared myself for the magnitude of unbearable pain during the first few months and the recycling I had to endure to move through this grief. I do not think my mind would have been able to comprehend it. This is why, while grief classes can be helpful, they cannot prepare every person for their individual experience of grief.

I had to live through those dreadful steps along the way to reach my current state. Moreover, I certainly would not have believed I could reach my present status after experiencing such an intense process. It was difficult to describe now, since sometimes the pain was so excruciating and the depression was so heavy and the other symptoms were so "ever-present" that it was hard to imagine I could ever be anywhere other than where I was at the time that I was there!

The changes in my life have been incredible. I was so grateful for where I was and for the help I received along the way to reach this position. In contemplating future conversations with others about my grief process it would be impossible to describe where I was now without explaining what happened, why, and the support I received. I was not sure whether other people were ready to accept my explanation or understand it, or perhaps I was still caretaking of others! Perhaps I was not ready to disclose this yet."

I asked Chris what she most wanted people to take away from Afterlife Agreements: A Gift From Beyond. Chris said it would be "That we have choices in our lives and we have to take responsibility for them. We can choose to live after a death. They (the mourners) have a choice to go on and choose life and to choose it because their loved one is still here if they're open and aware."

I also asked Chris what resources she would recommend for those just going through the mourning process. She was able to narrow it down to two books, depending on the reader. For those looking to renew or find faith she recommended Getting Through the Night: Finding Your Way After the Loss of a Loved One by Eugenia Price. For those who already had a strong belief in an afterlife she recommended Life on the Other Side: A Psychic's Tour of the Afterlife by Sylvia Browne.

My last question for Chris was about ways mourners can open themselves up to communications from their loved ones(s), her response was simple. First, decide you CAN communicate with your dead loved one(s). Next, trust yourself, believe what you see and/or hear. Take the time to notice the signs or signals you may be getting from the other side and then cycle back through deciding you can communicate, believing what you see or hear and noticing the signs or signals. If you do this over and over eventually your loved one will get his, her or their message through.

Chris Mulligan has a Master's Degree and has 25 years of experience in adoption/social work. She retired in February 2010. This was her debut book, but she plans to write another in the future dealing with more of her healing experience and her ongoing relationship with Zac on the other side. She and her husband Jim have added a new dog, a chihuahua named Joe to their family. Chris's other son, Tyler, still resides in Boston. Throughout the nearly ten years since his death Zac has continued to communicate with Chris and other friends and family members through signs and conversations.

A Disobedient Girl
Ru Freeman
Atria Books
c/o Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
9781439101957, $25.00,

I selected "A Disobedient Girl" by Ru Freeman for three reasons: a friend's recommendation; the title and the cover art. I thought, based on those things, along with a brief description of the book from Ru Freeman's website, it sounded quite interesting. I wasn't disappointed.

Ms. Freeman's writing style is simple and direct. She develops both her plot and her characters with understated ease, drawing you deeper into a story that, by its end will span nearly 30 years.

The characters are well-developed and realistic. They are as filled with flaws as they are redeeming qualities. You can easily identify with them, hope for them, grieve with them and celebrate with them.

Set in Sri Lanka, the story evolves in a setting strange to most, yet through her vivid descriptions of settings, foods, temples the author makes it all familiar. While some terms remain unfamiliar the concepts they portray allow the imagination to fill in the gaps.

The difference in the lives of we Americans and the life of one of the characters, a servant, Latha, can best be shown in the following passage:

"How old are you?" she asked.
"Seventeen I think."
"You don't look seventeen. You look younger; fifteen maybe."
"No, I'm definitely seventeen," Latha said, using her pursed mouth as added evidence of maturity.
"How would you know?" Leela asked, swirling the tea in her cup, round and round and round like she was agitated.
"I counted," Latha said, majestically.
"From when?"
"I counted my birthdays."
"Birthdays?" Leela asked, real awe in her voice. "Did your family celebrate your birthdays?"

The book is intended for mature audiences of any social class, though perhaps those of the higher classes might find it somewhat offensive, depending on their attitude toward their servants. Politically it is the more liberal audience who would enjoy this work.

I felt the author did a wonderful job in reaching her goal. As a native Sri Lankan herself Ru Freeman does an excellent job bringing her homeland alive to those of us who have never been there.

This is Ru Freeman's debut novel. While I greatly enjoyed the novel I would caution her against the use of so much native dialect at the beginning of her next novel. In "A Disobedient Girl" this dialogue was confined to the names of the flowers the girls were gathering, but it made it difficult to visualize the opening of the story and become immersed in it.

Tracy M. Riva

Sandra's Bookshelf

Southern Roots
Jimmy F. Blackmon
Honey Locust Press
238 Park Drive NE, Ranger, GA 30734
9781603640190, $15.00,

I absolutely loved this book. The writing is so descriptive that you feel as if you have stepped into a Norman Rockwell picture. The author gives us a glimpse into his family and his ancestors that came before him. Each generation passed along stories from long ago and then added more of their own.

Jimmy's Pa was the story teller for his family. Jimmy could sit for hours and listen to his family's history. Many nights would find him down in the basement where his Pa slept, sitting by the fire, and listening to all the old story's his Pa had to tell.

Growing up in the South was heaven for Jimmy. His mom and dad were not rich people but always managed to provide for their needs. As a child he learned to hunt, fish, gig for frogs and how to have fun in ways that city kids would never know.

When he was given two hound dogs he couldn't image that life could get any better. To this reviewer Jimmy Blackmon is the epitome of a true Southern boy. I have never read a book where the author has loved where he grew up and the people in his life more than Jimmy Blackmon. It is with the author's words that I end this.

"Roots are the place where something begins, where it springs into being. Roots anchor things. They provide strength and nourishment. My roots are my ancestors. Each generation influenced the next. I am a reflection of those who came before me. My roots anchor me. Mine are Southern."

Little Skiff's Moving Adventure
Dany Pierard-Deviche
Five Star Publications, Inc.
P.O. Box 6698 Chandler, AZ 85246 866-471-0777
9781589851160, $15.95,

This is a cute little book about a puppy who is a Shetland sheepdog. Shelties were trained generations ago to help humans round up their flocks of sheep. Skiff's grandparents used to work as herding dogs in the Shetland Islands, a cool, rainy and windy archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. When they retired, they moved to Alaska, and the Shelties of Skiff's canine family have enjoyed cold snowy winters ever since.

Skiffs owners nicknamed him Little Sheltie or Skiff. Skiff loves everything about living in Alaska. He loves the cold weather, snow and being with his friends. Then one day he is told they are moving to Arizona. Skiff is very sad as he does not want to leave his friends and begins to cry. His owners talk to him about the move and that helped him a lot. Skiff will soon learn to love his new home.

This book was a delight and I loved it that the story was told by Skiff. I also loved the illustrations. When you read this book you will see different facial expressions on Skiff's face. So look closely and you will see for yourself.

This is a great book for families who are planning to move. It will help younger children to accept and even look forward to the move when they read this book. The illustrations and story line are great and will hold the attention of smaller children. I think they will find they like Skiff as much as I do.

Fun Read

Little Skiff Copes With Valley Fever
Dany Pierrd-Deviche
Five Star Publishing, Inc.
P.O. Box 6698, Chandler, AZ, 85246
9781589851160, $15.95,

I adored this second book about Skiff the Shetland sheepdog. Once again Skiff is telling his story which is a delight to my youngest grandson. Skiff and his owners are now living in Phoenix, Arizona. Skiff is having a lot of fun in his new home. He loves to dig and run in the sun.

One morning Skiff woke up and did not feel well. He had never been sick but knew that something was wrong. His owners took him to a vet and that is when they found out Skiff has Valley Fever.

This little book is educational as you get to see real X-rays, listen as a veterinarian explains about what Valley Fever is and how long it can last. You will find a glossary of words at the end of the book. That will help little minds to understand words they may not know.

Excellent Read

Sandra Heptinstall

Suzie's Bookshelf

Vibrational Sound Healing
Dr. Andrew Weil & Kimba Aren
Sounds True
413 S. Arthur Avenue, Louisville, CO 80027

Nourishment for the soul can be found in Dr. Andrew Weil's Vibrational Sound Healing audio. Within minutes of pushing the play button, you will be able to feel and immediate releases of tension start to leave your body. It is as though each tone has their own unique purpose that is focused on diving deep into your subconscious mind.

Vibrational Sound Healing is a wonderful way to end a stressful day. It has the ability to upright any imbalances that the world has placed on your shoulders. A total of nine tracks make up Vibrational Sound Healing. Each one provides their own special blend of peace and tranquility.

Though the talented hands of Kimba Aren and the wisdom of Dr. Andrew Weil, Vibrational Sound Healing provides a healing method to relieve stress. I highly recommend this audio to anyone who is looking to find a relaxing means to end their day.

This is the type of audio that everyone can benefit from. As the relaxing music fills your ears your deepest troubles seem to melt away. To gain the maximum effects this audio offer I would recommend that you dim the lights, put on your headphones, and close your eyes. Allow your breath to be in tune to the mesmerizing sounds that begin to penetrate your body.

The Complete Book of Polymer Clay
Lisa Pavelka
Taunton Press, Inc.
PO Box 5506, Newtown, CT 06470-5506
9781600851285, $24.95,

Polymer Clay has taken the artist world by storm! This overnight sensation has transformed the way artists are carving out their own unique style in the world of artistic radiance.

Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned polymer clay expert Lisa Pavelka's, The Complete Book of Polymer Clay is the must have book to add to your craft library. It starts off with the basic knowledge every beginner polymer clay artist needs to know and builds up to more advance topics that include: Millefiori Caning, Mokumi Gane, Mica Shift Effects, and my personal favorite leaf and foilen effects. In this book you will discover 70 techniques that offer six projects to test your newly learned skills.

Each one of these chapters offers an in-depth illustrations and easy to follow instructions. From page one you feel as though Pavelka is right beside you, showing you step by step how to take her knowledge and turn it into your own special masterpiece.

For anyone who has a true passion to learn more about polymer clay this is definitely the book you need to add to your collection. I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed for this book will be one that will quickly become an invaluable reference tool to any polymer clay's artist library.

The Raven Saint - Charles Towne Belles
MaryLu Tyndall
Barbour Books
P.O. Box 719, Uhrichsville, OH 44683
9781602601581, $7.89,

Grace Westcott is committed to serving her life to promote the goodness of the Lord. She spends her time with the sick and the poor in the town of Charles Towne. She feels the hours she devotes to these less fortunate individuals will bless their lives and hers.

French Captain Rafe Dubious is in need of gold coin to build a hospital for the poor. The opportunity to obtain these funds comes in Admiral Westcotts' daughter Grace Westcott. He decides to kidnap Grace and then demand a high ransom for her safe return.

Rafe succeeds in kidnapping Grace and holds her hostage on his ship Le Champion. Grace questions why God has led her to such a dire situation. As the days on board increases Grace learns that Rafe has turned his back on God. Grace is determined she will lead Rafe to the Lord. Will she succeed in her mission to save Rafe's lost soul before she loses her heart to him?

MaryLu Tyndall's Charles Towne Belles is one beautifully orchestrated novel! The Raven Saint is third in this highly popular series. If you are a fan of historical romance, then you definitely want to put the name MaryLu Tyndall high atop your to buy list. This author writes with a passionate flare that captures the true essence of romance.

The Squire and the Scroll
Jennie Bishop
Warner Press
1201 East 5th Street, Anderson, IN 46012
9781593173821, $15.99,

The kingdom receives its peace and joy from 'The Lantern of Purest Light'. When an evil dragon steals it, many knights leave to go and retrieve it; each one of them fails to return with the lantern.

The King knows that the lantern must be returned. He makes the decision to send his bravest knight along with a squire to assist him in his mission. The squire brings a scroll that has always provided him guidance. He hopes the scroll will show them the way to find the lantern.

On their journey to find the lost lantern there are many obstacles that are placed in their path. Will they be able to get past these hurdles that are trying to block their way to their final destination?

"The Squire and the Scroll: A Tale of the Rewards of a Pure Heart" is the perfect addition to any young boy's book collection. The beautiful illustrations of Preston McDaniel's bring a special magical quality that enhances the overall tale. I was impressed with all that can be learned from this one tale. I highly recommend that parents consider it adding it to their child's library collection.

Diablo - The Texans
Georgina Gentry
Kensington Publishing Corporation
119 West 40th Street, New York, NY, 10018
9781420108507, $6.99,

A half-breed Santee Sioux was born to a white woman. Since his birth he had not been accepted in either the white world or by the Sioux culture. His white mother had been raped by a Sioux Warrior; in humiliation of being violated she ended her life. Her family couldn't stand to raise the cause of her death and turned the child over to the Sioux's. The Sioux's wouldn't accept him as an equal and made him serve as their slave; they called him He Not Worthy of a Name.

At the age of fourteen, He Not Worthy of a Name managed to escape from the Sioux. He set out to find some place that would accept him. He traveled for days; close to starving to death he killed a cow to stay alive. While he was eating it raw, a group of cowboys stumbled upon him. He feared they would end his life for what he had done to their steer. He was surprised that they offered him their friendship and invited him into their camp. They offered him a part of their meal and spoke of returning to their homeland of Texas.

The rustler cowboys were the first people who had ever shown any type of kindness to He Not Worthy of a Name. His new found friendship was short lived for his friends were cattle rustlers. The owner of the herd caught them by surprise and ordered then to hang for their crimes. He Not Worthy of a Name watched in horror as their lives ended in a matter of seconds. The owner allowed him to live, but demanded he become a walking billboard for all other would be rustlers who thought about stealing from him. He had a group of his men hold him down and tortured him, as a lasting reminder they branded one side of his face.

Years later, He Not Worthy of a Name was given the name Diablo which meant Devil. He was known as one of the fastest guns in the west. Revenge was a poison that ran freely through Diablo's blood. Each time he looked at his reflection in a mirror he was reminded of that one horrific day. He vowed one day soon to hunt down those responsible for his pain and suffering and end their lives in a slow agonizing death.

Diablo's chance at vengeance came when the person responsible for scarring him hired a group of gunslingers to run settlers off farm land in Wyoming. Diablo seen this as a perfect opportunity to get close to his worst enemies he plotted out each one of their deaths to ensure they were slow and painful. As he narrowed it down to the main ringleader, Hurd Kruger he decided to torture him by stealing his most prized possessions, one of them being his intended fiancee Sunny Sorrenson.

Sunny is the type of woman Diablo can only dream about for her beauty would never accept a scarred beast such as himself. As the days of her captivity progresses Diablo finds it hard to resist her kindness and charm. Will he allow himself to take of her forbidden fruit? Or will his will to seek revenge against Hurd blind him from the love that could be his?

Diablo - The Texans is one of the best historical romances this reviewer has ever experienced. I fell in love with each one of the characters. When they hurt I felt their pain, when they rejoiced I was right there with them. Georgina Gentry stand up and take a bow, you have written a romantic masterpiece.

Suzie Housley, Reviewer

Theodore's Bookshelf

Treasure Hunt
John Lescroart
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014
9780525951445, $26.95,

Wyatt Hunt is just about to shut down the Hunt Club, which has not garnered any business is some months, the result of the severe recession and a negative reaction by clients to perceived past transgressions by Hunt. And then the murder of a much-loved San Francisco mover and shaker in the non-profit sector gives rise to a brainstorm: solicit donations to go towards a reward for information about the man's murder for which the Hunt Club could act as a clearinghouse. And lo and behold a bonanza is born, breathing temporary life into the investigative agency.

The plot gives the author the platform to take a look at the workings of the City by the Bay's elite, warts and all. And it isn't very flattering. Corruption, fraud, influence peddling and murder are just some of the blemishes portrayed. Along the way, the story is somewhat of a potboiler, with a young Hunt associate protecting a beautiful potential suspect merely on the basis of his physical attraction to her.

The prose is tight, the plotting precise, but somehow the story just seems to plod along, never really rising to the heights of prior Lescroart novels, and appeared, at least to this reader, to have been constructed mechanically; it is, nonetheless, both interesting and moving.

Hell Gate
Linda Fairstein
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014
9780525951612, $26.95,

Human trafficking, corrupt politicians, a Congressman's extramarital affair, a love child and some more New York City landmarks are some of the elements of the author's 12th legal thriller in which ADA Alexandra ("Alex") Cooper and her detective sidekicks, Chapman and Mercer, are the protagonists. It begins with a ship stranded in Queens, NY on a Rockaway beach on which hundreds of illegal Ukrainians were being transported for entry into the United States, including dozens of women destined for the prostitution trade. Some of them jumped off the ship, attempting to swim ashore, several drowned, and at least one was found murdered.

Meanwhile, a rising young Congressman, DWI, flees the scene of a car accident, possibly to avoid public exposure about an extramarital affair and the child his paramour has borne. Politics also raises its ugly head in the form of the Mayor, who exerts pressure on the investigations to influence Alex and the police, and a scandal involving slush funds enjoyed by City Council members arises.

All in a day's work for the trio to solve the various crimes and tie the various themes together. The author once again demonstrates key sites of her beloved New York City, with vivid descriptions and history of such buildings as City Hall, the oldest structure still in use in the United States for municipal government; Gracie Mansion, the official (but lately uninhabited) official residence of Hizzonor the Mayor; the Grange, originally the home of Alexander Hamilton; and the Morris-Jumel house, the third of only three Federalist homes left in New York City, as well as High Bridge, the oldest (and presently unused) bridge in the city, originally built as an aqueduct to carry water to Manhattan from upstate.

The trio demonstrates, as they have in prior installments, various elements of the legal process and investigative procedures, however unorthodox some of their methods are, along with the accustomed perilous situations in which Alex can find herself before being extricated. Fast and enjoyable reading, and recommended.

Iron River
T. Jefferson Parker
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014
9780525951490, $26.95,

A temporary assignment to an ATFE task force for Deputy sheriff Charlie Parker to stem the tide of illegal arms and money flowing across the U.S.-Mexican border gives rise to eerie insights into law enforcement from San Diego to Corpus Christie and, in addition, how cutthroat the drug lords can be, as well as how unscrupulous legal and illegal gun dealers are.

To begin with, a stakeout on a gun deal goes wrong, and in the shooting of a perpetrator which ensues, the son of the ruthless head of a cartel is killed, resulting in a vengeance kidnapping and torture of an AFTE operative, leading in turn to a rescue mission by Charlie and his new associates. Then that operative is kidnapped a second time from the hospital by a rival organization, and Charlie again has to go to Mexico to ransom him and bring him back across the border, dodging the first drug lord's minions.

The title is derived from the corridor running along the southern border, from California to Texas. Up to 90 per cent of the guns in Mexico, where about 15,000 persons have been murdered, are said to come from the United States. This is hardly the ideal for a Good Neighbor Policy. Mr. Parker has thoroughly researched the subject, which brings back Charlie Hood for a third and welcome appearance in a well-written and exciting novel. Recommended.

The Crossing Places
Elly Griffiths
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
215 Park Ave., NY, NY 100033
9780547229899, $25.00,

This debut novel in a new series pairs an archeologist and a detective inspector on the bleak coast of North Norfolk, where life has gone on since before the Bronze and Iron Ages. Ruth Galloway lectures at a local university and is an expert on ancient bones. Chief Inspector Nelson, who is haunted by a 10-year-old case in which a young girl disappeared with no trace found, asks Ruth to look at some buried bones which have been uncovered at an old burial site. The bones turn out to be 2,000 years old, eliminating the possibility that they belonged to the more recent victim.

But that is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as Ruth becomes more and more involved with Nelson and the investigation. Especially when another young girl is abducted. Tension increases as Ruth finds herself in danger and is threatened by the apparent murderer.

The descriptions of the coast and marshland are terrifyingly vivid, especially during storms. Ruth is made exceedingly human as she contemplates her obesity and lack of a love life. Both her life and the environment are bleak, but hardly without hope. The seeds of future installments are laid in this book, and leave us with something to look forward to. Recommended.

I, Alex Cross
James Patterson
Little, Brown
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, NY, NY 10017
9780316018784, $27.99,

Picking up a James Patterson novel is like looking at the Best Seller chart. You know what to expect: a well-written, well-plotted book that is fast reading, with short chapters and a few surprises. "I, Alex Cross" is no exception.

Typical of the series, the D.C. detective becomes involved with an unusual homicide, this time with his niece as the victim. Apparently, the murderer enjoys a prestigious position in the nation's capitol and appears to enjoy all sorts of protection, including a cleanup squad which comes in after his grisly killings at a high level sex club in suburban Virginia. Even when the investigation is taken away from the FBI office with which Alex has been working, he doggedly carries on despite being warned off.

Complicating Alex's efforts is a couple of heart attacks suffered by his beloved 90-year-old Nana, and it remains throughout the book to learn whether or not she will survive. There is little to add to any review of a James Patterson novel. Just a look at today's (or any day's) bestseller chart will show more than one of his there, for good reason (even if someone else did the writing - or co-authorship).

Death of a Valentine
M.C. Beaton
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Ave., NY, NY 10169
9780446547383, $23.99,

Hamish Macbeth was engaged to be married at least twice in the previous 24 novels in this delightful long-running series, but never came close to standing before the altar on his wedding day as he does at the beginning of this latest entry. The bride-to-be is a policewoman who got herself assigned as Hamish's constable in Lochdubh because she was determined to marry him.

Well, we have to read on to see whether or not she succeeds, but first there are murders to solve and policing to do. Initially, Hamish does everything to discourage her efforts. He sends her on long meaningless trips. Meanwhile, she undertakes all kinds of efforts to entice him, often with disastrous results.

The characters are quaint but real, and Hamish is larger than life. Written with a charming Scottish brogue, let's hope there is a 26th effort forthcoming. Recommended.

Mo Hayder
Grove Press
c/o Grove Atlantic
841 Broadway, NY, NY 10003
9780802119308, $22.00,

There are all kinds of protagonists, but the two featured in this novel (after first appearing in "Ritual") are very different. Jack Caffery and Phoebe ("Flea") Marley carry pretty heavy baggage from their past, but they get the job done somehow in this thrilling police procedural, despite their individual quirks and iconoclastic attitudes.

DI Caffery is engaged in two separate investigations which somehow become intertwined with an escapade in which Flea is involved. As a result, he has to weigh whether or not to expose Flea's efforts or to keep silent. One case involves a series of strange deaths, initially thought to be suicides, although Caffery believes them to be murders. Another has to do with a missing person, a woman who may or may not also be such a victim, but no body has been found.

Marley is a police diver and the descriptions of her efforts, especially in the opening scene, are especially gripping, as Flea is seeking the body of the MisPer in a flooded quarry, diving deeper and deeper beyond recommended depths and apparently seeing a supernatural sight. Both she and Caffery think there is a "Tokoloshe" in the area, a creature out of African witchcraft.

This sequel is so tightly written and absorbing one can hope that the author can follow up with more such unusual efforts in the future. Recommended.

Paganini's Ghost
Paul Adam
Minotaur Books
c/o St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10010
9780312383855, $24.99,

Music is the theme of this delightful novel, a sequel to the author's equally charming debut effort, "The Rainaldi Quartet," which featured the luthier violin-repairer and -maker Giovanni Castiglione. This time, the mystery involves the violinist and composer Paganini, whose virtuosity and audacity provide Mr. Adams with a wealth of material to inform and entertain the reader.

Paganini's violin, the famous "Cannon," is kept in Genoa where it is provided every two years to the winner of a competition to play at a concert. The winner of the current competition, a young Russian virtuoso dominated, of course, by his mother, detects a flaw in the instrument which is brought to Giovanni to inspect and hopefully to repair. This transaction gives Giovanni the opportunity not only to befriend the young artist, providing one theme in this mystery, but to become involved in a couple of murders, the outgrowth of events in Paganini's life.

When a visitor from Paris is found dead in his hotel room with a torn fragment of a musical score, detective Antonio Guastafeste asks his friend Giovanni for help, and the two go on to investigate not one but three murders and the reasons behind them. Along the way we are treated to such detail about violin making, the life of a child prodigy, and the history of Paganini's career and life that we are almost overwhelmed (but joyfully entertained) in this fast-reading mystery. Highly recommended.

James W. Hall
Minotaur Books
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010
9780312359591, $24.99,

Thorn is a unique character. In the previous installment of this series he inherited a billion-dollar corporation, but spurned any involvement in its operation, leaving the day-to-day activities to his girlfriend, Rusty, who seems to be doing a bang-up job. Both, however, are interested in preserving the environment, and toward that end, Rusty develops a deal in which the State of Florida buys acres and acres of the company's land holdings for $500,000, which money can then be used to buy the Coquino Ranch and preserve it in its natural state, in which it has existed for generations.

But things are never easy where Thorn is concerned (he seems to get himself into all kinds of situations) and this deal is no exception. There are those who oppose the swap and take drastic steps to stop it, including murdering the owner of the ranch and putting a contract out on Thorn, who is kidnapped prefatory to shooting him.

The tale unfolds with vivid descriptions and deep suspense. How Thorn eludes his death and how his friends attempt to save him is gripping and poignantly written. This suspenseful novel certainly is one of the author's best, and it is highly recommended.

Virtually Dead
Peter May
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 East 1st Avenue, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
9781590596709, $24.95,

Many people resort to fantasy to offset the realities of life. Michael Kapinsky, the protagonist in this unusual novel, lives not only in the real world but in a virtual world to solve a series of murders. Mike is a forensic photographer for CSI in southern California still grieving over the loss of his wife. His therapist suggests joining Second Life, an online parallel universe, as a way of letting go of his depressive disposition, so he promptly logs on as Chas Chesnokov, private eye.

This step leads to all kinds of complications, setting the stage for various plot twists and insights into the real and virtual worlds. For instance, Mike learns that murder not only happens in real life but to avatars as well. Then there is the mechanism for all kinds of financial shenanigans, among others that humans can devise.

This well-written novel is so different from the run-of-the-mill murder mystery, that there can only be one recommendation: Go out and get a copy and read it. You will be pleased. [The book has been simultaneously published in a trade paperback edition, ISBN 978-1590587089, $14.95.]


Don't Look Twice
Andrew Gross
10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
9780061143458, $7.99,

Ty Hauck, the Greenwich, CT, Detective Lieutenant, is confronted with an ever-shifting set of circumstances following the murder of a Federal prosecutor at a local convenience store, the bullets narrowly missing Ty and his daughter. Initially, the clues seem to indicate a revenge killing not even related to the victim.

But all is not what it appears to be. More murders ensue, and as Ty delves deeper and deeper, he discovers that the first victim had a gambling problem, leading to involvement of an Indian casino. With each succeeding murder, a different twist develops in the investigation, even reaching to politics in Hartford and corruption in Iraq.

Andrew Gross learned his lessons well while co-authoring novels with James Patterson, and further honed these skills in subsequent novels he has written alone. Certainly, this novel is an excellent example of his ability to keep the thrills mounting and the plot curving in unexpected directions. Recommended.

I, Sniper
Stephen Hunter
Simon & Schuster
1230 Sixth Avenue, New York, NY 10020
9781416565154, $26.00,

The reader of this novel, like the protagonist of the title, needs infinite patience to reach the end of this fairly lengthy tale. Bobby Lee Swagger was one of the top two or three snipers during the Vietnam War, retiring as a USMC gunnery sergeant. He's drawn in to what seems to be a cut-and-dried case when four well-known protesters, including a Jane Fonda look-alike, are shot at long range apparently by another Marine sniper named Carl Hitchcock who is later found, a suicide, in a motel room. All clues point to him as the shooter and the FBI is moving forward to close the case.

Swagger, who is in the tradition of larger-than-life heroes like Jack Reacher and others of that ilk, shows his ability to think clearly (as well as shoot straight) when he upsets the applecart by showing that it wasn't Hitchcock's rifle that fired the shots, upsetting the FBI's already-made decision as well as the Ted Turner-like ex-husband of the slain movie actress who keeps pressure on all levels to conclude the investigation.

So we follow the trials and tribulations of Bobby Lee as he acts the rogue, following his nose, while his FBI buddy is hung out to dry when he drags his feet delaying the closing of the case. Despite its length, the novel moves swiftly, except for all kinds of minutiae on the life of a sniper, guns, sights, ammunition and, of course, shooting, to a totally unanticipated denouement.


The Man from Beijing
Henning Mankell
Laurie Thompson, Translator
1745 Broadway, NY, NY 10019
9780307397850, $25.95,

The reader is treated by the author of the ever-popular Kurt Wallander series to a sweeping narrative with origins in the mid-19th century United States and spanning four continents. The tale begins in a little town in Sweden where a rare [if ever] occurrence of the mass murder of several inhabitants takes place. The police are mystified until they arrest a local ne'er-do-well who confesses to the murders but then hangs himself in his cell. Case closed.

But little makes sense to a woman judge who was raised in the village by foster parents when she visits the town and begins to uncover various clues raising questions about the police solution. She continues to ponder the why of it all, including taking a photograph of a possible perpetrator with her when she visits China with a friend. Needless to say, this act places her in a great deal of danger.

The story gives the author an opportunity to use his critical eye on a wide number of topics, as he is wont to do in the novels he pens, from the Swedish judicial system and how society has changed to events taking place in China, from Mao to the present day. Powerful in its scope and written with Mankell's accustomed skill with an excellent translation, the book is highly recommended.

Split Image
Robert B. Parker
G.P. Putnam's Sons
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014
9780399156236, $25.95,

We'll never know how Robert B. Parker intended to carry through in the continuing development of the Jesse Stone-Sunny Randall relationship, but at least we have this novel which, at the very least, holds out the promise they each can address their psychological roadblocks: Jesse's lingering love for his ex-wife and Sonny's prolonged infatuation with her former husband.

But more important, Parker wrote another fine mystery novel in his inimitable style. It is a pretty racy subject, involving a couple of murders and how two sex-crazy women, twins married to two gangsters, are involved. At the same time, Sonny takes on a cult to try to rescue a young woman.

Written with the same aplomb and pithy dialogue as all Parker novels, "Split Image" is at the same time amusing and full of surprises. Parker, of course, died recently, but he left behind some new books to be enjoyed, as well as a legacy of more than 50 novels, of which this is of equal quality, and highly recommended.

The Book of Spies
Gayle Lynds
Minotaur Books
c/o St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10010
9780312380892, $25.99,

As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, the rich are not like most of us. And in this fast-moving thriller, there are ten ultra-rich men who place themselves above all the rest of us, not only in accumulating wealth, but hoarding the world's treasures in the form of hundreds of gold- and precious gem-covered books in a secret location. Then one of the books, "The Book of Spies," is smuggled out and becomes the source for the location of the "book club."

Meanwhile, a clandestine, super-secret CIA group discovers an alleged link between the library and a terrorist bank account, setting off a chase around the world. A former curator for the Getty Museum, Eva Blake, serving a sentence for the vehicular murder of her husband, is enlisted to assist in the effort. She's teamed with Judd Ryder, a troubled ex-military intelligence operative. Together, they chase leads from Paris to Rome, to Athens and Istanbul, seeking the secret location.

Ms. Lynds is the author of five suspense/espionage novels [all, up until now, standalones] and co-author [with Robert Ludlum] of three others.

Parenthetically, it should perhaps be noted that the author ran a contest in which entrants vied to have their names affixed to various characters. In the interest of full disclosure, Gloria Feit (wife of this reviewer, who also appears offstage - or, rather, offpage - a few times as her fictional, as well as being her real-life, husband) appears in a minor but crucial role in the novel. As for the others, as Ms. Lynds writes, "I won't tell you which ones are theirs. That's called suspense." And there is plenty of suspense in Spies to keep the reader on the edge of the chair with every page turned. And, since Spies is indicated as the first of a series, apparently there's a lot more to come. We will look forward to future entries, and this one is highly recommended.

Theodore Feit

Victoria's Bookshelf

Surviving Your Doctors
Richard S. Klein, M.D.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706
9781442201392, $32.95,

Dr. Klein tells us that thousands die every year because of doctor's mistakes and errors in judgment. The good doctor admits his own mistakes and is kind enough to walk us through the steps we should take to avoid being casualties of the medical system ourselves. There are some real horror stories in the book-enough to curl your toes. Dr. Klein uses them as examples of what can happen to any of us.

"Surviving Your Doctors: Why the Medical System is Dangerous to Your Health and How to Get Through it Alive" describes details of various illnesses as well as what happens or can happen during an emergency room or doctor's office visit. There's plenty of information here that you won't find anywhere else. Dr. Klein tells us what we should know ahead of time and steps we should take to help insure the safety and health of our loved ones and ourselves.

We're not told to ignore our doctor's advice. Instead we're advised to become responsible for our own health and not leave that up to the doctor. Don't just blindly follow everything your doctor says. Read up on your condition, ask questions and take notes. Be an informed patient. Doctors are only human (though they don't often act like they are) and they make mistakes, but these mistakes can be deadly.

This is a well written informative health book that should be on everyone's bookshelves. It might save your life.

Dark Lady's Chosen
Gail Z. Martin
Riverside House, Osney Mead, Oxford, OX1 OES, UK
9781844168316, $7.99

Gail Martin doesn't disappoint with this latest installment in her 'Chronicles of the Necromancer' series. I think this is my favorite book in the series so far.

King Martris Drayke, Tris, battles to save his kingdom from traitors. While he's off to war, an unknown assailant threatens the lives of his wife and unborn child. His friends have their troubles too. Jonmarc Vahanian, the new Lord of Dark Haven, must try to avert a war between
humans and the undead known as the Vayash Moru. He's given himself to the Dark Lady and must suffer the results. Meanwhile, his wife Carina plans to try and repair the damage to the magical source known as The Flow. Whether she'll survive is anybody's guess-especially since she's caught between the living and the dead.

The air is thick with intrigue, threats and deception that captures the reader and sweeps them into the story. It's one of those wonderful books you can't bear to put down. Dark Lady's Chosen is a satisfying and entertaining read that shouldn't be missed. Other books in the series include: The Summoner, The Blood King and Dark Haven.

Victoria Kennedy

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

Copyright ©2001

Site design by Williams Writing, Editing & Design