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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 11, Number 4 April 2011 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Ann's Bookshelf Bethany's Bookshelf
Buhle's Bookshelf Burroughs' Bookshelf Carson's Bookshelf
Clark's Bookshelf Crocco's Bookshelf Daniel's Bookshelf
Gary's Bookshelf Gloria's Bookshelf Gorden's Bookshelf
Gordon's Bookshelf Harwood's Bookshelf Henry's Bookshelf
Karyn's Bookshelf Keira's Bookshelf Logan's Bookshelf
Margaret's Bookshelf Nicole's Bookshelf Peggy's Bookshelf
Regis' Bookshelf Richard's Bookshelf Riva's Bookshelf
Sanchez's Bookshelf Sandra's Bookshelf Suzie's Bookshelf
Theodore's Bookshelf    

Reviewer's Choice

The First Ladies
Feather Schwartz Foster
Cumberland House
c/o Sourcebooks, Inc
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, IL 60367-4410
9781402242724, $12.99,

Dr. Alma H. Bond

The First Ladies From Martha Washington to Mamie Eisenhower: An Intimate Portrait of the Women Who Shaped America, written by presidential scholar Feather Schwartz Foster and published by Cumberland House, is a very nice little book which absorbs the reader from beginning to end. It charts the lives of our first 26 First Ladies in a revealing if concise manner (It is surprising how much information the author can squeeze into one chapter), and provides accurate and authoritative information about their personalities, their relationships with their husbands, and what made them unique among presidential wives. In an unusual addition to each chapter, a Postscript sheds light on the path taken by each First Lady after she left the White House.

The book begins with the portrait of our first First Lady, Martha Washington, and the comment that "the best political decision George Washington ever made was to marry the Widow Curtis" (p. 1). Martha was the ideal colonial wife and hostess, reasonably cultured, and superbly skilled at household management. She was the perfect wife and helpmate of our first president, and served brilliantly as the supervisor of the numerous slaves and cottage industries that made up their successful plantation. Without the backing of Martha, George Washington may never have become president of the United States. It was the Curtis wealth that helped him obtain his seat in the House of Burgesses. It wasn't until the Washingtons had been married for ten years that George was able to increase his own holdings to include acreage as far west as the Ohio Valley, and to enlarge and renovate their Mount Vernon home. In discussing Martha's legacy, Foster tells us that everything the genteel and efficient Martha Washington did set the tone for future First Ladies, and that she has gone down in history, along with her illustrious husband, as above reproach.

One of my favorite First Ladies, at least after reading this book, was Julia Grant. The Grants were the most popular presidential couple since the Washingtons. Of course, after the war-torn Lincoln presidency with a disliked First Lady, it was not too difficult to be popular. Julia was poorly educated, and no beauty. Short and stocky, with a crossed-eye condition, she nonetheless possessed a very pleasing personality and was liked wherever she went. Grant was the West Point classmate of Julia's brother. The Grants married when Julia was twenty-two, and were among the happiest of presidential couples. According to Foster, Julia "provided her taciturn and generally undistinguished husband with the loyal, uncomplaining support and devotion that was imperative to his well-being" (p.64). She never reproved her husband, and believed in his inherent greatness. Hers was a true love. He was a lucky man.

Following Robert E. Lee's surrender, Grant found himself a hero, and the country was equally delighted with the 43-year old Julia. Expensive presents poured in from grateful citizens from all over the nation. The Grants felt justified in accepting the gifts, believing it would be rude and ungracious to reject them. Congress gave the Grants what amounted to a blank check to redecorate the White House. Wouldn't Jackie Kennedy have been envious?

To be cliche, into every life some rain must fall. Guilty only of naivete and poor business sense, Grant invested in a financial brokerage disaster. His partner absconded with several hundred thousand dollars and left Grant holding the bag. A completely honest man, he insisted on repaying every cent of the debt, even though it meant selling their homes. To keep his family from want, Grant wrote his memoirs. Shortly after the financial fiasco, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the throat. He died a week after the galleys were completed. The book became a best seller and left Julia a very rich widow. She outlived her husband by 17 years, and was the first First Lady to write her own memoirs. Grant's will directed that Julia be buried by his side. Their bodies have rested for 40 years in Grant's Tomb, on Riverside Drive in New York City.

Nellie Taft was an interesting First Lady of another kind. She fought against the restrictions of the Victorian world all her life. As early as age 15, Nellie smoked, drank whiskey, and gambled at cards, recreations she continued to indulge as long as she lived. When she was 16, she spent a week at the White House as a guest of President and Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes. The visit was to change her life. From that moment on, her overriding ambition was to occupy the White House as First Lady. The only problem was that her amiable three-hundred pound husband didn't share her ambitions. According to Foster, "Will Taft would have never been president if Nellie hadn't been standing behind him with a cattle prod" (p. 97). Everyone wanted him to be president except Will, but he was outnumbered. He ran and won, thus making Nellie's dearest dream come true. But it was to be for only a short time. Three months later, at the age of 48, Nellie Taft collapsed from a severe stroke. In this age of good habits and nutrition, one cannot help but wonder if Nellie's stroke was caused by her choice of "recreations." We will never know the heights she might have reached as First Lady had she remained in good health. As a result of her stroke, she suffered from aphasia and facial paralysis. Although she knew and understood what was going on around her, her speech remained garbled and her face contorted. She could neither read nor write. It took almost the rest of Taft's term for her to regain her lost abilities.

In the opinion of the reviewer, this chapter contains the best writing of the book, i.e.
"All the great plans she had envisioned as First Lady, all the programs and good works she hoped to espouse, all the grand entertainment she had seen in her mind's eye, and perhaps even her lasting place in the pantheon of First Ladies, all were gone in a moment's collapse.

"Nellie recovered, although her speech would always be somewhat slurred. But what she had lost was her hard drive. Even though she lived past 80, and even though she always maintained a lively interest in the political scene, and even though her husband became chief justice of the Supreme Court in his postpresidential career, Nellie's greatest task was to quiet her restless soul. When she wrote her memoirs, she focused on the Philippines, where Taft had been sent to serve as governor-general, in what were to be the happiest moments of Nellie's life. The White House chapters were merely lists of guests and table decorations. If she grieved for her lost dreams, it was private" (p. 100).

The Taft family still looms large and respected in Ohio, and Nellie is their matriarch.

The heroine of another chapter is Lou Hoover, who, despite being the least well known of the twentieth-century First Ladies, is one of the most unusual. It seems both Hoovers were very shy people, and adverse to tooting their own horns. It is nice that Foster does it for them. Although I was far too young to have an opinion about the Hoovers during his presidency, my parents didn't care for him at all. So I was surprised to learn some unusual facts about the couple. They were both geologists, and met as graduate students, after which Hoover became a mining Engineer. Lou helped her husband compile his reports and catalog his samples. The Hoovers circumnavigated the globe twice. On one trip on a less-than-luxury liner, they passed the time by translating a rare Renaissance mining treatise from Latin. Lou, probably one of our most intelligent First Ladies, was an excellent linguist fluent in six languages. Surprisingly enough, their book became a best seller - among miners. At the beginning of World War 1, the Hoovers helped their fellow Americans who were stranded abroad. They had found their true calling: humanitarianism, for which neither accepted any compensation. Hoover never again worked as a mining engineer. The Great Depression all but ruined Hoover's presidency, as he was unequipped to provide the leadership necessary to pull the country out of the crisis. Nevertheless, the Hoovers made many huge and unselfish contributions to the United States, which have long gone unrecognized. Lou Hoover died unexpectedly before her seventieth birthday, eleven years after she left the white House. After her death, Hoover discovered hundreds of small check s in her desk which had been sent by private citizens to repay her kindnesses. Lou had never cashed them.

If there is any shortcoming in the book, it is that the author raves about all of her heroines. Not a one of them seems to have a flaw, in the eyes of Foster. Adding some less-than-desirable traits would have made the ladies seem more human. For example, Foster speaks of Mamie Eisenhower as "adorable...Her bangs and sweet smile and petite figure were a far cry from the generally unattractive-looking First Ladies who had preceded her for a generation" (p. 153). I was alive during the Eisenhower administration, and in no way found Mamie "adorable." In fact I considered her rather common. My friends and I felt that Ike deserved a better wife. Nevertheless, despite this failing, Feather Schwartz Foster in The First Ladies From Martha Washington to Mamie Eisenhower, An Intimate Portrait of the Women Who Shaped America has written a delightful, valuable book, which I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a good read and wishes to learn about important relatively neglected contributors to American history.

The Fall and Rise of the House of Hippo
William Harwood
World Audience, Inc.
303 Park Avenue South, Suite 1440, New York, NY 10010-3675
9781935444015, $20.00,

G. Richard Bozarth

The Fall And Rise Of The House Of Hippo: An Alternate Reality Novel is another in the long and ancient tradition of fiction that has cultural analysis as the primary mission the author wants to accomplish. Fiction of this kind seems to come mostly in three categories: 1) satire of contemporary culture that is often full of sharp, merciless edges designed to brutally expose cruel or ludicrous faults; 2) the presentation of what the author believes is the perfect culture the Establishment could become if its cruel and ludicrous faults were cured by the medicine the author recommends; 3) warning of the dreadful future that can become reality if the present Establishment is not reformed. All three categories have the goals of making those who are the victims of the Establishment want reformation or revolution, and persuading the people who are the leaders of the Establishment that they should reform it if they want to be thought of as moral, humane people. Satire should be considered as a form of tough love; perfect culture as a form of seduction; and warning is naturally a form of prophecy. Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels is one of the greatest classics of satire. Plato's unfinished Critias (the one describing the perfect culture of Atlantis) and Thomas More's Utopia are undeniable classics of the perfect culture. George Orwell's 1984 still stands as the undisputed champion of warning.

The common feature of this kind of fiction is that the scene of the action takes place in an alternate reality. Before the invention of the telescope allowed humans to begin to imagine life on other planets, the alternate reality was usually some distant land in unknown or little explored parts of Earth. Gulliver's Travels, Critias, and Utopia use this form of alternate reality. The future, which is connected to, because created by, the present, is just as unknown and distant from us as any remote, unexplored or barely explored region of Earth; hence it is naturally the ideal alternate reality for a warning story. After learning that Earth is part of a solar system of planets, moons, and smaller objects, and that the stars are actually suns, other planets became ideal locations for satire and the perfect culture. In Western culture's 20th century quantum physics provided strong evidence to support viable hypotheses about other universes existing simultaneously with our universe, some calling this startling and fascinating possibility the Landscape, while others call it the multiverse (the older term "dimensions" seems to be fading away). Because at least some of these other universes are thought to be almost identical to ours, placing a perfect culture or satire of contemporary culture in one of these not-quite-identical universes is ideal. Hippo's alternate reality is in one of these universes.

Hippo is mostly satire mixed with a lesser portion of warning. The Western culture in this other universe has become much more thoroughly secular than Western culture is in our universe, so it would seem to be an ideal opportunity for a Freethought writer like Harwood to present how much better human lives become as greater separation of culture and religionism is achieved. There is nothing perfect about Hippo's highly secularized culture. Even though the major religions have been greatly reduced in size and the majority of average people think they are just repulsive cults, the culture Harwood describes is in many ways more repulsive than contemporary culture in our United States, which is the most religious of the First World nations. If religious writers become aware of this novel, they will find it useful in their campaign to vilify secularization. That can't be helped; part of Harwood's mission in the novel is to warn about secular trends in our present culture that, if not terminated or reformed, could lead us into a very unpleasant future. To what degree will Atheists, Freethinkers, and Secular Humanists, the most likely readers of this book, agree with him? Using myself as an example, I don't agree with him about how detrimental labor unions are, and entirely agree with him about the evils the degradation of public school education will cause if it is allowed to continue to corrupt children and adolescents in the coming decades.

Harwood begins with a clever, seductive "Disclaimer". It lists several characters in the novel to insist they are not people in our universe. For examples, "Rosanne Chamberlain IS NOT Rosanne Barr", "Pope Abel 1 IS NOT Pope John Paul II", and "Nim Chimpsky Bonzo IS NOT George H. W. Bush". The disclaimer ends with "Any resemblances are purely coincidental". He should have written "accidental". None of the characters on the list would make any reader think of the real people they are not supposed to be. It is not a good idea to raise expectations in readers and then disappoint them; people typically like to get what's promised to them. Harwood should have dropped the disclaimer since it makes no positive contribution to Hippo's story.

Hippo's style of storytelling is synoptic, which means most of it is a summary of the story that is occasionally interrupted by more fully developed scenes. I've read synoptic novels that have persuaded me the synoptic style was the perfect one for them. This is not one of those novels. Hippo's story seems emaciated because the reader can't help imagining what a wonderful story it would have been if it had been given abundant nourishment by its author. This novel needed to be something like 700 to 1,000 pages long and printed in a smaller font size to keep it contained in that page-count range. Imagine Gone With The Wind, Of Human Bondage, Hawaii, or The Grapes Of Wrath told synoptically so they could be published in a little over 200 pages with a large font size. That would suck, to put it mildly. Well, it sucks that Hippo's story isn't fully developed. Since it is really a series of stories, James Michener's style of telling multigenerational stories would have been an excellent style for Hippo.

Harwood's saga starts with Rosanne Chamberlain (aka the hippopotamus and Mrs. Hippo) and Rupert Kennedy (who "IS NOT Rush Limbaugh"). They become registered cohabs and have four children. It ends with their grandson Danforth Kennedy (who "IS NOT Dan Quayle") becoming the North American President by the same corruption that gave Election 2000 to W. Bush. In between these two events is merciless cultural satire of the Roman Catholic Church, UFO lunacy, the Child Sexual Abuse Hysteria's two pernicious tools (recovered "repressed" memories and facilitated communication), Scientology, labor unions, our Establishment's sexual code of conduct, politics, degradation of public school education, and more. The story he tells is really just a device to set up targets he wants to blast with precisely aimed bullets of often brutal satire. The clever, subtle bon mots and innuendoes that made Oscar Wilde's stories and plays famous and enduring are not Harwood's style; he shoots to kill. His shooting position is solidly located in the Freethought Movement among the sexually liberated Atheists and Secular Humanists, who will enjoy seeing him hit his targets' bull's-eyes almost every time. If any of the people involved in the targets read Hippo, they will not be amused at all.

What Atheists, Freethinkers, and Secular Humanists will wish he had included is more of the philosophy they share with Harwood. The only sparkling gem of our philosophy that I found — meaning a truly excellent expression worthy of being included in a book of classic, definitive Freethought/Secular Humanist quotes — is on pages 109-110: "Morality is the conscious avoidance of all behavior that unnecessarily hurts a nonconsenting victim." This ought to be seriously considered by all Atheists, Freethinkers, and Secular Humanists as a candidate for our philosophy's Golden Rule. This absence of a strong presentation of our philosophy should not be perceived as a flaw in Hippo. The novel is primarily satire and secondarily warning, thus the kind of content that is suitable for a perfect culture story would not have been suitable for it. However, every person in the Freethought Movement who reads this book will finish it hoping Harwood does write a perfect culture novel for us.

The Fall And Rise Of The House Of Hippo: An Alternate Reality Novel is an enjoyable reading experience. The alternate reality Harwood describes is fascinating. The cultural satire is wonderfully savage. I know there are plenty of kinder and gentler people in the Freethought Movement who will be appalled by how relentlessly militant it is, but there are also plenty who, like me, enjoy kill shots, and we deserve to have novels that satisfy our craving for literary meat that bleeds when we slice off a bite. The warnings in the novel should be disturbing to all readers in the U.S. because the trends he is warning about are already transforming the U.S. into a Third World nation (if any person doesn't believe that, just look where the U.S. places on every list that compares the U.S. to other First World nations, then look at the history of those lists to see the steady downward movement the U.S. is making). I recommend Hippo. Its flaws are compensated by its virtues. Harwood has definitely added another good book to Freethought's bibliography.

Healer's Heresy: A Cassidy McCabe Mystery
Alex Matthews
Veiled Intent Press
546 N. Humphrey, Oak Park, IL 60302
9780979475610 $18.00

Cynthia Penn

Psychotherapist Cassidy McCabe returns once again in Healer's Heresy. Ethics, personalities, and fur fly as Cassidy and husband Zach investigate the murder of an attractive young doctor, whose personal life was both complex and challenging. Author Alex Matthews, whose prior Cassidy McCabe mysteries number among this reviewer's personal favorites, more than matches her prior successes with Healer's Heresy. Indeed, Matthew's thoughtful handling of difficult ethical questions and multilayered characterizations result in a richly satisfying read.

The Sacraments
Joseph Martos
Liturgical Press
PO Box 7500, Collegeville, MN 56321
9780814653692, $24.95,

James Dallen

In "The Sacraments: An Interdisciplinary and Interactive Study", author Joseph Martos has done much more than simply revise and extend his previous works on sacraments. He has distilled the wisdom of the last century's work at reform and renewal in clear, non-technical language and he has laid a solid foundation for future development. The book provides a concise, insightful, and challenging overview of contemporary sacramental theology. Online interactive resources offer opportunity for experiential learning and personal transformation. This is the first book that I will recommend to anyone seeking deeper understanding and more effective practice of the Catholic sacraments.

How to Improve Your Life: The Successful Way to Improve Your Health, Relationships, Career, Personal Finances and Yourself
Raymond H Scudder
Mill City Press
Minneapolis, MN
9781936400997, $14.95

Kaye Trout

Quoting from the back cover:

"A must-read for anyone who want to improve their life but doesn't know where or how to begin. The author provides a life-changing Improvement Process you can easily follow to take control of your life and achieve whatever you want. The simplicity and beauty of this process means that in a very short time, you will:

-Start thinking and behaving in a positive, can-do way

-Target the areas of your life most in need of improvement

-Begin using your vast personal potential

-Notice and explore opportunities you never considered before

-Stay motivated and focused on what you want in life until it becomes reality

-Monitor your progress and celebrate your improvement accomplishments

How to Improve Your Life also offers a wealth of improvement tips and expert advice on how to:

-Live a healthy life

-Build and strengthen your relationships

-Boost your career

-Achieve personal financial success

-Make internal changes that maximize your ability to accomplish whatever you want...

RAYMOND H. SCUDDER is a graduate of the University of Southern California and served as vice president of human resources and quality management for one of the largest medical centers in the state of Washington. He founded Human Resources Consulting & Training in 1994 and served as its president until retiring in 2006. He and his wife, Jan, live in Lake Stevens, Washington."

Everybody wants to give advice, and there are many, many self-help books on the market. As a matter of fact I wrote one myself, Ladies Are You Lost - Options for Women in Unhealthy Relationships. Is Scudder's book different, unique or special in some way? No, not particularly and yet, there are many positive things to be said about it. How to Improve Your Life is well written, well edited, full of studies to support Scudder's ideas and positions. It is written by a man who has worked in the 'improvement' field, and yes, it does read like he knows what he's talking about. Might it help you? Possibly, but you'll have to read it to know.

Mindful Parent Happy Child
Pilar M. Placone, Ph.D.
Alaya Press
601 Chimalus Dr., Palo Alto, CA 94306
9780615358789, $15.95,

Lois Wells Santalo

Serving as both workbook and instruction manual, "Mindful Parent Happy Child: A Guide to Raising Joyful and Resilient Children" takes a self- help approach to parenting, while the author's style provides easy reading for the layman.

Parents seeking direction in child care are often heard on media shows pleading for the expert to fix the child. Though most experts insist that family readjustment is required for the "fix," they usually respond to the demand and focus on dealing with the rebel. Often, at the end of one of those television counseling sessions, we hear the warning, "Of course, you must also take care of yourself. Your child deserves a happy mother."

But how do you do that? With parents hopelessly caught up in ever-repeated patterns of family drama, no one ever offers instructions or suggestions in that arena.

Author and therapist Dr. Pilar M. Placone has altered the approach. In this book she focuses on the parent. She recognizes that the child's behavior is a passing thing, while the truly significant aspect, the parental reaction, establishes the family dynamic which will create permanent patterns of relationship. She offers instruction in how to control one's reactions by means of mindful parenting: being mindful of one's own emotions in the moment. By pausing to think about how we feel, we can avoid those disastrous gut-level responses which, in my younger years, were called "flying off the handle," and which lead to our meeting the child on his own level, yelling back and yelling louder, escalating the chaos rather than solving it.

If I'd had this book available when raising my own children, I might have been spared a great deal of anguish. In our house, conflict usually arose when a child failed to clean her room. On seeing the mess, Dad would become angry and impose punishment too harsh for the crime. The child would run to me in tears, my protective instincts would kick in, and I would plead for the culprit to be given an extended deadline. I usually won the argument but not without damage to relationships all around. Dad felt guilty for playing the ogre, I resented his harshness, and the child learned to pit parent against parent. These were not desired or intended outcomes. This book, if we'd had it, would have provided those exercises in mindfulness that might have helped me—possibly both of us—to change the dynamics.

The author admits that mindfulness cannot be achieved overnight. She offers exercises designed to help the reader grow into the ability to summon it. She suggests, "At the first sign of mindless reactivity, mentally move yourself to the 'self-observation deck" and become the Observer of the situation. See yourself in the context of the present moment. Doing so can help you become aware of tiredness in your body"—or whatever negative feelings may be building toward triggering an explosive response to a child's outburst.

In short, we need to learn to describe to ourselves the present moment, and our feelings as they exist now. "The practice of describing the present moment can take you, the parent, into different types of awareness … Emotional self-regulation provides parents the ability to deliberately respond to their child rather than emotionally react."

The first section is devoted to suggestions for how to manage this, along with worksheets for each chapter and suggested devices for practice. This is followed by a work-book delving into detail about each exercise and providing space for writing down and working out one's experiences and emotions. The book ends with a plea for everyone to develop compassion, not the momentary compassion that makes us send aid to Japan after an earthquake, but ongoing compassion for those around us, and the impulse to look inward rather than outward as we deal with our reactions in everyday life.

My thought is that this technique would be very valuable in any situation where people must come together, whether in family, church or workplace. Even without growing children at home, I feel the need to learn the art of mindfulness. It would allow me time to think about where the other person is coming from rather than sweeping me away in my own emotional response. Since no one is immune to misunderstandings and the resulting confrontations, we could all use information about anger control.

Highly recommended, this book is a must for parents and those contemplating parenthood, and worth a look for anyone who must deal with interpersonal conflicts.

The Devil in Pew Number Seven
Rebecca Nichols Alonzo
Tyndale House Publishers
351 Executive Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188
9781414326597, $14.99,

Lou Gatlin

"I needed God more than I needed to blame God", Rebecca Nichols Alonzo asserts as she describes her battle between forgiveness and utter hatred.

From the age of five, she endured emotional and physical trauma and the fear of unknown terror on a daily basis. For almost four years she and her family suffered at the hands of a disgruntled neighbor who was determined to drive them out of town at any cost. The numerous acts of violence, including "ten bombs in two-and-a-half years" culminated in Rebecca witnessing her mother being fatally shot and her father's subsequent nervous breakdown.

She maintains, however, that the most compelling aspect she witnessed throughout the ordeal was the steadfast faith, forgiveness and fortitude of her parents. Their example of "crying out to the Lord" ...for their attacker "to become a changed man" provided the foundation that enabled Rebecca to extend forgiveness to this man a decade later.

His unexpected phone call offering a sincere apology confirmed that her parents' prayers had been answered. He was indeed a changed man. Not only was Rebecca able to express her forgiveness to him verbally but also through correspondence via mail over the next several years.
With all the key elements of a great suspense novel and the eye-witness depiction of details, this true story is a must read for anyone who has ever grappled with whether or not true forgiveness is attainable. Rebecca Nichols Alonzo would know.

Consuelo Saah Baehr
Dell Publishing
c/o Random House
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
9781858131078, $5.00,

Valentina Cano

I love family sagas. Well, sagas of any kind, but the family ones are the best. I love seeing the characters's lives meld and interact with the many generations, so I was happy when I received this book from the Goodreads Giveaway program.

It arrived directly from Ms. Baehr, which I thought was a nice touch. But when I opened the package I groaned in despair. The cover did not bode well, it looked like one of those bodice-rippers from which I stay far, far away. And horror of horrors, it was a LARGE body-ripper. In this instance the age old adage was true, the cover sucked but the book did not.
The setting itself, Jerusalem, is as exotic a setting as a reader could wish. I could practically smell the velvety scent of spices and feel the caressing breeze as I read about Miriam, Nadia and Star's lives. The author is careful to add touches of the political atmosphere surrounding the changing times in the book, but never writing enough to take away from the important and already complicated storylines.

I do have a few complaints. First off, can't publishing houses afford editors that know grammar? Countless times throughout the book I was tempted to grab my red pen to slash through needless or erroneous words. Lots of phrases would have benefitted from more symmetry. It would have made reading some passages all the more enjoyable. I know the main blame should go to the author, but don't countless people read the book before it is published?

My next complaint is a personal one, so it might not affect how another reader will take it, but I will say it anyways. The three principal women suffer from a crippling limpness of character. Let me explain: they are ridiculously passive in their own lives, things happen TO them without their ability to take action for themselves. I am sure Ms. Baehr was trying to make a point, but I like my heroines a bit, oh I don't know, heroic. Again, it's my own view, so take it as you like.
Regardless of my whining, the book was a very entertaining read and I do recommend it to people who want a fun immersion in the tangled lives of three women in an exotic land.

Airplane Novel
Paul A. Toth
Raw Dog Screaming Press
2802 Farris Ln, Bowie MD 20715-2306
9781935738138, $TBA,

Mitchell Waldman

Passengers, please, buckle your seat belts, we've hit some turbulence that will make the ride a little bumpy from here on out….Welcome to AIRPLANE NOVEL by Paul A. Toth.

Just as the subject of this novel centers around one of the major criminal acts of the modern era - 9/11 - so, too, may it be said that author Toth has committed a major act of fiction in this new novel, due out in July. The author of such prior novels as Fishnet, Finale, and Fizz, Toth is a wildly original writer. Consider that the narrator is as unlikely a narrator as we have seen in recent times, none other than the World Trade Center's South Tower, itself. Overall, this book is most likely unlike any other books you have recently read.

Toth's story begins with the building's addressing its audience -- readers on an airplane headed for who-knows-where. His story introduces us not only to the personalities of the South Tower (which likes to refer to itself as Cary Grant) and its neighboring North Tower (Gary Cooper), but to the lives of an assortment of characters (people who are referred to as a group by the Tower as "spider monkeys") who inhabited or had dealings with the Towers at various times. These persons include a worker who is obsessed with pornographic movie theatres, a veteran who lives in the suburbs and hates his life and everyone in it, everyone, an Arab who emigrates to the United States, a Jew who becomes particularly hateful of a Muslim man who lives in his apartment complex, a high wire trapeze artist, a man who climbs one of the towers, and others whose individual stories relate to the Towers.

The story promises us an ending we are all very aware of, but keeps us moving toward that inevitable day with visions of the lives of some of these "spider monkeys," the narrator letting us in on his story building all the way through - the need to build tension, the need to develop sympathetic characters (the narrator, itself, asking us, at one point, "Am I sympathetic? I must know, since this story requires me to be the most sympathetic character of all? Have I held your interest and caused the appropriate rate of pages turned per minute?...") All the while the author/narrator jettisons the so-called rules of fiction writing and writes the story the way he wants to, paving his tale with various creative and often humorous building blocks, giving us the often odd but ultimately sympathetic perspective of the South Tower, flowing in and out with historical information, the lives of his characters, and the unique perspective, thoughts and feelings (yes, the building does become a feeling structure itself) of the Tower itself.

In short, Toth's inventions and writing in AIRPLANE NOVEL are a breath of fresh air in the sometimes stagnant landscape of modern fiction. Toth is a unique, gifted stylist whose prose is at times sharp, unpredictable, humorous, and always engaging. There have been a lot of books about 9/11 but I promise you none like this. So, sit back and enjoy the ride in the sometimes not so friendly skies and enjoy a very nontraditional novel that will keep you reading till the very last moment.

Immersion Into Noise
Joseph Nechvatal
University of Michigan Press (paper book)
839 Greene Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104-3209
Open Humanities Press (e-book).
University of Michigan Library's Scholarly
13-digit ISBN number/List Price: will be available as soon as it's published

Yuting Zou

"Chance has its reason" - Petronius

Immersion Into Noise is an informative and alluring book that inspires readers to step into self-exploration, and to engage in an ongoing investigation of the connected self.

While most people would naturally think of noise as an audio-only disturbance, in his latest book Immersion Into Noise, digital artist and theoretician Joseph Nechvatal takes us on a rowdy conversional ride through a series of audio to visual to spatialized and networked "art noises." (These and all following quotes are Nechvatal's). Here I will sketch out some of Nechvatal's innovative argument; an argument filled with examples from the history of philosophy, noise music, the visual arts, architectural history, network theory and consciousness studies.

In the Introduction to Immersion Into Noise, Nechvatal lays out his acceptance of noise as the material for an immersive art that allows the mind to transcend where it was and connect to the body through what he calls a "self-attentive unification" - as the excess of art noise triggers intensities in all directions. He does this by placing emphasis on immersion as that implies a continuum of intensity vectors, the integration of which preconditions "the ecstasy of going outside of self" without loosing connection with the self.

Central to Immersion Into Noise is when Nechvatal identifies a site of "immersive noise vision" within a little known space at the hub of the prehistoric cave, Lascaux, that he was allowed to visit. He builds his theory on this rare and powerful experience.

In the conclusion of Immersion Into Noise, Nechvatal hypothesizes an innovative theory of what he calls "immersive noise consciousness." His theory of immersive noise consciousness proposes that the function of an "immersive art-of-noise" would be to provide for us an artistic environment of clamorous cultural information capable of expanding our consciousness, disjunctively. He further concludes that this disjunctive noise consciousness may lead us to a new ontological unification based on "self-re-programmablity."

Also in the conclusion of Immersion Into Noise, Nechvatal maintains that, "The subsequent and ultimate aesthetic benefit of noise art then, is in attaining a prospective realization of our perceptual circuitry as a self-re-programmable operation." This goal of an expanded human capability through art is important to him, as he feels that the substantial ability to self-modify (self-re-program) ourselves is the point of art.

According to Nechvatal, in our age of "massive electronic deluge," we are constantly immersed in an information-overloaded virtual world of distributed networks. Art noise in this culture, as conceptualized by Nechvatal, "distorts and disturbs crisp signals of cultural communications." Unlike normal noise, which doesn't mean anything, aesthetic art noise, according to Nechvatal, is full of cultural meanings and becomes a dense (while confusing) assemblage of cultural ideologies and signifiers. Hence, according to Nechvatal, "art noise" as virtual environment can be considered a minuscule abstraction of our larger noisy connected world. While immersed in a "noise art environment", the "immersant" is stimulated to experience a paradoxical (and disjunctive) state of connectivity and disconnectivity. The neural networks of the human body join with the external noisy art networks and form a body-space of "hyperconnectivity." Thus the classical, ontological body dissolves somewhat in an art-of-noise virtual environment, collapsing the distinction between the inside and the outside. However, noise is disturbing and offensive. It is beyond comprehension and challenges our habitual way of thinking and reasoning. Noise necessarily produces resistance in the mind, and thus creates a "critical distance" via a "body/mind rupture." But Nechvatal intends not only to make us aware of our inner ruptures. He too proposes that the "excess" inherent in the "art of noise" offers a "saturating border experience" that is expansive. By increasing art noise to that threshold, the superabundance of "ideological demonstration becomes non-representational." Therefore, such a noise art environment becomes a private vacuole (noncommunicational cocoon) of self-reflection, where a newfound depth of self-understanding is achieved; as well as a disillusionment of social spectacles and ideologies.

As he makes clear, Nechvatal's immersive noise theory is deeply rooted in contemporary philosophy, particularly A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. In that famous book, Deleuze and Guattari describe the condition of a body without organs as an insubstantial state of connected-being that lies beyond representation - that which concerns becomings and nomadic essences. Nechvatal also draws from their concept of "becoming-animal," where Deleuze and Guattari place great emphasis on movements of escape that cross thresholds to reach a continuum of intensities where all forms come undone. In a becoming-animal noise panorama, a feedback-loop is used as a metaphor for a psychic bouncing back and forth from comfort to distress (and loops). Nechvatal builds on these ideas when postulating noise art environments that are capable of pushing the limits of our habitual significations, signifiers, and signifieds - to the benefit of a new unformed state of de-territorialized flux.

Georges Bataille is Nechvatal's other major influence, as when Bataille stresses the definition of excess as not so much as surplus, but as an effective passage beyond our established limits - an impulse that exceeds even its own threshold. But also considered is the French philosopher Michel Serres's interrogation of the idea of noise in his books Genese and The Parasite. Nechvatal then makes use of Jacques Derridia's deconstruction of logocentrism: the once held distinction between subjectivity and objectivity. He builds his noise theory on a solid ground by judiciously using contemporary philosophy, which involves the concepts of fractals, quantum mechanics, Brownian random walk and differential structure. He then ties in Eastern philosophy (Zen and I Ching) based in the work of John Cage, as when Cage developed aesthetic theories that led to an abandonment of structure in favor of structures that become indeterminate via chance operations. Cage concluded that structure was not necessary even though it had certain uses. One wonders just what kind of noise art dynamics might be generated by the heterogenic intersection of the all-embracing Tao and the promising unification of physics superstring/M-theory (our most ambitious attempt at a unification theory)? Would it be interesting to have such an all-inclusive philosophy that allows for both self-referential differential structure and axiomatic algebraic structure? But for now, Nechvatal's theory of noise art aims at a self-referential mode in an immersive environment which is a representation of what he calls a "conspicuously excessive, connected and collapsing society." An immediate benefit of Nechvatal's noise theory of "rupture-induced expansion" is its emphasis on that which "unites the apparent opposites of subjectivity and objectivity" in the interests of a networked well-being from a connectionist perspective.

Generously sharing his intimate experiences in Lascaux, Nechvatal guides us through a sequence of cavernous shelters, labyrinthine passages, and excessively decorated architectures. None of them is constructed as an ideal linear space. They are all irregular and unpredictable places that induce us to enjoy a "compressed, close-up immersive experience." As he poetically puts it, we enter with him, "the depths of the immersive darkness to contemplate both the beginning and end of life." Or as he more analytically puts it, "it is in the cave, generally deep within, where early immersive art attained its maximum intensity."

This noise aesthetic of holes and caves is often exemplified in Nechvatal's own digital art, with his use of an artificial-life computer virus program that enters and eats away his digital paintings of human retinas and anuses. I was lucky enough to have attended the public screening in March 2011 of his Viral Venture projection at The School of Visual Arts Theatre - and it deeply affected my sense of perception and cognition, along with my sense of connected spirituality. Its spatial dynamics aroused in me the imagination of a unified macro and micro perception where black holes and anatomical human ones merge. That aspect of the show forced on me a fuller sensory perception in sharp contrast to the tradition of linear perspective, which is a linear approximation of the visible world based on two assumptions: 1) the spectator's eye was singular, rather than as double as with normal binocular vision; and 2) the spectator stands in front of the picture exactly at the correct viewing distance with her eye opposite to the vanishing point, so that rays of light traveling from the eye to an object remain straight. As Nechvatal explains in Immersion Into Noise these two rules were used to create a plausible illusion at the price of the spectators' freedom, since it demands the fixed position and the "singular eye" of a spectator. This affected me personally, because as a disillusioned "Arcadian", I choose freedom, the freedom to question a linear (oversimplified) view of life (or a seemingly apparent doctrine); a freedom to retain and affirm an open belief; and a freedom to have a 360° spherical/relational perspective, in which everything reacts on everything else, with no beginning or end. This means no glib judgments. More importantly, it is a freedom from staring at an infinitely distant vanishing point in isolation and solitude. In other words, it is a freedom to embrace this moment-to-moment differentiable curve of activities - the real reality of this life.

As Joseph Nechvatal points out in Immersion Into Noise, "in the Renaissance ideal of linear trompe l'oeil perspective, infinity, mathematics, and theology met on a unified plane whose grandeur and rational perfection symbolizes a faraway, mighty and incomprehensible God." This statement led me to reflect on the five points of Calvinism and the double-predestination (Canons of Dort) found in Reformed Theology that models the total sovereignty of God in Cartesian coordinates. Reformed Theology makes one conscious of the huge gap between one's actual state and ideal states, without providing a practical solution to connect the two. The difficulty of this problem has been described by Paul's own body/mind duality (Romans 7). In reading Immersion Into Noise I realized that by using a cross-disciplinary application of immersive noise theory, this dilemma could be solved by the use of "immersive noise" - with its overflow (excess) of Spirit (the formless) - so that an expanded consciousness of identity was made possible. Immersion Into Noise gave me an elegant answer that Reformed Theology alone could not offer. Because the Spirit has no form, it can hardly be confined in the Reformed structure, just as a basket cannot hold water. In fact, Paul also turned to the use of Spirit (Romans 8), which not only confirms the applicability of the theory, but further suggests a Diformed (differential form) of theology as its analogy.

With developments in the study of physical reality, now we can say that though chaos is usually considered as disorder, completely without order, the binary opposition of chaos and order has been reconciled in the sense that the real world is better described between the two. Nechvatal's Immersion Into Noise also involves this idea, as the concepts of noise and chaos intersect. We know the complexity/unpredictability of natural or experimental systems is modeled by stochastic chaos (chance), or deterministic chaos (chaos), or a combination of both. "Chance has its reason" - Petronius. While the result of tossing a coin once is completely uncertain, a long series of tosses produces a nearly certain result. This transition from uncertainty to near certainty (when we observe long series of events, or large systems) is an essential theme in the study of chance. Deterministic chaos, (simply known as chaos), is even more paradoxical: very simple and completely determined rules or equations, with nothing random in them, can have outcomes that are entirely unpredictable. Moreover, a system of unpredictability also exhibits self-organizing patterns and structures (order). One of the most interesting examples that allow order and chaos to coexist is the chaotic attractor. It is an attractor (thus it implies an order) that has sensitive dependence on initial conditions: a small change in the state of the system at time zero produces a later change that grows exponentially with time. Can a chaotic attractor take that epistemological leap into an ontological model? A small mistake (or something out of control) in the beginning may result in a later irrevocable disaster, however, no matter how many or how severe (within a certain tolerance) the initial mistakes are, eventually, the pattern of your life remains unchanged. No matter where you started, you will never get back to exactly where you were (though you can be infinitely close). You will never repeat yourself anytime anyplace (implied by topological transitivity). There is a strong and genetic self-programmability inside each of these attractors. I find that Nechvatal makes similar points in the conclusion of Immersion Into Noise. Induced by chaotic "art noise", an order of self-reflection and "meta-re-programming ego" may emerge.

Neuroscientists and psychologists have been studying human happiness, moral judgment, and even moral truth as subjects of intense interest. For example, Marc Hauser suggests that we have an innate moral faculty that consists of a set of principles that constitute the universal moral grammar, and thus, we have innate ability to make moral judgment. Carrying that theory a step further, Sam Harris argues that human values (innately exist) can be (universally) translated into scientific facts, and consequently, the well-being of conscious creatures may be maximized by scientific operations. It seems that a common goal of art and science is to improve human well-being, which is to do with life's purpose, meaning, pleasure, satisfaction, morality and so on.

If we look at - and then beyond - the realm of aesthetics, it is not hard to discover the great benefit of Joseph Nechvatal's art of noise as copiously explored in Immersion Into Noise: the common good of humanity.

Ann's Bookshelf

Fifty Plants That Changed The Course Of History
Bill Laws
Crows Nest
Allen & Unwin, 83, Alexander Street, NSW 2065, Australia
Firefly Books Ltd. (distributor)
66 Leek Crescent, Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, L4B 1H1
978742372181, A$35.00,
9781554077984, $29.95,

This is a handsome book. A delight to look at and a pleasure to hold. It is also a pleasure to read, not just because each page is beautifully illustrated but also because of the unusual, unexpected and fascinating histories it charts.

That said, this is a book for browsing, rather than for reading straight through. Each page is packed with facts. The Latin names and common names of each plant, a brief outline of its importance to us, the history of its uses and misuses, and countless small details (often presented in a separate box to the side of the main text) all give the reader a lot to absorb, but everything is presented in a humorous, easy-going way laced with plenty of curious anecdotes. Did you know, for example, that Queen Elizabeth I is reputed to have invented ginger-bread men to amuse her courtiers? Or that willow coffins are the latest must-have for the ecologically minded? Or, indeed, that Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, in about 1150 advised adding hops to drinks as a preservative?

Bill Laws' choice of fifty plants which have changed the course of history (or, as the book's blurb says "had the greatest impact on civilisation") includes many that you would expect: tea, papyrus, cotton, tobacco and rice, for example. But there are also many unexpected inclusions, like lavender, saffron, Sweet Pea, the Dog Rose and pineapple. Pineapple finds a place here because this tropical "collection of individual fruits pressed together to form a whole" prompted such interest when it was first presented to the English King Charles II by his gardener, John Rose, that it caused much experimentation with pits of steaming manure and the building of 'glass houses' to aid its cultivation in cold climates. After that, 'hot-houses' grew in size, sophistication and popularity, resulting eventually in huge constructions like Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace in London and, on a much smaller scale, the conservatories and greenhouses which grace so many our modern, family gardens.

Other plants with long histories which are still part of our everyday lives are White Willow, the source of Asprin; Cacao, from which chocolate is made; and, more disturbingly, Coca and the Opium Poppy, both of which have valuable medicinal uses but which now also fuel the illicit drug trade and cause serious social problems.

Laws is outspoken about the evils some plants have caused and still cause: these include wars, slavery, smuggling, organized crime, addiction and ecological damage. Perhaps surprisingly, sugarcane is one plant he sees as both valuable and dangerous. It has been the historical cause of human misery through slavery and economic disasters, and now, with refined sugar in almost everything we eat, it has changed our digestive systems to the extent that sugar addiction is a serious cause of obesity and ill-health.

Bill Laws weaves together strands of ecological, political and agricultural history. His scope is worldwide and it ranges from the words of early herbalists and herbals to the discoveries of modern science. He draws inspiration from myth and legend, and, occasionally from the early philosophers. And the illustrations come from art, history, old magazines and modern botanical photography. Altogether, Laws has done a fine job and Quid Publishing, which conceived and designed this book, have made sure it looks as good as its contents.

The Report
Jessica Francis Kane
9781846272790, A$27.99
Graywolf Press
250 Third Avenue North, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55401
9781555975654, $15.00,

Authors find their inspiration in the most unexpected places. New Yorker, Jessica Francis Kane, found hers in a report published by Her Majesty's Stationary Office which she picked up in the British Library bookshop. It deals with an incident which took place during the bombing of London in World War II and which is commemorated in a plaque at Bethnal Green Underground Station in London. The plaque reads:

Site of the worst civilian disaster of the Second World War
In memory of the 173 men, women and children who lost their lives on the evening of Wednesday 3 March 1943 descending these steps to Bethel Green Underground air raid shelter.
Not forgotten.

The deaths were not caused by a bomb, but by a sudden blockage on the stairs in which the victims were crushed.

A local Magistrate, Laurence Dunne, was given the task of investigating the incident in order to determine its cause. He struggled with conflicting accounts, traumatized survivors, racial tensions due to an influx of Jewish immigrants, rumours of secret bomb testing and new German weapons, and restrictions placed on information by a British government obsessed with the morale of the people. In the end, the government suppressed Dunne's report until the war was over.

Thus far, the story is true.

Jessica Kane's story begins thirty years later, when a young film maker, Paul Barber, decides to make a documentary about the accident and turns up on Laurence Dunne's doorstep to interview him. Paul, it turns out, was one of the babies miraculously passed out of the tangle of bodies to rescuers. Central to the story, too, are Ada Barber and her daughter Tilly. They, too, were survivors of the crush, but Ada's youngest child, Tilly's little sister Emma, had died.

Through Dunne's memories of his investigation, through the testimony of those who had been there at the time, and through the thoughts and actions of some whose lives had been affected by the whole incident, Kane recreates the atmosphere of East End London at that time.

At first, after reading Kane's vivid recreation of that night, I was uncertain whether I wanted to go on reading about another wartime horror, but the same puzzle which had confronting Laurence Dunne drew me in. How had it happened? Why, on this particular night amongst so many others like it, had there been a problem? How could something so drastic happen and be over so quickly?

I became entangled, too, in the lives of Kane's people. Not just in those of Paul and Dunne, Ada and Tilly, but in that of Bernard, an insecure young clerk who was given the terrible task of documenting the dead, listing what was found in their pockets and returning items their families. And of Clare, the young nurse who befriended Bernard and helped him through this trauma. Of Warden, James Low, who had changed a smashed light bulb on the stairs shortly before the accident but felt inexplicably responsible for the accident, and Sarah his wife. And of the Rev. McNealy, whose church lay close to the station entrance and who buried many of the dead and struggled to provide comfort to the living.

Kane effectively recreates the atmosphere of wartime London. The food and clothing shortages; the unrest cause by the influx of hundreds of Jewish refugees from Europe - the usual reaction of insular people to foreigners with foreign ways - exacerbated by a few racist trouble-makers; the daily exposure of its people to death, destruction and grief; and the friendships and community spirit which kept everyone going. But her story hinges on the mysterious cause of the accident, on something hidden which Dunne suspects and labours to uncover, and on his decisions about what to reveal and whether to ascribe blame is justified, appropriate or necessary.

Kane does not mention it, but there are resonances here with horrific modern accidents which catch the attention of the people who demand answers, reasons and scapegoats, and with the investigations which are instigated by various authorities and the reports which they eventually release. Can any one person be held responsible? Is it not a confluence of circumstances which trigger a disaster? How much good does a report do, or how much harm?

Paul, too, must consider these questions as he makes his documentary. And he, too, discovers uncomfortable facts about his past.

Ann Skea

Bethany's Bookshelf

Beyond the Comfort Zone
Clayton Mwaka
100 Enterprise Way, Suite A200, Scotts Valley, CA 95066
9781452862088, $18.50

Comfort makes one complacent, and kills their drive to succeed. "Beyond the Comfort Zone" is an advocacy of discomfort in life from Clayton Mwaka, as he tells readers that discomfort in a good way can drive one further and push them to succeed on a much greater level in their lives and make success something greater for them to reach for, to attain greater comfort than they could have imagined. "Beyond the Comfort Zone" is a wise guide that will help many those who have learned to fear the good discomfort of life.

Angels All Around
Alice Brunette Greene
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781450251457, $12.95,

God's plan is sometimes a bit hard to decipher. "Angels All Around" tells the story of Kenisha and Michael, two individuals with very different paths but God has another thing for them, as their true identities will be remembered and change everything they need to understand of the world. "Angels All Around" is a thoughtful work of Christian fiction, highly recommended to those with a special place in their hearts for angels.

Broad Reach
Wendy Bartlett
2021 Pine Lake Road, Suite 100, Lincoln, NE 68512
9780595461769, $19.95,

An impulse often leads to experiencing the consequences unseen. "Broad Reach" tells the story of Sarah, facing the onslaught of Middle Age and feeling empty. When she quickly joins an Englishman at sea for a change, she gets that change that she wanted but also the quick dose of reality that she didn't consider. A story of the dark side of love and people on the sea with nowhere to run, "Broad Reach" is an exciting read that should prove difficult to put down.

A Grace Anonymous
Steven G. Allen
Tate Publishing
127 E. Trade Center Terrace, Mustang, OK 73064
9781615669455, $9.99,

Alcohol is a destroyer of lives if you let it be, and so many people seem to enable it. "A Grace Anonymous" is the inspirational memoir of Steven G. Allen, as he tells his story of how alcohol dominated his life for decades, starting at the young age of fourteen. As he first shook the demon, his life came together, only to be lost to it all again, and coming to terms that for him, alcohol was an evil he could not tolerate in his life. "A Grace Anonymous" is a fine pick for those looking for strength in dealing with their own liquor related problems.

Living Life to Its Fullest
Kris Copeland
Tate Publishing & Enterprises
127 E. Trade Center Terrace, Mustang, OK 73064
9781617770197, $10.99,

God's blessing lies in wait in our every day lives. "Living Life To Its Fullest: Implementing God's Blessing Into Our Everyday Lives" is an inspirational read on remembering God's place in one's life and using this presence to push one further in life, and live it more inspired. Thoughtful and driven for Christian readers who have perhaps lost their way, "Living Life to Its Fullest" is a fine devotional, not to be overlooked.

Susan Bethany

Buhle's Bookshelf

Antonette Sabonaitis
Vantage Press
419 Park Ave., New York, NY 10016
9780533163373, $14.95,

There wasn't anything else to compare it to, so it seems utterly normal. "UNTE: Life in the Soviet Union as Seen Through the Eyes of a Child and a Teenager" is a collection of thought and wisdom from Antonette Sabonaitis as she recalls her childhood in Lithuania and how looking back she contrasts it to her modern life and how much has changed since the fall of the USSR. "UNTE" is poignant and thoughtful, recommended.

The Red-Headed, Freckle-Faced, Barefoot Boy
Clarence M. Rincker
Vantage Press
419 Park Ave., South, New York, NY 10016
9780533163144, $25.00,

As the world went to war, many farm boys saw their future ahead of them. "The Red-Headed, Freckle-Faced, Barefoot Boy" is a memoir of World War II veteran Clarence M. Rincker as he tells his own story of his path through life and the war. A down to earth story of America in the first half of the twentieth century and a personal perspective of it, "The Red-Headed, Freckle-Faced, Barefoot Boy" is a solid addition to memoir collections.

The Big C
Nina Nortstrom
Vantage Press
419 Park Ave. South New York, NY 10016
9780533160037, $14.95,

Cancer can strike anyone, which is exactly what makes it so frightening. "The Big C: A Weapon of Death" is a personal memoir from Nina Norstrom as she tells her own family's challenges with cancer and its many forms. With a bit of information on cancer and how it gets formed and what can be done to fight it, "The Big C" is personal and driven reading on what many of us fear.

Daniel Brako
9780958049139, $14.95

When you test the powers of magic, there is no certainty what will happen. "Cubeology" tells of Arian Ruri and his associates as they conduct a ritual as they find the ability to use magic to shape the world to their goals. But their meddling has consequences and someone shows up to help them escape it...or is their intent something else? "Cubeology" is an exciting tale, recommended.

Living with an Older Dog
David Alderton & Derek Hall
Hubble & Hattie
9781845843359, $24.95,

Just like humans, dogs face many challenges as they get up there in age. "Living with an Older Dog" is a care guide for those who want to care for their dog in their golden years and keep them healthy when they need the care the most. From understanding how dogs age, communicating with the vet, medicine, and when it's time to do the inevitable, David Alderton & Derek Hall provide readers with a great deal of wisdom and understanding. "Living with an Older Dog" is a choice and very highly recommended read for dog lovers, a resource not to be missed.

Regarding Ducks & Universes
Neve Maslakovic
Amazon Encore
PO Box 400818, Las Vegas, NV 89140
9781935597346, $13.95

Snooping around in alternate universe isn't the best way to make friends. "Regarding Ducks & Universes" follows one Filex Sayers as he finds a photograph of himself that's ten days older than he is. Crossing over into an alternate San Francisco to learn what's going on, he finds that the universe may be gunning for him, figuratively and literally. "Regarding Ducks & Universes" is a fun blend of science fiction and mystery, highly recommended.

Night Whispers
D. B. Frank
Privately Published
9781456522872, $9.95

Humanity is anything but an absolute. "Night Whispers" is a collection of poetry from D. B. Frank as he offers a certain degree of thought and opinion on humanity, nature, good and evil. Profound and simple, "Night Whispers" is not a collection to be overlooked. "Darkness": Darkness rises,/overtakes thought,/pushes reason aside,/as it bubbles out in harsh words.//Limits, there are limits,/when reached, or exceeded,/cannot be reigned back,/and damage is done./Darkness, ever present, hiding, lurking, brooding,/growing, just waiting for the boundary to be passed.

Willis M. Buhle

Burroughs' Bookshelf

Famous Personalities Honored on Stamps
Marc A. Shampo, Robert A. Kyle, & Werner Heidel
Vantage Press
419 Park Ave. South New York, NY 10016
9780533163618, $22.95,

One must be truly exceptional to earn their place on a stamp. "Famous Personalities Honored on Stamps: Links to Medicine" looks at the people who through the medical profession and relations to it made their impact on the world and gained a bit of their immortality through honor on postage. These stories use the postage stamp as the common link between them, focusing on their endeavors instead of the stamps themselves. "Famous Personalities Honored on Stamps" is an intriguing look at the many people who furthered medicine.

Public Trust Betrayed
James E. Manning
Tate Publishing
127 E Trade Center Terrace, Mustang, OK 73064-4421
9781617393679, $14.99,

When trust is betrayed, it takes a long time to make a recovery. "Public Trust Betrayed: The Truth Behind the Real Estate Appraisal Industry" is a criticism of the lack of transparency in the real estate appraisal industry that has driven it corrupt and untrustworthy, hurting the whole system it is apart of and leaving the real estate system in shambles. Calling for investigation of the industry and those that are related, "Public Trust Betrayed" is a thoughtful delve into this business, highly recommended.

Why America is Sick
Daivd J. Henderson
Tate Publishing & Enterprises
127 E. Trade Center Terrace, Mustang, OK 73064
9781617398513, $24.99,

Overall health is more important than one could truly know. "Why America is Sick: But You Don't Have to Be" is an analysis from physiologist David Henderson, as he urges good practices to attain general health that will keep one up and active, while avoiding pitfalls of poor health, which all too many Americans fall into. "Why America is Sick" is filled with thoughtful wisdom that is useful for any age.

Did You Can?
Outskirts Press
10940 S Parker Road - 515, Parker, CO 80134
9781432762636, $12.95,

To search for the meaning behind it all is the question that hounds us all through life's challenges. "Did You Can: 6 One Short stories" is an assortment of six short stories that ask that question, as Mohammadreza Aazami Bafrani seeks to ask these questions and offers many unique answers that leave the readers with many more questions to ask. "Did You Can" is a worthy pick for those looking for short fiction.

Makers of the Modern World William Hughes
Carl Bridge
Haus Publishing
9781905791903, $19.95,

The change of the future will not be through force of arms, but through rational discussion. "Makers of the Modern World: The Peace Conference of 1919-23 and their Aftermath" is a look at the work of William Hughes of Australia, his adopted homeland. Becoming the Prime Minister of the country twice, his was a first and foremost advocate of peaceful world wide progress, and worked with other world leaders towards this goal. His attitude and personally disloyal nature didn't earn him many friends, but his impact on history and the world cannot be denied. "Makers of the Modern World" presents another fine entry, highly recommended for historical and biographical collections.

Odyssey of an Etruscan Noblewoman
Rosalind Burgundy
1663 South Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
1413416225, $22.99,

The desire to be independent and live one's own life fueled some women when such an idea was a taboo. "Odyssey of an Etruscan Noblewoman" is a historical novel following ambitious Larthia as she follows her path through the ancient world to go against the fate of a woman at the time, becoming a scribe and traveling the known world, facing endless adversity and the drive for life. "Odyssey of an Etruscan Noblewoman" is a riveting novel of the ancient world, recommended.

Tuey's Course
James Ross
1663 South Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
9781436389938, $19.99,

A country club can hide something more sinister than a golf course. "Tuey's Course" tells of Black lawyer Tuey O'Tweety as his life on the golf course turns sour quickly, facing racial pressure. Golf Pro J Dub Schroeder soon sees Tuey become involved in something truly strange, the truth behind everything may be much stranger and bizarre than he knows. "Tuey's Course" is an exciting read, not easy to put down. Also from James Ross is "Finish Line" (9781436333269, $19.95), another golfing inspired adventure, this time following two teenagers as a summer break goes terribly wrong.

John Burroughs

Carson's Bookshelf

The Greater Generation
Phil Holt
Vantage Press
419 Park Ave. South New York, NY 10016
9780533157341, $13.95,

In the first half the twentieth century, America began its transition to superpower. "The Greater Generation" is a memoir from Phil Holt as he reflects on life being born in 1934, giving him a glimpse of the home front of World War II and the conflicts that have followed. Through civil strife and the rapidly changing world, "The Greater Generation" is a thoughtful read of personal struggles.

The Making of a Nurse
G. Scott
Vantage Press
419 Park Ave. South New York, NY 10016
9780533161591, $13.95,

What leads one to a life of success? "The Making of a Nurse" is a novel from G. Scott, as she reflects on her own early life and the challenges that came along with it. Speaking on how she grew up and chose the path of the nurse, she tells quite the story of the struggles of success and hopes to inspire other readers with her story. "The Making of a Nurse" is a charming read with plenty to absorb.

Sherri Gough
Outskirts Press
10940 S Parker Road - 515, Parker, CO 80134
9781432764654, $30.95,

It can be very easily to let life go fatalist. "Dust: A Book for Broken People" is a guide for finding the strength to carry on in life when one faces the crisis of life where they feel nothing that they do will matter and that it is all for naught. Filled with inspirations and full color photos throughout, Sherri Gough looks to inspire readers well, making "Dust" a choice to think about for self-help collections.

Healing the Separation
Jeffrey Fore
Outskirts Press
10940 S Parker Road - 515, Parker, CO 80134
9781432768492, $12.95,

The power to attain something more out of life is one's own. "Healing the Separation: A Journey Within" is spiritual Christian guide from Rev. Jeffrey Fore as he seeks to teach and help readers understand their own power in life and help them gain a greater understanding of their own spirituality and happiness. With a focus on the power of the self to heal, "Healing the Separation" is a thoughtful read, recommended.

The Message
JR Sellazzo
Outskirts Press
10940 S Parker Road - 515, Parker, CO 80134
9781432767921, $10.95,

Everyone has a story. "The Message" is a biographical novel from JR Sellazzo as he reflects on his life's challenges and where he came from, and the challenges and tragedies in his life, focusing on the death of the his best friend and the heartbreak that seemed to come at him all at once. "The Message" is a riveting read that will prove quite difficult to put down, highly recommended.

Freeway Close
Susan Calhoun
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781438963075, $15.95

Sometimes the devil you know is scarier than the devil you don't. "Freeway Close" follows Julie as she flees the rage of her husband, only to be stranded on the freeway. Fearing her husband would catch her, she sees no choice but to accept the assistance of a certain stranger who offers it on the freeway. A novel of facing the unknown while fleeing the known, "Freeway Close" is an exciting read that should prove hard to put down.

Cosmic Conspiracy
Patricia McLaine
Privately Published
9781453754597, $18.98

The life of a psychic is one with a drive to try to bring what joy you can. "Cosmic Conspiracy: Psychic to the Rich and Famous" is a memoir from Patricia McLaine as she recounts her own journey through life and how she gained famous clients and helped shape their careers for the better. Thoughtful and intriguing on the insight on the many types of life, "Cosmic Conspiracy" is a metaphysical memoir that will intrigue those who wish to know the life and ways of the psychic.

Michael J. Carson

Clark's Bookshelf

Don Winslow
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
9780446561921, $25.99,

With current news focused on the tragedy in Japan, it seems ironic that a novel is released on March 7th which is approximately about the same timing as the tsunami and earthquake struck there. "Satori" by Don Winslow starts in Tokyo in 1951, but is not about atomic energy or anything related to it.

"Satori" is considered a prequel which resurrects Nicholai Hel, who was a martial arts expert, created by Trevanian in 1979 in "Shibumi." The original creation sold 2.3 million copies and has been considered by many as one of the classic thrillers of the 20th century.

Trevanian is the pseudonym for Rodney Whitaker who died in 2005. He wrote "The Eiger Sanction" which was his first novel.

Carrying the baton in the next leg of the career of Nicholai Hel, Don Winslow is no stranger to the literary scene having written "The Power of the Dog," "The Life and Death of Bobby Z," and "Savages," to name a few.

Creation of a masterful character took some clever thought to what attributes he must possess and how to use them. Nicholai Hel was wrapped into a complete package which opened when he used his skills. He was a master of hoda korosu or "naked kill," fluent in seven languages, and had honed extraordinary "proximity sense" - an extra-awareness of the presence of danger. He became the world's most fearsome assassin and the CIA recruited him. In exchange for the promise of money, freedom, and a neutral passport he was to go to Beijing and kill the Soviet Union's Commissioner to China!

SATORI: A Japanese Buddhist term for individual enlightenment, or understanding. A flash of sudden awareness, or Enlightenment.

The resilience of Hel is shown several times during the unfolding of this novel. He is attacked by assassins, shot by others and is forced to defend himself by killing several enemies at a time. He is 26 years old and has mastered his destiny in becoming a great spy. Winslow is able to intricately weave situations where the reader will be swept into the action and must move through the chapters in rapid succession so that the impact of what is happening is not diminished.

This book can become a classic spy novel in its own right without smudging the memory of Nicholai Hel's creator Trevanian. Don Winslow should be proud of this accomplishment and write sequels to this prequel! "Satori" is highly recommended for mystery and spy fans as a must read in the 21st century!

An Improvised Life: A Memoir
Alan Arkin
Da Capo Press
c/o Perseus Books Group
11 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142
9780306819667, $17.00,

Alan Arkin is one of those household names you mention and immediately recognize. His acting career is so well known as being one which conveys to his audience that whatever he appears in is bound to be good! The same holds true with his book "An Improvised Life" a memoir, but as you will see it is certainly more than this.

Alan Arkin was born in Brooklyn on March 26, 1934. His parents encouraged his acting career right from the time he was five years old. His father took him to see theater and Alan says he knew from that early exposure he wanted to be an actor and these early years were hectic as he learned his craft. Educationally he went to an all-girls school in Vermont (Bennington) on a scholarship as they needed to have male actors as a part of their repertoire in presenting plays. Arkin's previous academics were not outstanding, but he describes his acceptance as being easy as he became a drinking partner with the head of the English Department who had taken a liking to him. Alan Arkin spent two years with 2nd City in Chicago which he describes as giving him 30 years of experience. He went to Broadway after this stint and then on to become a star of great magnitude. His contacts with other actors led to his becoming a director. He felt that he had short-comings in this area and was hesitant to take over the responsibility of a play which was floundering. However, after the first director left, the replacement left, the actors were desperate to save the play. He relented and the play went on!

Not to diminish the accomplishments in his career which include an Oscar for his role in "Little Miss Sunshine" or his being in the Academy of Music in New York City, but the most amazing part of this book is Part II.

Alan Arkin was invited by the Dean of Bennington to give the Commencement address. Not being comfortable with this, he came to a satisfactory alternative for his alma mater. He would put on an improvisational workshop which would be attended by 35 students who ranged from freshmen to seniors that took place in the 1990's when he decided trying this. The result was a successful presentation to the rest of the student body. After that, he started having workshops where people from various walks of life would attend and learn more than just improvisation. Actors, lawyers, doctors, mothers, fathers, and the like attended.

One of the workshops was described in magnificent detail. The philosophy of Alan Arkin shone through. He demonstrated in his writing when a scene needed to move on and when to add more characters to achieve a result. Alan also showed that by restarting an improvisational sketch it could lead to a different conclusion. What he also observed was that the main theme of an improvisation really was a reflection of the characters themselves. In his workshop segment he describes the satisfaction he received when he heard from one of the participants how they had achieved self-realization and were able to make changes in their life

A lot of food for thought is contained in Part II. Alan was able to convey a message which could very well be the topic of another book. This book is highly recommended.

Clark Isaacs

Crocco's Bookshelf

Milo Moon
Derek Haines
100 Enterprise Way, Suite A200, Scotts Valley, CA 95066
1451553471, $15.95,

Derek Haines book, Milo Moon, is a story that has a ring of familiarity. It touches on the sci-fi with a hint of political suspense. The author's strength is the fun he has creating his characters. Any reader will enjoy the adventures of Milo and Mary, which is the compelling reason to finish the book.

The prose and dialogue are simple which makes for an easy read. There are a few occurrences which automatically categorize the book for adults. Without these scenes Milo Moon could have been enjoyed by young adults, obviously, not the author's choice for this story.

I recommend Milo Moon for the sci-fi audience. I could see a fan wondering what Milo and Mary would look like on the big screen.

Derek Haines
100 Enterprise Way, Suite A200, Scotts Valley, CA 95066
1450535526, $15.95,

Derek Haines describes his friend, Louis, as an enigma. He reflects how Louis was someone who taught him how to imagine. Haines engages his readers to travel alongside Louis to all parts of the world. At the end of the trip, we all wish we were friends of Louis.

Teremum was born in Cairo. As a young boy, his almost non-existent family contributed to a perfect resume for being a spy in the British Secret Service. As a spy, Louis led a secret life where he used both his Egyptian and English heritage to his advantage. He used different names to match his secret identities. He was a compassionate man who completed his missions with integrity. As a spy, he had to kill and also be a target. We feel his triumphs and his pain as we travel with Louis.

Louis is a historical fiction, and the author shares his secret life during both World Wars. Readers feel the emotions, the ups and downs, that Louis experiences. One of my favorite phrases in the book is . . . his mind started to wander the corridors of his life again. Derek Haines's words sum up how Louis felt after suffering a severe stroke. Throughout the book, Derek once again makes us feel his characters true to life.

The ending was abrupt. I selfishly wanted the last chapter expounded. Without spoiling the ending, I am thinking, maybe a sequel Derek?

A Cowboy's Touch
Denise Hunter
Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
1595548017, $14.99,

Romance Western Style!

Chicago city girl meets Montana Big Sky cowboy. Abigail is a workaholic expose writer who decides to expose Wade, the handsome cowboy, in an effort to save her mother's magazine in Chicago. Circumstances get in the way and the article is never printed for the public.

It's the circumstances that draw the reader to enjoy this western style romance. There is a spiritual message about redemption and forgiveness. The characters wrestle with these emotions and it's their decisions that compel the reader to reflect on our own decisions.

Denise Hunter describes her main characters, Abigail, Wade, and his daughter Maddy, with amazing detail. The reader feels part of the family from beginning to end. At times we experience ambiguous feelings as they struggle with their decisions.

I recommend A Cowboy's Touch to readers of all ages, definitely for the young adult ladies. Wade's daughter, Maddy, is a spunky character the young reader will thoroughly enjoy. It's a nice way to spend an evening, and a bonus if you like cowboys!

Fighting the Devil
Jeannie Walker
c/o Author House
1663 Liberty Dr. Suite #300, Bloomington, IN 47403
1450213030, $22.95,

After reading this true mystery murder, I realize Jeannie Walker is a much better person than I am or ever will be. This is the story of a woman who was abused physically and emotionally by her husband, yet when he dies, she takes on the burden of solving her ex-husbands death. It is believed he was murdered, poisoned over time, by his new wife and his book keeper.

I don't understand her reasoning. Yes, she has two children by this man, but the things he did to her, including the fact that she had to give up custody of her son and daughter when they were young, just doesn't equal her efforts in my mind. I also don't buy into the fact he was going to change after many, many years of being a bastard.

The story takes place in Texas. After years of living low, Jeannie makes her husband's dreams come true (in the midst of abuse) and they become wealthy. Actually he alone enjoys the wealth because he throws Jeannie out. He only remarries to have a domestic slave.

The gist of the book is about Jeannie's efforts trying to prove his wife and book keeper poisoned him to death. The book keeper does do time in prison, but the wife never gets charged to this day.

If anything, the book should leave the reader extremely angry with the justice system.

It's hard not to feel sorry for Jeannie Walker. But it's because of the abuse she endured by her ex-husband, not because she is still involved in getting justice served. I will never understand why she took this burden upon herself right from the beginning. However, today, her children are no longer young and could resume this painful burden, and Jeannie be there for support, but it always was and is just misplaced efforts on her part. The man, as her husband, wasn't worth it. As Jeannie describes him as a father, she shows he wasn't much to be proud of either. At this time, if an investigation is imminent, it makes more sense for the children to be at the helm.

Tiger's Curse
Colleen Houck
1402784031, $17.95

A summer job like no other!

Kelsey, a young woman looking for a summer job, lands one in a local circus in Oregon. She takes care of a beautiful white Bengal tiger named Dhiren. Kelsey is unaware of the true mystery of this white tiger as she develops a caring relationship with him.

After two weeks caring for Dhiren, the owner of the circus announces that Dhiren was bought and will be set free in a tiger preserve in India. Kelsey is overcome with mixed emotions. She wants the tiger to be free, but knows she will miss him terribly.

Mr. Kadam, the man who bought Dhiren, realizes how much Kelsey loves his tiger, and how Dhiren responds to Kelsey, and asks her to take the trip to India with him to assure a good trip for Dhiren. Both Mr. Kadam and Dhiren have hidden motives unbeknown to Kelsey.

This is where Kelsey's summer job becomes like no other! She finds out the true mystery of Ren, the beautiful white Bengal tiger, who she innocently took care of back home in the circus.

The story doesn't miss a beat involving readers to experience the deep culture of India, along with its magical legends and mythology. The adventures take place as Kelsey and Ren try to survive the creatures of India's jungles. At the same time, the readers share the budding romance between Kelsey and Ren as Kelsey tries to break the Tiger's Curse. It's impossible to stop reading until we find out if Kelsey and Ren becomes a couple and if the Tiger's Curse gets broken.

Dead Men
Derek Haines
B004RVBM1Y, $2.99

The Hell of Divorce

This is a story about the hell of divorce from the point of view of three men. They are angry, bitter, depressed, and lonely. They have lost their jobs, homes, and their children. Any money they eventually earn goes to child-support. They feel the Family Court favors women and they try to beat the system. These men did not exactly grow up in nurturing homes, which definitely adds to their outlooks on life.

Within a few months, divorce turned three men into confused and bored women haters. David and Tony's wives discarded them, both had cheated on them. Steve felt his wife measured him by his salary, which he increased with petty criminal activities.

David, an innovative salesman; Tony, a hard working owner of a transport company; and Steve, a well-qualified and dependable accountant, are reduced to feeling useless and worthless to their families and society in general. They end up twisting their skills using illegal activities.

The story begins in their birth city of Perth, Australia. The men move to Sydney, Australia where they all meet by chance, calling themselves The Three Musketeers. This is where the story develops. The reader experiences the trials and tribulations these men experience during and after their divorces. We listen to the ramblings of broken men who can't be seen as weak. They don't know how to talk about their emotions and/or feelings in a healthy way. We watch how they do handle life, which isn't very pretty.

Readers will have different opinions regarding how the story ends for Tony and Steve. David's ending, where he meets his match, will have readers hoping for the best for him.

The book is dark as the story is rough. Derek Haines strength is developing his characters, and he does an extraordinary job describing three distasteful men who deal with their circumstances in the only way they knew how. While doing so, he does offer his readers a different perspective in the difficult matter of the hell of divorce.

Mary Crocco

Daniel's Bookshelf

The Bride Collector
Ted Dekker
Center Street
c/o Hachette Book Group, Inc.
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
9781599951966 $24.99

I already have read several of Ted Dekker's novels. I had the pleasure to read his last novel entitled Boneman's Daughters, and this author is now one of my favorite thriller writers. His novel are excellent in depicting high adrenaline-laced plots with amazing battles between good and evil. I am now seeking copies of his earlier novels to read in-between my new copy readings.

A ritualistic serial killer is setting up his victims in a remote setting to leave them propped up in an unusual manner, and they are the most beautiful women he finds all to display for God's love. So far he has left six young women to be found. FBI Brad Raines, and a leading forensic psychologist Nikki Holden seek out the sites to investigate the killings. The only problem is that they are no closer to ending these horrific slayings, and the FBI are always one step behind the killer. Brad is desperate for any additional help, and insight for figuring out the pattern of the rituals. He turns to the Center of Wellness and Intelligence, which is a private home for gifted and mentally ill residents. Allison Johnson, the CWI director, offers her assistance in picking four unlikely resident patients to help solve the case. Raines is focused on one young woman of the group named Paradise. He is attracted and strangely focused with her. She struggles with psychosis, and lack of trust with men due to her own abusive past issues. The two of them are drawn closer and he begins to see world through her eyes. The two of them enter the killer's deadly game as they move in close to his world. The real problem is that the killer known as the Bride Collector by the veil and his placing makeup he puts on his victims. He is also as intelligently gifted as Paradise. The seekers of him are at a disadvantage because this is the Bride Collector's game, and his rules. Paradise learns about how to be beautiful and be loved. She has to work through with her psychotic skills the cat and mouse game played by the Collector. Another member of the group from CWI offers some help too, and it gets the wheels in motion to also closing in on this intelligent perpetrator. The wit and surprising twists keep the reader locked into the end. Raines and Paradise have an equal foe to his every chess move, and quick thinking move.The Collector is that evil someone who has no patience from finishing up his last victim according to his own special designed plan.

Ted Dekker is a New York Times bestselling author and this book appeared on the list right after being released. He has written more than twenty novels, and his novels are on upper plane of accelerating thrillers that hold a captive audience on a exciting ride. The stories contain twists and action-packed plots not found consistently among many authors. I consider him one of the 'best of the best authors' in the country writing thrillers displaying how good has to deal with very intelligent evil. I look forward to his next novel, and I hope to start going back to catch up on his earlier ones.

Lost Souls
Dean Koontz
Bantam Books
c/o Random House Inc.
1745 Broadway 3rd Floor, New York, NY, 10019
9780553808018 $27.00

I first started reading Koontz with the book named Watchers, and I keep going back to some of his books as time permits with my large list of authors. Amazing I discover new authors by happen-chance due to wanting to see what's out there. Frankenstein is one of my fasciations in horror and science fiction that tickled my interest watching those late night movies on Scare theater as a kid. I caught many movies, and I enjoyed delving into the realm of fright and scary type movies. These managed to keep me awake with the suspense and evil vs. good plots. In this case a community is arising so the distinct lines are slowly getting drawn with recognition in the story that something is brewing and it's not good for normal people. I see that each installment of this series builds up with changes, and new adoptions of the plot. I should point out that the evil is not so easily brushed away. The good people have a tough time noticing, until it's too late for many good citizens to continue in the life they once knew. The people then see they have to learn to live differently or not at all in a community, that is going to be so changed for the worst.

A small town in Montana called Rainbow Falls is the secret hiding place for the war on humanity begins with Victor Leben once known as Frankenstein is planning the future and ready to populate it. He is using stem cells "organic" silicon circuitry and nanotechnology to engender a race of super humans. This will form the perfect blend of flesh and machine. His plan stems from the confidence that nothing and no one can stop him. The replacement replicates kill the original people in the town and this evil is seemingly winning the war.

Five people are by happenstance put together to prove his ultimate goal wrong otherwise the fate of the human race is in jeopardy. At an earlier time they thought they saw Victor Leben die, the man somehow live on. Detectives Carson O' Connor and Michael Maddison along with Victor's engineered wife Erika 5 and her companion Jocko. The fifth companion is the original Victor's first creation, Deucalion who is tormented by his existence. The five will join alliance for the second renewal to be tested by forces in the town, and those who are battling the same survival to not be taken by those that want to replace them. All of this gives them inner strength and perseverance, that they were unaware until it became known to them. It is hard to say what resources they will need for this over whelming battle. This might be a loss or victory, all depending, if their efforts accomplish enough to deter Victor. It remains to be seen what he has in store for them, if he somehow becomes the champion and gets his way.

Dean Koontz has written almost 100 books He has revised some of his book and expanded one of his earlier novels, so the listing is about 113 total to-date. Also included in this listing are three graphic novels and one novella. I have read many of his books, and keep rounding up, as I can catch those I missed through time into new books. I am enjoying the Frankenstein series only because I like these type of plots. I also have enjoyed The Walking Dead series on AMC channel this past fall. I have kept up with this series which now adds up to four with one coming out this spring (2011) entitled The Dead Town.

Daniel Allen

Gary's Bookshelf

Scott Heydt
Helm Publishing
PO Box 9691, Treasure Island, FL 33740-9691
9780982060506, $10.00,

The author tackles a number of social issues and does it very well. I was amazed how insightful the writer, a male, was to tell the story of a female ninth grader dealing with all of the things she has going on. His characters are believable while the situations are real ones kids face every day. The story moves along at a fast pace that will have readers turning pages. I look forward to seeing other things from this author in the future.

And Then It Was Tea Time
Laurie Nienhaus, compiler
Gilded Lady Publishing
P O Box 2576, Fort Myers Beach Florida
9780979238901, $9.95,

I did not know what to expect when I came across this book. I thought maybe this is a little trade paperback about the history of the drink so many of us love to indulge in. But when I began to read through it I found that is not what it is at all. The author has compiled statements through the years about the beverage. She uses passages of novels, movies, and real life to show how people feel about tea. I was a bit surprised but the book is a lot of fun and, is a perfect gift for any occasion. I was recently informed that January is National Tea Month.

Close -Ups Conversations With Our TV Favorites
Eddie Lucas
Bear Manor Media
P.O. Box 71426 Albany, Georgia 31708
1593931204, $22.99,

I love books like this because they bring us up to date on what stars of classic TV shows are doing presently. The author interviewed Tony Dow, Barbara Billingsley from "Leave it to Beaver;" Dwayne Hickman, "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis;" Stanley Livingston, "My Three Sons;" Jon Provost, "Lassie;" Ernest Thomas, and Heywood Nelson, "What's Happening;" There are many little tidbits for any fan and trivia buffs. For instance, June Lockhart did not come on the show until Provost's second season. Tony Dow talks about how the actors have never been paid for the boxed sets of DVDs, Stanley Livingston shows the differences in the industry from when he was doing the show and now. I think this would make a great series of books.

How To Talk to Girls
Alec Greven
Harper Collins Children's Books
10 East 53rd Street New York, NY 10022
9780061718236, $6.99,

I have to say I had a difficult time believing this book because the author is only nine years old. The things he says are for an older audience and I just found it hard to grasp that this kid is talking to children his age. I know that when I was his age being with a girl was the last thing a boy wanted to do. I have also watched the press fall all over itself to interview and talk about this author and his book. I felt like this is Charlie Brown talking to kids about how to find a valentine sweetheart. The book is cute but I just don't buy into the concept.

From the Heart Eight Rules to Live By
Robin Roberts
77 West 66th Street NY, NY 10023-6298
9781401309589, $14.95,

Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts for the first time reveals her amazing life story. She takes readers on a journey as a college basketball star, ESPN host and how she landed her current job. The book is much more than just a woman making it big in the journalism world. She talks about her siblings and how they compare to her. She talks about goals you make for yourself, having faith in God, and a strong family unit. Her parents were there for her and they taught her several things that she tells readers. Do not use excuses like race or gender when you do not get what you want. When she tried to use race as the reason she did not get a job they were tough on her and said maybe she was not good enough yet. She shows that you have to be honest with yourself and work harder for what you want. She tells all about her life before breast cancer and after, and why she decided to reveal she had the disease. The book is an inspirational journey through life.

Battlestar Galatica: Somewhere Beyond The Heavens
David Criswell & Richie F. Levine
Bear Manor Media
P.O. Box 71426 Albany, Georgia 31708
1591099935, $32.95,

I, like many, am a big fan of the original series. The authors have written a very detailed study of the initial program that lasted only one season and the reborn show currently on the Sci-Fi network. They tell how the show began, the problems it had getting on the air, episode guides with notes and commentaries, a possible second season, the law suits with George Lucas, and studies of the first two seasons of the Sci-Fi mega hit. I was disappointed because they did not tell about the changes that had to be done because of the lawsuit. One was that the intro monologue had to be reworked. Those of us who have the DVD theatrical version are fortunate because it has not been changed. They also like fans shun away from the series that followed "Galactica 1980." They talk about one episode only because the character of "Starbuck" is in the episode. Even with its faults it is one of the best resources on the show and no fan should miss it.

Nemesis Returns
Glenda C. Finkelstein
Aisling Press
97801934677452, $15.99,

I've read and reviewed just about everything this author has produced so far and I have to say this is the best thing I have had the opportunity to critique. The characters are very well defined, while the writing is much faster paced. This sequel to "Nemesis Rising" begins 10 years after the disaster on Neptune Station and deals with many of the same issues. At conventions of science fiction two of the popular topics are can you mix genres, and does religion have a place in science fiction? I think the key to the two questions is. Is it done well? I am happy to say Glenda Finkelstein mixes elements of religion, horror, sf, and mystery in generous doses that move the story along to the surprising ending and she does it so well. The cover with the character with the green eyes first drew my attention to want to re-enter the "Nemesis" universe and then I was rewarded with a story that is just a remarkable science fiction novel.

Daymare And Other Tales From The Pulps
Fredric Brown
Wildside Pulp Classics
1434494454, $14.95,

Finally, after so many years of being out of print these stories are back to reach whole new audiences. Brown is one of the lesser known writers of the 1940's 1950's and 1960's who was a master of the twist of an ending tale. Many readers know Ray Bradbury or Stephen King .and that's about it. Brown's most famous short story is "Arena" that was the basis for the "Star Trek "episode. "Daymare." It is a bizarre blend of mystery and science fiction. The four other stories here are gems as well. I hope to see other books re-issued by this company

Out There
Diane Fanning
St. Martins Press
175 Fifth Avenue New York NY 10010
9780312949303, $6.99,

This is the book on the case that shocked the nation when a well-respected female astronaut of NASA went berserk, stalked another woman in the Orlando International Airport and pepper sprayed her victim in the parking lot. The country was stunned to learn segments of the story that the press first began reporting. Now, true crime writer Diane Fanning delves between the layers of this bizarre case of a love triangle that gave another black eye to the struggling space agency. Lisa Nowak from an early age wanted to be an astronaut. Her mother thought it was just a passing fancy. But Nowak was driven to be one of the few women to fly on space missions. She studied all of the right courses, went into the military, then trained with NASA and was determined to fly on a Space Shuttle mission, which she did. Fanning also shows that Nowak got married, had children, and had the perfect life. But something was just not enough. She had an affair with William Oefelein who was also married. Both Nowak's and Oefelein's marriages ended in divorce. Oefelein also did not let Nowak know that he was dating Colleen Shipman, an Air Force Captain. Nowak learned of the relationship and became obsessed with harming Shipman. Reports of the press said that Nowak drove straight through from Houston Texas to Orlando International Airport. Fanning shows that that is not quite true. She did drive from Houston but made an overnight stop in the panhandle Florida. I like how Fanning begins the book with the crime, then takes the reader through the childhood of Nowak, moves through her career in the military and NASA and later shows the beginning of her downfall and soon after her many appearances in federal court in Orlando. OUT THERE is a top-notch piece of reporting that reveals so much the public never knew about this disturbing case.

Hey Mon Caribbean Cooking Magic
Errol Bishop

For a touch of the Caribbean this is the perfect recipe booklet. There are many spicy wonderful dishes that are easy to prepare. This is a great little cookbook that is a perfect gift for any occasion.

Gary Roen

Gloria's Bookshelf

Every Bitter Thing
Leighton Gage
Soho Crime
853 Broadway, NY, NY 10003
9781569478455, $25.00,

On the opening page of Leighton Gage's newest book, the fourth in his series featuring the Brazilian Chief Inspector Mario Silva, the reader is introduced to Jonas Palhares, a petroleum engineer who is very soon after brutally murdered in his Ipanema apartment. This is but one of several murders committed in the same manner, and with the same weapons. A famous social psychologist is soon found dead in Sao Paulo State. But when the next victim is the son of the Venezuelan foreign minister and former ambassador to Brazil, the political implications become quickly obvious, and the investigation goes into high gear.

Silva, chief inspector for criminal matters with the Federal Police, is described as "a repository of totally useless information," but self-described as possessing "occasionally amazing instances of insight. He teams up with the head of the Brasilia civil police, as well as his usual team members, including Arnaldo Nunes and Haraldo "Babyface" Goncalves, known as the Federal Police's Lothario. The body count rises, and the cops are frustrated by the fact that there seems to be no common denominator among the victims.

The author provides another glimpse into a world and a country with which this reader and I suspect many others are unfamiliar [despite my having traveled there twice, but I'm pretty sure tourism doesn't count]. We are given examples of ". . . how things work in this country . . . how the rich and powerful get justice and the rest of us can go to hell." The investigation proceeds rapidly to try to find the killer before more bodies appear, and the ending is as logical as it is startling. A thoroughly satisfying novel, and recommended.

Critical Condition
CJ Lyons
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014
9780515148688, $7.99,

The fourth and apparently last novel in this well-written series finds a changed dynamic in the relationships among the various protagonists, all health care workers at the fictional Angels of Mercy Medical Center in Pittsburgh. Those changes are brought about by the events that took place in the closing pages of the prior book, "Urgent Care," culminating in the shooting of one of them, nineteen days before the start of the present book. That one was Detective Jerry Boyle, whose fiancee, Dr. Gina Freeman, now finds herself taking care of him instead of the other way around.

After having been in a coma for three days after having been shot in the head and abdomen, he is now recovering at Angels after having a blood clot and a bullet removed from his brain, and is being tended to by Gina and the other friends/colleagues at the hospital: Amanda Mason, Gina's roommate and a fourth-year medical student; Lucas Stone, Amanda's fiance and Jerry's neurologist; Nora Halloran, the by-the-book ER charge nurse; her fiance, Seth, a surgical resident; Trey, district chief of Pittsburgh's EMS; and Lydia Fiore, the ER charge nurse who was the real target that night. All the action - and there is plenty of it! - takes place within the hours surrounding New Year's Eve, making their only New Year's resolution as basic as a determination to simply live through the night.

Lydia has a secret, arising from her mother's murder eighteen years ago when she was only twelve, which led to her now being targeted by a hit man, and though they all escaped that event with no loss of life other than that of the hired killer, the danger still exists, and there are still killers out there determined not to let her get away again. Compounding this is that as they descend on Pittsburgh, so does a blizzard, which effectively shuts down the city when all power goes out and the roads are closed. With virtually all hospital staff and patients held hostage until Lydia is found and turned over to the killers, the ingenuity of all are tested. The author has again created a tension-filled narrative, and the life-and-death scenario kept me completely engaged right up until the exciting conclusion. It has been a treat to meet this ultra-competent group, and the series will be missed. Recommended.

Fourth Day
Zoe Sharp
Pegasus Books
80 Broad St., NY, NY 10005
9781605981215, $25.00,

Fourth Day is the name of a once subversive organization formed in the 1960's and known for its cult-like origins, but claiming to work wonders especially with vulnerable adolescents [and others] with delinquency and drug addiction problems. It has more recently been headed by one Randall Bane, its new and charismatic leader suspected of having more sinister ambitions.

This newest in the series brings back Charlotte ("Charlie") Fox and her lover, Sean Meyer, a junior partner in Armstrong-Meyer, a "close-protection" [read "bodyguard"] organization, now tasked with retrieving a man who has been living within Fourth Day's grounds on its large real-estate holdings in Southern California. Their 'target,' Thomas Witney, had initially infiltrated the organization five years prior to get proof that Fourth Day was responsible for the death of his son, but for some reason never left. There is some question as to whether or not he will come willingly, but they are told that that is not to be an obstacle. When things go awry, Charlie volunteers to herself infiltrate the organization, with appropriate back-up. What she finds is unexpected, to Charlie and the reader.

This is a fast-paced and suspenseful novel, as Charlie, now 29 years old, is going through some difficult times, personally and professionally. She is nonetheless at the top of her game, and that is very good indeed. The plot races through to a stunning conclusion, which left me more anxious than ever to read the next installment in the series. Highly recommended. [The title, btw, is a Biblical reference - Genesis to be precise - as well as having a double meaning in the final pages.]

Dead Like You
Peter James
Minotaur Books
c/o St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010
9780312642822, $25.99,

This fifth book in the superb Roy Grace series begins in 1997, when he was a 29-year-old Detective Sergeant, a meaningful time in his life, firstly because it was shortly before his wife, Sandy, walked out of his life never to be seen or heard from again, and secondly because it was when there was a serial rapist on the loose, a man dubbed the 'Shoe Man' who was believed to have raped at least five women and in all likelihood raped and killed a sixth victim whose body had never been found.

Then the book flashes forward to the present time, when a new series of rapes have occurred, following an almost identical m.o.: The Shoe Man had a shoe fetish, and always stole one of his victim's shoes. [Who knew that so many men - and women - obsessed about designer shoes? Well, I guess Imelda Marcos provided a clue about her gender. This reader learned more than she ever wanted to know about designer shoes and their prices - - WOW - - what a sheltered life I've led!] The two investigations are recounted in juxtaposition with each other through most of the book, each with rising suspense as to the fate of the sixth victim in the older case, and his next in the current case - the police are convinced it is only a matter of time before there is another, as the time span between attacks gets shorter and shorter.

Grace, now a Detective Superintendent, is trying to plan a wedding with his adored - and very pregnant - fiancee, Cleo. By contrast, the flashbacks to the beginnings of the 1997 killer/rapist's spree bring unbidden memories of Sandy, the wife who disappeared over 9 years earlier, with whom, ironically, he had tried desperately, and unsuccessfully, to conceive a child. Happily, Grace's old nemesis, Assistant Chief Constable Alison Vosper, is now gone, her replacement seemingly an amiable chap. The other members of the team are present and accounted for, and always interesting in their own right. As the case continues, there appear to be one or two red herrings present - or are they? Grace and his team are never quite sure whether or not there is a copycat out there, or at the least more than one serial killer with a shoe fetish and a dysfunctional childhood.

My only complaint with the novel is that it seemed to sag a bit in the middle with what seemed to be some amount of repetition. That said, the pace picks up quite a bit thereafter. The author has one last shock, and a bit of a cliffhanger, in store for the reader as the book nears its end - - not anything to leave one unsettled, but on the contrary hungry for the next book in the series.


Random Violence
Jassy Mackenzie
Soho Crime
853 Broadway, NY, NY 10003
9781569479117, $14.00,

Jade deJong, the headstrong protagonist of this terrific new novel, is a p.i. who has left her native South Africa, but following a ten-year absence has returned after, most recently, doing surveillance work in England. Her father, before his death, had been police commissioner in Johannesburg, described as a city filled with crime and brutality. The tale opens with the brutal murder of a young woman in what initially appears to have been an attempted carjacking, the first but hardly the last violent act in this novel.

Jade, thirty-four years old, has long-standing relationships with two men, who couldn't be less alike: David, a cop who trained under her father's mentorship and is now a Superintendent in the Johannesburg Central police headquarters, with whom she has a chaste friendship which she would like to see evolve into something more intimate; and Robbie, a small-time gangster whose own attempts at intimacy she rejects, but who serves a purpose. She has timed her return home with the expected release from prison of a convicted murderer who she blames for her father's death. Ultimately, her sense of justice, and her determination to see it done, provides her motivation despite some narrow escapes and the continuing jeopardy in which she finds herself.

The author, who was raised in South Africa, has written a debut novel which brings the country to gritty life, a fast-paced and gripping tale with memorable characters. Readers, including this one, can look forward to her follow-up entry in the series, "Stolen Lives," due out in April in hardcover.


Gloria Feit

Gorden's Bookshelf

Why Evolution is True
Jerry A. Coyne
Penguin Books
c/o Penguin Group (USA)
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780143116646, $16.00,

The educational mess caused by Creationists and Intelligent Design people in the schools has done one positive thing. It has produced a large number of readable scientific books on evolution. Why Evolution is True is one of these. It is a surprisingly readable analysis of the huge amount of scientific proof for evolution and a serious critique of how Intelligent Design fails repeatedly as any form of serious science. There is an importance here for science. There are stronger and stronger movements of fundamentalists in both Christianity and Islam who have merged ideas into trying to minimize their loss of perceived influence by creating a religious version of pseudo science. The fundamentalists are hoping to cash in on the obvious strengths of science for themselves. Books such as this bring the discussions from religious establishments and the messiness of extreme public politics directly to the individual. The one thing I have found missing from these discussions is a rigorous defense by the fundamentalists in how they manufacture their beliefs from so little theological support.

Evolution has so much supporting data that any single volume has to limit the discussion. Coyne has done this by keeping most of his supporting data limited to information he has worked with directly. This permits him to add personal touches into the text that produce a less formal relationship between the reader and the science. He covers all of the major topics and vast history of the world with proofs for the scientific data. The readability of the text makes it an excellent choice for any novice and its depth makes it a great companion for the technical reader. The scientific reader might lament that favorite facts are missing but the coherent building of the science compensates.

A factor in this discussion that has been left out is how important it is to keep science and religion separate. Enormous problems have occurred in the past when society permits religion to dominate non-religious aspects of life. The corruption of non-religious matters with faith is a topic that needs an open exploration. Hopefully this will soon occur.

Why Evolution is True is an excellent book for anyone, student or questioning adult, interested in the topic. It covers more than enough of the topic to be an excellent reference and does open both the scientific and religious mind to new avenues for their exploration.

The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule
Thomas Frank
Metropolitan Books
c/o Henry Holt & Company
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9780805079883, $25.00,

In The Wrecking Crew, Frank uses the core beliefs of the modern conservative movement with public statements and real policies of conservatives to open to the public what the movement is all about. He throws on the trash heap layer after layer of the public face of conservative thought and reveals its core design. The typical voter might not like what they read here but the broad and highly referenced analysis has to explored and considered when looking at today's politics. Conservatives will have a knee-jerk reaction against his story but they do need to study what he says. Every group has specific concepts and ideas that are prone to abuse. By knowing what has happened in the past, you can prevent those same things from happening in the future.

Frank takes the time to build up detail after detail with supporting facts and dates to bring out the policies of the far right. The analysis is powerful and convincing but can be summarized. The conservatives (not individually but as a group) consider business as god and government as Satan. With this theology, it is no big step to lie, cheat, corrupt and attack on behalf of your god. The surrounding policies and stands are flexible to conservatism -- a cloak to be change for the greater good when surrounding events change. Business is not moral, people are. Business only looks for the dollar and what it can buy. This underlying thought transcends core conservative beliefs. Business and the dollar are what matters and everything else is flexible.

Just a few examples are required to show this. Lies are plentiful with conservatives. They blame Liberals for budget problems but they are the ones who cause them. The trillions in debt can all be placed on conservative tax cutting and mismanagement, first under Reagan and then under Bush. (It can be noted that in recent history only the liberal administrations controlled and cut deficits.) Another lie is that only business can do things correctly and cheaply. This can be shown wrong with just two very public and recent events, Katrina and Iraq. With Katrina, the very well run FEMA had been dismantled and replaced with private contractors. The result was massive damage and repairs that cost many times over the real costs. Iraq is the same. Nearly immediately private contractors were brought in and the war cost thousands of times more than it should have and has lasted longer than previous conflicts from the mismanagement.

The next example is how business is run. You buy and sell. Since Reagan, that has been the systematic restructuring of the government by the conservatives. This has become institutionalized with the years of their rebuilding to such a degree that is how it is expected that to get a law passed -- you have to buy a lobbyist and pay fees for every government action. Under the conservatives the revolving door between business and government workers has been thrown open so instead of a trickle back and forth there is a flood with business and government now staffed by the same people.

Since business doesn't like regulation, regulatory bodies in the government are stripped of money and broken. When possible, total incompetents are installed -- oil company exec. for pollution control, drug company exec. for the FDA, company lawyer for labor...

With real examples, excruciatingly detailed in the book, Frank lays it out in chronological and scandal order. The serious voter needs to read this even if they are conservative. It highlights endemic problems within the conservative movement that needs to be addressed and that voters need to understand. If they don't, they will vote for the slogan and not for the reality. The conservative movement has crippled the government and brought us trillions in debt multiple times. This has happened because the voter hasn't looked directly at the messy job of governing and have let slogans prevail instead of real issues. This makes The Wrecking Crew a must read for all political sides.

S.A. Gorden, Reviewer

Gordon's Bookshelf

The Death of Torberta Turchin
Shannon Mawhiney
Kindle Books
B004OL2ONW, $2.99

Shannon Mawhiney's debut novel is a young adult ghost story you don't want to miss. If you liked "The Dead Father's Club," by Matt Haig or movies like "Ghost," "The Sixth Sense," "The Others," or "Ghost Town," you're going to love The Death of Torberta Turchin.

This masterfully written novel is about a fourteen-year-old girl, Torberta Turchin, who for nine years has lived in a boarding school for the mentally ill. Her distant relatives (the aunt and uncle of her cousin) put her there after she survived an auto accident in which she witnessed the brutal death of her parents. Following that trauma, not only had she become withdrawn and uncommunicative, but when she did speak, it was only to ghostly voices that no one else could hear.

Even Torberta (Torby, as she's known to her friends) is unsure if the ghosts are in her head or in her room, so in an attempt to be accepted by her adoptive family, she makes a concerted effort to ignore them, especially (and most painfully) the voice of her ghostly best friend, Charlie.

Of course that effort falls apart the day a boy named Cody comes to the school and can see the very ghosts that Torby is trying to ignore. It seems nothing ruins a good hallucination like someone else experiencing it, too. Unfortunately, that also means the ghostly presence that wants Torby dead is alive and well and will stop at nothing to affect her demise.

Few authors in modern gothic literature go out of their way to develop characters we can truly care about, but we do end up caring about Mawhiney's Torberta. In Torby's struggle to understand why she can't hear her own parents when she can hear so many other ghosts, we come to sympathize with her loneliness and isolation, especially in a world that doesn't seem to want her and over which she has little control.

As such, the story takes the shape of an allegory for an all too common tale in the lives of many real children—that is the story of abandonment. Those who live in state custody, or those who live in special institutions know it very well. Like Torberta Turchin, they are the forgotten ones.

Ironically, the school is called St. Christopher's, and herein we find the central symbolism of the story. St. Christopher is, after all, a martyr and the patron saint of travelers, and it's Torby's final journey via this school, along with her faith in that which is transcendent, that leads her to the hope of love and acceptance.

It's impossible to read "The Death of Torberta Turchin" and come away unaffected. The powerful theme of childhood abandonment forces us to examine our own issues in this regard. If one has ever been abandon through neglect, emotionally abandoned, actually abandoned, or abandoned through the abuse of those who were supposed to love them, this is a novel that will hit home on a gut level.

Ultimately, the concern we feel for Torby keeps us turning the pages as fast as we can. This is not an easy book to set down once you pick it up. As for me, I found it difficult to stay critically focused for this review; I kept being drawn into the story and away from my task at hand.

"The Death of Torberta Turchin" is not to be missed by fans of well-written ghost stories. I hope someone goes to work on the screenplay soon, because this would make a fantastic movie or a Broadway play. Fortunately, the novel is available now on Kindle, and the author assures me it will be available in print very soon. I've bought it on Kindle, and I'll buy it again in its print edition to keep on my bookshelf.

The Banishing
Fiona Dodwell
Damnation Books
P.O. Box 3931, Santa Rosa, CA 95402
9781615723522, $5.95, Kindle Edition

"The Banishing" (Damnation Books, March 2011) is Fiona Dodwell's debut novel. It's about Melissa Sanderson, a nurse who suffers some pretty brutal abuse at the hands of her husband, Mark. But this book is no feminist manifesto or catharsis for women suffering domestic abuse. In fact, by the time you read the last line you may think, as I did, that it couldn't happen to a nicer girl!

"The Banishing" is a cross between "The Shinning" and "The Exorcist." It's set in England (the author's origin) and starts out with Melissa having to live down the cuts and bruises inflicted on her by her husband. Naturally, her coworkers are gravely concerned, and her best friend, Sharon, is the most concerned of all.

What none of them realize is that Mark never used to be this way. He fell victim to his bad behavior after the couple moved into their new house, a house where previous satanic rituals claimed the lives of six women, and where the former tenants fell victim to the demon who still lives there as a result.

Now it's Mark and Melissa's turn to be claimed by the demon, but Melissa thinks she's found a way out through a ritual called, "the banishing." The question becomes: how far would you go to help someone you loved? Would you commit an act of evil against a person you cared about in order to save someone you cared for even more?

Interestingly, the author draws a parallel between the events occurring in Melissa's life and the events that occurred at the Crucifixion. When she visits a priest to help her with the demonic presence in her home, we find her contemplating her own religious feelings with respect to a God who would sacrifice his own son in order to save a world he apparently loves even more. Thus, if we condemn Melissa for what she does to save her husband and herself, we may end up condemning God for what he did to save us.

On the whole, this is not a fantastically well-written book. The characters tend to be paper thin and at times act illogically. A young, good-looking psychiatrist can't help but cross his therapeutic boundaries with Melissa. A priest just happens to know a good ritual for getting rid of demons. Melissa has ample means to escape her husband after he savagely beats and rapes her but instead decides he's just not acting like himself lately. In addition, we often spend copious amounts of time reading the internal monologues of Melissa's thoughts, and that becomes a drag on the story in parts.

Nonetheless, it reads like a Stephen King novel: at times too far fetched to support the suspension of our disbelief, but as the end approaches, we can't put it down. One thing's for sure, there's a hell of a twist at the end that will leave you thinking about this novel for a long time afterwards.

In fact, what Dodwell ultimately does with her protagonist is highly original. Any other writer might simply have killed off their protagonist, but Dodwell uses her main character's final act to make an important statement that brings our religious convictions into question. Was Melissa right in the end? Was she wrong? And what does that tell us about God and Christ? Obviously I can't explore these questions without spoiling the end, but I highly recommend picking up a copy of this novel if you want a truly original read.

Winds of Change
Jason Brannon
Permuted Press
B004QOBA9G $1.99

When supernatural forces do battle on earth, only one species can lose—humans. "Winds of Change," a novella by Jason Brannon (Permuted Press, March 2011) is the exciting tale of a group of individuals left in a hardware store when the world begins to end.

If you liked Stephen King's "The Mist," you'll want to read this one too. Brannon originally wrote "Winds of Change" in 2008, but Permuted Press has recently released it as a stand-alone Kindle edition, and at $1.99 it's definitely worth a read.

Though he's somewhat unfamiliar on the gothic scene, Brannon is an experienced horror novelist and short fiction writer. He's the author of "The Cage," "The Order of the Bull," and no less than four short story collections. His experience shows up in "Winds of Change." The characterizations are exceptionally fleshed out, the horror-humor is entertaining, the Kindle formatting is fantastic, and the nod to traditional Judeo-Christian values is refreshing without being overtly religious.

The novella begins with Matt, who manages a hardware store, relaying the terror he experiences as he watches everyone who steps outside turn into a pile of salt. Those in the store each have a different theory, but we never know what's causing the apparent destruction of mankind until the end, and Brannon keeps the suspense going the whole way through.

He also has a well-developed sense of symbolism, and uses it to great effect. The hardware store speaks to the devices of man juxtaposed to the pile of salt we all eventually turn into. This forces us, on an emotional level, to deal with our impending mortality in the face of greater issues that are dealt with by the characters such as sin and confession, the power of man vs. the power of God, and the fact that we will all turn to our beliefs and even our superstitions when faced with a change in the expected order of our world—whether we want to or not.

However, for all its merits, the story ends in a deus ex machina (day-es ex mah-ken-ah—translated: god from the machine). In ancient Greek plays, in order to wrap up all the elements of the plot, it was common for a god-character to be lowered mechanically onto the stage. He would then magically set all things right. In modern literature, it refers to an ending that's too convenient and not properly motivated, and it comes across as false. In "Winds of Change," this deus ex machina clashes with the 95% of the story that's nothing less than captivating.

Nevertheless, it's an entertaining read and it's priced to sell. If you want a good novella to keep you company over a couple of nights or on a long trip, this is one to get.

The Mirror
Deric Shaw
Mystery Publishing
9780955918711 $15.95 (Paperback), $8.00 (Kindle)

Few gothic novels published today have the ability to increase our use of the English language and still be captivating, entertaining, and deliver a strong story with a clever twist in then end. "The Mirror" by Deric Shaw (Mystery Publishing, March 2011) is one of those novels.

The story concerns Simon Marland whose late aunt willed him an old Tudor cottage near London (Bear in mind, this is a British novel.). What he doesn't realize is that the house belonged to an evil judge/witch hunter back in the 1500's who enjoyed more than a few unjust witch-be-cue's out back on the property. Furthermore, the specter of this sadistic prosecutor still haunts the cottage in the present through an upstairs mirror in a forgotten bedroom. Simon meets the specter one day while looking into the mirror and his life is never the same thereafter.

The specter can do things for him, especially by affecting the deaths of those who stand in Simon's way as he moves from a humble assistant manager in a property development firm to a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. All Simon has to do is ask for the favors (and he does) even though he's told that in the end there's a price to pay. What he doesn't know is how high the price will be, and that makes for a great twist at the end of this truly gothic ghost story.

One cannot comment on "The Mirror" without commenting on the dignified and intellectual use of the Queen's English by the Deric Shaw. He's a master wordsmith and the author of "The Ghost of Connington House," "Vigilante Incorporated," as well as a collection of short stories. His 19th Century throwback style of diction comes across as a welcomed relief in a world drowning in genre fiction so dumbed-down that it's often below the reading grade level of those who read books in the first place. Reading "The Mirror" is much more like reading Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein" than Stephen King's "Duma Key."

Even better: your kids can read this book, and you won't have to apologize for the sacrifice of their innocence. Without any graphic gore or descriptions of gyrating nudity, a great ghost story is told—imagine that! There's not one scene containing overt sex, violence or vulgarity, and yet the suspense, the gothic atmosphere, and the impending sense of something bad about to happen all come across in full effect.

"The Mirror" is old school gothic. It's a perfect book for literary discussions or academic study. But like the favors Simon Marland receives from the specter, this old-school approach comes with a price of its own. The story tends to move rather slowly over its 272 pages, and the formal language used as dialog gets used for both the likes of a lowly police sergeant as well as the Prime Minister of England. In fact every person in the story uses it, and that has a flattening effect on the reality of the characters we encounter therein.

Nevertheless, if you've ever read a James Patterson or Dean Koontz and wondered what happened to the IQ of the modern reading world, know that there are still some out there who write high-quality, intellectually gifted gothic literature. Deric Shaw is a prime example.

It's available in both paperback and Kindle, and I recommend picking up a copy for yourself.

Edward Gordon

Harwood's Bookshelf

Jesus: Neither God Nor Man - The Case for a Mythical Jesus
Earl Doherty
Age of Reason Publications
P O Box 36009, 1106 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON, K1Y 4V3, Canada
9780968925928, $39.95,

It has long been hypothesized, usually by non-historians who have never had to write a properly supervised graduate thesis and defend it before an examining committee of qualified historians, that there was never a Jesus of history onto whose biography the Christian fairy tales were posthumously grafted. It is an observable reality that supporters of the "no such person" hypothesis adhere to the same Prime Directive as apologists for the claim that a bible containing fourteen assertions that the earth is flat is nonfiction: "If you cannot rebut it, ignore it in the hope that it will go away." Earl Doherty adheres firmly to that Directive. That explains the absence of God, Jesus and the Bible: The Origin and Evolution of Religion from his bibliography, even though it was drawn to his attention (under its original title) long before the publication of this 2009 update of The Jesus Puzzle. The absence of The Protestant Bible Correctly Translated (under a pre-2009 edition title) from the list of bibles from which he quotes is also questionable.

The strongest case for a historical Jesus is the negative anecdotes that no person who regarded Jesus as his ultimate hero would ever have invented. For example, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a Sunday, started a Ten Minute War of independence—and lost. He was arrested and executed by a method used only by the Romans, and only against rebels and slaves. Historical rebels, such as Bar Kokhba, Jefferson Davis, and Robert Emmett, make unilateral declarations of independence and lose. Invented heroes do not.

Confronted by the accusation that he could not be Mashyah because he was not a descendant of King David, Jesus conceded that he was not Davidic. He argued that, even though Mashyah was by definition the descendant of David who would restore Jewish independence, his interpretation of a psalm proved that Mashyah could not be Davidic. Would any mythmaker in his right mind have depicted his hero as resorting to such incredible doublethink? And if it was not a historical Jesus who was accused of being born in Galilee rather than Bethlehem, as Mashyah should have been, the fourth gospel author would either have invented a response or not mentioned the incident at all.

Why would gospel authors include such embarrassing facts if they were not stuck with the reality that they had actually happened? And if Josephus's portrayal of Jesus as a bald, hunchbacked dwarf was not taken from an eyewitness description of a real person, why did six centuries of Christian apologists repeat it unchanged until Josephus, whom they dared not dispute, was expurgated? Doherty, in his twelve-page Appendix 14, contends that Robert Eisler's quoting of Josephus's Halosis was a product of Eisler's own imagination. In doing so he ignores the reality that, if the description of Jesus as a cross between Rumpelstiltskin and Quasimodo did not originate with someone at least as prestigious as Josephus, apologists as early as Origen would not have repeated it without questioning its accuracy.

While a majority of biblical historians support a historical Jesus, more than one originally published a conclusion that there was no real person behind the Jesus myth, only to reverse himself after considering the "preponderance of the evidence." Robert Price and G. A. Wells fit into that category. Doherty in contrast ignores all evidence conflicting with his thesis, and instead stresses arguments that his disputants have more than adequately rebutted.

Consider (p. xiii): "Once upon a time, someone wrote a story about a man who was God…. Later generations gave this storyteller the name of 'Mark,' but if that was his real name, it was only by coincidence." What that passage says about Earl Doherty's competence is not flattering. Certainly he is right that the real name of the author of "Mark" is unknown. But his assertion that Mark depicted Jesus as a god reveals a determination to see what he wants to be there even though it clearly is not. The synoptic gospels did not merely reject Jesus' god-status; they had never heard of it. Prior to the deification of Jesus in the fourth gospel, 130-138 CE, no gospel author portrayed Jesus as anything but a purely human king, adopted by the god Yahweh at the time of his dunking in the Jordan river by John the Immerser. (The virgin-birth myths were interpolations.) If Doherty can so misread Mark as to imagine that it calls Jesus a god, that explains why he is able to so misread the letters of Paul and others as to delude himself that they did not portray Jesus as an ordinary flesh-and-blood human. Such rationalization should not be attributed to Doherty's status as a self-confessed amateur who was unable to complete an M.A. program for health reasons. I have read books by PhDs that likewise imagined that the Jesus of the synoptics was depicted as a god, even though, if they had ever searched for such an implication, they would have been forced to acknowledge that it is not there.

I was impressed by Doherty's refusal to parrot the most popular non-sequitur of other mythicists. He does not argue that the fictitious content of the gospels, such as plagiarized miracles and sermons, incompatible genealogies, and parallels with older virgin-born resurrected savior gods such as Osiris and Adonis, could not have been posthumously addended to the biography of a real person as easily as to that of a purely mythical creation. He does cite the absence of any mention of Jesus from contemporary writers (p. 503): "[F]or historians of the time, Jesus and the religion he began should have constituted a noteworthy event in the period of the early emperors. It is difficult to believe that he would have escaped the attention of at least some commentators." And that argument would be completely valid—if Jesus had ever done anything worth reporting. The explanation is that Jesus was an insignificant preacher and warmonger whose name would not have survived if the inventor of Christianity, Paul, had not arbitrarily chosen him from the dozen recently crucified messiahs to be the posthumous figurehead of a new, gentile religion that Jesus the Jew would certainly have repudiated. In other words, Jesus was a nobody who did nothing.

Even though Doherty argues against any kind of historical Jesus, let alone a miracle-working god-incarnate, much of his 814 pages reads like theology. And H. L. Mencken defined a theologian as a blind man in a dark room searching for a black cat that is not there—and finding it. Doherty searches for evidence of absence, and finds only what he interprets as absence of evidence.

Nonetheless, a case can be made for a purely mythical Jesus, and Doherty catalogues the evidence supporting that conclusion (while ignoring the falsifying evidence) well enough for it to be convincing to a reader who is unaware of what he has left out. And unlike some inflexible dogmatists I have had the misfortune to encounter, he does not denigrate the majority of scholars who have reached the opposite conclusion as incompetent bunglers who embarrass themselves by daring to disagree with him. While Jesus: Neither God Nor Man presents only one side of an open question, it should not be ignored, and everyone who wants to be well informed should read it. The only down side is that, on the one conclusion Doherty's whole book was designed to prove, he is wrong.

Mildred Pierce
James M. Cain
Vintage Books
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, NY, NY 10019
9780307946591, $14.95,

Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain is a character study of a fixated mother and a daughter best described as the poster girl for the virtues of abortion—and that is all it is. It is not a murder mystery. Its resemblance to the murder mystery written by the screenplay writer of the movie of the same name is utterly trivial. That such a nothing-from-nowhere novel was written by the author of The Postman Always Rings Twice, one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century American literature, is incomprehensible. The screenwriters of two movies that did to Postman what priests do to altar boys should have been hanged by the heels. The screenwriter of Mildred Pierce should be given a medal. Very few movies (e.g., the James Bond series) are an improvement on the books on which they were based, but Mildred Pierce is assuredly one of them.

William Harwood

Henry's Bookshelf

Desert Visions and the Making of Phoenix, 1860-2009
Philip VanderMeer
University of New Mexico Press
1312 Basehart Road SE, Albuquerque NM 87106-4363
9780826348913, $39.95,

VanderMeer studies how despite being regarded as more a "sprawling suburb" than a city, Phoenix, Arizona, has had continuity since its founding in 1860. "Form, location, and culture have been central issues for Phoenix from the beginning, as early migrants sought to create something that people further east, the cultural standard bearers, would view favorably."

From its beginnings, Phoenix was distinctive from other towns in the relatively arid, desert-like Southwest. It was never really a "western" town with a natural Mexican and Native American population or involvement in the livestock or mining business. Phoenix was founded mainly as an agricultural. Carving out its own place, it always had to have a unique imagination in both representing itself regionally and nationally and in plans for growth. This particular imagination is seen from Phoenix's earliest decades when it represented itself as a something of an agricultural Eden making the desert bloom. This idealism resonated with the rest of the country, even to the East Coast cultural standard bearers. And it made the city more attractive as a tourist destination than most other "western" cities. In later phases, Phoenix would play up this more pleasing image it had from its beginnings by highlighting the surrounding natural beauty and slower, relaxed lifestyle. Thus did Phoenix generally thrive by a mix of good fortune, enlightened boosterism, beneficial labor activities, services for visitors, and satisfactory--though not entirely tension-free--relations between varied social groups. Phoenix's familiarity today as a southwestern art center and favorable site for spiritual and recuperative retreats evidences the ways political and civic leaders with the support of the population have made timely use of the city's appealing aspects.

VanderMeer follows how changing emphasis on the five essential areas of natural environment, infrastructure, economic development, social and cultural values, and civic leadership account for Phoenix's prosperity and unusual identity since its establishment in the mid 1800s. Although one or more area was emphasized in city development and public relations in a certain period, all were coordinated so that none was neglected--thus giving the city an image like a hybrid.

An associate professor of history at Arizona State U. who is the author of the previous "Phoenix Rising: The Making of a Desert Metropolis," VanderMeer accomplishes a particularly detailed work of urban studies. Commentary and in some cases charts on details such as the number, locations, and size of malls and the number of traffic lights over a certain period are bound in with prefaces and summarizations on stages of growth. All of this plus copious notes (about 80 pages) of smaller type which also serve as a bibliography makes this a fundamental work on the city of Phoenix.

Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press
Ken Wachsberger, editor
Michigan State University Press
1405 South Harrison Road, Suite 25
East Lansing, MI 48823-5245
9780870139833, $39.95,

In his introductory essay to "Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Part 1 - Voices from the Underground", editor Ken Wachsberger says simply, "This book and the other books that make up the Voices from the Underground Press Series are about the underground press of the Vietnam era." The collected excerpts can be look at simply as a record of the writings of the era. However, with the five introductory essays by individuals besides Wachsberger who were leaders, activists, writers, and publishers during the era, the introductory material to the excerpts of each specific publication giving origins, background, and the course of it, the "select" bibliography more than 15 pages with annotations that are like short essays, and the detailed, 15-page, index, the content exceeds considerably the excerpts to put these in the context of the contentions and passions of the time (the 1960s and early 1970s mainly) and also enable the reader to realize the time's legacy which continues to shape political issues and activity.

Even the notes on the contributors are informative beyond simple biographical facts and professional credentials for readers with any historical perspective and broader awareness. In the Vietnam era, Wachsberger became active as a political organizer in the Lansing, Michigan, area, and today is active in environmental issues and anti-nuclear activism. William Kunstler (d. 1995), another contributor, was a leading defense lawyer for anti-War activists accused of crimes while also a prominent spokesperson for equality and social justice. Abe Peck, former professor in Northwestern University's school of journalism and author of a book on the 1960s, opens his introductory essay with, "Another decade, another war..." as a lead to comparisons between the Vietnam War of the 1960s and the domestic conflicts it gave rise to and the Gulf War of the early 1990's when he wrote his essay. Wachsberger explicitly draws a line between the underground press and today's blogs. Kunstler's and Peck's essays written in the 1990s remain relevant today for their close connectiion to this work's subject matter. Markos Moulitsas, another contributor, has founded the prominent online news site Daily Kos. Founders, editors, and writers of the underground periodicals are also included in the contributors' section.

The underground presses included evidence the panoply of ethnic groups, political activists, social issues, literary and artistic ventures, and alternative journalist services of the restive 1960s. Among these are Awesome Notes (Native American), Joy of Liberation News Service, Cob (feminism), The Guardian (radical politics), and The San Francisco Oracle (the psychedelic scene). In addition to text, there are illustrations of covers or inside pages of some periodicals displaying the imaginative art work appearing with the new political ideas and social aims.

The diversity of underground publications prefigured the multicultural society of the following decades now taken for granted and presaged its political and social issues. Understanding of today's political contests, gender issues, conflicted image of women, attitudes toward drugs and sex, and media criticisms requires awareness of their roots in the 1960s. With its liberal excerpts, surrounding comments, and plentiful references, this volume--as the others in the series--not only recalls the many elements of the turbulence of the '60s, but also sheds much light on the present.

Henry Berry

Karyn's Bookshelf

Okay for Now
Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books
c/o Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
215 Park Ave. South, New York, NY 10003
9780547152608, $16.99,

There's a lot going on in "OK for Now," the sequel to 2008's Newbery honoree "The Wednesday Wars."

Abuse, alcoholism, illiteracy, a disabled veteran, small town (in)justice and general adolescent angst and awakening all combine in the tale of Doug Swieteck, an eighth-grader whose deeply troubled family relocates to upstate New York in 1968.

Schmidt deftly pulls together all of those elements with the aid of some great literary juxtaposition, notably weaving in "Birds of America," a collection of drawings by legendary artist John James Audubon. Doug learns to draw by studying Audubon's art, and it becomes a metaphor for his life. One bird is crashing into the sea, another is against a stable backdrop, another is walking resolutely into the path of a hunter… as Doug studies the drawings one at a time, each in turn signifies another twist in his tumultuous path.

There are metaphorical allusions to baseball, the Apollo moon landing and Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre." "There are some things in this world that we cannot fix, and they happen, and it is not our fault," a teacher notes as they discuss the classic novel…and as the teacher becomes aware of the dark realities of Doug's homelife.

Schmidt ponders just deeply enough for middle school readers, offering things to weigh but not overreaching, to where kids glaze over.

He balances the tale's tersest points with equally as many warm moments, with caring people who see Doug through. Ditto with frequent humor, which pops up at the most needed moments and will keep readers plowing on through the tough subject matter.

And the conclusion is awash in loose ends; this doesn't appear to be Schmidt's last entre into Doug's life.

Masterfully knit….with a hero you can't help but cheer on.

Michael Northrop, author
Scholastic Press
557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012
9780545210126, $17.99,

Seven teens find themselves stranded at school as the snowstorm of the century buries their region. The heat, cell phones and lights go out. They have a high school cafeteria kitchen full of canned pudding and sliced peaches…and each other.

Northrop could have gone the route of "The Breakfast Club," the 80s movie where five teens from different rungs of the social ladder, stuck in an all-day detention, come to deeply understand each other. He didn't though, choosing a route more akin to "Lord of the Flies," William Golding's classic tale of British schoolboys disastrously marooned on an island after a plane crash.

There's a bit of hormonal love and some getting to know those outside their regular circle of friends but "Trapped," is much more about survival than adolescent kum ba ya.

The situation grows dire after part of the roof caves in, and they've resorted to burning textbooks to keep warm. The teens begin to wonder if they could brave the elements long enough to walk to safety. But which of them will go out into the storm? Smart and suspenseful, a page turner to the end.

Queen of the Falls
Chris Van Allsburg, author and illustrator
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003
9780547315812, $18.99,

More than 100 years after surviving a trip over Niagara Falls while sealed in a barrel, Annie Edson Taylor finally gets her due.

Caldecott Medal winner Chris Van Allsburg writes in his characteristically clean, succinct style about Taylor, a 62-year-old charm school teacher who took the solo plunge in 1901 in hopes of earning fame and fortune. She found neither, though she deserved it as the first person ever to make that drop. In the century since, just 10 other people have followed.

County fair crowds didn't warm to her, upon discovering she was an old lady. Her barrel was stolen by an unscrupulous manager. Years later, living in obscurity, she admitted the scheme had proved a disappointment.

Although it's the size and shape of a picture book, and filled with illustrations, "Queen of the Falls," has a significant amount of text that makes it most appropriate for older elementary students. The extra text and slightly more difficult reading level is a good choice, allowing the full breadth of Taylor's story to be told.

And the use of illustrations, rather than just historical photographs, allows for a wonderfully animated visual experience, as Van Allsburg takes readers not only to the base of the falls where crowds watched in anticipation, but upriver before the event and inside the barrel as Taylor braces herself and prays.

A great, kid-friendly biography, one of those quirky stories that must be told before it's lost to history.

I Like Vegetables
Lorena Siminovich, author and illustrator
Templar Books
c/o Candlewick Press
99 Dover St., Somerville, MA., 02144
9780763652838, $6.99,

Farm-fresh veggies take center stage as toddlers touch-and-feel carrots, peas, corn and pumpkins. Of the brightly hued board book's five spreads, four deal with individual veggies. In the fifth a basket brims with assorted produce. Page cut-outs allow little fingers to feel various textures -- soft, satiny, bumpy. There are lots of eye-catching patterns, with each veggie done in a variety of checks, dots, stripes and lines. And children get a lesson in spacial opposites, as peas sit inside the pod and then fall to the outside, corn is short and then grows tall, etc. A fun way to get very young children excited about vegetables; a perfect compliment to a family farmers' market trip.

Karyn L. Saemann

Keira's Bookshelf

The Maude Reed Tale
Norah Lofts
Thomas Nelson, Inc.
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9780840762481, $TBA,

"I do not want to be a lady. I want to be a wool merchant," shouted Maude Reed. But in fifteenth-century England, girls of good family were not allowed to become businesswomen. Instead they were often fostered at the great castles of the nobles, where they learned to become marriageable, i.e., they were taught needlework, lute playing, and the manners and self-control required of ladies.

So off went eight year old Maude on her pony Brownie to Beauclaire Castle in Sussex. There she befriended the elegant Melusine, who was to become her confidant and teacher of reading and writing during her stay at the castle. She also met her uncle Godfrey, who, on behalf of her absent parents, gave her permission to ride with the boys and become literate. And the third person who was to have a lasting effect on her future was Henry Rancon, destined to become knight. The story follows Maude through her days at the castle, as she learned what she was sent to learn and all the other skills that she deemed necessary to achieve her dream.

Her uncle's precipitous marriage to a simpleton half his age and her twin brother Walter's visit confirming his chosen profession of wandering minstrel, suddenly made life at Beauclaire untenable. It was the right time for her to escape to Baildon. She returned to find her home and her dream under siege by an unscrupulous man. Through painstaking work and the lessons she learned at Beauclaire, she pulls Baildon back from the brink.

The gist of this tale is a girl who refuses to let go of her dream and who has the courage and the strength of her convictions to make it come true. As a heroine for young girls, she is unmatched. The trials and tribulations she tussled with are as relevant today as they were in the fifteenth century. Her level-headed approach to problems and setbacks, her well-honed instinct for discerning the right path for herself at every crossroads in life, her talent for setting up relationships with far-reaching advantages, her passion and commitment to her dream, and her loyalty to those she loved are lessons we all need to learn.

And with such an engaging story, Norah Lofts makes it easy for us to absorb Maude's values. Romance, suspense and adventure are packed into this slim volume, all elegantly understated. Lofts's characters breathe life, warmth, and personality right from the moment they stroll onto the page. Lofts skillfully sets up the ordinary world of life at the end of the Middle Ages with selected telling details, thereby enabling the reader to seamlessly make the transition from present day to the fifteenth century.

A must-have book for home libraries of young girls.

Mable Riley: A Reliable Record of Humdrum Peril and Romance
Marthe Jocelyn
Candlewick Press
99 Dover St, Somerville, MA 02144
978 0763632878, $6.99,

"Wish: To see the world and have the world see me! [.] I am twitching with excitement, imagining all that awaits us now that we've left our home." And so begins the diary of Mable Riley, a young Canadian girl at the turn of the last century. Her older sister Viola is to be the new schoolmistress at Sellerton School in Ontario that fall, and the two girls are boarding at Goodhand Farm, walking distance from the school. Through the words of aspiring writer and dedicated Nellie Bly fan, Mable, we see the girls' daily lives unfolding, as each girl adjusts to the new place, new responsibilities, new people, and nostalgia for the home and family they've
left behind in Ambler's Corners.

Mable, with her adventurous, irresponsible and irrepressible spirit, is always at odds with Viola, whose love for the humdrum, neatness and order, makes her a stickler for correct behavior. Both, however, share a deep love of family and books. While Mable conveys an impression of carelessness, she is, in fact, an intelligent and keen observer of life and an astute judge of people's emotions and the thoughts behind their actions. She displays a wry wit in her detailed notes about her day-to-day interactions with Viola, the Goodhands, her fellow pupils and the eccentric Mrs. Rattle.

It is Mrs. Rattle, who has a profound effect on impressionable Mable, hovering on the cusp of adulthood. Mrs. Rattle is a real writer, who wears daring fashions, rides a bicycle, lives alone, undauntingly states her opinions and is a staunch and radical suffragist-in short, Mrs. Rattle has
all the peril and romance Mable is craving in her young life. And Mable is swept along on a wave of hero worship that allows her to dig in deep and summon the courage to act on her own beliefs.

Despite the precocious maturity of her main character Mable, Marthe Jocelyn has skillfully maintained the narrative in a 14-year-old's voice, while delicately observing, probing and uncovering the entire gamut of adult emotions: from trepidation over a new job to jealousy of a peer's success, from a first love to a death in the family, from infatuation with ideas to fear of acting upon those thoughts to strong determination and pluck in standing by principles.

Jocelyn has a masterful command of the English language. Nothing fancy or fanciful. Rather an uncanny knack of placing the right word in the right spot-thereby lending her prose an elegant, endearing quality that, nevertheless, dances on the page with Mable Riley's vitality.

Keira Soleore, Reviewer

Logan's Bookshelf

Things My Teacher Did Tell Me
Charles R. Womack
Vantage Press
419 Park Ave., New York, NY 10016
9780533163120, $18.95,

A good teacher leaves with more than academic knowledge. "Things My Teacher Did Tell Me" is a unique discussion of history from Charles R. Womack as he traces the history of his Northeast Florida home back through history, both recent and back to 1562 when the Europeans first set their goal s of colonization there. With plenty of intriguing paths through history, "Things My Teacher Did Tell Me" is a fascinating compilation, hard to put down.

The Black Chalice
Steven Savile
Abaddon Books
9781907519673, $9.99,

Sometimes all you seek is power, no matter the source. "The Black Chalice" follows Alymere, a son of a knight with great things ahead of him. He chooses to follow the words of the Devil's Bible which sets him on the path to find the Black Chalice, of what he seeks to do with it being unknown. "The Black Chalice" is a riveting fantasy of good and evil, highly recommended.

The Post-Apocalyptic Primer
K. Scott Bradbury
7290 B. Investment Drive, Charleston, SC 29418
9781453791486, $11.99,

When it all goes to hell, you better be prepared. "The Post-Apocalyptic Primer" is a humorous book from K. Scott Bradbury as he offers readers a tongue and cheek assessment on how they can best prepare themselves for the fall of civilization. With a bit of reality peppered into the comedy, "The Post-Apocalyptic Primer" is a strong pick for anyone who wants to laugh as the world crumbles around them.

Point Deception
Jim Gilliam
Privately Published
9781609106218, $30.95

Even in dishonorable discharge, there is still a goodness in a soldier. "Point Deception" tells the story of Tim Kelly, who becomes deeply embroiled in Mexico's drug cartels and faces certain death as they enclose around him. Awaiting rescue that just may not com, author Jim Gilliam puts together a fun and fast paced thriller of corruption on many levels in the world. "Point Deception" is a solid addition to thriller collections.

Baldr and Beatrice
Mark Seinfelt
Privately Published
9781453847305, $17.99,

Love and friendship are principles that know no cultural boundaries. "Baldr and Beatrice" is a love story that spans over culture and time as author Mark Seinfelt reaches far and wide to tell his story about the desire to culminate one's love and how the story has been told before yet holds onto us so strongly after all these years. "Baldr and Beatrice" is a very fine and intriguing novel that should prove quite the page turner.

The Voting Booth After Dark
Vanessa Libertad Garcia
Privately Published
9780984067701, $10.95

Wasted time, wasted life, there are things we should do, but life makes it so easy to go astray. "The Voting Booth After Dark" is a collection of poetry from Vanessa Libertad Garcia as she reflects on her complex yet simple life and the pursuit of something greater. Down to earth and simple yet clever work, "The Voting Booth After Dark" is a good choice for modern poetry collections. "Realization": Television. Your surf the airwaves for exciting/stories, lovable faces, sexy bodies, comforting plots. Never leaving the couch. Your exhausted/body hasn't been to bed in years. Well, it's been/to bed, it just hasn't been to sleep in that relieving/sort of way.//You haven't left the couch. Voyeur. Lives a/million life times never having lived today.

F. Korn
Dog Ear
4010 W. 86th Street, Ste H, Indianpolis, IN 46268
Lapsus House
PO Box 192, Hartford, NY 12838
9781608447640, $12.95,

Repression is a disease America has been plagued with for years. "Boomers: Tales from the Subjected Plain" is a novel from Fred Korn as he writes of one Judy, a young woman who emerged from the sexual revolution with the scars that led her back into what she was suppose to be freed from. With plenty of fascinating characters, "Boomer" is a riveting read, not to be overlooked.

The Cosmic Mirror
Gary Gemmill & George Kraus
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781452032832, $24.95

There are parts of us that horrify us. "A View From The Cosmic Mirror: Reflections of the Self in Everyday Life" is a self-help guide from Gary Gemmill & George Kraus as they offer their own opinions and ideas on how one can rise above and find their true selves. Highly spiritual with a touch on the metaphysical, finding one's total self is vital to finding true contentment and happiness in life. "A View from the Cosmic Mirror" is a strong addition to any self-help collection.

In Heaven Kittens Play
Nick Sacco
Privately Published
9781926918150, $9.95,

The fate of the pet is on the minds of any pet owner who watches a beloved pet pass on. "In Heaven Kittens Play" is Nick Sacco's own explanation of where he believes pets go when they die, in a very straight forward and comforting manner aimed at younger readers. With a Christian element, Sacco tells his own stories and leads "In Heaven Kittens Play" with a very uplifting tale, highly recommended for pet lovers.

Carl Logan

Margaret's Bookshelf

The Accidental Activist
Alon Shalev
Three Clover Press
9780981955353, $14.95,

To push for a better world is not always everyone's first goal. "The Accidental Activist" is a novel drawing on author Alon Shalev's own experiences to tell the story of a court case with the world on its shoulders. Focused on the real events of a libel case against McDonalds in the 1990s in London, "The Accidental Activist" uses reality to enrich the fiction and leads to a very entertaining read that pulls no punches or censors no events.

Fire Angels
Joseph Richardson
Privately Published
9781442129023, $15.95

As war rages overseas, that does not mean all is quiet on the home front. "Fire Angels" tells the story of Noble Cooper and his family as they face small town life in Florida as World War I begins to pick up speed across the ocean. As murder strikes the town, young Noble might be the only one to find the truth in this story about race. "Fire Angels" is a fascinating read that will be hard to put down.

Wisdom From Franciscan Italy
David Torkington
O Books
9781846944420, $22.95,

The Franciscan discipline has a certain level of faith unseen elsewhere in the world. "Wisdom from Franciscan Italy: The Primacy of Love" delves into the story of a pilgrimage into Franciscan Italy led by author David Torkington and how the trip inspired those who came along with it in their faith and other endeavors of life. Offering a view of a devoted aspect of Christianity and much more, "Wisdom from Franciscan Italy" is a thoughtful tour of the style, very highly recommended.

Time Revisited
Dorothy Jane Staples
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781450229029, $17.95,

Small town life teaches you many things quickly. "Time Revisited" is a memoir from Dorothy Jane Staples as she reflects on her business career and how her upbringing inspired her approach to it. Poignant and thoughtful, this story of life has powerful morals and much to think about. "Time Revisited" is a thoughtful memoir, recommended.

A Marvelous Mustang
Janice M. Ladendorf
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781450269605, $15.95,

The majesty of the horse still captivates many modern individuals. "A Marvelous Mustang: Tales from the Life of a Spanish Horse" is a story written from the horse's point of view as Janice M. Ladendorf speaks about Skan, and his own personal story. Designed to be enjoyed by those who still hold these beasts dear, "A Marvelous Mustang" is a choice pick.

The Unpainted Mask
Steven Edmund Winduo
9789980939821, $19.95

Life on the islands of Melanesia has rapidly changed in recent years. "The Unpainted Mask" is a collection of short stories from Steven Edmund Winduo as he poignantly talks on the issues that have become important on the fronts of social issues, politics, and culture in Papua New Guinea, with a focus on the masks we share with the world. "The Unpainted Mask" is a solid addition to any international short fiction collection.

John G. Rees
Black Water Books
9780578059808, $14.95

Choosing between two evils is not a good choice at all. "Halocline" follows Jake Strom as he must lead the Roma people to something that resembles survival as they threatened by a massive corporation and the rumblings of a mad man. The inner conflict that Jake faces exacerbates the outer conflict, as John G. Rees places together a fun thriller with "Halocline". Also from John G. Rees and his series following the continued adventures of Jake Strom is "Anoxic Zone" (9780578018324, $14.95) as they travel the world, finding the truth about the evil corporation that hired them.

Thomas Noel Smith
Outskirts Press
10940 South Parker Road, #515, Parker, CO 80134
9781432768782, $10.95,

Our fate as dust is inevitable. What we do up til then is what matters. "Dust and Other Poems" is a compilation of poetry from Thomas Noel Smith as he presents his own thoughtful take on the human condition with a bit of thought and verse. "Dust and Other Poems" is a thoughtful work, recommended reading. "Outside My Window": Outside my window/The magnolia tree blooms/And sheds its flowers/As they age./The grass grows tall/But winter comes/And life becomes a sleeping memory/For the grass//A chill fills the air/Heavy with hope and fear/Hope for tomorrow/And life's return/Fear, that it will never come again.

Letters to My Feathered Friends
Tim Stanley
2 Timothy Publishing
PO Box 53783, Irvine, CA 92619-3783
9780984239115, $16.95,

The bird is a bit of unique and feathered majesty unlike any other, and has drawn its fare share of observers. "Letters to my Feathered Friends: Observations, Meditations, and Thanksgivings" is a collection of poems and stories from Tim Stanley as he presents his own devotions to birds and nature. With plenty of full color photographs throughout, "Letters to my Feathered Friends" is a fine collection, well worth considering. "The White Pelicans": The flying squadron becomes a flotilla,/The flotilla becomes a dragnet,/The dragnet becomes a dining table,/The dining table becomes//A frenzy.

To Woman, From Man
A. Jarrell Hayes
Privately Published
9781453748152, $6.99

Love has many forms, and their all as cruel as the next. "To Woman, From Man" is a collection of love poems from A. Jarrell Hayes as he approaches these wide degrees of love and offers much food for thought in his approaches. "To Woman, From Man" is a thoughtful approach to love, recommended. "Princess of Dawn": She bullies me/But I don't mind./She can get away/with everything,/As long as she does/It with a smile./Such a lovely smile;/Some say it resembles/The moon./I think ti reflects/A toddler's playfulness,/The innocence of youth./Playing with her brings me joy;/But if we run/Together through tall/fields of rye,/Who shall play the catcher.

The Greater Generation
Phil Holt
Vantage Press
419 Park Ave. South New York, NY 10016
9780533157341, $13.95,

The golden era wasn't all that golden for those living in it. "The Greater Generation" is a memoir from Phil Holt as he recalls the good times and the bad of living in the 1930s through 1950s, showing the brewings of the cultural time bomb that America was becoming. Poignant and thoughtful reading, "The Greater Generation" has plenty to ponder for readers who want a first hand account of the period, highly recommended.

Margaret Lane

Nicole's Bookshelf

Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend
Al Young
Butler Books
c/o Liz Catoro
The Baddish Group
28 West 39th Street, New York, NY 10018
9781935497295, $29.95,

Niche picture books cater to a select audience. Al Young's Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend is a glossy, hardcover look at the history of a Kentucky brewery. The stylish, sophisticated design depicts nostalgic print advertisements and thirst-inducing images of bourbon on ice. While light on text, the background of the Four Roses brand is related in an easy-to-understand manner and only briefly delves into industry jargon. It is the typical story of an American company that started small, expanded then contracted. Instead of disappearing entirely, Four Roses is inching its way back into American liquor stores in an attempt to recapture its former glory. The release of a commemorative book helps to place the company's mission in front of whiskey connoisseurs the world over.

The saga begins when Paul Jones, Jr. takes in his orphaned nephews after their father is killed in the Civil War. One of the young boys, Lawrence Lavalle Jones, would grow up immersed in the trade leading it to new heights. His love story inspired the Four Roses name. After repeatedly asking his sweetheart to marry him, he sent her a dozen roses accompanied by an ultimatum. For over five years I have asked you to marry me. Tonight I ask you for the last time. If the answer is yes, wear a corsage of four roses, if it's no, don't wear any. Needless to say, his wish was granted, and a legend was born.

The company excelled in promoting itself via creative and well-placed advertisements. The Four Roses lighted outdoor display atop Times Square is in the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph of a sailor spontaneously kissing a nurse celebrating the end of World War II. Magazine readers clamored for the annual Four Roses Christmas ad that contained a beloved eggnog recipe. The brand's quintessential image of four roses encased in a block of ice is referenced in 100 Top Copy Writers and their Favorite Ads.

Four Roses survived Prohibition by becoming a medicinal product that required a doctor's prescription, but it had a harder time staying alive after being purchased by Seagram. The liquor giant swallowed the smaller brand's distinctive charm and level of quality. With domestic sales in decline, Four Roses remained a best seller in Japan where a new owner redirected sales efforts. Even though it was still being brewed in Kentucky, bottles of Four Roses could not be found in liquor stores across the United States. It was a dark time for a brand that, at one time, was as much associated with America as Coca-Cola, Ford and Kodak.

Resurgence efforts began in the 2000s with a committed push to relaunch the Four Roses name in America. For the first decade of the 21st century, the brand became the frequent recipient of prestigious awards as it slowly made its way back onto American shelves. The original Louisville distillery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and currently hosts guided tours as well as a gift shop. In 2010, the building marked its 100th anniversary. The devotion of Four Roses fans on Facebook and its are promising signs that the company is well on its way to obtaining its former dominance in the marketplace.

Overall, the perfect coffee table book for upscale bars and afficionados of the brand.

The Light, The Dark & Ember Between
J.W. Nicklaus
Bedside Books
5442 So. 900 East, #146, Salt Lake City, UT 84117
9781589825055, $18.00,

J.W. Nicklaus is a word artist. He paints mental pictures with lyrical prose. The Light, The Dark & Ember Between is a collection of 15 short stories whose concurrent theme centers on finding hope in death. Nicklaus' writing is dense with meaning. It is not trivial, light reading. His sentences are filled with complexity in a style that encourages the reader to slow down and savor each word. Each page demands a reader's full attention in order to grasp the vivid emotional catharsis experienced by the characters. Death is a heavy subject, but the participants in each story offer a different look at it. They don't succumb to the darkness, but instead grasp for the light. They are able to persevere thanks, in part, to the deeper insight gained from their travails.

The four standout pieces include:

Emissary - After losing his wife in a freak boating accident, a widower begins to experience supernatural occurrences. In coming to terms with the meaning behind these events, he is able for the first time to open up to his son and daughter-in-law about his pain and confusion. This release allows him not to fear these visitations, but welcome them. In trying to find some sense of peace, he embraces these communications from the beyond. They give him a glimmer of hope that she is still there with him in some form. The sensory details - from the coastal setting to the breakfast table - are right on the money transporting the reader directly into the story's setting.

Requiem for Linny - With the passing of a cowboy's wife, her death is felt by every man on the ranch. In the Colorado mountains, they prepare her grave beneath a snow-covered tree, a place she selected beforehand. Her husband tries to restrain his grief by hand carving a wooden cross for the site. When his brother calls, a long-held secret is revealed. While forgiveness is hard to come by, the presence of the deceased continues to be felt in a very powerful way. Nicklaus excels in describing gruff, stoic men succumb to their emotions and express what they are feeling.

Winter Rose - An American solider and British child are thrown together in the aftermath of a World War I bombing raid. The young private finds the injured child amidst the rubble and takes her to the army medic. A strong attachment quickly forms between the two. It is touching to witness the girl clinging to the soldier as he becomes her last lifeline to safety and comfort. She does not know if her parents are alive or dead. She is lost and alone, but for the young American at her side. The men at the base are far from home as they try to celebrate the Christmas holiday. The presence of the child adds meaning to their endeavor as they shower her with whatever trinkets they have at their disposal. Although her future is uncertain, for one night the Americans become her family.

One Washington Diner - What happens when we die? Where do we go? Who do we meet? Nicklaus explores this premise from a side angle. A man wanders into a diner. He feels an immediate connection to the waitress that he can't explain. As they banter back and forth like they have known each other for years, an elderly gentlemen takes a seat at the counter challenging the man's ideas of what is real. The scene suddenly shifts to a hospital room. The man wasn't in a diner. He was in a car accident. The diner exists only as a way station between life and death. Yet the waitress is there keeping vigil at his bedside. She is his wife. The inexplicable tie between love and life is a promise that he will thwart death to fulfill.

Overall, a rich and varied collection that explores the place between life and death.

Nicole Langan, Reviewer

Peggy's Bookshelf

Unfamiliar Fishes
Sarah Vowell
Riverhead Books
Random House, Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9781594487873, $25.95,

On page one Vowell establishes a clever metaphor for the theme of this book. She is in Hawaii eating a plate lunch of macaroni salad and shoyu chicken under a banyan tree. What do they all have in common? The banyan tree, shoyu chicken, macaroni salad, and author are all from somewhere else. From then on, Vowell takes readers on a rollicking voyage back to 1778, when James Cook landed on the shores of Kauai and named the archipelago the Sandwich Islands, through the next hundred years as the proud warrior natives endured the mishmash of cultures as they exploded onto their shores. Whether it was clashes between the New England missionaries and the sailors looking for rum and prostitutes, or Great Britain and the US fighting over imperialism, the Hawaiian natives were always caught in the middle. However, as Vowell shrewdly points out, they were often willing participants in the demise of their ancient customs. Throughout this extraordinary history of the kingdom of Hawaii Vowell injects her usual wink-wink nudge-nudge style of humor which makes this a fascinating and fun read.

Two Little 'Savages'
Ernest Thompson Seton, author & illustrator
Axios Press
PO Box 118, Mt. Jackson, VA 22842
9781604190335, $18.00,

Yan's boyhood was difficult. Often beaten by his father, he sought refuge in the woods near his home. At 14, Yan was sent away to live and work on the Raftan farm. Yan and Mr. Raftan's son, Sam stumbled upon a bond in their shared love for the great outdoors. Together they learned how to build a teepee and lived in it for a month. Their amazing escapades sometimes involved danger but were always exhilarating. In the process, Yan discovered the key to his happiness. During troubled economic times young people usually suffer the most which makes this book more relevant than ever. Readers learn along with Yan and Sam how to live and even thrive in nature. "Two Little 'Savages'" is a handbook for survival.

The publication of this edition celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America and honors their founder and the book's author, Ernest Thompson Seton. This quality paperback's large size - approximately eight-by-eleven inches - shows off Seton's exceptional illustrations and diagrams and makes it a treasured keepsake. Only a few timeless books become classics and "Two Little 'Savages'" certainly deserves that noble distinction.

Peggy Tibbetts, Reviewer

Regis' Bookshelf

The Vanishing of the Mona Lisa
Martin Caparros, author
Jasper Reid, translator
Washington Square Press
c/o Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
0743297954, $10.95,

This could be quite a clever story but it has some flaws which I note at the end of this review. In spite of those flaws, the tale is interesting; it is mysterious even though the plot is revealed early in the book. Throughout, the author tells—bit by bit, the how, the when, and the wherefore—of his stealing the famed, Mona Lisa which hung in the Louvre.

The main character in the story is Bollino, a man who cleverly alters his social stature in life until he becomes a faux aristocrat. Bollino had no real claim to fame, but after his father died and he moved to Paris with some inherited money, he decides he will become accepted in the best aristocratic circles in France. To him, living in Paris as a wealthy man would become his life's goal.

Over a period of years, Bollino becomes involved in various schemes to improve his lot; to buy him the finest clothes; to win him women from high society; and to purchase a respectable dwelling place.

His basic schemes are simple. He hires a painter who is exceptionally good at reproducing copies of famous artworks. He works with henchmen to steal famous paintings from museums then secretly sells its reproductions to persons in high society in the art world as the real thing. Of course he must change his name and his image as his wealth accumulates: Bollino, Juan Maria, Petrone, Bonaglia, and finally, The Marques de Valfierno.

Bollino/Valfierno buys only the best clothing to look the part of a real, upper crust, well-travelled, knowledgeable, world-wise marquis. With wealth comes acceptance. He is invited to dances, balls, horse races, the theater—any place where people of nobility gather for aristocratic entertainment. Valfierno's real quest is to become so wealthy he will never have to work. He loves life in Paris!

To achieve this tantalizing end, Valfierno hires three subordinates to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. One can only imagine the ruckus when people around the world hear that the famed Mona Lisa has vanished. One can imagine how infamous art collectors feel to know that the Marques de Valfierno has a deeply hidden inside connection to the notorious thief who, of course, will sell the painting for an exorbitant price.

Valfierno's plan works. He is so obsessed with himself and his life style and the fact that in his mind, he pulled off the greatest art heist of all time, that he divulges his story to a Newspaperman. And this is where I will leave the reader. What are the details of this one-of-a-kind heist from the Louvre? How did this man, who started out with relatively modest beginnings, end up as an accepted marquis in high brow society?

The Vanishing of the Mona Lisa has serious flaws which make the book difficult to read. This, I think, is not the fault of author Martin Caparros. It comes about because the book is a translation. There were times when I was uncertain as to who was actually speaking or telling the story. Was it the Marques de Valfierno or was it his Newspaperman or was it the all-seeing author? The fact that the book is difficult to follow makes it less enjoyable than it probably would be in its own language.

I would recommend The Vanishing of the Mona Lisa only with a strong reservation. Reader: Be prepared for some confusion over who is actually speaking. At times, it seems that a character has several names which lead to even more identity confusion. In addition, time periods often change without warning. I'm thinking that the book needs a translator who can smooth over and clarify times, places, and people.

The Bird House
Kelly Simmons
Washington Square Press
c/o Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
1439160937, $9.99,

The Bird House: A Novel is an extraordinary book for many reasons, but above all, it is the second novel of Kelly Simmons and done so well, you'd think she'd been writing for years. Her characters are very well developed--in fact, it is difficult not to persevere with any of them as truly disturbing family secrets are uncovered.

At the very beginning, Ann Biddle makes the astonishing claim that she killed her first born daughter. If this isn't enough, immediately, narrator Ann begins her tale from her own faltering mind due to early onset Alzheimer's. Should a reader trust Ann's words or not? Are her interpretations of reality in sync with what really occurred in her early family life? If not, what happened to her firstborn girl?

Within the first pages of The Bird House, Grandma Ann attempts quite successfully to win the love, understanding, and trust of her grandchild, Ellie, an eight-year-old who has asked Grandma to help her complete a class assignment. Students are to retell, in youthful form, their family's history from some novel point of view with pictures, facts, and possibly a well documented fact thrown in for good measure. Ellie spots a birdhouse outside Grandma Ann's window and decides that birdhouse will be her connecting project theme. She has seen birdhouses in old family photograph albums.

As Grandmother Ann and Ellie spend time putting together Ellie's project, it becomes obvious to the reader that Ellie's mother is a bit fearful of Ann, who tends to forget recent memories, but who has a vise grip on past happenings. Ann seems to be hiding a deep family secret just as much as her daughter-in-law,

Ellie is a brilliant child. Even as an eight-year-old, she begins to notice unusual things about both her Grandmother and her own mother. She notices that mom is secretive about present events, particularly after she and Grannie appear to find evidence that Ellie's mom is an adulteress.

What event happened to Grandma Ann so long ago that, even today, makes her feel like a murderer hiding secrets in an attic trunk? Ellie's mother is uncomfortable with the growing relationship between the older woman and her young daughter. Ann has pictures of Ellie's mother's illicit affair. But is she reading the evidence to suit her dislike for her daughter-in-law; or has her Alzheimer's deluded her grasp on reality?

The Bird House is a stunning read. From the first few pages when the reader finds that Grandma Ann feels guilty of murder, to the last pages when so many believable secrets surface, the reader will begin to wonder if the entire narration is Ann's own mistaken semi-senile dementia.

The book is not without humor. Ann thinks to herself: "What a waste to be chaste in high school ... saving ourselves for infidelity, for cheating, and lies!"

The Bird House sounds like a book for women. It is not. It is a book for everyone who has dealt with troubling family secrets which, in this tale, are brought to life by an eight-year-old child and her doting grandmother. In my mind, Author Kelly Simmons thoughtfully placed little Ellie with her Grannie to bring some reality to the truth when it finally surfaces.

Male or female? Read this novel. It will encourage you to respect the elderly for their long term memories, and youth for its logic and inspiration. I would highly recommend The Bird House to ALL readers because, in the end, you will gain a much better understanding of yourself as you age!

Regis Schilken, Reviewer

Richard's Bookshelf

Unexpected Love
Andrea Boeshaar
Realms a Strang Company
600 Rinehart Road, Lake Mary, FL 32746
9781616381929, $12.99,

Second Chances in the Midst of Tragedy, a Forgotten Past and an Uncertain Future

Andrea Boeshaar combines the elements of strong character development, believable dialog, a positive Christian message, and with a plot which includes compelling suspense in "Unexpected Love," the third in the series "Seasons of Redemption."

Worlds apart socially, Nurse Renna Fields and Captain Brian Sinclair find themselves in a quandary of emotional uncertainties. Sinclair is admitted to Chicago's Lakeview Hospital, a victim of amnesia and blindness after a miraculous escape from a shipwreck on Lake Michigan. Sinclair, a self centered, women's man, has lost all memory of his two children, his widowhood, and a thriving business. Renna Fields, a dedicated Christian nurse is put in charge of his care. The setting is in 19th century Chicago.

Throughout the healing process Renna and Captain Sinclair find themselves drawn to each other. Renna fears that when his sight returns Brian will be repulsed by her birthmark. Sinclair taken by the warmth, concern, and character of Renna asks himself, "How can a man like me win the heart of a woman like Renna?"

Andrea Boeshaar's plot is driven by her characters. She is skilled at bringing them to life on the page as they grow in character through the series. I was pleased to Brian grow in his character and values since his introduction in "Uncertain Heart" book 2 in the Seasons of Redemption series.

"Unexpected Love" is a story of redemption and second chances in the midst of tragedy, of a forgotten past and an uncertain future. Boeshaar's writing just keeps getting better.

Where Strangers Cross
Kevin Avery and John Long
Xulon Press
2180 West State Road 434, Suite 2140, Longwood, Florida 32779
9781609578459, $18.99,

A Modern Day Macedonian Call

"Where Strangers Cross: East Meets West on a Journey Towards Christ" depicts the life journeys of Kevin Avery and John Long. Through an unlikely chain of events, orchestrated by God, Kevin Avery's and John Long's lives intersect. John grew up in rural China; Avery in the city suburbs in the United States.

Both men are seeking to follow God's leading in their lives. John, motivated by dreams of success comes to America for post graduate work at Oral Robert University. Kevin visits Poland on an ESL (English as a Second Language) mission. The book parallels their lives. Their paths cross as they both participate in a ministry to International students. Both men have a heart for pursuing the Lord's call to evangelize, teach, and making disciples (followers of Christ.)

John tells his story. Kevin shares his. John becomes a pastor in Tulsa and Kevin is called to China to minister among the mountain villages. They tell of language barriers, cultural differences, differing Christian traditions, and of their concern for the lack of Bible knowledge among Christians today.

The writing is engaging. Their message is important. "Where Strangers Cross" reads like fiction with a strong plot and well developed characters. I enjoyed being able to vicariously experience the joy of a global ministry with Kevin Avery and John Long. I was deeply moved many times as I as the Holy Spirit touched my heart.

"Where Strangers Cross: East Meets West on a Journey Towards Christ" is a book for any Christian who recognize the value of biography in the process of deepening one's faith and increasing their insight and understanding of spreading the gospel to the international community. By bringing together East and West, the book provides unique insight into international Christian ministry and outreach opportunities.

Anyone who enjoys Missionary biographies will find the book unique, inspirational and informative. This is a valuable resource for individuals, Christian school and church libraries. It is a book that should be on the reading list of Bible Schools and seminaries for prospective missionaries and pastors. It inspires Christians to pursue Jesus as they disciple the Nations.

The authors are currently involved in Christian Ministry and Missions activities that impact countries in North and South American, Europe, and Asia.

Caroline's Choice
Martha Rogers
A Strang Company
600 Rinehart Road, Lake Mary, FL 32746
9781616381936, $12.99,

The Consequences of Misdirected Choices

Early in 1907 Oklahoma is still a Territory ready and waiting for statehood. Caroline Frankston, the daughter of the Mayor of Barton Creek, is deeply in love with Matt Haynes. Mrs. Frankston insists that Caroline go to college to keep her from Matt. Matt interprets this as an act of rejection by Caroline. Upon completion of her college degree Caroline returns to Barton Creek hoping Matt will communicate his love for her. When this doesn't happen she makes choice to go to Oklahoma City to find employment and to become independent. Again Matt looks at this as rejection by Caroline.

Miscommunication and the lack of communication drive Caroline and Matt further apart even though they both feel a deep love for the other. Martha Rogers involves her reader in the ongoing attempts of Matt and Caroline to communicate these feelings.

Stubbornness and misunderstanding play a part in the characters of many of the characters introduced in the series earlier. A strong Christian message of reconciliation and forgiveness moves the plot along in a very positive way. Christian core values and Christian character are a natural part of the characters Martha Rogers has created.

Rogers writing is creative, imaginative and engaging. "Caroline's Choice" and the entire series of "Winds Across the Prairie" are especially suited to church lending libraries and will be a welcome discovery for Christian romance readers.

Strang Communications provided me a review copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Create Your Own Blog
Tris Hussey
c/o Pearson Education Inc.
800 East 96th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46240
9780672330650, $21.99,

How to Create, Write, and Promote Your Own Personal or Business Blog

As a "wanna be" blogger, I was delighted to find that early in his introduction to "Create Your Own Blog" Tris Hussey provided an important section "How to Use this Book." The opening three chapters provide the tools to start blogging.

The next six chapters introduce instructions for starting six distinctive blogs designed with different goals in mind. Each topic is considered to be "a project" and includes easily understood steps for setting up a blog, creating conversation building a community, publicizing your blog, and choosing the right tools for connecting with others in your niche, expanding your readership, and using leverage. The final chapter discusses ways to make money through blogging.

The attractive format of the book is eye catching with highlighted features, and sidebars, calling attention to significant tips, interesting notes, cautions, and new terms. Other illustrations, examples, and idea galleries draw attention to the content of the narrative and make for easy perusal, review, and assimilation as well as further study.

I found the summary statements to be another important aide in clarifying the material. I appreciated Tris' practical personal pointers regarding posting family pictures and other similar tips. The complete comprehensive table of contents and index are other valuable features that make the book an ideal addition to the personal, amateur, or professional library. I am placing "Create Your Own Blog" in a prominent spot in my personal library where it is readily available for future reference.

Hussey's writing is low key, conversational, and is highly informative. His credentials give substance to his well organized instructions and observations. Tris Hussey is a recognized social media consultant and a charter member of the Professional Blogger's Association and is highly qualified to author this book. "Create Your Own Blog" is an excellent primer for beginners and a handy reference guide for the more advanced blogger

Don't Give Up!
Gary Hoffman
Men on the Edge
P. O. Box 283, Trabuco Canyon, CA 92678
9780984542109, $12.98,

A Marriage Toolbox for Times of Crisis or for Keeping the Fires of Romance Glowing

"Don't Give Up! - Unexpected Answers to Marital Challenges" is the pivotal foundation or core material used by the Men on the Edge Ministry at the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Gary Hoffman is the leader of this ministry. He has drawn on his own experience in the book to help the reader understand what the marriage relationship means to both husband and wife. He offers practical advice and introduces steps that can be taken to rise above the individual marital crisis challenges currently being faced by the reader.

Through the scriptures, suggested web-links, statistics, and reflective meditations Hoffman discusses issues of, accountability, the importance of assuming personal responsibility, moving forward in the area of spiritual growth and as an a Christian man, husband, and father. Gary provides sound advice for any who are dealing with critical issues in either marital or personal relationships.

I appreciate Hoffman's open and candid approach when sharing personal experiences and his emphasis regarding making the centrality of Jesus and His work on the cross the number one priority in life. Hoffman writes in easy to understand layman's language. He writes with clarity and is succinct as he describes looking at life from a realistic perspective with life changing applications, and faith building exercises. Hoffman puts a strong emphasis on the importance and dynamics of support groups, small group Bible studies, and professional counseling.

"Hoffman's mission is to assist men in troubled marriages. He frequently uses his own marital history as a springboard to initiate the discussion and instruction. The premises of Hoffman's advice are solid, practical, and workable. "Don't Give UP! is an important resource for men everywhere.

The Power of the Cross: Epicenter of Glory
Mahesh & Bonnie Chavda
Destiny Image Publishers, Inc.
P. O. Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257-0310
9780768432466, $14.99,

An Outpouring of Renewal and Revival

The title of Mahesh and Bonnie Chavda's new book "The Power of the Cross: Epicenter of Glory" has within it the secret of power for the Christian. As a former resident of California I am well aware of the significance of the word "epicenter" as it related to earthquakes. The word implies "focus" and "power." As we focus on the cross of Christ and embrace and revel in the glory of our creator God as the epicenter, we will encounter Him in a new life changing powerful visit of the Holy Spirit.

John and Carol Arnotts' foreword alerted me to the depth of Mahesh and Bonnie's "stewardship of revival." They combine Biblical teaching with living testimonies from their personal life and ministry as they lead the reader step by step on a journey to the cross and into the glorious, holy presence of God.

Mahesh and Bonnie understand the power of the story. Through compelling illustrations and examples they encourage the reader to make the Bible their compass, and the cross their focal point, so that they can know God's supernatural power and revelation.

This is a book for anyone with an intense hunger for knowing more of God, searching for a deeper faith and a more passionate love for the Savior, Jesus Christ. Moses was blessed with a unique encounter with God. Peter, James, and John experienced the glory of Christ at the scene of His transfiguration. Although it is unlikely that God will replicate these events for us, "The Power of the Cross: Epicenter of Glory" invites the reader to experience God's glorious presence in those day by day encounters with Him.

From Curses to Blessings: Removing Generational Curses
Ken and Jeanne Harrington
Destiny Image Publishers, Inc.
P. O. Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257 0310
9780768436341, $17.99,

Root Causes and Patterns of Curses and Keys to Deliverance and Blessing

Ken and Jeanne Harrington weave doctrinal teaching with real life stories into their book "From Curses to Blessings." They help the reader identify and deal with demonic spirits and generational sins that result in financial problems, depression, fear, marital issues, and sickness.

The Harrington's writing is clear and powerful. They use the scriptures to introduce steps to take when facing spiritual battle and the "enemy's" attacks, steps on how to receive your spiritual inheritance, how to enact your blessings, and how to move into your destiny."

The book is divided into four sections: The Word, generational curses, personal curses, and enacting blessing. The format uses bulleted lists, passages from scripture, topical headings, brief subject outlines, suggested prayers, eye catching illustrations, charts, and tables for reader friendly assimilation of the material. The thorough research and accompanying documentation make this an excellent resource for pastors, counselors, and lay leaders.

I found the careful attention to organization and the flow of material helpful; moving from a comprehensive discussion of the curses to the keys for claiming deliverance from curses and moving into a life of radical transformation and blessing.

The godly character and integrity of the Harrington's and their inner healing ministry and seminars are highly endorsed by recognized Christian leaders who have been personally blessed by their association with the authors.

"From Curses to Blessings" is an important, "must read" book for anyone seeking deliverance from bondage and a supernatural touch of God's blessing on their life.

The Good Life: You Can Walk in God's Perfect Will
Jeffrey M. Magada
Destiny Image Publishers, Inc.
P. O. Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257
9780768430974, $15.99,

Dynamic Life Changing Principles for Walking in God's Perfect Will

In "The Good Life" founder and executive director of "Flying High," Jeffrey M. Magada, provides Biblical principles for finding and living in the center of God's perfect will.

Jeffrey warns of the danger of becoming unfocused, paralyzed with fear, caught up in pride, and ego, as a people pleaser in a desperate performance driven life. He shares personal experiences to illustrate how even good works, outside of God's will, cannot be blessed. He provides solid advice on how right relationships, good choices, a pure heart, and selflessness are the keys to experiencing an authentic supernatural Christian life. He proclaims a Biblical message of deliverance challenging the reader to replace bondage for an exchanged life marked by "hands lifted up in worship with shouts of praise."

I found the action steps and study guide which accompanied each chapter stimulated excellent thought provoking questions. The selected scripture passages offered inspiration for reflection, application, and assimilation into daily living.

Magada's writing is deeply convicting, powerfully personal, and highly motivating. "The Good Life" is written for those who are seeking a breakthrough in living a continuous abundant life in the marketplace, in relationships, and in ministry. It is Jeffrey's prayer that the book will guide the reader to discover the path God has planned and prearranged for them.

A review copy of the book was provided by the publisher.

The Devil is in the Details
Tony Kessinger PHD
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781615071524, $18.99

A Timeline of Evil from Existence to Extinction

"The Devil is in the Details: The Subtlety of Satan in the Complexity of Life" clearly exposes the subtlety of Satan. Tony Kessinger, highly acclaimed Bible teacher, has drawn from his twenty five years of experience and study in the preparation of this comprehensive and scholarly study on the origin of evil, spiritual warfare, and Bible prophecy.

Kessinger's extensive chapter end-notes provide material from an excellent cross section of recognized and highly respected Biblical scholars. These references can become an excellent resource list for future reading and study. His work is highly acclaimed and endorsed by well know Christian leaders.

Biblically well balanced the book is written in easy to read and understand layman's terms, with a user friendly format, filled with practical application. I received new insight into the book of Job as I re-read of his trials and testing, of his economic disaster, the loss of his family, and his physical suffering. I was challenged by his response to each adversity, his persistency in trusting God, and was blessed by his ultimate reward.

The chapter titled "The Top Ten List of Evil" was eye opening as an expose of the false teaching prevalent today, the result of the low view of Scripture, the influence preponderance of false teaching among the cults, confusing theological views, the teachings of world religions and misleading academic philosophies.

"The Devil is in the Details" is an ideal choice for individual use, a small group study, for Adult Bible classes, or for background preparation for a sermon series. Tony Kessinger's writing is Biblically sound, practical in application, inspiring, and motivating.

When the Devil Whistles
Rick Acker
Abingdon Press
P. O. Box 801, Nashville, TN 37202
9781426707674, $14.99,

Government Fraud, International Intrigue, and Deep Sea Conspiracy

Allie Whitman has combined her expertise in accounting and a knack for "sniffing out fraud" in government contracts into a successful and lucrative career as a professional whistleblower. Attorney Conner Norman acts in Allie's behalf as lawyer for Devil to Pay, Inc. a shell corporation that files fraud suits based on Allie's discoveries.

During a temporary accounting assignment Allie's secret is uncovered. Her life suddenly begins to fall apart as other secrets come to light. Conner finds himself in a dilemma as trust, loyalty, and deep inner convictions threaten his career, his character, and his life.

Rick Acker accelerates his reputation as a fresh voice in the genre of the legal thriller/suspense novel. "When the Devil Whistles" is intense drama, unrelenting tension, with a riveting fast moving plot. Acker is a master at building suspense, conflict, and tension. His intricate plotting and intriguing story line take his carefully defined characters in uncharted waters that are beyond realism, yet believable. Acker is gifted in his ability to create a sense of constant uncertainty and surprise in his intricate plot twists, and unpredictable situations.

I particularly enjoyed the local flavor of the San Francisco Bay area locale, the intriguing "internal dialog", the clearly defined characters, and the use of interpretive narrative.

An underlying theme of ethics in business, shady corporation practices, and the freedom of personal choices and their consequences moves the story forward enriching the perceptions of Acker's characters and the driving force behind Conner's motives and actions as they impact the final climatic explosive outcome of "When the Devil Whistles."

Discussion questions and author's notes at the conclusion of the book give insight into Rick Acker, his profession, his motivation, and his faith.

The Secret Sin of Opi
Peter D. Cimini
Robert D. Reed Publishers
P. O. Box 1992, Bandon, Oregon 97411
9781934759370, $24.95,

The Impact of the Ravages of War on the Core Values of a Community Culture

"The Secret Sin of Opi" describes how the ravages of war turned a community of good people to act irrationally as group survival, panic, and desperation led to a plot of evil, bizarre action, resulting in the conscription (kidnapping) of seven strong able bodied young men and of their long term imprisonment. The citizen of Opi fanatically hoped to maintain their historic, traditional way of life. Peter D. Cimini uses the platform of fiction to give the reader insight into the impact on the illegal offenders themselves, the victims, and their families in instances of long-term captivity.

Cimini has a unique writing style that allows the reader to become a silent participant in the feelings and emotions of his characters. I felt the confusion, disheartenment, anger, and bitterness of the young victims as year after year the senseless hopelessness of their situation gnawed at them. I empathized with Francesca as she embraced her son Pietro in his bold declaraion of rejecting his faith in God as his hurt and anger completely dominated his every thought and action. I tried to understand the motivation of the citizens of Opi as Father Mascia attempted to justify their actions in leaving their core values as a result of losing their sons, fathers, and brothers, in a war they didn't want or understand.

"The Secret Sins of Opi" gives the reader insight into the psychological dynamics of a long-term imprisonment, the diverse nature of abuse, and how cultural differences impact the reaction of the individual victims. Peter D. Cimini has created a masterful study in human nature, into the bonding relationships a common disaster can create among the victims and the extended impact on family relationships as a result of their loss.

The editing contribution of Jessica Bryan, well known for her editing skills with publications of the American Academy of Neurology add credibility and depth to the complex nature of Cimini's plot.

Shaken Not Shattered
Matthew Hagee
Charisma House
600 Rinehart Road, Lake Mary, Florida 32746
9781599794648, $14.99,

Building Character and a Legacy Through Perseverance

I was immediately captured by Matthew Hagee's unique gift of communicating a story. I felt connected with "Shaken Not Shattered" after Matthew's very first illustration.

Using forceful short, quick "sound bytes," Hagee delivers foundational truths that are essential to surviving in these difficult times. He provides action steps for determining priorities and establishing motives and goals which give hope, joy and confidence in the midst of turmoil and chaos. He challenges the reader to persevere in the journey to accomplishment and victory.

Matthew sheds new light on the importance of diligence in the managing our resources to insure and unshakable economic strength. He relates incidents which illustrate how integrity produces stability, and how loyalty can produce revival in every area of our lives. His suggestions and ideas on a meaningful prayer life, worship and praise can be expanded, reflected on, and nurtured in a growing relationship with the Lord.

"Shaken Not Shattered" has the power of becoming a life changing experience for the reader willing to answer the call to a commitment of passing along to the next generation the seeds of a legacy rooted in Christian truth, values and character. Important, timely, and relevant.

The ArtScroll English Tanach
Rabbi Nosson Scherman
Mesorah Publications
4401 2nd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11232-4212
9781422610398, $34.99,

A New Jewish Bible for English Readers

"The ArtScroll English Tanach: The Jewish Bible with Insights from Classic Rabbinic Thought" is not only a contemporary English translation of the Hebrew Scripture from the Masoretic Text but contains a commentary with insights gleaned from 2,000 years of rabbinic thought.

I especially appreciated the marginal notes provided for quick skimming to find specific subjects, incidents, times, and places. They are much more complete and easier to use than the topical headings found in many English study Bibles. I also found that the explanations from the Hebrew language enriched my understanding and appreciation of the intent of the original text.

The appendices provide valuable resources including: time lines, genealogies, illustrations of the Tabernacle and its furnishings, the priestly garments, biblical maps, a subject index, a resource guide for further Jewish study, and a unique summary of each chapter of the Jewish Bible.

"The ArtScroll English Tanach" is designed for anyone who wants to understand the Jewish Scripture in English. The text is easy to read, understand, and apply to contemporary life. This is an excellent biblical resource for every home, school, and library.

Whole Life Transformation: Becoming the Change Your Church Needs
Keith Meyer
Inter Varsity Press
Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426
9780830835300, $20.00,

From Trying to Training as Followers of Jesus

"Whole Life Transformation" is based on Keith Meyer's journey in spiritual formation. The book is a "formatio" imprint of Inter Varsity Press, which addresses church tradition in the area of spiritual formation, transformation by Christ, and becoming conformed to His image, an integrating of God's Word with spiritual practice.

Keith tells of his dramatic realization that he had become a workaholic in "professional ministry." In the midst of his pursuit for success as a pastor Keith was faced with the realization that his family and home life were being neglected. His personal "drive," ministry demands, and the number of evening meetings left him exhausted, short tempered, and at odds with his wife.

The book is Keith's story of discovery, a discovery of the need for a relevance of attitudinal behavioral teaching in the church consistent with the doctrinal teaching of the grace and forgiveness of God. He tells of his journey to "new life" and of serving Jesus as Lord, a life of redemption, repentance, and reform. This transformation in Keith's life led to a change in how he pastors and in his leadership of others. He speaks honestly of the transformation gap in today's church as the result of the prevalence of a reduced Gospel, a gospel that leaves out the idea of a significant whole life change, and a chagrin of existing sin. He invites the reader to join him in a "virtue walk" that involves transformation in all areas of life: money, sex, prayer-fulness, anger, control, fear, and worry. He calls the church to a holistic vision of society, to become "salt and Light" to the world in order to make a difference and impact on culture, with an emphasis on what to do - not how to do it.

Meyers writing is personal, pointed, and practical. "Whole Life Transformation: Becoming the Change Your Church Needs" is written for pastors, is highly acclaimed by recognized church pastors and leaders and the forward written by Dallas Willard reinforces the importance of Keith's message of spiritual formation in the life contemporary church.

A complimentary review copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Love and War: Human Nature in Crisis
Rudolf Harmsen, PH.D. & Paddy S. Welles, Ph.D.
Robert D. Reed Publishers
P. O. Box 1992, Bandon, Oregon 97411
9781934759462, $17.95,

Insights into Establishing a Global Perspective

"Love and War" is written with the express purpose of helping the reader understand the ways aggression and passion influence the approach we use to meet our personal needs and to achieve our ambitions and goals. Rudolf Harmsen and Paddy S. Wells combine their expertise in biology and psychology with their childhood memories of WWII in this extraordinary analysis of the conflict of love and fear deeply ingrained in the human psyche.

The impressive bibliography includes over 125 entries of highly acclaimed works by respected scholars, leaders, and writers recognized for their influence on the decision makers of the world. An additional listing of important reference works provides suggestions for future reading and study.

I especially appreciated the unique way their personal stories reinforced the depth of thought, rationale, and logic of their observations and conclusions.

Harmsen and Wells call for participation in the process of a life changing personal transformation as we examine our perspective and the role we play as "Global Citizens" in influencing the destiny of the planet. "Love and War: Human Nature in Crisis" is a timely reminder of the need for individuals to develop an atmosphere of love in an environment of war.

A complementary review copy was provided by the publisher in exchanged for a fair and honest review.

Red Runs the River
Anthony G. Bollback
Pleasant Word
c/o WinePress Publishing
P. O. Box 428, Enumclaw, WA 98022
9781414101101, $16.99,

The Persecuted Church in China

"Red Runs the River" is veteran missionary, Anthony Bollback's story of the persecuted church in China since the take over of Communism in the decades from 1960 - 1970.

Bollback's writing is highly acclaimed by missionary statesmen, Christian leaders and educators as being sensitive, historically accurate, gripping and passionate.

Another time, another government, and a changing economy: but always bloodshed for the Christian Church in the broad expanse of China's history and vast area. Because of the nature of the persecuted church in China today and to protect those faithful in the Christian movement going on currently, Bollback has chosen the medium of historical fiction to tell the story behind the reality of martyrdom and imprisonment among Chinese Christians.

Much of the story is centered on the lives of Meiling and Anching and their love for each other. These and other characters developed in the story are composites of real people many of whom are known by Bollback.

As a veteran writer Bollback knows how to capture the feelings of anguish, the passion of purpose, and the realism of intimidation and of danger experienced by committed Christians in China today. The story contains all the elements of drama, intrigue, romance, conflict and resolution.

"Red Runs the River" challenges the Church with a wake up call to the realty that Christians around the world are being persecuted for their faith. This is a call to intercessory prayer. The story is compelling, eye opening, a page turner. Heart touching and life changing.

Lord I Feel So Small
Jon Drury
WinePress Publishing
Box 428, Enumclaw, Washington 98022
9781414118048, $17.99,

Are You Using Man's Yardstick or the Plumb line of the Scriptures?

In the book "Lord I Feel So Small: Using God's Yardstick to Conquer Self-Doubt" Pastor Jon Drury maintains that by measuring ourselves against man's yardstick we may miss our own greatness or significance by not recognizing the touch of God on our lives.

The pages are filled with contemporary stories from the lives of broken people struggling with the emotions of self pity, unworthiness, fear, and rejection. Other examples come from Biblical accounts of men and women who have faced similar challenges of adversity and challenge. In a natural progression Drury shows how these illustrations often parallel many of the life experiences he grappled with as he emerged from his personal wilderness journey.

The book is made up of twenty chapters divided into six sections. These include concepts including: crafting a foundation of significance, dealing with feelings of despair and fear, and keys from scripture which counteract these negative feelings, replacing them with hope, courage, and healing. Jon talks about hindrances along the way, externals that frustrate signs of progress, and experiences that obstruct true success, friendship and trust. He warns of the danger of determining worth through comparisons.

Each chapter ends with a section titled "Think it Through" made up of questions for reflection, application, or discussion. These questions which clearly relate directly to the material covered within the chapter also encourage personal reflection based on individual backgrounds and experience.

Jon's writing is transparent. He openly discusses his own feelings of anxiety, worry, and rejection as he equips the reader to discover God's purpose and to rebuild a life based on the Scripture. I enjoyed the user friendly format of the book.

I can highly recommend "Lord I Feel So Small: Using God's Yardstick to Conquer Self-Doubt" for anyone wanting to exchange their struggle with self-worth or feelings of insecurity for a life of significance and purpose as they recognize the touch of God on their lives.

For Our Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Friends
Dan Kane
Pleasant Word
c/o WinePress Publishing
Box 428, Enumclaw, WA 98022
9781414111438, $19.99,

The Debt of Sin - Paid in Full

"For Our Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Friends" introduces the reader to the Jesus of the New Testament and helps them understand how God's Word came down to man. Author Dan Kane was raised and educated a Roman Catholic. At age 41 Dan came to the realization that the debt for man's sin had been paid for by Jesus on the cross. He accepted this gift of salvation by putting his trust in Jesus Christ.

The book is comprehensive, clearly communicating foundational truths of the Bible and the Gospel of Christ. Kane writes in east to understand layman's terms. Summary titles within the narrative of each chapter help the reader focus on and assimilate the material covered.

I found the chapter titled "That You May Know That You Have Eternal Life" especially important as it provides the reader with the scriptural reinforcement for the assurance of eternal life in Christ.

For reader's steeped in Church tradition, the material in the chapter titled simply "Tradition" will be insightful and eye opening in light of the scriptures provided.

In an appendix Kane includes a complete study detailing the characteristics of the New Testament Church based on scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments.

"For Our Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Friends" can be used as an individual study, in a small group, or as a tool for a foundational study with new believers.

A Carpenter's View of the Bible
Charlie March
Pleasant Word
c/o WinePress Group
P. O. Box 428, Enumclaw, WA 98022
9781414117638, $17.99,

A View of Scriptures as Combining Carpentry and Academia

"A Carpenter's View of the Bible" combines biblical constructive narratives, symbolism, and scholarly knowledge. Charlie March takes the reader on a unique adventure in Bible study by providing a panoramic view of the scriptures as seen through the eyes of a carpenter and builder.

I was intrigued by the chapter dealing with the Tower of Babel and the idea of it being the "epitome of jobsite miscommunication." The wrap up chapter "Sawdust: Last Word from the Jobsite" provides additional insight into the author's life and values. I particularly enjoyed the detailed illustrative drawings, explanations of symbolism, chapter summaries, and references to architecture and archeology. I was impressed with the clarity of March's writing. He clearly recognizes that he is writing for the layman and for an advanced reading audience. Both are rewarded with rich insights and new perspectives on Biblical truths.

March has done extensive study on ancient architecture and religion in the Middle East. He has completed theological studies, and has experienced years of rich personal Bible study in preparation for teaching adult Bible classes. His research for the book is well documented with end notes and a comprehensive bibliography. Both of these are excellent resource tools for further reading and extensive study for readers that wish to go deeper in their study of the Bible.

"A Carpenter's View of the Bible" will enrich your study, your teaching, or your sermons and provides good reading from Charlie's discussion of the Genesis account of creation through to the City of Heaven now under construction.

It Was Out of Love
James S. Marr
WinePress Publishing
P. O. Box 428, Enumclaw, WA 98022
9781606150238, $19.99,

A Remarkable Story of Love and Deception

James S. Marr, computer systems engineer, former Air Force officer and instructor at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs tells an unbelievable story of his long-term, convoluted relationship in his book "It Was Out of Love." A theme of grace and forgiveness permeates Jim's story of thirty years of marriage to Melissa.

Jim relates his spiritual journey, his family background and the circumstances that led up to the decision to marry Melissa even after recognizing he had been deceived by her throughout the months of telephone dates, numerous notes, cards, and letters. He tells of the intervention of friends and inconsistencies in the details of her family and background.

The book details Jim's career as an Air Force officer, the ups and downs that go with growing in a marriage relationship, and of service to the church and community as husband and wife. He describes the growing relationship and mutual respect and encouragement demonstrated in a marriage built around a false sense of trust in an atmosphere of deception. Jim's care of Melissa during the final two years of medical problems will be an encouragement to care-givers and their families.

In this first person account, Jim bares his soul and becomes vulnerable as he shares "their story." His writing is engaging, compelling, and deeply thought provoking. In retrospect, Jim acknowledges that he finds the story impossible to believe. I, too, wonder how a successful, brilliant man like Jim could be so naive and taken in by the totality of the deception as ultimately revealed.

The format of the book includes dozens of scripture passages highlighted as side bars, for easy reference, without losing the flow of the narrative. Four pages of well selected photos bring the story to life and add credibility to the mystery of the story.

Strong writing, a compassionate message, relevant for today's reader.

Love Has Come
Kevin Orr
Pleasant Word
c/o WinePress Publishing
P. O. Box 428, Enumclaw, Washington 98022
978-1414115481, $14.99,

A Twenty Eight Day Devotional Bible Study

Kevin Orr has created a twenty eight day devotional study guide that focuses on one chapter each day from the book of Matthew. One or two verses have been chosen as highlights. These are centered on Jesus love. Orr asks the reader to consider what motivated Jesus to come to earth, live as a man, among us, ultimately dying on the cross for mankind.

In "Love Has Come" Kevin Orr relates incidents from his spiritual journey that left him devastated, disillusioned and filled with heartache. Other stories testify of similar experiences. Orr parallels these stories with events in the life of Jesus in which He exemplified proactive steps demonstrating virtue, instruction, and sacrifice even in the face of indifference, intimidation, and the viciousness of those aggressively opposing Him.

Each daily study includes a page for the reader's personal reflection. This exercise aids the reader in making the passage personal. It is Kevin's prayer that the challenges, thought provoking questions, and suggested applications presented will have a profound, life changing impact leading the reader into a new and deeper relationship with the Savior.

Kevin Orr serves as orchestra director for Meadowood Baptist Church in Midwest, City Oklahoma.

"Love Has Come" presents a solid message of restoration through the riches of God's unmerited grace and unfathomable love. Kevin Orr's writing is sensitive, timely, filled with potent possibility for impacting the reader's spiritual journey.

Forging Ahead For God - Percy Wills
Darda Burkhart
Pleasant Word
c/o WinePress Group
P. O. Box 428, Enumclaw, WA 98022
9781414113654, $17.99,

A Remarkable Tribute to an Amazing Pioneer Missionary

Darda Burkhart has captured the dedication and devotion of the call of God on the life of her father, Percy Wills in "Forging Ahead For God - Percy Wills: Pioneer Missionary," a biographical sketch of the life and ministry of an amazing pioneer missionary to the peoples of the Pacific Northwest.

Percy Wills is often thought of as a man for all seasons and a servant to all he met. His spiritual journey and ministry took him from his family for long periods of at time to minister throughout the remote frontiers on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Wills, a true visionary, saw the needs of the people in out-of-the-way areas without medical or spiritual help.

"Forging Ahead" is a testimony of a man walking by faith and seeing God provide through miracle after miracle through his sixty years of pioneering in missionary work. Percy's ministry included reaching into logging and mining camps, door to door visitation in the remotest areas of the Canadian Pacific Northwest. He provided clothing, conversation, friendship, as well as help with chopping wood, harvesting potatoes, and providing help with household chores. He told the children stories and always shared the gospel message once he had earned a respect and been given a listening ear.

During the years of the great depression Wills established a ministry to the drifter and the homeless. He built a shelter for the men. Always a man of vision Percy opened a medical clinic in the early years of Messenger II Ministries. During the years of World War II Percy provided ministry to servicemen and following the war he opened camps for teens, and helped administer daily vacation Bible schools for children.

Richard R. Blake

Riva's Bookshelf

Trompe L'Oeil
Russell Bittner
Russell Bittner
$2.99 for Kindle edition

Bittner's prose shines in Trompe l'Oeil a story of love, need, addiction and darkness. With strong characters, erotic scenes and a deepening picture of damage that goes far beneath the surface and may be more than Kit's love can handle, or heal.

Daneka Sorensen is a Dane, living in New York City running a high powered publishing empire. Kit is an up and coming, though not yet arrived, photographer living in East Village. Their pairing is unusual, but Daneka finds herself madly attracted to him despite the difference in their financial and social standings. Kit, is fascinated by Daneka, with that fascination quickly turning into love touched with obsession. Even when Kit discovers the darker side of Daneka's nature moving on will prove difficult, if not impossible.

Together Kit and Daneka set off on a European tour ending in Denmark at Daneka's home and with visits to her mother. As they progress throughout Europe Daneka becomes moodier and more withdrawn. Kit desperately wants to understand the problem, but by the time they reach Denmark it dawns on him that even though he loves this woman, their relationship may not last much longer. Something is changing in Daneka, pulling her further and further away from him.

Trompe l'Oeil is a fascinating look into the darkness of a soul and whether it can be healed by love, while at the same time examining how much that love can take and how long it will hold on, despite mounting evidence that it isn't wanted. Is it really not desired or is the damage done to a soul so comprehensive that it is unable to take in even the sustenance it most desires. This is a question delved into by Bittner with his complex characters, erotic scenes and wonderful prose.

Trompe l'Oeil is a bit long and requires quite a bit of time to read as there are subtle nuances to the story in most scenes that you don't want to miss. It explores the complexity of the human condition and the question of whether or not love really can conquer all in a complicated and fascinating story.

The Hate and Manhunt
S. L. Pierce
9781458045980 ASIN B004O6MVAS $.99

I occasionally review novellas or short stories. This review is of the short stories The Hate and Manhunt. The Hate is the short story that is for sale, Manhunt accompanies it as a free gift. Both stories are very interesting for very different reasons.

I found The Hate to be a really interesting story of the revenge all of us would like to exact if we were in the protagonist's situation. There isn't a person reading the story who couldn't identify with the grief-stricken mother and her need to get even, at any cost. What I really enjoyed was the end of the story. I don't want to give it away but suffice it to say that it too is a situation I could see happening, under the right circumstances.

Manhunt is a very different type of story. It is the tale of a young woman who grows up to be an assassin and who kills the President of the United States. In a story that at first appears to bear little resemblance to the original circumstance - she killed the president - the ground work for her tale is laid. The twist at the end was great and really tied together everything I had read up until that point. It made the entire story echo through my mind as the reality of her conclusion hit me. It was great.

The Hate and Manhunt can both be read in a few hours. While a thread of commonality runs through the stories they are very different from one another in scope. I enjoyed both of them and think they are well worth the investment in their purchase.

Triumphs and Tragedies: Twenty-five aspects of the life of a Liverpool Sailor
Peter Wright
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403,
9781440168147, $16.95,

Triumphs and Tragedies: Twenty-five aspects of the life of a Liverpool Sailor by Peter Wright may well qualify as one of the most interesting memoirs I have read. It is written in a straightforward, engaging manner that immediately worms it way into your mind. Going back and forth between memories of adult life and childhood at first, Wright takes through his memories of such great events as both World Wars, and his reactions to them, as well as his childhood reactions to the Great War (World War I). Even though World War I took place prior to Wrights birth it deeply impacted his life, leaving emotional and psychological wounds that would never heal.

Wright offers honest recollections of his life and experiences that are at humorous, painful, loving and full of every emotion in between. Wright doesn't spare himself at all but opens himself up and lets the recollections and stories flow not only from his memory, but from his heart. What follows is an excerpt from a portion dealing with Wright's days as a Catholic school boy:

"When I was in the fourth form, about fourteen years of age, the head sacristan appointed me thurifer for the upcoming high mass on Palm Sunday. The thurifer is the guy who carries the thurible, the brass sensor hung on chains which contains burning incense. Some of you reading this can imagine how I felt, especially when Sunday morning dawned - horrible. I knew I was going to make a mess of it. If I'd known exactly how I would have made a mess of it, I would have caught the next train back home…

…I had had a few lessons in mastering the art of manipulating the thurible and was, perhaps, less fearful of taking it off the hook in the sacristy than I might of otherwise been, but I doubt that anyone noticed or cared…

…Treading ever-so-carefully, almost on tip-toe, I led the procession into the chapel. I was amazed how much noise boys make when they simply stand up; snuffling, sneezing, farting and generally being clumsy. Everything went well, even when I handed the thurible to the priest so that he could bless the missal and whatever other objects had to be blessed. When he handed it back, however, I got my two middle fingers where they were supposed to be, but somehow only got the thumb-ring halfway over my thumb. The result was inevitable. With my full attention on manipulating the thumb-ring halfway over my thumb. The result was inevitable. With my full attention on manipulating the thumb-ring farther onto my thumb, I allowed the device to wobble, and while I frantically lifted and swung it, the beveled bottom of the incense cup struck the edge of one of the flagstones ejecting hot coals onto the altar carpet, and onto the white habits of some of the monks kneeling at the altars' side.

There was a little pandemonium. While the monks put their own fires out, I tried to scrape the embers back into the brass container. Without even thinking, I picked up a piece of hot incense. Burning and hot, it stuck to my finger of course, and I said, 'Jesus.'

'Don't apologize to Him, Wright, get on with mass.' One of the monks with a sense of slapstick, helped me stay fairly calm. The damage was slight, and little was said by the clergy. A couple of them smiled and one or two raised their eyes. For the rest of the school, however, it was a hilarious topic. 'Couldn't have seen a better show at Blackpool," one Lancashire lad remarked."

As you can see the recollections are vivid and Wright has no problem, in this or any other recollection, with pointing a self-recriminating, if at times humorous, finger. The stories in the book made me laugh, cry and cringe in empathy with the author. If I were to be asked to recommend one memoir this year it would be Triumphs and Tragedies: Twenty-five aspects of the life of a Liverpool Sailor. It is brief, highly enjoyable and at the same time very informative of both the lifestyles and events of a bygone era and way of life understood by only a select few.

The Father's Child
Mark Adair
Nook ISBN10 0011957204
Kindle ASIN B004DCB3W0 $0.99

The Father's Child is an interesting foray into the land of kidnapping, mind control and world domination. The beginning is a bit slow as it lays the foundation for the rest of the story, but if you continue through the story it will all be worth it in the end.

The storyline for The Father's Child is interesting, and in today's day and age feasible. It is easy to suspend belief and enter into the realm of the story.

The Father's Child has a lot going for it. It has some great action scenes near the end, and a complex and evolving storyline that really draws you in. You can absolutely picture the situation happening. You can believe in the backdrop of a long-standing clandestine society spending hundreds of years moving toward their solution of how to solve all of the world's problems. You know there are people out there for whom the end justifies the means. You know there are societies that would love to dominate the world. You know there are groups that think their solutions are the only way to bring about a better world. You are so drawn into the story because of this that even the twists and turns along the way make perfect sense as they arise. The story will absolutely keep you reading.

There are a few spots where the difference in time frame references from one character's experience to the other character's experience can throw you off, but you'll quickly adjust to the difference in time between the events in the character John's timeline and those in the character Paul's timeline. John and Paul are the two point of view characters in the story and Adair does an admirable job of switching between the characters in a clean, neat fashion.

Overall I found The Father's Child to be an enjoyable read. I felt the tension in the story could have been better developed, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the story itself and the underlying premise it was established on. I found it really interesting and if you like a mystery with a psychological and technological twist I think you'll enjoy it too.

Adventures with Natural Healing
Ellen L. Hughes, CHt
The McKee Company
9780964590861, $5.99

Adventures with Natural Healing, A Personal Journey of Discovery, with 26 Alternative Health Methods by Ellen L. Hughes, CHt is a layman's guidebook and map to the world of alternative healing. Hughes, who describes herself as a "health junkie," leads the reader into the basics of 26 modalities of alternative healing.

While exploring each of the 26 methods of healing Hughes answers the questions on every reader's mind: What is the method, who is it for, why, when and where is it used? Hughes also answers the question of whether the method appears to work drawing upon personal testimonials as well as the latest research on some of the methods of healing.

As someone who only familiar with the uses of some herbs and also of the benefits of chiropractic medicine, I was interested in learning about some other alternative health treatments that might be beneficial and when to use them. Adventures with Natural Healing, A Personal Journey of Discovery, with 26 Alternative Health Methods was the perfect primer for me. It answered all of my questions in a clear, concise way and even directed me to additional resources where they were available.

I found Ellen L. Hughes' Adventures with Natural Healing, A Personal Journey of Discovery, with 26 Alternative Health Methods very helpful and I think you will too. It's a perfect reference book for beginners or for people like me who want to know what additional options might be available.

Imago Chronicles Book Five: Destiny's End
L.T. Suzuki
Lightning Source
9780986724060, $19.99

Imago Chronicles Book Five: Destiny's End by L.T. Suzuki is the fifth installment in the popular Imago series. Once again Nayla is reunited with the men of the Order for an adventure that along with being their most difficult to date, could well prove to be their last.

Taiko Saikyu, also known as the Sorceress, has reappeared in Imago and has stolen an artifact necessary for the continuation of life in Imago; not only that, but her actions are putting Imago and another world, whose existence was previously unknown, in jeopardy. The brave people of the Order must band together in order to defeat the Sorceress once and for all or face the loss of everything they hold dear. So real is the threat that should the Order fail King Kal-lel, Prince Arerys father, is prepared to lead all of elf-kind into the Twilight so they can enter the elf Haven.

L.T. Suzuki does a wonderful job weaving together divergent strands of the story into a new, complete whole that offers fans of this fantasy highs and lows unlike any they have ever experienced before. With Nayla and the men of the Order racing across an unknown dimension in pursuit of the Sorceress, even the smallest of actions can have far-reaching effects that no one could anticipate.

I loved the change in the storyline for Destiny's End. There was no way I could have predicted the way events would unfold as I began the book. Suzuki's writing had me laughing hysterically at parts of the story and reaching for another box of tissues at another, particularly heartbreaking part. I ran the gamut of emotions as Suzuki orchestrated events like a maestro, moving neither too slowly or too quickly toward what was, in hindsight, a perfectly natural conclusion to the book. The story took twists and turns throughout and it was almost as though there were two different adventures going on at once, one unfolding in Imago, while the other unfolded in a new world.

I highly recommend Imago Chronicles Book Five: Destiny's End. It is an absolute must read for fans of the series, but fans of fantasy and speculative fiction will enjoy it as well. I think it's highly original and entertaining with well developed characters, tension and storyline. You have to read it for yourself to experience the difference.

Tracy M. Riva

Sanchez's Bookshelf

Sandy Powers
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781456729547, $14.95,

Passage by Sandy Powers (author of Organic for Health) is a quick read and gets right down to a story that will move the reader in many ways. Expect tears by page two.

The book opens as the author brings her mother home from the hospital, there to die. After her mother's death, she discovers her mother's journals along with letters, news articles and historical documents in boxes her mother had left for her children. The journals are corroborated by the newspaper articles and enhanced by the letters and tell stories of astonishing drama. The author adds no embellishment whatsoever but allows her mother to tell the story of her tragic childhood in straight forward, matter of fact language. Rather than dwell on her sad past, this strong woman focuses on the best part of her life: the love she finds and maintains with her husband. She describes their meeting and the "love at first sight" attraction in the same matter of fact language she uses to describe her stepmother's abuse. Clearly this was a woman who took life's ups and downs in her stride and did what she needed to "get it done" whatever the job at hand might be. This love that she shares with her husband is stronger than the sad losses of childhood and gives her the strength and confidence to bring five children of her own into the world. It also gives her the strength and courage to conquer cancer in the early fifties when treatment was more experimental than it is today. Her response to her cancer diagnosis is representative of her response to life generally: she tells her doctor that with a husband and five children "dying is not an option". Ultimately cancer returns to claim her life but not until she has raised the children to adulthood and spent what I calculate must be close to seventy years with the love of her life.

I won't spoil the impact of the amazing events she writes about in her journals by describing the unusual details of her life but do highly recommend that the reader discover them by reading this brief and fascinating book. I'll just whisper the words "murder", "war"and "spy" and you begin to get the picture. I don't know if the author has plans to write about her own memories of a life with her amazing mother but I for one would be most interested in reading it. Grace Balogh was definitely a woman worth knowing. Congratulations to her daughter for putting together this tribute.

Tim Sandlin
Sourcebooks Landmark
9781402241819, $24.99

Lydia is an exquisitely twisted braid of genealogical plots too complex to describe.You just have to read it. I suspect much of it was inspired by someone's reality because, the truth is, the truth is not only stranger than fiction but often flat out unimaginable.Whatever the inspiration, the imagination that went into this novel is downright mind boggling.

The Lydia in Lydia is an outrageous, difficult woman but I started to understand how she got to be that way. Have you ever thought if it weren't for bad luck you'd have no luck at all? Have you ever had the insight that hope and expectations are just a set up for failure and disappointment? Have you ever had one of those nightmares where you scream your head off but no sound comes out? Have you ever despaired of ever getting anyone to understand what you are trying to say, especially when what you are trying to say is urgent? Have you ever wanted to just throw a tantrum in absolute frustration with bureaucracy? Have you ever despaired of the crazy upside down unfairness in our world ever being set right side up? Tim Sandlin understands all this. And he understands that if you don't laugh, you'll cry.

I was upset with Lydia for trashing the hardware store but came to have real empathy for her when she dragged her granddaughter off the couch and berated her to get on with some kind of life. She chose weird ways to express it but she did love that girl.

Orbiting around the title character is quite a cast. Watching and listening to them, especially Sam the narrator son of Lydia, I ran the gamut of emotions from a quiet "amen to that" chuckle to a knee slapping belly laugh and more than once I hollered at my husband, "hey listen to this" and read bits of dialogue out lot so he could share my laughter. And then there were the times I just held my breath in terror wondering what that sociopath Leroy was going to do next. This book will get your adrenalin going in all directions. Told in tandem with the present story is the oral history Lydia is recording as a community service assignment, of Oly coming up on his 100th birthday. Both stories are equally hysterical and heartbreaking in turns and the author moves them along at a galloping pace.

I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first novel by Tim Sandlin I've had the pleasure to read. But I'm admitting it because it means I am also very lucky insofar as now that I've finished reading his most recent opus, still hungry for more of this author's wacky wisdom from authentically "squirrely" characters, I've got places to go satisfy that hunger. Quotes on the book jacket and front pages claim that other reviewers have compared him to such notables as Ed Abbey, Tom Robbins, Larry McMurtry, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouack (wonder why they left out Jim Harrison?) but honestly I think Tim Sandlin has earned his place among the best of his peers and that reviewers should probably be praising other worthy authors by comparing them to him. He deserves the enhanced visibility.

Sandra Shwayder Sanchez

Sandra's Bookshelf

The Seeds of Spring: Lessons From The Garden
Steve Bates
Breaking Ground Books
43364 Wintersrun Court, Ashburn, VA 20147
9781453869352 $9.95

This book is so much more than just a how to garden book. The author takes us on an adventure in gardening for a season. I found this book to be philosophical, poetic, a test of endurance, and informative.

Mr. Bates believes we should all be responsible in taking care of our planet. It is up to us to be as environmentally friendly, as we can be.

I had never thought a garden could be a work of art, until I read this book. The way the author plans his garden you will find different colors at different times of the growing season. The colors, shapes and textures could be compared to a realist painting.

I have to add that this book is also funny. I will never be able to look at a chicken again without remembering the battles Mr. Bates faced in keeping them out of his garden. The immortal cry of "fried chicken, fried chicken," will always stay in my mind. I have to leave you with this warning, do not read this book and then go to a KFC for a long time. I did and could not stop laughing. I don't know where it came from but I started saying in a loud voice "fried chicken, fried chicken." My friend is still saying she can't take me any where as she never knows what I might say. This is a five star book and I give it a G rating.

The Pirate's Bastard
Laura S. Wharton
Second Wind Publishing, LLC
931-B Main Street, Box 145, Kernersville, NC 27284
97819354171201, $11.95; Kindle $7.95

Ms. Wharton has impressed me by the amount of time she spent making sure everything was correct for the time period the book takes place in. Everything is right on the mark. This book is Historical Fiction and an excellent read.

Reverend Jonathan Eubanks opens the church door and finds a small baby someone has left on the steps of the church. He takes the child to the orphanage where he will spend the first nine years of his life. The other children call him the town's bastard and assault him and call him names daily. The only refuge he has is when he goes to the church, where Reverend Eubanks is.

One day Reverend Eubanks asks him if he would like to go with him to his next assigned church in New Brunswick, in the colony of Carolina. It would mean that Edward would not be able to return to Barbados for a long time. Edward jumped at the chance to get away. Where no one knows the story of his father Stede Bonner, who left his plantation and his wife and two sons to become a notorious pirate along with his mistress who was Edward's mother. In New Brunswick Edward could begin a new life where he is not known. As he grows older he becomes a ship builder and life is good for him. That is until a man shows up who knows about his past. Will Edward be able to keep his past a secret or will it come up to haunt him again?

Sandra Heptinstall

Suzie's Bookshelf

Stop Looking for a Husband: Find the Love of Your Life
Marina Sbrochi
Brown Books Publishing Group
16200 N. Dallas Parkway, Suite 170, Dallas, Texas 75248
9781934812907 $14.95

From an early age, girls dream of the day of when they will find their own Prince Charming who will sweep her away to his castle. With this dream that has been instilled in us at such an early stage, we grow up to believe that if our Prince doesn't come then our perfect fairy tale world cannot be complete.

Through Marina Sbrochi's Stop Looking for a Husband: Find the Love of Your Life she shows how often a woman makes a mistake by rushing into a marriage with the wrong person. Often, the end result is a bitter divorce.

Through Sbrochi's philosophy revolves around changing your goal of finding a husband to finding the love of your life. It is only when true love is discovered can a person find true happiness.

For years, I have been searching for my ideal mate with the wrong type of mindset. It was an eye opening experience to discover in order to find my soul mate that first I had to basically give up every notion I had been using to find a mate.

For any single woman I highly recommend that you add Marina Sbrochi's Stop Looking for a Husband: Find the Love of Your Life to your must have book of the year purchase. This book motivation, humor, and philosophy really made me stop and think of all the ways I was sabotaging my quest to find true love. I found it to be an invaluable resource that I know I will reread many times over.

The One Day Way: Today Is All the Time You Need to Lose All the Weight You Want
Chantel Hobbs
WaterBrook Press
12265 Oracle Blvd. Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80921
9780307458957 $14.99 1-800-603-7051

Does the thought of starting another diet leave you feeling unmotivated? Then break out of that self destructive mind frame and take action to start living a healthy lifestyle.

Through Chantel Hobb's The One Day Way: Today Is All the Time You Need to Lose All the Weight You Want she reveals how she struggled with her own weight of 349 lbs and succeed in achieving her own weight loss goal.

I found that Chantel Hobb's is not only a brilliant author; she has faced what everyone who reads her book is experiencing. I feel her own victory with her own weight loss will be the positive motivation that will keep people on track on succeeding in her weight loss plan.

Chantel's diet plan is nothing complicated, in basically twenty four hours you will have all the knowledge you need to start working towards you goal of losing the weight you desire.

The One Day Way: Today Is All the Time You Need to Lose All the Weight You Want is a complete diet and exercise program. It features a meal section, and also 31 easy to master exercises that you can do in your own home.

Why wait another day to get started on having the figure that you dream about? Chantel Hobb's The One Day Way: Today Is All the Time You Need to Lose All the Weight You Want can turn your diet dreams into an actual reality.

What's Your Type of Career: Find Your Perfect Career By Using Your Personality Type
Donna Dunning
Nicholas Brealey Publishing
Davies-Black / Intercultural Press
20 Park Plaza, Suite 1115A, Boston, MA 02116
9781857885538 $21.95

The average person spends the majority of their time at work. Often, a person finds that they are unhappy in their chosen career field. They find that getting up each morning is one of their hardest struggles; for they know that they will have to go to a place they find little satisfaction.

Salvation now comes in the form of Donna Dunning's What's Your Type of Career: Find Your Perfect Career By Using Your Personality Type. Dunning's philosophy is based on the Jungian-based Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that features 16 different personality types. Through the easy to understand worksheets anyone can easily identify their personality type.

I was truly amazed at how accurate What's Your Type of Career: Find Your Perfect Career By Using Your Personality Type. In the past, I was required to take a course that identified my Myers-Brigg personality type. By using this book, I found that it was very accurate in determining that I was an INTJ.

With the knowledge that I knew my personality type I found career choices that I never considered exploring. For anyone who feels trapped in their current job, I highly recommend What's Your Type of Career: Find Your Perfect Career By Using Your Personality Type for it offers invaluable information that can help you find a career that you enjoy.

Suzie Housley, Reviewer

Theodore's Bookshelf

Dead Man's Chest
Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. 1st Ave., Scottsdale, AZ 85251
9781595087973, $24.95,

The Hon. Phryne Fisher makes her 16th appearance in this novel wherein she deservedly takes her entourage, including daughters Ruth and Jane, companion Dot, and pet Molly, on a vacation to the Australian coastal resort of Queenscliff where they are to spend relaxing time, i.e., no crimes or murders, at a house loaned to them by an anthropologist Phryne met just once at a party. (We should all have acquaintances like that!) The house, supposedly attended by a husband and wife team, the Johnsons, is vacant when the group arrives, with the back door unlocked, the servants' furniture missing and all manner of provisions absent. So much for a vacation from mysteries.

The plot is relatively light (they are, after all, on vacation), allowing the author to address various mundane activities, such as Ruth, the aspiring cook, taking over the kitchen in the absence of servants and preparing gourmet dinners, Jane enriching her scientific mind, and Phryne easily coming up with the necessary answers to satisfy any questions raised. No need to summarize what they are since we heartily encourage you to read this latest entry in a delightful series.


Moonlight Mile
Dennis Lehane
William Morrow
10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
9780061836923, $26.99,

There is no denying that Dennis Lehane writes unusual and well-plotted novels. Yet "Moonlight Mile" is a difficult book to read, confusing and inconsistent. It may be the last of the Patrick and Angie series, since they seem to be tired of the PI business, and he is leaning toward leaving the business to undertake a new endeavor.

The plot is relatively simple. Patrick promises to look for a missing 16-year-old girl, one he had found many years before her present disappearance. Angie, who was a full-time mommy to three-year-old Gabby, turns the child over to a neighbor to assist Patrick in the endeavor. Along the way, they encounter a bunch of psycho Russian mobsters to enliven the caper.

The characters seem like cardboard cutouts, and a lot of the dialog appears stilted. These characteristics are unusual in a Lehane novel. Oh well, on to the next one.

The Final Reckoning
Sam Bourne
c/o HarperCollins
10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
9780061875748, $26.99,

Truth and fiction merge in this thriller about survivors of the holocaust taking justice into their own hands, seeking out Nazis and murdering them. It comes to light when the last survivor of DIN, the secret group of Jewish resistance fighters (yes, there were some) and concentration camp inmates after the war, travels to the UN in New York from London on his last mission and is shot by a security guard.

Tom Byrne, a former UN attorney now in private practice, is retained to go to London, visit the victim's daughter, and attempt to smooth over any claim she might have. Instead, he becomes both romantically involved with her and involved in a scheme that eventually has severe repercussions.

Written based on actual people and events of the past, the novel provides emotional ups and downs almost equal in intensity to the horrors of "the final solution." It concludes with a suspense that is equally gripping, with solid prose and excellent pacing, and is recommended.

Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. 1st Ave., Scottsdale, AZ 85251
9781595088062 $24.95 800-421-3976

There are some excellent South African novels. But Frederick Ramsay has a particular interest in Botswana, and this is the second novel in what appears to be a burgeoning series featuring an up-and-coming Inspector, Modise, and Ranger, Sanderson. With the World Cup about to begin in South Africa, various unsavory sorts are spread all over the landscape and Botswana's officials are up to their eyeballs trying to establish security for visiting dignitaries like a secret meeting between the U.S. Secretary of State and North Koreans, as well as Russian Mafia types seeking to move into the territory, especially a world class casino-hotel being buily by an American in the Chobe river.

To complicate matters, there are some environmental fanatics seeking to spread Orgonite, an ostensible source of energy, to the area, a couple of ne'er-do-wells seeking to cash in on a rare earth shipment, and some murders to occupy the protagonists, not to mention local bribery, smuggling and other side issues.

This highly readable series reflects the author's deep knowledge of the country, perhaps derived from his son who is an official there. Ramsay authored the popular Ike Schwartz mysteries, which this reviewer also thoroughly enjoyed [and hope he hasn't forgotten the sheriff].


The Price of Liberty
Keir Graff
Severn House
555 Madison Ave., NY, NY 10022
9781847512482, $15.95,

The question raised by this novel is: Is it a political commentary or just an old-fashioned thriller? It seems that a cost-plus government contract to build a highly secure prison to house terrorists deep in the heart of Montana leads to all kinds of chicanery involving some innocent people. To begin with there is Jack McEnroe, who drives a construction vehicle, and his ex-wife, Kyla, who is secretary to the owner of the construction company.

When Kyla discovers her boss is overcharging the prime contractor, who presumably is marking up the invoices and happily passing them along to Washington for payment, her conscience prods her to at least consider exposing the fraud. This leads to attempts by the owner's son, who conceived the bilking plan originally, to cover up the misdeeds, placing Kyla and her children in great danger.

The ensuing events include murders and chases, with the tension building to a crescendo. For readers who revel in such plots, the book should be rewarding. For those who do not, the book can be a bit tedious at times. However, it is a fast-reading, exciting novel, and is recommended.

The Leopard
Jo Nesbo
Translated by Don Bartlett
Harvill Secker
c/o Random House
20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V 2SA, England
9781846554018 12.99 BPS

[It should be noted that this book is presently only available in/through the UK & Canada, not yet in the US.]

The latest Harry Hole novel presents the reader with a formidable challenge: On the one hand, the temptation is to try to read this tautly written, tightly plotted murder mystery in a single sitting. On the other hand, its 611 pages is undoubtedly a very large hurdle. Whatever the method, it's well worth the effort to read it no matter how long it takes.

After the travails he suffered at the conclusion of "The Snowman," Harry was so down that he resigned from the police force and traveled to the Far East, where he loses himself in alcohol, opium and gambling. There, a female detective from Norway finds him, pays off his gambling debts, tells him his father is in the hospital dying and he, as the only officer with experience solving serial murders, is wanted back in Oslo to help in what appears to be another multiple homicide case. At first he is reluctant, but finally accedes to the request to return because of his dad.

Still refusing to rejoin the crime squad, Harry finally gives in when a third victim, a member of parliament, is killed. There are no clues and no common links between the victims until Harry discovers all three spent a night in an isolated mountain cabin together, and it becomes apparent that the "guests" are being picked off one by one.

From that point, the case slowly unfolds somewhat murkily to keep the reader in the dark as to the ultimate denouement. Sometimes, Harry's insights are prophetic, others off base. But he always has his eye on the main purpose: to catch the bad guy. At the same time, he is fighting his personal demons, his separation from the great love of his life, his relationship with his dying father, the politics of the competition between elements of the department as to responsibility for murder investigations, and his disillusionment with his role as a cop. More than enough, one must say, for one man.

Highly recommended.

The Girl in the Green Raincoat
Laura Lippman
10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
9780061938368, $11.99,

This novella first appeared as a serialization in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. The author freely admits that she appropriated ideas for the work from a variety of sources, making the story really a smorgasbord of unrelated themes. It is, however, a Tess Monaghan tale set, as usual, in Baltimore.

Eight months pregnant, Tess, ever the active one, is confined to bed and bored silly. She looks out the window (shades of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rear Window'] and sees a woman in a green raincoat walking a dog with a matching green sweater, who she then notices on a daily basis. Days later, when she doesn't see the woman, she becomes, in her state of ennui, obsessed: Where is the woman? Then she sees the dog running around unaccompanied. It is enough to set Tess off in her investigative mode, enlisting others to assist in discovering what has happened to the woman.

Other elements of the novella include observations of love between various characters, the development of Tess as she progresses in her pregnancy and, presumably, future motherhood, and some insights into her friend Whitney. All in just a slender volume. Perhaps if the novella were developed into a full-fledged novel, this hodgepodge of subject matter could have been more fully developed, rather than with just token appearances. Nevertheless, it is written with the author's accustomed smoothness and is an enjoyable read.

Queen of the Night
J.A. Jance
c/o HarperCollins
10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
9780061239250, $9.99,

With a bow [by dedicating the book] to the late Tony Hillerman, who was a master at the genre of this novel (and the predecessors in the saga of the Walker family), J.A. Jance has written a murder mystery surrounded by the further development in the family's history peppered with lots of Indian lore.

The eponymous Queen is a once-a-year blossoming cactus whose legendary beginnings, like many of the tales in the novel, are based on the culture and history of the Tohono O'odhap people of southern Arizona. It plays a minor, but important, role in the story as the site of the contemporary murder of four people. Meanwhile, former homicide detective Brandon Walker inherits a 50-year-old open case from his Last Chance cold case mentor, one in which a popular coed was stabbed to death in San Diego while on a school break.

The broad sweep of the Walker saga provides interesting and deep personal observations about the characters and what motivates them. The plot lines in the novel are fairly complex, but move forward in a logical pattern. As usual, the writing is uncomplicated with beautiful descriptions of the Arizona terrain, and especially of the night-blooming cereus (the Queen of the Night), particularly appealing.


The Sentry
Robert Crais
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014
9780399157073, $26.95,

There are many larger-than-life, hard-boiled superheroes, some more believable than others. Then there is Joe Pike: A strong, contemplative, quiet, unassuming protagonist. And his sorrowful and anguished side-kick, PI Elvis Cole, adds a more human touch. Together, they make a great team, and in this, the third thriller in the series with Joe in the lead (Elvis is upfront in 11 others), they come together like ham and swiss or hand in glove.

It all begins when by chance Joe observes two gangbangers beating up a cook in a po'boy sandwich shop in Venice, California. Killing one (the other runs off), he meets the cook's niece and becomes attracted to her, deciding to meet with the gang jefe to prevent further violence in what appears to be a protection racket. This leads to all sorts of events involving the Mexican drug cartel, Bolivian drug lords, and a psychopathic killer, among others.

Each novel in the series is notable, with this entry among the best. The author has written a solid book, with ironic observations and a plot that swerves back and forth to keep the reader wondering what follows. He has shown that the series is a long way from running out of steam, and I can't wait for the next one.

Highly recommended.

Stettin Station
David Downing
Soho Press
853 Broadway, NY, NY 10003
9781569479193, $14.00,

The chronicle of journalist John Russell begins in Nazi Berlin a week before Pearl Harbor in this, the third novel in the series [with a fourth, "Potsdam Station," due out momentarily in hardcover]. The descriptions of Gestapo tactics and the beginnings of the "final solution" are eerily chilling.

Russell is ostensibly a correspondent for a San Francisco newspaper, allowing the author to describe the machinations of the Nazi censors and propaganda machine with vivid detail, while his protagonist acts as a go-between between German and American intelligence agents, carrying messages back and forth. He even obtains proof that the Gestapo is removing Jews from Berlin and planning to gas them, even though he can hardly publish the story.

As conditions worsen, Russell has to find a way to get out of Germany, hoping to bring his long-time girlfriend with him. It is a tale of terror with a thrill-a-page pace. Descriptions of wartime Berlin and the police state remind us of a period many may have forgotten, but of which we, and they, should perhaps be reminded.


Theodore Feit

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

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