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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 14, Number 5 May 2014 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Ann's Bookshelf Buhle's Bookshelf
Deacon's Bookshelf Gail's Bookshelf Gary's Bookshelf
Gloria's Bookshelf Gorden's Bookshelf Julie's Bookshelf
Karyn's Bookshelf Katherine's Bookshelf Mason's Bookshelf
Peggy's Bookshelf Sandra's Bookshelf Teri's Bookshelf
Theodore's Bookshelf    

Reviewer's Choice

The Tyrant's Daughter
J.C. Carleson
Alfred A. Knopf
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780449809976, $8.80 (PB), 304 pp, Kindle $9.78,

Brittany Means, Reviewer

What would you do if you spent your entire life thinking that you father was a king, only to find out after his death that he was actually a fearsome dictator? In The Tyrant's Daughter, fifteen year-old Laila struggles with this realization as well as with learning how to fit into American culture after what's left of her family is forced to leave their country. Laila faces the daunting world of American high school and dating while also trying to figure out her mother's web of lies that includes a CIA agent and a rebel group. While she attempts to adjust to the strange new world, Laila also must try to keep her family from being swept up in the political mess surrounding her father's legacy in this wonderful young adult novel.

Talented writer and former officer in the CIA's clandestine service, J.C. Carleson gives the reader a look into the mind of a young woman trying to survive in a new culture in spite of the complications of her former life. From the beginning, the reader is pulled in by the intriguing notion of a royal family living in a small apartment in an urban American city. Her brother's young age and her mother's emerging alcoholism show the reader that Laila must take on responsibility for her family's well-being even as she attempts to navigate this new way of life. In one scene with her younger brother, Bastien, he illustrates his naivety to their mother's addiction, and Laila's protective instinct.

Bastien sits in the hallway in front of our door, carefully sorting glass from paper. He learned about recycling in school, and he's been a fanatic ever since. I don't have the heart to tell him that I saw the building maintenance crew toss all the bins into one giant Dumpster, mixed together and headed to the same place....I inspect his handiwork. Four clear and three green glass bottles. All alcohol except for a single empty jar of mayonnaise. Wine and gin and whatever else my mother now drinks in place of tea.

The introduction of CIA agent Gansler complicates the story further when it is revealed that her family's safety in America is in his hands and dependent on their cooperation. Her mother must help him with an unknown plan involving a rebel group from her home country. Laila is forced into a strange alliance with the youngest member of the group, Abed, who clearly hates her family for being a part of the system that caused his family so much grief. As Laila attempts to juggle all of these issues, she must decide where her loyalties lie and what she must give up in order to make things right.

Carleson keeps the reader engaged from start to finish with the seemingly never ending series of complications for poor Laila. Readers quickly become attached to Laila through her first-person narration and budding love for American culture, as portrayed in a scene where she talks about what she loves about her school.

I like my locker. It's a small space of my own--the only one I have. I like my classes, with their lessons so different from those at home. World history is reinvented here--the same stories retold upside down. English class, where contractions are allowed and books are not banned, is a pleasure. I even like PE--boys and girls mixed together, their bare legs so casually mingling.

Reading scenes where Laila experiences things for the first time - high school dances, kisses, false bomb threats - was like experiencing them for the first time myself. Every time Laila overheard a new piece of information about her family's plight, I felt my heart race with the urge to know how she would react and what it meant for her family. This story is a wonderful coming-of-age tale that I think anyone would benefit from reading as it illuminates so well the complications of adjusting to a new culture and learning how people and American values work. It's hard to decide which route you want Laila to take, and by the end you feel as if you've made the journey with her.

The Jesus Bible, NIV: Discover Jesus in Every Book of the Bible
Zondervan Publishing House
3900 Sparks Drive Grand Rapids, MI 49546
9780310726005, $29.99, 1760 Pages,

Cheri Clay

It's hard to find a good Bible for middle-age kids ages 9-12 years. There are plenty to choose from for younger kids and teenagers but it seems the middle-agers or nine to twelve year-olds it's hard for a Bible to hold their attention. Here is the answer the perfect Bible for your kids!

As a Sunday school teacher I am excited about this new kids Bible from Zondervan. It clearly has everything necessary in an adult Bible but in a kid format. This great Bible has it all from timelines, maps, devotions, concordance and so much more. I really love "the simplified family tree of Jesus" since even most adults don't like reading this and this breaks it down into an easy format. The devotions are excellent spread throughout but there is also an easy index in a unique section of Study Helps in the back of the book. I say unique as study helps are unusual for a kids Bible. I highly recommend this outstanding kids Bible. I know the age recommendation is for nine to twelve year olds but I would recommend for eight through teenage as this would be perfect as a child's first big boy or big girl Bible and last through adulthood. I love the cover that will surely get your child's attention and start them on a lifetime of reading God's Word.

Noah and the Mighty Ark
Rhonda Gowler Greene
Illustrated by Margaret L. Spengler
c/o Zondervan Publishing House
5300 Patterson Avenue, S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49530
9780310732174, $9.99,

Mary Crocco, Reviewer

Suitable for young readers, Noah and the Mighty Ark is a delightful Bible story penned in rhyme. Adding to children's learning experiences; the author includes challenging vocabulary words. For example - And creatures in that mighty ark all lined up to disembark.

A Genesis quote from God to Noah begins the book. "Make yourself an ark out of cypress wood... bring two of every living thing into the ark." An impressive approach to describe the wood of the ark.

Greene continues to introduce new terms. Here she explains the construction of the ark - He built a boat lined with pitch so it would float.

Children will learn the value of hard work by following Noah's family working together to achieve their goal. For example, His sons brought water, seed, and hay. They filled the ark by night and day.

Greene includes the famous mountain's name in this manner - And Ararat, a mountain steep, became a perch from waters deep.

Noah and the Mighty Ark may become a favorite choice for toddlers through the age of six.
The accurate illustrations created a blurred style, which I found unnecessary.

H.W. "Buzz" Bernard
Bell Bridge Books
c/o BelleBooks
P.O. Box 300921 Memphis, TN 38130
Ebook ISBN: 9781611943542, $9.56 Kindle edition
Printed ISBN: 9781611943399, $14.95 paperback

Elizabeth Winks

Hurry! An EF-5 tornado is barreling down on you! Do you know what to do to remain safe? Luckily for you, all you have to do is turn the page: you're out on the Great Plains with Chuck Rittenburg and his motley storm chasing crew attempting to film one of nature's most beautiful - and dangerous - phenomena.

Jerry Metcalf, of Global-American Cinema, drops by Chuck Rittenburg's grubby apartment in Norman, Oklahoma, in the hopes of dragging Chuck out of his self-imposed retirement. Once a nationally acclaimed stormchaser, Chuck stopped chasing - recreationally and professionally - when a couple was tragically killed on one of his Thunder Road Tours storm treks. So when Metcalf offers him $500,000 to help track down a supercell storm, one that must include an EF-5 tornado, Chuck immediately turns him down. Yet, Chuck, though rundown, is still intelligent. He contacts Metcalf, in the hopes that maybe this opportunity, but more importantly, the money, could help get his life back on track, redeem himself in the eyes of his estranged son, Ty. Chuck states that he will chase for one million dollars, and with reluctance, Metcalf agrees. There's still a catch, though: Chuck only has two weeks to find this perfect storm...or he doesn't get any of the money.

H.W. "Buzz" Bernard, talented author of Supercell and two other novels, thickens the plot by introducing two brothers who, under the guise of paramedics, chase storms to steal from the wreckage. In order to stop these bandits, an FBI agent, Gabriela Medeiros, tags along on Chuck's filming expedition pretending to be a journalist. Not only is Chuck now attempting to find the film crew the perfect storm, but he's also trying to meet up with the wanted criminals, too. Bernard gave his main character as difficult a situation as possible, which was enjoyable for me as the reader because it kept me wondering if Chuck was going to be able to handle everything tossed his way. It added to the suspense.

Speaking of suspense, upon reading the novel, I often times found Bernard's writing style to be formulaic. What I mean by this is that there was a clear pattern to how the plot would rise and fall as it built up to the climax. Chuck and the crew would go through a series of advancements and setbacks in a sort of obvious way. At times, I found myself thinking, "Okay, here's another setback, but the next reversal will be one forward." Yet, Bernard was able to make the ending of the novel unclear through the use of a complex plot line that finally comes together at the climax in an unsuspected way.

Once the plot pattern was established, though, I decided to Google Bernard. I had a feeling he might have been a scientist and, sure enough, he had been a meteorologist who had minored in creative writing. His ability to explain meteorological terms succinctly and clearly made for smooth reading and added realism to the piece. For example, Chuck explains CAPE and CIN to Gabi and his son, Ty: "'It's CAPE and CIN,' Chuck said, and spelled out the acronyms. 'CAPE stands for Convective Available Potential Energy. It's a measure of how much energy - fuel - there is in the atmosphere for thunderstorm development. The more energy there is, the bigger and nastier the storms are likely to be.'" Bernard peppers the novel with explanations such as these and through these simple definitions of more complex theories, the reader can understand what is going on without being bogged down by the science aspect. He even includes a glossary at the end of the book that contains all the terminology used in the book. I really appreciated that about Bernard's style.

Overall, I thought that Bernard was able to craft quite the thriller novel through the blend of science and creative writing. Personally, this book was exceptionally thrilling because Bernard and I are sort of opposites: whereas he was a professional scientist who did writing on the side, I am a writer who's minoring in meteorology. Anyone who finds tornadoes and massive storms fascinating will surely enjoy this book, as I have. It's like talking a walk on the wild side - but a heck of a lot safer.

Too Hot to Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste
William M. & Rosemarie Alley
Cambridge University Press
32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10013-2473
9781107030114, $29.99,

Howard G. Wilshire

Too Hot to Touch is presented as a treatise on problems of high-level nuclear waste, but it liberally mixes poorly described arcane scientific subjects with accounts that have nothing to do with high-level radioactive waste (HLRW). The audience the authors wanted to reach is not clear. The book's 22 chapters are arranged in almost random order under three headings, two of which contain chapters unrelated to the headings or the book's primary topic. Thus, continuity is hard to identify. Too many very relevant works are omitted, and too much background information is embroidered with facile expressions, presumably designed to engage the reader's attention, but which are mainly distracting. The book is reviewed as a whole in a blog on my website available at

This review focuses on one of the 22 chapters, with which I take particular exception: I regard Chapter 10, A can of worms, as an insider's misrepresentation of issues surrounding the proposal of a Low-Level Radioactive Waste (LLRW) disposal facility in Ward Valley, California. I was directly involved in this matter and was criticized, along with respected colleagues, in this book. William Alley was also personally involved in this issue as a U.S. Geological Survey employee, but does not disclose that fact in his book.

The core of the story told in Chapter 10 is: 1) disruption of the process of establishing a LLRW disposal facility at Ward Valley, California by three U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) geologists the Alleys call the "Wilshire group" (myself and two other senior USGS geologists); 2) the National Academy of Sciences' (NAS) review of 7 concerns of the "Wilshire group" raised with Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt; and 3) the testimony of David Prudic, USGS hydrologist, before the NAS panel. Other important issues are dealt with on my website. For clarification, I have filled in some information that the Alleys do not discuss.

Chapter 10 starts by setting up David Prudic as a principal scientist in the publicly contentious issue of establishing a LLRW facility at Ward Valley, California. This is done in a folksy way, but describes him as "a stickler for detail and scientific rigor" with important information to present to the NAS panel gathered in Needles, California July 7-9, 1994. The meeting was enjoined by the NAS to examine the "Wilshire group's" concerns as previously outlined for the Secretary of the Interior.

Enroute to Prudic's testimony, the "Wilshire group" is charged in the book with various sins, the most significant one, made twice, is they "raised issues [about the safety of Ward Valley] outside their field of training and expertise (p. 137)." For William Alley, this seems to be a claim of territorial rights-a presumption that only hydrogeologists (including him), are qualified to talk about water movement in the subsurface, and not geologists (particularly the "Wilshire group").

Lesser charges were made of breaching USGS protocols by directly contacting Interior Secretary Babbitt with their concerns (I plead guilty; otherwise our concerns would not have reached the Secretary); and sending a "detailed report" on their concerns to Babbitt "Sthat had not gone through the peer-review process that precedes release of any USGS scientific document (p. 137)." The Alleys are wrong on both counts: the "detailed report" was not sent to Babbit, but rather to the person who requested it, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, and it was peer-reviewed.

Here is what really happened: The "Wilshire group" sent a one-page memorandum (February 24, 1993) to Secretary Babbitt expressing our concern about the inadequacies of the very limited USGS involvement in preparation of the Ward Valley Environmental Impact Report/Statement (EIR/S), and offering our assistance as he evaluated transfer of federal land to the state of California-we were, after all, his employees since the USGS is an agency within the Department of the Interior, and we did have expert experience with the geology of the Ward Valley region. On May 26, 1993 we were invited by the Secretary's office to submit a statement of our concerns, which we provided in a two and one-half page outline, dated June 2. We had no further contact with Secretary Babbitt.

Secretary Babbitt's staff (unknown to us) released our June 2 memo, a copy of which found its way to the company-US Ecology-that was licensed by the State of California to operate the Ward Valley dump. US Ecology sent Babbitt a lengthy rebuttal of our short outline. We were completely unaware of that document until September 1993 when we were contacted by Senator Boxer's office. When they discovered we had not seen the US Ecology rebuttal, they sent a copy and asked for our response. After reading it, we told Boxer's staff that it was "slick and wrong." Senator Boxer then asked us by letter to respond to the US Ecology critique and elaborate our concerns. It is that report (we call it the "Boxer report")-sent to Senator Boxer December 2, 1993 that the Alleys erroneously refer to on p. 137. We did go through USGS channels for approval to respond to Boxer.

Strangely, the Alleys miss two main points about peer-review of the report: it was the decision of USGS management, in which William Alley participated, that our response to the US Ecology rebuttal be done as private citizens, and the report therefore did not go through the USGS peer-review process. It appears also that the Alleys did not read the "Boxer report" as its title page and text acknowledge peer reviewers.1

In preparation for the NAS review, the "Wilshire group" expanded to 10 members (by agreement with the National Research Council (NRC), six of whom are USGS scientists,2 but continued to be identified by the Alleys as three geologists raising issues "outside their field of training and expertise." All seven of our concerns were addressed by experts on the NAS panel, but I will address only the issue of contaminant migration through thick "dry" (unsaturated) zones to the water table. Widely considered geologic barriers to contamination of groundwater, thick unsaturated zones represent formidable barriers at Ward Valley (~650 feet thick) and at the Beatty Nevada LLRW disposal site (~280 to 370 feet thick), the latter studied by Prudic and colleagues. Promoted by Ward Valley supporters as geologic analogs, information about either of the two sites was deemed applicable to the other.

The Alleys present their own assessment of this issue, leading to the testimony of David Prudic regarding his long-term USGS research at the Beatty LLRW facility. The bottom line of Prudic's testimony was that rain water percolation at Beatty and Ward Valley had been restricted to the upper ~30 feet of the thick unsaturated zones during the past 16,000 to 33,000 years. Therefore, contamination of the groundwater by materials dumped at those sites was not credible, at least for thousands of years.

There was, however, the inconvenient finding during Ward Valley site characterization of a very small amount of tritium at a depth of 100 feet. Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, was a major component of fallout worldwide from bomb testing during the Cold War; it is also a major constituent of radioactive materials dumped at Beatty. Tritium migrates with water and fallout tritium is widely used as a tracer for water movement in the subsurface. Hence, the finding at a depth of 100 feet in Ward Valley, if correct, would mean it had traveled 100 feet in less than 50 years, and would thus contradict Prudic's conclusions. Discussion was vigorous, with most of the NAS panel leaning toward discounting the Ward Valley data as resulting from improper sampling or analytical error.

During Prudic's presentation, he was asked by a panel member if he had any tritium data on the unsaturated zone at Beatty. His answer was that samples had been submitted for analysis but he had not seen the results. The Alleys' characterization of this episode (p. 144-145) was that "Prior to the [NAS] meeting Prudic learned that the tritium results had come back and were larger than expected, but he hadn't seen the results." Prudic avoided answering the question and the Alleys book tries to make it appear that he had told the panel of the results, but he had not. Put plainly, Prudic was informed by telephone of the tritium findings by his colleague Robert Striegl two weeks before the NAS meeting, but he hadn't received a copy of the piece of paper on which the lab report was written.

Further questioning revealed that Prudic did in fact have data showing groundwater contamination by tritium in a well drilled by USGS in 1987 just outside the dump. Groundwater was sampled once in 1989 yielding replicated positive tritium values. Prudic speculated that the tritium came from drilling fluid from the 1987 well emplacement. Continued probing revealed major tritium contamination of groundwater in a US Ecology monitoring well very close to the USGS well in 1982-1984, for which Prudic had no explanation.

Prudic's failure to inform the panel of what he really knew about the new tritium results, whether or not he had seen them on a piece of paper, had a significant impact on the NAS panel's report. Four months after release of that report on May 11, 1995, a panel member made the following statement to a meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

Mr. Wierenga: [Excerpt] "I had the pleasure this year to serve on a national academy panel to look into Ward Valley. As you know, Ward Valley was licensed by the State of California as a disposal site for low level nuclear waste. And it became very clear to the panel that it was not possible to give this site favorable recommendation just based on the data from the contractor. There would have been no chance in the world that we would have had the majority of the committee do this. As it is, there's all the additional information, some of it at Yucca Mountain, some of it at the Beatty site, some of it from New Mexico [WIPP site], some of it from Texas [Sierra Blanca] - the committee basically disagreed with the three hydrologists [sic]["Wilshire group"] who said that the site was not suitable and there were major problems."3

The problem is that Beatty was the only facility among the sites listed that had actually served as a waste depository, and Prudic had left the panel uninformed about new data in hand that had the potential to directly contradict his hypothesis. Models of processes in the unsaturated zone serve useful purposes, but they can only be verified by real data on what has actually happened or is happening. Prudic's model was in jeopardy, and he seemed reluctant to inform the panel of potential problems, old ones as well as budding ones. Absent from the Alleys' book is any discussion of these issues. The NAS report's majority decided (p. 23) "Sthat the Beatty site may be useful in understanding some natural processes, but it is limited in evaluating the behavior of the Ward Valley site because of the historical uncertainties." That is, because of "unexplained anomalies in the 30-year monitoring records of well data."4

Fallout from Prudic's choice to leave the panel uninformed of his preliminary tritium results was a split decision of the panel's recommendation to verify the small tritium values reported for Ward Valley. The majority of panelists favored performing the new measurements during site development, an expression of their confidence that the original measurement was in error. Two panelists favored verification before the dump was permitted. What influence Prudic's data might have had is unknown, but the panel's report was seen as a green light for constructing the dump, mitigated by a number of recommendations including testing for tritium. Preparations were made, but never realized, by the Interior Secretary to transfer the land to the State of California. The aftermath of release of the NAS report is a story of its own, addressed only in very small part by the Alleys.


1"Boxer report" disclaimer: "This report does not represent the policies or positions of any government agency. It does represent the professional judgments of its authors who are employed by the U.S. Geological Survey as research geologists. The report has been reviewed by professional scientists in geology, hydrology, isotope geochemistry, and soil physics, and has been modified by consultation with many experts in these fields within and outside of the USGS"

2The group is composed of five geologists, two hydrologists, one soil physicist, one isotope geochemist, and one biologist. The NRC denied us our choice of an expert on the LLRW waste stream, a very controversial issue.

3There are two errors in Wierenga's statement: the panel was charged only with evaluating the seven concerns of the "Wilshire group", not sanctioning the site. We made it clear to the panel that we did not have a position on the suitability of the site for the proposed use; our problems were with the adequacy of the EIR/S' supporting data and analysis.

4What the NAS panel knew about contamination of groundwater at Beatty eight months before releasing its report and should have influenced the majority vote of approbation for the Ward Valley site is described in my blog, but is readily available in the two dissenting opinions of the NAS report, National Research Council, Ward Valley: An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology, National Academy Press, 1995, Appendices E and F.

These Things Happen
Richard Kramer
Unbridled Books
2000 Wadsworth Blvd., #195, Lakewood, CO 80214
9781609530891, $18.27 (HC), $12.53 (PB),

Janet Walker

Being cherished is about the best thing that can happen to you on Planet Earth. Relationships where the cherishment (not sure if that's a word) is one-sided often run into difficulty when trouble strikes. Trouble does call around in Richard Kramer's new novel of contemporary family life, These Things Happen and the cherishing lacking in the blend of second time around couplings and the effect on the first time around child ensures that it will change the course of what hitherto had been on the surface anyway, a loving family group.

The story revolves around fifteen-year-old Wesley's effort to build a meaningful relationship with his gay father, Kenny. An attorney who deals with gay issues, Kenny is the go-to-guy for the media on all things gay. Divorced from Lola when Wesley was ten-years-old Kenny moved in with George, an ex-actor who now runs a restaurant.

Wesley lives with Lola who is married to ophthalmologist, Ben, a nice guy, who tries to act as a friend to his stepson rather than a father figure. Lola decides it's time Wesley got to know Kenny and he is packed off for a trial period to live with his father and George in the small apartment they share above George's restaurant.

Richard Kramer writes in an intimate style; thoughts and conversations are narrated as if the reader is either present or privy to a character's innermost feelings. The story is told in named chapters as each character, including Wesley and his best friend, Theo, muse or talk about the problems associated with life generally and more particularly, father/son intimacy when the father, Kenny uses 'call waiting' (usually in excess of a hundred) as an excuse to short circuit any conversation that touches on intimate issues with his son.

George, aware and distressed that Kenny doesn't get it with regard to his son's need for guidance to chart the minefield of adolescence does his best to act as an understudy mentor and he and Wesley develop a friendship based on shared interests.

Theo and Wesley's friendship is tested when Theo, after winning a school election, publicly announces that he is gay. Wesley, a thoughtful intelligent teenager, digests Theo's unexpected news and concludes that nothing has really changed - Theo is still his best buddy whatever his sexual predilection.

Unfortunately, Wesley's 'no problem' attitude is not shared by some of the other school students and a violent episode occurs which effects both boys and impacts badly on the family group.

George, the hero of the piece, gathers them all together; Kenny, Lola, Ben and Wesley to resolve issues that have arisen around Theo's 'coming out'. Lola, who has always espoused a 'live and let live' attitude to gayness, behaves like a vindictive dope; vilifying George, she reduces his group status to victim and alienates Wesley, who disappears.

Kenny, ineffectual as usual, doesn't know what to do so that's what he does - nothing. George and Kenny's relationship is in trouble; during the short time Wesley has stayed with them, George has begun to care for him, appreciating the smart funny boy who is fumbling his way towards becoming an adult. He is upset by Kenny virtually ignoring his son's need for reassurance and feels that Kenny does not value or cherish people close to him. George tells Kenny how he feels and it becomes apparent to Kenny that if he wants to save their relationship he had better turn off 'call waiting' and attend to the needs of those who love him.

The conclusion to this very real, poignant and often laugh-out-loud story does not provide all the answers for modern living but it does give the characters an insight into their own failings and the hope that more understanding and intimacy will prevail for the group in the future.

For a first novel, These Things Happen, is a grand achievement. My only quibble is that it was a little 'wordy' at times, mostly with the characterization of George. That said, this book is a valuable addition to literature that looks at modern life; the problems that arise in creating supportive relationships are applicable to both gay and hetero family groups.

Well done Mr. Kramer, These Things Happen is an excellent read.

The Shaping of Water
Ruth Hartley
Matador Books
c/o Troubador Publishing Ltd.
9 Priory Business Park, Kibworth, Leicester
Leicestershire LE8 0RW United Kingdom
9781783061990, eBook: $7.99,

Krissy McCracken

A basic plot line to the book is that of many different people with a common link between them trying to conquer many different trials from survival to war to love to uncertainty. This book follows the world that is now so different from the norm and how the characters react to it and learn to live in the change. This book is written from a third person perspective. The author most likely wrote on this subject, because she lived through it during her years in Africa. The audience would be adults rather than a younger audience, because of the several ideas of this novel. Hartley, the author, does not seem to write this book in an informal way. She more writes in a way that is educated, but does not use this as an analysis. In a complete sense of the book, I enjoyed the book. I thought that it was entertaining and it was something that made me really think of the ways the world is. If given the chance I would read more from this author. I enjoyed the fact that the book had a relatable quality to it and that the themes were easy to comprehend. Change was one of the most interesting themes to me since the world seems to always want to follow that philosophy and I think that the author did a splendid job at making the audience see the change and how the characters dealt with it.

This book, The Shaping of Water by Ruth Hartley, used a great idea of connectedness to get the audience to fully comprehend the theme. The way the overlapping of characters played out made it very relatable. The weaving of the different people that the audience comes to know and the ways they collide becomes a great way to see the story. The unexpected connections are somehow believable in this tale. There are ways that people are related without even knowing the real reason, and this brings that out in a similar way making it seem to be more of a character driven work.

Along with that theme of connections, the book has very many other themes. Although the work brings them out in an understandable light and makes the readers comprehend and feel the idea of what the author is trying to say, it can make for a little too much for the audience to have to think. If there were a limited number of ideas in the book it might be clearer and more apt to hit on some more important ones in a better light. Reading a book with multiple themes could be tricky for any reader. The person may not fully understand at the beginning of why it was harder to get into the book at the time, but then if that same said person examines the book closer, they will be able to tell the different themes in the book and why that makes the piece more complex than other works that the reader has chosen to partake in reading. I also thought that the title was a good idea for the book. It not only goes with the ideas of the book, but also gives the audience something to think about.

Ruth Hartley actually lived a lot of her life in the same part of Africa. This was very helpful in the setting especially. The author really gave the reader a vision of what the place was like which can be seen through a number of quotes in the book starting with the very first one,

"The steep hillside on which the cottage was built was covered by scrubby undergrowth without many big trees. The contractor simply cleared away the bush and any wood that the labourers could not find a use for was piled into heaps and burnt... The hillside was so steep that it was not possible to see the bottom terrace from the new weranda of the cottage, or to see more than the edge of the corrugated asbestos of the cottage from the place where there might one day be water."

Being able to see the entire picture of a book is very important. That makes it so the audience is able to understand what is going on perfectly. She also shows that there is a unique aspect to the book by telling the audience more detailed information leading to the knowledge that this is in Africa.

"It is too hazy to see the Matusadona Hills. Michael has seen a pair of hornbills, and a golden oriole and two hoopoes. There was a short wind storm but mostly it has been pleasant. The boys made a fire on the beach and cooked their own boerewors."

This shows that knowledge by giving the name of specific things to the culture of Africa which is different than the other books one comes to read from an American style. It gives a sense of the different culture of Africa and makes the reader understand the background a little more. Which is also helped by the time lines and glossary added in the book.

Mind Games: A Cassie Scot Novel
Christine Amsden
Twilight Times Books
PO Box 3340, Kingsport, TN 37664
9781606192795, $17.95 USD, 276 pages
9781606192788; $6.50 USD, eBook

Mayra Calvani

Distributors: Amazon Kindle; Apple iBookstore; Nook; Kobo Books; OmniLit, etc
Release date: April 15, 2014 ebook; June 15, 2014 trade paperback

Genre: paranormal fantasy

Mind Games is the much awaited third installment in the new adult mystery series, Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective. Talented author Christine Amsden keeps delivering a great story filled with interesting characters, romance, mystery, and the paranormal, lots of it.

In this episode, Cassie still doesn't know why Evan broke her heart two months ago, and the mystery gnaws at her big time. She decides to keep busy and make herself useful at the sheriff's department. She also meets charismatic mind mage Matthew Blair...much to Evan's distaste. At the same time, Eagle Rock is teeming with hate from the religious community, a reaction to the recent murder of a much-esteemed pastor's wife by what the people believe was a sorcerer. The town is about to snap, with tensions between the magical and non-magical communities.

And in the center of all this, is Matthew, whom Cassie finds irresistible. But can she trust him? According to Evan, no way. But then, Evan isn't the most objective person when it comes to Cassie. Evan and Cassie have a history, as well as a secret connection, that keeps them bound in spite of themselves.

Will Cassie discover the real culprit or culprits behind the pastor's wife's murder, as well as the real face behind the anti-magical propaganda and demonstrations? Most importantly, will she wake up and see Matthew for who he really is...and find the courage to face Evan for what he did to her - when she finds out?

I love this series and thoroughly enjoyed this instalment! There's something about Cassie's voice that makes her really likable. She has a good heart and is witty, too. But best of all, she is just an ordinary girl next door trying to do her best in spite of everything that happens around her - which is usually pretty remarkable, as is often the case in paranormal stories.

Her relationship with Evan keeps evolving organically and there's a major revelation in this book about their connection and the secret behind their rival families. Matthew is a great addition to this episode, adding tension with his charismatic personality and inciting sparks of jealousy from Evan. The conflict between the religious and the magical communities is also well done.

Mind Games kept me reading late into the night, wondering what would happen next. If you haven't read any books in this series before, I urge you to pick up book one first, Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective. The books are best read in order. You won't be disappointed.

How to Fight Presidents
Three Rivers Press
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780385347587, 254 pages, $15.00,

Paul Lappen, Reviewer

Did you know that a number of former American Presidents would fit in quite well in a Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger action film? Imagine that they now want to beat you to a pulp. What do you do?

Thomas Jefferson designed his own tombstone (among many other things). He intentionally left out any mention of his time as President, because he didn't think it was that important. To quote from this book, "If "leaving your Presidency off of your tombstone" isn't the nineteenth-century equivalent of "walking away from an explosion without turning around to look at it," then I don't know what is." John Quincy Adams was involved in fighting the British when he was eight years old (What were you doing at eight years old?). He also swam the width of the Potomac every day at 5 AM, and thought that having sex outside in the snow was a good idea. James Madison may have been short and scrawny, but he did grab a couple of pistols and a horse, and rode out to the front lines to fight the British during the War of 1812 (as a sitting President).

It takes a peculiar amount of ego and ambition to want to be President, but Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson belongs in a category by himself. At age thirteen, as a British prisoner of war, Jackson was forced to march forty miles, barefoot, with an undressed head wound, and suffering from smallpox. If there were no wars to fight, Jackson liked real duels. On one occasion, Jackson allowed the other man to shoot first. The bullet almost hit his heart. Jackson then shot and killed the other man.

If a person wanted a private word with Lyndon Johnson, the person frequently had to follow Johnson into the bathroom and watch him poop. Johnson's sexual conquest numbers, while President, were comparable to John Kennedy, the King of Presidential Sexual Conquests. Chester Arthur is compared to Lex Luthor, and Ronald Reagan is compared to Wolverine. William Howard Taft once got stuck in a bathtub; it took four men to extricate him. The biography of Calvin Coolidge reads like the origins of a serial killer. Every day, Herbert Hoover played a game with his friends called Hooverball. Think of volleyball played with a ten-pound medicine ball.

Get past the foul language in "How to Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against the Badasses Who Ran This Country Daniel O'Brien", and this is a huge eye-opener. The reader will look at the past inhabitants of the Oval Office in a whole new way. It's also really funny. This is highly recommended for everyone.

M. T. Anderson
Candlewick Press
99 Dover Street, Somerville, MA 02144
9780763662622, $8.99, 320pp,

Zoe Fisher

Feed is authored by M.T Anderson, who is an American writer who has also created picture books, teenage literature, and adult books. His book Feed was a national book award finalist, and is read by teenagers all over the world as it is a science fiction futuristic book, with compelling language that every teenage can relate to. I chose this book to review as my first impression of it interested me, as it sounded like it was nothing like I had ever read before.

Feed is set in futuristic America, in a technology based world where at least 70% of all Americans have this technology called Feed set into their brains at a voluntarily young age. It allows you to access unlimited and constant internet that connects to every thought, emotion and feeling to allow advertisements, solutions and information to flow through your mind. The book is narrated in first-person by a teenage boy called Titus, starting when he and his friends decide to spend some time of spring break on the moon. Here, they meet an odd but beautiful girl named Violet. Here, when out at a nightclub, they get hi-jacked and their feeds have to be shut down and re-imaged, so the six teenagers are left without their feed for a couple of days. The narrator and main character is a boy named Titus, and as the story wears on, gets involved in a close relationship with Violet, who starts a project to 'resist the feed'- as she has very political and informed opinions passed down from her father. However, because she only got her feed when she was seven, it keeps on malfunctioning and having problems, so therefore it is a major health risk that becomes more serious as the book goes on.

This book is extremely well thought out and thorough when contemplating the differences in the future. There are different names, foods, words and entertainment that make the story more believable, as it is highly unlikely that the world will be the same in the future. There is also a massive development in technology- space travel, up-cars (flying cars), tubes for the up-cars to go through, different layers of suburbs, each with its own season and weather. It is a different generation of names (Calista, Loga, Quendy), and creating a baby is done in two separate rooms, and can be designed to look and act like a living person, in a centre called the 'Ceptionarium'. The detail that has been included in the book made me want to know more about the world, and wonder whether some of them were predictions from the author. This was the one of the main reasons that I wanted to keep reading - the plot didn't interest me as much as the world created within the pages.

I found while reading Feed, there wasn't much character description, so I found it hard to imagine the characters physically in my head. Also, as it skipped a lot of time periods, I found that I didn't really sympathise and care about the characters involved because I was missing a lot of their character development. I had trouble deciphering some of the futuristic words -skip, unit, youch, skeeze, meg, brag, mal- and therefore were confused in some parts of the book. It was slow explanation about feeds, I didn't know what it was until part two, which was at least 40 pages into the story.

The way that M.T Anderson wrote the book was definitely aim at young adults as it was extremely casual in speech with swear words and references to crude subjects. This was a nice touch, as it made it more appealing to me as I was surrounded by language that I am surrounded by in everyday life. It was strange to read, because in speech M.T Anderson was incredibly unsophisticated and unclean, but the describing in the book was really very well done. The themes of the book were relevant to today's world as well, and the messages about technology, the environment and the way the world works should really be given some serious thought. There is no doubt that he is a good writer.

Overall, this book had some good points and some bad. I didn't find myself connecting with the storyline and the characters, and I would have preferred more information that M.T Anderson created. However, the messages and ideas that the book implied I found interesting, and I will remember. It was well written, but I think it is not my preferred genre of reading material. Therefore I rate it 7 STARS OUT OF TEN.

The Butcher
Jennifer Hillier
c/o Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 13th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781476734217, $25.00,

Eric Long

A presumed dead serial killer reemerges, hounding the streets of Seattle thirty years after he was shot and killed by lead detective Edward Shanks. Can the city that barely survived his first coming deal with his return? Jennifer Hillier, author of Freak and Creep, published in 2011 and 2012 respectively, has made a small claim to fame among thriller and dark fiction fans, with me newly among them. Her newest novel, The Butcher, set for publishing on July 15, 2014, might just surpass her last novels' success.

The Butcher, a deranged serial killer who haunted the streets of fictional Seattle in 1985, finally met his end at the hands of Edward Shanks, propelling Shanks's career forward to Chief of Police in the process. Now, in 2014, a macabre cast of characters is plagued by a past rooted in the Butcher's murders, as they attempt to adjust to the challenges of their new lives. Matt Shanks, Edward's grandson, has recently moved into his grandfather's affluent house in Sweet-Bay; however, the joy of owning a new house is short lived, as Matt stumbles upon some ancient secrets his grandfather failed to conceal. Meanwhile, Samantha, Matt's girlfriend of three years, combs the net and her police connections for her latest true crime novel, Butcherville. Sam has reason to believe the Butcher killed her mother two years after he was supposedly gunned down.

Jennifer Hillier's The Butcher is written in third person limited, using main protagonists' Matt, Edward, and Sam as the eyes and ears of the reader. Hillier divides her chapters by perspectives, successfully allowing the reader to inhabit each character's perspective throughout the story. This choice of narration becomes particularly effective in the case of Edward Shanks, my favorite character in the novel. About nine pages into the book, it's revealed that Edward Shanks is not the hero of Seattle everyone makes him out to be, but in reality, is a psychopathic serial killer. One of the most enthralling aspects of the novel is Edward's imperturbable, maniac viewpoint. Anyone familiar with the television series Dexter will immediately recognize the kind of psychopathic inner dialogue Edward brings to the narrative; however, unlike Dexter, Edward Shanks is not the vigilante bringer of justice Dexter is made out to be, which is why I found Shanks so gratifyingly deplorable.

Edward Shanks was truly the highlight of the novel. Shanks's profound psychological observations leave the reader craving further depths into his psyche. Largely, one of the reasons I couldn't seem to put the book down was because I couldn't wait for Edward's chapters, which were always disturbing.

Jamie. He couldn't help but smile when he thought of her. What a delicious little things she'd been, with her bleached blond hair and black roots, the cubic zirconia nose stud, the way she'd cried once she finally figured out she was going to die, so wonderfully lithe and squirmy. They always cried. And they always squirmed.

It seems prudent to mention here that the Butcher is a serial killer and rapist. That is his method of operation. However, Jennifer doesn't divulge the gory details of the events. The passage above is about the extent of how graphically the rape scenes are covered.

While I wholeheartedly found myself captivated in the plot of The Butcher and the ripples of his murders, the love story subplot was found wanting. The love triangle seemed obligatory and distracting from the main story.

America has a fascination with serial killers, and Jennifer Hillier delivers infallibly in that department. The plot, while leading at times, will never fail to shock and sweetly cause you to cringe. Often at times, after I had been won over by Edward's irresistible dementedness, I'd find myself cheering for him over the other characters. Anyone who considers themselves fans of horrors or thrillers will most certainly enjoy this book, and I'd give a stronger recommendation to those specifically interested in psychopaths/serial killers. Because, believe me when I say, Edward Shanks is one you won't soon forget.

Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind
Joy Rains
twitter: @joy_rains

Whole Earth Press
PO Box 34816, Bethesda, MD 20827
9780988669901, $15.00, 172 pages

Fran Ponick, Reviewer
The Washington Times Communities

Joy Rains, author of Meditation Illuminated, defines meditation as "a discipline of training the mind through the practice of awareness." She states that the nature of the mind is to generate content, or stuff, meaning Stories, Thoughts, Urges, Frustrations, and Feelings.

Most of us react to life and the "stuff" that's in it. Meditation is a way to control your stuff by learning to become aware of it. If you can become directly aware of your stuff, you can respond to it - and to your daily life - consciously.

Desperately seeking alpha: Beyond the monkey brain

Think about it: Never in the history of the world have we humans been more aware that our brains are actually electrochemical computing devices. But never in the history of the world have so many individuals been bombarded with so much data.

Outside stimuli produce what are termed high beta frequencies in the brain. It's hard to think straight if your brain is buzzing along at 14 - 40 cycles per second (cps), which is what's happening when you're in that state. These are your "monkey brain" moments. Trying to get something done, make a decision, solve a problem, or learn anything? You'd be better off swinging in trees.

All the things that fall into the general category of cogitation simply can't be done in beta. You need to get to alpha (7.5 - 14 cps), or maybe even theta (4.0 - 7.5 cps).

What we need is some kind of surge protector. It's time to conserve our circuitry by controlling our random reactions to more data hits than we can handle. We need to stop the craziness of beta and figure out how to think straight. That's supposedly a simple activity, but why is it so hard to sustain? And how do you even get there? Meditation is one path.

The monkey brain explores meditation

The profundity of meditation is its simplicity. Meditation Illuminated reflects that not only in its content, but also in its design. It's a beautiful book that feels good in the hand. It begins with an engaging Preface, continues with a helpful Introduction, and concludes with an encouraging Epilogue.

Not a word is wasted, yet the writing throughout is graceful and generous. Even the Appendix and Endnotes, which support the science of meditation and the author's assertions, provide solid scholarship without the heavy burden of ivory tower intellectualism.

The book is divided into five parts. The first part describes STUFF, while the second presents the essence of meditation and how it works. The simple language, short sentences, and easy flow of the writing will calm even the most hurried reader.

Rains' writing style is deliberate without being boring, respectful without currying favor, and hypnotic without being controlling. Each chapter begins with a title supported by an explanatory subtitle and ends with a brief summary and a preview of the next chapter. These guideposts provide the reader a sense of place in the narrative, yet are neither repetitive nor didactic.

Part 3 of the book, entitled "How to Meditate," introduces the selection and use of an anchor, or object of awareness, as a resting place for one's attention. Rains is careful to point out that we need not abandon nor ignore thoughts and feelings while meditating. Rather, a meditator notices and acknowledges emerging thoughts and feelings, then redirects attention to the chosen anchor.

Thus, the continuous cycling of attention between stuff and anchor as described in Part 3 can help make meditation far less random and far more intentionally active than most people think it is.

One banana at a time

Once the reader has learned the basic tools and activities of meditation, Part 4 introduces the practical application of meditation to daily life. Part 5, the longest section of the book, introduces twenty-one approaches to intentional meditation. Beware of the variety in these choices if you have any inclination toward monkey brain thinking!

After reading this book and gradually learning to say "yes" to meditation, you will want to try them all. Now. Your best bet is to back up to the paragraph titled "Busy Mind" in Chapter 13, "Strategies for Addressing Common 'Obstacles' to Meditation," and reread the final sentence: "The quality of your awareness is more important than the quantity of your stuff."

Be aware that you have just turned all twenty-one suggestions for different types of meditation into stuff.

Select one, promise yourself the remaining twenty, and begin.

Blood Drama
Christopher Meeks
White Whisker Books
9780983632962, $16.95, 240pp,

Linda Hitchcock

The two Christopher Meeks books that I have read to date are Love at Absolute Zero, which remains a personal favorite (in my top five of 2011), and his recent Blood Drama. The novels are dissimilar yet share appealing qualities of quirkiness, light hearted humor and a stellar cast of singular characters with wildly imaginative names. LAAZ is a quest for romance using the charming physicist Gunnar's own scientific method while Blood Drama is a diverting offbeat crime novel exploring chance and randomness. In some strange fashion, it reminds me of Bobby McFerrin's irritating yet infectious ditty, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," in a much more positive way and recalls Dante Hick's oft repeated phrase in Clerks "I'm not even supposed to be here today!"

Blood Drama protagonist Ian Nash's life is in free fall with no sign of relief. Already shaken by a broken relationship, the book and his day begin with a brief meeting with his UC-Irvine dissertation committee chair, Professor Cromley. Several years and two hundred pages into his doctoral thesis on the enigmatic playwright David Mamet, Ian is brusquely informed he's "taking the wrong approach on Mamet" and "doesn't fit the program." A heated disagreement with one of the female undergraduates may have been a contributing factor for his ousting. Tuition paid will not be refunded; teaching fellowship and stipend are immediately terminated. So sorry, not everyone is destined to earn a Ph.D. It has not yet occurred to Ian that he may also face deportation back to Winnipeg upon the termination date of his student visa.

Stunned and faced with the fact that the inexorable rent will soon be due, a befogged Ian drives to fill out a job application at a local coffee shop located in the lobby of a large Pasadena bank that may be hiring. Again, his timing is impeccable as a four member gang, led by a woman soon nicknamed by the media as "the Busty Bandit," burst into the bank, kill two bystanders and take Ian hostage. The plot thickens as FBI Special Agent Aleece Medina is introduced to crime solve. Ian's theatrical training offer his best chance to avoid being killed by the robbers and ending the bloody spree.

Blood Drama is wildly entertaining with fast-paced dialogue and plot twists caroming like a steel ball in a pinball machine. Minnesota native, Pasadena resident Christopher Meeks is a deft wordsmith; a screenwriter, playwright, reviewer and creative writing college instructor as well as an award winning fiction writer. He founded White Whisker Books in 2005 initially to publish a collection of his own short stories, The Middle-aged Man and the Sea. This small, independent publishing company uses seasoned professional editors, proofreaders, and book designers to produce top quality books from several accomplished authors. To paraphrase Bert Lahr in his guise as potato chip pitchman, "betcha can't read just one" of his books without joining his fan club.

Blinded by Progress: Breaking Out of the Illusion That Holds Us
Lee Van Ham
OneEarth Publishing
3295 Meade Ave., San Diego, CA 92116
9780991155408, $12.95 paperback; $3.95 ebook, Page Count: 208

Kevin L. Nenstiel

Informed Americans know we're using Earth's resources faster than Nature can replenish itself. We burn carbon, squander water, generate waste, and denude land at rates unprecedented in natural history. We know we're doing it, but feel powerless to stop, and don't know why. Philosopher Lee Van Ham suggests we're beholden to an ethical edifice we can't even see.

Van Ham proposes two competing philosophies: MultiEarth thinking, which consumes resources and people like we'll never run out, and OneEarth thinking, which endeavors to live in harmony with Earth, human nature, and ecology. We cannot live right, he asserts, until we live aware of our moral shackles. We must shatter the illusions concealing our morality from ourselves.

Readers familiar with Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, or Julia Butterfly Hill will recognize Van Ham's themes. But they won't recognize his reasoning, not superficially, anyway. Though much environmentalist and anti-plutocratic writing has an innate spiritual component, Van Ham applies intensive exegetical considerations to the topic, reflective of his prior ministerial career. He particularly finds, in the story of Cain and Abel, a parable of modern society.

Abel, Earth's roaming steward, and Cain, Earth's settled owner, could never have lived peaceably. The relationship between those who follow Earth's ever-changing movements, and those who try to shackle Earth to their whims, will inevitably turn violent, as they forever cross purposes. Van Ham sees a late anti-urban allegory here, much like Jacques Ellul, and his exposition of two ultimately incompatible systems permeates his book.

This moral vision differentiates Van Ham from the numerous voices already propounding similar messages. While Wendell Berry, for instance, shares Van Ham's faith, Berry frequently avoids current events, focusing on transcendent, almost mystical themes. McKibben, though a professed Christian, prefers scientific arguments, using spirituality sparingly. Van Ham's moral catholicity claims the broad middle ground between these visions, the domain where most Americans live, but where environmentalists fear to tread.

Van Ham spends the largest part of his book discussing what he terms the "Five Big MultiEarth Practices Holding Us In Illusion." These practices correspond with important issues I've noticed, but haven't yet voiced as clearly, especially "Giving Primary Religious Devotion to Economics" and "Disguising Corporatocracy as Democracy." Van Ham's breakdown alternates between the shock of familiarity and deep, suppressed detail.

Economics' religious structure, which most capitalists would probably deny, become obvious when considering the rituals attendant to, say, Monday NYSE openings. But Van Ham explores subterranean corners of modern economic practice, demonstrating how business insider liturgies and CNBC hymnody conceal a deeper moral landscape, one most Americans never see, but inevitably share. His discoveries, as current as the morning news, are frequently chilling.

Now, many writers publish many books explicating how society rationalizes damaging humans and the Earth, while mortgaging our own future, for wasteful short-term gains. Van Ham distinguishes his book by mixing objective fact with personal writing. Not just a book of science or morality, Van Ham offers a memoir of his own struggles with eco-unfriendly living, and how he transitioned from short-term profligacy to mindful living.

Much as I appreciate Van Ham's premises, and mostly support his arguments, his exegesis remains frustratingly one-sided. In discussing MultiEarth philosophy, he characterizes it entirely in his own terms, not terms his opponents would comprehend. Consider this early characterization of his MultiEarth frenemies: "Human species strives for lifestyles that use more resources than available on one planet."

Does anybody really strive for that? Or do people enamored of earthly wealth simply believe Earth's resources so vast that we cannot possibly deplete them? When approaching his opposite numbers, Van Ham might consider attempting what rhetorician Gerald Graff calls "the believing game" - attempting to state counterarguments in terms true believers would accept. Because right now, MultiEarth adherents could accuse him of Straw Man arguments, and dismiss him.

Therefore, I recommend this book primarily for people who essentially already support Van Ham's central thesis. His reasoning will give us tools for debating technocratic zealots, and allows us to bolster our own beliefs with reason and facts. Once we've persuaded others to take our positions seriously, and only then, let's push copies of this book into Old Order followers' hands.

Van Ham describes this as the first of a trilogy. In this volume, he primarily establishes the moral foundation of MultiEarth and OneEarth philosophies; he promises in future volumes to address actual plans to fix the socioeconomic Frankenstein we've created. If he maintains his personal, moral, and dryly humorous tone, I'll anticipate those coming volumes with giddy fanboy hope.

Ann's Bookshelf

A God in Every Stone
Kamila Shamsie
9781408847213, A$29.99 (paperback), 312pages.
Atavist Books
68 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
9781937894306, $20.00, 336pp,

Kamila Shamsie begins and ends her novel with Scylax, a Greek explorer who in 515 BCE was sent by the Persian King, Darius, to explore the Indus River. And in Shamsie's sensitive and eloquent telling, it is the lost Fig Circlet of Scylax, a delicate silver headband decorated with fig leaves and fruit, which links the various threads of her story together. History and myth run throughout this book, connecting different centuries, different cultures, religions and wars, and the people whose lives are touched by this silver circlet.

A God in Every Stone tells many stories but it begins when Vivian Rose Spencer, a young Edwardian Englishwoman with a romantic passion for Greek history and archaeology, falls in love with Labraunda in Turkey, the place of Scylax's victory over the Carians; and falls in love, too with Tahsin Bey, a charismatic Turkish archaeologist who is her father's good friend. Too soon, the onset of war in Europe separates them. But the war also brings a young Pashtun man, Qayyum Gul, to England and it is his life which forms the second main theme of the book, touching Viv's occasionally but mostly remaining separate.

In wartime London, Viv and her sister Mary begin working in a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. Eventually, their father arranges for them to be moved to Class A hospitals where Viv finds herself nursing the badly wounded and dying. Qayyum, meanwhile, has been wounded at Ypres whilst serving with the British Indian Army. He finds himself bizarrely surrounded by images from djinn stories painted on the walls and ceilings of an Indian military ward in the Brighton Pavilion. For both, their wartime experiences are harrowing.

Qayyum, having lost an eye, is repatriated to his home in Peshawar. Viv, traumatised by the horrific injuries and continual deaths of the young men she has been nursing, eventually manages to arrange to travel far away from the war, to Peshawar. There she hopes to search for Scylax's Fig Circlet, which Tahsin Bey has hinted may be buried in the nearby ruins at Shahji-ki-Dheri. Qayyum returns to his family and tries to adjust to his life there and Viv becomes a resident of the British quarter and a rather reluctant part of the colonial social scene. She does, however, meet and befriend a young Pashtun boy, Najeeb, teaching him English and fostering his interest in the historical relics in the Peshawar Museum.

Viv, who is a thoroughly modern young woman, continues to teach Najeeb despite the disapproval of the British community but it is Najeeb's own family, when they learn that he is taking lessons alone with a young English woman, who are shocked by the situation and forbid him to continue with them. Deprived of her teaching, and as unrest grows and the possibility of excavation at Shahji-ki-Dheri become more remote, Viv returns to London.

The second half of the book concerns events which take place some fifteen years later. Najeeb has continued his studies, gained a history degree, and been appointed Indian Assistant at Peshawar Museum. Viv has pursued an archeological career and has become a Senior Lecturer at University College London. Qayyum still struggling with his old loyalties to the British Army, sees the inequalities around him and is exposed to anti-British feelings. Eventually, he is guided towards the Pashtun non-violent resistance movement and its leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, an associate of Ghandi, who has set up schools fostering Indian unity based on truth, love. Both Qayyum and Najeeb, who is his younger brother, live through the turmoil in India and, in particular, the bloody confrontation between Ghaffar Khan's non-violent activists and British troops in Peshawar's Street of Storytellers in 1930.

Shortly before this confrontation, Viv receives a totally unexpected letter from Najeeb who writes to tell her of his achievements since she left Peshawar and, in particular, of archaeological discoveries he has made and the possibility that he has found the location of the lost Fig Circlet of Scylax. Viv returns to Peshawar as it is still in turmoil immediately after the violence and the eventual outcome brings the story full circle.

Trying to summarise such a rich and complex tale does nothing to suggest the delightful way that Shamsi, with love and humour, knowledge and insight, draws her readers into the lives and emotions of her characters. Suffice it to say that she could certainly set up stall successfully in any Street of Storytellers.

Bodies of Light
Sarah Moss
9781847089083, A$27.99, (paperback), 311pages.

"Lay not up for yourself treasures upon earth"

It is the mid 1800s and Elizabeth Moberley hangs the full Biblical text of this passage above her daughter's bed. Elizabeth was brought up in a strictly Puritanical home where pleasures are dangerous, pain must be stoically borne, and the only way to spend your time is in good Christian works. This is the way she lives her life and she is determined that her two daughters will also learn these lessons. Alethea (Ally) her eldest daughter does; May, like her Aunt Mary, Elizabeth's sister, rebels.

It is Ally's life we follow in this book, learning first of the rejection and cruelty Elizabeth inflicts on her. Rejection, firstly, because Elizabeth is not prepared to deal, alone, with the pains, difficulties and demands of a small baby, and at times she feels guiltily suicidal. Rejection, secondly, because Elizabeth puts the needs of her Welfare Society women before her own and the family's comfort, believing that this is the right Christian thing to do. Cruelty, in the name of teaching Ally virtue. She burns Ally's arm with a candle to teach her fortitude, and blames Ally's nightmares on nervous weakness which needs to be punished by a strict regime of diet and deprivation. Her ambition for Ally, however, is for her to become a doctor so that she can help underprivileged women, and in many ways the pursuit of this frees Ally and gives her the courage and balance she badly needs.

Ally's experiences as one of the first group of women to undertake medical training are full not only of her own struggles against the values Elizabeth has instilled in her but also full of her struggle for survival in a misogynist, male-dominated culture. Women, in this society, are expected to practice embroidery not to stitch wounds. Moss shows realistically the mixed attitudes of doctors and male students to women who are trying to enter their profession, and the grim experimental nature of much medical and surgical practice at that time. In 1880, however, Ally becomes one of the first women physicians to graduate and one of the first to practice surgery.

Balanced against all this grimness is the world of Ally's father, Alfred, and his artist friends. Each section of the book begins with a description of a painting, written in the style of a reputable auction house. And each painting relates in some way to Ally and her sister, May, at different stages of their lives. As young girls, they pose in charming disarray for their father's friend, Aubrey West, whose pre-Raphaelite style favours soft flesh, rich fabrics and mythical heroines. Alfred himself designs rooms for wealthy clients, painting samples of wallpaper, choosing furnishings, and enjoying the Victorian richness which his wife rejects in his own home. For Ally, he is a remote figure, unable to help her resist her mother's control.

Sarah Moss does many things in this book. She shows the harshness of Elizabeth's beliefs but also the value of the work she does for poor women who have become the victims of Victorian hypocrisy about sex, illegitimacy and prostitution. She shows that radical behaviour sometimes does bring about change. And she immerses the reader in a world where luxury, beauty, comfort and joy are choices for some but are denied to others by poverty but also by self-imposed rules.

Bodies of Light is a thought-provoking and absorbing novel. Moss leaves Ally's story open for future development and, although May's story ends in this book, her life has been told more fully in Moss's earlier novel, Night Waking.

Lorrie Moore
9780571273904, 14.99, (hardback), 192pages.
Alfred A. Knopf
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780307594136, $24.95, 208pp,

Lorrie Moore has a sardonic wit and a deft ability to draw her characters by tapping into their thoughts and conversations. Under the lightness of humour, however, there are often dark, distressing situations : divorce, loneliness, world disasters, old age. Her attitude seems to be that if you don't laugh about life you may not survive.

Ira, in the opening story is a newly divorced Jew who begins a disturbed sort of relationship with another divorcee. His wry wit pervades his perceptions of life but his meetings with Zora, always with her taciturn teenage son in tow, become decidedly odd.

Teenage Nickie's mum, on the other hand, is a wonderfully zany but normal, slightly puzzled, single parent. Her interaction with Nickie, she remarks at one point, "contained more sibling banter than it should have". Her response to Nicki's normal teenage outbursts is to disrobe, slowly, so that Nicky flees in disgust. And faith, she muses, was invented so that parents could "raise teenagers without dying". Moore has a sharp eye for the weirdness of society and the country wedding which Nickie and her mum attend is a rich source of humour. The gun-firing bikers who roar up in the middle of proceedings are just glorious icing on the comic cake.

Only one story left me baffled. It has a sort of existential madness and revolves around a weird visit by three women to the house of a newly dead friend, a ghostly re-appearance and one woman's bizarre response to it all.

There are only eight stories in this book but that it enough to show Moore's originality, her ability to see the absurdities beneath every-day situations, and her sharp skill at making us laugh in a what is, too often, a frightening world

The Unexpected Professor
John Carey
Faber & Faber
9780571310920, A$35.00, (hardback), 361pages.

Unexpected? Yes, in a number of ways. Who would have thought that young John Carey, son of an accountant, put on Daily Report at his first grammar school for lack of interest in his lessons, would one day become an Oxford University Professor? Even he was surprised when, in 1975, he was appointed Merton Head of English Literature, and he felt guilty, he says, that he had never even finished reading the complete works of Sir Walter Scott.

Most surprising, is that an Oxford don (i.e. a member of a learned, highly civilised but exclusive coterie) should be so genial, chatty and open as he unfolds his very personal love-affair with English Literature: "how we met, how we got on, what came of it", as he puts it.

However, not everything in this book is about English Literature. In fact, in the early chapters it is incidental to Carey's memories of growing up in war-time and post-war England. His first memories of reading of any sort are of weekly comics that he and his sister fought over, and some old annuals which had belonged to his father when he was a boy. Following these, came the Biggles books. As a choir boy (he thought the outfit looked "dashing" and he was paid to sing) he was exposed to the King James Bible and to Hymns Ancient and Modern, but literature as such had to wait until he moved to a new grammar school and was exposed to the novels of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, and to the poetry of Chesterton, Arnold and Keats.

Once Carey starts to write about literature, his particular loves and hates become clear, but his memories of his life in general are often more interesting than his detailed reflections on particular books. His earliest memory is of an elephant in a parade for the Silver Jubilee of King George V when he was thirteen months old (although he admits that the elephant may have migrated from later memories), then he remembers his father carrying him to a window to see the glare in the sky from the burning of the Crystal Palace. From recollections of family life, school milk and a disaster with a trifle, he moves on to grammar school, then to conscription as a National Serviceman, where, in Egypt, as a Intelligence Officer he almost managed to blow up the entire Intelligence Section. After National Service, he took up his place at Oxford University, met his future wife and, over the years, moved up the University hierarchy until becoming Professor.

Carey's reflections on his past are many and varied. He has a quick wit, a sometimes acerbic tongue and is often very funny. His main subject, he says, is books. And he does discuss in detail certain authors and particular poems and books. George Orwell crops up regularly and Carey seems to feel some affinity with him as a champion of the under-privileged classes. Carey's own experiences of the English class system stem from his time as an army officer after he was singled out as a 'Potential Leader' on account of his grammar-school A-level passes, and, later, when he was a scholarship-holder at university. In both situations he mixed with men whose family and schooling were those of the status conscious 'upper classes'. Carey tells of hearing Sir Roy Harrod's response to a guest who asked who Carey (who was sitting opposite him at dinner) was. "Oh, that's nobody" responded Harrod. D.H.Lawrence is admired for his outspoken scorn for ideas and his ability to "show you the world with the grime scrubbed off". Conrad and Larkin are applauded for believing in nothing but their art. And Charlotte Bronte's novels are dismissed as "unexpectedly tiresome" with "feeble" characters and "tangled and disrupted" narratives.

Carey can be sharp-tongued but he is always honest in his views. He pays tribute to his grammar school education, regrets the demise of grammar schools and stiff competition, and suggests that modern students should understand the 'truth' that learning and fun "seldom coincide". Certainly, he worked hard for his many and varied achievements. His love of nature, his delight in his cat (wandering Wiggington), and his ongoing passion for bee-keeping reflect the breadth of his interests. Compared to the richness of detail in the early chapters, where there are some wonderful turns-of-phrase and lively expressions of opinion, the final chapters on reviewing and writing are disappointing and seem to be little more than an outline of Carey's many publications. The quotations with which he ends this book, however, beautifully answer his question "Why read?". And they explain, too, why books have been such an essential part of his life.

The Steady Running of the Hour
Justin Go
Allen & Uwiln
9781743313794, A$29.99, (paperback), 466 pages
Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781476704586, $26.00, 480pp,

So, you have just finished university, you have small apartment in San Francisco, you don't even own a mobile phone, and you are suddenly contacted by some London solicitors you have never heard of before and told that you may be the beneficiary of a will. It sounds like a common internet scam. But Tristan Campbell is not so sure, and since he is to be flown business-class to London to learn more, the chance is too good to miss.

In some impressive offices in London, Tristan is told that in 1924 this particular solicitors' practice was employed to draft a most unusual will. The main beneficiary was a missing person but the will stipulated that the assets should be held in trust for eighty years in case she turned up, and if she did not the estate was to be distributed between various charitable foundations. Tristan, it seems, is possibly the direct descendent of an illegitimate daughter of Ashley Walsingham (a very wealthy Englishman who died in 1924 on one of the earliest Everest expeditions) and Imogen Soames-Andersson . Ashley left his estate to Imogen, who was the sister of Tristan's great-grandmother, Eleanor. Now, the eighty years for which the trust was to run is about to end but a family letter has been found which suggests that Charlotte, Tristan's grandmother was, in fact, Imogen's daughter, not Eleanor's as the family had always believed. No family records could be found to confirm this but Tristan has just under two months in which to obtain the evidence which would make him sole heir to a fortune.

So far, so complicated. The book however is not complicated. In alternating chapters, it relates Ashley's life and Tristan's ongoing quest for the truth about Imogen Soames-Andersson. Ashley's life was full and adventurous. His meeting and his love affair with Imogen take place in London and in a society in which interest in science and exploration flourishes, but the advent of the First World War changes everything. Ashley's experiences in the trenches in France are vividly and disturbingly described so, too, are his return to England and his subsequent involvement in climbing expeditions in the Himalayas. The difficulties, beauties, struggles and eventual failure of his oxygen-free ascent of Everest with the primitive equipment of the time is realistic and gripping. Incidents in Imogen's life and that of her close family and sister also carry the story forward.

Meanwhile, Tristan travels widely, experiences many different cultures, and meets and is befriended by many different people until a last, almost unbelievable, meeting solves the mystery.

In this, his first novel, Justin Go has produced a page-turning, varied and well-plotted story. He is adept at drawing the reader into the feelings and behaviour of his characters in very different times and in different countries and cultures. I can't quite believe the speed with which Tristan manages to access exactly the material he needs at the British Library and in other major libraries around the world (I have never been able to find, call up, read and absorb material that quickly, but maybe he has a special charm). And I am not altogether convinced by the ending of the story either, although the rough family tree I scribbled in the back of the book shows that it is just about possible.

Never mind, a good, well-written story is a good story: and certainly this one has enough action and interest and suspense to make it satisfying reading.

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
Sun-Mi Hwang
Chi-Young Kim
9781780745343, A$21.99, (paperback), 134 pages.
Penguin Books
c/o Penguin Group (USA)
375 Hudson Street, 4th floor, New York, NY 10014
9780143123200, $15.00, 144pp,

Sun-Mi Hwang's books have been widely published in South Korea where they have won many awards, and this little book about a cage-hen called 'Sprout' is a simple tale, simply told, and simply and charmingly illustrated.

Anyone who feels trapped in a routine job with no prospects and no recognition can empathise with Sprout's dreams of freedom. Yet when that freedom comes, life is not at all as she had expected. There are more and different dangers, and hard lessons to be learned. But Sprout is in control of her own life and, in spite of the hardships and sorrows which come her way, a strange friendship and an even stranger responsibility bring her joy.

A story in which animals talk and display human emotions could be saccharin, but Sun-Mi Hwang balances sentimental moments with enough harsh reality and tension to make the story work. I am not sure that hens really can experience 'goose-bumps', but Sprout is not your average hen, so anything is possible, and even her experience of motherhood, apart from the usual joys and worries, is highly unusual.

Sprout is a courageous and determined heroine and the world she inhabits is the real world in which humans and animals must kill and eat in order to survive. The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a book which imaginative children will enjoy, although they may find some parts distressing. It is also a book with hidden depths to which many adults will respond.

Mr. Selden's Map of China: Decoding the Secrets of a Vanished Cartographer
Chart & The South China Sea
Timothy Brook
Profile Books
9781781250389, A$39.99, (hardback), 211 pages
Bloomsbury Press
175 Fifth Avenue, Suite 315, New York, NY 10010
9781620401439, $25.00, 240pp,

When, in 1654, John Selden bequeathed his large collection of books and manuscripts to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, his "Mapp of China" was the only item which he mentioned by name. It is not known how or when he acquired this old Chinese map, but in 1618 when he was writing 'Mare Clausum', his legal treatise on the ownership of the sea, this map was the most accurate chart of the South China Sea in existence. By 1640, however, its value had leached away. And by the 18th century it was regarded as an Asian curiosity and displayed on a staircase wall in Oxford University's Anatomy School alongside the tattooed skin of a Pacific Islander named Giolo. Then, it was rolled up, packed into a box, and sent to the basement stacks, where it lay forgotten for almost a century.

In 2008, an American historian of the British Empire noticed the map's entry in the library catalogue and called it up. Alerted by a librarian to something of interest in his own field of studies, Timothy Brook found himself looking at a large, very old, beautifully decorated, Chinese paper map. It was totally unlike any other Chinese map he had ever seen. It was "perfect": but "it was all wrong".

Brook was fascinated by this strange map and the questions it raised, so he set about exploring not only its origins and purpose but also the secrets it contained. Along the way, he delved into the European and Chinese history surrounding it, and the lives of the many people associated with it. This ambitious project took Brook into unexpected places and involved history, law, politics, science, biography, cartography and (bringing the possible importance of the map up-to-date) a discussion of present-day Chinese claims over disputed territories in the South China Sea. In the handling of all these different aspects, he needed to be almost as much of a polymath as John Selden clearly was.

Some will find all of Brook's findings fascinating and his style is easy-going and often personal. He has, as he says at the end of the book, written himself into the story of the map. For me, however, there were too many extensive excursions into historical events surrounding people remotely linked to the map and too many details of the lives of their relatives, and my interest often flagged.

Brook admits that his journey of exploration was more "convoluted and complicated" than he expected when he set out: "a circling maze rather than a straight path". "Perhaps", he writes, mixing his metaphors, it was like those many historical expeditions which got lost at sea and his own ship "hasn't quite made it to home port".

Perhaps, he is being a too hard on himself. Other reviewers have thoroughly enjoyed the book and have not had the difficulties I had. Certainly, the map still keeps some of its secrets, but it is an interesting and curious object. The end papers of the book show part of the map, and it is delicately coloured and beautifully decorated with Chinese mountains, trees and flowers. I wish the full reproduction of it in the book were larger so that Brook's favourite illustration - two tiny butterflies in the Gobi Desert - could be easily seen. John Selden, too, is a man whose life was full of drama and who lived in what the Chinese curse would define as "interesting times". His extensive knowledge and his many important achievements were, and still are, worthy of recognition.

Cat Out Of Hell
Lynne Truss
Arrow Books with Hammer / Random House
9780099585336, A$27.99, (hardback), 233 pages.

Lauren Owen
Jonathan Cape
9780224096393, A$32.99, (paperback), 517 pages.

Two gothic horror stories. One by established author Lynne Truss; the other a first novel by Lauren Owen. Both suitably macabre, horrifying and bloody.

Lynne Truss's Cat Out of Hell joins the series of Hammer Horror novellas already commissioned from literary writers like Helen Dunmore and Jeanette Winterson. Truss describes it as the comic, full and frightful tale of a missing woman and a talking cat, and she clearly had fun writing it. So much so, that she, like her narrator, is "quite captivated by Roger", her murderous, conniving, highly literate cat, who can do cryptic crosswords with ease, quotes Tennyson and Milton, and has "a profound aesthetic response to cultural sites". Roger, however, is a scary beast: and he tells us more than we might like to know about the latent devilish powers of our feline 'friends'. Purring may no longer hypnotise us, and paddling our laps does not now shred our femoral arteries, but the dead mice and birds they bring us are not gifts but proof that they believe they will get their evil powers back "if only they do enough killing".

So much for Roger. But we also meet his owner Wiggy (Dr Winterton); Alec, our narrator, whose sister and her dog have suddenly and mysteriously disappeared; The Captain, who is Roger's devilish cat-mentor; and The Cat Master (the first of whom was, apparently, Sir Isaac Newton) who owns that rare leaflet - Nine Lives: The Gift of Satan - which holds the secret of ultimate power.

There are devilish deeds, and gruesome deaths; and it comes as no surprise to learn that Lynne Truss has recently changed her allegiance from cats to dogs. It is a pity that Roger mesmerises her into offering a happy ending: an ambiguous one would have been so much more worrying.

Lauren Owen's novel, The Quick, takes considerably longer to read and is not comic at all. True to its genre, it is horribly gory. It begins quite calmly in 1890 with two young orphaned children, James and Charlotte, growing up in the crumbling ruins of Aiskew Hall in Yorkshire (of course!). We follow their lives until James, who has ambitions to be a writer, goes off to Oxford University and then moves on to London. There, he falls in with a group of young men who frequent exclusive London clubs and he meets and begins to share rooms with Christopher. Up to this point in the book, only the illicit love which develops between the two men provides the tension, but the dramatic ending of Part One signals the start of the real horror story.

Suddenly we are thrown into a terrifying world where warring groups of vampires, kidnap, dismember, and otherwise bloodily destroy each other, as well as preying on The Quick, who are their source of nourishment. A Dickensian cast of scruffy children and oddly dressed men and women represent one faction of the un-dead: the members of the Aegolius Club, a sinister, mysterious, philanthropic society intent on a diabolical form of social reform, comprise the other. At the heart of the Aegoilius Club is Augustus Mould (Doctor Knife), whose notes we read and whose experiments are particularly gruesome. Charlotte and James become inextricably involved with all of this.

For a first novel, The Quick is admirable, but the first 100 pages of the book serve little purpose other than to introduce Charlotte, James and Christopher, and there is little relationship between this part of the book and the rest. The lives of a number of other characters, too, are told in unnecessary detail, especially since they all end up being summarily dispatched in a variety of gory ways. After a while the constant immersion in blood-sucking and gore becomes repetitive. A shorter book would, I think, have more impact and, as with the Cat out of Hell, the almost happy ending to this horror story comes as an anticlimax.

Ann Skea, Reviewer

Buhle's Bookshelf

Know Yourself, Know Others
Joanne Antoun
Balboa Press
c/o Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
Bohlsen Group (publicity)
9781452511795 $16.99

Know Yourself, Know Others: The Thirty-Second Personality Type and Life Guide System discusses nine common personality types (Instigator, Supporter, Doer, Dreamer, Agent, Patriot, Aficionado, Competitor, and Mediator), and how to determine which applies most strongly to oneself and the other people in one's life. By better understanding both oneself and others, one is in a greatly improved position to tailor personal, professional, or lifelong strategies to achieve one's goals - especially goals that require cooperative teamwork! For example, here's a sample quote especially valuable to the Aficionado (but useful for nearly everyone): "Become an observer of yourself, watch for your impulsiveness to arise, and start a new habit of simply observing the impulse instead of taking action on it. As you watch the impulse, eventually it will pass. In time, you'll get better at assessing which impulses are worthy of action and which should just be allowed to pass by." An excellent, life-enriching resource, highly recommended.

Adonai, Remember Me
Donais Lee, author
Aran Lee, composer
Westbow Press
c/o Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
c/o Bohlsen Group (publicity)
9781490800219 $29.95

Adonai, Remember Me is a unique parable retelling the story of Jesus Christ, God's son on Earth, through the minds and perspectives of those who met Him during their lives. The result is an extraordinary composite picture of Christ's time among men, reinforcing His profound and everlasting gift of love - and through love, knowledge of God. An accompanying music CD complements the storytelling journey of this deeply reverent and spiritual expression of faith.

Rock Trees: The Beatles Volume 1
Jay Goldberg
DTR Inc.
PO Box 7291, Delray Beach, FL 33482
c/o CreateSpace
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781494739102 $12.95

Rock Trees: The Beatles Volume 1: The Paul McCartney Tree is not a standard, narrative-style nonfiction book. Instead, it is a "music genealogy" that dissembles the connections between 1,550 bands and artists to beloved rock icons The Beatles, utilizing the theory of six degrees of separation. The connections between these songs - some of which are widely known, many more of which are not - may potentially lead connoisseurs of The Beatles to experience new songs and artists that captivate their fancy, and offer an intriguing perspective on the complex interplays of popular music. Unique, articulate, and supplemented by an index, Rock Trees: The Beatles Volume 1 will prove especially interesting to Beatles fans!

Willis M. Buhle

Deacon's Bookshelf

Rows of Memory: Journeys of a Migrant Sugar-Beet Worker
Saul Sanchez
University of Iowa Press
119 W Park Road, 100 Kuhl House, Iowa City IA 52242-1000
9781609382339, $21.00, paperback,

When I was young, I joined the Marines. The Corps stationed me in the desert southwest, near the Mexican border. Several of us bought motorcycles. We rode all over the area. We often rode into Mexico -- people crossed the border more or less freely in those days. In Mexico, we smoked a lot of 'mota' and got knee-walkin' drunk in the 'tabernas'. Rubbing shoulders with the locals as we did, we sometimes rubbed locals the wrong way. All of that leads up to the fact that no Mexican ever called me 'gringo' without a hateful sneer on his face and blood in his eye. For a Mexican to call a white American 'gringo' is for a white American to call a Mexican 'spic' or 'greaser'. It ain't nice, people, and nobody talks like that who doesn't like to fight.

Few people would know that better than Mexican-American author Saul Sanchez. I say so because Sanchez wrote a memoir titled 'Rows of Memory: Journeys of a Migrant Sugar-Beet Worker'. I find it curious that in his memoir, Sanchez everywhere makes free use of the word 'gringo' when he refers to 'white' American men or 'gringa' when he refers to 'white' American women. In my experience, Mexican-Americans usually say 'Anglos' in polite reference to non-Hispanic, 'white' people. From all of that I assume author Sanchez is either a racist taco bender of just some guy who passionately resents his hardscrabble childhood and truly likes to fight. What ever.

There's no doubt in my mind that the migrant worker's life is tough. For one whole year I shared a with a Mexican-American man. He got his living by working the fruit and vegetable crops of southern Arizona. Once, on a dare, I spent a day picking lemons in a grove near Yuma. That kind of work needs a better man than I was then -- 24 years old, 6 feet tall, 190 pounds and newly discharged from the Marines. After standing on a ladder all day in that grove, I though my arches were broken. I never went back. Other experience taught me that living as a drifter, by itself, is mighty tough. Anybody who finds him/herself living that life, (s)he will learn as Mr. Sanchez and I learned that there's almost no way out of it. Outside agriculture, if American employers ever write down all the excuses they have for not hiring drifters they'll have written a book so big that only a Mexican migrant could lift and carry it.

That said, I believe the young Mr. Sanchez, working the short hoe for years in those beet fields, had his nose so close to the ground for so long that his vision may be incurably narrowed. Both Sanchez and Omar Valerio-Jimenez (who lends an essay to 'Rows of Memory' cry the blues of migrant labor but only migrant labor as experienced by Hispanics. Both of them educated Americans, they ought to know there's nothing new in migrant labor and little or nothing in migrant labor that's unique to the Mexican experience.

Penniless, ragged, starving 'gringos' that America called 'Okies' fled the Dust Bowl back in the 1930s. When they arrived in California farm country, Okie 'gringos' were treated as bad or worse than Mexicans. John Steinbeck, for one, was traumatized by what he found on the acres near Bakersfield. But Okie 'gringos' didn't have it any tougher in Bakersfield and Salinas than other groups had it in other places at other times. One recalls the railroads and the Chinese gangs that built so many of them. There were also the Irish, the Italians, and the East Europeans in their turn. There were the garment and textile workers; there was (and still is) child labor. There was the 'peculiar institution' that sparked the American Civil War. Who were the abolitionists? The underground railroaders? Who was John L. Lewis? Mother Jones? Lucy Parsons? Big Bill Haywood? Eugene V. Debs? Jimmy Hoffa?

Toward the end of 'Rows of Memory,' Mr. Sanchez does make brief mention of Cesar Chavez. But then Chavez was a Mexican-American, wasn't he? For the rest of it, Sanchez doesn't seem to know or care about any of the people I named, or what they did -- or what they tried to do -- and in some case died for.

My point? The condition of migrant labor in America has little or nothing to do with race or nationality. American capitalism feeds on impoverishment and powerlessness. American business doesn't give a damn where workers come from or what color workers are as long as they are desperate enough to do what the employers want for what the employers are willing to pay. Workers who refuse and attempt to organize are name 'troublemakers,' 'radicals,' 'terrorists' or 'bloody red socialists'. Typically the get beaten nigh unto death by company goons, or run out of town, or imprisoned by courts, or shot dead by police.

In short, American capitalism is engineered by Congress to empower a caste of vicious, ruthless thieves who create and exploit cheap labor. Mexican-Americans are some but by no means all of capitalism's victims. As more and more Mexican-Americans do with themselves as Saul Sanchez did -- learn to speak English and get an education -- migrant labor will become the lot of other unfortunates if meaningful, badly needed reform doesn't end the system before that time. As I write this column, I see the idea of a resurrected American Labor Movement everywhere afoot, but I see no promise whatever, anywhere.

Notwithstanding problems of race and misdirected anger, 'Rows of Memory' is a powerful testament. The bulk of the book delivers details of Mexican culture and family life that 'gringo' readers may well envy. My own family circle wasn't nearly so close. Descriptions of migrant working and living conditions are factual and vivid. Mr. Sanchez's tales of his tough-loving parents and extended family tug at the heart. Accounts of vicious, skin-flint employers and lousy working conditions echo my own, 25-year, blue-collar experience. When, every once in a while, the Sanchez family gets good work from a relatively decent employer, the reader heaves a sigh of relief.

Sanchez might be surprised how much his account of K-12 schooling in Crystal City, Texas, resembles my own experience at school in rural Iowa. We didn't have any 'pachucos' in my hometown, but we did have a small crowd of greasy, stupid boys who made life miserable for anyone who took school seriously and tried to stay out of trouble. Obviously it wasn't race that divided children in an all-white school. It was money and influence. Kids whose parents had money and/or clout on the school board got preferential treatment.

The facts were diligently concealed but kids whose families had no money or influence suffered for it in petty ways. The few who dared to complain suffered in other ways. After the superintendent once grabbed me by the stacking swivel and did his best to slap me out from under my hair, I came away with an opinion of authority that matches the opinion of Mr. Sanchez and has proven itself wisdom time and again for 50 years and a few. Depending upon who you know, I've found, the fix is always in.

Another similarity: Sanchez tells that by the time he graduated high school, he 'got back' at people who occasionally bested him by telling himself that his opponent had cheated or taken advantage of some fact or unfair condition. In Iowa, life at home and at school led me to feel the same by the time I was in 7th grade. I never got completely past the problem and neither, apparently, did Mr. Sanchez.

'Rows of Memory' is not history but a personal memoir and should be understood as such. Being now 65 years old myself, occasional encounters with my own siblings perpetually remind me that memory is a selective and unreliable source. Some of us recall an incident one way; some recall it differently; some don't recall it at all, and every recollection of days long ago is tainted to some degree by our own, personal feelings toward each other and toward others who may or may not even have been involved the the fracas at issue. There's no getting around such differences because at the end of the day we are all human beings and -- as Mr. Sanchez and many other folks have surely noticed -- the human race is likely the biggest herd of jerks on this or any planet.

Saul Sanchez. Rows of Memory: Journeys of a Migrant Sugar-Beet Worker. Overall, 4 (of 5) stars. Recommended reading for those who can take it. Those who choose to read it will learn to read themselves more closely.

Solomon sed.

The Writing Life
Annie Dillard
10 E 53rd St, New York, NY 10022
0060161566, $15.95, hardcover,

First I heard of Annie Dillard was in a freshman lit class at college. The instructor assigned a Dillard essay -- 'The Fixed' -- for discussion on the following Monday. I read it at home on Friday evening and found it impressive. So I read it again on Saturday and once more on Sunday. As promised, we talked about it in class on Monday. Our lesson: squeeze an Annie Dillard essay just a tiny bit, it spritzes portentous juices all over the room.

But I didn't follow up on 'The Fixed'. I was in college, after all, a full-time, double-major, whiz-bang honor student. Between History and English classes and grad school journalism, I had so much assigned reading that I didn't have time for the recreational sort -- except on semester breaks, which I devoted to door stops such as 'Les Miserables' or 'War and Peace'.

So it was that Annie Dillard disappeared from my mental landscape for a couple of decades, until her name came up a few weeks ago in a conversation about nature writers. Shortly thereafter I spotted a used, hardback copy of Dillard's Pulitzer-winning 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek' at a Goodwill store. The book was in fine condition so, for a buck and a quarter, I scooped it up and took it home without even looking inside.

At home I found that 'The Fixed' was fourth of the 15 essays that comprise 'Tinker Creek'. Then I looked up Dillard's biblio to see what else she has written, and that's when I learned that she'd written a book about the craft of writing and her personal writing process. I figured there was no way a jerk like me could NOT profit from reading Dillard's experience. So I bought a copy of 'The Writing Life' and read that, preparing myself to wade in 'Tinker Creek'.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned about Dillard personally from 'The Writing Life' ('TWL'), is that Annie Dillard is one tough-minded individual. According to Dillard, the craft of writing is not for the faint of heart, though she doesn't state her case in just that way.

'TWL' is only 111 pages cover-to-cover. Dillard employs most of those to shatter every wannabe writer's every dream and aspiration by disallowing every excuse that any wannabe ever cherished. If you are a wannabe and if your read 'TWL,' then by the time Annie Dillard gets through handing you pieces of her mind, you will be glad to forget the idea of writing for a living and take up, perhaps, where Willie Loman left off -- always assuming you are not as crazy as Annie Dillard.

If, like Dillard, you are wacko, then you might realize your dreams if you just go and get a Smith-Corona electric portable before you move to a ratty old shack somewhere deep in the woods. When you settle into your ratty old shack, you should furnish the place with a three-legged table and a right-sized chunk of firewood to use for a stool. Hose that Smith-Corona down with something highly flammable, put the typewriter on your wobble-geared table, and set the machine on fire. Then sit down and type like blazes before the keys melt. It seems a great way to meet deadlines, doesn't it? I plan to try it myself someday soon.

The neatest thing about 'TWL' is that readers don't get pummeled with terms such as 'agent' or 'editor' or 'publisher'. Dillard doesn't give readers a single word about the business end of writing. She doesn't yatter about cover letters or query letters, or marketing, or manuscript format, or any such drivel. She is not about 'How to get published' or any of the other 'trade secrets' that all the scoopy, poopy, make-big-money-as-a-freelance-writer books promise you but never find time to disclose. Dillard tells readers what the writing process and the writing life are really like and she tells it all in plain language and now I'm telling you: If the spouse of every wannabe author in the world should happen to read 'TWL' during the same week, the composition of literature would be a lost art before the end of the week following.

Whenever the subject of writers arises, I argue that all real writers are egomaniacs. I say it to others because I feel it is true, and I write it here because it's my own, one-legged, half-assed attempt to explain why editing one's own work is so often so painful.

In taking that position I'm supported by none other than hick-town fabulist Mark Twain, who once wrote that no work is properly finished until the writer pores through it to locate the one passage of which (s)he is most proud of having written -- and deletes that passage. Dillard is with me insofar as she, too, plainly agrees with Twain. In 'TWL' she wrote: "The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part; it is also, oddly, the part which was to have been the very point."

Wannabe authors who read this essay will probably not understand why anybody would do a thing like that. Neither will they understand that their failure to understand is what makes and keeps them wannabe writers. This writer believes it might well have been a wannabe who moved Dr. Johnson to opine: "I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read."

Dillard believes that Henry James said it best. The way Dillard explains James, I gather he saw self-edit as a form of tragedy that every writer must enact and then reenact over and over again throughout his/her writing career. Speaking strictly for myself again, I never read Henry James but I know what self-edit asks of me: it wants a mean eye, a lot of guts, true humility and -- because I am dextral -- it demands that I take and hold a firm sinistral grip on my reproductive organs.

'Writers' who struggle with the process get no sympathy from Dillard. Her cure for 'writer's block' requires the afflicted person to get up every morning and go to work without fail. Their job, she holds, "is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair."

Toward those who lack the visceral wherewithal to self-edit or subject themselves or their work to any sort of criticism whatever, Dillard is pitiless: "Your work is meaningless and probably worthless. Nobody else cares if you do it or not and if you don't do it, nobody will miss you or it."

Dillard has an even more rigorous cure for those who resent being undiscovered (every writer has encountered at least one such) because they believe their work is flawless, that the rest of the world is jealous and punishes them by purposely ignoring their genius. Of those 'writers,' Dillard asks: "Why not shoot yourself, actually, rather than finish one more excellent manuscript on which to gag the world?"

For those who say they would like to write but don't believe they would live long enough to complete a book, Dillard offers some solace. She explains that there may be 20 people alive on this planet at any given moment who can write one book per year. Most of us, she says, need 5 or 10 years to write a single book. Some of us need a lifetime. If at any moment a writer thinks his/her work is either bad or wonderful (as the case may be) those feelings should be repelled. The thing to do, according to Dillard, is to keep working. She advises: "There is neither a proportional relationship nor an inverse one between a writer's estimation of a work-in-progress and its actual quality."

Dillard also dismisses the notion that some folks can write better during one season rather than another. She quotes good ol' Dr. Johnson, who labeled that idea "Imagination operating upon luxury."

The place in which to write, Dillard claims, is not 'A Room with a View' but a room in which there are no distractions. A good place to write is one that creates a threesome by putting you face-to-face with yourself and your work. All else is distraction. She quotes what she says is a West African proverb: "The beginning of wisdom is to get you a roof."

Dillard and I part company when she sets herself to chew up Jack London. If he didn't write 20 hours per day (as he once claimed he did), she pegs him for a liar. And if he did in fact work as hard as he claimed, she doesn't like the hours he kept nor does she like what he wrote. Says Dillard: "Often he slept through his alarm, so by his own account, he rigged it to drop a weight on his head. I cannot say I believe this, though a novel like 'The Sea Wolf' is strong evidence that some sort of weight fell on his head with some sort of frequency -- but you wouldn't think a man would claim credit for it."

Solomon sez: This writer wouldn't think an author with Dillard's accomplishments and skill set was a person who'd fall prey to jealousy, either, but it may be tha she does on occasion. What Dillard writes of London simply cannot be true, as Wikipedia and a bit of arithmetic clearly show.

See here: London's Wikipedia bibliography lists more than 70 published books -- novels, short-story collections, non-fiction, and at least 3 stage plays. He maybe wrote a crappy book here and there (nobody's perfect) but what I've seen of his stuff I find strongly impressive. Outside my own easy chair, London's works are widely and highly acclaimed. His first success came at age 21. He died when he was 40 years old, and I fail to see how he could have done all that work in 19 years if he did NOT work 20 hours per day as he claimed.

Figure the printed octavo page runs about 30 lines per page and each line is 10 words, give or take. Now do the math: 300 words per page in a 350-page novel works out to 105,000 words. But let's be charitable to Dillard and drop those big numbers. Let's say the average novel is only 80,000 words (266 pages). If London wrote 1,000 words per day, as he claimed, then he wrote 365,000 words per year. But that much copy will make four, 80,000-word books per year with some 45,000 words left over.

London started writing professionally at age 21 and wrote until age 40, when he died. So in those 19 years, my numbers say he wrote (4 times 19 equals) 76 books -- just a few more than London's Wikipedia biblio credits him with. In contrast, Dillard's own website credits her with just 12 books and tells us that she's presently 68 years old. She published her first book in 1974, when she was 29 years old. Thus she has published only 12 books in a 39-year career.

Was Jack London a liar, as Dillard insinuates? I suppose one could say so because he wrote fiction for a living. But it seems to me that the very idea of a truthful fiction writer is oxymoronic. Compared to London then, as I read the facts, it's Annie Dillard who comes up short. Furthermore, I find her remarks about London and his works shallow and 'intellectually inexpensive' to say the best of them.

Differences between this writer and Dillard aside, there is much more in 'TWL' for those who care to seek it out. Dillard is fond of parables, for example, and frequently uses them to teach. There's the parable of the flaming Smith-Corona. Then there's the one about the starving Algonquin woman, which I particularly liked. I also enjoyed the tale of Annie learning to split firewood so she could heat a cabin that could not be heated.

Can't handle parables? You can go stunt flying with Annie Dillard! Ummmmmmaybe -- perhaps -- that story is a parable, too. But if it is, it's unusual for being 17 pages long.

'The Writing Life,' by Annie Dillard. Highly recommended. Get one now. Have some fun or roast in Hell, as it may strike you.

Solomon sed.

Deacon Solomon, Reviewer

Gail's Bookshelf

One Minute Prayers for Comfort and Healing
Hope Lyda
Harvest House
990 Owen Loop North, Eugene, OR 97402-9173
9780736956925, $9.99,

Hope Lyda, author of the "One-Minute Prayer" series, encourages and reassures with scriptures, prayers and meaningful reflections in One-Minute Prayers for Comfort and Healing. They are especially useful for times of emotional turmoil that leave us emotionally spent, without words, unable to pray.

That's not an uncommon occurrence today as our nation adjusts to the "new normal" caused by the housing bubble and collapse of the U.S. economy in the 2007-2008 Financial Crisis. Since then foreclosures are common, jobs lost, never to be regained and many continue life in a whirlwind of loss, grief and unanticipated change. Others struggle with health diagnoses like cancer, Alzheimer's or degenerative heart disease that cause fear of the unknown, emotional stress and anxiety that disrupts marriages, families and meaningful relationships.

These one-minute prayers and scriptures offer comfort and hope with relevant Bible verses, brief readings and prayer that invite readers to pause and "experience the still and quiet voice of God."

For example, the reading titled, "Holding On" is from James 5: 7-8 about God, timing, patience and trust. The reading concerns our witness to others when we encourage them to pray and wait patiently on the Lord for His answer. Yet, when it's our turn to practice what we've preached, we're at a loss for words and want the Lord to fix the problem or take it away. Until the reader is prompted to listen to that still inner voice that says, "You too must be patient and stand firm."

If a friend or family member is going through tough times, focused on surviving, in need of comfort or healing, Hope Lyda's, "One-Minute Prayers" is an inexpensive gift choice. The attractive padded hard cover and small size fits nicely into purse, bag or travel bag.

Praying Circles Around the Lives of Your Children
Mark Batterson
Zondervan Publishing House
P.O. Box 141000, Nashville, Tennessee 37214
9780310339731, $14.99,

Mark Batterson, author and lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., continues his prayer theme in "Praying Circles Around the Lives of Your Children" releasing April 22. Where parents learn what prayer circles are and how to pray "circles" of God's promises over their children's lives.

Batterson adopted the method of prayer circles from the "Book of Legends," a story compilation from the Hebrew Talmud and Midrash after he read the legendary account of "Honi, the Circle Maker."

Honi, a rainmaker similar to Elijah who successfully prayed for rain, lived on the outskirts of Jerusalem and spent his days in prayer inside a small hut. The people, when their land became dry and parched, begged Honi to pray for rain because they knew he was a man of great faith.

Honi agreed and the community joined him in prayer on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where he bowed his head, extended his staff to the ground and turned "until he stood inside the complete circle he had drawn." That day the legend of the "Circle Maker" was born with a "prayer that saved a generation." To read the complete kids version: The Circle Maker for Kids: one Prayer can Change Everything

Reading Honi's story caused such a transformation in Mark's prayer life he shared this new method of prayer in several books. Praying Circles Around your Children, Draw the Circle: the 40 Day Prayer Challenge and The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around...Dreams & Fears.

In this new guide, Praying Circles Around the Lives of Your Children, he describes how to pray seven prayer circles of biblical principles around your children's lives. From praying a hedge of protection around them to passing on the blessings of God's promises. In addition to recognizing and taking advantage of "teachable moments" in your family's life and why he believes God's blessings often comes with "holy complications."

Batterson, a parent himself, considers prayer a parent's "secret weapon, yet it isn't a default position. He knows from experience being a praying parent requires the efforts of "design, desire and discipline." Yet, prayer is our "single greatest privilege," writes Mark, especially since a legacy of prayer is the "greatest legacy you can leave" behind.

Batterson's professional life, as lead pastor of one of America's "most innovative churches," would be considered the pinnacle of success. However, he defines success this way: "I want those who know me best to respect me the most"

That means Mark's family and I'm sure they do because he practices what he preaches with prayers that shape the destinies of his own children, and their children's children.

'Children's Book Roundup for Ages 4-8'

In addition to children's books for Easter, this roundup includes children's bible stories, bedtime stories and bibles that entertain and teach the Christian message of cross and salvation in words and pictures young children understand.

The Rhyme Bible: Storybook for Toddler's
LJ Sattgast
5300 Patterson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
Zonderkidz Board Book
9780310730163, $9.99,

This sturdy, toddler-sized collection introduces youngsters to Bible stories with colorful pictures and lighthearted rhyme. The simple narratives feature a rhyming, sing-along cadence children enjoy. For example:

The shepherd ran to see him.
They knelt and bowed their heads
For Jesus was the Son of God.
Upon a manger bed.

Ten classic stories, retold in rhyme, feature narratives of creation, Noah's Ark, Moses, Christ's resurrection and more. The attractive, inexpensive book is an excellent choice to read, exciting and memorable Bible stories to little ones.

Pups of the Spirit
Jill Gorey & Nancy Haller
c/o Zondervan Publishing House
5300 Patterson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
9780310730613, $15.99,

Children are introduced to the spiritual gifts and what they mean with nine super cute, playful, cuddly puppies who portray one of the gifts from 1 Corinthians 12. From Frankie's faith, to Pete's peace, Max's love, Peanut's patience, Goose's goodness, Kay's kindness, Squeaky's self-control and Gigi's gentleness.

These romping puppies will bring smiles, laughter and clapping hands, each ones antics representing what the "Fruit of the Spirit" really means. "Pups of the Spirit" is a fantastic teaching tool children will long remember.

One Lost Sheep
Rhonda Gowler Greene
c/o Zondervan Publishing House
5300 Patterson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
9780310731788, $9.99,

This cute story retells the well-known parable of the lost sheep and the Shepherd who finds the missing sheep from Luke 15:1-7.

The story captures youngster's attention with rhythmical rhyme from the very first lines:

"White and wooly, hungry sheep grazing by a mountain, steep.

Shepherd watching them with care, guards each one from beast and bear."

This creative narrative entertains and teaches youngsters God will never desert them and will even leave the "99" just to find them. What a precious teaching for anyone, young or old.

My Bedtime Story Bible
Jean E. Syswerda
Illustrated by Daniel Howarth
c/o Zondervan Publishing House
5300 Patterson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
9780310739753, $9.99,

This sturdy, hardcover story book perfect for babies through pre-school age, features twenty-eight loved bible stories, twenty-one from the Old Testament and seven from the new Testament. Simple, four page narratives encourage sweet dreams as children snuggle into the covers prepared to listen.

Stories begin with Adam and Eve and end with Paul singing in jail with stories of Moses, Noah, David, Elijah and more sandwiched in between. Narratives of Jesus include His birth, the shepherds visit, calming the sea, and feeding thousands with "five loaves and two fish."

The author suggests personalizing story time by talking with your child about the story and looking at the colorful illustrations together. Stories end with a "Tuck in" feature that encourage children to talk to God in prayer.

This is an excellent choice for families with young children or as an inexpensive gift to expecting moms or young parents .

Noah and the Mighty Ark
Rhonda Gowler Greene, Illustrated by Margaret Spengler
c/o Zondervan Publishing House
5300 Patterson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
9780310732174, $9.99, April 22, 2014, 32 Pages, Ages 4-8

Youngsters will love the sweet story of Noah, the ark and the animals that find Noah and his family hurrying to finish as Noah's sons walk the gangplank filling the "ark by night and by day."

Soon God said, "When you're through, bring the creatures two by two."

Margaret Spangler's whimsical and colorful illustrations add to the rhyming text for children's enjoyment, along with the charming story sounds of buzzing bees and animals. I'm sure youngsters will quickly imitate the story sounds and frequently ask for Noah's story to be read again and again.

101 Bible Stories from Creation to Revelation
Dan Andreasen
c/o Zondervan Publishing House
5300 Patterson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
9780310740643, $12.99,

This collection of Bible stories could be used for all ages, but is "perfect for independent readers." Stories are one-page in length for a quick story time or quick read for children ages 6-10, throughout the day or at bedtime.

Stories begin with creation and end with "Jesus is Coming Back." The colorful illustrations of the main character or event, featured on the opposite page enhance the narratives, engage children's imaginations and bring stories to life.

The split index features Old Testament stories such as Adam, Eve, Noah and the flood, Moses, David, Goliath and many more. The New Testament stories include Bethlehem's manger scene, Jesus' baptism, the parable of the lost lamb, Jesus' return and more.

From the durable hard cover, to the beautiful illustrations of positive refreshing Bible stories, this well-done Bible story collection is destined to become children's favorite book.

Stand Strong: You Can Overcome Bullying
Nick Vujicic
WaterBrook Press
12265 Oracle Blvd. Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80921
9780307730930, $17.99,

Popular New York Times bestselling author, evangelist and motivational speaker, Nick Vujicic releases "Stand Strong" April 15, where he writes about the bullying epidemic affecting one in six American children today. He's more familiar than most with the nightmares, stomach aches and sense of hopelessness bullies cause when a child is "different."

Since Nick is the "poster child" for different, there's no better spokesman. Born without arms and legs "for reasons never determined" Nick hop-walks with one small fin-like flipper. However, when he was a child confined to a wheelchair, he felt intimidated, insecure and depressed because he was a "bully magnet and a "bully's dream."

Raised in a loving, supportive, Christian family who didn't allow self-pity, Nick learned personal responsibility at an early age. In spite of disabilities his parents gave him assigned chores and encouraged him "to do it for himself" if possible. "They didn't cut me any slack because I lacked limbs," he writes. Instead he was taught to clean his room, brush his teeth, dress himself and even vacuum his room.

However, once he left the shelter of his loving and supportive family for the "hallways and playgrounds of elementary school," he felt he had "a target on his chest that said, 'Bullies, aim here.'" Even though he tried to fit in the hurtful taunts, jokes and ridicule made him question God and why He created him with "so many imperfections."

By age ten, Nick saw no future for himself and attempted suicide in a bathtub full of water. He flipped over, face down in the water, until visions of the pain he would cause his family rolled him over, spitting and sputtering . "That's when he knew suicide wasn't an option," he writes.

Today, Nick is married to a beautiful woman and father to a strong and healthy son and he's no longer a "bully's dream." Instead he's learned "to handle bullies by controlling how he responds to them," one he adopted as his "personal mission" in life.

Nick kicked off his anti-bullying campaign in Salt Lake City, Utah, 2013 with a message of hope about attitude, "if you don't get a miracle, you can still be a miracle." That sense of hope is contained in the pages of "Stand Strong" that teaches how to build a "bully defense system" from the inside out.

If you feel like a bully's target, lonely, defenseless and without hope, learn from one who's been there. Who developed "anti-bully antibodies" with an encouraging, doable, "bully defense system" he teaches to others and writes about in this book. Because, "No bully can define who you are" if you do that for yourself.

This should be a must read book in every school, from elementary through college, from parents to school administrators.

Life Without Limbs
Twitter @NickVujicic

"Children's Books to Celebrate the Real Meaning of Easter"

Easter, a time of celebration and renewal, is one of the most difficult holidays to explain to children with concepts many adults find hard to explain, such as death, an empty tomb and Jesus rising from the dead. Yet that is what the Easter story represents, Christ's death on the cross, the doorway to forgiveness and salvation.

This book review roundup for children ages 4-8 features books that both entertain and teach youngsters the spiritual meaning of Easter with images and words they are familiar with such as bunnies and eggs.

I've also included a recipe for resurrection rolls with marshmallow centers. While rolls bake, the oven represents Christ's tomb. When the rolls finish cooking, are removed from the "tomb" and broken in half, melted marshmallow centers leave a cavity that portrays Christ's empty tomb Easter morning.

In addition to a free devotional guide for the Holy week of Easter offered by Billy Graham's Evangelistic Association.

The Sparkle Egg
Jill Hardie & Christine Kornacki
Ideals Children's Books
2630 Elm HIll Pike Suite 100, Nashville, Tennesse 37214
9780824956646, $16.99,

This lavishly illustrated picture book features a young boy whose excitement about coloring Easter eggs is surpassed by worry, shame and guilt because he lied to his parents about a school assignment. His mom helps him decorate a plastic egg with a cross and sparkles and tells him to draw a picture to put inside the egg of "anything you're ashamed of." The following page is a picture of the family gathered in prayer.

Easter morning when the boy finds the egg empty his parents explain, "Your egg is empty because the things you've done wrong are forgiven and gone just like Christ's tomb was empty that first Easter Day."

I especially like Jill's illustration of "forgiveness using a popular holiday symbol" that takes the focus off coloring eggs and the Easter bunny. Instead the words and pictures portray the rich, spiritual meaning behind Christ's death on the cross.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail: Musical Board Book
Steve Nelson & Jack Rollins, Illustrator Pamela Levy
Candy Cane Press
c/o Ideals Publications
2630 Elm Hill Pike Suite 100, Nashville, Tennessee 37214
9780824919276, $12.99,

"Here comes Peter Cottontail," a musical board book, plays a familiar tune youngsters can sing along with the rhyming story. "Here comes Peter Cottontail, hoppin down the bunny trail, hippity-hoppin, Easter is on its way."

Pictures of children, chipmunks, rabbits and mice filling Easter baskets with candy and treats portray a familiar Christmas theme with the words, "You'll wake up Easter morning and know that he was there, when you find those chocolate bunnies that he's hiding everywhere."

The book is perfect for chubby fingered toddlers through pre-school age. Youngsters will delight in pushing the big blue button on the cover activating the sing along melody. I'm equally sure siblings, parents or grandparents will be asked many times over for the story to be read "just one more time."

This simple story of gifts and giving celebrates Easter with familiar words, pictures and song young children understand.

The Legend of the Easter Egg
Lori Walburg, Illustrated by Richard Cowdrey
c/o Zondervan Publishing House
5300 Patterson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
9780310735458, $15.99,

In this story set in the late 1800's, Thomas and his sister Lucy learn the meaning behind Easter eggs, the empty tomb and the miracle of Easter when Thomas must stay with friends because his sister has Scarlett fever.

Thomas stays with friends who own the local candy store and attends church with them. There he learns "just as a chick breaks out of an egg, so has Jesus broken free of the tomb of death."

The story portrays the real meaning behind Easter eggs, the empty tomb and the hope found in Jesus.

Colorful illustrations of farm animals, children and fanciful animals add to and enhance the story that ends with an explanation of the "traditions and symbols of Lent and Easter," from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Jesus Today: Experience Hope Through his Presence
Sarah Young
Thomas Nelson Publishers
P.O. Box 141000, Nashville, Tennessee 37214
9781400320097, $15.00,

Sarah Young uses a religious practice known as listening prayer to pen the devotions found in "Jesus Today," a method that requires time, quiet and an undistracted mind that gives the impression Jesus speaks directly to the reader.

For example, devotion 22 begins, "I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. This is the way of wisdom: trusting Me no matter what happens in your life," inspired by Proverbs 4: 11, Romans 8:29 and Proverbs 20: 24.

The readings have proven to be a lifeline of encouragement for all those who suffer since the book first published in 2012. Due to its "literary merit" and high consumer demand, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association awarded it the ECPA Christian Book of the Year in 2013.

Sarah admits the book was written "during three of the most challenging years of her life" after as early diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome in 2001, when what she really suffered from was Lyme disease. Australian doctors, unfamiliar with treatment protocols in 2009, prompted Sarah's return to the U.S for treatment.

A knowledgeable Midwest doctor ordered forty-two blood tests and a brain SPECT scan that revealed she suffered "co-infections" of Lyme disease. She recommended several months of grueling and expensive "IV antibiotic treatments." Sarah writes, "I am convinced if I had been healthier, I would not have been able to write this book."

"Jesus Today," features 150 two-page devotional entries and fifty noteworthy quotations that reflect her feelings in the "trenches of adversity when she needed hope to shine brightly." Sarah prays the book will be a "lifeline to people who feel as if they're sinking in hopelessness, as well as a source of encouragement to those whose lives are not so desperate."

I believe Sarah's prayer has been answered and "Jesus Today" will be like her previous book, "Jesus Calling" that inspired a generation of devoted readers. Noted by Publisher's Weekly who said the "Jesus Calling" brand celebrated its tenth anniversary with over ten million books sold worldwide.

Sarah is, was and remains one of my favorite authors and I am blessed to review anything she writes, however, unlike most celebrity authors she rarely grants interviews. To learn more about Sarah read Mark Oppenheimer's New York Times article, A First-Person Defense of Writing in Jesus' Voice, Christian Broadcasting Networks rare interview with the reclusive Sarah: Q & A with Sarah Young.

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms
Gloria Furman
Crossway Publishing
1300 Crescent St., Wheaton, IL 60187
9781433538889, $10.99,

Gloria Furman, pastors wife and mother of four, ministers with her husband at the cross-cultural Redeemer church of Dubai on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates. Her new book, Treasuring Christ releases March 31, just in time for Mother's Day, May 11.

She begins with her husband Dave's ongoing struggle with "chronic pain," something he describes as "living with "white noise." Despite multiple surgeries his arm movements are restricted and painful which led him to ask Gloria jokingly, "What's it like being married to Job?"

She didn't repeat what Job's wife said, "Curse God and die" (Job 2:9) Instead, Gloria shares Dave's condition because her husband's struggles shaped her perception of what it means to "have your hands full." Even though Dave's arm movements are still limited and he still lives with chronic pain, he continues a walk of faith by God's grace.

Although their situations are different, Gloria found her own hands full when she became a mom, a job far more physical than she imagined it would be with what she calls her four "munchkins." That's when she adopted Jonathan Edwards prayer and asked God to "stamp eternity on her eyeballs."

She found when she viewed the world through Christ's perspective from the cross her "vision of motherhood" changed and the mundane chores of parenting became an act of worship. From cleaning up finger smudges and spills, to dashing out the door to soccer practice or accepting what her playful son handed her as a gift. "Boogers or indiscernible food matter from underneath his highchair," she writes.

Gloria learned to" pursue a vibrant and ever-growing relationship with Christ" in spite of the distractions and obstacles of motherhood. She penned these gospel-centered meditations to encourage other frazzled moms with "the good news of Jesus Christ." She writes that deep theological truth is "superior to our to-do lists and metaphorical mother-of-the-year trophies."

"Treasuring Christ," a small book of eleven chapters, begins with why "God made motherhood for Himself," and then illustrates "motherhood as an act of worship." Although the book is about moms the focus is salvation and the gospel message of Christ. Because Gloria believes the "highest aim of womanhood is being conformed to the image of Christ." When children, who learn more from what they see than what they're told, see Christ in their moms words and actions they are more likely to grow into "image-bearers" of Christ.

This encouraging resource fits nicely in purse, tote bag or on the night stand. It would also be a good choice for a small mom's study group with Crossway's free 29 page study guide.

Raw Faith: What Happens When God Picks a Fight
Kasey Van Norman
Tyndale House Publishers
351 Executive Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188
9781414364780, $14.99,

Kasey Van Norman, author, speaker and counselor, releases Raw Faith April 1, with the intriguing subtitle, "what happens when God picks a fight." It's an account of Kasey's battle with an aggressive form of cancer that taught her "raw faith is about trust" in spite of doubt, fear and suffering. Her story is one we all need to hear.

She's the first to admit she "did not want to write this took God punching me in the gut with cancer to shake off my Christian anesthesia...and pacifier kind of faith," she says. Reading her story reminded me of Isaiah 48:10 where God says, "I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction." I believe Kasey passed her test with flying colors!

Kasey was already familiar with affliction, both personally and in her work with abused and sex-trafficked children at the Still Creek Ranch in Central Texas. However, on a positive note, her "breakout book and Bible study" series, Named by God gained national attention and she was the headline speaker at Extraordinary Women Conferences in 2012-2013.

There she inspired more than one hundred thousand woman nationwide with an account of her "cutting edge journey into the redemptive power of Jesus." Her "ministry was poised to explode" until the phone rang and everything changed.

Kasey tells it like it is and holds nothing back, from coping with the emotions of uncertainty, stress and anxiety, to managing side effects of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In addition to fatigue from poor nutrition, nausea, loss of appetite and what is known as chemo brain, the inability to focus, short attention span and memory lapses.

Yet as bad as these were, Kasey felt the most toxic side effects were what was "happening in her head and her heart," what she called the "Toxic D's: denial, depression and discouragement." These threatened the "health of her faith" and her faith was the anchor for her soul.

Join Kasey's life-transforming journey through the fires of "despair and spiritual renewal "to "ultimate victory" where she learned she'd "rather be in the valley with Jesus than healed on the mountaintop." That's where she countered what she calls the "two lies of faith" with "seven faith facts" that resulted in overwhelming victory in Christ.

Be encouraged by her raw and intimate journal entries, her personal testimony and solid Bible teaching. Where her "mustard seed faith grew into mountain moving faith" as she sought the Lord, read His Word and God transformed her into even more of the "redeemed, ready-to-take-on-the-world-for-God-woman" than she already was.

Micah Joel, an ER nurse recovering from brain surgery said to Kasey, "You know there is something about meeting death that allows you to experience the real Jesus."

That's what Kasey's brutally honest book is about, meeting the real Jesus. I recommend the book to everyone sick in body, spirit or struggling with illness. The companion Raw Faith Bible Study releases May 2014.

In Kasey's own words:

Kasey Van Norman-Cancer Video Diary #1
Kasey Van Norman-Cancer Video Diary #2
Kasey Van Norman Cancer Video Diary #3
Kasey Van Norman Cancer Video Diary #4
Kasey Van Norman Cancer Video Diary #5

Gail Welborn

Gary's Bookshelf

A Bestseller Poems and Drawings
Brian Breault
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406,
9781477640395, $5.00,

Poems are a personal like or dislike but I think anyone who reads "A Bestseller" will find something to enjoy. Breault's poetic style is free and easy to read and enjoy. He covers many different subjects and does it very well. "A Bestseller" is one of three books of poetry published so far that puts the fun back into poetry.

The Black Stiletto Black & White
Raymond Benson
Oceanview Publishing
595 Bay Isles Road, 120-G, Longboat Key, FL 34228
9781608090839, $15.00,

"The Black Stiletto Black & White" the second of five novels, pits the crime fighter against black criminals in Harlem in the 1950's. Also she enters into a personal relationship with an agent of the FBI while the agency and other law enforcement are trying to stop her perceived vigilante campaign. Benson once again takes readers back to that era and makes it come alive by conveying the feeling through many different devices. "The Black Stiletto Black & White" should please any of the millions of Spiderman or Batman fans.

I Am That Fool
Rick Cornell
Outskirts Press Inc
10940 South Parker Road, #515, Parker, CO 80134
9781478725190, $13.95,

"I Am That Fool" is a page turning exciting novel by a new voice in the legal thriller genre. Defense attorney Ryan Browne celebrates his latest win by going to a gentleman's club. He is set up and finds that he is now in trouble with the law and taken to jail. He is in very hot water and has to defend himself against a prosecutor who has personal reasons why he is the chief lawyer on the case. Browne has overwhelming odds against him including a wife who will not raise bail to get him out of jail. Fans of Grisham should not miss "I Am That Fool"

Tarnished A Serial Killer Revealed
Willie Stewart Sr.
c/o 2MCH4YA Publishing
Wesley Chapel, Florida
9780991367702, $16.99,

If you are sick you do not want to go to Orlando's Dyson Memorial Hospital. Someone is killing patients and making it look like they died of natural causes. Willie Stewart Sr. who works in the medical profession tells in "Tarnished A Serial Killer Revealed," a chilling tale of someone in the medical profession stalking patients. From its interesting cover of playing with the word tarnished to the behind the scenes world of the medical profession to weird characters, the author has a thriller that holds interest until the disappointing ending where it seemed to just fall apart. "Tarnished A Serial Killer Revealed" is a good first novel in spite of its not well thought out finale.

Saving Grace
Tec Hollins
M & H Photography
978193718371, $16.00,

"Saving Grace" has a very interesting premise that many idealistic people who want to solve the world's problems turn up missing. One of them, a scientist, has a formula to end the energy crisis but the major oil companies do not want it to happen. He knows they will do anything to stop him. He enlists the aid of his nephew to take him to an apartment in Jacksonville Florida to hide out. A very good beginning for any novel but the character's actions that the author presents are not believable for what he has created. "Saving Grace" should have been a great thriller but instead is a comical laugh out loud novel of unbelievable scenes, one after the other until the end.

The Killer Genesis
Axel Kilgore
Speaking Volumes
18 Sleeping Dog Road, Santa F, NM 87508
9781612322056, $14.95

One eyed wise cracking mercenary Hank Frost is back in print in new paperback and e book editions. Originally published in 1980 the series has been out of print until now and new generations of readers can discover this unique men's adventure series. Frost takes on a rogue commander he has a vendetta with and also takes on a bloody dictator in the jungles of Central Africa. The writing is fast paced reading with many interesting characters Frost encounters. Readers of action adventures who have not read this series are in for a treat.

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey
Written by Emma Rowley
Foreword by Executive Producer Gareth Neame
St Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250047908, $29.99,

Downton Abbey, the mega hit TV show worldwide continues to thrill audiences all over the world. Now in its 4th season with no end in sight, fans can learn more about the show in the third coffee table book "Behind the Scenes At Downton Abbey: The Official Backstage Pass to the Set, The Actors and the Drama" The author delve into the world of Downton and tells fans little known facts about the show. Some of the things are the detail to the clothing for the show, the actors and their experience, some of the attention the stars have had from fans, and lots more. The book is easy to read and filled with so many wonderful pictures that add to the whole Downton mystique. "No fan of the series should miss "Downton Abbey the Official Backstage Pass to the Set, the Actors and the Drama"

The Truth Is...Confessions and Tips from an Elementary School Teacher
Rebecca A. Thomas
Academics Through Music
P.O. Box 673, Minneola, Florida 34755
9781619276444, $15.00,

Teacher Rebecca Thomas who retired from public schools after 28 years in the system in several states, now tells her experiences in "The Truth is...Confessions and Tips from an Elementary School Teacher." She, like many in the profession, began with a goal to teach children but later found out she could not accomplish that aspiration because the system now is set up to give children tests and keep them from accomplishing much other that the ability to take the exams. Schools are now graded on this and not much else. Her stories are interesting and she has a lot to say about the direction of the school system in this country. Anyone who thinks our kids are learning should read "The Truth Is... Confessions and Tips from an Elementary School Teacher."

Hello Knightro!
Lauren and Michael T Callahan, authors
Tim Williams, illustrator
Mascot Books
560 Herndon Parkway #120, Herndon, VA20170
9781620861691, $14.95,

"Hello Knightro!" is a fun book by two alumni from UCF in Orlando. They have taken the mascot of one of the fastest growing universities in the country and told in a kid's book the activities leading up to his performance at all of the events he has to attend. This is the first time I've seen a kid's book devoted to a mascot of any college and the story is a fun excursion into the world of Knightro. "Hello Knightro!" is for any fan of mascots of any great university.

The Adventures of Tangles the Hair Fairy
Written and Illustrated by Marilyn Collins
Tangles Books
978098190718, $10.00,

Children, hair, and hairbrushes do not go well with each other. Tangles the Hair Fairy, trains kids of the importance of good grooming in "The Adventures of Tangles the Hair Fairy" the first in a series of delightful kid's books. Marilyn Collins' artwork and story are clean fun for kids and adults to enjoy.

Gary Roen

Gloria's Bookshelf

Let Me Go
Chelsea Cain
Minotaur Books
c/o St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010
9780312619824, $7.99, Paperback, 384 pp,

For those unfamiliar with this fascinating series (and as I wrote in my review of the prior entry, "Kill You Twice"), Archie Sheridan, a detective now heading the Major Case Task Force in Portland, Oregon ("known for its blush-tinted scenery, and its serial killers"), for 13 years had headed what was termed the Beauty Killer Task Force, dedicated to tracking down and bringing to justice a megalomaniac serial killer whose victims were tortured and killed in gruesome ways, graphically described. Their target, Gretchen Lowell, a stunning blonde who claims she had killed more than two hundred people, almost claimed Archie as one of her victims, but despite slowly torturing him over a 10-day period [during which time, among other things, she removed his spleen - - without anesthesia, of course] and leaving him in a medically-induced coma for a month, she let him live. After her capture, she was locked up in the forensic psychiatric services ward of the State Hospital. And after two years on medical leave, and now addicted to pain pills, Archie was able to return to the Task Force, his marriage only one of the things destroyed by Gretchen.

There has always been a strong connection between Archie and Gretchen. As he says, "She will never let me go." (Thus the title.) Years later, his scars, which still itch and sometimes bleed, are a constant reminder of her brutality, but he can no sooner escape them than he can the power and sexual pull she still exerts over him. The book opens as two important events are about to occur: Halloween, and Archie's birthday. And Gretchen, having escaped from the asylum ten weeks ago, is determined to make both of them something that Archie will never forget. The book takes place over an action-packed three days.

Initially Archie gets involved in the investigation into the murder of a DEA agent who had been running a deep cover operation involving dirty cops and a major drug distribution organization headed by Jack Reynolds, a notorious local crime kingpin in Oregon. He and Archie had crossed paths before, when first his daughter and then his son were apparently among Gretchen's victims.

Returning here are Henry, Archie's best friend on or off the police force; Henry's significant other, Claire, now very pregnant, also on the Major Case Task Force; and Susan Ward, a reporter who had been fired 7 months ago from the Herald and still very much in Archie's life, as well as her pot-smoking mother, Bliss. Also returning are the usual ingredients of this series: a great deal of graphic sex and violence, the two often intermingling at the oddest times, including a couple of Archie's flashbacks to his times with Gretchen. There are three story lines here: a second murder, of a young woman (the 2nd of many in the novel, of course); the murder of the DEA agent and the DEA investigation which the dead man headed; and of course the ongoing one dealing with the search for Gretchen. As are all the entries in this series, it is a dark and fast read, and one that is recommended.

Crimes of Memory
L.J. Sellers
Thomas & Mercer
c/o Amazon Publishing
276 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10001
9781477809471, $14.95, Paperback, 294 pp,

This new novel by L.J. Sellers brings back Wade Jackson, now after 20 years a senior detective in the Violent Crimes Unit of the Eugene, Oregon P.D., in this 8th book in the series. The events take place over a period of only a few days, with the first of these bringing several serious events in quick succession: A firebomb goes off in a bottled water factory, which the police believe to be the work of an eco-terrorist group. Very shortly after that, a dead body is discovered in a storage unit not far from the factory, the victim an ex-con who was apparently living there.

On a personal level, Wade's 15-year-old daughter is still dealing with rage and hostility in the aftermath of her mother's death (in the last novel) in an abduction rescue gone wrong, wherein his ex-wife died at his hand in a tragic accidental shooting. He has only recently returned to the force after a three-week leave. The three story lines alternate (somewhat disconcertingly at times, a chapter dealing with one of them ending in a cliffhanger and the next chapter returning to another), but that quibble aside, it is easy to follow each of them, with the reader wondering if any of them connect. There are several suspects in each of the investigations, but no clear evidence pointing to any particular person as the perpetrator. The suspense increases appreciably as the book nears its conclusion, along with a totally unexpected twist.

The novel suffers from some poor editing, and for some reason this book felt more like a debut novel than one from a writer with several good books to her credit. But despite that, the novel reads quickly, and this protagonist is one to whom readers can relate, and who readers are always going to be anxious to meet again in the next book in the series, to see how he will deal with the difficulties in his personal life and continue to be the good cop that he has always been, dealing like the professional he is with the challenges brought on by his next case. Recommended.

Liad Shoham
Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Kitai
c/o HarperCollins
10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
9780062237446, $25.99, Hardcover, 304 pp,

This novel is the first to be published in the US by Liad Shohan, an Israeli attorney and the author of five best-selling novels in his native country, apparently considered "the Israeli John Grisham." I was immediately intrigued by the setting, and by the protagonists, for the book presents wonderful character studies of three men: Amit Giladi, a would-be investigative journalist who'd been covering crime and education for the local Tel Aviv paper for 7-1/2 months; Police Inspector Eli Nachum; and Ziv Nevo, a man who in the last eighteen months had lost his job and his wife.

A brutal rape in a quiet Tel Aviv neighborhood leads to the arrest of Nevo by Inspector Eli Nachum and Giladi is sent by his editor, in the most urgent terms, to cover the story and get a scoop for the paper. There is no evidence, forensic or otherwise, and the girl couldn't see the face of her attacker, but Nachum is led to Nevo when the victim's father, who had been haunting the street where the daughter lived in the firm belief that the attacker would be back looking for another victim, sees him on the same street, acting suspiciously, a stalker, and becomes convinced that he is the one they are seeking; he soon convinces Nachum as well. The problem arises when that certainty leads to a fatally contaminated lineup: The father had followed and taken photos of Nevo after spotting him on the scene, and shown his daughter the photos, and Nachum knows this. Nevo, guilty of something totally unrelated to the rape, shows clear signs of having done something about which he is keeping silent, and does not divulge what he was doing on that street that night. With the best of intentions and determined to prevent another young woman from suffering the same fate, Nachum sees to it that the man is convicted of the crime, determined to "do whatever it took to put the rapist behind bars."

The tale is well written (despite the fact that the first half felt as it needed some judicious editing). It is a compelling plot, and the characters are ones that this reader came to care about. I will be certain to watch for the next book from this author, and the book is recommended.

Let Me Go
Chelsea Cain
Minotaur Books
c/o St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010
9780312619824, $7.99, Paperback, 384 pp,

For those unfamiliar with this fascinating series (and as I wrote in my review of the prior entry, "Kill You Twice"), Archie Sheridan, a detective now heading the Major Case Task Force in Portland, Oregon ("known for its blush-tinted scenery, and its serial killers"), for 13 years had headed what was termed the Beauty Killer Task Force, dedicated to tracking down and bringing to justice a megalomaniac serial killer whose victims were tortured and killed in gruesome ways, graphically described. Their target, Gretchen Lowell, a stunning blonde who claims she had killed more than two hundred people, almost claimed Archie as one of her victims, but despite slowly torturing him over a 10-day period [during which time, among other things, she removed his spleen - - without anesthesia, of course] and leaving him in a medically-induced coma for a month, she let him live. After her capture, she was locked up in the forensic psychiatric services ward of the State Hospital. And after two years on medical leave, and now addicted to pain pills, Archie was able to return to the Task Force, his marriage only one of the things destroyed by Gretchen.

There has always been a strong connection between Archie and Gretchen. As he says, "She will never let me go." (Thus the title.) Years later, his scars, which still itch and sometimes bleed, are a constant reminder of her brutality, but he can no sooner escape them than he can the power and sexual pull she still exerts over him. The book opens as two important events are about to occur: Halloween, and Archie's birthday. And Gretchen, having escaped from the asylum ten weeks ago, is determined to make both of them something that Archie will never forget. The book takes place over an action-packed three days.

Initially Archie gets involved in the investigation into the murder of a DEA agent who had been running a deep cover operation involving dirty cops and a major drug distribution organization headed by Jack Reynolds, a notorious local crime kingpin in Oregon. He and Archie had crossed paths before, when first his daughter and then his son were apparently among Gretchen's victims.

Returning here are Henry, Archie's best friend on or off the police force; Henry's significant other, Claire, now very pregnant, also on the Major Case Task Force; and Susan Ward, a reporter who had been fired 7 months ago from the Herald and still very much in Archie's life, as well as her pot-smoking mother, Bliss. Also returning are the usual ingredients of this series: a great deal of graphic sex and violence, the two often intermingling at the oddest times, including a couple of Archie's flashbacks to his times with Gretchen. There are three story lines here: a second murder, of a young woman (the 2nd of many in the novel, of course); the murder of the DEA agent and the DEA investigation which the dead man headed; and of course the ongoing one dealing with the search for Gretchen. As are all the entries in this series, it is a dark and fast read, and one that is recommended.

Jon McGoran
c/o Tor-Forge
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010
9780765370075, $7.99, Paperback, 400 pp,

Three years after Philadelphia narcotics detective Doyle Carrick's mother and stepfather move to what he'd always thought of as the sleepy countryside of Dunston, Pennsylvania, he finds himself driving there for the second time in several days, the first time to attend his mother's funeral, the second to attend that of his step-father. The second time, though, he can stay somewhat longer, since he's under suspension after an incident that also mandated he undergo mandatory Anger Management sessions (which he takes as a suggestion, one that he ignores.) But the town, on closer inspection this time around, doesn't seen quite so sleepy, that myth quickly disintegrating as Doyle comes upon drug dealers, menacing land developers, crop fires, and trucks intent on running him off the road. And local law enforcement doesn't seem to take any of this too seriously.

On the positive side, Doyle meets the woman who lives across the road from his parents' property, beautiful Nola Watkins, who has a serious problem with genetically modified crops and a serious interest in organic farming, one that she has turned into a burgeoning business, selling her produce to some markets and food co-ops in Philly, as well as a couple of restaurants and high-end caterers. But she has been under some pressure to sell her property, as most of the people in the area seem to have done, and has been receiving phone calls with nothing on the other end except a dial tone.

The novel is well-written, suspenseful, and cleverly plotted, with an engaging protagonist, at the same time raising important and timely environmental issues. There's a lot of action, and a lot of leavening humor. The plot twists when they come are unexpected and quite startling, initially requiring a willful suspension of disbelief, but quickly turning into an unexpectedly believable scenario. Fast-paced and very enjoyable, the book is highly recommended.

State vs. Lassiter
Paul Levine
Create Space
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781492184874, $9.99, 241 pp., Paperback,

Paul Levine has written four books in the Solomon & Lord series, and four standalones. But perhaps my favorite of his books is the Jake Lassiter series, in which this is the tenth entry. Jake, primarily a criminal defense attorney and after twenty years of dealing with cops and prosecutors, now finds himself on the other side of the defense table: as the defendant, charged with murdering Pamela Baylins, his trusted, very personal banker and erstwhile lover. The book opens with Jake being rudely awakened by a Beach Patrol officer while lying in the sand on Miami Beach where he apparently passed out some time in the early morning hours. He is shortly returned in handcuffs to the suite in his name at the Fontainebleau Hotel, which suite also contained the dead body of Ms. Baylins, grotesquely strangled with Jake's belt some time in those same early morning hours.

Not a good scenario for our protagonist. Only made worse by the ugly, bloody scratches on Jake's cheek, admittedly put there by the victim after the two had very publicly argued during and after dinner at a swank steak house not far from the hotel.

It appears that during dinner Jake had received a phone call from his accountant, advising that the latter had discovered that his trust accounts were badly "screwed up," with amounts going in and out and traveling through accounts in various places where money launderers are wont to place their money, such as the Cayman Islands. Since the only other person with access to those accounts was the woman seated beside him, namely Baylins, the ensuing argument traded accusations between the two. The only hope for Jake is that he had been caught on security cameras leaving the hotel some time after they couple had returned there, and before Pam was killed.

There are only a few others with motives to kill Pam, including a notorious Latin American realtor with various other projects going for him beyond real estate, Jake's aforementioned accountant, and at least one other male with whom Pam had an intimate relationship. But the fact that the list is narrow doesn't make any easier to find the killer, or evidence of any kind. Watching Jake get through the trial, ably assisted with the attorney he'd hired and despite his lawyering on his own behalf, is a treat for the reader. Having been on a diet of very long, very dark novels of late, this quick and very enjoyable read was a treat, and the novel is recommended.

Visitation Street
Ivy Pochoda
Ecco/Dennis Lehane Books
c/o HarperCollins
10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
9780062249906, $15.99, Paperback, 320 pp,

The author paints a vivid portrait of Brooklyn's Red Hook section, an area alongside the East River which juxtaposes predominantly white residents of the waterside two- and three-story brick houses with its nearby minority-filled housing projects and abandoned warehouses . The tale opens in the middle of a heat wave, when two fifteen-year old girls, Valerie and June, Catholic school students, follow the seductive call of adventure to escape the boredom of their lives (a recurring theme throughout the novel), taking a small pink raft into the water a short walk away from their homes. Almost predictably, their little boat is no match for the strong currents. The outcome: Val is discovered by an area resident, unconscious; June is nowhere to be found, and the worst is feared. The remainder of the book describes the effects of the tragedy on the neighborhood, told from various points of view, most profoundly Val's, almost literally haunted by the scenes replayed on a constant loop in her mind, filled with guilt at not having saved her friend. Those are nearly constant themes of the book as well: guilt, and the living being haunted by the dead, or those feared dead.

Red Hook, with its history of drugs, racism, and similar ills, comes alive as much as any of the fascinating characters who live and work there in this author's poetic prose. This reader knows the area well, and it is very realistically portrayed here. The blue-collar residents hope for salvation with the eagerly anticipated arrival of large cruise ships at the new passenger terminal, while meanwhile scraping by as best they can.

The novel is not at all what I expected, which was a crime novel along the lines of the books by Dennis Lehane, under whose imprint this book was published, the second under his aegis. In that sense I was somewhat disappointed, I must admit. But the book is quite original, and I suspect that my disappointment will not be shared by most readers.

The Bones Beneath
Mark Billingham
Atlantic Monthly Press
c/o Grove Atlantic
841 Broadway, NY, NY 10003
9781802122483, $24.99, HC, 400 pp,

Tom Thorne returns in the twelfth novel in this series. Most of the action takes place over a period of three days, set in a remote, isolated and nearly inaccessible island off the Welsh coast, said to be the resting place of 20,000 saints (in addition, that is, to King Arthur). (This appears to be a very real location, one 'steeped in myth and legend,' and is a very real presence in the novel.) Tom is brought here as part of a very 'un-spiritual pursuit of long-dead murder victims," a prisoner escort operation.

Many years ago, and only briefly, the island was the site of a home for young offenders. Two of these were 17-year-old Stuart Nicklin, and one Simon Milner, the latter of whom never left the island alive. His murder was never solved, and only now Nicklin has claimed to have killed him, and offered to lead the police to the place where Simon's bones were buried so long ago. The condition being that the man who had arrested him ten years earlier, Tom Thorne, be the one to take him there to identify the site. Nicklin is thought to be one of the "most dangerous and manipulative psychopaths" the police had ever encountered. The suspense inherent in the situation leaves the reader waiting for the other shoe to drop. And waiting. And waiting.

Somewhat jarringly at first, there are flashbacks to the time, twenty-five years earlier, when the seeds of the current action were laid, and when the boy whose bones were at the core of their search was killed. And there are also scenes, at the outset in a Prologue and then every hundred pages or so, that appear to be contemporaneous, their connection to the main plot difficult to discern.

It may be obvious that I felt that the book could have benefited from some tightening, but in retrospect perhaps I should have had more confidence in the author, because the conclusion was very exciting and unexpected. It may be that the bar being set so high by this author in the preceding books made it a tough act to follow. My current reservations aside, I will certainly look forward to the next Tom Thorne book

Mo Hayder
Atlantic Monthly Press
c/o Grove Atlantic
841 Broadway, NY, NY 10003
9780802121080, $15.00, Paperback, 400 pp.,

There are, primarily, two mysteries presented in this newest Mo Hayder novel, which marks the return of D.I. Jack Caffery, a "plain-clothed" member of Bristol's Major Crime Investigation Team, now 42 years old, and Sergeant "Flea" (Phoebe) Marley, 30 years old and just returning to work nearly a year after having been seriously injured in an explosion in a tunnel. The first is a case of a woman gone missing a year and a half ago, when Misty Kitson, a 25-year-old model and recovering drug addict, walked out of a rehab clinic. Despite abundant police measures, her body was never found, and the case still haunts both of them.

As the book opens, Caffery is called by AJ LeGrande, a psychiatric nurse and senior nursing coordinator, to Beechway, a high security mental health ward housing "killers and rapists and the determinedly suicidal." (He was dubbed "AJ" - - Average Joe - - by a co-worker, and it had stuck.) As one might expect, things are not quiet there. And they become decidedly less so when a patient - the second one to do so - is found dead, apparently a suicide. But there are other-worldly things at play here - - or are there?

The book delivers Ms. Hayder's trademark suspense and intricate plotting. The writing is lovely even during the frequent passages when it produces chills up one's spine, itself a frequent occurrence. A bit more than half-way through the book, that breath you've been holding becomes a gasp. And everything suddenly goes into high gear. One thing one can always count on with this author: Expect the unexpected.


The Innocence Game
Michael Harvey
Black Lizard/Vintage Books
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780345802552, $14.95,, PB, 256 pp

Michael Harvey has portrayed the city of Chicago and its environs in past novels to wonderful effect, and in his newest novel, a standalone, he does so once again. The tale is told from the 1st person p.o.v. of Ian Joyce, one of three graduate students chosen for a highly sought-after spot in a seminar at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism (considered one of the best in the world), run by a three-time Pulitzer-winning journalist, Judy Zombrowski. ("You can call me Z.") The seminar, which she has been teaching for more than a decade, is called The Innocence Project, apparently based on an actual program in Chicago and a similar one in New York City, whose purpose is "to work on wrongful convictions . . . [of] men who've been sentenced to death for crimes they didn't commit."

The three students chosen are Ian, Jake Havens (a brilliant law-school grad) and Sarah Gold, a beautiful girl who had gone through under-grad school with Ian. The case they choose (well, actually, it's Jake who chooses it) is that of a man convicted of killing a ten-year-old boy in Chicago 14 years earlier who, almost parenthetically, had been killed in prison 14 months after being incarcerated. As Jake says, defending his choice, "Does the fact that he's dead make him any less innocent?" The young men are discovered to be more complex than they first appear, with their own secrets. But the three turn out to be a great team, each bringing his or her own compulsions to the task, with intriguing results. Their search into old murders morphs into the discovery of others not nearly as old. As the 3 J-School students pursue their investigation, trouble seems to follow them, including and not limited to break-ins and arson.

The credo that Z has instilled in them is that above all, their job is to find out the truth. Along the way, they discover several other things, among them: "'Playing a hunch' is what journalists in the movies called it. Felt like fishing without a pole;" "In a splintered moment, we knew more about each other than we could in a million lifetimes" and, when corruption on several different levels is found, "This is Chicago we're talking about. Cops, detectives, prosecutors. I know you're a smart young man . . . "

Suspenseful from the start, the last third of the novel becomes much more than "just" a page-turner, when I found that I could not put the book down until the final page, with an ending this reader absolutely did not see coming. It is highly recommended.

Scared to Live
Stephen Booth
Witness Impulse
c/o HarperCollins
10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
9780062302083, $11.99, Kindle & Nook e-book,

"Scared to Live" marks the return of DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper, the protagonists of this wonderful series by Stephen Booth. At the outset Diane is called to the scene of a fire which Diane by some instinct deems suspicious, though there is no immediate evidence to support that conclusion. A woman and two of her children have died in the blaze; the husband was not at home at the time and the daughter was at the home of her grandparents, so those family members were spared. Shortly thereafter Ben investigates the death of a middle-aged woman, apparently a recluse, shot to death with a high-powered rifle in the home where she had lived for the past ten months, with no sign of entry into the house. There are no clues as to who might have done it, much less what possible motive there could have been. The woman had been so alone and without human contact that her body had lain undiscovered for more than a day. These two incidents could not appear to be more different, one of three members of a family in a well-off rural community and the other of a middle-class 'spinster' on an Edendale housing estate. But as the investigations proceed, it seems there might indeed have been connections.

There is a wonderful sense of place throughout the novel, with lovely descriptive prose enabling the reader to easily visualize the Edendale area of Ben's birth, the villages of the Peak District and the old mills once so prevalent there: "The back wall of the mill overlooked the river. Its five stories were full of windows - - long ranks of them separated into pairs by stone mullions. They were spaced with Victorian precision, but so small and dark that nothing was visible behind the glass. Those windows stared out across the rushing water like blank eyes. There were scores of them, a hundred pairs of eyes - - a high, brick wall full of dead faces." There are also fascinating tidbits of local history and folklore.

The proverbial 'fly in the ointment' is a common enough phrase, but it took this author to conjure the picture of "a tiny fly twitching its wings in the ointment." I thoroughly enjoyed this book as much for its excellent plotting as for the author's continuing development of the protagonists, individually as well as playing off each other, the latter made that much more interesting for the fact that Diane is Ben's boss. The point is often made here that "emotions always interfere with rational behaviour," exemplified in more than one of the characters. The book is highly recommended.

The October List
Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Publishing Group
237 Park Ave., NY, NY 10017
9781455576647, $26.00,, HC, 320 pp.
9781455576661, $12.99,

Sub-titled "A Novel in Reverse," this book is literally unlike anything I have ever read.

The author is apparently enamored of what he calls a fractured time line. In his newest novel, following the conclusion (really the beginning, although it appears at the end of the novel), that is, after the final page (actually page 1), there is, naturally, a Foreword. The opening chapter, which, one soon discovers, is the denouement, is Chapter 36, labeled "6:30 P.M., Sunday," and is marked as page 297. The final chapter in the book, which naturally is Chapter 1, takes place on the Friday morning prior to that.

Sound confusing?

As for me, one could add the terms disorienting and, certainly, original.

A more immediate appreciation of the novel would take minds perhaps more agile than that owned by this reader, but appreciation did certainly take place in the end.

The crux of the novel is the eponymous document, something so valuable that Gabriela McKenzie, the protagonist, says of it "everybody in the world, it seems, wants the goddamn October List!" Indeed, such is its value that Gabriela's six-year-old daughter is being held by a kidnapper until such time as Gabriela turns the List over to the kidnapper(s). The major problem being that she has to find it first. All the while being chased through the streets of New York, in eye-catching manner: a "homicidal auburn-haired woman and her actor look-alike companion." She has of late been involved with one Frank Walsh, a knife fetishist in both the real and the virtual worlds.

Anything more I leave to the reader to discover, in this mind-bending, and recommended, novel.

The Sound and the Furry
Spencer Quinn
Atria Books
c/o Simon & Schuster
1230 Sixth Ave., NY, NY 10020
9781476703220, $25.00, Hardcover, 320 pp.,

In the sixth and newest book in the Chet and Bernie Mystery series, our favorite four-legged private investigator, Chet the Dog, and Bernie Little, his partner in the Little Detective Agency, are back on the job: a good thing, considering their cash-flow problems. A hefty retainer convinces Bernie to take on the cases: the brother of a man Bernie has once sent to jail, albeit with no hard feelings, hires Bernie to find his brother, Ralph Boutette, who has completely dropped out of sight.

On the personal side of things, Bernie's ex-wife is a non-presence in this outing, and his girlfriend, reporter Suzie Sanchez, has taken a job with the Washington Post, so Bernie has nothing but time on his hands. So he leaves the Arizona desert country he calls home and goes to the Big Easy. They find that a long-standing feud between the Boutettes and their sworn enemies, the Robideaus, appears to play a role.

"Chet the Jet," as he thinks of himself (and he is, after all, the narrator) is as usual the perfect foil for Bernie, who Chet often reminds us is "the smartest human in the room," and provides invaluable assistance in tracking down the missing man and finding those responsible for his having gone missing in the first place, last seen on his houseboat just outside of New Orleans.

As with each new entry in this delightful series, The Sound and the Furry is a pleasure to read, and is recommended.

Board Stiff
Elaine Viets
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014
9780451419101, $7.99, Paperback, 282 pp,

Elaine Viets' newest entry in the Dead End Job Mysteries begins shortly after her protagonists, Helen Hawthorne and Phil Sagemont, have gotten married and started a private detective agency out of their condo office in Riggs Beach, Florida, a beach town just south of Fort Lauderdale. (The latest by this author, "Catnapped," is due out in hardcover in May of 2014.)

Helen and Phil, now in their mid-40's, with a reputation as the best private eyes in South Florida, are hired to work undercover for a paddleboard rental concession owner in Riggs Beach, where he needs help finding out who is behind the vandalism and sabotage at his business, theft of his equipment, and competitors who seem to really want to put him out of business. The couple accepts the job, Helen feeling that "I'm getting paid to sleep late and sit on the beach," and Phil that he can get paid while sitting drinking beer with some guys on the beach trying to gain their confidence and information, seemingly a win-win situation. The crimes have been reported to the authorities, but they are convinced that no "official action" can be expected in a town like Riggs Beach (known as Rigged Beach since Prohibition days and rumored to be fairly uniformly corrupt). Their client's problems multiply exponentially when a female tourist, one of his clients, tragically dies; he is threatened with revocation of his license and the City lease on his valuable beach property, as well as a wrongful death lawsuit by the victim's husband. Helen and Phil are tasked with proving their client was blameless in her death.

Things become more complicated, on a more personal level when a situation regarding Helen's sleazy ex-husband, thought dead, comes back to haunt them, almost literally, affecting their marriage and their partnership, and overshadowing the case they are trying to solve.

Ms. Viets always manages to come up with a good old-fashioned mystery, which, while containing a murder or two, is more lighthearted and contains less blood and gore than many others in the genre, and is a decidedly pleasant way to spend a summer, or even late summer, day. It is, as were the prior books by this author, recommended.

Never Go Back
Lee Child
Dell Books
c/o The Random HousePublishing Group
1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036
9780440246329, $9.99 PB, 624 pp.(including a bonus novella),

The good news is that the 19th Jack Reacher book is here, and it is just as wonderful as the first eighteen. At this point, that would seem to be a given.

The title notwithstanding, Reacher does indeed attempt to go back, to consummate [after a fashion] a telephonic contact he had made while in South Dakota in the 2010 entry in the series, "61 Hours," with Major Susan Turner, the woman who holds his former title as Commanding Officer of the 110th Unit of the Army's Military Police. When he finally makes his way to Virginia, he discovers that she has been arrested and is incarcerated in some very serious charges. To make matters worse, much worse, he himself is soon arrested and held on some pretty serious charges of his own, having to do with events that ostensibly took place nearly 16 years previously. To say more would be to disclose unforgivable spoilers.

The tale moves quickly, with moments at irregular intervals that bring the reader up short, then plunges him/her even more swiftly ahead, with Reacher and Turner in jeopardy and then out, using a mixture of skill, brawn and intelligence to get there. There is the usual quota of Child/Reacher suspense and great writing, with just enough wit and humor to balance the inevitable violence.

Pedant that he admittedly is, Reacher delights the etymologists among his readers, going back to the original French and Latin derivations of words such as "affidavit," "shrapnel," and "expedition." I loved it!

I devoured this novel; finishing it in less than 24 hours. Meticulously plotted and ingeniously written, as I've said in the past the book provides just what Reacher and Mr. Child always do: All you need, and nothing you don't. Highly recommended.

Gloria Feit

Gorden's Bookshelf

Saving Mars, Book One in the Saving Mars series
Cindy Swanson
Williams Press
c/o Amazon Digital Publishing
9780983562191, $0.99 US,

Saving Mars in a nice throwback to the classic SF story. Many of the classic tales use a mix of hard science as a background for a social and cultural tale. This style of social commentary cloaked in a science fiction story is a rarity today except in a few selected outlets such a Baen or Page Turner.

In the future, Mars has a colony. Politics and cultural differences have created a break between the colonists and Earth. Earth has blockaded Mars by surrounding the planet with automated laser satellites. Mars colony hasn't developed enough to be completely self-sustaining so periodically vessels brave the armed blockade to trade with Earth's smugglers.

Jessamyn Jaarda is a seventeen year old pilot. Possibly the best natural pilot on Mars. In a desperate gamble, she works her way onboard one of the two ships slated for the next mission to Earth for life sustaining supplies in an attempt to try to protect her autistic brother. Her brother is a computer genius who is on a secret mission to break the blockade of Mars. The mission runs into problems from the start when the only other ship on the run is destroyed by the automated satellites. The problems continue when her bother is captured and she has to choose between saving her brother and bringing the supplies back to Mars.

There are only a few contemporary writers working in this classic genre style. Swanson has created a good tale with a solid blend of science, social commentary and fantasy. This makes her one of the few present-day authors for hardcore classic SF fans to look for. Saving Mars is recommended for any SF reader and also works well for the currently surging young adult market. It has more going for it with its scientific slant than the current pure fantasy supernatural titles.

Slaves of Valhalla, The Prometheus Wars - Book 2
Luke Romyn
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
B009BLIKQ0 price: $3.99 US, copyright 2012
ISBN: 9781479328123 paper

Slaves of Valhalla is a fun fantasy action adventure. Romyn doesn't fall into the trap of many fantasy writers and is able to create a fantasy world with the associated fantasy logic and keep them connected throughout the story. In a very nice addition, Romyn has been able to pull together some staff to help proof and format the story. Many self-published authors have to do all of the publishing jobs themselves so small syntax and formatting errors show up in the text. Interestingly, many ebooks produced by major publishers also have this problem because many large publishers still don't realize that ebooks require as much galley proofing as paper print.

Wes, former Aussie special forces, wakes up in a destroyed military base. The base has been ransacked and the soldiers killed by what seems to be attackers with teeth and claws. Wes can't remember what has happened and even the details of who he is - just small fragments from his past. He finds a futuristic transport that can cloak itself and travels to where his best friend lives. There he finds his friend's daughter Zoe who claims twenty years have past. As they try to put together what has happened, Prometheus shows up in the guise of a dragon and tells him his friend is lost in the past and needs his help.

Prometheus is a vicious killer of millions and a manipulator of people. Wes knows Prometheus is setting a trap for him but he has to walk into it to save his friend. Wes has to battle through time and mythological dimensions from Valhalla to Olympus and between to save the world, his friend and to survive.

Slaves of Valhalla is a non-stop action adventure. Wes, the main character in the story, is a vulgar wise cracking hero. The colloquial vulgarity acts as a ground to the extreme fantasy tale but it can be a little annoying. Anyone who wants to escape the world and is looking for light adult entertainment will find Slaves a great read. The non-stop action might be a little much for some readers but the story holds together and the fantasy world is well constructed. Slaves isn't the best in this limited genre but it is very close. (I lean to the Spellsinger series as the best contemporary example in this genre.)

S.A. Gorden, Reviewer

Julie's Bookshelf

Disney Go Green: A Family Guide to a Sustainable Lifestyle
Asthildur Jonsdotter, Gunddis Finnbogadotter, Ellen Gunnarsdottir
Edda USA
c/o Smith Publicity
9781940787008, $12.99, 96pp,

Synopsis: Overview Go Green is a new brand of Disney books, encouraging families to lead a sustainable lifestyle. It is however not only a line of books but an opportunity for families to spend time together. It is an all around guide for families to take steps towards transforming their lives to live a healthier, greener, and a more sustainable lifestyle. The books three main focal points are: explaining sustainability in a simple and fun way; putting the concept into perspective for children and families; and to show easy and fun steps to take in the green direction. All through the book are tips and fun facts connected to sustainability and the reader will find that not all is lost and a few easy steps will take the family in a new direction. The chapters comprising "Disney Go Green: A Family Guide to a Sustainable Lifestyle" range from Go Green with Mickey; What is the circle of life?; Fun and active lifestyle!; and Exploring the world!; to Why recycle?; Growing our own greens; Container Gardening; Notice How the Seasons Change; and The Great Outdoors.

Critique: "Disney Go Green: A Family Guide to a Sustainable Lifestyle" is superbly illustrated throughout with Disney characters, the text is thoroughly accessible and 'reader friendly', the activities are as fun and informative as they are easy and instructive. Simply stated, "Disney Go Green: A Family Guide to a Sustainable Lifestyle" is very highly recommended to personal, family, school, and community library Environmental Studies reference collections and supplemental reading lists.

From Cupcakes To Chemicals
Julie V. Gunlock
IWF Press
9780615906904, $9.99, 152pp,

Synopsis: Parents are bombarded with claims that the world is a dangerous place. This culture of alarmism is weaving its way into nearly every aspect of our daily lives, making parents worry about common everyday products, food and healthy activities. In "Cupcakes to Chemicals", Julie Gunlock shows how the food nannies, environmentalists, public health officials, politicians and government regulators benefit from keeping the American public scared. Alarmists understand that parents naturally worry about the health and well-being of their children and will do just about anything to keep their kids safe. By leveraging this natural anxiety, alarmists gain the trust of parents and convince them to perpetuate the myths of danger, change their own behavior, and demand government "protect" them and their children. The culture of alarmism's greatest damage comes after they've successfully scared the general public. That's typically when the politicians and government regulators descend with promises to "save" us from these dangers, through additional regulation and programs that expand their power base. The cost of this dynamic is high: wasted tax dollars, higher costs and inferior goods for consumers, and fewer jobs in companies navigating through red tape. More importantly, we all end up paying a personal cost with needless worry and a less free, less happy society. We deserve better. If you love facts and hate junk science, this book is for you. If you think you know better than a government bureaucrat what's best for your family, this book is for you. If you understand that corporations generally don't have an interest in killing you and your kids, this book is for you. If you're tired of the sancti-mommy at school drop off making you feel like a bad parent, this book is for you. If you suspect the world isn't as dangerous as everyone says it is, this book is for you. As the mother of three young children, Gunlock understands that moms and dads already have enough to worry about. Alarmist warnings often distract parents from the real dangers and legitimate risks facing kids. Nervous parents who feel overwhelmed by the conflicting reports about what's safe and what's not deserve a little honesty and should be spared the constant drum beat of hysteria that comes from environmental, food and public health nannies. "Cupcakes to Chemicals" aims to do just that, and encourages all Americans to have some perspective, use common sense, enjoy life, and to reject the culture of alarmism.

Critique: In "Cupcakes to Chemicals", author Julie Gunlock has provided a much needed and long overdue expose of the manufactured hysteria that substitutes for news in today's fractured media world. Eloquent, articulate, informed, informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Cupcakes to Chemicals" is very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library collections. It should be noted that "Cupcakes to Chemicals" is also available in a Kindle edition ($6.99).

Northern Adventure
Georgia Candoli
WingSpan Press
9781595944948, $13.95, 164pp,

Synopsis: Middle-grade readers will enjoy the adventures of 8th grade boys Rich and Mike as they explore Lake Mentaka in northern Wisconsin with Rich's dog Prince. Summer of 1950, Mike left his Chicago home to spend one year with his cousin Rich on his farm. In the summer of 1950, two eighth grade boys named Rich and Mike decide to explore Whale Island, on Lake Mentaka in northern Wisconsin, with Rich's dog Prince in the summer of 1950. The boys are chased by a bear, dynamite a runway, uncover treasure, fight a fire, and have many more exciting adventures. Unexpected events occur, creating a bond of caring among family and friends, proving that love and friendship are the most important things in life.

Critique: Ably written for young readers ages 9 to 12, "Northern Adventure" is solid entertainment from first page to last and documents author Georgia Candoli's extraordinary storytelling talents are showcased in this debut novel. A lively middle-grade adventure novel, "Northern Adventure" is strongly recommended for both school and community library collections. It should be noted that "Northern Adventure" is also available in a Kindle edition ($5.95).

A Whispering Quest
Lynette Person
Biographical Publishing Company
95 Sycamore Drive, Prospect, CT 06712-1493
0991352106, $12.95, 108pp,

Synopsis: The ageless concept of soul searching that happens to everyone at different times in life is called a 'whispering quest'. However, the quest laid out by author Lynette Person is in a setting of marriage to reach a greater populace, those wanting to marry, married or divorced. Romance unfolds as the heroine searches for her missing aunt and intertwines with "A Whispering Quest." The plot for the heroine is to find true love but comes to marry another to show marriage is doomed with only physical attraction. Furthermore to show what marriage can be and should be when not happy. Ultimately the heroine understands the plotted whispering quest within. A beautiful, gentle story that most can enjoy; very original. "A Whispering Quest" offers a lot of insight for marriage. People can fit themselves right into Tiffany's shoes. True love is hard to find. Only a few marriages are happy. People need courage to leave an unhappy union.

Critique: A beautifully written, enormously entertaining, and rather quick read, "A Whispering Quest" is very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library Romance Novel collections.

Julie Summers

Karyn's Bookshelf

A Matter of Souls
Denise Lewis Patrick, author
Carolrhoda Lab
c/o Lerner Publishing Group
241 First Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55401
9780761392804, $16.95,

Courage and dogged determination in the face of racial oppression unite the African American characters across this collection of eight powerful short stories. The stories range from about ten to about thirty pages long and span several hundred years, from the colonial slave trading era to the mid 20th Century. Amid the harsh reality of lynch mobs, colored waiting rooms, dead-end jobs, slave ship holds, Jim Crow laws and unspeakably uneven justice comes the message that there is power in well-chosen language, in education, in the courage to speak up and in the connections with family and friends who are and who support those being beaten down. Self-respect and love will carry them farther than violence and unfettered rage, characters find. These are stories steeped deep in their humanity, that remind us we are all the same inside. Masterful writing, particularly in scene setting, pulls it all together. Exquisite.

Skila Brown, author
Candlewick Press
99 Dover St., Somerville, MA 02144
9780763665166, $15.99,

Progressively more wrenching -- and more inspiring -- with each page turn, these one hundred sixty, free verse poems fictionally recount the coming of age a boy in 1980s wartime Guatemala. Carlos' age is never given outright; he may be 10 or 11. He longs to be a man. But when the residents of his close-knit, mountainside village are slaughtered by the Guatemalan army, he learns too quickly what growing up actually entails. In scene after scene Carlos swings between recoiling like a child - hidden tearfully in a tree, wanting his mother - and making adult choices - weighing whether to join the Communist rebels, wondering whether to warn another village of its similar imminent fate. It's an exhausting ride for both the main character, who must deal with what life has handed him, and for readers. Via Brown's exquisite use of language, readers step fully into every scene. They feel Carlos' quick, panicked breath; taste blood; choke back smoke; cry and play with him; and awe with him at the nighttime beauty of an owl whose lush forest home is one bomb away from obliteration. Brown's use of imagery - such as when Carlos "sees" the mass murder of his friends and family only in a dream after the attack - deepens the story, underscoring the often surreal impression the boy has of his unfolding situation. Additionally, manipulation of the printed text lends emphasis. At heightened moments, extra spaces appear between words, granting readers the benefit of a breath. Lines and even full stanzas veer from their predicted margins and configurations, leaning in suddenly narrower or wider than normal columns toward one margin or the other. Stanzas abruptly indent. And there is, ultimately, a poignant message. Carlos' choices are a testament to true heroism, his relationships a testament to what matters most. Masterfully penned, an unforgettable story.

The Golden Day
Ursula Dubosarsky, author
Candlewick Press
99 Dover St., Somerville, MA 02144
9780763663995, $15.99,

Hauntingly profound and poetic, with a theme that grabs you deeper with each subsequent read, this is the story of eleven elementary schoolgirls whose eccentric teacher vanishes during a spontaneous seaside outing.

"Today, girls," the teacher, Miss Renshaw, announces on that fateful morning, "we shall go out into the beautiful garden and think about death."

The children are perplexed but follow. Death is not something little girls typically dwell on. They have no idea, as they make their way to the nearby sea via a public garden, how prophetic the words are about to become.

And so it goes through 150 pages, as the children, after finding their way back to school that afternoon, grapple with Ms. Renshaw's surmised death, her memorial service and eight subsequent years of wondering about her fate.

Meanwhile, in an interrelated theme, two girls discover how hard it is to talk about tragedy in our own families, even with good friends.

The shocking ending will leave readers musing about what is true, and real, around us. Interspersed verse, mystic elements and abundant, sumptuous description of everything from the lush public gardens to the back lane behind the school "with its stinking mounds of rubbish and gurgling drains," make this simple story memorable and beautiful.

One to pick up again, and again.

The Cosmo Biography of Sun Ra
Chris Raschka, author and illustrator
Candlewick Press
99 Dover St., Somerville, MA 02144
9780763658069, $15.99,

Blending fact, fiction and art that's as vibrant and eclectic as his subject, two-time Caldecott Medal winner Chris Raschka uniquely spins this biography about 20th Century jazz musician Sun Ra, by positing that he may in fact have hailed from Saturn. "Now, you and I know that this is silly," Raschka writes, in great, kid-friendly language. "No one comes from Saturn."

"And yet. If he did come from Saturn, it would explain so much," including the musician's aversion to the human scourges of war, racism and capitalistic greed. It would explain his intense interest in little things, like hot dogs, and his fascination with unrestrained jazz music.

Raschka masterfully carries the alien premise from start to finish; it erupts in the most unlikely places. "Being from outer space, Sun Ra was afraid neither of electrons nor electricity and so was one of the first musicians on Earth to us an electric keyboard," Raschka writes.

The watercolor and ink illustrations are as bold and wildly uncontained as Su Ra's life in general and his music, much of which was too divergent for mainstream commercial success. Exquisitely penned and illustrated, The Cosmo Biography of Sun Ra is about celebrating our differences and honoring our unique personal contributions to the world.

The Lion and the Mouse
Jenny Broom, author
Nahta Noj, illustrator
Templar Books
c/o Candlewick Press
99 Dover St., Somerville, MA 02144
9780763666194, $14.99,

Bright, modern illustrations and a wonderfully creative succession of peep-through paper cut-outs lend new life to this classic fable.

The story is about a mouse who, in exchange for a lion's help in reaching some berries, promises to someday aid his new friend. He must fulfill that promise when hunters catch the big cat in a net. The mouse chews through the net, releasing the captive and they humbly, forevermore remain "the best of friends."

The art is distinctly geometric, with the lion and the mouse each an assemblage of simple shapes.
The text is sparse, allowing the art to take center stage.

Adding to the fun, the text melds to the illustrations, sometimes running in a traditional straight line but more often, flowing in a circle or wrapping around the pictures.

The paper cut-outs take the shapes of various elements of the story, from flower centers to the foot tracks of the hunters who ultimately capture the lion to the net that ensnares the beast.
Fun and new, a beautiful upgrade of an age-old story.

Troll Swap
Leigh Hodgkinson, author and illustrator
Nosy Crow
c/o Candlewick Press
99 Dover St., Somerville, MA 02144
9780763671013, $15.99,

A neatnik troll and a loud, messy girl struggle to meet the narrow expectations of their divergent worlds in this picture book ode to loving ourselves.

The two switch places. The troll is thrilled to find himself living with the girl's clean, well-mannered parents. The girl is delighted to live underground alongside more typical, dirty, ill-mannered trolls.

Yet as time passes, both the troll's friends and the girl's parents miss their eccentric ways. And the troll and the girl discover that being like everyone around them is kind of boring.

So they switch back, offering a great message about accepting ourselves and others, as we are.
Bold hues and sharp, modern lines offer an illustrative feel that is as unique, and divergent, as the characters and overall theme.

A stand-out story about how it's okay to be you.

Karyn L. Saemann, Reviewer

Katherine's Bookshelf

In the Time of Peacocks
Lynne Handy
iUniverse LLC
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781491704783, $35.95,

Lynne Handy has written an attention-grabbing book entitled In the Time of Peacocks. The story spans two countries, Mexico and the United States, and several generations.

We follow Catarina Montserrat y Vega as she survives a devastating automobile accident that kills her parents. Her recovery unravels an old mystery and an even larger life-changing event for her.

She yearns for her pleasant life in Gaviotas de Plata, Mexico, as she strives to accept her new life and family in the United States. We meet her mother, father and 2 sisters, who are the antithesis of her personal beliefs. Later, we meet her future husband, Joel, and her new friends, as well as several ancillary characters.

Catarina finds it difficult to accept her new life, but eventually settles on her new name, Cate Miller and her new identity in the Miller household.

"It was settled! She would be Cate Miller, probably make up with Joel, and when the time came, marry him."

Ms. Handy weaves several social and religious issues into the lives of the characters in a way that helps the reader understand the different points of references in the story. Ms. Handy's main characters are well defined in the narrative as well as in their dialogue.

Ms. Handy's storytelling style is straightforward and easily read. I had to force myself to put the book down so that I could deal with other things demanding my time. Her descriptions are colorful in the Mexican scenes and very meaningful in the United States outlook.

Lynne Handy is a freelance writer and poet. She holds an undergraduate degree in history and a graduate degree in Library and Information Science. She is a member of the OLLI Writers Cafe, Kentucky State Poetry Society and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Now retired, she lives in Illinois, where she is working on her next book.

Bo and the Ghosts of Tumbleweed Ranch
Lynn Sheffield Simmons
Argyle Books
710 Old Justin Road, Argyle, Texas 76226
9780964257368, $8.95,

Bo, The Famous Retriever has done it again. In Bo and the Ghosts of Tumbleweed Ranch by Lynn Sheffield Simmons, he goes all the way to Sweetwater in west Texas to solve a mystery and save the day. He and Mrs. Barnett take the twin grandchildren of her friend to a dude ranch, where they will work and do many of the things the cowboys do. But will it go the way it is planned. Don't expect it with Bo involved. He is called on to use his unique style of sleuthing to solve another mystery. Some of the things he sniffs out are snakes and kittens as well as the ghosts, Chief White Cloud and his medicine man.

"... Bo gave out a loud bark followed by deep throaty growls. The eerie sounds of moaning drifted through their rooms. Mrs. Barnett got up and carefully opened the door leading to the main room. The sounds seemed louder in there."

Join Carolyn, Matthew, Bo and Mrs. Barnett as they take part in another adventure at Crystal Wood's Tumbleweed Ranch. Mrs. Simmons has written another book that will entertain and educate children. You will feel as you are on the ranch with them. Don't miss it.

Lynn Sheffield Simmons the founder of the North Texas Book Festival and a Sunday columnist for the Denton Record Chronicle. She is the author of six books in the Bo series as well as other books for children including Sugar Lump, the Orphan Calf and Rowdy's Night Before Christmas. She has also written The Place is Argyle: Historical Facts and Recollections for adults. She and her husband reside on a small farm in Argyle, Texas.

Katherine Boyer

Mason's Bookshelf

The Medieval Shepherd: Jean de Brie's "Le Bon Berger"
Carleton W. Carroll & Lois Hawley Wilson
Arizona State University
PO Box 874402, Tempe, AZ 85287-4402
9780866984720, $50,00, 234pp,

"The Medieval Shepherd: Jean de Brie's "Le Bon Berger" is a 234 page compendium written in 1379 as a kind of instruction manual for shepherds in managing their flocks of sheep. Ably translated into English and co-edited by the team of Carleton W. Carroll (Professor Emeritus of French, Oregon State University) and independent scholar Lois Hawley Wilson, ""The Medieval Shepherd: Jean de Brie's "Le Bon Berger" is the newest addition to ACMRS outstanding 'Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies' series and enhanced for scholars by the inclusion of extensive Textual Notes, Supplemental Comments, and appendices of Printer's Errors, three thematic Bibliographies, and a comprehensive index. "The Medieval Shepherd: Jean de Brie's "Le Bon Berger" is an extraordinary work and strongly recommended for academic library Medieval Studies reference collections and supplemental reading lists.

Investigating Srebrenica
Isabelle Delpla, et al.
Berghahn Books
20 Jay Street, Suite 512, Brooklyn, NY 11201
9780857454720, $70.00, 224pp,

Synopsis: In July 1995, the Bosnian Serb Army commanded by General Ratko Mladi attacked the enclave of Srebrenica, a UN safe area since 1993, and massacred about 8,000 Bosniac men. While the responsibility for the massacre itself lays clearly with the Serb political and military leadership, the question of the responsibility of various international organizations and national authorities for the fall of the enclave is still passionately discussed, and has given rise to various rumors and conspiracy theories. Follow-up investigations by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and by several commissions have dissipated most of these rumors and contributed to a better knowledge of the Srebrenica events and the part played by the main local and international actors. This volume represents the first systematic, comparative analysis of those investigations. It brings together analyses from both the external standpoint of academics and the inside perspective of various professionals who participated directly in the enquiries, including police officers, members of parliament, high-ranking civil servants, and other experts. Evaluating how institutions establish facts and ascribe responsibilities, this volume presents a historiographical and epistemological reflection on the very possibility of writing a history of the present time.

Critique: The newest addition to Berghahn Books' outstanding 'Studies in Contemporary European History' series, "Investigating Srebrenica: Institutions, Facts, Responsibilities" is an impressive compilation of eight major papers that provide an informed and informative analytical description of how an horrific event has been reported by various governments and agencies. Enhanced with six area maps, a lengthy Bibliography, a Name Index, and a Subject Index, "Investigating Srebrenica: Institutions, Facts, Responsibilities" is an important and highly recommended addition to academic library reference collections. It should be noted that "Investigating Srebrenica: Institutions, Facts, Responsibilities" is also available in a Kindle edition ($56.00).

Richard Wright and Haiku
Yoshinobu Hakutani
University of Missouri Press
2910 LeMone Boulevard, Columbia, MO 65201
9780826220011, $50.00, 232pp,

Synopsis: In the last years of his life, Richard Wright, the fierce and original American novelist known for Native Son and Black Boy, wrote over four thousand haiku. In Richard Wright and Haiku, Yoshinobu Hakutani considers Wright the poet and his late devotion to the spare, unrhymed verse that dwells on human beings' relationship to the natural world rather than on their relationships with one another, a strong departure from the intense and often conflicted relationships that had dominated his fiction.

Critique: Haiku is a very short form of Japanese poetry. In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line while haiku in English often appear in three lines to parallel the three phrases of Japanese haiku. Yoshinobu Hakutani (Professor of English, Kent State University) brings his academic expertise to bear in providing an descriptive analytical examination to the haiku poetry of one of America's most acclaimed 20th Century novelists. Of special note is the opening chapter providing a succinct developmental history of the Japanese haiku. Insightful and informative, "Richard Wright and Haiku" is a seminal work of impeccable scholarship, highly recommended reading for admirers of Richard Wright's novels, as well as students of haiku poetry in general.

Michael Wierimaa
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781495920646, $17.95, 400pp,

Synopsis: Massacre is based on a true story. In 1846, during the war with Mexico, the U.S. Army was given free passage through Apache lands. A tentative truce between the Indians and the U.S. government held until the 1850s when there was an influx of gold miners into the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson. Treaties signed with the Apache were ignored. Indians fought back. Large raiding parties attacked ranches, killing the ranchers and their families and stealing livestock. Many of the settlers were forced into frontier towns for protection. A turning point in the Indian wars occurred at dawn on Sunday, April 30, 1871, when citizens of Tucson, along with some Mexicans and Papango Indians attacked the Indian village at Camp Grant, murdering 112 Indians, mostly women and children. Some survivors, including babies, became slaves of the Popango Indians. Chief Eskiminzin and his daughter were among the handful of Apache who escaped. Massacre is a fictional account of actual events and people who were involved in the planning and execution of the Camp Grant massacre. Before the massacre, the U.S. Army didn't have enough troops stationed in Arizona to combat the Apache threat. Citizens pleaded with their Congressman in Washington to send more troops, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. The citizens of Tucson felt there was no other option to protect their city except a preemptive attack to eliminate the Indian threat to the north.

Critique: A riveting novel from beginning to end, "Massacre" reveals author Michael Wierimaa as a talented writer with a keen eye for accuracy in depicting descriptive background elements that provide an impressive backdrop to a finely crafted story. Deftly written, thoroughly engaging, and exceptionally entertaining, "Massacre" is highly recommended reading for anyone with an interest in Native-White relations in the old west. Indeed, "Massacre" will prove to be an enduringly popular addition for community library Western Fiction collections. It should be noted that "Massacre" is also available in a Kindle edition ($4.99).

The Toxic Schoolhouse
Madeleine Kangsen Scammell & Charles Levenstein, eds.
Baywood Publishing
26 Austin Avenue, Box 337, Amityville, NY 11701
9780895038517, $49.95, 258pp,

Synopsis: The Toxic Schoolhouse is a collection of articles on chemical hazards endangering students, teachers, and staff in the education system of the United States and Canada. Some of the articles were originally published in a special issue of New Solutions: A Journal of Occupational and Environmental Policy, but all have been updated and several new articles have been added. The book is organized in three sections. The first describes problems ranging from the failures of coordination, monitoring, and siting of school buildings to the hazards of exposure to toxic substances, including lead and PCBs. The second section captures the voices of activists seeking change and describes community and union organizing efforts to improve school conditions. The third section covers policy solutions. The authors include academics, union staff and rank-and-file activists, parent organization leaders, and public health professionals. Intended Audience: Teachers, parents of school-age children, school administrators, teachers union activists, health and safety advocates, environmentalists, public health practitioners and activists, students in environmental and occupational health (in the United States and elsewhere).

Critique: An outstanding and important contribution to the Environmental Studies reference collections of both community and academic libraries, "The Toxic Schoolhouse" is also highly recommended to the attention of non-specialist general readers who have been alarmed by reports of the health hazards children are exposed to in their school buildings from everything ranging from lead paint to asbestos ceiling tiles. An impressive collection of scholarly papers and seminal research findings, it should be noted that "The Toxic Schoolhouse" is also available as an ePub document (9780895038524, $39.95); a PDF file (9780895038531, $39.95); and as a Print & eBook set ($54.95).

American Immunity
Patrick Hagopian
University of Massachusetts Press
PO Box 429, Amherst, MA 01004
9781625340474, $27.95, 280pp,

Synopsis: In 1955 the Supreme Court ruled that veterans of the U.S. armed forces could not be court-martialed for overseas crimes that were not detected until after they had left military service. Territorial limitations placed such acts beyond the jurisdiction of civilian courts, and there was no other American court in which they could be adjudicated. As a result, a jurisdictional gap emerged that for decades exempted former troops from prosecution for war crimes. This was not merely a theoretical possibility, Patrick Hagopian writes. Over a dozen former soldiers who participated in the My Lai massacre did in fact get away with murder. Further court rulings expanded the gap to cover civilian employees and contractors that accompanied the armed forces.

In American Immunity, Hagopian places what he calls the superpower exemption in the context of a long-standing tension between international law and U.S. sovereignty. He shows that despite the U.S. role in promulgating universal standards of international law and forming institutions where those standards can be enforced, the United States has repeatedly refused to submit its own citizens and troops to the jurisdiction of international tribunals and failed to uphold international standards of justice in its own courts.

In 2000 Congress attempted to close the jurisdictional gap with passage of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act. The effectiveness of that legislation is still in question, however, since it remains unclear how willing civilian American juries will be to convict veterans for conduct in foreign war zones.

Critique: Simply stated, "American Immunity: War Crimes and the Limits of International Law" by Patrick Hagopian (Senior Lecturer in History and American Studies, Lancaster University, England) is a startling revelation of a decades old flaw in our American judicial system and one that has led to such diplomatic disputes as the current negotiations with respect to a continuing American military presence in Afghanistan. Very strongly recommended for both community and academic library Judicial Studies reference collections and Military Justice supplemental reading lists, "American Immunity" is enhanced with the inclusion of a list of abbreviations, an impressive seventy pages of Notes, and a comprehensive index. It should be noted that "American Immunity: War Crimes and the Limits of International Law" is also available in a hardcover edition (9781625340467, $80.00).

Murder Capital
Tracy Coleman
Traro Publishing Inc.
c/o Robert L. Lewis & Associates
2148 West 11th Avenue, Gary, IN 46404
9780985514303, $19.99, 446pp,

Synopsis: Murder Capital focuses on one man's mission to break up the most corrupt and destructive crime rings which he had ever seen - the government of Gomor, Indiana. Vincent Joshua is a successful trial attorney who practices in Los Angeles, California. When he learns that his father is involved in a near fatal car accident, Vincent makes the decision to leave his thriving law practice in Los Angeles and return to Gomor, Indiana to help his family. Vincent left the city in 1985 after his brother was killed execution style. When it was obvious that his father would make a full recovery, Vincent accepts a job with the Riverside County Prosecutor's Office. It doesn't take Vincent long to realize that the same corruption which plagued the city and caused his brother's death, had only gotten worse. This time, Vincent is no longer a naive, frightened youth running to save his life, but a powerful, skilled attorney, who has the knowledge to bring down the judges, police and prosecutors who made millions off of Gomor's illegal drug trade.

Critique: It is clear that in "Murder Capital", author Tracy Coleman is able to draw upon her many years of experience and expertise as an attorney and as a former Deputy Prosecuting Attorney to provide an authenticity to her novel and make it a truly riveting read as a legal and political suspense. Entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking, "Murder Capital" is a highly recommended addition to community library collections and personal reading lists. It should be noted that "Murder Capital" is also available in a Kindle edition ($3.99).

Jack Mason

Peggy's Bookshelf

The Mystery of the Missing Ming
Anne Loader McGee
Vendera Publishing
PO Box 116, Franklin Furnace, OH 45629
9781936307326, $7.99, 158 pages,

In Book Two of the Cedar Creek Mystery series teen detective Mallory Gilmartin unravels another mind-boggling mystery in this not-so-boring little town. Someone has stolen Edna May Florentine's priceless Ming vase. But the police handcuff the 83-year old librarian and cart her off to jail. Mallory's plucky Grandma Aggie bails her friend out of jail with the money she saved as a down payment on opening her own tea shop. So, not only does Mallory have to find out who stole the Ming vase but she has to do it before the other interested party buys the tea shop out from under Aggie. With the clock ticking, Mallory enlists the help of Kyle, her reluctant partner in crime solving, and of course Aggie as they dig up the skeletons in the closet of yet another quirky Cedar Creek family. Once again Anne McGee combines one crime with a dollop of history and a hint of the paranormal into a winning recipe for mystery. "The Mystery of the Missing Ming" is every mystery lover's cup of tea.

Flight School
Lita Judge
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
c/o Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 4th floor, New York, NY 10020
9781442481770, $16.99, 40 pages,

When Penguin shows up at Flight School he claims he has the soul of an eagle. There's just one small problem - penguins can't fly. But Penguin doesn't let that discourage him in his quest. With a little help from the other birds in Flight School, Penguin enjoys the flight of his life - but not in the way you might expect. Judge comes up with just the right amount of words to go with the humorous, action-packed illustrations that show one determined little penguin's big adventure. "Flight School" is an excellent book for pre-schoolers because the pictures tell the story, and young readers can relate to how hard it can be to try something new.

Eileen R. Meyer
Illustrated by Carlynn Whitt
Two Lions Publishing
PO Box 400818, Las Vegas, NV 89140
9781477847190, $14.99, 23 pages,

In "Ballpark," a boy and his grandpa experience the sights and sounds of a big league baseball game. Author Eileen Meyer describes their trip to the ballpark in rhyming verse. Even though there's plenty of activity, there is no story here which makes it difficult for young readers to make an emotional connection. Carlynn Whitt's colorful action scenes add much to this predictable adventure, but too many of them focus on the crowd and not enough on the players and the game itself. If you're looking for a picture book that describes a baseball game, then this is for you. But if you're looking for a good baseball story, keep looking.

Peggy Tibbetts, Reviewer

Sandra's Bookshelf

The How-To Handbook
Martin Oliver and Alexandra Johnson
Zest Books
35 Stillman Street, San Francisco, CA 94107
9781936976348, $10.99, www., 125 pages

As I was just flipping through this book I thought this book would not be for every age. Much to my surprise it is. Now are you ready to read something everyone has asked at one time or the other? Are you ready? Here we to get rid of hiccups! One time I had to give a speech and guess who started to hiccup. I tried everything I had ever heard about and nothing worked.

I finally had to walk on stage and as I was looking at all the people, the first thing I did was hiccup. So I did the only thing that made sense to me. I asked if anyone knew how to stop hiccups. After people stopped laughing at me someone said try drinking upside down. I told the group I could not stand on my head and do it. So they told me to fill my mouth with water from the glass I had, and then bend over and swallow. That did not work either. I must say that people came up to me after my speech and said "they would always remember me." You can find the cure on page 12.

The authors share many different things that you may not know. To this day I can't fold a bottom sheet so it looks nice. But I will try doing it like the authors say. I did try to tie a tie but just can't seem to do that. I did get a pretty good handle on how to fix a bike tire though.

Rated G

Secrets and Lies: Book 2 of the Cassie Scot series.
Christian Amsden
Twilight Times Books
P.O.Box 3340 Kingsport, TN 37664
9781606192771, $17.95, 270 pages

I really enjoyed this book. The book has everything from magic, sorcerers, mystery, and romance. Cassie's family has just disown her and she is hurt and confused. She thinks it is because she has no magic powers like her siblings and parents have.

She feels confused and lost in a world she has no part of. Then she also owes her life to Evan as he saved her. In this mythical world that means she belongs to him, and him only.

Since this is my review I have to tell the left us dangling. I am so mad at you that I literally screamed NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, when I read the last word of your book. I bet that I am not the only person who did that. There, I said what others would not have the nerve to say! (lol )

I must also say I can't wait until your next book comes out in this series. Now if anyone doubts what I have written then buy the book and see for yourself.

Five star book

Wages of Sin
Yolonda Tonette Sanders
Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americans, New York, NY 10020
9781593094737, $15.00,, 287 pages

I never review a book unless the author sends me the first two chapters of a book. Then I decide if I will review it. I am so glad that I chose to accept this book. It is a mystery that had my mind racing. The "who did it" kept me reading. I thought I had it figured out, and in only a few pages I found out I was wrong. Dang, I hate it when that happens. But that goes to show how much talent the author has.

To my surprise the author does not feel like she has to use foul words to make a point in the story. Even though most of this book is about a serial killer, the language is clean. Another surprise is that I did not know what three words met. I have never heard "my bad, guys." I asked my husband and he told me what it meant. Then I asked my grandson who is 16 and he said to me "Seriously, I can't believe you don't know that grandma?"

What I do know is in my opinion a good book when I read one. I really did enjoy this book, and think you will also.

Rated: PG 13 for violence

Sandra Heptinstall

Teri's Bookshelf

The Secret of the Red Cane
The BOOB Girls V
The Burned Out Old Broads at Table 12
Joy Johnson
Grief Illustrated Press
7230 Maple Street, Omaha, Nebraska 68134
1561232437, $14.95, Trade Paperback, 232 pp,

Those of us who have grown-up in the past eighty years remember Nancy Drew as one of the first fictional and female heroines who was a role model with STDs: strength, tenderness, determination and smarts.

What does someone who has been solving mysteries for eighty years do when she physically can't quite hang on the edge of a roof, but mentally still possesses the smarts along with years of experience and education? Being this is a fictional world, she becomes a BOOB Girl, one of The Burned-Out Old Broads who reside at Table 12 of the Meadow Lake Retirement Community in Omaha, Nebraska.

The current members of the BOOB are Hadley Joy Morris-Whitfield, Robinson Leary, Marge Aaron, and Mary Rose McGill. Three of the four bonded five books ago with an unusual friendship combining their STDs into adventure and like Nancy Drew, solving mysteries for the good of everyone.

As change is a part of life, their home at the Meadow Lake Retirement Community has been bought by the Busch family, without the knowledge of the residents. Like most takeovers, changes are occurring with the new ownership. While these changes do not appear to be beneficial to the residents, the foursome wonder about the real vision of the family. What is their reason for buying this facility?

A retirement community always has its own challenges but an elderly couple happens to create an unusual twist. Mr. and Mrs. Hosemoffs have been married for years and are the perfect example of soul mates. They cannot image life without each other. So realizing that one of them will probably pass away in the near future, they want to die together. How? Could they find someone just to murder them?

The Secret of the Red Cane, Book Five of the BOOB Girls is a delightful romp into the misadventures of this retired quartet. The story is well-developed, evenly paced, with realistic characters and even large print for easy reading.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this well-written, Nancy Drew-like story. Although this novel is easy to understand without having read the previous four, I would highly recommend to at least read the first book to better understand their relationships.

Joy Johnson, along with her husband, Dr. Marvin Johnson are the founders of Ted E. Bear Hollow and the Centering Corporation which is North America's largest and oldest bereavement resource center. Besides spending time with her family, writing and continuing work with the bereaved she also enjoys life with her Bernese Mountain dog.

The Secret of the Red Cane is reminiscent of the Nancy Drew novels and just fun reading.
What can possibly happen in the BOOB Girls, Book VI next installment?

The Cold Nowhere
Brian Freeman
9781623651312, $26.99, Hardcover and ebook, 432 pages,

Have you ever been drawn to a particular person? Have you wondered why someone gets and holds your attention but you don't completely understand why? That is the problem Detective Jonathan Stride has with Catalina Mateo, a sixteen-year-old runaway who happens to be pregnant. However, there is a history between these two.

About ten years ago, Detective Stride met Catalina's mother, Michaela. The two had a special relationship. Both were married but not to each other.

The nightmare for Cat began the night when her mother was brutally stabbed to death by her father who then shot himself. She was only six-years-old and fortunately was not in the house when the murder happened but hid under the porch, hearing the entire nightmare. How does anyone stop this from haunting them?

Orphaned, Cat lived with her aunt who worked as a prostitute to pay for her personal drug usage and then went into the foster care system. This was not much bettered and Cat became a runaway. She wants a better life so she is selective about men, but also turns to prostitution in order to live. What chance does Cat have of ever having a normal life?

Catalina appears at Detective Stride's home one night, soaking wet and terrified, believing that someone is chasing her, wanting to kill her. Stride wants to believe her but his partner, Maggie, is very suspicious.

The Cold Nowhere is a riveting tale where you feel that you are discovering the details along side of Detective Stride. However, you don't know about his past relationship with Michaela or Cat that is unveiled by Maggie and his former wife. It seems that the more that is found out, the more dangerous the situations become with people dying around them.

The story is well-organized and intense with well-developed characters. This psychological thriller keeps the reader engaged past the last page.

Author Brian Freeman has written many novels featuring Detective Jonathan Stride and Serena Dials winning a Macavity Award for his Best First Novel, Immoral and nominated for the Edgar Award.

The Cold Nowhere is a masterful tale written by a phenomenal storyteller.

Teri Davis

Theodore's Bookshelf

A Question of Honor
Charles Todd
William Morrow
c/o HarperCollins
10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
9780062237156, $25.99, 309pp,

In 1908, Bess Crawford was a young girl living in India with her parents where her father was Colonel of a regiment. One of the officers, Lt. Tom Wade, fled while returning from patrol under suspicion of having murdered three persons while on leave in England as well as of his own parents in Agra, when authorities came to the regiment to question him. Now, nine years later, Bess, serving as a nurse in France, thinks she recognizes Wade as a Corporal serving under another name.

This fifth novel in the Bess Crawford Mystery series then shows how inquisitive Bess can be in following a line of inquiry, even as the war and her nursing duties become overwhelming. The title of the book indicates the basis for Bess' investigation, since the Colonel Sahib placed his faith in Wade, not believing him guilty, and of course the suspicion casts a pall over the "honor" of the regiment.

Typically, the novels in this series reflect the horrors of the First World War, and this one is no exception. Unfortunately, the mother/son writing team had to stretch pretty far to move Bess back and forth between France and England on an almost commuting schedule before the conclusion is reached. And also, to this reader's regret, I found it very slow reading, and it took an inordinately long time to finish. Nonetheless, it was worth the effort, and is recommended.

Dick Francis's Refusal
Felix Francis
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014
9780399160813, $26.95, 384pp,

It's been six years since investigator Sid Halley retired, tired of the beatings, pressure and danger. Since then, he has lived a quiet life with his wife and young daughter, earning a living as an investor, trading money instruments and shares. He promised himself and his wife that he would not return to his former profession, but events proved the opposite when the chairman of the racing authority begged him to look into a series of questionable races.

Following a familiar Francis formula, circumstances arise which force Sid to reverse his adamant refusal to undertake such an investigation. The day after his meeting, the chairman is found dead, a possible suicide, but Sid believes really murder. Then a telephone call from a man with a Belfast Irish accent menacingly demands that Sid write a report claiming the races were not suspicious. Thus, the stage is set for the expected scrutiny, danger to Sid, his family and associates, and confrontation with the culprits.

The formula, which has been successful for about four dozen books by the Francises, pere et fils, works like a charm once again. Felix had now written four novels as a co-author with Dick, and this is the third one on his own. Looking forward with bated breath for the fourth.

Highly recommended.

Jo Nesbo
Translated by Don Bartlett
Alfred A. Knopf
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780385351379, $25.95, 416pp,

(Published in the UK by Harvill Secker, Sept. 12, 2013, ISBN 9781846555961, Hardcover, 528 pp., 18.99 BPS)

As Yogi famously said, "It ain't over 'til it's over." That is the fundamental precept of this latest Harry Hole novel. The reader has to pore through red herring after false clue until reaching the end and discovering the identity of the real culprit. The basic plot is about a series of murders of policemen lured to a crime scene on the anniversaries of a murder and then killed. And the police force hasn't a clue, including Harry's group, who are operating not only without him, but also with no leads.

This is the tenth novel in the series, continuing where "Phantom" ended: With the reader not knowing whether Harry is alive or dead after sustaining three bullet wounds, one to the head, fired by Oleg, the son of Harry's girlfriend, Rakel. The novel brings back many of the familiar characters who have populated previous books in the series, primarily Harry's closest colleagues.

The novel is cleverly constructed, and as each potential suspect is revealed, the reader is provided a new clue, raising the possibility of yet another perpetrator. Once again, Jo Nesbo has written a superb mystery, moving the story forward in imaginative steps. Each one of the 416 pages is swiftly turned.

Highly recommended.

Charlie Huston
Mulholland Books
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017-0010
9780316133708, $16.00, 400pp,

How can a simple plot grow so complex? The idea behind "Skinner" is interesting and relatively uncomplicated: the possible threat from a Mumbai slum to world order, and a pair of investigators seeking to learn more about it. One of the investigators is a woman, Jae, who builds and controls robots and has a gift for seeing underlying relationships. The other is Skinner, who specializes in protecting assets (and whose maxim is to make it too costly to attack the person he is guarding by killing the attacker and then anyone else involved in planning the assault).

However, the story is obfuscated by all sorts of characters and side issues that can weary the reader. The initial chapters are slow reading, and the following pages are just a bit less ponderous.

Tomorrow City
Kirk Kjeldsen
Signal 8 Press
P.O. Box 47094, Morrison Hill P.O., Hong Kong
9789881554215, $15.95, 197pp,

Brendan Lavin can't make up his mind whether he's a baker or a criminal. And in this debut thriller by Kirk Kjeldsen, he's both. The plot is simple: the evil we do lives long after us. Or, in the alternative, history tends to repeat itself if we don't learn from our mistakes. And that certainly applies to Brendan, who's operating a marginal bakery in New York City on the brink of bankruptcy when his criminal past catches up with him.

Brendan is cajoled by former associates to participate in an armed robbery which ends up being a disaster. He had hoped to gain some cash to provide breathing room for his failing bakery. Instead, he has to leave the country on the lam. He travels to Hong Kong and then to Shanghai, where he opens another bakery, this one a success, and has a Chinese wife and a daughter. All goes well until his former associates show up and force him to participate in another armed robbery, this time of a jewelry store.

The novel is filled with violence, and interesting descriptions of the large Chinese city, its neighborhoods, smells and people. It is a tale of unprincipled gangsters, and seeks to evoke sympathy for Brendan, who probably deserves none, since he is the victim of his own past.


The Son
Jo Nesbo
Translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund
Alfred A. Knopf
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780385351379, $25.95, Hardcover, 416 pp.,

Jo Nesbo, the Norwegian author best known for the Harry Hole series, has written a standalone, proving he is adept at writing a complicated thriller of epic proportions. It is a story of criminal and police corruption, and centers on Sonny Lofthus, son of a policeman who committed suicide, accused of being a mole for a gangster known as the Twin.

After his father's death, Sonny took to heroin, and confessed to a couple of murders he didn't commit in exchange for a guarantee of an endless supply of the drug while in prison. While incarcerated, Sonny gains Buddha-like status among the prisoners, granting salvation and peace to the inmates. Then comes the twist: Sonny goes cold turkey after learning that his father may have been framed, escapes and embarks on a plan of revenge against those he believes responsible for his father's death.

If the reader can suspend disbelief that a hardcore addict can quit after an addiction of 12 years, then the plot can move forward with some degree of rationality; even with Sonny hiding from a massive man-hunt by both the police and criminal element in plain sight and not being caught, while, ninja-like, exacting retribution on a series of victims. Other than these criticisms, this is one excellent novel, exciting, well-written, and deeply plotted, although overly long. But greatly enjoyable, and highly recommended.

Masaryk Station
David Downing
Soho Crime
853 Broadway, NY, NY 10003
9781616953737, $14.95, 304pp,

With this, the sixth novel in the John Russell series, David Downing brings to a finale the chronicle covering the years between the World Wars, those following the collapse of Nazi Germany. It has been quite a journey, with Russell having served as a double agent for both the Soviets and Americans, certainly as dangerous as an existence can be. Each of the novels reflected the times and the clashes of the ideological differences between the two countries.

In the final book, the story of a divided Germany and Berlin is recounted, ending with the seeds that were sown in the fall of the Soviet Empire. At the same time, the personal conflicts that beset Russell and others who at first embraced and then questioned socialism are explored and analyzed.

Each entry in the series was well-crafted to not only tell a gripping story of our times, but to call to mind the era as portrayed by real-life characters. It has been an excellently told saga. The author's next book, "Jack of Spies," the first in a new series moving back in time to World War I, is due out from Soho Crime in May.

The novel is recommended.

Leaving Everything Most Loved
Jacqueline Winspear
Harper Perennial
c/o HarperCollins
10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
9780062049612, $15.99, 368pp,

One would think that Maisie Dobbs, at this point, had it made: She has inherited a substantial estate and fortune from her mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche; she has a loving father; wonderful friends; a successful business; loyal employees, and a handsome, wealthy suitor who very much wants to marry her. And yet, she feels at loose ends, reflecting she is unfulfilled and wanting to follow in Blanche's footsteps, traveling, perhaps to India and learn more about the world.

But before she can decide, she has to solve the murder of an Indian woman who has traveled to England and worked as a governess for a family, before leaving its employ and living in a home for similar immigrants who had lost their jobs, resorting to menial work as cleaning women and the like. Since this is a Maisie Dobbs mystery, there are overlapping plots and themes which must be tied together before we move on to the next chapter in Maisie's life.

In each of the ten novels in the series, we have witnessed the development of Maisie's experiences and character growth, as well as world developments as the 1930's unfold toward what is likely to be World War II. But this entry takes place in 1933, so there is plenty of time for several more Maisie Dobbs stories. And that is something worth waiting for.


The Kill Room
Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Ave., NY, NY 10017
9781455517084 $15.00, 512pp,

At the beginning of this Lincoln Rhyme novel, the reader is asked to accept a premise: the existence of a federal agency (the National Intelligence and Operations Service) tasked with assassinating persons with anti-American sympathies. NIOS is headed by an unstable individual who submits questionable information to Washington to justify killing one Robert Moreno, known to have anti-American sympathies.

On the theory that the order to kill emanated in New York City, an assistant district attorney, determined to put the NIOS administrator on trial for murder, enlists the services of Rhyme and his associates to build a case, although the hard evidence is scarce. The plot follows the various developments, from attempts to cover up any case against the NIOS director who ordered the killing or the sniper, and along the way several murders of potential witnesses.

I found this book less satisfying than previous ones in the Lincoln Rhyme series. Perhaps the reason is the subject, which is pretty esoteric, stretching a criminal case to the limits with the usual detailed forensic analysis taking a back seat and cerebral speculation substituting for detailed investigation. The author, however, does again demonstrate his ability to formulate a story on several levels and move it forward steadily, while introducing new angles to keep one reading steadily. On that basis, the book is recommended.

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton
Elizabeth L. Silver
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780385347457, $14.00, 336pp,

A study of a convicted murderer on death row, as her life is recounted in the final months awaiting her execution, is the subject of this first novel by an author with three college degrees, including one in law. At the same time, it delves into her relationship with her mother, her father, and others who have interacted with her, especially Marlene, the mother of the victim, who is not a particularly sympathetic character.

There is no suspense with regard to the ultimate execution of Noa P. Singleton, this fact is included in the title. Whatever suspense exists derives from the introduction of a possible clemency petition by the mother of the murder victim, a well-known Philadelphia attorney. Who, by the way, initially demanded the death penalty and then supposedly years later approached Noa on behalf of an organization she founded, Mothers Against Death, claiming a change of heart.

Apparently, a major point of the novel is the juxtaposition of Noa and Marlene and their motivations. About the only truly insightful looks into Marlene are in the form of letters to her daughter following her death, and these are really superficial and lack sufficient depth to create either sympathy for the mother or deeper knowledge as to why she has acted as she did. To tell the truth, for this reader the writing was too wordy, and the novel's construction somewhat artificial.

Jo Nesbo
Vintage Books/Black Lizard
c/o Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, NY, NY 10019
9780345807151, $14.95, 384pp,

The Harry Hole series presently consists of 10 novels, of which this was the second, published in the US in February 2014 for the first time. (The newest book, "The Son," is due out in the UK in April 2014 and in the US in May 2014.) In the introductory novel, Harry was sent to Australia to solve a murder. This time he was selected to travel to Thailand where the Norwegian ambassador had been found knifed to death in a motel/brothel.

Harry was handpicked by the powers-to-be in their effort to hush up any possible scandal back home, on the theory that he is a drunk and would not be able to solve the murder. Once in Bangkok, Harry finds out he has not been fully informed and is operating in a vacuum (as was intended). As he begins to investigate he uncovers more and more information trying to make sense out of the situation.

The setting gives the author an opportunity to describe the traffic, noise, streets, bars, temples, tourist traps and opium dens in authentic detail, while following Harry's efforts to solve the ambassador's murder. Although Harry was supposed to "bury" the crime, the author concludes with a totally unexpected finale.

As has been the case with each of this author's books, this one too is highly recommended.

Death of a Policeman
M.C. Beaton
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Book Group
237 Park Ave., NY, NY 10017
Kindle & Nook eBook: 9781455553433, $12.99
9781455504732, $25.00, 272pp,

Preserving his beloved small town Scottish Highland police station is a never-ending battle for Hamish Macbeth. And this time, he has to survive in the face of facilities being closed all over Scotland in the wake of cost-cutting. Meanwhile there's plenty to do, including the investigation into the shotgun death of a policeman who was spying on Hamish at the behest of his arch-enemy, Chief Inspector Blair.

This novel, the 30th in a long-running series, is a little different, especially as it encompasses the love lives of the various characters, including Hamish's assistant, Dick. And even Hamish begins to wonder whether he wants a companion other than his pets and Dick.

All the wonderful characteristics which have made the Hamish Macbeth mysteries popular abound in this latest entry: the local color, dialect and residents. And this time Macbeth exhibits a side of himself that is uncharacteristic in an effort to keep his beloved Lochdubh police station open.


W is for Wasted
Sue Grafton
Marian Wood Books
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780399158988, $28.95, 469pp,

How to create a new plot after 22 previous Kinsey Millhone novels was no deterrent to the author who wasted no time in solving the important murders and tackling the problem of the homeless. In addition, a dilemma for Kinsey: What to do with more than a half-million dollars she inherits from a homeless man who dies on the beach, leaving her an inheritance in his will.

A scurrilous PI turns out to be a murder victim, the apparent result of a robbery gone bad, leaving Kinsey another mystery to solve. It turns out the PI is part of the plot, related to the death of the homeless man. As the tale unfolds, there is just one additional thing for Kinsey to solve, and that is, what to do with the money: distribute to the man's three children (despite the fact that he had disinherited them); keep it; or find some other use for the moolah in accordance with his perceived wishes.

The novel is well-plotted, but weighed down with all kinds of extraneous fill-in material, e.g., baking, Kinsey's love life (or lack thereof), introduction of former lovers, and one with a tangential relationship to the murdered PI. Otherwise, "W" is the usual smooth effort, and another letter bites the dust.

Theodore Feit

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