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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 18, Number 8 August 2019 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

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

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf

Men and Masculinities
Daniel Tillapaugh & Brian L. McGowan, editors
Stylus Publishing, Inc.
22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166-2012
9781620369319, $35.00, PB, 240pp,

Synopsis: There continues to be much concern about the retention and persistent of men in college, particularly Black, Latino, and Native American men. In addition, gay and transgender men also have found institutions to be problematic spaces. For those who do persist, these categories of men are over represented in student conduct cases and engage in risky behaviors around alcohol, drug use, and sexual relationships. Additionally, college men have historically avoided engaging in help-seeking behaviors for their academic and personal success. This book addresses the ways that theory can be put into practice for powerful, transformative learning to support college men and their development.

Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by the team of Daniel Tillapaugh (Assistant Professor and Chair in the Department of Counselor Education, California Lutheran University) and Brian L. McGowan (Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Higer Education, University of North Carolina - Greensboro), "Men and Masculinities: Theoretical Foundations and Promising Practices for Supporting College Men's Development" synthesizes the research of the past three decades on college men to inform college student educators on the developmental needs of college men and illuminates how young men are socialized prior to their arrival to campus, but perhaps more importantly, how the collegiate environment becomes a training ground for the socialization of masculinities by students, their peers, and their environments.

Beyond that, "Men and Masculinities" sets out how practitioners can help young men understand why and how they have been socialized around their gender identity, but also what their gender identity and sense of masculinity means for their future selves. "Men and Masculinities" highlights programs and services designed to have college men engage with and dialogue around issues of hegemonic, toxic, or unhealthy aspects of masculinity. These promising practices can offer college men opportunities to understand their power, privilege, and identity in ways that can be affirming and healthier, leading to more life-giving chances. This is all the more important in the context of an ever-evolving society where traditionally held norms and expectations around gender (particularly masculinities) are shifting.

The core principle and intent of "Men and Masculinities" is to equip student affairs staff, faculty, and administrators to better support college men's development by offering insights, ideas, and models for adapting and developing programs, services, and initiatives that may meaningfully meet the needs of specific student populations, while recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this work.

Critique: A seminal work of meticulous scholarship based upon the contribution of a roster of expert researchers and scholars in the field, "Men and Masculinities: Theoretical Foundations and Promising Practices for Supporting College Men's Development" is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of an informative Introduction (Advancing Men and Masculinities Work), a listing of the contributors and their credentials, and a fourteen page index. While especially and unreservedly recommended for college and university library Contemporary Education Issues collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Men and Masculinities" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $27.99).

Stories From the City of God
Pier Paolo Pasolini, author
Walter Siti, editor
Marina Harss, translator
Other Press
9781590519974, $16.99, PB, 272pp,

Synopsis: Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) was an internationally acclaimed writer, poet, critic, actor, director, and filmmaker. Among his most noted films are his epic masterpiece Accatone!, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Teorema, and Marquis de Sade. He was the author of several novels, most notably The Ragazzi (Ragazzi di vita), as well as books of short stories, essays, and collections of poetry.

Pasolini's "Stories From the City of God" provides a portrait of post-war Rome, a city at once poignant and intimate in which are to be found artistic witness to the customs, dialect, squalor, and beauty of the ancient imperial capital that has succumbed to modern warfare, marginalization, and mass culture.

The individual sketches portray the impoverished masses that Pasolini calls "the sub-proletariat," those who live under Third World conditions and for whom simple pleasures, such as a blue sweater in a storefront window, are completely out of reach.

Pasolini's art develops throughout the works collected here, from his early lyricism to tragicomic outlines for screenplays, and finally to the maturation of his Neo-realism in eight chronicles on the shantytowns of Rome. The pieces in this collection were all published in Italian journals and newspapers, and then later edited by Walter Siti in the original Italian edition, while this newly published Other Press edition is translated by Marina Harss.

Critique: Originally published in hardcover by Other Press in 2003, this new paperback edition is especially recommended to a new generation of appreciative readers and will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Stories From The City Of God" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

One Man's Rubbish
Peter H. Christopher
Independently Published
9781073336630, $11.99,

One Man's Rubbish opens with a clash between army soldiers in Havana and Harry, who has knowingly placed himself in a precarious position by visiting the local dump outside of town to fulfill one of his passions: locating treasures in other people's trash.

Harry's passion for garbage has spilled from U.S. borders to international destinations: "By flying to Cuba, he'd gambled that a communist dump in the middle of the Caribbean would reveal items of interest that he wouldn't find back home...He'd figured that a colossal mountain of refuse situated on the outskirts of the old Spanish city might reveal some unusual junk that he wouldn't be able to find in the States. Something different. Perhaps a discarded chandelier that in better days used to hang in an ambassador's office before Castro seized all the consulates during the revolution, or at the very least a few broken pieces of blue-and-yellow colonial pottery."

Peter H. Christopher does a fine job of succinctly describing the nature and progress of Harry's passion, which segues into a story that evolves beyond a fixation with rubbish to explore archaeological treasure hunting efforts and Harry's journey from a trash fanatic to becoming a historical researcher.

As Harry journeys from his passion for junk to a mystery that involves attempted murder, secret projects, and clever women, One Man's Rubbish offers many unexpected twists that keep readers on their toes and engaged in a story that moves from Cuba to Athens, Cairo, London, Naples and Troy in an intriguing quest for answers.

It's hard to neatly peg One Man's Rubbish. At once a thriller, a fictional exploration of a singular passion's evolutionary process, and a saga of adventure, suffice it to say that it will cross genres to appeal to fans of action stories, historical fiction, psychological evolution, and political intrigue. It's a rollicking good tale that's hard to put down, filled with many surprises.

Will Somebody Please Talk to Me?
Nancy Kunhardt Lodge
Wilwahren Press
9781079934458, $9.99

Will Somebody Please Talk to Me? is a picture book about friendship that operates on a simple level, addressing the need of the narrator just to have someone to talk to.

Beautiful, fun animal drawings illustrate the narrator's conundrum as a host of animals is surveyed, overtures made, and gestures of friendship turned down by the too-busy Princess Fox, Zilly the Zebra, the egg-sitting Lucy Goosey, and more.

In some children's picture book productions the dialogue is the heart of the piece; while in others, illustrations are the main attraction.

Will Somebody Please Talk to Me? stands out from the read-aloud crowd because both elements demonstrating a superior production are present. The fun "will you talk to me?" query is answered by crazy, busy animal rejections and the narrator's concluding remark that each rejection is "silly" because an opportunity has been lost via a simple lack of effort.

Everyone needs a friend to talk to. Preferably, one who is not too busy with chores, squawking, puddle-jumping, and other "more important" activities.

The young narrator is constantly rejected by all kinds of animals. What's a lonely individual to do? One surprising ace-in-the-hole reflects the real nature of friendship and openness in this lovely story.

The premise is simple enough to attract even the very young, the illustrations are lovely paintings which are unique and compellingly artistic, and read-aloud parents looking for books that offer lessons on the basics of both friendship and innovative thinking can offer their young charges a lesson not just about making and seeking friends, but the power of what happens when one says "yes" to opportunities.

Very highly recommended!

Prince Dustin and Clara: Secrets of the Black Forest
Daniel Lee Nicholson
Fossil Mountain Publishing
9780998619132, $9.95, Paper
9780998619149, $19.99, Hardcover

Ordering: Ingram Sparks, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other retail and online booksellers.

Prince Dustin and Clara: Secrets of the Black Forest is Book Two in the Black Forest fantasy series and follows a three-day journey into a magical forest to face a dark wizard's secrets, magical creatures, and Prince Dustin and Clara's own abilities.

The 12-year-old protagonists are no strangers to danger: this was explored in a previous book. But here their adventures and quest expands as they seek to save a kingdom hidden in the Black Forest, an endeavor which forces them to confront wickedness in the trees and armies that blend into the snow.

Clara's ability to set aside worries and danger and live in the moment is one of the facets that sets Prince Dustin and Clara: Secrets of the Black Forest apart from the usual nonstop action fantasy quest story. Clara "walked as if she didn't have a care in the world", and her ability to both confront then set aside worries in the midst of danger is nicely juxtaposed with her capacity to draw upon connections in her former world to understand the fantastic environment she now traverses.

Where other fantasies come riddled with angst, confrontation, and game-changing worries, Clara manages to sail through new experiences with her smile intact. This is not to say that Daniel Lee Nicholson paints too jaunty a picture of Clara's attitude - just that she manages to preserve a sense of positivism that contrasts nicely with the dilemmas she must confront. This is a refreshingly different attitude in a main character, and one which embeds Prince Dustin and Clara: Secrets of the Black Forest with a jaunty "can-do" attitude.

As Clara draws connections between her familiar hometown and the less familiar Black Forest, she is able to overcome inherent fears and a sense that she is in a truly alien environment. She is then is able to use this familiarity to help solve puzzles and choose positive directions.

The result is a fantasy read for advanced elementary to middle graders that cultivates the specter of a resilient protagonist and her sidekick, incorporating the kinds of attitudes and approaches to problem-solving that lead not just to real courage, but a daily appreciation of life's beauty.

Prince Dustin and Clara: Secrets of the Black Forest is highly recommended for young fantasy enthusiasts who look for strong female protagonists, fantastic encounters, and a can-do attitude that prevails as young Clara confronts a strange world that actually proves not too different from her own.

Dreamed It
Maggie Toussaint
Camel Press
9781603817820, $16.95, Trade Paper
9781603817813 (ebook)

Book 6 of the Dreamwalker series blends another satisfying Maggie Toussaint mystery with paranormal overtones as speaker for the dead psychic Baxley Powell once again faces the Suitcase Killer, who has moved from the big city to her own small town.

One refreshing difference between Dreamed It and other mysteries is that Baxley is more of a psychic than an investigator. Murder mysteries are not really her forte - her focus is on dreamwalks that take her to other realms.

Her attention is also captured in a budding, insistent romance that is at once desirable and distracting as Baxley finds Native American Deputy Sam Mayes both a sympathetic, powerful partner and a problem when she assumes the role of a crime consultant.

Readers are immediately immersed in the dreamwalk atmosphere as Baxley awakens from a psychic journey which she's taken with her boyfriend, but experiences rare amnesia about the encounters she's had on the Other Side.

She's experienced at crossing into the spirit realm. Now she needs to come up to speed quickly on both matters of the heart and how to survive a deadly killer who has transported himself into her world.

This continuing saga of Baxley's psychic and psychological growth benefits from the added murder mystery overlay, which develops intrigue and action as an excellent adjunct to the focus on her evolution. Baxley isn't always comfortable with her new situation, or the politics of her role in the investigation: "I mentally groaned as I polished off the last of the chocolate bar. The fall from superstar to worker bee in a matter of seconds felt meteoric, but truthfully it was another day at the office. I was the sheriff 's new app. Instead of point and click, I'd become point and sniff."

As they get on track and move closer to catching a serial killer, Baxley and Mayes stumble upon the angst of a parent whose child has become caught up in a deadly plot, family wounds which have festered rather than healed over time, and motivations warped by dangerous thinking. Their choices reach into their dreamwalking world with purposes that change their relationship and reveal the deadly consequences of a rogue dreamwalk experience.

Toussaint's ability to craft growing, exquisite tension from interpersonal relationships, revelations, and the fine line between the Other Side and waking events enhances another story that is hard to put down. Dreamed It will attract and please both mystery readers and those seeking a walk on the wild side of paranormal abilities. It's a tense, outstanding whodunit that will keep readers involved on both an emotional and an investigative level, right up to the story's riveting conclusion.

The Dung Beetles of Liberia
Daniel V. Meier, Jr.
9781945448379, $16.95 (p)
9781945448386, $7.99, (e)

When death strikes unexpectedly, it can change everything. This is what Ken Verrier discovers in The Dung Beetles of Liberia: A Novel Based on True Events. When his brother dies, he drops out of college and leaves town for the most remote place he can think of, far from anything he's ever experienced - Liberia, where he accepts a new job as a transport pilot.

The story literally opens with a bang as Ken struggles to bring his small plane to a rocky landing, waiting nuns squealing in the microphone in his ear while his stomach churns with the dysentery which is so common to white people visiting Africa.

The dung beetles also appear in this opening salvo of action to lend further atmosphere to a story that offers up a unique, intriguing, action-filled voice right from the start: "I saw the airstrip through a parting of the clouds - and I dove for it. I flew the airplane straight onto the runway with a couple of hard bounces, pulled it to a dusty stop, and set the parking brake. Leaving the engine idling with the prop turning over slowly, I bailed out of the cabin. I ran to the bush, which was mostly grass and weeds about chest high, and, with only moments to spare, relieved myself. While this relief was occurring, I heard the distinctive wuush, wuush, wuush of dung beetles crawling through the grass. I had been told that they could hear a mouse break wind from five miles away and could follow the scent. With my pants around my ankles and the sun beating down on my head, I started a little hippy hop, hippy hop movement to keep away from them. And here came the good sisters in their Land Rover. "Oh, Mr. Pilot! Mr. Pilot, Mr. Pilot! Where are you?"

This introduction captures only a fraction of the action which ensues as readers are treated to a story that is steeped in the culture, politics, ironies, and worlds of Africa. It's one that lingers in the mind with many thought-provoking, changing scenarios: "Koto," Andre said, "this is Boss Ken. He is one of our new pilots and he is also a mechanic from the United States." Koto looked unfazed. "He will be the boss. You do what he says." Had we been in a maintenance shop in the US, this kind of speech and introduction would have caused instant resentment and led to numerous labor conflicts. Koto, however, smiled his near toothless smile, nodded his head in agreement, and said, "Yes boss, I unnastan. He know sheenery. He know sheenery mo dan me."

As stark contrasts between Liberia and the USA permeate an engrossing story of adventure, revelation, change, and coming to terms with many kinds of obstacles, readers will be thoroughly engrossed in a story that reveals 1960s Liberia's social and political disparity between wealth and poverty. These are the very topics the protagonist of this story knew too little about before his sojourn.

This element of discovery as seen through an American's eyes creates a novel that is especially compelling in its contrasts between the very wealthy and the very poor in Liberian society. Descriptions are exact and atmospheric: "We followed other arriving guests across the parking area and along the newly laid walkways into the new Executive Mansion. Inside, we were directed to a large, central room, which I assumed was the main ballroom. It had been finished in imitation of the French Rococo style, but without the elegance or refinement. Several crystal chandeliers hung from the high, rounded ceiling. Guards dressed in uniforms that looked similar to what might have been worn by Napoleon's generals were stationed at doorways and along the walls. The sound of a string quartet playing chamber music echoed from the marble walls. An elaborate bar with several bartenders was at the far end of the room, and to the side was a lavish display of European and Liberian delicacies. There was an actual roasted boar with an apple in its mouth."

While leisure readers seeking an adventure read replete with international atmosphere will be the most likely audience for

The Dung Beetles of Liberia, they will find educational and revealing the very real social insights and messages embedded into Ken's story of discovery. These features make the novel equally highly recommended for those who like their stories replete with social messages and, especially, insights into Africa in general and Liberian politics and history in particular.

The blend of fictional action and nonfiction social inspection are simply exquisite strengths that set this story apart from many other fictional pieces set in Africa.

Big Medicine
Pierre Morin, MD, PhD
Belly Song Press
9780999609449, $17.95,

Big Medicine: Transforming Your Relationship with Your Body, Health, and Community belongs in any health or psychology collection concerned with not just improving health, but healing relationships between healthcare providers, caregivers, and those seeking medical advice.

Dr. Morin sees the body as a process, and explains how both spiritual and psychological insights and choices affect that process commonly defined as 'health'.

By applying process-oriented psychology and the concept of Process Work to the bigger picture of physical and mental health management, readers are empowered to consider an array of influences on health that go beyond the norm, from equations of health to wealth, to how providers can use Big Medicine to connect to patient experiences in a more holistic manner.

Readers may not anticipate the addition of concepts of Space-Time Dreaming, Presence, tribalism and diversity, and how the comfort zone of health "keeps us unconscious", but Big Medicine draws wide-ranging connections that engage and educate, offering much food for thought as it brings together seemingly-disparate concepts.

This perspective comes from a physician specializing in the field of brain injury recovery. Backed by 35 years of experience in both physical and mental health, his authoritative approach will intrigue and educate new age and health readers alike. Big Medicine is highly recommended for the very thing that may receive some initial resistance in traditional circles: its ability to inject community and social issues into the equation of healthcare management and individual health concerns.

Neat Freaks
John Arvai III
Light The Lamp Publishing
9780997941722, 9.99, Paperback
9780997941746, 15.99 Hardcover
9780997941784, e-book

Neat Freaks enjoys bright, large-size, colorful illustrations by Adam Walker-Parker as it provides picture book readers with a rhyming dilemma: "Toys were left out in a state of disgrace. It looked like an earthquake had shook the whole place."

As the mess is addressed by the mysterious Neat Freaks and the nighttime miracle assumes a 'Night Before Christmas' feel, it becomes known that the Neat Freaks travel through couches seeking messes to clean up. But, are they really cleaning up, or having a bit of play?

As events progress and take quite an unexpected turn, parents who attempt to teach the importance of tidiness will especially find this book's message appealing and unique.

Why clean up?

The answer is provided in a hilarious story of Neat Freaks with an appetite for disaster in a tale highly recommended as a fun adventure with an engaging message.

The Audacity of Destiny
Chuks Ikebie Ndukwe
9780999070505, $12.99,

The Audacity of Destiny: Thoughts On Life When The Inner-Power Leads The Way is an autobiography about facing adversity, accepting life changes, and even embracing failure's opportunity to change course into success, and is recommended reading for readers of inspirational life stories.

Chuks Ikebie Ndukwe ties his life to the basic pursuits and goals of success, from forming early character and strengths based on a combination of family teachings and life experience to understanding the impact of his choices on learning and practices.

Ndukwe views destiny as a preordained path that is each individual's mission to uncover, rather like a puzzle all in pieces that must be linked together over the course of a lifetime with the goal of leaving a 'footprint' of one's self on future generations.

Ndukwe's story of his life journey has a specific objective beyond chronicling events: to chart the progression and evolution of "...the awesome Irresistible inner-power or the inner-guide we all have inside of us."

This translates to a survey that nicely juxtaposes personal experience with broader inspections of life purpose, blending philosophical and spiritual insights into a bigger picture.

It should be noted that minor grammatical errors and awkward sentence structure at times detract from Ndukwe's story and its effective delivery. However, biography and autobiography readers interested in how life tragedy and opportunity coalesce to create an upward trajectory of meaning might overlook these scattered errors, and will find The Audacity of Destiny a compelling autobiographical exploration of the roots and realities of achievement, destiny, and motivation.

Goldilocks Private Eye
Greg Trine
Malamute Press
9780578464077, $7.99,

Goldilocks Private Eye is an excellent read for ages 7-10. It's on par with the fun and serious components of the classic Harriet the Spy, but features more street savvy and a precocious little girl, who takes over her father's failing detective agency when he dies.

Goldilocks faces many adult concerns: looming rent, an enthusiastic orphanage director, and the dangerous streets of Lick Skillet. The only one on her side is her cat Charlotte, and the only skills she brings to the job are her own determination to succeed.

Motivated to stay out of the orphanage and be independent, Goldilocks also faces missing grandparents and the dangerous Black Forest, which is renowned for swallowing up those who venture into its depths, never to be seen again.

From cruel orphanage hit man, Tim the Kid Snatcher, to orphan Henry Wagon Henry's involvement with Goldilocks, the action is fast-paced and fun, spiced by black and white illustrations by Ira Baykovsko.

As Goldlocks is rescued by Patty and befriended by a group of fellow outcasts, she relentlessly pursues both her newfound cases and career and her own goals.

Goldilocks Private Eye offers just the right blend of personal dilemma and investigative conundrums to keep youngsters reading and engaged. The spunky, determined protagonist sets her sights on bigger goals, yet cares for her cat and is determined to survive, and this translates to a story that holds more than a private eye's processes on its radar.

Kids will find this an engrossing story featuring a realistic young heroine who ventures into the world and makes friends, forging a support system and community against all odds. Goldilocks Private Eye is vibrant, original, fun, and highly recommended.

To Hell with Johnny Manic
Andrew Diamond
Stolen Time Press
9780996350778, $14.99




John Manis holds a threatening secret close to his heart. Marilyn Dupree is rich and also dangerously challenged. It's a formula for disaster when the paths of their hearts collide in To Hell with Johnny Manic which, ironically, begins with the end of money and madness.

In order to properly understand where the narrator arrived at this point, it's important to note that this is a murder mystery; not a story of illicit love. As such, it is steeped in psychological revelation and insight: "I had a new group of best friends every night. I'd treat them to a fifteen-hundred-dollar dinner and make sure they were all charmed by the smooth, attentive, flattering, and charismatic John Manis. Everybody loved John Manis, and no one gave a damn about Tom Gantry. That bugged me too. Tom Gantry was lonely as hell, the invisible heart of a seemingly charmed life, all by himself in a world no one could see or understand. Just like Manis's old man."

This is no light whodunit, but a complex psychological piece that pits the efforts of Detective Lou Eisenfall to solve not just a crime, but the roots of a relationship that descends into madness.

With each step, Andrew Diamond cultivates an engrossingly dark vision of a protagonist whose alter ego takes over in many different ways: "This was the urgency, the compulsion that had earned me my nickname at the gambling tables. The calm, well-dressed guy who arrived with a smile was John Manis. Everybody's friend. The frantic one throwing the dice and dramatically promising the crowd he'd win this time was Johnny Manic. The real John Manis, who by now was long gone, was the guy who'd written all those addictive games that kept people glued to their phones, stacking colored jewels, running through mazes, and abusing barnyard animals. He'd sold out at age twenty-seven to a big gaming company and then posted an online manifesto denouncing the evils of the technology that had made him rich."

As Johnny cultivates a relationship with Marilyn that involves snooping into the roots of her wealth and her husband's life, a dangerous game evolves that leads readers into the heart and mind of a murderer.

Many crime stories are told from the investigator's perspective, or from the third person observations of all involved. Diamond's use of the first person offers a rare glimpse into the evolution of a killer and the dark thoughts that drive him, allowing readers access to truths that surface throughout the course of a compelling story.

At times, this first-person perspective becomes confusing. Chapter titles might have clarified these changing perspectives for readers who might wonder who is doing the story-telling.

That said, the build-up of psychological suspense and the evolution of evil is truly compelling, and a winning strength in a story that goes in unexpected directions, from affair to murder to gambling table and beyond.

Fans of Raymond Chandler and his ilk will appreciate how To Hell with Johnny Manic follows two characters into the depths of a hell created by ambition, angst, and a life battered and twisted by continual disappointments.

To Hell with Johnny Manic is very highly recommended for crime readers who like their stories introspective, brooding, and psychologically astute.

The Lesser Witness
Susan Wingate
Eye of the Needle Press/False Bay Books
9781548464905, $11.99, Paper, $2.99, ebook

The Lesser Witness opens The Eschatos Chronicles with a literal bang, as a desert is destroyed by an apocalyptic comet and events in 2025 move beyond Chile to impact the rest of the world.

It's chance or a miracle that Croy Justice is not killed, not only on the day of disaster, but in the period that follows as she finds her boat is the only refuge against the killing spree happening on land.

The Lesser Witness changes perspectives from the third person to the first and back again, and chapter headings don't clarify the identity of the observer. This may initially create some confusion, but it quickly becomes evident, over a series of ensuing chapters, that Croy is the main protagonist viewing the ruins of the world from a unique perspective.

As she moves between survival efforts and love possibilities and faces evil threats, readers receive a story that holds religious overtones from confrontations between good and evil, Biblical names such as Obadiah, and references to the value of the Bible in this strange new world. However, the main story is about survival against all odds, Croy's desperate longing for the chaos and confrontations to be over, and her observation that survival is just a "game of cat and mouse". It's one that she must learn to participate in if she's to live in a much-changed world.

The Lesser Witness is apocalyptic survival writing at its best. Through Croy's eyes, the focus is not just on the disaster that caused this ecocatastrophe, but the resulting impact on human survival and interactions. In this, Susan Wingate shines, creating a chronicle that equates belief with hope and the savagery of man with the possibilities of redemption.

The religious and psychological components may feel surprising to some, in a book replete with violent confrontations and struggle, but one of the pleasures of The Lesser Witness lies in its multifaceted examination. More so than competing apocalyptic survival stories, it includes the spiritual component to Croy's survival efforts which lends an extra dimension to the story and successfully rounds out the focus on fighting and living.

Readers seeking an apocalyptic end time tale flavored by Christian components will find The Lesser Witness a solid, engrossing story set in the not-too-distant future which pits a girl's survival and belief system against all odds.

All Man's Land
D. Laszlo Conhaim
Broken Arrow Press
9780984317516, $11.90,

A fictional tribute to renaissance man Paul Robeson, All Man's Land is a solid literary work inspired by this noted singer, activist, athlete, and more. From the Robeson model, D. Laszlo Conhaim creates the character of Benjamin Neill, a black frontier singing cowboy who rides into town to change lives and form an unlikely friendship.

The exploration of a black-Jewish relationship in frontier times would seem challenge enough, but Conhaim blends this reality-based novel with a striking consideration of the overall prejudices and sentiments of the times, injecting fictional drama and embellishments into a kind of memoir that is absorbing and enlightening on many levels.

Neill's original ride into town and confrontation in a saloon changes into something much more purposeful as he faces and fosters not only social changes, but challenges to rustic frontier culture in the form of horseless carriages, an unanticipated black pilgrimage, and even women's rights.

Neill is a spiritual man who isn't content with his place in this changing world, and who aims to be part of what changes it. As Conhaim paints a portrait of David, a young man who prompts Neill to examine his own prejudices and purposes, readers receive a solid blend of frontier conflict and the evolution of challenging relationships: "David summoned up even more courage. "Marshal," he said, "you ain't taking their side without first letting Sally explain hers?" Unable to elicit a response, he added, "That's real disappointing. Don't look to me like any of these gentlemen is worth the sacrifice of your principles. But mine's a biased eye."

One strength in Conhaim's story undoubtedly lies in its evolutionary process, because his manuscript sat forgotten for thirty years until he resurrected and revised All Man's Land for publication. Perhaps this lends to an even more powerful retrospective piece, for having aged gracefully in the years since its original incarnation.

All Man's Land returns to a world that has largely moved away from Western popular fiction and memories of Paul Robeson, but it lives on as a tribute to this powerful individual and resurrects a sense of his multifaceted talents while providing a social commentary on America's early years.

As Neill wields the Jewish Kaddish and guns alike, readers will delight in a story that is far more intellectual than the typical Western entertainment. All Man's Land weaves a powerful story of how times change, and how one man's purpose becomes an inspiring message for new generations.

Replete with powerful messages for modern times, All Man's Land drives its story with a blend of social inspection, historical precedent, and cultural insights. Readers of literary fiction will find it earns a place in any collection. It emphasizes a broader perspective than most Westerns do, as Neill becomes a crusader for social justice and racial equality in an era when both concepts are challenging and controversial.

The Law of Return
Martin Blank
Publisher: TBA
ISBN: TBA, Price: $TBA, Website/Ordering Link: TBA

The Law of Return is a stage play based on the Jonathan Jay Pollard espionage case of the 1980s, and captures a wild romp through Washington, D.C. politics and intrigue when Pollard, a United States Naval intelligence analyst, is discovered illicitly transporting classified documents to Israel, embarking on a race through D.C. to seek asylum at the Israeli embassy.

The real-life events surrounding this intrigue and these escapades might initially seem unlikely fodder for a stage play and better suited to a spy thriller, but under Martin Blank's hand, this becomes a social, political, and psychological work of stage art that deftly captures not only Pollard's actions and influences, but his times.

From where loyalties really lie to confrontations with polygraph results, revised relationships with commanders ("Commander Harris can be an S.O.B., but he has a good heart. He thinks I'm doing a great job. Keeping U.S. Navy lives safe. Which I am. At the same time, with Rafi, I'm keeping Jewish lives safe. But with Commander Harris, it feels like he's starting to think of me as the son he never had. And I'm starting to think of him..."), and Pollard's quest to outrun the FBI right into an embassy which questions his purposes, Martin Blank excels in crafting scenarios which are vivid, fast-paced, and perfect for stage production.

As Pollard comes to question his purposes and loyalties, readers receive a vivid character who seemingly achieves his higher purpose, only to realize that his perceptions and intentions might have been manipulated to lead to his betrayal of the things he really loves most in the world.

Vivid, introspective, and well defined, The Law of Return is a stage play that deserves consideration by not just Jewish theatre circles, but any production team interested in a story of how loyalty to family and self becomes divided and counterproductive.

Late-K Lunacy
Ted Bernard
Petra Books
9781927032831, $20, softcover
9781927032848, $30, hardcover w/dust jacket

2030 is a year when not just the planet but the human race teeters on the brink of disaster. A microcosm of this disaster lies in a Midwest university setting where students face a climate change-induced pandemic, political special interests, and choices that hold implications far beyond the campus.

The young characters in Late-K Lunacy are post-carbon legacies of the human race who must adapt not only to environmental disaster, but to the inheritance of a different kind of responsibility than their predecessors ever faced. At the heart of these decisions and their ongoing impact is a struggle for survival on many levels, spiced with the roar of ecological systems stretched to their max.

As events unfold, it's quickly evident that Late-K Lunacy adopts a setting, culture, and inspection that deviate from the norm in many different ways, adding a layer of intrigue stemming from wonderfully complex characterization and special interests: "From her bra, Greta pulled out a small bit of paper torn from a spiral notebook. The jagged edge, for some reason, caught my eye. Obsessively, I wished my fairy godmother would bring me scissors to straighten that edge. Greta handed over the still warm paper. Scanning it quickly, I said, "Thanks. This could really help." Then my mind melted into a chaotic mess: This can't be real. My life is boring and stupid. Am I becoming a spy? Will this get me into deep shit? How can students possibly stop anything? What about the faculty? What if I end up in jail? Kicked out of school? Should I tell Samantha? Wow, how exciting is this?"

As much as Late-K Lunacy is a tale of disaster, it's also one of hope, winding many scientific concepts into its story and allowing general-interest readers access to some important insights: "... complex systems have properties we can neither foresee nor understand simply by reducing our analysis to their individual components. We call this emergence and it is a serious headache for conventional science, acclimated as it is to reductionism. I was trained in conventional science and use it every day in my research and teaching. But blind reliance on specialized scientists, who often do not communicate across disciplines, cannot alone grapple with the world of complex systems, a world of uncertainty and infinite numbers of 'unknown unknowns'. Viewing the world as a mosaic of complex social-ecological systems enables us to think about their resilience through time and across space. Resilience is a crucially important concept to the understanding of how complex adaptive systems persist and perhaps how we humans can imagine for ourselves a humbler role."

As protests, confrontation, and the risks of Late-K become evident, environmental triggers are assessed that translate to both local efforts and broader perspectives and impacts. This juxtaposition of personal and political objectives against the backdrop of problem-solving on different levels adds a satisfying complexity to a story line which virtually romps through and skirts the edge of more than one kind of disaster story.

Cli-fi readers will thus find Late-K Lunacy poses a different kind of disaster scenario. It's one more multifaceted than most, focusing on not just disaster and survival, but entwined ecological systems both natural and human, and how they function together to create or thwart life as we know it.

Added into this mix are observations of values transmitted to future generations: "We adults had long ceased trying to explain to the children what a household in the earlier part of the century had taken for granted. Rummaging through abandoned houses for useful items, we found it futile to explicate the functions of every derelict, rusty, moldy, or cracked gadget dug out of the dust...When it came to taking things for granted in this era, what we believed to be true and what we strived to teach the children was this: the clean water flowing from the community tap (the pump connected to a seesaw assembled by Boss), the next meal on the table (and the next and next), birdsong in spring, bullfrog croaks and cougar roars on star-studded summer nights, the warmth of hearthside in mid-winter and firewood from nearby forests creating that warmth, the gifts of insects and birds who pollinated our crops and flowers..."

Late-K Lunacy comes from an author who is Ted Bernard, professor emeritus at Ohio University, and is an exquisite example of a well-balanced ecosystem unto itself. It's highly recommended for genre readers looking for something more than slightly different, which ends with the bang of a brave new world's evolution in many different ways.

Monkey Man
M.N. Snow
Vanity Pressing Books & Music
9781070719399, $4.99, e-book, $14.99 trade paperback



Climate change is all too real in this near-future story. Attempts to thwart disaster have only accelerated the problem, global cooling is now a reality, and U.S. geography has been vastly altered by flooding. Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, etcetera, are all gone - flooded out. Four individual refugees who have relocated to The Zone, one of the coldest new cities, face personal disasters against the backdrop of a broader catastrophic set of decisions.

Readers who choose Monkey Man for its "cli-fi" definition and who anticipate the standard apocalyptic setting will quickly discover that this tale is anything but predictable.

Where other cli-fi disaster novels are focused on overall revised environments, Monkey Man adds individual perspective and pursuits back into the bigger picture. Thus, there are characters intent on chasing ex-spouses and stolen money; an ex-military man battling the human relocation results of climate change; and enhanced beings who, outside of the military, make their own choices and impact the world with their special skills.

These individual concerns coalesce to connect personal struggles with broader questions, often linking atmosphere in both a physical and ethereal manner: "The early snow of the oncoming blizzard was falling steadily as Java walked up the steep sidewalks of the Central Hillside. The anger that had been all encompassing when he attacked the men at Marlene's had dissipated. It was all part of the stages of one of Java's PTSD sprees. The anger, the rage, the fever in his brain would simmer up to a boil. He would try to tamp it down with drugs and alcohol. This would delay the eventual blow-out, but not prevent it. It would add to the severity of it, by prolonging its eventuality."

M.S. Snow's ability to juxtapose personal struggle with environmental and political observations is part of what gives Monkey Man such a poignant and powerful overtone: "Dolores got a sense of the grand scope of The Zone by looking out that window. With the worst of the storm over, a fleet of 1,000-footers were waiting, deep out away from the choked ice of the harbor. They were anchored in ice-free "lakes" that were formed by having their own set of underwater bubblers and tugs to keep the areas around their hulls ice free. She could see the many ice-trails that led to countless docks lining both sides of the harbor. Each with its own lake boat tied up and in the process of loading or unloading. Coal, grain, taconite, cement, sand, cargo, and countless other bulk and container-ed products came and went through the port of The Zone. From this height she could see the many, zippered rail lines that led into various rail yards and out to each dock. So much in such a compacted area. No wonder The Zone was number three and growing. No wonder they could "shit less," she thought using their own vulgar language, about other cities. They had their own fish to fry aplenty."

The result is cli-fi on steroids: a survey that takes a popular genre, adds in the drama of four disparate characters' revised lives, and pits them against physical and psychic storms set to further change their worlds.

It's a story that will appeal to readers of cli-fi, newcomers who like engrossing novels about change and social issues, and general-interest fiction readers who simply enjoy rollicking good reads set against the ruins of a pivot point in human history.

The Ransom
Nancy Boyarsky
Light Messages
9781611533170, $15.99, Paperback
9781611533187, $7.99, ebook

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The Ransom is the fourth book in the Nicole Graves mystery series and tells of a new PI who expected her first professional case to revolve around legal work for corporate clients. Everything changes when the son of her client is killed trying to protect his wife from a home invasion/kidnapping.

Soon someone dear to Nicole is taken, and a ransom demand arrives for the exact amount of her recent inheritance. The perps seem to know her every move.

As she investigates prior crimes and adds insight into her own situation, the case she's working for her firm and researches her own dilemma, Nicole uncovers more than she'd bargained for in unlikely places - a derelict cabin in one of L.A.'s canyons, an abandoned mansion on Mulholland Drive, and creepy old courtyard apartments in Hollywood. The mystery includes descriptive passages that add to the suspense: "She realized it would be easy to break the web apart with her flashlight, but she hesitated. From her study of spiders, she knew that the brown recluse, the country's most venomous arachnid, was a Southern California native that hung out in dark basements. There was good reason to think that the creator of this giant web might well be a brown recluse. She wasn't going to touch the web unless she could figure out a way protect herself from a spider bite. Stepping back, she used the flashlight to see what else was under there."

This is just one example of how Nancy Boyarsky crafts an atmospheric series of encounters that not only lead to discoveries, but adeptly capture a sense of place and purpose. Nicole's dogged ability to get to the bottom of matters, even if the route lies through either physically and psychologically challenging circumstances, creates a tense, satisfying thriller atmosphere.

When the kidnappers fail to show up at the first drops as instructed, she faces quandaries in trying to figure out how they could have known about the traps set for them. Have they tapped her covert communications with the police, or hacked into her bank account?

When a terrifying threat arrives at her door, Nicole realizes she has to go it alone, no matter what the danger.

The Ransom winds through not only a crime story, but the protagonist's psychological makeup and ability to remain savvy and sly against all odds. The book is told from two viewpoint characters, Nicole and her sister, Stephanie, and this adds an extra dimension to the explorations and mystery.

Another notable pleasure for newcomers is that this book stands nicely alone without relying on other titles in the series, yet is a fitting expansion of Nicole's character and challenges to her new profession, for prior fans.

All this makes The Ransom a highly recommended choice for mystery readers seeking not just sleuthing stories, but psychological depth and insights. It's a superb compendium of atmospheric encounters that make for an engrossing, moving story cemented by strong characterization and a plot designed to keep even seasoned mystery readers on their toes.

Piper Robbin and the American Oz Maker
Warwick Gleeson
Del Sol Press
9780999842546, $11.99, Paper, $2.99, Kindle

Piper Robbin and the American Oz Maker is an intriguing blend of fantasy and sci-fi loosely based on the Wizard of Oz original, but moves far from these roots into the territory of apocalyptic fantasy and speculative fiction.

Piper Robbin is the ancient daughter of the Earth's greatest sorcerer inventor, Edison Godfellow, and faces a dangerous magical alien entity's attempts to destroy the human race with "The Witch Queen of Oz".

The seven Oz-like city worlds designed to protect everyone from this alien force are failing, and Piper is charged with protecting the human race as she struggles with a legacy handed down through generations.

The first thing to note is Warwick Gleeson's voice: it's simply exquisite. It's at once ribald, penetrating, gritty and original, bringing Piper's story to life right from the start: "People think just because you're a great magical being of some kind you have it easy. Nothing could be more wrong. Your hopes and dreams are often spit on, your happiness ruined, your friends killed, and you lose sleep at night worrying about shit just like everyone else. And besides obligations you really don't want, you face mega-dangerous freaks way too often because you're expected to, you know, cause you're the official bad ass. By the Brooklyn gods! Really? You crawl in pain and heave up your insides for starters, die in lots of ways, and after all that trouble, sometimes you don't come back."

From the War for Utopia to atmospheric descriptions of Piper's favorite restaurant in this Oz-enhanced world ("The air smelled of orange blossoms, breezy and cool, and on either side, diners found themselves enthralled by massive eternal views of the New Manhattan Oz looking like the best of any tall-spired, blazingly lit, dusk-hued science fiction super city that Piper had ever seen in a movie or on a book cover - not to mention the streams of flying cars. Zero-grav fountains levitated shimmering water in huge arcs over the heads of patrons; and a huge tele-glass set in a far wall allowed them to view sweeping vistas of the Martian canyon, Valles Marineris, at twilight."), readers seeking truly original fantasy writings which excel in unique descriptions, characters, and a sense of futuristic place will find this story far more enlightening and lovely than most.

As Piper joins the refugees from the "Martian Oz nightmare", everything changes in her world. Some things will never be the same.

One of them is the reader, who may initially wonder at this strange blend of Oz-based legend and fantasy and alien invasion story; but the surprise here is how easily this takes place under Warwick Gleeson's hand, and how compelling is the blend of military operations and Piper's personal mission "Still thundering as they fell, Piper's western assault wave utilized their wings to perform a massive swooping maneuver, veering to an arc that flattened out above the San Bernardino suburbs. She ordered half her units to dive to 500 feet, the other half to 100 feet. The top half layered itself into three firing lines, one atop the other, and chose targets ten to twenty miles ahead. Once done, a moving wall of hellish sound and shell softened the streets and strip malls while the lower half of the wave followed up like a slashing tsunami. Unknown to everyone else though, including her father, Piper was also on a mercy mission. If possible, I'm going to find and save Murray's sister and family. I got the unlucky bastard killed for no good reason. I owe it to him."

Piper Robbin and the American Oz Maker lives up to the ideal of a refreshingly unique fantasy that incorporates many Oz legends and elements, yet takes them a step further into futuristic encounters and survival struggles.

Readers who are more than lightly familiar with the Oz literature and who love fantasy, alien encounters, and stories of powerful female leaders and military might will find Piper Robbin and the American Oz Maker a gripping, absorbing read that's hard to put down, packed with imaginative, unexpected twists and turns.

Run Away, Lizzy
Elizabeth J. Sparrow
The Waxing Gibbous Press
B07S93V9NV, $0.99


E.J. is used to running into and out of trouble. An encounter with a familiar-looking, older boy at one of her father's Hollywood parties when she is only ten becomes a portent for her future connections with Reilly Donner as well as her own involvement in Hollywood drama which, somehow, is the one thing she can't easily escape.

As Run Away, Lizzy moves from a childhood encounter with Reilly to a more serious conundrum years later, Elizabeth J. Sparrow paints an engrossing portrait of an unlikely relationship between a flamboyant cowboy star and a young girl on the cusp of adulthood: "He stared at the several bulging pockets as well as the scruffy red cowboy boots and the Paul Bunyan sized flannel shirt over the hint of a thermal undershirt. But his discerning eye also saw a luxuriant pile of dark auburn curls, doe eyes, an un-California pallor, and most enticing of all, a rosy cherub mouth. She was too young for him but so adorably addled, he couldn't resist teasing her. "What do you call this look? Retro hippie ragamuffin or the farmer in the dell's scarecrow waif?" He wanted to take her by the hand and run to Neiman Marcus for an urgent makeover. She scowled and sprinted away."

Spiced with the background of film shoots, flirting, romance, breaking points, and a circus parade of stars and quandaries, Run Away, Lizzy is a study in ambition and love that keeps making unexpected turns as Lizzy and Reilly skirt the edges of a relationship and Lizzy is confronted by Reilly over the elusive, tidal dance she's created in their lives.

Whether it's a film studio or a ranch setting, Elizabeth J. Sparrow is adept at not just portraying interpersonal evolution, but the background atmosphere and scenes that bring the story to life: "Reilly flitted from the kitchen to the dining room, proud of his most recent production. He wore one of Ana's flower print aprons over his bare chest and jeans. "Lizzy, come and get it," he shouted from the hallway, then dashed back to the kitchen for her hot chocolate. She entered the room at a zombie's crawl and blinked at all there was to take in. A fragrant heap of lilacs spilled from Ana's favorite mixing bowl. The damask cloth from the night before had been brushed clean of crumbs, and a single place setting was laid with two of everything but just one plate."

As the child becomes an adult and flirting evolves into romance, Run Away, Lizzy takes a few unexpected turns, but primarily returns to a soft romance that follows a girl prone to running who cannot, this time, escape her dreams.

Romance fans will find Run Away, Lizzy a light-hearted romp through a heart that evolves from child to adult, connecting two different individuals who find their purposes in life coalesce through shared honesty in an evolving, unusual relationship.

The Wild Gypsy of Arbor Hill
Harvey Havel
Independently Published
9780578496733, $10.00


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The Wild Gypsy of Arbor Hill is a novella that follows a college student whose family has inherited enough wealth to make life relatively carefree. Unfortunately, Charlie is also an alcoholic with bad grades just coming into enough maturity to attract the ladies. This novella follows his forays into both romance and financial destitution as he makes poor choices and finds himself on a downward spiral.

How do individuals come to fall from privileged positions to the depths of degradation? How can Charlie return to a place of wealth both monetarily and psychologically, when love has played him for a fool and begins to threaten his life?

Ambition, poverty and wealth, keys to learning how (and when) to love and let go, and how to gain life lessons outside of set routines and avenues of success keep Charlie and readers thinking: "...for my second visit to New Hampshire, my Dad brought up the topic of my new survivor's life, and I would have to keep on pushing the money issue that entire weekend until he agreed to let me into to his high-class wallet. I could easily tell that he wanted me to return to Hartford. I didn't want to, though. There were no degrees for what I had learned thus far anywhere in the Ivory Tower."

When Charlie feels stuck by his choices and newfound poverty, his life changes yet again.

Harvey Havel does a fine job of painting a picture of a life transformed by experiences outside of privileged circles. Charlie needs to prove to his family that he's found more than one kind of growth pattern and wealth outside of the college trajectory, and his efforts to handle both his own desires and the expectations of his parents make for a fine journey into a sordid world that promises Charlie a different life.

As questions of what he can get away with and what he can't have in life bubble to the surface, readers are treated to a fine coming-of-age saga featuring a candid, determined young man whose possibilities include coming full circle and returning to what he's rejected - albeit with a revised perspective.

Growth, maturity, and love are all chronicled in a novella that is striking for its ability to portray a young man's cloudy ambitions and the events that change him. Fiction readers who enjoy solid coming-of-age stories featuring new adult protagonists will relish Charlie's evolution and his revelations about how to pursue the rest of his life, and how to look back at his choices with newfound, mature perspective.

The Day I Died
Aya Knight
Black Forge
9781938083372, $2.99,

The Day I Died is a riveting teen dystopian sci-fi story about Oshin Fletcher, who defies an order to leave the safety of the city, only to find she's become a member of the undead society, wracked by disease and decay.

More so than most stories, Aya Knight's focus on the process of becoming one of the undead is especially engrossing: "It wasn't easy adapting to my flesh, rotting upon my face. The sun wrapped its fiery heat around me, radiating with an intensity that felt like a cremation chamber. I needed to seek refuge from its blistering rays. Despite the warmth that surrounded me, I didn't break a sweat. My body was changing into something monstrous."

Oshin confronts both her own concepts and judgments surrounding the contaminated, but changes to her own body, psyche, and lifestyle lead her to enter a realm formerly presented only in nightmares, there to become privy to dark secrets she'd never dreamed of.

In many ways, The Day I Died is a typical story of zombie transformation; but having a first-person perspective wound into a dystopian theme adds extra dimensions to the tale as Oshin considers many new possibilities that emerge from unexpected friendships: "Sudden dizziness spiraled in my head. A wave of pure dread, something screaming within me to listen. A feeling you get when your subconscious is trying to warn you - the sense you generally want to pay attention to. I'd had it before, and now again. It was the sort of intuition I always disregard and later regret. My instinct told me to turn around, to find a way back to the quaint little house I'd first met Bastion and Lace in. I could live out my remaining days there in peace."

Never could she have imagined what is to come - and, neither will the reader. But Oshin is a fighter, and what emerges from revelations and riots is a newfound awareness that will change not only her body and mind, but the world around her.

Aya Knight writes with a powerfully evocative hand that brings to life Oshin's very different world and perspective. Everyone around her has had to adapt in order to survive. Now she stands on the cusp of the great adaptation of all.

Absorbing, revealing, and at once familiar in theme, yet original in its rendition, Oshin's story of transformation is the item of choice for young adult fans of dystopian settings who also hold a fascination for zombies and strong heroines intent on uncovering long-buried truths about family, society, and friendship connections.

I Am Powerful
Amy F Pilato
Sephyrus Press
9781948728003, $9.99, Paperback
9781948728010, $4.99, Ebook

I Am Powerful is a children's picture book penned by a Yogini mother who provides a gentle dialogue between a child who asks pointed questions and a wise mother who doesn't just produce pat answers, but invites their child to contemplate her own strength and provide her own insights.

A typical simple question thus turns into a set of philosophical, psychological and spiritual reflections, as in this (abbreviated) example: "Mommy, will I ever float like a cloud in the sky?

You may not be able to float in the sky,
but you are as playful and carefree
as the clouds that go by."

Beautiful nature paintings link the parent's insights to a child's realization of various types of power already within, creating an evocative and ethereal read that mothers can use to not just interact with a child, but build a better awareness of self and strengths.

Any parent seeking ways of using higher-level thinking as an early learning tool will find I Am Powerful offers just the right blend of call-and-response and introspective advice to help adults and children engage on a more meaningful level. It's a highly recommended pick for parents who want to encourage young children in such discussions and thought processes.

Finding Beauty
Patrick Lindsay
Bright & Happy Books
9781950355006, $14.95

Finding Beauty: 170 Ways to Look on the Bright Side presents a mindful way of looking at life, blending spiritual components into psychological inspection and routines to help readers get a handle on the definition of and ways of perceiving and enjoying beauty in daily living.

One might anticipate a complex or complicated set of admonitions, given this subject matter, but Patrick Lindsay provides easy access through a style that offers simple, one-liner ways of perceiving beauty and equally easy explanations of why and how beauty's focus can be found in each element in nature.

For example: one way of finding beauty is in a "...summer's warm breath. Feel the warming energy of the summer breeze, with its promise of better days. Inhale the optimistic air and the changes it foreshadows. Enjoy the sights and sounds of renewal and the kindling of another year. Imagine the joys it will bring."

These reflections are accompanied by quotes from poets and writers to further emphasize the possibilities in each route for locating and enjoying beauty.

While visual embellishment might have been expected as reinforcing examples of such beauty, these written words prove this is not a requirement, allowing readers undistracted attention to envisioning various elements of beauty for themselves.

Finding Beauty is highly recommended reading for anyone looking to uplift heart and mind. It provides a warm series of reflections perfect for cultivating mindfulness, combating depression, and identifying wellsprings of splendor in the world.

A Matter of Faith
Chuks I. Ndukwe
9780999070574, $9.99, Paperback
9780999070581, $2.99, Ebook

A Matter of Faith: How Faith Saved Me From Homelessness is a faith-based memoir that explores how religion proved the ultimate salvation not just for Chuks I. Ndukwe's soul, but for his life, as well, as he careened through twists and turns to uncover his ultimate destiny.

He survived the Nigerian-Biafra war; but emotional scars remained, and he was simply living for the moment without regard to ultimate purpose, anxious to begin his new married life in the United States, studying computer science.

He was on the fast track to success until the stock market crashed and layoffs forced him into dire circumstances in which he lost his life savings, his wife and kids, and everything he'd worked for.

It should be noted that the process of redefining his faith-based life is nicely wound into the general autobiography. Many details are provided about his life and its progression. This focus on Ndukwe's course is a reminder that A Matter of Faith is about how the author reconnected with his overall purpose: of necessity, autobiographical depth is a part of exploring this journey.

Readers who like autobiographical pieces that traverse personal, business, and religious growth alike will appreciate the focus of Ndukwe's story, about reconnecting with God in a different way.

Hotel Insomnia: Stories
Alaric Cabiling
Alaric Cabiling Ltd.
B07RYD68SG, $0.99

Think Alfred Hitchcock and some of his best collections, such as Stories Not for the Nervous, when pursuing Hotel Insomnia: Stories, because the combination of dark observation and intrigue in Alaric Cabiling's five tales is much like Hitchcock's award-winning style, which is a difficult one to emulate.

Hotel Insomnia excels in stories that invite readers to redefine their perceptions of life's inherent tragedy and cruelty, creating scenes that feel familiar at first, only to evolve into circumstances which move a step beyond the norm.

Take the opener, 'The Iconoclast', for one example. Alfred, who has spent a lifetime pursuing happiness, has, in the end, ended his life in a dingy room with a bottle of whiskey and a gun. How he arrived at that dark place is explored in a short story that explains how he might have led a secret life.

How has an affair, a charge of treason, and an error in judgment led to this outcome? The short story's surprising conclusion offers much food for thought.

Similarly well-done is 'Sudden Death', which follows broken-hearted Jacob's walk into danger when he takes a wrong turn and confronts unexpected loss.

Each story is succinct, hard-hitting, and reflective.

Readers who enjoy stories of psychological suspense will find the engrossing stories in Hotel Insomnia linger in the mind long after the initial read.

Kiss Me, Swami
Kathalynn Turner Davis with Genevieve Joy
Silver Falcon Press
9781733840705, $18.00, paperback
9781733840712, $8.99, ebook

Kiss Me, Swami: The Spiritual Education of a Beauty Queen is a motivational self-help memoir highly recommended for anyone involved in spiritual growth, and focuses on a former beauty queen turned acclaimed actress who eventually went back to school for her social worker's degree and embarked on a very different venture in her life.

Kathalynn Turner Davis once made 'wishes on the stars' and dreamed of fame and fortune. Her heart's desires were granted, but the later quest she undertook for spiritual and psychological growth moved her far from her Christian upbringing as she became attracted to "...the bliss and simplicity of Eastern philosophies."

Davis never intended to sojourn to India, much less live in an ashram and encounter a memorable swami. But her spiritual enlightenment transformed her heart's desires and changed her life approach as well as her goals, and this process is nicely detailed in a memoir that traverses not just her own growth, but the process of confronting the unexpected in life as she slowly moved from a focus on relationships to finding higher ground.

Readers might expect a story of India and these ashram years, but Kiss Me, Swami's concentration on evolving spiritual reflections and awareness is what sets it apart from similar-sounding books, capturing moments of insight and growth: "Some people believe that spiritual work will protect them against hard times and challenges. Others believe that challenges are a test for your spiritual growth. I don't think that the universe tests. With every challenge there is an opportunity for growth. Spiritual work does not guarantee that your life will be smooth and without challenges, and it doesn't stop the process. Sometimes bad things happen. Being on a spiritual path gives you tools to help you cope with and even overcome what comes your way."

Her immersion in the culture of the 1960s and 70s in Hollywood to New York City also adds some intriguing insights into the times from an insider's perspective.

The revelations Davis reveals about the presence of a magical swami or all-encompassing truth power a memoir that is both steeped in her life experience and a spiritual journey that eventually comes full circle. Readers on their own quests for meaning will find her experiences enlightening, accessible, and educational.

Don't Drink the Pink
B.C.R. Fegan
TaleBlade Press
9781925810080, $15.99, Hardcover
9781925810097, $8.99, Paperback
9781925810103, $4.99, Kindle
9781925810110, $4.99, ePub

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Don't Drink the Pink is illustrated by Lenny Wen and provides a fun children's picture book for ages 3-8 as it tells, in rollicking rhyme, of an inventor grandfather whose box of magic potions causes yearly trouble for a young birthday girl.

As the young narrator experiences fun transformations, always being warned not to drink the pink potion, readers receive a hilarious and imaginative story that follows the child's yearly adventures as she gains superpowers, transforms into magical creatures, and enjoys the fruits of her grandfather's inventive abilities.

When the inevitable day arrives, Madeline discovers the truth behind her wise grandfather's yearly admonition.

Combine a simple counting lesson with a rollicking rhyme about magic and a lesson about loss and you have a powerful, original, compelling story that parents will want to use in various capacities to educate their young charges about life's progression and possibilities.

Very, very highly recommended, Don't Drink the Pink excels in both illustrative quality and several underlying messages about life and learning.

Moments in the Mountains
Joe Mussomeli
Luminare Press
9781643881706, $11.95

Moments in the Mountains: A Story About the Grand Hotel of Sofar is inspired by true events in the Lebanese village of Sofar, and tells an unusual story from the perspective of a luxurious vintage hotel that forms a friendship with a young boy.

Tom Young provides the lovely full-page color paintings of the hotel and its evolution as author Joe Mussomeli documents the hotel's changes and a boy's maturity from an observer to a guest.

It's hard to easily peg the age group of this 22-page historical fiction picture book. Good reading skills and the maturity to accept the history and premises are certainly required, but while the book's appearance and fine drawings would seem to indicate an elementary-grade audience, the way it is presented, its basis in historical fact, and its detailed reflections of Lebanese culture and village life and the social changes experienced by village and hotel alike would make it of interest to a much older audience.

In addition, Mussomeli's ability to craft a unique perspective, voice, and atmosphere are sterling examples of how a book that appears to be limited in scope actually holds information, lessons, and approaches that considerably expand its initial audience. This passage from Moments in the Mountains is just one of the ethereal descriptions that illustrates this reach: "People that remained began to uproot themselves from my village. One by one they all left. Day by day the village grew lonelier. Soon, almost everyone was gone. Even the man who would always come back, who I would share a nights' sky with, had to go. The people that remained grew hateful and bitter. They carried guns instead of books, and at night, they told their children to be safe instead of telling them bedtime stories. Sofar had changed. Everything had changed."

Evocative, metaphorical, historical, and culturally revealing, Moments in the Mountains is one of those rare books that holds great value beyond a singular audience. As an additional eye-opening note, it comes from a high school student in Connecticut who visits his grandmother in Lebanon and is well familiar with both the real Grand Hotel and the village of Sofar. He pairs his effort with an established artist from Britain who lives in Beirut, who was inspired by the architecture of heritage sites in Lebanon to contribute paintings for this book, many of which were exhibited at Young's Grand Sofar Hotel itself, in 2018.

Moments in the Mountains is a gem in a sea of publications, a true standout, and is very, very highly recommended. It would be a shame to perceive this book as a 'children's book' alone, because adult audiences will gain much from its lovely presentation.

Get Your Life Together, Girl
Danielle A. Vann
Publisher: TBA
ISBN: TBA, Price: TBA, Website/Ordering Link: TBA

It's rare that a motivational book affords such insights that the reader thinks, "I wish I'd had this book growing up: it's guidance would have saved a lot of time and trouble." But Get Your Life Together, Girl: Imperfect Life Lessons from the Storyteller is such a read. It excels in outlining the exact fallacies and truths about everyday living, including the paths that inadvertently cause people to give up their inner strength and wisdom, charting clear lessons learned from life events with an attention to detail not seen in other motivational writings.

Take, for example, the chapter on 'Breaking the Myth of Fear'. Danielle A. Vann maintains that there is always a choice when confronting adversity, and reinforces this admonition with examples from her own life: "Years ago, I had to make a choice; let fear remain by giving it permission to survive or embrace my circumstances, but not be my circumstances. You already know this to be a solid truth, but it's worthy of a reminder, you are not always in control. Read that again. Here, let me help you. YOU ARE NOT ALWAYS IN CONTROL of the circumstances, but you are always in control of your response. Life is going to throw some tremendous troubles in your direction. Let it! Everything presented to you and in front of you is either an opportunity or an obstacle. Whose choice is it as to how your most significant moments show up and work within your life? That's right, it's yours. When you chose opportunity over the obstacle, it's called living in growth. Buying into the obstacle is called fear. The actual definition of fear is to have a respectful awe of something. Think about that. Buying into fear means to have a healthy respect for failure. It's a healthy respect for pain."

Each chapter concludes with an outline of 'Truths Learned Along the Way', while each section builds on concepts to craft a blueprint of actionable choices that readers can use to revise their thought processes and empower their lives.

Seldom is the fine line between autobiographical experience, philosophy, psychology, and motivational life lessons so well done as to provide a balanced mix. Too many motivational books dwell on one area or another, resulting in murky connections or too much focus on a given angle of the empowerment process.

Danielle Vann's book provides a perfect balance between insights, truths, and 'how to' admonitions, tempering these with just the right amount of examples from her own life and growth to help readers understand not only their own paths to freedom and better attitudes, but how these may be achieved.

If only one motivational book were chosen for years of growth and study, it should be Get Your Life Together, Girl: Imperfect Life Lessons from the Storyteller. It weaves an educational, compelling story with life truths that were hard-earned by the author - but the path will be easier for readers because someone has already done the hardest work of all: synthesizing these life experiences into a formula for success.

Spiral Into Darkness
Joseph Lewis
Black Rose Writing
9781684332090, $21.81, Paper, $6.99 Kindle

There's a murderer on the loose: one with a special brand of pathological killing, which occurs seemingly at random. The killer? A determined, intelligent, methodical citizen who blends perfectly into society: the very opposite picture of a killer - and that is what makes him so deadly and effective.

There are no clues as to his identity, and no insights on who will be his next victim. Chapters open with profiles of his previous victims. Vincent O'Laughlin is the youngest partner in a law firm and has dreams of making a name for himself in New York, when he's mowed down. Shirley Bodencamp is a school principal who loves her job and wants to be the best wife and middle-school principal she can be. She is murdered point-blank by a perp who delivers the same message before he kills: that she should "never have done it." 'It' remains undefined for each victim, and is the last message they'll hear.

Jamie Graff is up for promotion to a position he doesn't really want: Chief of Detectives. It comes with politics, paperwork, and approaches that he fears will hinder his top-notch investigative skills, and it also comes as a new serial killer emerges on the scene which demands every ounce of resources and savvy he can muster.

Joseph Lewis excels in building more than just a 'whodunnit' mystery. His is a novel of psychological suspense that weaves a 'cat-and-mouse' game into the equation of dealing with a killer who is much cleverer than anyone he's run up against in his career as a detective.

Readers receive changing but clear perspectives from both sides of the table as investigator and perp dance around each other in an increasingly dangerous interplay. It's a dance where playing it safe does not pay off; one which comes to involve some unexpected targets in the form of children; and one in which Jamie's career and possibly his life is on the line.

Tension builds in an excellent, methodical manner as Lewis creates a scenario that rests firmly on not just the actions of all involved, but their psychological foundations. It should be noted that Spiral Into Darkness includes sex between males along with some unexpected twists that detective story readers may not see coming. All these developments are tastefully presented, and integral to the evolving bigger picture.

The result is a powerfully written work of psychological fiction that is highly recommended not just for mystery and police procedural readers, but for those who appreciate literary works well grounded in strong characters, plot development, and emotional tension.

Great buildup, great insights, great reading!

The Healer's Daughters
Jay Amberg
Amika Press
9781937484699, $16.95,

The Healer's Daughters is a thriller set in Turkey, where archaeologist Ozlem Boroglu and her daughter Elif face not just archaeological discoveries, but the pressing influence of political forces with vested interests in the outcome of their work.

As terrorists and corrupt officials influence their actions and threaten their lives, Ozlem finds herself more than the protector of healer Galen's ruins. She becomes the pawn in a larger game that threatens her entire family.

Added into the mix of intrigue and confrontation are historical flashbacks to Galen's time, Elif's own pursuit of art that reflects her worship of the Goddess, and an investigation into grave robberies by Tugce Iskan, who is also moving closer to a truth that holds much wider consequences than local trouble.

The Healer's Daughters is replete with insights on Turkish culture. The characters all have Turkish roots and identities that may initially stymie Westerners unused to these names, but which lend to the authenticity of the background and events being described.

The process of archaeological investigations that lead to a treasure hunt is nicely described ("Galen's reference to the scent of pine led Boroglu out of the Kaikos Valley into the hills rising to Kapikaya, and poor little Mehmet's possession of the Hadrian Aureus confirmed that she is on the right track. And now, she has these two specific sites. She even gave Serkan the detailed geological map of the valley around Pergamon that she had painstakingly made. Let the Hamits dither around on their extensive land holdings in the valley. They, especially Mustafa, the overeducated, pompous son, have no real understanding of archeology and no chance of finding Galen's treasure on their own.") and tension builds on many levels, creating a complex, believable, and logically arranged sequence of events that keep readers on their toes.

With its powerful blend of Turkish cultural explorations, international intrigue, a treasure hunt, historical references, and characters who hold their own special interests close to their hearts, The Healer's Daughters is an exceptional thriller that proves hard to put down.

Evening in the Yellow Wood
Laura Kemp
Pandamoon Publishing
9781945502989, $16.95 Paper, $4.99, Kindle

Justine Cook's father was Zen, hip, and cool. Cool enough to counter a more conservative, uptight mother. Cool enough to abandon his family when she was twelve years old, leaving behind only a note to confirm his deliberate actions: "I can't tell you why I had to leave or if I'll ever be able to come back."

Evening in the Yellow Wood opens with the mystery of his departure, but continues to explore the impact of this event on Justine's life ten years later, when she stumbles upon his picture in a newspaper and embarks on a journey away from her home in Southern Michigan to the small town of Lantern Creek.

Finding her father - or herself - is not the end of the story, as Justine searches for the magic that suddenly left her life, only to find, instead, very different dilemmas that go far beyond the reunion and answers she'd envisioned for ten years.

At twenty-two years of age, she must confront many things, including her choice to stop believing in magic and the new evidence she uncovers that magic might really exist (albeit in a form she'd never imagined), and that her own family is involved in something powerful and threatening.

One doesn't expect the search for a possible serial killer to emerge from what at first seems a typical teenage story of family breakup, but one of the pleasures of Evening in the Yellow Wood lies in its ability to interest new adults in themes which demand maturity and adult perceptions.

Justine's evolving life as a new adult in search of truths about her father and, ultimately, her heritage and legacy creates an engrossing, involving story. Characters are well done, the transition from childhood perceptions to adult interests is nicely presented, and the story line offers unexpected changes that are both logical and engrossing.

In addition, Laura Kemp closes many of her first-person chapters with a cliffhanger moment designed to keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Evening in the Yellow Wood is an excellent title recommended for new adults, who will find the story much more than another focus on abandonment and family issues.

Revenge Served Cold
Bob Ford
Mirador Publishing
9781912601936, $13.99, Paper, $4.99, Kindle

Readers of romantic thrillers will find Revenge Served Cold a hotbed of passion and murder revolving around Andrea, who has loved two men for most of her life. Her pursuits of both have involved them in a triad that leads to marriage, divorce, remarriage, and the two men becoming both friends and enemies in pursuit of the same goal.

Years of entanglements and uncertainty lead to deadly games that are increasingly desperate, conducted on all sides with a mesmerizing horror overtone that evolves from untoward actions and unexpected results.

An excerpt from the soon-to-be-murdered Andrea opens the story with just enough intrigue to keep readers engaged ("I remember the look of utter disbelief on my fiance's face when he realized he'd been tossed, fully clothed, into the swimming pool. And I recall thinking, as Max and Robby picked me up and carried me off bodily to their car, that I should at least appear to be outraged, to scream in anger and make it look as though I were trying to break free. But I did nothing; partly because I was totally mesmerized, even flattered, by the sheer audacity of what they had done, partly because I was very young with little sense of propriety, and partly because I loved them both."), but the meat of the tale is narrated using shifting perspectives between the three lovers and those who are investigating events that stem from their strange relationship.

These changing perspectives, clearly delineated by chapter headings, offer multifaceted observations that a more singular narrative style could not have achieved, contributing complexity and depth to a story line that slowly reveals the logic, romances, psychological entanglements, and different perspectives of all involved.

By now it should be evident that Revenge Served Cold is not your usual romance or murder mystery, but a delightful romp through psyches and motivations. It adds unexpected dashes of humor into conversations and revelations and considers the consequences of thwarted love and a focus on evening the score and playing field.

Revenge Served Cold is highly recommended reading for thriller and romantic suspense audiences who will find its special blend of humor, psychology, and intrigue just the ticket for a warm read on a cold night.

Break: Poems on Mental Illness
Adam Levon Brown
Poetic Justice Books & Arts
9781950433032, $12.00

Adam Levon Brown's Break: Poems on Mental Illness charts the process of a descent into mental illness, from family roots and interactions to the legacy of pain and betrayal turned inward. Each poem is a delicate dance around this heritage, offering momentary flashes of insight and pain that reflect mental states of mind in both health and illness, and each captures poignant emotional changes, as in the introductory poem 'Saltwater': "The worst saltwater/comes from those who say/they love you, because the pure water/you're expecting, always/turns to whips of sand, laceration/becomes your heart...".

As the collection progresses, readers receive not just an account of mental strife, but family connections and revelations, as represented in a poem to his mother: "I see you within St. Francis' ghost,/your frail legs carrying/the weight of men/I lean into your gentle arms, to hug you, whispering/about the day Dad left us/I notice your shoulders/have disintegrated/mountains with their waters/of soothing voice..."

Each piece speaks of the fragility of emotions, relationships, life influences, and states of mind. Each poem provides a piece to a puzzle, juxtaposed with each other to support a bigger picture.

As the collection progresses, it surveys the stigma of mental illness, the experience of being an inpatient, and the realities of a type of depression that progresses beyond familiar everyday experience with a relentlessly crippling vengeance: "The iceberg consumed with a hailstorm/upon its head known as depression/is only scratching its own surface..."

Social observation is wound into these evolving chronicles and completes the full-circle portrait of a breakdown so clearly described that anyone coping with mental illness in self or family will clearly recognize the feelings, rationales, and social and family patterns.

Break is recommended not only for poetry and literary collections, but as a reflective piece for mental patients and their families. (Caution: it's insightful, thought-provoking, and always hard-hitting.)

Laila and the Sands of Time
Shirin Shamsi
Clear Fork Publishing
9781946101778, $12.99

Laila and the Sands of Time tells of thirteen-year-old Laila, grieving over her father's death, who goes on a family pilgrimage with her aunt and uncle, where she's transported in time to 7th century Arabia.

In some ways, it's the typical time-travel narrative: once there, Laila is tasked with finding an uncertain path back to her own time even as she becomes immersed in matters intrinsic to that period's concerns (desert life, danger, and saving others around her).

In other ways, Laila and the Sands of Time serves up a more multifaceted story in that she's struggling with her father's death, the legacy of a step-family, and insights about Islam, Mecca, and the cycle of life and death that has already changed her world.

The spiritual and philosophical components are an added bonus that elevate Laila's story above other timeslip reads that focus on adventure alone. As she encounters desert robbers, travelers who come to value her contributions to their nomadic lives, and the consequences of a deception she was forced to make for the sake of saving lives, middle grade readers receive a tale injected with much insight ("...we can't be the same when everything has changed...").

Laila and the Sands of Time is a powerful account that goes beyond entertainment and time travel to reveal insights into Islam, desert peoples, and the broader ramifications of a young girl's personal struggles with loss, death, and life.

It should be in any middle grade collection or reading list where timeslip novels are top picks.

Milk and Honey Land
J.M. Huxley
Author Academy Elite
9781640856479, $15.99, Paperback
9781640856486, $26.99, Hardcover
9781640856493, $9.99, Ebook

Milk and Honey Land: A Story of Grief, Grace, and Goats opens with a crash: the reflections of a narrator who observes that: "When planes drop from the sky, they head straight for me. I think them premonitions. Souvenirs even."

As J.M. Huxley's story moves into spiritual realms, readers receive a combination of autobiography and reflection on life's purpose that winds through puzzling life encounters, joyful moments, revelations, and friendship and adversity alike.

The first strength to note about Milk and Honey Land is its candid approach to events of the past, which broach subjects even Huxley's siblings refused to discuss decades later: "It will be nearly thirty years before I look at the photos I've taken of the inside of my father's house. It will be nearly thirty years before I talk about what happened there. And when I begin to write then, I will initially leave all of this out of my own story, the one I will write for my children. Until God reminds me to include it, and even then, it won't be something I will want to do."

The second standout is the most obvious: a spiritual, reflective thread that runs through the stories and Huxley's life, connecting them in ways that draw life lessons from events to teach readers about values, changing ways, and the consequences of individual decisions and social trends: "As I load everyone back into the van for the ride home, I'm thinking about the variety of people who have recognized the grit and determination of the past enough to validate it in the present. A generation that includes an elderly woman willing to operate a museum out of her home, and more who cared enough about their history to share what comprises the contents of the rustic collection we'd seen. Few people care anymore, either for their history or how it affects their future. Few realize, it seems, that the past can be sustenance in the present too. That what is done here on planet earth matters for all time."

Huxley's ability to connect the dots between reflections on life and concurrent spiritual milestones is cemented and equaled only by her ability to craft captivating portraits of these transitional moments: "And with every passing moment, every receding day, more and more of my heart is lost to this Promised Land that has captivated me, this place that has caused me to think and see and feel differently, this slice of earth where angels are called and the Spirit of God rests. Glimpses of the past and future spark reaction in me to know more. And do more."

Religious thinkers interested in a memoir that moves beyond individual experience and into connections between past and present and spiritual growth will find Milk and Honey Land: A Story of Grief, Grace, and Goats lively, inspiring, reflective, and always rooted in an appreciation of life, God, and the unexpected courses both can take as adversity and joy evolve.

Milk and Honey Land is very highly recommended as an exceptionally vivid story of spiritual growth and life lessons, and will appeal to Christian readers, philosophical thinkers, and spiritual learners alike.

Beat the College Admissions Game with ProjectMerit
Susan Tatsui-D'Arcy
Independently Published
9781728668598, $19.99 Paper; $9.99 e-book

Beat the College Admissions Game with ProjectMerit is a different kind of college admissions advice guide that eschews the typical focus on getting into the biggest brand-name college possible to focus on the real goal: finding the college with the best educational fit.

Susan Tatsui-D'Arcy has not only worked in the education field for over thirty years, but was chosen the 2019 California Mother of the Year by the nonprofit American Mothers group, formed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's mother in 1935. Her combined background lends to a focus on student-based learning processes that encourages project-based learning opportunities and merit programs. These are hands-on projects that allow students to demonstrate their aptitude, creativity, and curiosity, measuring their contributions in ways that supersede the typical driven, grade-based approach.

The benefits of this documented formula for success are more than a measure of the ability to memorize or pack in enough activities to impress a college admissions office. It involves helping students commit, focus, develop passion and vision surrounding work, achievements, and long-term goals.

Too many college admission books are directed to aspiring parents rather than engaged students. That's the second major difference of Beat the College Admissions Game. It's directed to college-bound students and offers two key insights about success: believe in something, and cultivate action based on that belief.

The rest, as examples in the book show, falls into place, as far as college choices and admissions. This process and the independence and enthusiasm it encourages among students and their mentors makes Beat the College Admissions Game a highly recommended standout for any college-bound student and collections catering to them. Although it features an alternative that deviates somewhat from the typical approach, it promises to result in a bigger payoff with a focus that goes beyond admissions to delve into the broader subject of building an effective life based on a college's offerings.

Jamie Zerndt
Independently Published
9781072842477, $11.95, print, $6.99, ebook

Jerkwater is set in Wisconsin and focuses on a battle over Native American fishing rights. At stake are not only livelihoods and survival, but a heritage that connects and bridges gaps within the community itself.

It would have been simple to craft a linear production from this premise, but Jamie Zerndt creates three viewpoints from different town members who have their own perspectives and stakes in outcomes, using them as focal points to explore different perceptions about an issue which divides rather than unifies the small town.

He also approaches questions from the experiences of three generations: a young antisocial Ojibwa woman; her 64-year-old bereaved, drunk neighbor; and the neighbor's son, who harbors his own grief and resentments.

Zerndt does a fine job of inserting references to the roots of prejudice and perceptions both within the tribe and by outsiders: "Can I ask why he's getting hurt at school? Is it because he's Native American?" "No," Shawna said, pushing back the hair from her face and looking at Kay. "It's because he's an Indian."

Everyone around them bends in the wind, absorbing the backlash of prejudice, grief, violence, and depression. From how friends become family or are alienated by disability and life circumstances to choices made to leave or stay in Mercer, and their lasting consequences, Jerkwater is about the evolution of both individuals and groups under pressure.
Its ability to capture the depression and rebellion of a group of Native Americans using succinct, hard, hitting questions and interactions ("How much more will you let them take from us?") creates an engrossing read that is much more than a story of political pressure and infighting, but one of cultural heritage and emotions under stress.

Readers who enjoy novels of Native American issues and interactions will find Jerkwater a compelling exploration of the river of emotions and angst that simmers under the surface of a seemingly-placid community until events pressure it to explode. The writing is just like its events: seemingly placid and calm, but embedded with an urgency and insight that slowly percolates to the surface to create a story that is both satisfyingly unpredictable and astutely observational.

Sacred Vines: A Finger Lakes Wine Mystery
Don Stevens
Merge Publishing
9780997960129, $16.99, Print
9780997960136, $2.99, Ebook

Sacred Vines will appeal to readers of detective or cozy mystery stories, and adds a dash of culinary background to the intrigue to further expand its audience as it explores the aftermath of a crash and death in New York's Finger Lakes wine country.

When the dead victim of the crash shows up alive and identifies the body in her car, events slide towards the bizarre for the detective investigating the strange case, as well as a fellow investigator who finds himself drawn into increasingly bizarre circumstances involving a winery, a monastery, and a murderer.

Sacred Vines builds tension nicely and flushes out its characters' special attributes and interests with an attention to detail to provide insights on not just murderers and law enforcement efforts, but individual abilities and interactions: "Dudley wondered how people could understand him when they couldn't understand themselves. There were layers of sensory activity in an average person that others couldn't comprehend. With someone diagnosed with autism, there was too much going on like a rush hour traffic jam on the highway. He felt his senses were stronger, perhaps like a superhero, at pivotal moments such as this. His sense of smell was one. He could smell gas and the burning of metal and rubber."

From probes of the connections between a hardworking winery girl and a missing son to Dudley's growing suspicions that ghosts may be real and they're running out of time, Don Stevens builds fine tension and characters that keep cozy mystery readers involved to the end.
Steeped in the Finger Lakes atmosphere and in the special interests of characters who all harbor secrets and suspicions, Sacred Vines is a satisfying mystery that will appeal to a wide audience of genre fans.

Kimberling Bridge
Jeffrey W. Tenney
Whistle Creek Press
9780979633317, $2.99, Kindle

Kimberling Bridge is a post-apocalyptic thriller centered on an old man and a young girl who find their disparate lives entwined after an EMT event quickly decimates civilization.

Survival is no longer to be taken for granted, and William has discovered power in both his gun and a revised worldview which avoids predictions of the future and accepts the challenges of daily living.

With temporary refuges falling to gangs and drifters, it doesn't take much to persuade William that there's as much danger in staying in one place as in joining his new fourteen-year-old friend to help her reunite with a missing relative.

Many novels and sci-fi explorations of EMT events focus on the survival struggle, but Kimberling Bridge takes a different approach in also considering revised relationships, bridges across age ranges, and the idea of disaster providing the side benefit of being an equalizer for those who survive: "If what had happened was what he now believed it was, then there would be nothing, no one, capable of stopping the chaos. Political leaders would disappear overnight, probably meeting up with their CEO buddies in some remote but comfortable ocean island, with all the wealth and other goodies their jets could carry. The seven billion other people in the world would be on their own, to live as long as they could off what a ruined economy and all means of production had left for them. The ticking clock had started on the species. Old as he was, he was as young as everyone else, at that point."

William's journey is more than physical. As he examines his motives and new future possibilities, readers receive an engrossing story that excels in the depiction of his mental adjustments: "Could be I just like the feel of making this journey more than the idea of it. A purpose. A sense of control, instead of just waiting around for something lethal to drop down on me. Who knows, maybe the idea does make sense, if it turns out to be the best thing for the girl."

It's these moments of reflection and change that power Kimberling Bridge and place it a notch above competing EMT survival stories, making for a highly recommended story that bridges generations, purposes, and hearts and minds.

Glorious Garlic. Enjoy. Feel Good and Live Longer
Valerie Lull, MH
Simple Ways Publications
9781733702607, $15.00, Paper
9781733702614, $5.99, ebook

Other books have been written on the value and culinary attractions of garlic, so why the need for another? Glorious Garlic. Enjoy. Feel Good and Live Longer comes from a Master Herbalist who provides more than a recipe collection or a health survey alone. Her book fills in gaps in garlic information, combining insights from herbal studies with an overall focus on healthy living and herbal applications.

A brief history of garlic's benefits and uses will delight both health readers and trivia fans with its references to garlic's unusual role in human affairs, segueing into health considerations that go beyond extolling virtues to include some important cautions, such as the fact that taking garlic with blood thinner medications can prove toxic (as is consuming large amounts of garlic before surgery or dental work).

Website research links from established government research sources (not 'pop' health websites so popularly cited in competing books) not only back Valerie Lull's contentions, but provide further research-based facts supporting garlic's health benefits and cautions.

Each succinct section includes a recipe, a 'summing up' overview, and a website link for further reading, and each contributes facts to an overall discussion of garlic's properties and applications.

The well-rounded, nicely organized, and easy-on-the-mind discussions make Glorious Garlic. Enjoy. Feel Good and Live Longer a solid recommendation for health and culinary collections alike. It reviews garlic's properties, applications, and importance for an audience which doesn't have to hold prior expertise on the subject.

All that's required is a basic interest in garlic and healthier living, and an interest in a book that provides a solid yet simple review, packed with details average readers can easily apply to their own lives and health concerns.

My Christmas Darling
Vivian Mayfair
Bramble House Books
9781733226141, $16.99, Large print
9781733226110, $16.99, Regular print
9781733226103, $2.99, ebook

If it's a heart-rendering, romantic holiday story that is desired to mirror the Christmas spirit, then My Christmas Darling is truly a winner. It weaves a seasonal festival atmosphere into a delightful love story about acceptance, forgiveness, mistakes, and redemption.

Anyone who has ever made a huge mistake while pursuing a dream will be able to identify with book editor Lucy Carpenter, who faces a double dilemma between mounting medical bills from her mother's illness and the opportunity to see her little Christmas novel achieve fame - even if it is in a way that challenges both company rules and her personal ethics.

At the same time, William Harcourt, a company bigwig with Scrooge-like personality, sees this little gem of a Christmas story as an opportunity to redeem himself in his critical father's eyes and propel his company to new heights.

Neither expected romance to evolve from their efforts, and neither was prepared to handle the emotional, ethical, and career-challenging conundrums that stem from an unexpected relationship after they had both been wounded from past love.

From its very first, inviting sentences, My Christmas Darling leads readers into a world of hope: "There it was. Her liberation in a manila envelope. Finally." Readers will come to believe in the power of positive thinking, individual effort, and unusual connections, but before the story is done, this path winds through blossoming relationships and changed perspectives as lessons are learned, all the way to a happy ending on a snowy Christmas morning.

Part of the Christmas spirit and holiday magic lies not just in having that special gift show up in a holiday stocking or gift box, but in pursing one's dreams, only to find them in unexpected places. Both Lucy and William are determined to achieve their goals against all odds, no matter what; but the choices they make and the consequences these bring hold unforeseen possibilities that change everything for them.

The best Christmas stories come packaged not in glittering paper and bright ribbons, but in the promise of redemption and reward from the basis of love. Both Lucy and William need to grow, and they do so in a roundabout way that leads My Christmas Darling readers on a journey of genuine promises and emotional evolution.

There is likely going to be no better, more uplifting contemporary Christmas novel for the 2019 season than My Christmas Darling. Readers who enjoy characters with a rich compendium of growth-inducing circumstances and difficult decisions will find it just the recipe for cozying up on a cold winter's day, and warming the heart at Christmas.

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

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

Look Alive Twenty-Five: A Stephanie Plum Novel
Janet Evanovich
c/o Penguin Group USA
9780399179228, $28.00,

The arrival of a new Stephanie Plum novel used to be a wonderful thing. The newest title "Look Alive Twenty-Five" has many of the elements that have made the series so much fun. Plum and her co-hearts have to take over the running of a deli problem enough, but they must help solve the mystery of managers who, mysteriously disappear. Each left behind a single shoe. Many of the familiar characters are back as well, but it seems there is a lot more toilet humor throughout, that detracts from the enjoyment of the story. I've never understood writers who fill works with this kind of comedy. "Look Alive Twenty-Five" though disappointing, is funny with the bizarre situations of the deli.

Never Come Back
David Bell
c/o Penguin Group USA
9780451417510, $16.00,

Elizabeth Hampton's world is turned upside down, when her brother Ronnie, becomes the prime suspect in the murder of their mother. As "Never Come Back" unfolds, Elizabeth learns hidden secrets about those close to her including her mother and other family members. Bell has constructed a tightly woven thriller that will have readers turning pages as the buried truths are revealed. "Never Come Back" is another great thrill ride to the very end by a rising voice in the genre.

Relative Evil
David Brookover
Outskirts Press Inc
9781977211880, $30.95,

"Relative Evil" the sixth novel of Nick Bellamy could be a great TV series. Nick Bellamny has his hands full, with an evil sorcerer, a twin brother who supposedly died a number of years ago, and a top-secret military experiment are just a few of the conflicts in "Relative Evil." Brookover throws in generous doses humorous passages that make for a very enjoyable read. "Relative Evil" moves along with complicated plot twists, well fleshed out characters, and rapid pacing to be one of the best works in the arc of Nick Bellamy horror novels.

The River At Night
Erica Ferencik
Pocket Books
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781982113537, $9.99,

"The River At Night" is a tense nail-biting tale of suspense. Four women begin a relaxing vacation in the Allagas Wilderness that soon turns into a fight for their lives. The believable characters caught up in the tense situations with tense writing that propels the reader along all the way to the end of this wonderful tale of how far a person will go to survive. "The River At Night" should please anyone who is a fan of "Deliverance"

All The Way: My Life In Four Quarters
Joe Namath
Little Brown and Company
c/o Hachette Book Group USA
9780316421102, $30.00

Broken into four portions "All The Way: My Life in Four Quarters reads like one of the most important games to ever be played. Joe Namath relives the Super Bowl where he and his New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts. The significance was, it was the first, where the AFL beat an NFL team, that helped merge the two leagues into the present one we love to watch every season. He reveals how franchises came into being, the beginning of the Super Bowl game as well as a play by play commentary of the third one where the Jets were the Cinderella team. "All The Way: My Life In Four Quarters" is a fantastic look back at professional football that shows how far the game has come.

1 Navy Woman
Denise Boulet
Publish America
9781615825936, $4.69,

Denise Boulet lived with abuse, until she cut the cord with her family, to enlist in the military. For over 20 years she was connected to the Navy where she excelled. She details her unhappy childhood, thru her career in the Navy in "1 Navy Woman" She reveals that anyone can take control of their lives and succeed no matter what the circumstances are. Boulet was able to travel the world as well as move up the ranks to serve the country. "1 Navy Woman" is one woman's journey through life, that should be a role model for others to follow.

I'm Worried
Michael Ian Black
Illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Simon & Schuster
9781534415867, $17.99,

"I'm Worried" is a great children's book, with several underlying meanings for kids to learn from. A potato has a problem. He sees everything only in negative terms, until friends of his show him that the world has a lot of good things to offer. So often we all have moments where the whole world seems to be against us. I'm Worried" should be read by people of all ages to learn to look for more positive things in their lives even when there seems to be nothing to be optimistic about.

The Black Geese: A Baba Yaga Story from Russia
Retold by Alison Lurie
Illustrated by Jessica Souhami
c/o DK Publishing
95 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016
9780788425584, $14.95,

Baba Yaga an evil witch, enlists the aid of some black geese, to kidnap little kids, for her own enjoyment. A girl named Elena, must retrieve her baby brother, who is one of the children taken, by the birds. On a quest, to bring him back Elena, begins a journey that hopefully will conclude with her succeeding in her task. "The Black Geese" published for the first time in the United States is a charming children's tale that has worldwide appeal.

Gingerbread Baby
Jan Brett
c/o Penguin Group USA
9780399241666, $16.99,

A young girl named Matti decides to create gingerbread, but something goes terribly wrong, with a small one who decides, he wants to experience the world outside, so he leaves to have a great time getting into as many things as he can. All the while Mattie and others try to bring him back. The baby gingerbread has a series of escapades with all kinds of things including the milkman, a cat, a dog and many other beings before he ends his adventure. "Gingerbread Baby" is filled with numerous subtle messages that would be perfect for parents to discuss with their kids, on being responsible, as well as adults could learn a thing or two as well.

Adventure of Meno, Book Two: Wet Friend!
Tony and Angela Diterlizzi
Simon & Schuster
9781416971498, $9.99,

Meno lives in a in a very different place from other people. Hooking up with Yamagoo, a jelly fish, Meno learns his friend is sad, because there is no one for Yamagoo to play with. Off on a quest go the two buddies to meet new beings to frolic with. "Adventure of Meno, Book Two: Wet Friend!" is a story geared for kids that all ages can enjoy.

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

The Plus One
Sarah Archer
G. P. Putnam's Sons
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780525539179, $16.00, PB, 336pp,

Synopsis: Kelly is twenty-nine, a real go-getter, a brilliant robotics engineer, -- and perpetually single. So when her younger sister's wedding looms and her attempts to find a date become increasingly cringeworthy, Kelly does the only logical thing: she builds her own boyfriend.

Ethan is perfect: gorgeous, attentive, and smart -- all topped off by a mechanical heart endlessly devoted to her. Not to mention he's good with her mother. When she's with him, Kelly discovers a more confident, spontaneous version of herself -- the person she'd always dreamed she could be. But as the struggle to keep Ethan's identity secret threatens to detonate her career, Kelly knows she has to kiss her perfect man good-bye.

But there's just one problem -- she's falling for him!

Critique: A rollicking, riveting, compulsive page-turning, pure entertainment of a read from cover to cover, "The Plus One" by Sarah Archer will be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to all community Contemporary General Fiction collections. An original and deftly penned novel, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Plus One" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Sarah Archer is a Black List Screenwriting Mini-Lab fellow who has had material produced for Comedy Central and published short stories and poetry in numerous literary magazines. After living in Los Angeles, where she worked in literary management and development on projects including House, Concussion, Roots, and Girls Trip, she currently lives in Brooklyn.

Darkness Rising: Daughters of Light
Mary Jennifer Payne
The Dundurn Group
9781459741034, $12.99, PB, 312pp,

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old twins Jasmine and Jade and the rest of the Seers are not only divided between Toronto and London, they're internationally wanted fugitives. While away in the Place-In-Between trying to return Solomon's Ring, the girls become the prime suspects in a deadly terrorist attack in Toronto.

The Seers, their Protectors, and a handful of others know the truth: they are innocent, the world is dying, demons are around every corner, and the Darkness is taking over. As the only hope in the coming apocalyptic battle, the Seers will have to work together to save the world from the brink of destruction.

Critique: A deftly penned and riveting fantasy novel for young readers ages 12-15, "Darkness Rising: Daughters of Light" by Mary Jennifer Payne will prove to be an extraordinarily popular addition to both school and community library Fantasy Fiction collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated fantasy fans that "Darkness Rising: Daughters of Light" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Every Stolen Breath
Kimberly Gabriel
c/o HarperCollins
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
9780310766667, $17.99, HC, 336pp,

Synopsis: Lia is the only one still pursuing her father's killers, two years after attorney Steven Finch's murder by the Swarm. Devastated and desperate for answers, Lia will do anything to uncover the reasons behind his death and to stop someone else from being struck down. But due to debilitating asthma and PTSD that leaves her with a tenuous hold on reality, Lia is the last person to mount a crusade on her own.

After a close encounter with the Swarm puts Lia on their radar, she teams up with a teen hacker, a reporter, and a mysterious stranger who knows firsthand how the mob works. Together, they work to uncover the master puppeteer behind the group. Though if Lia and her network don't stop the person pulling the strings (and fast!) Lia may end up the next target.

Critique: Inspired by the real-life "flash mob" violence that happened Chicago in 2011, Kimberly Gabriel "Every Stolen Breath" is a fast-paced page turner of a novel by an author with a genuine flair for a distinctive and truly reader engaging narrative storytelling style. While "Every Stolen Breath" is unreservedly recommended for highschool and community library YA Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that it is also available in a paperback edition (9780310766971, $10.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

National Parks Our Living National Treasures
Gil Lusk
Gatekeeper Press
9781642374971, $19.95, PB, 418pp,

Synopsis: Now over one hundred years old, the National Park Service was created in 1916 and has become an immensely popular concept with visitation equal to the national population of the United States every year.

Along the way, the Service has picked up a few issues and stresses that endanger the mission of the NPS to preserve and protect America's significant natural, cultural, and historical areas for future generations in an unencumbered condition. These areas are America's Living National Treasures. Those issues need to be addressed to allow the National Park Service to uphold its mission and continue to protect our National Treasures for future generations.

"National Parks Our Living National Treasures: A Time for Concern" by Gil Lusk is dedicated to the identification of some of those issues and presents possible solutions, by capturing the author's personal and professional experiences over his 35 year career in the National Park Service, depicting what working for the Service entails and its challenges.

Once the reader has a better feel for work of the National Park Service, there are specific sections dealing with Lusk's concerns for the future and the changes needed today to bring the Service back to its prime.

Critique: A comprehensive and impressively informative volume specifically dedicated to the National Park Service role in maintaining and preserving America's natural parks, monuments and preserves in view of the political and corporate attempts to erode and compromise both the institution and what it protects, "National Parks Our Living National Treasures: A Time for Concern" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, environmental activists, national park preservationists, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "National Parks Our Living National Treasures: A Time for Concern" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.95).

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

Living the Life-Force
Nicholas Vesey
Ozark Mountain Publishing, Inc.
PO Box 754, Huntsville, AR 72740
9781940265612, $14.00, PB, 152pp,

Synopsis: Nicholas Vesey was brought up in England before moving to America in 2014 to lead a community in Aspen Colorado. He trod the traditional path of a writer; beginning in broadcasting and then moving to advertising before meeting his Waterloo on the slopes of the Himalayas in the form of an experience of 'altered consciousness'. Since then he has been exploring ways to live life more skillfully -- making sense of what is, what should be and what could be. He is the Author of Developing Consciousness: A roadmap of the Journey to Enlightenment.

In "Living the Life-Force" Vesey addresses the question: Why does the natural world seem so ordered, and yet our lives seem so chaotic?

From the Big Bang to the present time the universe has moved inexorably forward, and yet humanity seems to be struggling in its wake. "Living the Life-Force" explores the nature of the 'Life-Force' that is at the heart of all reality.

Written in an irreverent 'Gonzo' style, Nicholas draws from a wide range of sources to explore our relationship with that 'Life-Force' and how we might cooperate with it. He sets no agenda but offers several ways to find your own spiritual path to that place of peace where your inner experience meets with the natural order of life.

Critique: Thoughtful and thought-provoking, insightful and inspiring, thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "Living the Life-Force" is an extraordinary and informative study that will prove to be a prized and appreciated addition to personal, community, and academic library New Age Metaphysical Studies collections. It should be noted that "Living the Life-Force" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Timothy J. Lockhart
Stark House Press
1315 H Street, Eureka, CA 95501
9781944520670, $15.95, PB, 210pp,

Synopsis: An ex-SEAL, Hal Morgan also served in a desert war and returned to the States with plenty of scars -- inside as well as outside. Now he sail charter boats in Puerto Rico, taking the tourists out to sea.

Hal was returning an empty boat to the marina when he spotted a day sailer drifting ahead, apparently abandoned craft that was ready to sink. he came alongside and found a young woman in a torn, black cocktail dress lying unconscious in the cockpit.

The day sailer didn't look as though it would last long, so Hal hurriedly carried the woman over to his boat and did what he could for her. When she awoke, she finds his gun in the cabin and demanded that he go back and get some bag she left on the day sailer. She acted as though this bag meant a lot to her -- and it does, Because the young woman whose name is Ana Cortez Bolano has just left her boyfriend, gangster boss Jaime Riviera, taking all his cash with her.

Now Hal has a choice: he can hand Ana over to Riviera, knowing what he'll do to her, or he can make like a white knight and help her escape. The first decision is easy -- but after that, well, things get complicated!

Critique: An original and riveting novel by a master storyteller, "Pirates" by Timothy J. Lockhart is another one of those classic and deftly scripted adventure novels that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself is finished and set back upon the shelf. While certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library Contemporary General Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Pirates" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

Overscheduled by Success
Dr. Ron Stotts
Morgan James Publishing
11815 Fountain Way, Suite 300, Newport News, VA 23606-4448
9781642791785, $26.95, Library Binding, 184pp,

Synopsis: Many influential leaders are doing great things and making a real difference in the world. But these leaders often find that they're too busy to accomplish some of their most important personal and professional goals. Many begin wondering if they are actually getting the level of results they're looking for. Instead of feeling joyful and inspired, their demanding schedule often leaves them feeling tired and frustrated rather than being able to enjoy the process.

With his new book, "Overscheduled by Success: A Guide for Influential Leaders Too Busyto Create Their Next Dream", Dr. Ron Stotts shows leaders how to accomplish their highest goals while taking even better care of themselves by: Reclaiming their time so they can do what matters most; Discovering the truth about what it is that they actually keep bumping up against. (Note: This is probably not what many think it is, and that's actually good news!); Bringing a whole new level of balance, inspiration, and creativity into their life and work; Learning how to avoid wasting their time, money, and effort on fleeting life improvements and instead, implement lasting change; Turning their current struggle into the most fulfilling journey of their life.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented specifically for corporate, community, and political leaders looking for a deeper solution to their time problem, "Overscheduled by Success" is an ideal and effective guide to achieving even greater success in their personal and professional lives. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, corporate, college, and university library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Overscheduled for Success" is also available in a paperback edition (9781642791778, $17.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.69).

Editorial Note: Dr. Ron Stotts has spent the last fifty years exploring the deepest caves and soaring heights of people's personal and spiritual journeys. He was trained by and worked with the best of the best, with early mentors like Joseph Campbell, Buckminster Fuller, and other leaders in the spiritual and personal growth fields. While he did get a Masters in English, a Ph.D. in transformational therapy, and became a Doctor of Chiropractic, he identifies the challenges he has overcome and incredible learning opportunities as his real and essential credentials.

John Taylor

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

Being Mean: A Memoir of Sexual Abuse and Survival
Patricia Eagle
She Writes Press
9781631525193, $16.95, PB, 376pp,

Synopsis: "Being Mean: A Memoir of Sexual Abuse and Survival" by Patricia Eagle is richly depicted story, told in vignettes relative to markers of age and experience, as she reveals the heartbreak and destruction of her sexual abuse, from age four to thirteen, by her father. A victim of her father's anger and her mother's complacency with his abusive behavior, Patricia used dissociation and numbing in response to the abuse, and as a way to block her own sense of self.

How does a child confused by episodes of abuse come to know what is safe or unsafe, right or wrong, normal or abnormal? How does a young woman learn the difference between real love and a desire for sexual pleasure stimulated by abusive childhood sexual experiences? Careening through life, Patricia wold wonder how to trust others and, most importantly, herself. As a mature woman struggling to understand and live with her past, she remains earnest in her pursuit of clarity, compassion, and trust to build a stronger life.

"Being Mean" is about blocking sexual abuse memories, having them surface, then learning how to acknowledge and live with incomprehensible experiences in the healthiest ways possible.

Critique: A deftly written work of commendable honesty, exceptional candor, and impressive personal courage, "Being Mean: A Memoir of Sexual Abuse and Survival" is a riveting, honest, and ultimately life-healing memoir with a highly relevant underlying message given today's #MeToo climate that is slowly bringing to justice even the most powerful and wealthy of pedophiles and sexual predators. While unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary American Biography, Women's Issues, and Sexual Abuse Recovery collections and supplemental studies lists, it should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Being Mean: A Memoir of Sexual Abuse and Survival" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Abolitionist Socialist Feminism
Zillah Eisenstein
Monthly Review Press
134 W. 29th Street, Suite 706, New York, NY 10001
9781583677629, $20.00, HC, 144pp,

Synopsis: The premise of "Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution" is that the world is so politically entrenched by patriarchal bias that it has become clear that neoliberal feminism (the kind that aims to elect The First Woman President) will never be enough.

In "Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution", Zillah Eisenstein (a noted feminist and Professor of Politics at Ithaca College, New York) asks us to consider what it would mean to thread "socialism" to feminism; then, what it would mean to thread "abolitionism" to socialist feminism. Professor Eisenstein asks all of us, especially white women, to consider what it would mean to risk everything to abolish white supremacy, to uproot the structural knot of sex, race, gender, and class growing from that imperial whiteness. If we are to create a revolution that is totally liberatory, we need to pool together in a new working class, building a radical movement made of movements.

Professor Eisenstein's manifesto is built on almost half a century of her antiracist socialist feminist work. But now, she writes with a new urgency and imaginativeness. Essentially, Professor Eisenstein asks us not to be limited by reforms, but to radicalize each other on differing fronts. Our task is to build bridges, to connect disparate and passionate people across aisles, state lines, picket lines, and more. The genius force demanding that we abolish white supremacy can also create a new "we" for all of us -- a humanity universally accepting of our complexities and differences. We are in uncharted waters, but that is exactly where we need to be.

Critique: A deftly crafted, impressively informative, clarion call to the kind of political action that is fundamentally necessary if political patriarchy is to be overcome and eventually abolished, "Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary Political Science collections in general, and Feminist Issues supplemental studies reading lists in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Abolitionist Socialist Feminism" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.25).

Shunned: How I Lost my Religion and Found Myself
Linda A. Curtis
She Writes Press
9781631523281, $16.95, PB, 320pp,

Synopsis: Linda Curtis was raised as a Jehovah's Witness and was an unquestioning true believer who has knocked on doors in behalf of her religious beliefs from the time she was nine years old. Like other Witnesses, she had been discouraged from pursuing a career, higher education, or even voting, and her friendships were limited to the Witness community.

Then one day, at age thirty-three, she knocks on a door -- and a coworker she deeply respects answers the door. To their mutual consternation she launches into her usual spiel, but this time, for the first time ever, the message sounds hollow. In the months that follow, Curtis tries hard to overcome the doubts that spring from that doorstep encounter, knowing they could upend her "safe" existence. But ultimately, unable to reconcile her incredulity, she left her religion and divorced her Witness husband -- two decisions for which she was shunned by the entire community, including all members of her immediate family.

"Shunned: How I Lost my Religion and Found Myself" is the story of how Linda stepped into a world she was taught to fear and discovers what is possible when we stay true to our hearts, even when it means disappointing those we love.

Critique: An inherently compelling and candidly revealing memoir, "Shunned: How I Lost my Religion and Found Myself" is an extraordinary, riveting and unreservedly recommended read from first page to last. Exceptionally well written and presented, "Shunned" is an especially recommended addition to both community and academic library Contemporary American Biography collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Shunned" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.69).

The Untold Story of Sita
Dena Merriam
SitaRam Press
9780578465340, $14.00, PB, 388pp,

Synopsis: Dena Merriam is the Founder and Convener of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, bringing spiritual resources to address critical global challenges such as conflict, social justice, and ecological scarring the earth. Over the years she has worked to bring greater gender balance and balance between the Abrahamic- and Dharma-based religious traditions for a more inclusive interfaith movement.

"The Untold Story of Sita: An Empowering Tale For Our Time" by Dena replaces the traditional narrative of Sita's life as told in the Ramayana with Sita as she truly is -- an incarnation of the great Devi Narayani.

Sita comes to Earth to join Sri Ram in setting the foundation for a new civilization at a time when humans are becoming separate from the natural world. She seeks to embed a great love for the forests and rivers, plant and animal life in the hearts and minds of the people, and to share the high spiritual accomplishments of the great women rishis and sages, many of whom you meet along Sita's journey.

"The Untold Story of Sita" is a story of a woman's wisdom, courage and strength, her love for the manifest and unmanifest worlds, and her selfless sacrifices for the welfare of all. So the reader is invited to step into Sita's time and see what life was like during a more spiritually more advanced age, when there was an understanding of Dharma, not just as duty but as an alignment with the higher forces of love that make possible the preservation of our world.

Critique: An absorbing and inherently interesting read from cover to cover, "The Untold Story of Sita: An Empowering Tale For Our Time" will have a very special appeal to those who appreciate a Buddhist perspective on a nature-based way of life and an emancipation from a patriarchal and cliched image of Sita and her message of mindfulness, compassion, service. While unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted that "The Untold Story of Sita" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

An Art Therapist's View of Mass Murders, Violence, and Mental Illness
Maxine Borowsky Junge
Charles C. Thomas, Publisher
2600 South First Street, Springfield, IL 62704
9780398092771, $30.95, PB, 150pp,

Synopsis: Unforeseen and precipitous violence is a reality of the times we live in, but it has always been a reality in the mental health profession. The main premise of "An Art Therapist's View of Mass Murders, Violence, and Mental Illness" by Maxine Borowsky Junge (Professor Emerita, Marital and Family therapy/Clinical Art Therapy Department, Loyola Marymount University) is to make art therapists aware of the unpredictable violence that may occur in their day-to-day work with clients and the presence of potential danger.

Professor Junge stresses the importance of preventive measures to ensure safety. The preface describes the horrific event the author witnessed and her realization that psychotherapy is a dangerous profession. The first chapter sets the stage for the exploration of mass murders, violence, creativity, and mental illness. Chapter 2 provides framework for the cultural context concerning the contemporary societal and cultural landscape within which mass murders exist. Major changes in mental health laws are discussed, including the individual versus community rights in mental health systems. Chapter 3 is a brief history of the treatment of violence in the United States mental health system. Gun violence, the stigma of mental illness, and the threat assessment in schools are explored. Chapter 4 examines art, violence, and mental illness, including historic artistic figures in which violence and/or mental illness was an issue. The artwork of serial killers such as Adolf Hitler, the psychiatrically institutionalized artist Martin Ramirez, and the Outsider artist Henry Darger are discussed as well.

Professor Junge also describes her own experience as an expert witness for the trial of serial killer Eric Leonard. Chapter 5 displays the author's mass murderers artwork with a brief description of each event. Chapter 6 depicts the mass murders that occurred in the United States, October 2017 through September 2018. Chapter 7 portrays a reaction to the Marjorie Stone Douglas school shooting and the essay evoked by this tragedy. Chapter 8 offers practical suggestions to help art therapists find assistance and support in a dangerous practice. Safety orientation in art therapy education programs and job orientation are provided. Chapter 9 discusses additional practical suggestions for art therapists with help and support in a dangerous practice and culture. The last chapter encompasses final comments including the danger and calling of art therapy. This unique book will be of special interest to mental health practitioners, art therapists, social workers, educational therapists, and consultants.

Critique: A unique and seminal work, "An Art Therapist's View of Mass Murders, Violence, and Mental Illness" is a singular and unreservedly recommended addition to professional, college, and university library Contemporary Psychiatry, Criminology, and Art Therapy collections and supplemental studies lists.

There's Something Your Son Needs to Tell You
Vernon Ennels Jr.
Xulon Press
2301 Lucien Way, Suite 415, Maitland, FL 32751
9781545665206, $21.99, HC, 140pp,

Synopsis: At least one and six men have been sexually abused. And many of them are afraid and ashamed to talk about it. This fear is heightened in the black male community where a stigma persists around sexual abuse and sexual identity that reflects a homophobic and hypermasculine society. While many victims turn to religion to cope with their trauma, many religious organizations have either perpetuated the abuse or swept it under the rug.

"There's Something Your Son Needs to Tell You: An Open Letter About Sexual Abuse, Masculinity, And Secrecy In The Church" by Vernon Ennels Jr. acts as an open letter that encourages other young men to step forward and share their stories about sexual abuse in hopes that we will save our little boys.

Ennels uses one experience to shed light on an ongoing issue and inspires others to take immediate action.

Critique: Truthful, candid, straight forward, thought-provoking, challenging, and in today's world when sexual scandals seem to be an enduring aspect of the Christian community ranging from Catholic clergy to TV evangelists, "There's Something Your Son Needs to Tell You: An Open Letter About Sexual Abuse, Masculinity, And Secrecy In The Church" specifically focuses on one of the more obscured aspects -- the sexual abuse of young boys and how their families and loved ones can best be of assistance and security for them. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, this critically important little volume is especially recommended for community and academic library parenting collections and sexual abuse supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "There's Something Your Son Needs to Tell You" is also available in a paperback edition (9781545665190, $13.49).

Editorial Note: Born and raised in Baltimore Maryland, Vernon Ennels Jr. began serving his community at age 16 when he was ordained as a deacon. He also served as the Church Administrator for over (20) years and assisting in implementing the vision of the church, while also ensuring excellence in the operations. Inspired by community activism, he became the founder of JR Executives, a youth leadership organization based in Arizona. And he has worked for nearly two decades as a project manager focusing on energy conservation in government, private, and public markets. As a father to a young son and a mentor to youths, Ennels' mission is to encourage discourse around childhood trauma, mental illness, and spirituality.

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

The Breakdown
Anthony Ciotti III
Rosedog Press
9781480995574, $27.00, PB, 124pp,

Synopsis: Anthony Ciotti III spent over twenty years in the medical field, starting at the age of fifteen, as a veterinary medical technician, often working two to three jobs at a time to make ends meet. Medicine, retail, restaurants, construction, and many other fields were included in his years. After many years, and many patients, he decided to go to college where he majored in IT with an emphasis in Software Engineering.

After seeing the great amount of corruption in the medical field and the corruption in the For Profit Education industry firsthand, Ciotti became an activist. He went to many various marches and other such events. He also spent multiple nights in jails for his activities. From researching the various topics to see how to combat all of the corruption he saw, he then self-funded a campaign to be a Write In candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

In "The Breakdown: Where We Have Been & Where We Are Headed", Ciotti gives a clear and concise explanation of the various political, economic, linguistic, and psychological systems which govern our everyday lives. He speaks openly and honestly about the lies and misrepresentations that everybody is indoctrinated to since birth and that are taught in schools. He also covers how many prestigious academics speak about these problems, yet the information is not disseminated to the general populace in an effective manner, for various reasons.

"The Breakdown" starts at the most base level with language: how it is misused by the majority and clears up what every language is at its most base level. "The Breakdown" then moves up to the concepts of Freedom, governance, economics, and goes into the philosophical outlook of what groups of people strive to be. If a person knows the mechanics of a car, a repair mechanic cannot con them into unnecessary repairs. Once you know the mechanics of the various systems that control our lives, another human won't be able to con you into supporting lies and snake oil.

Critique: Given the lies, hypocracy, corruption, and immorality so rampant among our national leaders taking place on almost a daily basis from President Donald Trump, so many of his cabinet members, the congress, and even some of our Supreme Court justices, "The Breakdown: Where We Have Been & Where We Are Headed" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended commentary that should be given a careful reading by anyone concerned with the preservation and restoration of our democratic values in general, and our political democracy in particular. While especially recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Breakdown" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.86).

The Bottom-Up Revolution
Rob Kall
Beaufort Books
27 West 20th Street, Suite 1102, New York, NY 10011
9780825308956, $16.95, PB, 323pp,

Synopsis: Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Sir Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg have all said that change or growth happen from the bottom up.

But what does it mean and how do you do "bottom up" better and smarter? Essentially, bottom up is a way of life and a way of doing business.

In "The Bottom-Up Revolution: Mastering the Emerging World of Connectivity", award-winning journalist, inventor, software architect, connector and visionary Rob Kall picks up where Malcolm Gladwell's seminal book "Tipping Point" left off. It is basically a how-to book for businesses, leaders, organizations, activists, and individuals, cracking wide-open humankind's biggest trend in seven million years.

By understanding the roots and implications of "bottom up" and "top down" corporate executives and business leaders will be better able to tap the incredible power of this trend, just as the billionaire founders of Google, Facebook, Craigslist and Twitter have done.

Critique: Drawing upon informative and illustrative interviews from more than one hundred 'bottom up thought leaders' ranging from jack Dorsey, Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, and Riane Eisler, to Josephy Nye, George Lakoff, and Medea Benjamin, "The Bottom-up Revolution: Mastering the Emerging World of Connectivity" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and academic library Business Management & Entrepreneurial Leadership collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Bottom-Up Revolution" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.07).

Taxing Blackness
Norah L. A. Gharala
The University of Alabama Press
PO Box 870380, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0380
9780817320072, $54.95, HC, 312pp,

Synopsis: During the eighteenth century, hundreds of thousands of free descendants of Africans in Mexico faced a highly specific obligation to the Spanish crown, a tax based on their genealogy and status. This royal tribute symbolized imperial loyalties and social hierarchies. As the number of free people of color soared, this tax became a reliable source of revenue for the crown as well as a signal that colonial officials and ordinary people referenced to define and debate the nature of blackness.

"Taxing Blackness: Free Afromexican Tribute in Bourbon New Spain" by Norah L. A. Gharala Assistant Professor of World History at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey) examines the experiences of Afromexicans and this tribute to explore the meanings of race, political loyalty, and legal privileges within the Spanish colonial regime. Professor Gharala specifically focuses on both the mechanisms officials used to define the status of free people of African descent and the responses of free Afromexicans to these categories and strategies. This erudite study spans the eighteenth century and focuses on a single institution to offer readers a closer look at the place of Afromexican individuals in Bourbon New Spain, which was the most profitable and populous colony of the Spanish Atlantic.

As taxable subjects, many Afromexicans were deeply connected to the colonial regime and ongoing debates about how taxpayers should be defined, whether in terms of reputation or physical appearance. Professor Gharala shows the profound ambivalence, and often hostility, that free people of African descent faced as they navigated a regime that simultaneously labeled them sources of tax revenue and dangerous vagabonds. Some free Afromexicans paid tribute to affirm their belonging and community ties. Others contested what they saw as a shameful imposition that could harm their families for generations. This microhistory includes numerous anecdotes from specific cases and people, bringing their history alive, resulting in a wealth of rural and urban, gender, and family insight.

Critique: A seminal work of original and meticulous scholarship, "Taxing Blackness: Free Afromexican Tribute in Bourbon New Spain" is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of illustrations, forty-four pages of Notes, a six page Glossary, a twenty page Bibliography, and a seven page Index. While unreservedly recommended for college and university library Latin American History collections and supplemental studies lists, it should be noted for students, academics, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Taxing Blackness" is also available in a digital book format (eTextbook, $48.59).

Michael Dunford

Nancy Lorraine's Bookshelf

The Cartoon Guide to Biology
Larry Gonick & Dave Wessner, author/illustrator
William Morrow & Company
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
195 Broadway New York, New York 10007
9780062398659, $19.99 PB, $12.99 Kindle, 320 pages,

"The Cartoon Guide to Biology" is a hilarious and informative cartoon guide to all things biology, suitable for juveniles and adults in need of humor with their instruction in life sciences.

In only seventeen easy to follow chapters, here is laid out the basic tenets of current biological knowledge, from the chemicals of life, examined at a cellular level, to photosynthesis, genes and gene regulation, reproduction, evolution, and classification, and more. Better than a classic textbook, "The Cartoon Guide to Biology" is an illustrated textbook, frequently using complex diagrams of cellular interactions and changes to educate and explain many complex processes essential to life. Humorous black and white cartoons tell many amazing stories that are underpinnings to biology, including endocytosis and exocytosis, metabolism, the evolution of DNA and RNA, thermodynamics, and so much more.

Most helpful and humorous of all, perhaps, is the beginning biosketch of Dave Wessner, professor of biology and chair of the Department of Health and Human Values at Davidson College. He introduces and discusses the rationale for starting with the inside-out tour of biology, starting with the invisible. This seems especially effective since "Life is a super complicated kind of chemistry (p. 8)."

More exposition and exploration of biological phenomena culminates in a final chapter on "Disruption," which traces life's responses to extreme stress, such as, for instance, climate change. Both problems and some potential solutions are explored, ending with the following conclusion: "Can humanity, with its current habits, customs, and institutions, work together to make and maintain a viable biosphere?... What? Are you expecting an answer from a biology professor and a cartoonist?"

"The Cartoon Guide to Biology" ends with a dazzling appeal to youthful biological scientists and trail blazers to take up the challenge and continue the chain of knowledge about life.

"The Cartoon Guide to Biology" is an excellent resource for young students and adult readers anxious to understand the real meaning of life on earth as we know it.

Little Creatures: An Introduction to Classical Music
Ana Gerhard, author
Mauricio Gomez Morin, illustrator
The Secret Mountain / Folle Avoine Productions
9782924774557, $16.95 Book/CD, 72 pages, 30 minutes,

"Little Creatures: An Introduction to Classical Music" is a fascinating collections of classical music selection about insects, frogs, spiders, snakes, and butterflies. Illuminations of each selection and background about the composers are provided by Ana Gerhard, an accomplished pianist and music educator.

Stunning illustrations portray each species represented in the style of the musical selection, showing delicacy, accuracy, such as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Liverpool Philharmonic, and the Nashville Symphony, include the following: "The Tale of Tsar Saltan/ Flight of the Bumblebee," by Rimsky Korsakov, "He spake the word, and there came all manner of flies.../ Israel in Egypt," by Handel, "From the Diary of a Fly/ Mikrokosmos," by Bartok, "Overture/ The Wasps," by R. Vaughan Williams, "The Night's Music/ Out of Doors," by Bartok, "Music of Insects, Frogs and Toads/ The Child and the Spells," by Maurice Ravel, "The Frogs," by Telemann, "The Wandering Tadpole," by Silvestre Revueltas, String Quartet opus 50, no. 6/ The Frog," by Haydn, "The Cricket," by Josquin des Prez, "March of the Grasshoppers/ Music for Children," by Sergei Prokofiev, "The Grasshopper," by Benjamin Britten, "Song of the Flea / Goethe's Faust," by Beethoven, "The Flea," by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, "Tarantella/ Bardic Sounds," by Johann Kaspar Metz, "The Spider in its Web/ The Spider's Feast," by Albert Roussel, "Entrance of the Ants/ The Spider's Feast," by Roussel, "The Butterflies," by Couperin, "Seven Butterflies, VI," by Kaija Saariaho, and "Sensemaya," by Revueltas.

In addition to the illuminations and illustrations of the 20 different selections, "Little Creatures" contains a Listening Guide, with further explanation and description of the use of orchestral sounds and instruments, a list of the composers with a thumbnail portrait and biography, an extensive Glossary of Musical Terms, and a Timeline of Composers and Periods using shadings of color to distinguish composition eras and the composers' placements within the Renaissance through 20th Century eras (1450-2000).

"Little Creatures: An Introduction to Classical Music" is a fabulous find, and should not have its appeal limited to the juvenile audience only, although children ages 7-9 will undoubtedly enjoy it deeply.

Lead Guitar Wizardry: Volume 1
Dwayne Jenkins
Tritone Publishing
c/o Book Launchers
Volume 1: 9781733064408, $13.99 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 88pp,
Volume 2: 9781733064422, $13.99 PB, $5.49 Kindle, 122.pp,

Synopsis: Rock guitar legends like Jimi Hendrix & Eddie Van Halen made playing the guitar look like magic. Now the two volume instruction guides by Dwayne Jenkins will enable even the most novice of guitar players to play lead guitar.

Jam packed with simple diagrams and clear explanations, this two volume training manual lets the guitar student practice at a pace that's right for them as they learn the secret formulas and techniques that provide the foundation of rock guitar,

The next best thing to taking private lessons with this basic course is the practical and effective do-it-yourself approach to learning: How to play a guitar solo of your own creation; Lead guitar solo techniques of musical greats commonly heard in songs; The modern step-by-step method to pick up axe skills as fast as possible.

From finger exercises to scales and basic music theory, this two volume set is the ideal how-to guide to help anyone who's dedicated enough to put in the effort to learn the sacred art of lead guitar.

Critique: As impressively comprehensive as it is thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, Dwayne Jenkins' "Lead Guitar Wizardry: Volumes 1 & 2" is unreservedly recommended for personal, community, and academic library collections.

Where's the Llama?: An Around-the-World Adventure
Frances Evans, author
Paul Moran and Gergely Forizs, illustrators
Andrews McMeel Publishing
1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106
9781449497293, $9.99 PB, $9.02 Kindle, 48pp,

"Where's the Llama" is a fabulous picture puzzle travelogue story of ten curious llamas who decide to take an adventure tour from their home in the Peruvian Andes to meet some of their many adoring fans in the rest of the world.

The llamas are Beatriz, the leader, Rosa the naturalist, Elena the culture seeker, Daphne the fashion llama, Nelly the long jumper, rock Eduardo the hot air balloonist, Luis the exotic foodie, Carlos the Cambodian explorer, Ricardo who wants to visit the rock and roll fan, and Hector the cria, or baby llama, who want to visit a world famous toy store. All the llamas have different distinctive markings, colorings, and fashion preferences.

The game involves finding all ten different llamas in pictures of different festivals and events in their round the world tour. first is the Day of the Dead celebration or Dia de lost Muertos in Mexico, with a crowded parade scene masking the ten llama touristas. Next the llamas visit Miami Beach on a crowded hot day, what a spectacular scene in which to spot the 10 llamas. following is a tour of a modern art gallery in New York to soak up culture.

Then the llamas are off to a huge amusement park in Ottawa, Canada, where Nelly discovers pink cotton candy. Then there is an exciting Burning Man music festival in the desert in the United States, where Ricardo is happiest. the 10 llamas camp in a tent together. Rosa is very excited about the next trip to the Netherlands to visit a beautiful tulip garden. Then the Llamas make a weekend visit to Berlin, Germany, to a trendy street market, where they find tons of exciting unique souvenirs ad delicious llama shaped pastries.

Daphne is excited about the next visit to a glamorous fashion show in Milan, Italy. next on the Llamas' exciting world tour is an Indian palace in India, where they see beautiful architecture, monkeys, and sari-clad natives, while eating pani puri, delicious crispy bread stuffed with potatoes and chickpeas.

In a Cambodian jungle trip, Carlos's dream of visiting an ancient temple comes true. there are even elephants and monkeys at the temple! The ten llamas visit a large sculpted Ice Park in China, where their woolly coats come in very handy indeed. Eduardo is quite happy to meet up with old friends at the Ho-Air Balloon Festival in the next visit, which is at least half in the air and half on the ground. Luis enjoys exploring the local cuisine at their next tour stop which is a "City Center in Melbourne, Australia. Daphne plans on taking in some retail therapy while Rosa seeks culture on a sightseeing tour.

Following this are Llama tours to an Olympic Games, a famous toy shop, a hot springs retreat, and a final visit to Llama Land, in Peru, where the ten tourists find llamas from everywhere in the Andes preparing a spectacular welcome home return celebration. In every amazing crowd scene, there are specialty features that involve llamas, so spotting the ten touring llamas in each scene is certainly challenging.

To make the game more fun, a spotters checklist is provided in the answer clues at the end of "Where's the Llama?" with matching background colors, each festival has its own spotters list of things to look for in the scene in addition to the ten touring llamas. So get ready for hours of entertainment and fun while studying each populated festival for ten different touring llamas plus a special spotters checklist .

Little white circles in the Answers portraits will help identify where the llamas are hiding if careful observation fails to uncover their spots. "Where's the Llama?" is a great visual exercise for kids of all ages, as well as a complete cultural education in world customs and celebrations.

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

Bad Luck, Hot Rocks
Ryan Thompson & Phil Orr, editors
The Ice Plant
c/o Distributed Art Publishers
155 Sixth Avenue, 2nd floor, New York, NY 10013-1507
9780989785914, $32.50, PB, 144pp,

Synopsis: Petrified wood is the name given to a special type of fossilized remains of terrestrial vegetation. It is the result of a tree or tree-like plants having completely transitioned to stone by the process of permineralization. All the organic materials have been replaced with minerals (mostly a silicate, such as quartz), while retaining the original structure of the stem tissue. Unlike other types of fossils which are typically impressions or compressions, petrified wood is a three-dimensional representation of the original organic material. (Wikipedia)

The Petrified Forest National Park in Northeast Arizona protects one of the largest deposits of petrified wood in the world. Despite stern warnings, visitors remove several tons of petrified wood from the park each year, often returning these rocks by mail (sometimes years later), accompanied by a "conscience letter". These letters often include stories of misfortune attributed directly to their theft: car troubles, cats with cancer, deaths of family members, etc. Some writers hope that by returning these stolen rocks, good fortune will return to their lives, while others simply apologize or ask forgiveness.

Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by Ryan Thompson and Phil Orr, "Bad Luck, Hot Rocks" documents this ongoing phenomenon, combining a series of original photographs of these otherworldly "bad luck rocks" with facsimiles of intimate, oddly entertaining letters from the park's archives.

Critique: Profusely illustrated from cover to cover, "Bad Luck, Hot Rocks: Conscience Letters and Photographs from the Petrified Forest" is a simply fascinating read. Unique, informative, and extraordinary, "Bad Luck, Hot Rocks" is an unusual and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, college, and university library collections.

Cheboygan Twin Lakes
Thomas R. Knox
Xlibris Corporation
1663 South Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
9781796010619, $31.95, PB, 230pp,

Synopsis: In "Cheboygan Twin Lakes: Community in the Woods", Thomas R. Knox (a retired Bowling Green State University history professor) deftly explores the complex physical, historical and social factors which have allowed a small kettle lake in northeastern Michigan to remain ecologically and environmentally sound, a "gem" lake.

"Cheboygan Twin Lakes" investigates these within the context of local/regional, state, and national history. It also tells a story of how and why a community of residents has been formed in the forest and has functioned as an effective steward of its natural resources.

Critique: Occasionally illustrated with maps and historical photographs, "Cheboygan Twin Lakes: Community in the Woods" is impressively informative and exceptionally well written, organized and presented. It could well serve as a template for similar local community historical studies. While highly recommended for both community and academic library Regional American History collections in general, and Michigan State History supplemental studies lists in particular, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Cheboygan Twin Lakes: Community in the Woods" is also available in an inexpensive digital book format (Kindle, $0.99).

Sydney Bellingham's Canada
William Hesler
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
195 Allstate Parkway, Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R 4T8
9781554554157, $40.00, PB, 234pp,

Synopsis: Sydney Robert Bellingham (August 2, 1808 - March 9, 1900) came to Canada from Ireland at the age of 15 in 1824 from Ireland. His lack of prejudice and snobbery sets him apart from a lot of English-speaking writers of that era, and made him a keen-eyed observer with a fresh perspective on important events in Canadian history.

"Sydney Bellingham's Canada: People, Places and Events in the Middle Half of the Nineteenth Century" by William Hesler is a collection of historical snapshots of events that Sydney Bellingham witnessed and the people he knew, and will be of particular interest readers with an interest in 19th Century Canadian history.

Critique: Unreservedly recommended for community and academic library 19th Century Canadian History collections and supplemental studies reading lists, "Sydney Bellingham's Canada: People, Places and Events in the Middle Half of the Nineteenth Century" is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of maps, illustrations, an informative postscript (Rumour, Myth, Legend, and Historical Fact), genealogy tables, a listing of primary sources, a bibliography, and an index.

Paul T. Vogel

Richard Blake's Bookshelf

The Field Guide to Extraordinary Communication and Connection
Rachael Doyle
Sound Wisdom
P. O. Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257
9781640950788, $15.99, 136 pages

Business Communication, Personal Success, Business Etiquette

Rachael Doyle's book "The Field Guide to Extraordinary Communication and Connection" is chock-full with keys to connecting and communicating in meaningful ways.

The cost of too many meetings, unclear objectives and the lack of team communications are astounding. Rachel introduces pointers on the best channels of good communication.

From One-on-One communication, online networking, telephone contacts, and business meetings, readers will learn the importance of communication and connecting in positive and effective ways.

From good manners, respect, discipline, effective planning, and creating or becoming an effective team member of employees who feel informed and connected.

The content is divided into eleven fast-moving chapters, each focused on a single subject, a specific communication issue.

If you think a picture is worth 1,000 words, take a good look at and heed the powerful lesson from the illustration opening each chapter. Common sense reminders formatted, in an organized natural progression, become extraordinary new tools, often overlooked in business today.

I can highly recommend Rachel Doyle's "The Field Guide to Extraordinary Communication and Connection."

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Richard R. Blake
Senior Reviewer

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

Falling Stars: (Kyle Achilles, Book 3)
Tim Tigner
Amazon Digital Services LLC
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
B076N5B7CJ, $5.99, ebook
9781979259385, $14.99 pbk 394 pages

Falling Stars is a good action suspense novel. It is a well written tale with unstoppable heroes, heroines and super villains. For those who have read earlier Kyle Achilles stories, the story is still fun but the uniqueness is a little lacking.

Kyle Achilles and his former partner Jo are setup in separate incidents. Kyle is framed for murder and Jo is attacked as a test for a new international kidnapping scheme by their nemesis Ivan the Ghost. On the run from both the authorities and Ivan they have to find the Ghost before either the law or his henchmen find them.

With Falling Stars, Tigner has created a technologically plausible super villain scheme giving the story a realistic edge. Even with the loss of freshness in this third book in the series, Falling Stars is an easy recommendation for action adventure readers.

Romeo's Rules (Mike Romeo Thrillers Book 1)
James Scott Bell
Amazon Digital Services LLC
Compendium Press
B015OXVAQ0, $3.99
9780910355292, $12.99 pbk, 260 pages,

Romeo's Rules is a very good action mystery. The protagonist is an articulate well educated cage fighter who is trying to live off-the-grid. The dialog sparkles and the action is nearly non-stop. It is a perfect fit for the action mystery genre blend.

Mike Romeo is on his daily run when a nearby church explodes. When running to the scene, he is nearly hit by a racing car. As he arrived on the scene, he finds a damaged daycare center and an injured woman searching for her missing children. Romeo looks inside of the church and finds a murdered man. Within hours, he finds a second murdered man and is threatened by the police and thugs. Romeo decides he has to find out what is going on with the missing children as he is continually threatened and attacked by an assortment of criminals.

Romeo's Rules is an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoys action mysteries. Romeo is essentially a well-balanced blend of Parker's Spencer and Child's Jack Reacher. The mystery is solid and twisty and the action hardly stops. The fun characters and the strong storyline is well enough done that most people who prefer other genres will still find Romeo's Rules a good read. The only drawback with the book is that you need to make sure you have a long enough block of time to finish the story within a day or two. You won't be able to concentrate on anything else until you finish the story.

S.A. Gorden, Senior Reviewer

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

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