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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 3 March 2022 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

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

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf

Cutting the Cord: The Cell Phone Has Transformed Humanity
Martin Cooper
9781948122740, $26.99, HC, 264pp

Synopsis: The cell phone changed the world. It revolutionized how people communicate, freeing them to get in touch with one another at any time and in any place without the constraints of wires. The cell phone led to the creation and growth of whole new industries. Yet the true story of its creation has not been told -- until now.

With the publication of "Cutting the Cord: The Cell Phone Has Transformed Humanity" by Martin Cooper tells that story. It centers on a battle for control of how people communicate, involving government regulators, lobbyists, police, technology breakthroughs, failures, quartz, and a horse. At the center of that story is the man known as 'The Father OF The Cellphone", Martin Cooper.

"Cutting the Cord" describes how Martin's early life would influence the creation of the cell phone.

As industry skirmishes became a political war in Washington in the form of a struggle to prevent a monopolistic company from dominating telecommunications, "Cutting the Cord" is a dramatic history that culminates in the first-ever public call made on a handheld, portable telephone -- a cell phone.

Despite that, the cell phone we know today almost didn't happen.

Without the vision of a small group at Motorola, the last forty years of history would be different. Their story is inspiring and instructive. After a twenty-nine-year career at Motorola, Cooper became an entrepreneur, helping launch companies dedicated to accelerating cell phone adoption.

The story of the cell phone has much to teach about innovation, strategy, and management. "Cutting the Cord" also relates Cooper's vision of the future of personal communications. That story is far from finished. We have only achieved a small fraction of the cell phone's potential impact.

The cell phone empowers people from all walks of life. It is reshaping how children learn. The ways we work together will soon seem primitive because of continued advances in the cell phone. Most of all, the cell phone will transform medicine and healthcare, contributing to the eradication of disease, elimination of poverty, extension of life, and close coupling of human and artificial intelligence.

Critique: A story of technology, business, politics, and social/cultural impact, "Cutting the Cord: The Cell Phone Has Transformed Humanity" is an inherently fascinating and impressively informative read from first page to last. Of special interest and appeal professionals and non-specialist general readers who have an interest in the subject of wireless transmission technology, and the relationship of new technology to the corporate world of business and finance, "Cutting the Cord: The Cell Phone Has Transformed Humanity" is especially and highly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Science & Technology collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Cutting the Cord: The Cell Phone Has Transformed Humanity" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9781665025522, $29.95, CD).

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

Paris Blue
Julie Scolnik
9781646634712, $29.95 hc / $2.99 Kindle, 252pp

Paris Blue bills itself as "A Memoir of First Love," but it's also a study in finding equilibrium, Parisian culture and atmosphere, and an illicit affair between an American music student and a handsome married Frenchman.

First love in adulthood often brings with it conundrums and considerations only those well out of teenage puppy love years can handle effectively.

In Julie Scolnik's case, her evolving relationship with not just Luc but Paris itself comes that explores matters of the heart that contrasts cultural differences with her growing maturity: “When you fall in love at twenty, I wondered, [ . . . ] does the heart form around the other person, like an old tree slowly absorbs a sign hung on it when it was a sapling? And then, when it’s gone, do you forever feel the lack of it, feel its imprint, where it once rested?"

This sets Paris Blue apart from other memoirs of either love affairs or coming-of-age experiences. It grounds the story with an encounter between two cultures who hold different views not just about love, but attitudes and approaches to life. The approach brings readers into the milieu of an experience that includes a distraught wife and Scolnik's own observation of her complacency in the increasingly complicated situation.

The memoir evolves into a lyrical letter about romance, lies, and expectations, readers receive a lovely story about the illusions and realities of connections, dreams, the fallout from love, and the process of growing and leaving a damaging relationship.

Paris Blue incorporates all the elements of a love affair with another, with self, and with a backdrop that encourages change, experimentation, and new realizations.

Its examination of the language and cultural barriers that enter into the bigger picture of romance is particularly well-done as it considers both sides of barriers to understanding: "I had just turned twenty-two. I had never lived in Boston and now that my original plan to go to Maine had been discarded, I really didn’t know what to suggest. I felt too young to be in charge of all these plans. The language problem stripped Luc of all adult perspective and responsibility."

The result is a Parisian experience like few others: a foray into new possibilities and growth that takes readers by the hand to lead them into another country and unexpected emotional encounters.

Paris Blue belongs in any library collection strong in not just romance memoirs and stories of personal transformation, but intercultural experiences and lessons learned from life. And, of course, Paris.

The Wilbur Stories and More
Barry Vitcov
Finishing Line Press
9781646627790, $20.99

Wilbur is a nine-year-old child being homeschooled by a wealthy single mother. Sal is a forty-two-year-old flower photographer whose three-mile loop in search of new flowers takes him past a youngster he doesn't even register as sitting on his porch.

When Wilbur confronts him, calling Sal a "flower bandit" in the short story of the same title, Sal feels a sense of camaraderie with the rock-collecting youngster. A daily walk between the two gains the approval of Eli, a concerned mother who comes to view Sal as an appropriate male role model that Wilbur has been lacking in his short life.

The relationship between these two is cemented by Sal's observation and emphasis of how uniqueness in the world and between people is to be celebrated and fostered.

As The Wilbur Stories and More evolves, these short vignettes capture more life stories and build upon one another. For one example, Pop's Donuts and Coffee appears in several scenarios before it gains its own short story about the evolution of the business and its impact on the community of Bear City.

As Jack's summer employment in the cafe becomes a regular job that earns him independence after college and leads to his engagement and further connections with the business, now-twelve-year-old Wilbur is a witness to all these changes, which culminate in a surprise readers won't see coming.

These short pieces intersect to build different aspects of the town and its residents as Wilbur, Sal, and others evolve along with it.

Barry Vitcov's approach to using each short work to add another dimension of realistic inspection to not just Wilbur's life but the people who surround him makes for literary pieces that are thought-provoking in their quiet inspections of life choices and change.

Wilbur grows through these relationships and insights, and readers will welcome the gentle inspections which take their time to build atmosphere and connections.

The section 'More Stories' arrives almost halfway through the collection to depart from the Wilbur-centric focus. These music-centered works depict various characters whose rituals and relationships capture life-changing experiences and moments, big and small.

Vitcov's ability to capture the pace and purposes of these moments in time is a testimony to his ability to take a literary snapshot of moments that reflect quiet transformation and revelations.

Readers seeking a literary collection of interconnected pieces which hold the rhythms and music of interpersonal relationships will find The Wilbur Stories and More delightfully evocative and quietly thought-provoking. Each story excels in taking a narrowed focus of a character's life and bringing it to full-bodied maturity.

Lita & Jean: Memoirs of Two Generations of Military Women
Lita Tomas and Jean Marie McNamara
Master Wings Publishing
9781646630134, $24.95

Lita & Jean: Memoirs of Two Generations of Military Women is a unique memoir that belongs in a wide range of collections; from military libraries to women's issues readers and those who look for multigenerational, linked stories. It tells of a mother and daughter's very different military service and experiences. Having such a contrast allows for a deeper inspection and understanding of the changing military than any individual story alone could provide.

Lita Tomas enlisted with the army as a tank mechanic in 1977, the first year women were allowed to join the regular ranks.

Jean Marie McNamara started her term of service as an E1 in the U.S. Army, where she worked as a medic, a Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, and Radiological officer, and as Deputy Director of her local Emergency Services & Disaster Agency. After an injury, Jean retired as a First Lieutenant.

There are three sections to their memoir. Each begins an autobiographical first-person section that traverses the extent of their lives before, during, and after service. The third section is about their shared experiences and relationships. It's served up in contrasting chapters that cover ongoing army experiences and civilian transitions alike.

At some point, Lita comes to recognize that not all battles are fought in the military, but often stem from life circumstances: "I thoroughly enjoyed the work I was doing at USTRANSCOM and felt like I was performing an essential duty to my country, but with the pending security investigation and my daughter's injuries, I felt that my next war should be fought at home, so I tendered my resignation."

As Jean's health becomes problematic and she struggles to obtain disability designation and the benefits that come with it, she also faces the inconsistencies and failings of a broken medical and social services system.

Lita was right. There are many more battles left to fight at home...and mother and daughter join forces as they continue to support one another and their belief in their country and hard work.

Lita & Jean offers more than just a consecutive mother/daughter story. It's about justice and injustice in various American systems. It details shared experiences between the two and changes that time has introduced to routines and brings to life military and civilian experiences from a special vantage point: "After receiving all of my gear, I headed outside and joined the hundreds of other female recruits. It felt a bit surreal knowing that I was going through the exact same things, and in the exact same place, that my mom had before me. It felt a bit like a right of passage, or like another sacrament, but with hand grenades and semi-automatic weapons."

Lita & Jean is specific in its stories of these different military services. It provides readers with a rare glimpse of how women's roles in the military have been changing over time, and it is especially skilled in its dance between family relationships and military inspection.

Women who want insiders' views of this changing milieu and the experiences of women who enter the military will find Lita & Jean an outstanding survey with a powerful message to the public: "We came out stronger and more determined than ever to help others. We became advocates for ourselves and others: offense as well as defense. It is imperative to advocate for yourself in the military, as it is 'mission first.'"

Their battles will reach out to general-interest audiences, as well, with a riveting memoir that is a powerful testimony to courage, perseverance, and service.

Bad Blood Sisters
Saralyn Richard
Encircle Publications
9781645993209, $17.99 Paper/$27.99 Hardcover/$5.99 ebook

Bad Blood Sisters takes mystery, suspense, and romance and winds them into a gripping story highly recommended for mystery readers seeking clever twists and turns and a Texas backdrop.

A blood sister oath comes back to haunt Quinn McFarland, compelling her to probe a secret over a decade old and set aside the family funeral parlor biz to address a more pressing problem.
A wry sense of humor about death runs through Quinn's life and family. But this is about to be challenged in a surprising manner as her older brother struggles with a life-threatening disease and she recalls a summer in which friend Ana French changed the course of her life forever.

As her job and her life intersect with the growing conundrums posed by a commitment and mystery from the past, Quinn and her readers are haunted by circumstances that come full circle to drag them into an atmosphere of threat and redemption.

Quinn is being followed. She finds her dealings with the police tricky, threatening her ability to move through the world independently. And her personal probe of what lies behind the threats and Ana's death leads to unexpected revelations that could either get her killed or free her from the past forever.

Questions emerge as she fields these forces in her life: "Not for the first time, Quinn considered how time seemed to speed by these days. If Jack's life, or even hers, were to end now, what imprint would each of them have left on the world? Neither of them married, no children, and except for working in death services, what had either of them accomplished? Quinn had told her second grade teacher she was going to be a doctor. Even at age seven, she'd wanted to work on the living side of things. What had changed her mind, she wondered now? How had all her aspirations evaporated into the salty Gulf Coast air?"

Richard does a fine job of building suspense and tension, creating a character who struggles as much with her own intentions and life as she does with the growing mystery that takes over her focus.

Richard crafts a story that reviews secrets, bonds, redemption, and danger on many different levels. Readers who enjoy mysteries that are packed with promises and perils will find Quinn's search for happiness as compelling as the conundrums that seem to thwart her quest for a different outcome in her life.

Mystery collections looking for powerful plots and characters will find Bad Blood Sisters an exceptional acquisition.

Ellen Dee Davidson
Luminare Press
9781643887180, $9.99 paperback; $4.99 ebook; $25.00 hardbound

Advanced elementary to middle school readers looking for a visionary fantasy story will find Wind just the ticket for a short yet thoroughly engrossing read.

"Will you listen to me?"

Only sixth grader Katie Noriega can apparently hear the voice of the oak tree outside the classroom window, which begs her to help keep its branches from being cut. She can hear not only the natural world, but the pain of others around her as they struggle.

Not only is she the only one who can hear the oak's message, but her peers tease her. There's no help at home, either, as her household is in conflict. Nobody can help when she begins to hear these other voices and is charged with undertaking a rescue mission.

Things become even stranger when she encounters an alien and embarks on a journey with him which ties into the messages she's been receiving from the world around her.

Who wants to listen? Who is really talking?

As Katie's experiences test her environmental awareness, she and companion Za face poison, butterflies, and fairies, cultivating a sense of balance that they bring to one another...and might be able to transmit into an uncertain environment.

Katie thinks that all she's done is dream; but dreams are the first step towards any creation. This is what the fairies teach her. Their ability to live in tune with the environment provides lessons about her place in and connections to the world that will not only help her to interact with it, but possibly save it.

Ellen Dee Davidson's descriptions of Katie's journey are filled with strong imagery and many surprises: "The dreamy haze that clouded her vision cleared, but not all the way. It was like the visions she'd had with the fairies superimposed upon her waking life, so that now she could see patterns in all the dreams, waking and sleeping, connecting the way the plants grew up from the soil with the sounds of music, so one green shoot hummed a middle C and another throaty pitcher plant sang a low G."

As Katie begins to view her environment differently, her search for the Winged Ones seems to be heading towards a trip to be made alone. Without any support systems, can Katie overcome her inherent lethargy and tap into her anger and strength enough to foster a revolution?

Young readers receive an engrossing story that wears the guise of fantasy. Under the trappings of fairies and aliens lies a message of being proactive and involved, connecting with environmental concerns in a way that results in positive change.

From evolving friendships to self-doubt, Davidson crafts a story filled not just with action, but insights: "I was here for long enough to realize the Poison One couldn't stand a true friendship like ours - the kind that can accept each other exactly as we are." "And ourselves too," added Katie, thinking how close the pool had come to convincing her not to accept herself."

Wind holds an important message for middle-grade readers, couched in the guise of an adventure that adds food for thought about connections, support systems, courage, and the power of believing in oneself and nature.

This outstanding short work packs a lot of punch into a story and will appeal to young fantasy readers and adults looking for deeper messages in middle grade fantasies.

Never a Mere Mortal
Devon Dial
Independently Published
9798985223002, $13.99 paperback, $22.99 hardcover, $4.99 ebook

Never a Mere Mortal is a literary novel that features psychological depth and insights about evolving lives and challenges well met. It follows the shorter stories of different individuals as they make their way through the world harboring grief, conflict, and a desire for change, in their hearts.

Each story in the collection expands its reflective processes, with the tales both standing nicely alone and being stronger for being grouped together. Devon Dial describes the overall intention of her works best in an evocative Introduction: "Each person has a backstory. And each of their tales is being released back into the world in the form of judgments or joys, bitterness or beauty. But because we cannot fully know another person, in their entire life's story or even in the immediate rundown of their day, we can never truly understand the depth of their feelings, why people live and joke and hide and explode like they do."

Some of the stories are true, and some were embellished. All contain lessons that readers will find thought-provoking and beautifully wrought.

Take "Stamps," for one example. Dial's lyrical voice shines from the story's opening lines: "This is a small town, one of those places through which people pass without pause. If they did stop, they might find something amazing here, some mesmerizing lunge at the soul that both swells like stringed music and haunts like the dark of a lonely road. Instead, they judge our cramped homes and modest dreams. They drive past our old dilapidated barns and glance at our dogs eating grass beside the cars parked in the front yard. They look, but they never see the people who live in these homes and love these dogs and keep these cars in the yard because they belonged to our late fathers who never could quite get them running."

Readers don't just gain individual perspectives, but absorb the atmosphere and origins of experience that surround that inspection of place, time, and influence. From this premise evolves a simple house and a life where "stubborn red clay still stains every chance it gets."

As the character experiences "griefs that have wrenched his heart and threatened his faith, that have shaken the solid ground he took for granted," readers receive a story that uses the metaphor of a fast-running river to reconsider one's influence on and place in life and in time.

Each piece reflects the passage of time, changing senses of self and place, and the current in which "all things continued to fall predictably into line." Each employs metaphor, philosophical and spiritual thinking, and psychological examination to capture different facets of aging and life changes.

The result is a powerful collection of stories that focus on a sense of place, purpose, and changing times.

They offer readers absorbing scenarios, inspections, and lives that, together, form the nucleus of individuality, difference, and growth from diverse perspectives and experiences.

Those seeking literary novels that excel in visions of changing perspectives will find Never a Mere Mortal an evocative, powerful collection of tales.

Sophia Discovers the Real Treasure
Curt Casetta
Trenton House Publishing
9781956224023, $12.99 Paperback
9781956224030, $23.99 Hardcover

Sophia Discovers the Real Treasure: A Story of John Muir, Father of the National Parks provides children with a picture book story that goes beyond the usual biographical focus of the naturalist and his formation of the national parks system in America.

It includes the added bonus of reflections on Native American connections to the land, their experiences with white people, and how both they and Muir shared a love for the land.

Most of all, it's the unique, contemporary young narrator's voice, as lessons are imparted about all these elements, that will draw even reluctant young learners into the story: "Seriously? Grandma drags me to an old ranch to hear an old guy talk about another old guy who talked about nature? Why would I want to talk about that?! BOR-ing! So, while she's taking a tour, I'm on a bench near this big, red pine tree. 'It's NOT a pine tree,' Grandma says, 'it's a sequoia.'* Okay, so, I'm on a bench near this big, red sequoia. Some guy, John Muir,** planted it about a hundred years ago. Grandma says it's dying. I should sit here and appreciate it. Big deal."

Footnotes lead to boxes of definitions which pepper the account as an elderly man (who looks like a prospector) engages a young girl to review Muir's life and, more importantly, his concepts about wilderness and preservation.

The inviting dialogue uses a storyteller's compelling observations to draw readers into Muir's story: "Red smiles. 'John never been bored. He appreciated the nature all around him.' He coughs. 'You'll have to excuse me, I ain't been feeling too good.' He pats the donkey. 'Let's saunter, as John liked to call it. Maybe you'll find some treasure yourself.'"

The artwork is just as vivid and diverse as the story that emerges - a blend of appealing, cartoon-like figures; artistic backgrounds; and lovely digitally-altered photos of the California natural areas which Muir loved and determined to preserve.

The result is far more multifaceted than any singular review of Muir's life. It reads with the drama and excitement of fiction, but packs in much information about Native American and natural history as it reviews the political and social forces that influenced Muir's ability to save these lands for future generations.

If only one book about John Muir were to be selected for a discriminating modern picture book collection, it should be Sophia Discovers the Real Treasure.

Designed to appeal to audiences normally reluctant to read nonfiction presentations, it will appeal to a wide range of readers with a vivid, action-packed story firmly rooted in historical facts and information, delighting the young and adults alike.

Boulder Girl: Bad Moon Rising
Cynthia L. Clark
Outskirts Press
10940 S. Parker Road, #515, Parker, CO 80134
9781977249791, $23.95 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Boulder Girl: Bad Moon Rising provides a sequel to Boulder Girl, Remember Me When the Moon Hangs Low that returns Lana Ross, who is recovering from heartbreak and tragedy. It also follows the concurrent saga of murderer and escaped convict Leon Alvarez, who haunts her. Lana is Leon's "little darling,'" and jail has done nothing to temper his obsession with her.

As Lana faces discoveries that keep bringing her lost Vincent to mind, causing new pain, Leon finds that his choices are moving him ever further from his goal of becoming a part of her life.

Cynthia L. Clark juxtaposes the memories, thoughts, and perspectives of each character. This allows readers to thoroughly understand their actions, motivations, and goals.

From the roots of obsession to a grieving woman's recovery process as she moves through everyday life, readers receive an involving story of a clever killer whose obsession results in destructive and dangerous acts against others.

The changing perspectives of stalker and victim and the psychological challenges each confronts are profiled as Lana searches for connections between the crimes and herself and Leon faces startling confrontations that divert him from his initial intentions.

Musical references and interludes spice the story, as it did in the preceding story, adding a tantalizing, captivating series of play lists to compliment the plot's progression through evocative atmospheres.

As Lana faces the final legacy of Vincent's love and Leon comes full circle to give her another final dubious gift of truth, both face the lockstep of the destructive connections that first changed their lives.

Boulder Girl: Bad Moon Rising's evocative tale of obsession, stalking, recovery, and redemption is highly recommended for Lana's prior readers, who will find her ongoing journey riveting.

It belongs in any collection where women's literature and experiences are a highlight.

The Empathy Academy
Dustin Grinnell
Atmosphere Press
9781639882205, $17.99 Paperback/$7.99 ebook

The Empathy Academy presents a moral and medical conundrum over ethics testing on teens. Here, those with questionable test results are sent to Woodward Academy on Nantucket Island for special instruction.

One of the Academy's first students is Montgomery Hughes. Unbeknownst to the educators, however, Montgomery is not really a candidate for this school, as he's switched his test results with another student in order to address his self-perceived personality deficits.

Herein lays the danger, because Montgomery's abilities include a savvy form of inspection and analysis that lead him to uncover a plot others are missing. It's a dark secret that questions the results of an ethics-intervention program that will stop at nothing to change its participants.

Montgomery has plenty of logical reasons for his subterfuge: "Even though the genetic test had proven that Monty wasn't predisposed to unethical behavior like Joseph, he still had his father's genes." But these pale in the face of ironic, unethical behavior that motivates the testers and dictates the treatment for students identified as being "at risk." Exposing this plot's more insidious results creates a dilemma that calls into question much more than the program's ability to change the psyche.

Dustin Grinnell is especially adept at capturing the bigger-picture dilemmas that stem from labeling moral and ethical behavior patterns: '...why don't people act in these situations?' Monty asked. Palmer smiled grimly. 'You've arrived at the most terrifying aspect of all these events: the detachment people can show when observing events like the Holocaust.'

Montgomery's inspection of his own heritage, his motivations for changing it, and the impact of a program designed to reintroduce ethical behaviors in its subjects makes for a gripping story that is part sci-fi and part philosophical reflection, questioning scientific approaches to revising human behavior.

It raises many questions in the course of crafting a fast-paced story packed with intrigue and suspense as Montgomery gets to the heart of questions about his own legacy and impact on society.

While sci-fi readers interested in thriller atmospheres will be the most likely audience for The Empathy Academy, it's also highly recommended as a discussion piece for philosophy students interested in moral and ethical dilemmas.

Placing it on the reading lists of such an audience will assure that its message, couched in strong adventure descriptions and ethical probes, will translate to thought-provoking debates and classroom discussions as students absorb a more contemplative message than the usual sci-fi read offers.

Brilliant White Peaks
Teng Rong
Independently Published
9781777858506. $14.99

Brilliant White Peaks will appeal to readers who like animal stories and reflective works strong in magic, adversity, and tenacity.

Teng Rong employs the first person to capture the wolf narrator's experiences of his world, drawing readers from its opening lines: "I first saw light when Ma left the safe place. I opened my eyes, and there was a tiny and bright crescent of light in the distance. I didn't like it, so I squeezed my eyes shut and shrank back into the warm, earthy depths to wait for Ma to come back. I longed for her warmth and her scent - the scent of home and safety."

Wolf perceptions and natural history blend especially well in this story, which depicts the world from the viewpoint of a young canine protagonist who faces the early breakup of his family unit and the special charge to protect his sister from the wild world around them.

This attention to detail in capturing these perceptions makes Brilliant White Peaks a powerful study. While it anthropomorphizes its characters to some extent, Teng Rong attends to creating a tale firmly rooted in the natural history of wolves as he follows the yearling's journey to put his family back together against all odds.

The descriptions of how the wolves interact with one another are vivid and evocative, adding drama and action to the story: "I heard voices, paw steps, and the rustling of danger that made my fur stand on end. White-Ears hid at the back and shook and whimpered, so I stood up and walked over to her. I licked her face until her breathing calmed and she opened her eyes again."

The animals have emotions and respond to their environments, experiences, and possibilities. These bring the wolf's world to life to create not only a memorable story, but one steeped in both atmosphere and evocative encounters: "Our voices tangled and danced together until it was one single voice and then one single echo."

Fans of Watership Down and other outstanding works centered in animal perspectives will relish the opportunity to get to know the wolf's world from a more intimate vantage point in Brilliant White Peaks, which is highly recommended for all ages.

Fall to Pieces
Becky Flade
Tirgearr Publishing
B09KT3PCBY, $3.99 Kindle

Focus on what's real. This admonition, which ends the first chapter in Fall to Pieces, could serve as a template for the entire story as homicide detective Lexi Danvers struggles with her personal life, her police department associates, and her latest case.

Lexi is passionate about one thing: bringing dangerous child kill Arthur Book to justice. Fellow Detective Xavier Knight, her new undercover partner, should be on the same page.

He is...but his job is really to secretly observe Lexi and report back to his superiors on her fitness for duty. His two conflicting assignments run the risk of allowing this killer to continue his rampage, while a department that should be committed to stopping him is divided over Lexi's competence.

The story opens with Lexi awakening to discover she's made it home from the bar with a one-night stand beside her in bed. Time to hit the eject button! With a service pistol's appearance, the unwanted Romeo runs, and readers are treated to an initial impression of why Lexi's fellow cops aren't standing behind her in support.

Through this description, readers are treated not to a profession vision of Lexi, but a personal life in disarray. It also indicates the first strength of Fall to Pieces: it's firmly rooted in personal lives, motivations, and personalities that don't always walk the straight moral line.

This lends the story an intimacy from the start as Lexi appears flawed even as she struggles to remain a committed professional who may be the only person to stop this killer.

The point of view fluctuates between Lexi and fellow detective Xavier. While chapter headings with each name might have made the transitions between the two even smoother, it's fairly evident which character receives the main focus as the chapters unfold.

Lexi might not only be a substandard detective riding on the coattails of a more accepted, admired late husband who is deemed "real police" by his department, but she's developed a big chip on her shoulder as she receives not the admiration, but the implicit condemnation of her peers.

While, on paper, she's more than a "good cop," it seems her promotions have only grudgingly been given. Can her department force her out? With Xavier's help, maybe. Viewed as a "lawsuit waiting to happen," Lexi's choices are scrutinized rather than supported.

Becky Flade provides a powerful story of one determined woman who faces the biggest case of her life with only limited backup. The perspectives of Lexi's fellow cops, the reason for their reactions to her, and the concurrent threats of a witch hunt and a cat-and-mouse game creates a contrast between two investigations operating on quite different levels.

Strong characterization keeps readers involved in Lexi's life and challenges, while attention to logic and perception probe the underlying influences affecting the attitudes of those around her.

These blend nicely with the mystery and intrigue elements and the romance which (predictably, given the cover art) evolves.

Readers seeking a blend of police procedural, love story, and tale of overcoming adversity will find Fall to Pieces compelling on several different levels, above and beyond its romantic developments.

It's a choice worthy of addition recommended for libraries interested in police procedurals and romance stories alike.

Olive and the Valentine's Spell
Helen Millman
Mascot Books
620 Herndon Parkway, #320, Herndon, VA 20170
9781637550779, $17.95

Olive and the Valentine's Spell takes a child's viewpoint about the relevance of Valentine's Day in his young, romance-free life as important questions are asked about what he is expected to do to celebrate it at school.

Helen Millman's picture book receives engaging drawings by Vanessa Alexandre as the first-person kindergartner narrator considers this confusing concept: "Am I supposed to love someone on the bus, on the train, or in my class? I am afraid. It feels too strange, and now my stomach is acting wild."

As a full-blown panic attack begins to emerge over the expectations of love, marriage, and romance that seem to surround "the Valentine," a wise mother listens to her son's wild imagination and calms him with the admonition that they can stand together to defy the idea that love should be a requirement on that day.

Further thought brings even more conflict, with a quasi-rhyme structure exploring these emotions and their ramifications: "Suddenly, a sad feeling rushed into my heart. It was clear to me then that "no love" is not as cool as I had thought. With no such feeling in the world, the opposite of love from now on will rule."

Olive and the Valentine's Spell is heady reading for the young in several ways. The structure presents rhyme that works in some places and is somewhat of a stretch in others, embracing concepts that parents and read-aloud adults will find perfect for discussion, but likely too complex for a young mind to absorb independently.

If the frightening concept of required love is banished from Olive's world, it will be a cold place, indeed.

Adults who choose this story for read-aloud will find its many concepts lend perfectly to further discussions about love, world unity, empowerment, choices and consequences, and commitment.

While Olive and the Valentine's Spell will prove challenging on some levels, it goes where few (if any) other picture books attempt in focusing on a child's imaginative fears over a holiday he perceives as being largely "for grown-ups," and in presenting alternative possibilities within his control that prove not as scary as facing the Valentine concept of love for others.

The final message of using holidays for personal empowerment is worth fielding the story's complexity to arrive at its nuggets of wisdom. Olive and the Valentine's Spell provides a very different take on Valentine's Day's meaning and its sometimes-frightening expectations.

Picture book collections that look for holiday interpretations of a different nature will welcome the unexpected journey undertaken by this young boy and his mother.

Finding Family Treasure
K. I. Knight and Jane R. Wood
Melting Pot Press, LLC
9781737337102, $10.99

An invitation to a class of fifth graders to document their own family histories results in newfound family discoveries that bring unexpected understanding and resolution to the diverse classroom's interpersonal relationships in Finding Family Treasure.

To its credit, the expected focus on genealogical processes is expanded to embrace cultural differences, interpersonal and intergenerational relationships, and the influence of heritage and attitude on daily interactions.

This added value lends insights into a variety of situations that can develop among students and friends, from bullying and misunderstandings to economics, work ethics and values, and more.

As the students interact over their projects and lives, Knight and Wood create intriguing discussions that are clearly presented: "'I bet you're one of those who likes to get straight As. I don't get it,' he said. 'I'm happy with a C, even a D, as long as I pass. Why do you work so hard?'

'I'm trying to earn a scholarship so I can get a college education, and someday have a decent-paying job. Do you get that?'

He got out of the car and leaned against it. He glared at her. 'You think I can't get a decent-paying job? My dad works in a manufacturing plant. He doesn't have a college degree, and I bet he makes more money than your dad. I could get a job there tomorrow if I wanted.'

'Is that what you really want?' she said before she could stop herself."

While much of this may seem heady reading for middle graders, the questions and answers posed in this story of a class genealogy project makes for a tale that is thought-provoking on many levels.

The connections between heritage and modern-day attitudes are particularly well constructed, and will delight both young readers who navigate the melting pot of differences that comprise modern America and adults who wish to impart lessons of tolerance, acceptance, and cultural empowerment.

The concluding message is clear and inviting: "Something very interesting happened when the students did this research about their ancestors. They discovered many new things about their families' histories - and they found they had some unexpected connections to one another."

Those Around Him
Brett Shapiro
Atmosphere Press
9781795255110, $19.95

Those Around Him is a work of literary fiction by an American author who captures the dilemma of a middle-aged man who confronts both his elderly father and his own sea changes.

Andrew is committed to trying to create a stable home for his dying father. He moved to Florida several years ago to keep an eye on him, and his caregiving duties have only gotten more complex as he faces the fact that his once-reliable good looks and effective approaches to life no longer work with advancing age: "Andrew was certain of one development as he headed home: he could no longer work his looks the way he used to; they were no longer there to be worked. He felt the brevity and indifference (so unintentionally cruel) of the glances of those who glanced at him, who were few. They were not looking at his looks. They were simply glancing at him..."

This translates to special challenges that affect Andrew's intimate relationships and his evolving connection to a new, young, attractive man Lex ("Ex"), who considers Andrew's home a 'sanctuary' and asks to move in.

Graphic sexual scenes between the two augment emotional connections as Andrew grapples with past, present, and future in an effort to understand his revised place in both his father's and new younger lover's life.

Brett Shapiro does an exceptional job of unfolding the layers of complexity between three men of different generations who find themselves connected by love and need.

Andrew's lifelong passion for men, his underlying fear of his father (which has changed to a strong connection as he's aged), and the challenge of having two very different people living under one roof are aptly captured by Shapiro and contrasted in evocative ways: "It seems impossible, preposterous, that his sanctuary is now occupied by an eighty-five-year-old dying man whom he knows so well that he is almost a habit, and a twenty-three-year-old who has rapidly succeeded in becoming habit-forming."

Readers who look for gay fiction of intergenerational examination, changing love, and the force of a hurricane that mirrors Andrew's underlying angst will find the story presents a series of thought-provoking psychological insights that receive intense, compelling descriptions: "Dorian's ardent symphony will soon be relegated to a secondary aspect of white noise, brutal but with a regularity that will serve as a kind of cushion to the deeper and more unbridled disturbances that these two men will feel, notwithstanding their being melded together in form and temperature like two ingots of metal risen to molten temperature and oozed into a single unit that will enable them to drift easily into a sleep-hibernation."

The result is a literary examination that blends the devices of gay fiction relationship inspections with the overlay of a middle-aged crisis and coming to terms with past, present, and future changes.

While its likely audience will be gay readers who appreciate such relationship focuses, Those Around Him is also a powerful pick for literary readers interested in stories firmly rooted in a sense of place, love, and purpose, where the main character faces a hurricane in his heart and struggles with many changes.

Pen Pal Gals: Friends Forever
Julie Thiessen
Mascot Books
620 Herndon Parkway, #320, Herndon, VA 20170
9781645435242, $9.99

Picture book readers interested in different forms of friendship will find Pen Pal Gals: Friends Forever a fine study in building long-distance friendships via the written word.

Reese meets new friend Addie during a summer vacation and the two form close bonds as they swim, boat, and share adventures. As summer draws to a close, they face a conundrum: how do they keep their friendship going without proximity?

Illustrator Vanessa Alexandre joins with author Julie Thiessen to provide visual attraction and reinforcement to the idea of the pen pal.

This story will reach elementary-level readers beyond the very simple picture book stage, who will relish the detailed descriptions that move from an outdoors, nature-oriented holiday to a blossoming friendship built on shared camping experiences and interests.

Trading notes and drawings is part of their evolving connections. But, will it be enough to cement an ongoing friendship?

The concept of pen pals is nicely reinforced in a story that holds different layers of information as it moves from how a friendship develops over shared interests to how it is maintained by new interests and a determination to keep in touch however far the miles separating them.

Picture book readers receive colorful visual displays that capture these two girls and their lives.

Adults looking to teach kids about the attractions of various forms of communication and connection will find Pen Pal Gals: Friends Forever the perfect choice for lessons and discussions on how to maintain different kinds of friendship.

And the Stars Began to Fall
Madeleine S. de Jean
Telemachus Press
9781951744977, $25.00 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Fade in to a sky full of exploding, falling stars in Pylos, Greece in 1190 B.C. King Nestor's observation of this occurs on the anniversary of the 1214 Mycenae disaster

Is this story sci-fi? Speculative fiction? Historical fiction? And the Stars Began to Fall refuses to neatly fit into a given category - and that is one of its pleasures, even though this could present a conundrum to libraries who like to neatly peg and file a book under one genre.

Little did archaeologist Margaret Benson know that her discovery of an ancient figurine would lead to knowledge of an ancient curse set to recreate history's disaster, warning her of her own death and events which will once again change the world.

As she embarks on a journey between past and present to uncover the truth about what caused the end of the great Bronze Age Peloponnesos society and what threatens her modern-day world, Margaret finds herself on a time-travel journey that holds portent for not just her own destiny, but that of all eras of history.

Readers anticipating an archaeological mystery or supernatural suspense story will find heavy doses of both in this book, as well as an alternate history historical backdrop that will intrigue sci-fi enthusiasts. Any singular reader of these genres may be surprised by the other elements which coalesce here, but this just makes the book a stronger, wider-ranging, less predictable, and thoroughly delightful story that will reach a large audience.

As the search for an incredible woman evolves into a magical journey capable of challenging its twenty-first century characters, readers will find the twists and turns delightful, the characters realistic and involving, and the story both thought-provoking and enlightening.

Who or what has determined and directed human affairs?

And the Stars Began to Fall's ability to weave historical influences and questions into bigger-picture thinking makes for an exceptional read. It operates on various levels of complexity, fueled by action and intrigue that keeps it a heady and involving read from start to finish, and is worthy of inclusion in sci-fi, alternate history, history, and thriller fiction library collections alike.

Choosing Magic
Karina Pacific
Independently Published
9780692171196, $18.00

Choosing Magic: A Memoir chronicles a childhood that might seem idyllic to some and challenging to others. With an absent father and a mother who was overworked, Karina Pacific bounced from place to place in a nomadic lifestyle and was left alone to "dig deep and find answers" about her roots and her mother's secrecy about their lives.

What she found buried in her mother's dresser would change their relationship forever ("The search was the beginning of me and the end of us."), sending Karina on a journey that eventually landed her in the U.S. and into a relationship with God that helped ground her in ways her upbringing didn't provide.

As she encounters and moves through other family structures and notes how differently her own life feels, Karina makes observations about the choices and challenges her life has been, up to the 1980s: "After a few weeks, my extended family and their teenage girls tried to make me feel at home. I tried, we all tried with little success. It was uncomfortable and awkward roaming around a house with what felt like strangers. I felt alone and confused wondering how The Kinders', complete strangers, could have done it so right, and this family was as natural as a silicone breast - it felt forced and looked awkward. So I just sat back and watched their rhythm and, boy, was that entertaining."

The lessons she learned from these observations help Karina find meaning and grounding in a world replete with chaos and constant upheaval: "I did learn to watch and learn to let people show themselves, that we don't need to force a connection, but we can learn from each other."

Karina Pacific crafts a compelling memoir about childhood, coming of age, growth, and fostering the kind of lifestyle that lends to continuity and meaning.

Her autobiography reflects both the immigrant experience as she journeys to a new land and emotional growth as she touches upon matters of the heart, learns to analyze and eventually forgive, and becomes a more spiritual, empowered woman as a result of her journey.

Readers interested in memoirs of resiliency, growing self-awareness, and life lessons fostered by both family influences and encounters with others will find this blend of travelogue, spiritual investigation, and psychological self-examination to be thought-provoking, moving, and enlightening on many different levels.

Whether it's chosen for its travels through other cultures or its revelations in adulthood, Choosing Magic is a compelling, multifaceted examination of how to recover from abuse, neglect, and early experiences to reach for the magic that lies in everyday living.

Choosing Magic deserves a place in memoir, self-help, and spirituality collections alike, and will invite discussion groups from book club readers to group therapy participants.

Flowers That Die
Gideon Halpin
Atmosphere Press
9781639881604, $15.99

The poems in Flowers That Die reflect the observations and journey of "sad boy" as he narrates his experiences of the world and his fading place in it: "With no place to be/sad boy drifts as a leaf/in a stream."

These free verse poetic inspections provide engrossing revelations about connections to self, the world, and others, forming nuggets of introspection that are surprising in their imagery. One example is 'Gas Chamber', in which the narrator observes that "if we were in a gas chamber/I'd tell you I love you/instead of watching/fluffy clouds/floating the sky river."

Gideon Halpin's changing images are as versatile as the clouds, capable of moving vast distances within the same poem. Introducing 'Gas Chamber', for example, is the compellingly creative description "pocket blade/stretches its leg/plunges through bread/and chaperones/Brie to the elopement."

From magic and beauty in which the world "is a boundless garden/turning under the sun" to the narrator's relentless progression through beauty towards the inevitable end of time when everything changes, Halpin provides a stunning juxtaposition of nature and human perspective creates evocative jigsaw puzzle pieces of experience which interconnect in unexpected ways.

Readers seeking a literary poetry collection that represents a powerful journey through magic and mystery, past and present, and human and natural affairs will relish Flowers That Die's compelling journey and descriptions.

The Ballad of Billy McFee
Ruby Mosher
Virginia Raymond Publishing
9781737887800, $5.99 Ebook / $11.99 Paperback

The Ballad of Billy McFee: A Sea Shanty To Read Or Sing introduces picture book readers to the concept of a sea shanty, and will prove particularly inviting to adults who choose it for read-aloud.

Billy McFee is a colorful fish with a problem. His ship is stuck in the muck on the sea floor, and he's determined to solve his problem no matter what others say about the impossible circumstances involved in freeing it.

A rollicking rhyme follows Billy's dilemmas as skeptical clams observe and criticize and a sympathetic crab tries to dispel the negativity surrounding Billy's struggles.

Adults receive the perfect opportunity to teach the very young about concepts of teamwork, positivity, determination, and diversity as a crew of sea denizens try to help.

The parallel stories of the crab and clams expand the perspective of the tale beyond Billy McFee's observations and dilemmas.

The lively rhymes, appearances of different sea creatures, and underlying lessons about overcoming adversity are nicely done, teaching kids about both sea shanties and cooperation as they sing along with the nautical effort.
Adults looking for an interactive picture book opportunity that operates on many different levels will find The Ballad of Billy McFee just the ticket for a lively, thought-provoking read.

Rawhide Jake: Learning the Ropes
JD Arnold
Five Star Books
c/o Gale Cengage Learning, Inc.
20 Channel Center Street, Boston, MA 02210
9781432889197, $25.95

Jonas Brighton (Rawhide Jake) has held many identities: a Civil War soldier, POW camp detainee, detective, and killer. Life has turned him into someone who can either follow or skirt the law, depending on his interests, but he's generally an honorable man and a loyal husband.

His convictions and approach to life lead to his becoming a stock detective whose investigations and confrontations keep the law (and, sometimes, the peace).

As JD Arnold's historical novel follows the life and times of the real Jonas Valentine Brighton, it provides a vivid story of the changing morals, challenges, and social order of the post-Civil War West.

The saga begins in a Kansas prison, where Jake has been sentenced to five years for grand larceny. Ironically, it's for stealing mules and horses...the very act which will lend to his becoming a savvy stock detective, upon his release.

Because he had need for them, he didn't view his act as stealing. Jake pays his dues in more than one manner when his wife dies while he's in prison, changing his future. His prison experiences and this event lead him into unexpected directions.

JD Arnold takes the time to explain Jake's transformations and activities, from exploring his evolution in prison to employing his expertise at kick fighting (also learned in prison) to confront a bully.

He surveys the methods by which Jake succeeds in his newfound career ("I am impressed with your ability to obtain a confession from the Talbott brothers without them ever thinking it was being done.") and is especially adept at capturing action and atmosphere to add a realistic feel to Jake's story: "Dalton drew his pistol. Jake threw his left leg over Jasper's neck and slid off the saddle. Dalton's Colt forty-five thundered and shot a red-orange flame a foot long out the muzzle. The bullet hit Waldrup in the back high on the right side. Jake still had his bullwhip in his hand, and he uncoiled it behind him as he pushed people out of his way. Waldrup was thrown to the boardwalk by the impact. The doves screamed."

Arnold's exploration of Rawhide Jake's life, legacy, and reputation is an example of why historical fiction can prove much more compelling than nonfiction. The drama, motivations, and insights of Jake and other characters are nicely captured against the backdrop of ongoing confrontations that test their moral and ethical perceptions of their place in the world.

Rawhide Jake: Learning the Ropes builds Jake's life and motivations in preparation for further explorations in other books in the series. It will be welcomed by any library collection or patron interested in biographical historical fiction and depictions of post-Civil War justice and life.

The Itinerant
Elizabeth Engstrom
IFD Publishing
9781734297898, Paperback: $11.95/Kindle: $6.95, 236pp

The Itinerant is a dystopian suspense story that centers on fifteen-year-old Parker Montrose, who tries to navigate a chaotic world after an apocalypse leaves him in charge of his younger sister Sherilyn.

The pandemic world which introduces his situation will prove quite familiar to those navigating COVID today, where Parker's household appears normal even as frightening news grows about the illness. Their little town of Rowan, Oregon seems safe from the winds that carry the sickness...until it is not.

Parker has been charged with caring for his sibling; one of the last tasks his parents presented to him. And, just before their demise, a miracle has occurred: "Something had happened. Something terrible, something wonderful, something unimaginable had just happened, because Parker, her sweet, beautiful son, in all his sixteen years, had never before spoken."

Elizabeth Engstrom builds a world suddenly and vastly changed by an epidemic, and a teenager who adapts along with it to grow his own potential in order to survive in ways his parents and society could never have prepared him for.

As different characters come into Parker's life and interact, he realizes that he's not the one speaking. Something is speaking through him. That entity may be offering the only real hope humanity has left, as it's decimated by the virus.

There is violence along the way as characters face a new world and tests of their ability to survive. From encounters with bad guys to community-building against all odds, Parker is the pivot point for hope and transformation that teaches other teens how to adapt and survive.

Hope springs eternal. But, does Parker's ability mean he can heal those wounded during this effort?

Engstrom create a thought-provoking story that sojourns through adversity, changed objectives, and a world completely transformed.

There are many unexpected moments that affect both Parker and his mission in life as he encounters others who also face changes and challenges to their core values.

The spiritual component and message of unity and preservation that runs through Parker's experiences and story are delightful threads that will keep young adults reading and involved.

Anyone interested in stories of post-apocalyptic survival and transformation will find The Itinerant more intriguing, holding a deeper message about humanity's objectives and survival, than most genre reads.

Hell Holes: A Slave's Revenge
Donald Firesmith
Independently Published
9798527374209, $19.99 Hardcover/$12.99 Paper/$.99 Kindle

Hell Holes: A Slave's Revenge is the fourth book in a series that revolves around alien invasion, imprisonment, and a teen's determination to avenge his father's death.

As a prequel to the series, it's the perfect place for newcomers to get a sense of the beginnings of Paul Chapman's changed life as an alien's slave. It is presented in the form of an autobiography of his life "as a slave on Hell."

From his parents' lives in Alaska to coming of age in "the most beautiful land imaginable" before disaster changes everything, readers receive a powerful, action-packed introduction to the series that follows what happens when demons appear to kill his father and take over the family's lives, transporting them to Hell.

Vivid color drawings of these monsters pepper the account, leaving nothing to reader imagination about the appearance and threat of these aliens.

Words of insight and inspiration permeate tales of demon encounters: "One only truly fails to succeed if one fails to try. Anything more, no matter how small it might seem, is a partial success." The unexpected injection of wisdom from various sources lends a philosophical tone to this survival story that gives Paul courage as he rises to the position (and dubious privilege) of being a slave that oversees others.

From a Goddess who is set to command the broader invasion process to Paul's struggles with his emotions, ethical choices, and the consequences of his actions, this survey of an invading army of demons and their impact follows Paul's maturity and survival process as the world is transformed.

Prior series readers will appreciate the attention to detail that flushes out both the invasion specifics and Paul's youth and coming of age, while newcomers will find Hell Holes a fitting introduction to the books that follow.

It's unusual to see a prequel arrive as the fourth book in a series, but Hell Holes: A Slave's Revenge does a fine job of setting the stage for future events, explaining early influences and facts about Paul's life and surveying the initial results of the appearance of demon monsters on Earth.

It's a riveting read for newcomers and prior fans alike, highly recommended for horror and sci-fi fans, who will enjoy blends of both in a coming-of-age story like few others.

From Auschwitz with Love
Daniel Seymour
Amsterdam Publishers
9789493231887, $19.95 Hardcover/$16.95 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

From Auschwitz with Love: The Inspiring Memoir of Two Sisters' Survival, Devotion and Triumph as told by Manci Grunberger Beran & Ruth Grunberger Mermelstein belongs in collections strong in Holocaust history and survival memoirs.

This 13th book in the publisher's Holocaust series of publications contrasts the lives of two very different siblings who were young girls when they were sent to Auschwitz, along with eight members of their immediate family.

It was the special bond between these sisters that gave each the courage to endure and survive circumstances which felled others, and which is captured here in a story that tells of both inhumanity and the enduring power of love.

As it outlines the backdrop of events that led to Auschwitz and details the process of dehumanization and cruelty employed by their Nazi capturers, From Auschwitz with Love follows how the sisters moved beyond survival to rebuild their lives.

There are many Holocaust memoirs, but this one, in particular, holds vivid memories and contrasts between experiences that bring Auschwitz to life: "I thought it was a haunting feeling. Besides sorting clothes in the warehouse, we were assigned to enter the sauna building and remove clothing left behind by the other prisoners and victims. You were always wondering about the owners and how the SS lied and deceived them into thinking that their lives were about to get better."

The contrasts between the sisters; the evolution of their lives before, during, and after imprisonment; and the determination they exhibit during these experiences are captured for future generations with vivid diary passages: "At the time we didn't know anything about our circumstances. But I remember it now in two ways. You either gave in and then you had no hope. Or you decided they were not going to win, but, to be honest, you still never thought you would get out."

With its powerful writing testifying to endurance, love, and perseverance, From Auschwitz with Love both documents the Holocaust and provides insights and inspirations for future generations studying World War II history, the process by which people dehumanize others to justify their cruelty, and how survival can be achieved against all odds.

It belongs, certainly, in any Holocaust or World War II library. But From Auschwitz with Love also needs to be part of any discussion group about ethics, morals, and survival. Like Anne Frank, these messages need to live on past their writers and eras, reminding readers about humanity, inhumanity, and how to be both a survivor and a better person.

Dry Heat
Len Joy
BQB Publishing
9781952782510, $19.95 Paper/$8.99 ebook

Dry Heat is a crime thriller about a young adult who finds himself in deep trouble over a variety of issues that change his life.

First up is Joey's ex-girlfriend's pregnancy, which he discovers the day after he turns 18, breaks up with his new girlfriend, and is arrested for an attempted murder he didn't commit.

These are only the opening challenges to his newfound adulthood as Joey navigates events that send his father off the deep end and confound his goals: "Everything wasn't going to be fine, that much he could figure out. It was hard to breathe, like the wind had been knocked out of him by a blindside tackle."

To his credit, the news about Mallory's pregnancy causes Joey to think about new options, until he realizes that he needs to adopt bigger-picture thinking and consider the dilemmas of others ("Joey kicked himself again for making this about him.").

As the onslaught of changes continues and makes him increasingly aware of the impact his choices have on those around him, Joey both evolves and rises to confront very adult issues, from childbirth to death.

The dry heat which is the title of his story is present both in a physical and a metaphysical manner, and is creatively described in passages which link Joey to the world in many different ways: "The temperature was already into the eighties and the sun was still just below the horizon. It felt comfortable running. That was the danger of dry heat. Your body didn't notice the heat like it did when there was humidity. Sweat quickly evaporated, making the body feel cool. But stay out there too long and the dry heat would kill you before you knew what hit you."

There are murders, courtroom processes, girlfriend troubles, and gang leaders who prove to be unusual keys to resolving Joey's problems in different ways.

While it's difficult to accurately peg Dry Heat as a crime thriller alone because of its multifaceted approaches to Joey's life changes, it's packed with action, intrigue, and philosophical and social inspections, as well.

Readers who choose it for its crime story will find many more elements in Dry Heat as Joey moves into adulthood to face a series of conundrums that test his evolving morals and ethics as much as his ability to survive and evolve.

As Joey's story reaches an unexpected conclusion after traversing magical thinking, elaborate plans, and fresh starts, readers will appreciate the blend of suspense and growth that makes for an invigorating, involving read.

Treble Damages
David Elkind
Independently Published
9798493423987, $25.99 hardcover, $16.99 paperback, $7.99 ebook

Jack Pressler has spent his life building his reputation as the best antitrust lawyer in the country. In order to attain this position, he's also honed a personal style of ruthless, heartless behavior that has earned him a reputation as both effective and frightening.

This legacy of dubious success stems directly from his experiences with a bullying father: "After his problems with Dan, if someone slighted Jack, no matter how insignificantly, he would react with a vengeance, making sure that the other person suffered the consequences of their actions." And it's about to be challenged by a case which introduces the threat of failure precisely because of how Jack approaches it with his usually-successful perspective.

Ironically, the one strength of perseverance and revenge that has served Jack well in the legal industry proves his downfall on many different levels. Given the strength of his legacy and his years of successfully deploying his anger in professional circles, how can Jack move from a flaw that is both fatal and powerfully effective when this requires a 360 degree turn in the opposite direction?

Treble Damages is a story not just of success gone awry, but anger management. The irony of rage's redirection to successful professional circles and then it's (perhaps inevitable) disintegration when Jack reveals the extent of this personality disorder will not be lost on readers who follow Jack from his father's early messages to his latest conflicts.

Imagine that you've built a life on seemingly solid foundations of overcoming childhood adversity, only to see it fall apart as ego proves an obstacle to personal and professional success.

David Elkind is especially adept at portraying confrontations that eventually force Jack to acknowledge his failings, adding strong supporting characters like fellow professional Heather, who confronts Jack's attitude with a spunky assessment of her own: "Jack, I thought about giving you the case to give to Marty to take credit for finding it, but he would have known that was a lie. The relevant question is how you would have reacted if Liam had found the case instead of me. Would you have jumped down his throat? I don't think so. I think you did it with me because you thought it was safe to vent your frustration at me. Well, you were wrong. You need to think before you blow your cool and you need to grow up. I worked damn hard to find that case, and what I found is going to turn a worthless case into a gold mine for the client and for the firm. You should be happy for me, but you can't, because your ego means only you count. Well, I can't be with someone who only cares about themselves, and who can't enjoy the success of other people they are supposed to love."

On the face of it, Treble Damages is a legal story about a lawyer's challenging career. But this legal drama of successes and failures is driven by underlying emotional currents that ebb and flow in a satisfying manner to make connections between past experiences and lessons, present-day choices, and future consequences. This juxtaposition of emotional and professional change will satisfy readers of legal dramas and psychological growth alike.

Jack's rationalisms for his behaviors and events, his anguish over his sound defeat on a key case, and his changing relationships all power a story that moves readers on many different levels.

From his moves to smaller-town Harrison back to Manhattan to his evolving relationships as his power grows, Jack exhibits a tight control over his workplace and himself which leads him to understand what the real root of the problem is, in a surprising conclusion.

Elkind's Treble Damages will grab readers interested in legal processes, but also holds the power to educate and enlighten as they absorb Jack's effective and ineffective approaches to life and law.

This moving tale, dually powered by emotion and legal process, belongs in any collection strong in psychological dramas and legal fiction.

The Memory of Sydney
J. A. Hailey
Independently Published
9798774051090, $19.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

J.A. Hailey has written numerous books in the Chronicles of a Stolen World sci-fi saga, but it's important to note that the latest in his series, The Memory of Sydney, is written as a standalone story, and does not rest on the stories of its predecessors.

It's set in the future, after Sydney has been destroyed in a nuclear attack conducted by the beastly digital humans in an attempt to vanquish the Screenside virtuals that created them.

These replica humans grow up believing they are, indeed, human themselves. In the first six books of the series, a vile form of eternal human has evolved to threaten virtual and human worlds alike. Thus, Sydney's demise in a thwarted containment attempt and the birth of this 7th book in the series, which requires no prior reading of the others in order to prove captivating to newcomers (particularly given the book-by-book recaps provided in the beginning, which set the stage for and explain the premise of this stolen world).

Though the last act in the war between virtuals and nonborns is to destroy Sydney, the humans which remain outside the area have no idea that the attack did not stem from an altercation between China and North Korea.

Four planes containing hundreds of humans land in the destroyed city. Their purpose? To reclaim it as their home and conduct last rites for their vanished families. This mission creates special challenges in the virtual world that is charged with overseeing them.

The leaders of Screenside have obviously made an error when they assessed human affairs, but their decision to send a mission of quasi-redemption and closure into the ruined city is complicated by the discovery of a child who changes everything.

Thanks to the recaps of events, characters, and settings provided in the summaries of the first six books, newcomers to the series can expect a smooth transition to the relatively complex setting of a world (and parallel world) influenced and created by AIs and humans alike.

The interactions between the human and virtual worlds and the blends of their personas makes for challenging reading at first, but with the premise firmly in hand, readers embark on a game-changing sojourn that constantly juxtaposes human and virtual perceptions: "There were no other cameras or eyes on her, and so the picture of her face was created for the purpose, and was not a real live shot. However, other than her own body situations, which could be manufactured compositions, everything else would be real imagery supplied by Catherine, as seen through eye view."

J.A. Hailey crafts dialogue and interactions between characters that bring their special survival challenges to life as they struggle to move on: "...home is over for all of us. What to do? You'll have to find new bonds, Isabelle, and we, other Sydney girls, will always be there for you, though goodness alone knows how we ourselves are supposed to get on in life without our families."

"Luckily, our extended families still live, and, for some of us, maybe even a real family member is alive, like Catherine's still got her little brother," said Grace."

Remarkable kids, astonished spectators, and demonstrations of virtual and human abilities permeate a tale that follows their interactions, intersections, showing how the Sydney virtuals embark on a walkabout that holds an inevitable ending, yet imparts a message that the rest of the world needs.

Hailey's story represents a satisfying blend of metaphysical inspection flavored with cyberpunk influences. The story is both challenging and compelling, and will simply delight sci-fi readers who enjoy AI accounts, struggles between humans and entities who share both their humanity and alien abilities, and explorations of what it truly means to grieve, move on, grow, and be human.

Rick Rosenberg
Independently Published
9781667806808, $22.00 paperback/$9.99 ebook

Young adult readers looking for coming-of-age stories in which spirituality and family ties are prominent and closely examined will find Jewbilly a satisfyingly persuasive read.

The opener is especially humorous: "The next year and a half would be nothing short of juvenile hysteria full of deer ticks, heartbreak, LSD, and a thorough mangling of Semitic expectation and tradition. Not the typical or expected trajectory for someone of my status. I was a gefilte fish out of water. My name is Yosef Bamberger, and this is my crucible."

As twelve-year-old newcomer to 7th grade Joseph Bamberger explores his issues surrounding being a New York Jewish boy caught in a cultural crisis after a move to a small Tennessee town, readers will appreciate the many insights into prejudice, bullying, multicultural settings, and growth that affects not only Yosef, but his entire family.

Perspectives grow and are explored as the story unfolds to reveal how each family member clings to their heritage in their new Tennessee home, against all odds: "Being Jewish and doing Jewish things was always of incalculable comfort to her."

The humor that runs through this book like a river offers satisfying comic relief to Yosef's trials and tribulations: "Once returning home, I would write apology letters to every single person who attended my Bar Mayhem. Then, with him and Mom and Rabbi Giraffe, we'd schedule a day to try it again. If the people who came the first time see it in their hearts to forgive me, and attend again, I would be eternally grateful.

He told me Mom would be ecstatic to hear all this. No shit, Schlemiel."

While teens from all walks of life will find Yosef's story both fun and enlightening, it's the modern Jewish teen facing new situations and challenging cultural interactions who will find this tale especially compelling.

With its sassy and fun perspective, familiar and odd dilemmas, and a main character who charges through his heritage and life trying to find a place for himself, Jewbilly creates a thought-provoking, amusing read. It deserves a spot in any young adult collection; particularly in Jewish libraries where contemporary cultural issues and coming-of-age stories are profiled.

The Santorini Setup
Becky Bohan
NanBec Books
9798750126934, Paperback: $14.00/ebook: $5.99

Readers of thrillers, romances, and suspense novels are in for a treat with The Santorini Setup, which represents a winning combination of all three genres as Britt Evans finds her idyllic working holiday changed by the death of a photographer on the Greek island of Santorini.

Although the death is supposedly accidental, a suspicious American Embassy woman believes otherwise, and taps Britt to delve deeper to find out what really happened.

As Britt navigates an intriguing Mediterranean world and culture and moves ever closer to the truth, she finds her own life in jeopardy as she contemplates a setup whose impact could affect a wide circle of people.

Enter Cassie Burkhardt, a computer engineer who also finds herself involved in dangerous circumstances beyond her control, from a budding romance to becoming caught in the snare of a Greek intelligence operation gone awry.

As Cassie and Britt find themselves on the same side to solve a puzzle which increasingly envelopes them in a dangerous situation, so they find their mutual attraction growing.

The Santorini Setup creates a fine juxtaposition of love and death, moving through Greek culture and the worlds of Athens and Santorini's history as two women confront forces influencing both sides of the investigation.

With so many elements intersecting, it could have been easy to find the story a challenge to absorb. Becky Bohan does a fine job of cementing the criminal and cultural elements of her story with strong psychological profiles of characters who find themselves connected by more than just circumstance.

This attention to strong characterization blends nicely with a sense of place to bring The Santorini Setup to life, crafting a mystery that brings the two characters ever closer to one another and a truth that could threaten them both.

Mystery, suspense, thriller, LBGTQ, and romance collections alike will welcome this multifaceted story of evolving connections and dilemmas. It remains satisfyingly unpredictable and moving to the end, and deserves a place in any library collection strong in women's adventure stories.

Kathy Weyer
Manuscript Muse
9781736726242, $17.97 Paper/$3.99 ebook

Jade Robinson has inherited an estate that leaves her wondering what to do with her life. So she opens a store at Heritage Art Park called Pages, catering to the literary community, and seeks to keep moving forward despite her grief over Iris and other losses.

Book 3 of the Heritage Art Park series seems to open mid-story, so readers familiar with the evolving story's predecessors will experience the smoothest transition into this continuing saga.

Jade's decision fits in with the overall plan for the Art Park and helps her to move forward as she asks others what they need in their lives and responds by creating something that moves her away from her grief, as well.

Readers of women's novels who enjoy stories of midlife changes and interpersonal relationships that operate on different levels, from business to community-building, will find Pages a revealing story.

More so than most, it depicts a community centered on the life changes, needs, choices, and interactions of characters who face life, death, and what can be achieved.

Jade's ongoing devotion to Iris's stories and Iris's ability to move from confusion to seeing a project to fruition creates an absorbing atmosphere of change and self-empowerment: "It was worth the sacrifice. These things were being worked out as we moved along, and we would soon all be feeling more safe and comfortable."

Can the newly date-worthy Jade Robinson handle betrayal and the consequences of her actions and choices and their impact on those around her?

As readers absorb this segment of an ongoing drama, this small community and a woman's decisions come to life.

Library collections strong in women's fiction and small-town lives will find Pages a compelling novel requiring only the previous books to prove enlightening and revealing.

Valentine to Faith
Victoria Foyt
Sand Dollar Press
9781647864552, $9.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Come to me, my love.

Bad omens and poor decisions have plagued one woman's life. Now they threaten to spill into the next generation's experiences.

Valentine to Faith opens in 1985 Florida, where single mother Angel del Corazon leads a good (if not deceptive) life with her daughter Faith, on Sanibal Island. Faith is set to go to college in a move that belays the family's plague of adversity and bad luck.

But both seem to evolve when Faith falls into the same trap her mother experienced, becoming involved with an abusive man whose actions change her successful upward trajectory and dreams.

Angel has had to lie to her daughter, disguising the truth about her father to protect her. She's even lied about her name. These lies come back to haunt her as Faith questions her identity and Angel is forced to confront both her motivations for keeping many secrets and a truth that will change them both.

Superstition, portents of doom, and espionage entwine with past, present, and future possibilities as Faith, Angel, and those around them unwittingly fall into destructive patterns of the past.

The Sea Goddess Yemaya and the Victorian shell craft of Sailors' Valentines permeate a story that moves between mother, daughter, and the cultural and psychological forces that both estrange and connect them.

Powerfully grounded in reality but overlaid with an aura of mystique and atmospheric depictions of sea and land, Valentine to Faith leads readers on a heady journey of self-discovery, confession, revelation, and danger, all replete with many satisfyingly unexpected twists and turns.

Women who look for stories of romance, magical realism, and family connections will find Valentine to Faith a thought-provoking journey, indeed.

A Walk Through the Wilderness
Dan Conger
Atmosphere Press
9781639882014, $17.99

How does a young man raised in a liberal Christian home become involved in a fundamentalist cult - and how does he escape?

A Walk Through the Wilderness: One Man's Journey from Faith to Fundamentalism to Atheism is a memoir that many readers will find mirrors their own spiritual and psychological progression. It is highly recommended for self-help, spirituality, and memoir library collections and readers alike.

The story opens with Dan Conger's eighteen-year-old self, college-bound and reflecting on the fact that he is about to leave his small California town of Bishop to enter an unfamiliar world.

Unlike most college-bound teens, however, Dan is destined for a different type of educational journey: "My naivety and idealism would come to get me into quite a situation. I would never have imagined that in a few short weeks I would become involved in a controlling and abusive fundamentalist cult that would dominate every aspect of my life for nearly a decade. This group would redirect the course of my life in ways I never could have dreamed of and leave me so emotionally scarred that years of slow recovery would ensue."

A Walk Through the Wilderness is a road map of going down the rabbit hole and coming out the other side into a vastly revised life, and it charts a journey that equals few other cult memoirs because of its candid attention to detail.

This includes a deep level of self-assessment by the deliverer of this news which acknowledges revised lives and new realizations not just on his part, but in the lives of other members who experienced the same thing: "Since I intend to be very honest about what was, there is one note I need to make very clear here at the outset. As I relate experiences in the group, it is unavoidable that I will mention abusive acts from cult leadership and other members. Hell, I was guilty of verbally abusing people in the group myself, so it would be silly and more than a little hypocritical of me to throw stones at others when I could easily be hit by those same stones thrown my way. When bringing these things up, it is inevitable that the memories will cause some amount of emotional distress for others. As a result, I need to say quite plainly that all of the former leaders of my home Assembly in Arcata have entirely repented in the truest sense of the word."

From his increasing alienation from family and former friends to what happens when this cult world comes crashing down, Conger provides a review of changing belief systems and influences that bring to life many aspects of cult behavior, changing goals and perspectives, and forays into faith and disbelief alike: "People felt as if they were ships at sea with no rudder when we had all been so sure of our calling and future just days before. We thought that life's plans were confidently laid out before us. The Assembly was life itself for all of us. We ate, slept, and breathed Assembly life. For the rest of my life, I had envisioned serving somewhere in the world in this ministry. Now, all of those visions for our confident future were evaporating before our eyes."

Conger pulls no punches as he analyzes and examines motivations, influences, impacts, and challenges. This lends a realistic, rare critical view to these experiences that goes beyond most memoirs about either faith journeys or cult encounters.

During the course of his exploration, faith-rooted readers may find challenging some of his conclusions about the Bible, God, and belief. Those who don't want their fundamental roots shaken will find disturbing the fact that reading the Bible can result in disbelief and rejection of a cruel overseer's actions, for example: "Can people be led to atheism by honestly reading the Bible for themselves? Yes, it absolutely can happen. However, most ardent fundamentalists already have read the book and just make excuses for the horrors they read."

This, however, is also one of the delights of A Walk Through the Wilderness. It leads those who would analyze, think, and more closely examine Christian doctrine to consider the processes by which they accept or disregard Bible history and writings and rest their beliefs on faith.

The processes that make Conger stronger, more reflective, and more self-empowered shine in every page of his story.

A Walk Through the Wilderness is especially recommended for library collections interested in stories of cult systems, faith, and the road that leads from belief to vastly revised family life, firmly rooted in loss, love, and hope.

Monet & Oscar
Joe Byrd
Giverny Books
9798678718525, $12.95 Paper/$4.95 Kindle

Monet & Oscar: The Essence of Light follows an American soldier who survives battles in France during World War I, only to learn that his mother has died, removing any impulse to return to a home that no longer exists for him.

Instead, he decides to find new family connections in France by searching for his long-absent father, an Impressionist painter. His new job under artist Monet, working at his famous garden at Giverny, would seem to give him an insider's view of France's Impressionist art community and, hopefully, provide keys to his father's identity and whereabouts.

As Oscar searches for his past, the fading artist Monet, challenged by vision issues, begins to teach him about art, friendship, and community in a way that envelopes both with new possibilities and revelations.

Much as its subject does, Joe Byrd employs an artist's attention to detail as he captures the atmosphere of post-World War II France: "When the conversation waned, Blanche called for Monet's favorite green cake that he'd named vert-vert. The yellow-green fondant frosting covering the entire cake shimmered and glowed in the afternoon light."

Under Byrd's pen, the people, personalities, and possibilities of France's Impressionist art community come to life, as does Oscar's newfound goal to search for a father he never knew.

Of particular note are the sections that follow Oscar's transformation from military man back to civilian life and the skills he unexpectedly brings to new situations, such as the garden tours he begins to lead: "Oscar's self-confidence grew as he became more comfortable speaking to the group using the speaking techniques he'd developed in addressing his men in the war."

With this newfound self-confidence and sense of purpose comes a revised ability to understand not only Monet the painter and his own heritage, but a vastly revised life that becomes challenged by the beautiful Isabelle, who moves in and out of Oscar's life with revelations that change him even though he is traditionally a "small, serious man who women rarely approached."

As Oscar moves into his new life and revised possibilities, Byrd continues to pepper artistic allusions throughout the story: "Of course, I noticed your new dress. It's a lovely blush color that matches the pink roses the gardener's wives are using to decorate the tables and the church."

The reflections of and connections between art and daily living are reinforced as Oscar's search for family brings him unexpected riches in places he never thought of looking.

Monet & Oscar is an evocative read that is emotionally compelling as Oscar learns new truths about his heritage and the balance between love, responsibility, and loyalty.

Libraries strong in novels about a search for family roots and new opportunities, or fiction about artistic community or post-World War I culture, will find Monet & Oscar a compelling story.

Aditi Wardhan Singh
Raising World Children LLC
9781956870985, $13.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 275pp

Within: Short Stories for the Evolving Multicultural Woman presents a series of narratives steeped in Aditi Wardhan Singh's Indian culture. It represents an exploration of women who experience growth, empowerment, and revised choices at different points in their lives.

These thirty literary short works capture succinct moments of transformation at different ages and stages of women's lives, offering thought-provoking insights to subjects that appear in each story's title.

Take "Confidence," for one example. Here, a narrator who is in her twenties observes a stranger in her forties - a woman on the train who exudes the very persona the narrator wishes for herself: "Wearing a crisp sari, with hair tied into a tight bun and with just the right amount of makeup and jewelry, standing at the train's entrance, she was looking out at the passing world, deep in thought. I wanted to be her someday - someone who another would look up to. She looked so confident. Her posture was so proper, holding her purse in the most elegant way."

As the narrator reaches out and makes a connection, so she mirrors the very attribute she admires in this stranger.

All is not uplifting sweetness in these discussions of emotional transformation. "Frustration," for example, depicts the challenges of interacting with a demanding sister whose lifestyle requires that those around her change to accommodate her needs.

The process of service to a frustrating relative leads to new revelations as Aleema finds a way to get Shafika to change her ways: "The rest of the conversation drowned as Aleema went through her life and her parent's teachings of always helping others, no matter what. Of putting the guest first and doing what you can for the family. And she realized, for the first time, not all rules apply to all people, and she deserves respect in her own home."

Each tale marks a passage in the growth of characters who face the particular challenges reflected in the story's title. This keeps the tales grounded and the reader firmly rooted in diverse encounters which lead to transformation and personal empowerment.

Within is a diverse, pleasurable collection that will appeal to readers of Indian literature who like stories grounded in psychological encounters, as well as those who enjoy short pieces reflecting transformative encounters in life.

Its depiction of a diverse range of Indo-American women whose cultural influences and American status have changed their relationships to life, each other, and their American homes makes for a thought-provoking collection of pieces that are dissimilar, revealing, and recommended reading.

Death of the Living Dead
Masaya Yamaguchi
Ammo Inc.
9798755966849, $15.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Death of the Living Dead may sound like another zombie horror novel, but in reality it's a murder mystery rooted in a living dead backdrop. The story centers on a string of murders affecting a small New England town in the 1980s, after the dead begin returning to life.

In that town, a family of eccentric funeral directors finds their profession challenged by a form of death that refuses to remain so. When victims can rise anew, the definition of murder itself is changed by the lack of an inevitable conclusion.

The return of those who walk in the valley of the shadow of death is narrated in an unconventional manner that employs a wry tongue-in-cheek humor. It's presented in two parts which at first glance sound similar, but differ in essential ways as the plot progresses: "Death of the Living" and "The Living Dead."

A cast of characters ("Dramatis Personae") is presented before the story unfolds, along with a family tree. The prologue introduces an attention-grabbing conversation between perp and police: "Angela, you are the murderer, aren't you?" said Lieutenant Neville in an indifferent manner as he gazed across the blood-splattered room.

And then the fun begins...the fun in a murder mystery which begins with commonsense logic, then proceeds to throw that logic out the door as uncommon circumstances evolve to challenge living and dead alike.

There's a different tone to this literary work that sets it apart from any other zombie or murder mystery story. This is evident in the allusions and associations that permeate the events: "She presented all the ordinary appearances of death. The face assumed the usual pinched and sunken outline. The lips were of the usual marble pallor. The eyes were lustreless. There was no warmth. Pulsation had ceased. Edgar Allan Poe, "The Premature Burial.""

It's also represented in the choice of character names, including Grin (the grandson of Smiley Barleycorn, general manager of the Smiley Cemetery) and Vincent Hearse (Advisor to the Smile Cemetery and a professor of Thanatology).

As priests, mistresses, small town employees, and the police interact, Death of the Living Dead exhibits the elements of a tour de farce that is lively, thoroughly unpredictable, and involving, both in its social and political dilemmas and in the psychology of individuals and a town faced with unprecedented threats.

The story is enhanced by the humor river that runs through it ("When he turned the face of the deceased the other way around, the mumbling among the guests did stop for a moment. But this was immediately followed in an even more horrible storm of protests and panic. For the face of the deceased had long ears, a prominent nose, and a long tongue which stuck out from the large mouth. This was not some noble gentleman, but a dog. These were the remains of a large Afghan Hound."), making for a murder mystery like none other.

Mystery readers need not be familiar with the approaches of Japanese detective fiction in order to relish the suspense, puzzles, and social and philosophical dilemmas the characters face in Death of the Living Dead. Death of the Living Dead is very highly recommended for mystery readers seeking more...much more...than the usual formula production.

The blend of mystery, social examination, and irony are powerful draws that will reach beyond genre fans and into literary circles with its intriguing events, uncommon investigative and moral dilemmas, and ultimate message:

"The comedy starts with life, the tragedy ends with death. And the tragicomedy of human life and death will continue perpetually, like a circle."

The Syphilis Artist
Per Olav Veras
Vanguard Press
c/o Pegasus MacKenzie
9781800162297, $15.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

"I know she watches me."

The Syphilis Artist is a novel of mystery and social isolation that follows the life of Norwegian artist Andreas Olav Hansen as he pursues his art and questions his obsession with Mia Miraja. She seems like a fantasy dream until she shows up on his doorstep in real life to break into his isolated world and introduce vast changes to his art and psyche.

The story opens with a vivid dream of the author flying over a destroyed town as a blackbird who then transforms into a vision of himself as a boy hiding, with a girl, from her destructive, approaching mother.

As events unfold both in reality and in the narrator's visions and mind, it quickly becomes evident that a force of evil is an undercurrent in his world, as much as obsessive love. Descriptions of violence and deranged responses to life evolve as the circumstances of this nameless artist's isolation come to life: "The way the little virus crept up on us, the little, mischievous thief. Now that a year has passed, like a day...An odd mischief because its awakening led me to this place, this old farmhouse. The way I wait out these minutes and hours, the way time passes."

As hallucinations, reality, and responses to dreams and life emerge, readers interested in literary stories of mystery, isolation, and suspense will find much to think about, especially during these modern times of pandemic angst.

Per Olav Veras creates a character who is, in a sense, the Everyman of artists artist whose sketches pepper the story, and whose dreams of past, present, and future coalesce as the tale unfolds.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of The Syphilis Artist lies in its buildup of events as the narrator seeks to "press the rewind button" on his life while navigating the treacherous waters of sanity, insanity, and love.

As Mia leads him to new revelations about his past, her identity, and their future, a sense of passion gone awry draws readers ever closer to the heart of evil's creation.

To say that this story is a mystery or suspense piece would be to do it an injustice. While these genre fans will gain much from the evolving story, it's the literature reader interested in psychological and interpersonal introspections who will best appreciate the many literary devices Per Olav Veras employs as he follows his character down the rabbit hole of truth and illusion.

Literary as well as suspense readers will find The Syphilis Artist disturbing, engrossing, and compelling; rich in its portrait of a Norwegian artist who creates more than art ("The evil that men do, that lives after them.") as his legacy.

Journeys: The Archers of Saint Sebastian
Jeanne Roland
Nepenthe Press
9781737887002, $24.99 Hardcover, $16.54 paper, $1.99 ebook

Journeys: The Archers of Saint Sebastian is a historical novel set in the 14th century. It tells of a community where archery is an obsession and membership in the Archers' Guild of St. Sebastian is the top desire of talented archers.

Teenager Marieke is just as fascinated with the prospect of gaining entry into the Guild as any of her peers, but there's a problem. Women aren't allowed. And she must gain entry to its inner sanctum in order to pursue the clues surrounding her father's accident if she's ever to find peace, much less achievement, in life.

Journeyman Tristan seems to offer her a solution after she assumes the identity of a boy in order to achieve her goals - he takes her under his wing as his squire, giving her a means of pursuing her dreams and the truth even as she creates a deception that entraps her when she falls in love with him.

Marieke struggles with her new persona, fully aware of the isolation that deception brings: "...the thought of them all looking forward to making conquests upsets me, too. It's not even that I want the boys for myself. Not really. Well, maybe that's part of it. But it's more than that. It's that making conquests is something I'll never do. I can't overcome nature with pure will, and the path I'm on right now is destined to leave me completely alone. It's another reminder that I'll never really be one of them, no matter how hard I pretend to fit in."

As she becomes involved with Tristan and struggles with his objectives, romance, and her identity, Marieke edges ever closer to the truth about her father...a truth that will lead her to question everything in her life. All this while providing a fun adventure that is thought-provoking and amusing, at the same time.

Jeanne Roland does an outstanding job of capturing the intricacies of the 14th century world in general and the dilemma of a feisty teenager determined to make her way through it and achieve her goals against barriers which include her gender and the social constraints of her times.

Roland's use of the first person captures Marieke's personality and underlying concerns, making her realistic and appealing. Roland is especially adept at presenting contrasts between stated objectives and underlying impacts as Marieke becomes more and more involved in Tristan's journey: "As finals approach, with each passing day I'm more acutely aware that I'm in a countdown, both to the last hurdle to clear for Tristan to earn veteran status, and to my departure from St. Sebastian's. As our training progresses apace and the final competition nears, I'm increasingly hopeful that Tristan is going to pass, yet at the same time, I think ironically just as I did about my father, that if Tristan does pass and we win, how cruel it will be that our best day is to be our very last."

The result is an appealing adventure story highly recommended for teen readers of historical fiction and Renaissance times. Journeys: The Archers of Saint Sebastian brings the era to life as it explores the dilemma of a determined young woman who pursues the truth even when it means the loss of her dreams and those she has grown to love.

Jay Honeycomb
Ghost Home Publishing
9798793313360, $9.99

Post-Bliss is a novella that opens in autumn, just before Halloween. Ehf (Tom) has been living in town for about a year, but has been largely unseen. Their anonymous movement through this town is about to change.

The first note that will help readers quickly absorb this atmosphere is that Jay Honeycomb employs gender-neural pronouns (they, them) throughout the story. This lends a fluid feel to both the characters and their evolving purposes as Ehf interacts with Marvin in a healing environment and begins to open up to new souls who like to do simple things that change lives, such as hugging strangers ("It was a problem because that was the first morsel of affection they had had in years, and now that they knew how sweet it tasted, the lack of it became intolerable, as though they hadn't eaten for weeks then ate the crumbs from someone's plate.")

As late autumn "washes everything," so Ehf finds their life washed by encounters with science, medicine, different forms of healing and confrontation, and evolving relationships that introduce the promise of transformation on many different levels.

Jay Honeycomb is masterful at contrasting these different worlds as Ehf faces new relationships, trials, misinformation, and ethical concerns over financing medical research via poor and good choices alike.

As reality and fantasy coalesce with dreams and misguided missions, Ehf's journey becomes one of social inspection as life is reinterpreted via dreams and worlds as fluid as their gender.

Literature readers will find Post-Bliss an evocative creation that challenges heart and mind on many different levels: psychologically, socially, ecologically, and ethically.

Ehf's changing experiences and perspectives create a tale that is beautifully depicted, replete in mystery and revelation, and steeped in the atmosphere of a layer of experiences that introduce new relationships and perceptions of the world.

Library collections strong in literary works of transformation and magical realism will find Post-Bliss a powerful short work that packs a lot of punch into its changing story.

"Thank You! With Deepest Gratitude"
Michael Floissac
Outskirts Press, Inc.
10940 S. Parker Road, #515, Parker, CO 80134
978197747506, $29.95 Hardcover/$19.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

"Thank You! With Deepest Gratitude" is a study in contrasts. It juxtaposes the life lessons Michael Floissac learned in cultivating a life of gratitude with notes on a lifetime of observations of this gratitude in action all around him. It is highly recommended for spiritual and psychological self-help readers who seek to integrate a sense of gratitude into their own approaches to life.

Three categories provide the narrowed focus necessary to place the subject of gratitude within the reader's hands: Universe, Community, and the Individual. These themes help focus the topic, which is probed in short, digestible chapters that offer examples and encourage readers to reflect on gratitude's incarnation in their own lives.

Because each chapter stands alone, this lends to browsing rather than linear exploration - another attribute for attracting readers who may be stressed, and who have shorter attention spans that would have been challenged by verbosity.

Inspirational quotes open chapters cemented by autobiographical inspection and vignettes which illustrate the author's experiences at different stages of life.

Sections encourage readers to explore their own stories, offering questions that conclude with an 'action item' for moving from experience to self-examination to enactment.

From journeys through music to love, these explorations will attract thinking readers with thought-provoking passages, revelations, and insights that encourage further reflections on the links between experience and gratitude.

The result is an empowering, accessible book that both considers and reflects gratitude, using a lesson plan that readers can employ to identify, modify, and cultivate their own gratitude journeys through life.

Libraries strong in spirituality, psychology, and self-help will find "Thank You! With Deepest Gratitude" attractive and enlightening. It's especially recommended for collections that see traffic from new age readers.

Self-Publish a Book in 10 Steps and Market It
Hank Quense
Strange Worlds Publishing
9781733342469, $1.99 ebook

"Self-Publish a Book in 10 Steps and Market It" by Hank Quense takes the effort of publishing a book a step further than most by making the marketing aspect just as important as the acts of writing and publishing.

Writing a book is only the first hurdle. Equally formidable is the task of publishing it and seeing that it receives all the due attention required in order to reach its potential audience.

Hank Quense reviews all these keys to success in each of these areas, exploring the pros and cons of different avenues of publication and promoting self-publishing with an eye to explaining the accompanying challenges authors will face in placing more of the decision-making (and work, and profits) in their own hands.

He creates an integrated plan that includes a graphical outline of the ten steps covered in his book, treating publishing and marketing tasks as a "unified topic" (as they should be, but too often are not, in competing books).

Quense emphasizes that "Self-publishing means the author must undertake ALL the tasks a publisher would do if the author sold the book to the publisher," and he outlines each of these tasks, which are essential ingredients in the formula for success.

Chapters assume no prior knowledge of any part of the process, whether it is defining an ISBN number and how to gain and use it to not just obtaining but effectively employing early book reviews in the promotion process.

Each step is clearly outlined, defined, and covered with an attention to best practices and clear understanding. Quense is also candid about obstacles self-published authors face.

Quense notes that book stores are a tough nut to crack for self-published authors, especially if it's a first book and the author has no name recognition. Most book stores in this country use Ingram as their distributor. If your book is distributed by Ingram, is returnable and has the industry standard discount (55%), there is a chance book stores will order your book and put it on their shelves for a while. However, book stores will not know about the book's existence unless you tell them about it. Contacting book stores one at a time is a mind-numbing activity, especially if you pursue out-of-area and out-of-state book stores. The only cost-effective way to query these stores is by using email.

With its progressive survey of the steps needed to perform specific tasks to tackling pre- and post-launch marketing, Quense's methodical assessments and information represents one of the best choices on the market for self-published authors to understand the entire process, to foster recognition and success.

In this digital book format (Kindle), "Self-Publish a Book in 10 Steps and Market It" is highly recommended; especially for first-time aspiring authors who may have a manuscript in hand, but need the nuts and bolts on what to do next.

Editorial Note: Hank Quense has been self-publishing books for over 12 years. His non-fiction books cover fiction writing (Creating Stories), self-publishing (How to Self-publish and Market a Book), marketing (Book Marketing Fundamentals) and author business (Business Basics for Authors). He also lectures on these subjects in schools, libraries and on webinars. He recently launched his Insights Series, a set of short ebooks that address issues that all writes and authors face.

Nola Nash
Black Rose Writing
PO Box 1540, Castroville, TX 78009
9781684338964, Kindle - $5.99;Print - $19.95

Shelby Starling has a dream job, circling the globe writing promotional materials for a tour agency. It's especially perfect because, with it, she both can live a good life and hide from the very world she interacts with.

A different kind of journey through time awaits which requires no writing skills, but which does insist on her participation beyond the routines of daily life.

And so the very different milieu of Traveler emerges as Shelby touches base (through time travel) with her past lives and their influences on her present-day blend of distancing and engagement.

Shelby is used to the changing nuances of technology in her journeys around her world. These even sometimes work to her benefit: "Internet connection in the islands was sketchy at best, which could be great or irritating depending on what you needed it for. One of the upsides when wifi was playing hard to get was you had digital permission to lose yourself in the island life until you stumbled upon a working connection." She is unfamiliar with the changes that passages through time introduce, including an element of romance which is both surprising and seemingly untenable, given all the changes which buffet her world.

Nola Nash also introduces historical inspections which impart more analysis about the past and the figures that made key decisions affecting Shelby's future world: "Madrid's history is not as ancient as some places, but the architecture is beautiful. Which helps to take the focus off the killing people for over three hundred years thing." Shelby looked around at the stately square. "It is beautiful, but sedate for a place with so much history. Violent history at that." Naomi nodded. "Which actually was the point. King Philip II wanted to bring order to the chaos of the area, so he commissioned this."

As she struggles with her memories of these past lives and experiences, Shelby finds herself newly acknowledging many of her impulses and the wellspring of their creation: "After what she had just seen, she wanted to run as far away from him as she could, but her body wouldn't change direction."

Are her journeys back in time really lessons? If so, will they ultimately bring her peace and a revised vision of her own life? What was happening to her had purpose, even if she didn't know what it was yet.

Nash's ability to root her time-travel tale in a blend of historical and personal inspection creates a compelling atmosphere of education and enlightenment that will attract a wider audience than the usual time-travel read.

Ultimately, Traveler is a story about growth and change. Shelby's move from being an observer to a participant, changing the game instead of charting its course, is astutely presented and involving. The novel's exploration of historical and interpersonal connections and inspections that allow main character Shelby to get a better grip on her motivations and reactions creates an adventure that is hard to put down.

While time travel and romance readers will find Traveler of greatest interest, historical fiction readers, too, will find it a delightful interplay between past, present, and the impact of choices on a larger scale than just personal transformation and understanding.

Long Falling Light
Mark Louis Lehman
Little Possum Press
978097703600, $22.00

Long Falling Light: Poems 1965-2020 is a study in literary growth. It presents poems written by Mark Louis Lehman from adolescence to adulthood, celebrating the rhythmic inspection of life through free verse and quasi-rhyme in a manner that requires oral presentation to fully absorb its impact.

Take, for example, 'Love Song.' Yes, this may be silently read; but when spoken aloud, the words resonate and dovetail with a special brand of emotion that a mental reading alone might miss: "Than nature a vacuum I more love you/More sucker I./Than octopus tighter hold you me,/And warmer:/Than rain you are more dry."

Images of nature, as well as interpersonal and inner inspections, come alive during this process, as in 'Remains': "These are the gathered words that stay/:Like shells arranged in sand, made pure/By the sliding of the sea and air/As they wear the time away."

There are bedtime stories, laments and reflections on love and life, and passages of solitude in which Lehman considers that "This quietude is now my home/Where I live slow/And feel the turn of years/As they recede into somewhere/I came from but cannot return to..."

Whether describing personal impulses, the impact of life and its movements, and the light and darkness that falls like a cloak upon human and natural worlds alike, Lehman creates an evocative set of experiences that are especially notable for their diversity of voice and reflections on life.

It's all here; from ironic observation to existential angst and the butting of the natural world into human affairs.

Few poetry collections arrive with such a measured reflection of the passage of time, but Lehman's movement from adolescence to adulthood and his ability to capture this transition in chronological order makes for a special experience, indeed.

Readers who enjoy poems of observation, growth, and enlightenment laced with quiet desperation and the passage of age will find Long Falling Light to be an absorbing literary read that's thought-provoking and compelling on many different levels.

Coal Mine to Courtroom
W. Ron Adams with Fred Anderson
Headline Books, Inc.
9781951556815, $29.95 Hardcover/$19.95 Paper/$6.96 ebook

Coal Mine to Courtroom: A Quadriplegic's Memoir of Relentless Faith, Courage and Eternal Success blends autobiography with inspiration and unexpected humor as it follows W. Ron Adams and a life that changed in the blink of an eye.

Adams was one of Kentucky's top up-and-coming basketball players until a coal mining accident left him a quadriplegic at age 19.

The last path he expected to be on was to become a wheelchair-bound attorney, yet as his life evolved and he rose to meet new challenges to his dreams, he searched for miracles, relationships, and new ways of living. These would offer success in a very different form than he'd envisioned as a young man on the pinnacle of sports fame.

In many ways, Coal Mine to Courtroom is a testimony to resilience, perseverance, and re-envisioning the future. Adams moved from being the third-ranked player in the region who was starting to attract attention from college pros while navigating a job he didn't like and a father he "wished he could like," to being seriously injured and disabled for life.

His recovery process involved adjusting to paralysis, navigating daily routines as simple as moving from wheelchair to bed and back without incurring further injuries.

Adams notes these specific medical challenges, offering enlightenment on personal challenges that many similar books about disability often brush over in favor of the bigger picture. This gives his readers more specific insights into the quadriplegic's daily life challenges than most competing memoirs, providing specific information on overcoming such challenges.

Physical disability and adjustments aren't the only focus of this title. Equally at risk and challenged are faith, belief systems, relationships and support systems, and the usual coming-of-age goals which all had to be completely revamped in the face of his new circumstances.

Adams navigates all these with a candid confessional voice that educates and will prove compelling to a wide range of readers, from those facing their own disabilities and caregivers and family trying to help them to others who are equally challenged to form new paths in lives which have been significantly altered.

Readers of faith-based works, in particular, will find that Adams spends much time reviewing the specifics of his evolving faith at a time when he faces repeated challenges not just to his own revised circumstances, but losses in his family.

His ability to dovetail his legal practice with social and religious objectives to create organizations and connections that help others beyond their legal issues makes for a revealing story.

Coal Mine to Courtroom is a journey highly recommended for any library collection strong in memoirs about disability, recovery, or faith. Within this story of one man's life lies the gems of achievement, conviction, and flexibility that evolved over time as Adams honed a different kind of life, love, and faith than he could ever have imagined at age 19.

Dear Isobel
Jinny Alexander
Creative James Media
9781735392615, $12.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Dear Isobel will appeal to women's fiction readers who enjoy stories replete with angst as an affair breaks two marriages and threatens lasting repercussions.

The story opens with a letter to which explores the fallout from the affair and its impact on business and personal relationships alike: "It didn't take very long for us to realise just what a huge and destructive thing we had done. That is why it abruptly finished. For the past 18 months, we have been trying desperately to piece together the remnants of our working relationship. We've had some degree of success and hope but were always so frightened that you and James would find out what we had done to you both. I have always struggled with the knowledge that my business was in your hands. That at any given moment, you could choose to end it. Then, beyond stupidity, I gave you exactly the ammunition to do just that. I should've walked - not even walked but run like hell - away from the business in spring of last year when I realised we were getting too close. Failing that spectacularly, I should've at least gone a couple of months later when it was over, but I always have believed - and still do believe - so incredibly strongly in the business that I never could go. It has been such a hard fight to keep trying to build the business in the face of all this, and a recession too . . . and yet I had so much passion and belief in the business we had built that I just couldn't leave it."

The narrator remains nameless because her connections to a small Irish village will be threatened in the face of such revelations. She's a wife, mother, and business partner who crossed the line and must pay for it with her job (and possibly her life).

Her letters to Isobel reflect her journey into redemption and change as she reflects both on what is broken and what still connects them.

The explorations of life after the affair ends are astutely captured in reflective passages: "I want to offer support in the absence of Isobel. Because, for four years, I could support and comfort and listen and talk and offer friendship when his wife could not; and now, perhaps at the exact moment he needs it most, I am not able to. I store the knowledge that she has gone away, for I am not sure what it means. To me, it will probably mean nothing, and if she leaves for good, it will cause him to blame me and hate me for all the things he already blames and hates me for. He has forgotten, I think, that the blame is shared. I know he needs a friend, and I know it cannot be me."

From constant reminders of Charles and regrets over what did and didn't happen to the unstoppable instincts that grew between her and Charles and led to this pivot point in both their lives, Jinny Alexander crafts a compelling story rich in emotional self-examination and community ties.

Readers will find the flawed narrator and her conundrums compelling, as well as the question of Charles' complacency in the affair and whether or not he'll choose to leave Isobel for the narrator of these letters.

As it embraces the point of view of The Other Woman and her evolution, Dear Isobel creates a compelling vision of emotional entanglements, regrets, and both validation and self-chastisement that make the narrator both a villain and a relatable woman caught in an emotional quagmire.
She is a lover, a stalker, a friend, a home-wrecker, and a family-builder all at once.

She is Everywoman. Women who choose her story will find her emotional passages equally enlightening, understandable, and frightening.

Dear Isobel deserves a place in any discriminating library collection of women's literature. It will especially attract whose who enjoy stories of evolving relationships and illicit connection conundrums that operate on a moral, ethical, and psychologically deep playing field.

Shadow and Sword
N.K. Carlson
Creative James Media
9781956183931, $12.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Book 1 of the Chronicles of Terrasohnen fantasy series for young adults, Shadow and Sword, sets the stage for a vivid story of a young apprentice well on his way to fulfilling his life goal when his village is attacked and burned to the ground.

With his teacher missing and his support systems in ashes, Reith flees the death and destruction that threatens to consume him, also. He both grieves for the loss of everything around him and struggles to survive.

A revised purpose to his life evolves in the form of a search for his missing mentor that leads him to traverse ancient ruins and magical lands on a quest to find his teacher and uncover the truth about the Shadow that threatens all.

Intriguing philosophical reflections follow his efforts ("The existence of a Shadow proves the existence of the Light."). This blend of investigation into truths, realities, and revised purposes draws readers as Reith makes new friends, considers new avenues of opportunity and challenge, and restructures his life and its purpose.

Fantasy readers will find the pace satisfyingly swift as Reith confronts many obstacles to changing goals, paired with an attention to detail and characterization that leads to numerous revelations and unexpected twists and turns.

As he finds new teachers, learns new lessons, and comes into his powers, Reith's journey holds an expanded cast of characters that hold different perceptions of what life could be if they are successful in their own struggles: "When this is all over, what will you do?"

"You mean after the Gray Man is gone for good? I want to settle down and start a farm. In Suthrond, hopefully. I'd like to meet a nice girl and settle down, have a family. That would be nice."

"It sounds wonderful," Reith said.

"I love the feeling of accomplishment when the crops come in. It's the most satisfying thing in the world, taking a small seed and reaping a harvest from it. I love the feeling of a hard day's work and the good sleep that comes after it."

"Seems like you were made for the ground," Reith observed."

The result is rich in description, solidly based on strong coming-of-age experiences based on the protagonist's evolving new sense of his place in a much-changed world, and fast paced enough to bring readers along on a fine passage to a revised purpose where the clash of opposing forces is only one aspect of Reith's journey and growth.

Fantasy collections catering to young adults who appreciate both action and psychological inspection will find Shadow and Sword a compelling introduction to a series.

My Xanthi
Stephanie Cotsirilos
Los Galesburg: A Novella Press
9780991603718, $15.00

My Xanthi represents a blend of coming-of-age story and novella based on the narrator's autobiography. It captures the nuances of tragedy, survival, and post-World-War-II Greece from the vantage point of the narrator's nanny, Xanthi.

Combine these elements with a thriller backdrop for a tale that challenges pat categorization and opens with a bang, portending the swift pace and attraction of the entire book: "Like the Greek grandfather I was afraid of, I'm a patient man with a wicked temper. The upside? Being pissed off makes me good at what I do: death penalty legal defense. Lawyers like me deploy anger strategically for maximum effect in the courtroom and, alright, occasionally at home. The latter with mixed results. Ask my Korean-American wife Janet."

In a succinct manner, Stephanie Cotsirilos sets the stage for an information-packed saga that keeps readers both informed and involved, using (to its benefit) as few words as possible. This approach results in an engaging story that fires on all levels with solid emotional draws, vivid descriptions, and prose that's not cluttered with excessive details.

The sixty-six-year-old narrator evolves with his story, and his Greek connections, American experiences, and memories of his Greek childhood nanny Xanthi interact with his family's "daily, messy, satisfying life" to create a portrait of adversity and achievement.

It takes a Greek immigrant woman to re-familiarize this driven lawyer with his heritage and the lasting impact the war holds on future generations.

Against the backdrop of a coming-of-age story, a timeless tale of immigrant experience, assimilation, and a pursuit of justice long after atrocities have been committed provides readers with a gripping saga that connects not just two lives, but generations of experience and their resonating impacts.

My Xanthi is especially astute in depicting how the narrator becomes engulfed by Xanthi's story. As he tackles family secrets and insights alike, readers become involved in Xanthi's impact and family interactions which evolve on many different levels: "My whole family not seeing what I see, none of us admitting what we might have learned through heating vents, which maybe was different for each of us." The result is an evocative tale of struggle, redemption, and discovery that will resonate with many.

My Xanthi is highly recommended for audiences ranging from readers of coming-of-age stories and immigrant experience to those who look for astute considerations of survival and the pursuit of justice.

Have You Heard the Sound of Your Own Voice?
C Krithika
Independently Published
9798518945401, $17.95

Have You Heard the Sound of Your Own Voice? is the story of C Krithika's struggle with mental illness and her journey towards mental health. The memoir was created with the goal of demystifying the experiences of depression and suicidal impulses, to foster greater understanding in readers who may have little prior familiarity with these conditions.

Krithika, trained as an engineer, had little experience with these mental states. What happened to her came unexpectedly and forcefully and captures her honest emotions, conundrums, healing paths, and successes and failures alike in the course of navigating her way to recovery.

Krithika clarifies her purpose from the start: "I want to convince you that your mind can sometimes lead you to believe that your situation is beyond redemption. Can I implore you to believe an alternate hopeful narrative?"

She then guides readers through her experiences, revelations, and setbacks, offering those who suffer from similar mental anguish an opportunity to see the bigger picture and learn from her life. She employs a captivating writing style to both personalize her life experiences and their lessons and reach readers with insights on her developing feelings and discoveries about mental health and illness.

As the possibility of mental illness comes to light to both explain her confusing condition and define it and her possible choices, Krithika finds herself little comforted by either the definition or its stigma: "Mental illness. How could I tell my mother about this? What would people say if they knew? How did I let it come to this stage?"

Equally poignant are her descriptions of self-help approaches: "If I ran longer distances, could I trick my depression into not tugging at me constantly? I mulled over this ques-tion late into the night, wondering if I had stumbled upon a magic solution to my troubles."

Those who find themselves mired in the same emotional whirlpool would do well to read Krithika's story. Replete in the revelations, turmoil, and search for resolution that many with mental illness will find familiar, it's still a comforting journey that offers familiar feelings and ideas for resolution.

Many books have been written about mental illness. Few adopt the introspective blend of self-examination, self-flagellation, and ultimate hope and achievement that marks Krithika's journey in her memoir Have You Heard the Sound of Your Own Voice?

These elements make for an exceptional read that deserves a place in any library collection strong in mental health autobiographies and stories of recovery.

Arko: The Cosmic Order
U. W. Leo
B09QLL1BFY, $4.99

Arko: The Cosmic Order continues the story begun in the first Arko children's sci-fi story and takes place five years later, where the teen Arkonots face both the positive results of their technology-enhancing efforts from Book 1 and opposition to these efforts to restore the Earth and provide positive genetic modifications.

The opposition has captured their leader Ben in an effort to stop them, resulting in an intergalactic struggle that leads the Arkonots to reconsider their mission and its ultimate goals.

Because Arko: The Cosmic Order is filled with an otherworldly backdrop that involves dinosaurs, telepathic abilities, and competing special interests, kids who choose this story ideally will have absorbed the first adventure in Arko: The Dark Union. This audience will find it simple to pick up where the first book left off (albeit in the near future) to absorb more adventures as the tweens of the first book move into their teenage years, powers, and face even more challenges.

The story opens on a dinosaur-filled landscape with an unusual experiment which is moving the Earth back to the landscapes it enjoyed before human activity transformed it. Leo's descriptions of this evolving paradise bring its sights, smells, and attractions to life: "Gaia was greeted by a powerful scent of wildflowers. Throughout the valley before her, red poppies, white roses, and small, blue pimpernels grew in great profusion. The green grazing grounds spread as far as the eye could see. She inhaled the clear, clean air and allowed the soft breeze to envelop her. The world was so pure that even the bees humming around her seemed friendly. A swarm of feathered micro-raptors passed by, gliding among the nearby trees. Each had four wings with feathers striped in dark green and light blue. Although little, these predators terrorized any creature smaller than themselves."

Readers are treated to a survey of this evolving world before the action begins off-planet. Leo adds unexpected humor that embraces ironic inspection and injects delightful moments of comic relief: "For all intents and purposes, we only have... one lightrino."


"Of the three, one has lost its navigating capacity and another is completely unresponsive."

"And the third?"

"It's relatively functional."


"Yes. It's just the asteroid avoidance system that isn't working."

Just. Delightful interplays between characters are just one of the strong points in a journey that carries the Arkonots into their teen years and positions of authority that sometimes conflict with their elders' perceptions of their abilities.

From wormholes in space that portend disaster and loss to a talking pterosaur's reflections about God and destiny, Arko: The Cosmic Order takes many unexpected twists and turns as the now-teen characters find their way into and out of universe-changing trouble.

Tweens and young adults who look for exciting sci-fi adventure steeped in humor and action will find Arko: The Cosmic Order a study in friendships, searches for meaning and connection, and fundamental questions ("why does it matter if life exists?").

The answers - and the adventure - are intricately interwoven to provide a blend of rollicking good tale filled with thought-provoking reflections on humankind, the universe, and the evolving
capabilities and purposes of the Arkonots.

Purpose Work Nation
Brandon Peele
Independently Published
9798411780376, $15.00

Business and political leaders who want a more purposeful approach to guiding the U.S.'s renewal will find Purpose Work Nation just the ticket.

Brandon Peele outlines past perceptions of business as a leader and driver of the nation's successes and failures, opening with the chapter "Business as Religion, Villain, and Savior," contrasting its image and role in U.S. history.

He considers how traditional images of success often didn't (and don't) consider other ethnicities and their experiences or culture, discussing how, too often, "...our legacy has been one of dominance, dehumanization and dispossession for profit."

After laying the groundwork with a review of the history and socioeconomic development of this nation, Peele explores the myths that shaped an economy built on genocide and slavery and its dissonance with the nation's purpose: "Knowing the truth about our history would not bother us if we took pride in being a bunch of shifty eagles. These truths only bother us because deep down we know we are better than the murdering, thieving, raping, and enslaving of our ancestors. If we didn't hold ourselves to a higher standard, if we didn't have a noble national purpose, reading this would produce no resistance, no knot in the pit of our stomachs."

Peele's concept of "bison ethics" suggests a different approach to not just business, but the people who drive its culture. This opens in the second chapter and receives further development as the book moves through systems failures, issues of racial and social justice, the unspoken assumptions in hiring and training, and how relationships may be guided by the ethics of the nation's National Mammal, the bison, as a source of strength.

His focus on best practices and real-world applications creates a new culture and paradigm for success that moves from business to social and political circles: "To do this, we must think holistically and get at the source of what people need to flourish: a balanced work-load, living wages, flexibility, meaning, connection, care, and believing they matter and are a part of something that matters. The bison way is one of relationships versus the eagle's outputs, of covenants versus the eagle's contracts. It is about establishing our personal covenant with our unique purpose, and with each other around a shared mission. It is the way of nurturing a healthy culture where each of us can activate and fulfill our purpose on the job, and enjoy rich connections with each other."

The result is a powerful survey of business and human affairs that links diversity to strength and eschews the predatory, inhumane approaches of the "eagle" in favor of the "bison way" which confronts white supremacy and positions the workplace as the starting place to effect real social and political change: "The workplace is where we congregate to serve and empower others, to activate our unique purpose, fulfill our potential, nurture community, and achieve our mission. We bring the spirit of the bison home with us and let it guide our family and civic life. In so doing, we activate the purpose of this nation, repair the damage from our nation's misspent youth, and achieve redemption."

Readers may initially be drawn by the book's promise of keys to better leadership, but they'll find its wider-ranging approach to building a better culture ripples into society with lasting and positive impacts on human rights that lead to a better quality of life for all.

Idealistic? Yes. Achievable? Absolutely.

No business collection should be without Purpose Work Nation, but it's just as highly recommended for libraries strong in social and political issues, civil rights, and American civics.

The Stealing
S.A. Sutila
Advantage Media Group Inc.
9781642253573, $9.99 ebook

Live or die; love or lose? Sometimes the options depend on not just personal determination and perseverance against all odds, but luck. The Stealing presents a modern gothic romance based on a young woman's hard life, capturing the alluring promise of college and love and a pathway to freedom that becomes tainted with oppression, leading her to attempt suicide as a last resort.

Sarah Vise's choice leads to a rescue by handsome neighbor Grant Eriksen, but her battered spirit enters a realm where an attractive stranger offers her an option that comes with a heavy price which she accepts, again with the promise that positive change will result and any negative side-effects will be worth the bargain.

Sarah falls into the same trap of oppression and danger which tempers her ability to be happy and free on a more metaphysical scale than in her real-world encounters with her father and her neighbor. Readers receive a story replete with romance, angst, and paranormal encounters that presents a very different perspective on love, sacrifice, and repeating oppressive patterns.

Dangerous opportunities come to Sarah to test both her vision of her future and her ability to survive with her soul intact as the story of enlightenment and danger evolves.

Readers used to the normal trappings of traditional gothic romance will find Sarah's tale an unusual contemporary tribute to the genre. While it bows to the specters of love and handsome men who offer repression and romance in a dual-fisted promise, it also crafts a tale that closely examines a woman's patterns of buying into and contributing to her own repression through fallacies about life, death, and the love that can lie between them.

As Sarah's spirit interacts with human and inhuman forces, she experiences storms of the heart that lead her to confrontations with dangerous demon Max, haunted houses, and possessive entities that give her what she seems to want while attaching the shackles of ownership in the process.

Talk about making a deal with the devil! Sarah's pursuit of her heart's desire leads her, Grant, and those around her down many unexpected roads which cross the lines between fantasy and reality as Sarah faces illusions and considers what she will sacrifice for love.

Readers who look for engrossing scenarios that move between reality and paranormal worlds to consider a courageous woman's struggles with different kinds of relationships will find The Stealing a multifaceted story that's hard to put down.

With its engrossing, dimension-traveling spirit-princess at the helm of a wild ride, it will engage and surprise those who look for extraordinary gothic tales of love, sacrifice, and recovery. The Stealing is highly recommended for libraries strong in modern gothic romances and paranormal love stories alike.

The Magus and the Fool
Akiva Hersh
Independently Published
9798985651515, $10.99 Paperback/$0.99 ebook

Contemporary readers of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic The Great Gatsby who look for themes of that work in more modern circumstances will relish The Magus and the Fool, a translation of Gatsby's world into a Midwestern milieu where an idealist finds himself mired in a love triangle and tested on many levels.

Carry Iverson's sojourn from his Ohio roots to Texas leads to a fateful dinner with his cousin Donovan, Donovan's wife Fallon, and a neighbor. When he meets Oskar Jacobi at a party, an instant attraction between them turns into a dangerous liaison with love and death.

Jacobi shakes Carry's foundations and belief systems and, by his actions and presence, changes Carry's view of the world: "He had been gifted with a sensitivity for optimism and passion like no one I had ever encountered, and I never hope to again. With Jacobi, everything turned out just as it should have. But no matter what the blessings were that came with his gift, the curses hung in the air like smoke in the burning aftermath of his dreams. He is the reason why I have no tolerance for the passion and heartbreak of men."

Jacobi is wealthy, dramatic, corny, and just the right man for Carry to fall in love with.

Akiva Hersh populates the story with explicit sex scenes and just as explicit inspections of the facades and perils of a sordid love that ventures into dangerous territory when jealous wife Fallon concocts a murder plan to keep her husband Donovan from falling into Jacobi's alluring trap.

Jacobi loves Donovan. Fallon wants to kill him. Carry is caught in a triangle far beyond not just his experience, but his perception of how love and hate operate in the world.

Hersh's ability to bring all three personalities and the foundations of their belief systems and motivations to life lends to a story that mirrors the life lessons of wealthy socialite Gatsby, who is thwarted in his love for Daisy despite all his charm and money.

From insights on the roots and results of optimism and money to the contrast between gay and straight marriage and love and a woman's struggles to present the straight life as a more alluring option, the confrontations between Fallon and Jacobi are nicely presented: "'s pathetic how you've maneuvered back into his life, building that garish thing across the river hoping he would want you again. But you're a liar. Donovan loved me the day we got married, and he would do it all over again."

Fallon believes she and her husband's bond can never equal what Jacobi is offering. Jacobi maintains that she has "...lost your chance to be better."

As the story plays out to challenge life perceptions of life, lust, and relationships, readers receive a solidly thought-provoking portrait of gay and straight life that represents a contrast in options and opportunities on more than a sexual playing field.

Those who have read The Great Gatsby, even if some time ago, would do well to pursue The Magus and the Fool in light of a rereading of that classic. It's highly recommended for LBGTQ collections, of course; but beyond that, the story ideally will reach into any literary library strong in tales of love, life challenges, and sexual and social revelations.

Billy the Bully
Sharon Linen-Fordham and Kierra Linen
Independently Published
9798728604631, $9.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Billy the Bully: From the AddyBee123 Book Collection is highly recommended for elementary-level readers and library collections interested in stories about bullies and bullying. It captures the dilemma faced by Addy, a bullying victim who begins to question her own appearance and value as a result of her encounters with the abusive Billy.

A wise mother discovers that Addy is being attacked by Billy "The Bully" Palmer at school. He's a new student, but has been picking on Addy from the very first day...and he is rapidly eroding her self-confidence. Addy's mother, upon learning of this, decides to do something to help.

Addy is surrounded by supportive friends, but she still finds it hard to tell adults about what's happening to her. When she does, it sets into motion a series of events during which her peers rebel against Billy the Bully.

The story takes a turn from the predictable mid-book, leading Addy to learn deeper lessons about bullying, adversity, kindness, forgiveness, and positivity.

Most picture books for kids focus on handling bullying in a different manner, but Sharon Linen-Fordham and Kierra Linen take another big step beyond singular adversity to present the notion that bullies are victims, too.

This broader perspective encourages dialogue between read-aloud parents and kids about the causes and nature of bullying and responses to it, providing fodder for important discussions and understanding that moves beyond the victim/bully dynamic.

Elementary-level library collections looking for resources about bullying that delve into bigger-picture scenarios will welcome Billy the Bully, which lends to both individual reading and wider-ranging discussions between adults and kids, as well as among peers.

How to Spot a Psychopath
MQ Webb
TBR Press
9780645352016, $19.99 Paper/$12.99 ebook

Thriller readers will find plenty to enjoy in the intriguing How to Spot a Psychopath, which is adept at building psychological tension as it reveals a missing child, a classmate's silence, and a forensic psychologist who struggles with his own past while trying to piece together the puzzle of an impossibly challenging case.

This Oscar de la Nuit story focuses on his anxiety, professional skills, and an evolving impossible situation that calls both facets into question as Oscar employs his expertise in reading people and acknowledges his failure to read himself.

MQ Webb provides a vivid story that moves between 'then' and 'now' with chapter headings that make it easy to understand the connections between past, present, and characters that make choices affecting both.

As Oscar listens to others and considers their rationality and responsibility in the dilemma, he is prompted to operate outside his usual dispassionate realm of forensic analysis: "She was hiding something, and he wasn't sure how to figure out what it was. Pushing Jess could trigger a trauma response. Still, she was hiding something, and Oscar could tell that it would change everything."

Readers who enjoy solid psychological inspections and interactions in tha developing mystery will find the character and approach of Oscar de la Nuit particularly realistic and compelling.

Webb's story evolves unexpected connections between perps and victims on different levels that lead directly to Oscar's own past traumas and family interactions and damaging secrets.

The web of intrigue that leads Jess to make difficult decisions to protect her daughter Zoe while she's building a relationship of confidence with Oscar (which enhances his own investigations of past and present events) is particularly well done.

As a missing child case turns into much more complicated psychological revelations, readers will find the story just as emotionally thought-provoking as it is a pleasurable mystery to read and wonder about.

How to Spot a Psychopath creates a winning suspense story of family interactions and newfound connections as it contrasts the experiences and perceptions of adults and children alike.

Its unexpected moments of psychological discovery make for a delightful story especially recommended for mystery and suspense readers looking for more psychological depth and interpersonal revelations than most thriller genre reads offer.

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

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

The Jailhouse Lawyer
James Patterson and Nancy Allen
Little Brown And Company
c/o Hachette Book Group
9780316276627, $28.00 HC / $14.99 Kindle

'The Jailhouse Lawyer" is the first of two stories of legal entertainment by two masters. Martha Foster the new public defender in Erva, Alabama learns one man controls so much of the town making it very difficult for her to do her job and live in the small community. A fighter she decides to challenge his authority. "Power of Attorney" also takes place in a small southern town with a female attorney who will do anything she can to defend her client who has been accused of murder. Both thrillers are filled with engaging characters, rapid pacing to their conclusion. "The Jailhouse Lawyer" is page turning suspense at its best

The 19th Christmas
James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Book Group
9781538715949, $10.00 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

Christmas is a time when there are all kinds of celebrations going on but for the cops of the San Francisco police department there is never an end to crime as "The 19th Christmas" bears out. All departments are on guard as the major holiday grows closer. Lindsay Boxer is on full alert for a major crime to be committed but there is little indication of when. As she and others piece together the clues, they find the holiday season to be filled with bizarre actions by all kinds of citizens. "The 19th Christmas" is a suspenseful yarn that entertains to the very last page.

The 20th Victim
James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Book Group
9781538715468, $16.99 pbk / $11.99 Kindle

"The 20th Victim" roars along to a smash bang ending that is one of the best in the long running series. Lindsay Boxer's newest case of murder, has a tie in to a couple of others in several cities across the nation. Cindy Thomas one of the other members of the Women's Murder Club is also researching the same circumstances and wants an exclusive to the story, that Lindsay is very cautious to reveal to even one of her best friends. "The 20th Victim" unfolds with complex bends and spins that moves the plot along to its final conclusion that is sure fire suspense for thriller fans.

Rogue Asset
Brian Andrews and Jefferey Wilson
c/o Penguin Random House
9780399171215, $28.00 HC / $14.99 Kindle

"Rogue Asset" is a welcome addition to the series begun by author W.E.B. Griffin. The secretary of state is kidnapped while attending a conference in Egypt. The president of the United States reactivates a covert program to retrieve at all costs the high-level official. There are many different conflicts along the way as the story races along to fill the work with interesting clashes. 'Rogue Asset" races along with believable scenarios, solid military knowledge, as well as a frighteningly real political tone that races to a great ending.

Werewolf Dead: Joe Luna Horror
David Brookover
Outskirts Press
978197724148329, $20.95 pkb, $2.99 Kindle

Joe Luna after a long absence is back in action in "Werewolf Dead." A series of strange things begin to unfold in Central Florida that get worse in a short time. Luna is brought in as strange beings roam around. As always author David Brookover takes readers on a journey of horror with weird creatures as well as comic relief of laughable proportions. "Werewolf Dead" is a gem of page whirling excitement as the horrific situations unfold to the last page.

A Deadly Affair
Agatha Christie
William Morrow
c/o Harper Collins
9780063142343, $16.99 pbk/ $11.99 Kindle

"A Deadly Affair" once again showcases the talents of one of the best writers in the genre of mystery. There are numerous short pieces that combine elements of romance and mystery to satisfy new audiences of readers. She had a special talent to weave the two genres together to tell many fascinating tales by a master who is still the queen of mystery. Here for the first time are tales like "The King of Clubs" "The Case of the Caretaker" "Death by Drowning" and "Death on the Nile." There are more wonderful works that are a celebration of one of the finest writers of any generation. The beauty of collections like this one, is they keep in print many of the stories and they keep the short story form of story telling active to new generations.

Fantasy Play Hotel
Jodie Jamison
Flying Monkey Press LLC
9781736634745, $11.99 pbk / $2.99 Kindle

Lacey and Nick on a vacation take their relationship to new heights, as they experience the joy and beauty of The Fantasy Play Hotel in Charleston South Carolina. Experiencing each of the different themed rooms they enjoy the effect each one has on their lives. An overlooked character of "Fantasy Play Hotel" is the city of Charleston itself as Lacey and Nick travel around to enjoy all of splendor and beauty of this charming southern city. Some readers may find "Fantasy Play Hotel" is a wonderful tale of a couple finding new ways to enjoy their developing bond that some readers may find too graphic.

Just Not That Likable The Price All Women Pay for Gender Bias
Gloria J. Romero
Post Hill Press
978642939884, $28.00 HC / $9.99 Kindle

"Just Not That Likable" is a groundbreaking work that exposes there is still a double standard for women as they climb the professional ladder. One example Romero used of likability factor that many may not agree with is that of Hillary Clinton, in her run for president of the United States. Hillary is not one of the best examples to use because, she was very inconsistent of how she came across. In other situations, though women have a harder time proving themselves, as Romero shows very well. "Just Not That Likable" should be a new roadmap guide to change the way women are viewed in the job market.

7 Years on the Front Line
Sarah Y. Tse
TSE Worldwide Press Inc
9780578494210, $24.99 HC / $14.99 Kindle

"7 Years on The Front Line" opens with a degrading statement made to Sarah Y. Tse because she did not endorse a coworkers ideas on a project for her publishing company. She takes it and turns it around to be absolutely ridiculous. She details her business and the many complications she has had to overcome that include several legal battles with companies and one individual who almost gutted her entire publishing company. A nice addition are the helpful tips she gives to others on many different topics. "7 Years on the Front Line" is an easy read that has so much information for all of us to follow to function in our business and personal lives.

The Inheritance Games
Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Little Brown And Company
c/o Hachette Book Group
9780759555402, $10.99 pbk / $4.99 Kindle

Though marketed as a YA novel "The Inheritance Games" is for all ages to enjoy its complex story. Avery Grambs is a high school student who just wants to go to do what she can to make her life better. From out of the blue she is contacted that she has inherited a fortune from a billionaire she has no idea why its her and not other members of his immediate family. There is a catch that she has to live in the home of her dead benefactor and confront the disenfranchised heirs. Filled with many interesting twists and turns in the plot "The Inheritance Games" rapidly moves along with well fleshed characters and shows what greedy people will do for money.

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

Not So Black and White
Reggie Dabbs, author
John Drive, author
Zondervan Publishing House
5300 Patterson Avenue, S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49530
9780310363408, $18.99, PB, 288pp

Synopsis: In the pages of "Not So Black and White: An Invitation to Honest Conversations about Race and Faith", collaborative authors Reggie Dabbs and John Driver (a Black man and a white man, and longtime friends) engage in a courageous, respectfully honest, challenging exploration of racism in America, including how Black and white Christians can come together to fight the evils of racism within our hearts and our systems, including our churches.

White privilege. Black Lives Matter. George Floyd. When it comes to racism in America, many members of the Christian community can feel confused, overwhelmed, angry -- and eager to know how to engage in meaningful conversations and actions surrounding such a difficult topic.

"Not So Black and White" offers a hope-filled, convicting, inspiring look at how to be anti-racist in America today -- and a compelling resource for pastors, teachers, and community leaders who want to read about issues of racism from a biblical and a historical perspective.

For readers of all denominations and backgrounds, "Not So Black and White" equips us to engage together in the intentional work of dismantling racism, just as the gospel calls us to do.

Critique: Presented from a Christian perspective, "Not So Black and White: An Invitation to Honest Conversations about Race and Faith" is as thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is inspired and inspiring. While highly recommended, especially for church, seminary, community, college, and university library Contemporary Civil Rights & Social Issues collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of all members of the Christian community, including clergy, seminary students, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Not So Black and White: An Invitation to Honest Conversations about Race and Faith" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781713636892, $18.99, MP3-CD).

Editorial Note #1: Reggie Dabbs has been one of the most sought-after public school and event speakers in the United States and around the world for more than two decades. From professional athletes and stay-at-home moms to high school students, Reggie shares his own astonishing story of tragedy, redemption, and hope with millions of people each year.

Editorial Note #2: John Driver, M.S. is an award-winning writer and collaborator of more than twenty-five books. A former teacher with a history degree from the University of Tennessee, he also serves as the executive and teaching pastor at The Church at Pleasant Grove and hosts the weekly podcast Talk About That.

Awakening to the Violence of Systemic Racism
Vince Gallagher, author
Sherine Green, author
Paulist Press
9780809155668, $34.95, PB, 232pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Awakening to the Violence of Systemic Racism", authors Vince Gallagher and Sherine Green shine a penetrating light to reveal eye-opening insights by the means of presenting thorough and probing research. No stone is left unturned in the pursuit of the truth about how white persons in sanctioned seats of power (governmental, judiciary, commercial) have abused their power to harm Black people in every area of life: health, finances, education, housing, and judicial proceedings.

These egregious abuses are described here by organizing and presenting facts, whereby "Awakening to the Violence of Systemic Racism" appeals to the conscience of every white person ready to face the issues, especially those who love God who loves all. Each chapter therefore concludes with points of application that are for reflection and discussion, as well as prayer for the outworking of the insights being gained.

Critique: Presenting a Christian perspective on the systemic racial injustice that, despite the successes of the Civil Rights movement, continues to be so pervasive through American society and culture, "Awakening to the Violence of Systemic Racism" is an especially timely and important contribution to our on-going national discussion of race relations -- especially in view of the rising political support for suppressing the vote of African Americans that is so obvious and prevalent with respect to Donald Trump's perversion and corruption of the Republican Party today. Comprehensive, documented, detailed, "Awakening to the Violence of Systemic Racism" is especially, unreservedly, and urgently recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Contemporary Social Issues & Race Relations collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note #1: Vince Gallagher is an author, speaker, and a longtime supporter of the Romero Center Ministries. Vince has been speaking to Urban Challenge groups on themes related to social justice and spirituality. He is also the author of "The True Cost of Low Prices", "Sowing Sacred Seeds", and "There's a Fire Inside".

Editorial Note #2: Sherine Green serves as Director of Youth Faith Formation, mother, wife, professor at Villanova and St. Josephs Maine Online. Prior to working for the Catholic Community of Christ Our Light, Sherine worked for the Romero Center in Camden NJ. there she developed retreats for high schools, colleges and parish groups from around the country. She was a Mercy Volunteer in NY and completed her graduate studies at St Joseph's College of Maine. Sherine is from Jamaica, where she currently invites groups on mission immersion experiences.

I'll Be There (But I'll Be Wearing Sweatpants)
Amy Weatherly, author
Jess Johnston, author
Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9781400226757, $18.99, PB, 224pp

Synopsis: Is it just me? Am I the only one who's lonely? Am I the only one without friends?

If you've ever asked yourself these questions, Amy Weatherly and Jess Johnston, founders of the widely popular "Sister, I Am with You," are raising their hands to say, "Yeah, us too." And they want to encourage, equip, and reassure you that you have what it takes to build the kind of friendships you want.

Their new book, collaboratively written from a decidedly Christian perspective, "I'll Be There (But I'll Be Wearing Sweatpants)", provides you with the how of cultivating deep relationships in this messy, chaotic, beautiful life. Through Amy and Jess's wisdom, humor, and confessional stories about the ups and downs of sisterhood, you'll learn how to: Admit you need friends - then go out and find them; Dismantle the lies you've believed about friendship; Love yourself so you can find people who will love you for you; Be a good friend even though you can't be a perfect one; Heal from a friend breakup -- and find the courage to try again.

Critique: A unique, impressively organized, thoughtfully inspired and effectively presented self-help/self-improvement book that focuses on the role of friends, including how to get them, how to keep them, how to recover from the loss of one, and how to be one yourself, "I'll Be There (But I'll Be Wearing Sweatpants)" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community and church library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists that "I'll Be There (But I'll Be Wearing Sweatpants)" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note #1: Amy Weatherly is passionate about helping women embrace courage, confidence, and purpose for their life, and she does it with a quick wit and down-to-earth sense of humor. She has written for the Today Show,, Good Morning America,, and Love What Matters.

Editorial Note #2: Jess Johnston has been a top contributor to publications such as HuffPo, Scary Mommy, and Motherly, and has been honored with Motherly's Writer of the Year Award.

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

How to Enhance Your Research
Don J. Webber
Edward Elgar Publishing
9 Dewey Court, Northampton, MA 01060-3815
9781788978088, $130.00, HC, 272pp

Synopsis: Accessible in its style, yet comprehensive in content, "How to Enhance Your Research: 100 Practical Tips for Academics" by Professor Don J. Webber (University of Sheffield, UK) is groundbreaking book that provides a wealth of advice on how academics can enhance their research practices. It also highlights the fundamental role of research leaders and how their support can prove invaluable to academics in improving their research methodology.

Professor Webber has expertly compiled responses from different research environments and practices across a range of universities, succinctly summarizing those that achieve better quality research output. Highlighting collective practices as well as individual ones, he further illustrates the responsibilities placed upon academics for their own research alongside those of their peers and how these can have considerable mutual benefits.

An invigorating read, "How to Enhance Your Research" will be an excellent resource for new academics who wish to learn best practice and experienced academics who may have lost their way and are wanting to get their research back on track. Research leaders who wish to have a high performing department will find "How to Enhance Your Research" insightful in gaining ideas on how to enable their colleagues to achieve their full potential.

Critique: Comprehensively covering everything from reading and writing something every day, to publicizing your findings and engaging with the media, "How to Enhance Your Research: 100 Practical Tips for Academics" is an extraordinary and exceptionally well organized and presented combination of instructional guide and 'how to' manual for doing original research on any subject. Thoroughly 'user friendly' and an ideal textbook for research skills curriculums, "How to Enhance Your Research: 100 Practical Tips for Academics" a unique and unreservedly addition to personal, professional, community college, and university library Education and Sociology collections.

Editorial Note: Although Professor Don Webber has a background in applied economics, he is better described as a researcher of policy-relevant, social science issues. Specifically he is interested in research that puts people and social issues (rather than money) at the core of economic concern. Don has written over 90 academic peer-reviewed articles and led or collaborated on £2.2m of externally funded research. His work has been discussed at the United Nation's International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Welsh Government and elsewhere. He is part of a consortium that recently completed an AHRC-sponsored project investigating the influence of design on the Bristol and Bath economy.

John Taylor

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

Desegregation of the New York City Schools
Theresa J. Canada
Peter Lang Publishing Inc.
9781433157370, $94.95, HC, 190pp

Synopsis: "Desegregation of the New York City Schools: A Story of the Silk Stocking Sisters" by Professor Theresa J. Canada explores the use of young black and brown children to eliminate segregation in an urban public school to meet the challenges of equal education opportunity in the North during the mid-twentieth century. Author Theresa J. Canada was herself part of the experiment and tells the story of the desegregation of PS 6 (an elite New York City public school) through the narratives of seven of the girls who desegregated the school. While all of the names within each narrative have been changed, "Desegregation of the New York City Schools: A Story of the Silk Stocking Sisters" follows the author as well as the stories of her elementary school classmates.

"Desegregation of the New York City Schools: A Story of the Silk Stocking Sisters" also provides a chapter explaining the history of PS 6 and this time period. Other chapters describe the contrast between Northern and Southern school desegregation and the psychological and emotional impact these events have had throughout the lives of the girls in the narratives.

"Desegregation of the New York City Schools: A Story of the Silk Stocking Sisters" concludes by discussing the sociopolitical issue of economic inequality and education. In a society where women still earn less than men, obtaining an education and earning a living is important for women and women of color in particular.

Finally, "Desegregation of the New York City Schools: A Story of the Silk Stocking Sisters" directly addresses the dilemma of the re-segregation of public schools.

Critique: With eyewitness detail and exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Desegregation of the New York City Schools: A Story of the Silk Stocking Sisters" is suitable as a supplemental curriculum studies resource for courses in college and university education policy, education law, and women's and gender studies. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, education professionals, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Desegregation of the New York City Schools: A Story of the Silk Stocking Sisters" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $89.73).

Editorial Note: Dr. Theresa J. Canada is a Professor in the Education and Educational Psychology Department at Western Connecticut State University. She served as chairperson of the department from July 2007 until September 2011. Her research interests include: cultural diversity in teacher education and counselor education programs, early childhood/adolescent development, equity and urban education.

A Year in the Woods: Twelve Small Journeys into Nature
Orbjorn Ekelund, author
Becky L. Craig, translator
Greystone Books
9781771645126, $26.95, HC, 256pp

Synopsis: As nature becomes ever more precious, we all want to spend more time appreciating it. But time is often hard to come by. And how do we appreciate nature without disruption? With the publication of "A Year in the Woods: Twelve Small Journeys into Nature", Torbjørn Ekelund, an acclaimed Norwegian nature writer, shares a creative and non-intrusive method for immersing oneself in nature. And the result is nothing short of transformative.

Evoking Henry David Thoreau and the four-season structure of Walden, Ekelund writes about communing with nature by repeating a small, simple ritual and engaging in quiet reflection. At the start of the book, he hatches a plan: to leave the city after work one day per month, camp near the same tiny pond in the forest, and return to work the next day. He keeps this up for a year.

His ritual is far from rigorous and it is never perfect. One evening, he grows so cold in his tent that he hikes out before daybreak. But as Ekelund inevitably greets the same trees and boulders each month, he appreciates the banality of their sameness alongside their quiet beauty. He wonders how long they have stood silently in this place -- and reflects on his own short existence among them.

"A Year in the Woods" asks us to reconsider our relationship with the natural world. Are we anxious wanderers or mindful observers? Do we honor the seasons or let them pass us by?

Critique: At once beautifully written, accessible, and engaging, "A Year in the Woods: Twelve Small Journeys into Nature" an ideal and inspiring read for anyone longing for a deeper connection with the natural environment -- but is realistic about the limitations of time and ambition. While very highly recommended, especially for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of those with an interest in Thoreau style nature writing and skillfully written contemporary memoirs that "A Year in the Woods: Twelve Small Journeys into Nature" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.95).

Editorial Note: Currently residing in Oslo, Norway, Torbjørn Ekelund is also the author of "In Praise of Paths", and co-founder of Harvest, an online magazine documenting wilderness adventures, environmental issues, and our relationship with nature.

Comics for Social and Communicative Behavior
Vera Bernard-Opitz, author
Andra Bernard, illustrator
Future Horizons, Inc.
721 West Abram Street, Arlington, TX 76013
9781949177671, $16.95, PB, 113pp

Synopsis: In their early school years, children focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic. For success in life, social skills and a positive personality are equally important. While curricula for core school subjects are abundant, materials on social behavior and character building are harder to find.

"Comics for Social and Communicative Behavior" by author VeraBernard-Optiz (an American BCBA-D and German psychotherapist and behavior therapist, who has worked in Germany, Singapore, and the United States, assessing and treating more than 1000 children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in autism research centers, rehabilitation centers, special needs schools, and homes) and artist/illustrator Andra Bernard is a workbook that provides a clear teaching structure for these important teaching targets.

It features over 130 comics of everyday problems, along with possible solutions. Eight key long-term targets are addressed, including: reliability, teamwork, self-control, empathy, and communicative competence.

Using "Comics for Social and Communicative Behavior" as a teaching tool, all students can be encouraged to adopt the positive behaviors that are important in school, family and later work life.

Critique: Especially and unreservedly recommended for teachers, counselors, and parents working with autistic and Asperger's syndrom children, "Comics for Social and Communicative Behavior" is exceptionally 'user friendly' in organization and presentation. It should be noted that "Comics for Social and Communicative Behavior" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

Book of Books
James Mathew, author
Kent Bicknell, author
Green Frigate Books
c/o Libri Publishing Ltd.
9781911451112, $152.00, HC, 352pp
9781911451105, $40.00 US, £30.00 UK, PB, 352pp

Synopsis: For the true bibliophile, books are inanimate intellectual companions, ready to challenge, comfort, inform and inspire. "Book of Books: Pearls from the Meandering Stream of Time that Runs Across Continents" by James Mathew and Kent Bicknell is a unique and impressive compendium of examples offering insights into the minds of men and women who made their mark on previous generations -- marks which continue to have relevance and value for the present and future generations.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, exceptionally informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking read from cover to cover, "Book of Books: Pearls from the Meandering Stream of Time that Runs Across Continents" by James Mathew and Kent Bicknell is one of those literary tomes that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. "Book of Books: Pearls from the Meandering Stream of Time that Runs Across Continents" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, college, and university library collections.

Editorial Note #1: James Mathew has presented papers at the Annual Gatherings of the Thoreau Society in Concord, and the Annual Conference of the American Literature Association in Boston, (both in MA).

Editorial Note #2: Kent Bicknell is an educator who lives in New Hampton, NH. He transcribed and published the Gothic thriller by Louisa May Alcott, A Long Fatal Love Chase.

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

Hitler's Court: The Inner Circle of The Third Reich and After
Heike B. Gortemaker
Pen & Sword Books
c/o Casemate (US distribution)
9781526790705, $34.95, HC, 368pp

Synopsis: Adolph Hitler was not a lonely, aloof dictator. Throughout his rise in the NSDAP, he gathered a loyal circle around him, which later took on the features of a regular court, and was surrounded by people who celebrated, flattered and intrigued him.

Who belonged to this inner circle around Hitler? What function did this court fulfill? And how did it influence the perception of history after 1945? Using previously unknown sources, German historian Heike Gortemaker explores Hitler's private environment and shows how this inner circle made him who he was.

Biographies of Hitler often concentrate on his obsession with self-image: "If you subtract what politics is about him, little or nothing remains," said Ian Kershaw, and Joachim Fest asserted: "He did not have a private life." For Alan Bullock the "Führer" was an "uprooted man without a home or family". Hitler's inner circle, the Berghof Society, was his private retreat. But the court was more than that. It provided him with the support he needed to be able to take on the role of "Führer" at all, while at the same time allowing him to use its members as political front men. Most of all, it represented a conspiratorial community whose lowest common denominator was anti-Semitism.

With the pubication of "Hitler's Court: The Inner Circle of The Third Reich and After", Heike Gortemaker asks new questions about the truth behind Hitler's inner circle and, for the first time, also examines the "circle without leaders"; the networking of the inner circle after 1945.

Critique: An impressively informative, unique and original work of meticulous historical research, "Hitler's Court: The Inner Circle of The Third Reich and After" is an inherently fascinating and exceptionally well written, organized and presented study of the man who plunged the world into a war that costs the lives of countless millions of men, women, and children. Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of three page Epilogue; ninety-eight pages of Endnotes; a ten page Bibliography, and a seven page Index of People, "Hitler's Court: The Inner Circle of The Third Reich and After" is a critically important and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library World War II Histories & Biographies It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Hitler's Court: The Inner Circle of The Third Reich and After" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Dr Heike B. Gortemaker, born in 1964, is a German historian and author. She studied History, Economics and German Literature in Berlin and Bloomington, Indiana. In 2005 she published a biography of Margret Boveri, a prominent German journalist from the 1930s to the 1970s. In 2010 she wrote the best seller 'Eva Braun: Life with Hitler', which was translated into 15 languages. She appears frequently in TV documentaries on the Third Reich.

Michael Dunford

Nancy Lorraine's Bookshelf

Little Mouse Adventures: Mindfulness at the Park
Teresa Anne Power, author
Emma Allen, illustrator
Stafford House Books
P. O. Box 291, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
9781734478600, $16.95 HC, $6.95 Kindle, 32pp

Synopsis: The second title in the popular Little Mouse Adventures series for kids ages 3-5 years, "Mindfulness at the Park" is an inviting story about the cultivation of inner tranquility, or mindfulness.

Teaching gentle breathing exercises and basic yoga poses, "Mindfulness at the Park" follows the exciting day of Little Mouse, his cat friend Mr. Opus, and Tammy McDoodle and her parents. Little Mouse has begun doing slow breathing exercises and gentle yoga poses with Tammy and Mr. Opus to pursue mindfulness, a state of inner calmness that allows the mind to gently focus.

One day the McDoodle family take Mr. Opus and Little Mouse on an outing to the park. Although Little Mouse is terribly excited about this outing, his friends remind him to be quiet and pay attention to his breath, to help stay calm and focused no matter what goes on in the immediate environment.

Adorable illustrations show the whole McDoodle family and Little Mouse and Mr. Opus practicing in "tree" position in the park. Finally Little Mouse drifts off to sleep on the park bench, only to be awakened by a barking dog. Remembering his breathing instruction, Little Mouse breathed deeply and counted to five to help stay calm. Practicing mindfulness, Little Mouse is able to calm the dog, whose name is Sparky, and help him find his owner.

Little Mouse's friends soon reconnect and they all prepare to leave the park and share their mindfulness practices with loved ones at home. a charming portrait of the Mouse family in their burrow home under the oak tree shows each family member breathing and sitting quietly, thinking such thoughts as "Tranquil," "Happy," "Quiet," "calm," and "Serene."

Critique: "Mindfulness at the Park" introduces young readers ages 3-5 to traditional yoga concepts and practices with gentle models and examples of mindfulness practices. Kids will love the humor in each small portrait and the sense of peace and connectedness in the yoga poses and practice. Parents will love reading and sharing this delightful story with their young children at moments of calm in their busy day.

Doc, Willie, and the Pack: Secrets, Gifts, Family
Linda Harkey, author
Mike Minick, illustrator
Archway Publishing
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781480880481, $20.95 HC
9781480880481, $20.95 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 52pp

"Doc, Willie, and the Pack: Secrets, Gifts, Family" is the fourth volume in A Hickory Doc's Tale, a popular series about 5 dogs, Patch, Doc, and Zeke who are hunting dogs, and Rush an Newt, lab father and son.

Synopsis: All the hunting dogs have Willie the Crow as a special friend, with ties to the pack's human family. A mystery confronts the pack when Patch, Doc and Zeke discover a bit of shiny tinfoil candy wrapper which Willie gave to Zeke, telling him he found it in the north pasture. Zeke was more concerned that Willie might help himself to a bit of their 5 portions of dog-food rationed out by the Food Giver. Willie tried to keep his promise to the Food Giver to not tell about his special treats, which are crushed walnuts wrapped up in shiny candy wrappers, doled out by the Food Giver near the refrigerator at snack times. Zeke was suspicious of all secrets, but he was reminded by the other dogs that family support each other, and their family included Willie the Crow.

All is clear when a local news team caught Willie collecting his treat from his Food Giver on a special feature show for Shorthair Boulevard Newspaper. Willie managed to calm Zeke's suspicions about his food taking practices by suggesting that perhaps the next candidate for a news special might be Zeke, who felt strongly that he was the most important member of the pack. As other dogs noticed Willie's cleverness at diverting Zeke's jealousy, all the dogs and Willie celebrated their trust and bond as a family.

Critique: "Doc, Willie, and the Pack: Secrets, Gifts, Family" is a great teaching tale for kids ages 7-9 with lively animal and bird characters who are able to learn the importance of friendship, trust and an extended definition of family. Large, brightly colored illustrations complement story caricatures and portraits of the pack and Willie. All the Hickory Doc's Tales are beloved by elementary school children as attested by review interviews with first graders as the introduction to the book. Young readers will look forward to enjoying more installments of this series, with its apt descriptions of canine and other creatures attributes and feelings.

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

Rembrandt Is in the Wind
Russ Ramsey
Zondervan Publishing House
5300 Patterson Avenue, S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49530
9780310129721, $24.99, HC, 272pp

Synopsis: Did you know that Vincent van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime and that during the last three months of his life he completed an average of one painting every day?

Did you know that Michelangelo's David is covered in a dusting of human skin?

Did you know Caravaggio murdered several people while he was painting some of the most glorious paintings of biblical scenes the world has ever known?

"Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art through the Eyes of Faith" by Pastor Russ Ramsey is an invitation to discover some of the world's most celebrated artists and works, while presenting the gospel of Christ in a way that speaks to the struggles and longings common to the human experience.

"Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art through the Eyes of Faith" is part art history, part biblical study, part philosophy, and part analysis of the human experience; but it is all story. The lives of the artists in informative volume illustrate the struggle of living in this world and point to the beauty of the redemption available to us in Christ. Each story is different. Some conclude with resounding triumph while others end in struggle. But all of them raise important questions about humanity's hunger and capacity for glory, and all of them teach us to love and see beauty.

Critique: Impressively informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art through the Eyes of Faith" is as thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is inspired and inspiring. An inherently interesting read from cover to cover, "Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art through the Eyes of Faith" is an unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, seminary, college, and university library collections. Of special appeal for academia, clergy, seminary students, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject it should be noted that "Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art through the Eyes of Faith" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Russ Ramsey is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, He studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM).

Paul T. Vogel

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

Lost Key (Shark Key Adventures Book 1)
Chris Niles
Nile River Media
9798708083371 $21.99, paper
B07S4L16CT, $2.99 ebook, 2019, 406 pages

Lost Key is a thriller about treasure lost under the sea in the Florida Keys. It has all of the elements you expect in an underwater treasure hunt. For the majority of action readers, Lost Key has everything they would want in a weekend adventure read. The only real problem I had with the story is that the heroes never seemed to learn from previous events and kept repeating the same blunders.

Kate Kingsbury's husband was killed two years ago and Kate left her home and moved to a boat docked at Shark Key. She has finally found a life and recovered from the shock of losing her husband. Her quirky friends and neighbors on the Key have brought her back to the world.

Chuck Miller is the owner of the campground and marina on Shark Key that Kate's boat is docked at. An unscrupulous developer wants the Key, to build a high-priced resort, and is willing to swindle or even kill to get title to the land.

Miller's grandfather, who built the marina, always seemed to be able to get money and hinted to Chuck that he had run off with Al Capone's money stash after Capone was arrested. Miller's grandfather never told Chuck where the treasure was hidden before he died. Chuck, Kate and their friends have to find the treasure hidden under the ocean near the Key to save the marina before the developer and his goons can stop them.

Lost Key is a fun action read, if you can avoid the frustration of the protagonists continuing to repeat the same mistakes over and over. The characters are unusual and interesting enough to carry the storyline through and to entice the reader into picking up the next book in the series.

Duty Of Care: A Rex Dalton Thriller
JC Ryan
Independently Published
9781093184150 $16.95, paper
B07PYMW3KP, $4.99 ebook, 2019, 414 pages

Duty Of Care is the eighth book in the Rex Dalton series. The Rex Dalton books are stand-alone fun action/thrillers. But Duty Of Care has a problem. The plot Ryan chose for Duty requires a review of the previous seven books and Ryan does this through the first half of the book. If you have not read any of the previous Rex Dalton books, the flashbacks would be mildly annoying but, if you have read any of the previous books the first half of the story is frustrating.

Rex Dalton has been on the run since his team of agents who were going after a drug ring in Afghanistan was betrayed and killed. The only survivors of the team were Rex and a highly trained and intelligent service dog Digger. Not knowing who betrayed the team, Rex decides to take on the life of a wondering vagabond. Changing names and IDs every time he travels between countries, Rex has been saving people and putting the bad guys into the ground.

Dalton has finally become secure enough in his travels to see if he can rebuild his life. He decides to see if he can reconnect with a girl in Rome, who he thinks he might be able to love, when he gets a call. The security company he previously worked for when he was betrayed has tracked him down. The head of the company has been kidnapped and they need help finding him before the secrets he knows are tortured out of him.

Duty Of Care is a solid action/thriller with few of the logistical and plotting problems of most contemporary thrillers. For most readers, the story will be an enjoyable escapist break. Unfortunately, those who have already read the first books in the series the long series of flashbacks will frustrate.

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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