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California Bookwatch

Volume 19, Number 1 January 2024 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Political Science Shelf Biography Shelf
General Fiction Shelf Historical Fiction Shelf Literary Fiction Shelf
Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Self-Help Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

When Wisdom Arrives
Rosalyn Rourke, MSW
Muse Literary
9781960876218, $24.99 Hardcover/$14.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

When Wisdom Arrives: From Imagined Unworthiness to Freedom pays tribute to healthy self-image, love, and the power of adaptation through a blend of fable and memoir. It reviews the life of eleven-year-old Gem, who feels ashamed of her body weight, and thus hates herself. Underlying spiritual and psychological notes permeate Gem's story to provide enlightenment and words of wisdom to all ages who read her story.

Some thirty years as a psychotherapist lends authenticity and wisdom to Rosalyn Rourke's account, which charts a path out of suffering and into freedom which is specific, rather than idealistic or ethereal. From shattering the illusion that self-worth is tied to body size to the looping self-destructive thoughts that limit Gem's opportunities, and the assistance of a wise leader who teaches her a more positive path forward,

When Wisdom Arrives represents an accessible fable that can reach a wide audience with insights and practical applications of revised approaches to life. Rourke's concept of the 'True I' and how its realization and acceptance can move people away from being stuck into more proactive and positive pathways and choices translates to a series of insights that will prove invaluable to readers interested in tapping into the life-force of authenticity and revised self-image to thwart many negative messages and teachings.

If this story sounds personal, that's because it comes from more than the author's training; but from her own life experiences. These are incorporated into Gem's story, along with case history examples of others who have walked similar paths to wisdom and self-empowerment. "Do not touch or add to hurtful thoughts."

This lesson, deeply incorporated into Gem's story and explored throughout variations in the theme through others' experiences and case histories, makes for a powerful tool for discussion, enlightenment, and empowerment.

When Wisdom Arrives ideally won't be limited to library lending shelves in self-help or spiritual circles, but will be used as discussion material for book clubs, psychology readers, and those interested in examining and reforming better approaches to life. Highly recommended for its succinct, accessible message of transformation, When Wisdom Arrives's promise and delivery of routes to real freedom is invaluable.

The Political Science Shelf

The Judge and the President
David H. Moskowitz
Huge Jam Publishing
9781916604124, $25.00 Hardcover/$16.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle, 337pp

The Judge and the President is the third volume in The Judge and the Creative Positivist series, providing an important assessment of the judicial system and political ties which should be on the reading and debate lists of any serious political science student and general-interest readers alike.

Its legal analysis reflects the author's promotion and reinforcement of the notion of "creative positivism" as it casts a close lens of inspection on the 2020 Presidential election process and the legal, historical, and sociological precedents it both made and broke. The advantage of having such a survey come from the pen of a law professional is its ability to reference a wide range of supporting research, statistics, and documentation.

This approach places David H. Moskowitz's analysis of events above and beyond any subjective viewpoint. Scholars will find these references key to understanding and supporting Moskowitz's contentions, but the actual writing itself is presented in a style designed to appeal widely to non-scholar audiences, as well.

The examples are particularly thought-provoking in their considerations of not just federal but local legal systems, operations, and precedents: "Here are the questions. Are the Tower Health hospitals tax exempt according to the law in Pennsylvania? When the relevant state statute is ascertained pursuant to the rule of recognition, is there a difference between the law in Montgomery County and the law in Chester County, even though there is no relevant difference in the facts in the two counties?

The two judges that heard these two cases are at the same level in the judicial hierarchy. It necessarily follows that the rule of recognition provides a different answer to the question of the tax exempt status of Tower Health hospitals in two adjacent counties in Pennsylvania. Law-ascertainment is not the same in these two counties, even though the same statute is authoritative in both counties."

Consequently, when the judges in these two adjacent counties, each applying the same state statute, reach different verdicts - with one court holding that the Tower Health hospitals are tax exempt and the other finding them to not be tax exempt - the complexity in the law is illustrated.

The law is different in two adjacent counties applying the same statute to the same corporate entity. This is just one of many examples of the complexity of the law, including the law concerning the legal systems involved in the process for electing the president in the U.S. The opportunities spark thought-provoking insights throughout on more than just Trump's impact on the 2020 election process, giving readers a more solid foundation of knowledge about America's judicial and political system as a whole. This, in turn, will lend deeper, more solid insights into the relevance and impact of events which might at first seem singular or local in nature, but which hold wide-ranging results for ideals of democratic political processes.

Moskowitz expresses reasoned opinions that should serve as the foundations of classroom debate in legal and political issues circles, from high school to college levels and beyond. The result is more than a singular review of law or politics, but a series of cases, decision-making insights, and inspections of political and legal processes that form some of the foundations of American society.

Ideally, law libraries, political science students, and the general reading public interested in political and legal history and analysis will equally find value and important food for thought and discussion in The Judge and the President, which uses the 2020 election to analyze democracy in action.

The Biography Shelf

Race Consciousness
Carol E. Leutner
MegaShift Publishing
9781087884783, $20.00 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Many books have been written about racial issues, but few adopt the reasoned and balanced juxtaposition between political and personal experience as Carol E. Leutner in Race Consciousness: A Personal and Political Journey.

Leutner grew up in Baltimore in the 1960s, a product of her times and the evolving racial consciousness that led her on many different paths. She worked with the Navajo Nation, which solidified her perceptions of systemic and ongoing racism, and then entered into an interracial marriage where she raised two biracial daughters, all the while absorbing the social and political consciousness of her times.

As part of this ongoing process, she reflected that knowledge back into her choices, actions, and observations. Leutner's memoir of personal empowerment and relationship-building creates a dialogue that moves between experience, ideals, and difficult choices made in navigating a biased system. Her political encounters and efforts lend a particularly intriguing piece to the larger puzzle of confronting systemic racism under all kinds of settings.

As her years in development work and law evolve, Leutner is continually challenged to reinvent her life, her goals, and her abilities as she decides which battles are worth fighting and when to set them aside for greater goals. These insights and their accompanying social and political revelations are particularly powerful when they are couched in personal experience and historical precedent outlined by one who lived these times and navigated these experiences.

All these facets contribute to a powerful story that deserves a prominent place not just in libraries strong in women's memoirs, but in discussion groups tackling issues of systemic racism and the influence and incarnation of racial politics in American society.

On God's Path
David Henry Maring
9798350908534, $19.95 Paper/$9.99 ebook

On God's Path: My Journey From The Outhouse To The Courthouse is a life memoir that spans over thirty years and many changes, documenting how David Henry Maring was blessed in his life with supportive, strong parents, equally "trustworthy and kind" siblings, and a Christian faith that grew with him over the years, from age ten onward.

His memoir, more so than most personal stories, lays hands on the spiritual nature of Christian foundations in family life and how these translated to choices and reactions to the world at large. Thus, his life story doesn't just evolve into, but represents the kind of steadfast faith that drives every facet of his personal and professional worlds.

Maring incorporates the reflections and experiences of his family, starting with his mother's early reminiscences of her choices to have six children (against medical advice) to consider how a work ethic and philosophy in her own life translated to building strong values in her children. His mother's early memories of her own upbringing and the structure she brought to Maring's world moves readers from early childhood to growing up with a self-employed father who worked seven days a week to make his small gas station a success.

It then reveals the rituals of rural America, from traveling fairs to early efforts to earn money and friends. Many of these memories are of bygone years that will seem odd to current generations, as Maring presents experiences nobody born in recent decades could have: "Other memories on Ashland are of a world that no longer exists. Like the man bringing a block of ice several times a week."

The heart of this story lies in how religion guides Maring's family and their lives as he traces moves, different churches, and family interactions with a few surprising revelations. Other important points lie in how Maring sojourns from a strong home foundation into the wider world, there to encounter distinctions among people that lead him to further cement not just his ambitions, but his determination to fine-tune his life.

Some of these experiences offer readers marked (perhaps even controversial, and good fodder for group discussion) insights on the life encounters that shaped Maring's psyche. From pressures to pursue a military career to financial challenges that plagued the aspiring young lawyer's uncertain career, Maring pulls no punches in describing his life and faith with an immediacy and honesty that will draw readers into the roots of his choices.

What do justice and injustice have to do with following God's path? Plenty, because Maring hones moral and ethical behaviors in the process of becoming a justice server that reflects his strong passion for the basic tenants of God's word: "I believe that God's plan for my life was realized by my public service in the judiciary. Throughout my legal career, I pushed reform. God's hand was upon me as I outmaneuvered powerful political forces and brought quick, speedy justice to our citizens by my rulings and orders."

Few memoirs capture the lifelong experience of choosing and reflecting God's path. Fewer are specific about the incarnation of God's desires within the context of the judicial system. On God's Path thus will reach beyond the usual Christian memoir reader and into circles of legal debate and discussion revolving around issues of justice and personal conviction. It deserves a prominent place in any library collection devoted to legal and judicial experiences.

Cast Your Footsteps
Agnes Mae Geisenhoner and Martha Voorhees
Independently Published
9798862007541, $26.99 Hardcover, $15.99 Paper, $5.99 Kindle, 549pp

It's not unusual to pay tribute to bygone years and a family member via publishing their writings. What deserves special note in Cast Your Footsteps is its vigorous and uplifting notes of just why Agnes Mae Geisenhoner proved such a lasting force in her family and, via her words here, to the world.

Her granddaughter, who persevered in bringing her grandmother's gift to publishing fruition, explains her motivations for this pursuit. The tapestry of family experiences and history is woven upon the choices, stands, and commitments of prior generations whose leadership can prove a beacon to not just the family, but those outside its borders. These examples rarely come to light with such an enthusiastic display of experience, which is one of the hallmarks of this story.

The account reads with the drama of fiction, and also captures the major turning points, influences, and choices of a woman whose wish to have her words published was thwarted by running out of time to choose a publisher. From her early formative years as a 1800s farm daughter to the evolution of her love of history and family and her firm convictions that the underdog deserved respect and support in the wider world, Agnes Mae Geisenhoner represents not just the influences of the past, but the moral and ethical drives which honed her choices.

Her granddaughter only knew her for twenty years of that life, so discovering this written legacy (Cast Your Footsteps) provided a treasure trove of knowledge that assumes additional relevance and power when sent into the wider reading world for outside eyes to absorb. Family ties and times come to life through Geisenhoner's observations, from group fishing trips and the many places she visited and lived in to the encounters and relationships she cultivated, which were changed by the mettle of her convictions and growth.

History also comes to life under Geisenhoner's experiences. Family relationships assume three-dimensional form while the social issues which form from her convictions are powerfully captured in a manner modern audiences will well understand.

More so than most memoirs, Cast Your Footsteps is a tribute to not just a grandmother, but her family's lives and love. The multifaceted life and talents of this woman and the juxtaposition of family-growing moments with life-changing events makes for a powerful tribute that should be part of any book club discussion of family legacies.

Genealogy groups, in particular, will be fascinated with the idea of how living history is created from family ties generations later. Cast Your Footsteps is also highly recommended for libraries interested in accessible, appealing, powerful stories of bygone eras and the people who lived, loved, and celebrated their moments.

The Ride of My Life
Justin DeLoretto
DartFrog Blue
9781961624177, $25.99 Hardcover/$14.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook, 228pp

The Ride of My Life: From Street Gangs to Motorcycle Clubs to Social Worker provides a powerful memoir about street gang and motorcycle club life that incorporates an unusual message about the life values such gangs can reinforce. One doesn't typically think of gangs in a positive light, but Justin DeLoretto's presentation of the pros and cons of gang activity and life translates to a vivid inspection that is eye-opening and thoroughly engrossing.

From its opening lines, The Ride of My Life captures the realities and illusions of DeLoretto's experience in a captivating manner readers will easily understand. DeLoretto's clarity in exploring the line between common perceptions of bikers and clubs and its reality creates a series of insights anyone interested in social issues and gang activity will need to know; especially because: "What most Americans know about motorcycling clubs is what they read in the press or see in television news bulletins. The biker life the press and TV describe often has very little to do with the life bikers actually lead."

As he reviews the values and perceptions that motivate and reinforce this community, readers receive a wider-ranging series of insights on clubs, support groups, and peer influences than most accounts of motorcycling even begin to offer. DeLoretto's transitions from club life to being a social worker bring readers along for a heady ride, contrasting environments which may seem polar opposites to outsiders, but which actually hold many facets in common.

His unique background lends to observations about the job and his clients which come not from the usual middle-class experience, but from the fringes of social experience. This, in turn, translates to invaluable observations about the effectiveness of his work and position: "They listened to what I had to say, and they said whatever experience and other people told them we wanted to hear, but it was just role playing. They had no real intention of changing. Working with people like that - trying to change the habits of people who have no intention of changing - can be soul destroying. It's the kind of thing that gets you wondering why you bothered to come in in the morning."

While The Ride of My Life might seem a memoir designed to appeal to anyone with a background in motorcycle clubs or gangs, its special value lies in examination, honesty, and self-inspections that make it particularly and highly recommended for those aspiring to make social work more effective. College-level classrooms tackling all kinds of subjects, from counterculture and alternative living to memoirs that capture growth and values, as well as students of social work and counseling, will find The Ride of My Life powerful, gritty, candid, and hard to put down.

A Search for Sanity One Step at a Time
Evelyn Leite, MHR, LPC
Living With Solutions
9798988772705, $12.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Anyone who has struggled with addiction well knows that efforts to escape life can lead from denial to self-destruction. Finding the way out of these patterns of life engagement can be difficult, as Evelyn Leite demonstrates in her memoir A Search for Sanity One Step at a Time.

Unlike similar-sounding accounts of recovery, Leite adds an unexpected component to revelations of her life experiences -- that addiction holds a spiritual side that can eventually lead to not just a way out, but a better relationship with God. The blend of religious inspection and the routes of the recovery process receive inspiring personal insights as Leite's life unfolds.

It's unusual to find such a specific story that reviews the dual process of spiritual discovery and recovery, but Leite's words capture both, dovetailing them in ways that are candid, revealing, and thought-provoking: "I want to trust that Jesus died for me, and I'm feeling huge relief, but a part of me is still dubious. Deep inside me is this voice declaring, 'This is garbage. Why would you believe it?'"

Damned, blessed, or crazy? These are some of the labels Leite struggles with as she moves towards enlightenment, revising her ways of dealing with relationship crisis and life itself. The journey towards the light of realization and a new life approach receives powerful analysis in this story, which will inspire others mired in addiction. This audience receives a beacon of promise while following Leite's path away from trauma. In short, her memoir opens doors for readers via example, providing a key to redemption that follows her from making troubled choices to enlightenment.

Libraries and readers looking at faith-based stories of recovery and revelation will find A Search for Sanity hard-hitting, brutally honest, and filled with promise.

Urban Nomad
Freddie Kelvin
Tread Softly Press
9798842756346, $14.95 Paper/$4.95 ebook

Urban Nomad: A Memoir follows the life of British author Freddie Kelvin, whose family escaped the Nazis and fled to England. In too many ways, Freddie is a major contrast to his parents, rejecting his Jewish roots and any plans for a conventional life to assume the trajectory of a wanderer. His explorations of self and the world evolve in this story, where he jumps between various careers and countries with astute cultural reflections on revised opportunities and choices.

Peppered with black and white photos that capture the high points of his experiences, Urban Nomad arrives with the passion and perspectives of a man whose search for self embraces family, different cultures, and social issues and experiences within and between nations. These reflections emerge as he considers the consequences of his professional and personal growth and forms new realizations.

The result is more than a personal travelogue, but a growth experience that follows a young man's entry into the world with an astute juxtaposition of personal, professional, and political wanderlust. Libraries and readers seeking a story of growth that embraces more than individual experience, traversing disparate landscapes that add their own special flavors of revelation and understanding into the mix, will find Urban Nomad an absorbing read. It will attract leisure readers as well as those interested in bigger-picture reflections and thinking.

The General Fiction Shelf

Running Mates
Emily Locker
Bancroft Press
9781610886222, $18.95 HC, $4.99 Kindle, 336pp

Running Mates is a novel perfect for modern times, reflecting the opportunities, anguish, and attitudes which stem from a small town facing a major clash between liberal and conservative elements.

At the heart of the conflict is teen activist Annabelle Morningstar, whose stand on the unionization efforts that affect her favorite local bookstore bring her to the attention of conservative boy Gabe Delgado, whose ideals of the American Dream, embodied by his Cuban heritage, do not include defying the democracy which has offered his family vast opportunities to participate in an active political system supporting freedoms and rights.

The clash between these two high school students reflects on and ripples into their community as they find their ideals tested and an unexpected attraction developing between their seemingly disparate purposes and perceptions of what makes America great.

More so than most novels that echo modern events, Emily Locker's Running Mates holds the ability to hold up a mirror to underlying issues of acceptance, using youth activism to spotlight the ideals of conservatives and liberals alike. It's rare to see equal attention paid to these elements, but Locker's ability to evolve not just a political perspective, but a personal one which is still able to embrace love and relationships makes for a remarkably non-judgmental, compelling coming-of-age saga that all ages will appreciate.

Of particular strength and note are dialogues between these young people who realistically debate adult issues and concerns with the passion of youth and conviction. As each character finds their dreams compromised, their ideals challenged, and the real world of complexity more challenging than their black-and-white thinking has indicated in the past, both find ways to not only adapt to new ideas, but accept opposing forces without hatred.

Perhaps the most important message embedded in Running Mates is one that still needs to be absorbed in modern times: the finer arts of compromise, acceptance, and respect. Annabelle and Gabe must learn these lessons and more if they are to move forward in personal and political ways. So do readers.

Through Gabe and Annabelle's experiences, the world changes. The potential for affecting many a reader heart and mind, too, is vast, unexpected, and alluring. Few other novels can lay claim to such possibilities and objectives. Few others demonstrate how the political and personal can not only clash, but come together to form new opportunities and mandates for change. This is why, ideally, Running Mates will not be limited to YA audiences and libraries alone, but included in book club, classroom, and discussion groups interested in bridging the widening gap between conservative and liberal thoughts and actions.

The Haunting of Velkwood
Gwendolyn Kiste
Saga Press
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781668036143, $26.99 HC, $12.99 Kindle, $34.99 Audio CD

The Haunting of Velkwood is a compelling ghost story about three childhood friends who survive the transformation of the world - into ghosts. An entire block of homes has vanished behind an impenetrable veil, leading Talitha Velkwood to shun her past and the tragedy that changed her family. However, she never felt like she could escape its publicity and mystery, so when a new researcher tracks her down and offers to pay her to return home, Talitha has more than one motivation for accepting.

A powerful saga of returning home and solving ghostly, haunting events emerges which injects the idea of originality back into the ghost story genre, making The Haunting of Velkwood a top pick for ghost story enthusiasts looking for something refreshingly, eerily original.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

Tatae's Promise
Sherry Maysonave and Moises J. Goldman
DartFrog Blue
9781959096948, $34.99 Hardcover/$24.99 Paper/$11.99 Kindle, 550pp

Based on the true story of a young woman who was one of only 200 who escaped the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, Tatae's Promise follows the story of Moises J. Goldman's mother, Hinda Mondlak Goldman.

The advantage of presenting this saga as historical fiction rather than as a memoir lies in the authors' ability to add background information, atmospheric flavor, and descriptions of the war's lasting impact on her life and family. These stemmed from eleven tapes in which she painfully recorded her experiences, under mandate from the last words of her father before he was murdered by the Gestapo: "You will live; you will tell." Entrusted with these tapes, Goldman shared their contents with Sherry Maysonave, whose passion for exploring this life and presenting it to an audience has, thankfully, resulted in Tatae's Promise.

What differentiates Tatae's Promise from other survivors' accounts is its sense of immediacy, fostered by descriptive "you are here" moments that place the reader alongside Hinda Mondlak as she observes her world under siege and attack. From the moments a loving single father is torn from his daughters and taken into custody to Hinda's mandate to survive the camps under impossible conditions; readers enter the world and history of Polish Jews in a manner that is immersive, compelling, and chilling.

From kindness that arrives in unexpected forms to struggles that embrace Hinda and her family, few other memoirs and historical accounts capture so powerfully the atmosphere and experiences of Polish Jewish people. Four main characters contribute their lives to this story, serving as powerful testimony of the determination to not just survive atrocities, but honor promises made in the throes of death. With its added value of emotional and atmospheric richness, Tatae's Promise is a 'must have' acquisition for any library looking at high-quality fiction and nonfiction accounts of Polish Jewish history, concentration camp experience, and the power of survival.

These explorations will also attract book clubs interested in selecting and contrasting a few quality titles on all these subjects, powered by an oral history that comes to life through solid literary excellence and collaborative determination.

The Wall at the Sugar Factory
Sherry V. Ostroff
Bushrod Press
9798862381344, $16.99 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 304pp (Ages 14-18)

The Wall at the Sugar Factory is a historical novel set in Ukraine, Russia in 1919. It follows the life of Shaindel Pogrebiski, who faces a much-changed world in the aftermath of the civil war which has transformed the nation and brought turmoil to her life.

Amid rounds fired into a peaceable living room home are first-person reflections that make Shaindel a compelling character from the first moments of the adversity that shakes her life: "Another lull in the shooting. Were the monsters rearming? Or did they need to rest and drink and fortify themselves with more vodka? I almost chuckled at the thought. Destroying homes and people's lives required sustenance. I wanted to pray for God's help and protection. But the thoughts of Avrum returned: Prayers will not save you. Action will."

The anti-Jewish riots which rock the nation introduce a quest for peace and survival which charge Shaindel with protecting her family, her life, and her world. She fails in some of her tasks while facing the anti-Jewish sentiment which (some scholars say) laid the groundwork for the Nazis which were to rise decades later.

Sherry V. Ostroff's powerful inspection of these lives and the world of Ukraine after the turn of the century creates a "you are here" feel with an inspection of social and political struggle and strife. The story follows the rise of hatred in a range of characters that step up to confront hate and prejudice. A sojourn in Rumania and efforts to emigrate to the U.S. embrace a series of challenges that lead Shaindel far from her homeland as family in America grows and years of waiting for refuge and freedom challenge her focus on building a new life under different conditions. The memories of deadly pogromists who destroy her family and attempt to bury her cultural roots receives graphic exploration, which may serve as triggers to readers who struggle with similar family history and heritage.

These experiences contribute to a full-bodied story of struggle and redemption which follows a journey to Ellis Island and freedom based on Sherry Ostroff's family experiences and legacy. The Wall at the Sugar Factory is told mostly from her grandmother Shaindel's point of view, paying tribute to her mother as Ostroff fictionalizes her family's story for the world to absorb. The result is a thought-provoking, powerful novel of survival and social change that is especially highly recommended for libraries strong in modern Jewish historical fiction. More so than most novels, it personalizes the politics and perspectives of bygone years, incorporating them into family struggles and immigrant experience that brings the world of the early 1900s to vivid life.

Rome's Last Noble Palace
Kimberly Sullivan
Independently Published
9798986884424, $14.99 PB/$4.99 Kindle

Rome's Last Noble Palace follows the lives of two different women who live in different centuries. There's 1896 American Isabelle, who has been sent to Rome to live with her aunt and be primed for a successful marriage; and, a century later, doctoral candidate Sophie, who can't believe her good luck in landing a position as an intern in Rome's Near Eastern Art Museum.

A ghost in the room begins to haunt Sophie's days, contrasting the worlds and opportunities of 2018 Rome with those of 1896, an era when women were expected to marry well and not much more.

Kimberly Sullivan creates a memorable contrast in social and personal expectations as events move between these disparate worlds. When Isabelle is attacked by a nobleman who feels it is his right to take what he feels he owns, readers will find the tense reflections, revelations, and forces that buffet both women to be thoroughly absorbing, realistic, and thought-provoking. The women confront specters of honorable and dishonorable men and forces that try to dictate their paths in the world. Each confronts the obstacles of their heritage and self-perception which, in turn, lends to new dreams and opportunities proffered only to the brave and savvy.

A ghostly warning from the past evolves to try to prevent a similar happenstance from destroying another woman's life in the future, and readers will find the juxtaposition of intrigue, social norms, romantic possibilities, and revised interpersonal relationships to be compellingly realistic and satisfyingly unpredictable.

The landmarks and hallmarks of Rome come to life through a blend of historical accuracy and Sullivan's personal familiarity with the city, capturing the milieu of urban projects and the specter of its Palazzo Brancaccio, Rome's Last Noble Palace.

Libraries and readers interested in novels replete with vivid insights on art, women's lives, and historical currents of change that move through Roman affairs will find delightfully realistic and compelling Rome's Last Noble Palace's study of two seemingly disparate, yet connected women whose lives dovetail in unexpected ways.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

A Thread So Fine
Susan Welch
Muse Literary
9781960876270, $25.99 Hardcover/$15.99 Paper/$0.99 Kindle

A Thread So Fine is a novel of family ties, childhood loyalty, and adult strife as two siblings come of age in the 1940s to find their lives and relationships tested by tragedy and loss. Despite the invisible thread that links them with love, Eliza and Shannon find their very different goals for their futures divide them in unexpected ways, sending each on a separate journey of discovery and revelation that tests their faith, their sins of omission, and their futures.

Susan Welch crafts a story that intersects the lives of different women who come and go from Eliza and Shannon's worlds, creating contrasts in perspective, values, and belief systems. These result in a compelling examination of each character's connections and perspective. Underlying all is a quest for life meaning that continues to buffet and influence each sister's growth process.

Time passes, as do opportunities for forming new and better relationships as the sisters navigate their separate lives and reflect on the forces which drove them to make disparate choices. From revised definitions of success and wealth to shifting social norms that bring with them new opportunities for different directions, Welch focuses on the moments of revelation that spin and influence these new life possibilities: "How playful and impromptu the photograph seemed - something she'd never noticed before. It occurred to her now that they actually loved one another."

The result is a powerful story of family ties and realizations that lead to renewed efforts to regroup. Libraries interested in starkly compelling stories of sisters will find this novel worthy of acquisition, but it's the book club reading group interested in women's experiences and connections that will particularly enjoy the directions and questions raised in the course of Welch's moving account. A Thread So Fine is highly recommended for general-interest readers to students of modern women's literature and stories about psychological growth.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

The Man Who Forgot to Remember
Bill Garwin
Independently Published
9798863987361, $9.89 Paper/$4.99 Kindle, 348pp

A mnemonist never forgets anything. This talent can be both a blessing and a curse. In The Man Who Forgot to Remember, it's both, because Jules Bronsky has forgotten a detail that is key to saving his life.

His infallible memory can be damaged if it was created under stressful conditions. And nothing is more stressful than dying. Determined to repair his broken memory and save his life, Bronsky taps attorney Atticus Wright to join him on a road trip of revelation and discovery.

Bill Garwin creates an intriguing story whose tension and attraction rest as much upon reflections about memory as it does upon the influences of Mob bosses, money launderers, encrypted messages, and magicians. Thriller readers used to formula stories that are predictable will find quite the opposite here, where the characters move from individual dilemmas to bigger-picture realizations. These involve the FBI and special interests that would use Jules's memory and its impairment for their own purposes. The reflections during the chases and discoveries that follow are nicely rendered and thought-provoking as these disparate personalities intersect and interact.

As new opportunities, revised leverages, and startling discoveries permeate and elevate the dilemma of a broken perfect memory, readers along for the wild ride will find the story's revelations intriguing and thoroughly engrossing. The juxtaposition of the disparate personalities of Jules, Atticus, and Skye Duffy, who are on a road trip of unprecedented wonder and danger, create a story that is action-packed, unexpectedly humorous at just the right moments, and filled with insights and thought-provoking revelations.

Libraries and readers seeking a vivid tale that draws on many different levels of action and insight will find The Man Who Forgot to Remember just the ticket for a suspenseful, enlightening experience.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Conquering the Darkness
Cassie Sanchez
Silver Labs Press
9798986822440, $14.95 PB, $5.99 Kindle

Conquering the Darkness, the third book in The Darkness Trilogy, continues and concludes the saga of romance and struggle that made the prior series titles so enticing to sword-and-sorcery fantasy audiences. It is highly recommended for prior fans, who will find this tale rounds up and neatly concludes an epic saga.

A captivating prologue outlines the horror of bad decisions, the portent of coming doom, and the power of a Stone that, as one of four, holds promise and pain that no mortal should control. The Stones' charge to regulate magic and maintain control resulted in greed, murder, and ambition that has shaken their ability to be utilized for the sake of good.

Darkness clings to the land as solidly as the ill weather which opens this story, but hope lies in formidable warriors and clashing purposes that portend as much opportunity for salvation as for disaster.

Cassie Sanchez employs the same attention to psychological depth as in her prior books, whether she is describing warrior motivations, struggles for redemption, or flawed heroes that find themselves both aligned with and pitted against internal and external forces of evil. Descriptions replete in such psychological depth are compellingly rendered and inserted into the action. From queens who manipulate those endowed with magic to struggles to keep Drexus from using the power of the Stones to create more misery in the course of his bid for conquest, Sanchez crafts a fast-paced saga that is as astute in its psychological, moral, and ethical clashes as it is in the ringing swords of physical battles.

From issues about whether the Stones are serving their intended purpose and are working correctly to the costs of alliances which prove untenable, Sanchez juxtaposes various special interests and strengths in a moving magical journey. "...if she used its power, she might cause more harm than good." Intention and outcome drive a crescendo of action and revelation that are powerful concluding attractions for those who found the prior series titles engrossing.

Libraries and readers seeking a captivating sword-and-sorcery series which juxtaposes fast-paced action with equally thought-provoking psychological and social reflection will find Conquering the Darkness an intriguing story of love, survival, and redemption.

The Cycle of Eden: Two Sides of Corruption
Daniel Varona
Atmosphere Press
9798891320147, $19.99 PB, $8.99 Kindle, 450pp

The Cycle of Eden: Two Sides of Corruption picks up where The Cycle of Eden: The Young Revolution left off. It will especially attract readers who enjoyed the prior story of Seth, the Young God who inherited the Seed of Light from his mother and became a key figure in the classic battle between Light and Dark that has shaken the world of Eden.

A wide cast of characters and creatures occupy these battling sides, from corrupted angels to talking skeletons, fierce martial artists like Valentina, to talking dogs such as Chase. There is plenty of fantasy to get lost in. Between the search for peace and its incarnation in the worlds of people and animals to Seth's ongoing uncertainty about the mechanics of his role as the prophesied Young God adds depth as he struggles with the darkness in his own soul, which belays his mission and his psyche. This also is a deep secret that he keeps from those around him, further affecting his actions and abilities as he confronts his own nature as well as the world around him.

Two Sides of Corruption expands the characterizations, influences, and story begun in The Young Revolution. This adds to its value as a fuller-faceted story set in a world which already received a firm foundations of introduction and intention, attracting readers into the increasing dilemmas and evolving confrontations.

Daniel Varona embeds his story with a whimsical touch and action-packed scenes which sizzle with drama as the characters struggle to achieve their goals. The dialogues and interactions which power this tale are compelling, offering satisfying twists and turns as new threats evolve.

It's payback time. The capacity at which some of the characters to extract vengeance and torture, even on their companions, is especially well done. The result is a fantasy highly recommended to prior readers of the Cycle of Eden story; notable for its fast pace, complex relationships, and underlying moral and ethical foundations.

Libraries looking for strong fantasy series stories and readers who enjoy epic productions will find Two Sides of Corruption not only thoroughly engrossing, but thought-provokingly rendered.

The Return
Anna M. Elias
Independently Published
9798988158714, $15.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 250pp

Book 3 of the fantasy series The Vessels continues the saga of diverse, broken humans who continue to host spirits, even though rogue spirits are leading other spirits and humans to become darker.

Eric's return has unleashed more evil into the world, as evidenced by the hateful Governor Ron who joins him in a dangerous bid for power. Familiarity with the previous books in The Vessels series is highly recommended in order to move into a seamless continuation here, which juxtaposes elements of faith with fantasy and Native American mythology for a multifaceted read. Audiences who appreciated the prior stories will find The Return furthers and enhances this account of rising evil and a classic good-versus-evil battle that emerges from individual choice and opportunity.

As Governor Ron slowly loses his soul to Eric, the world's experiences of conflict, hate, greed, and prejudice rise and threaten to take over. How can love win? Anna M. Elias creates another fine exploration of sacred and supernatural thrills and chills, presenting fine contrasts between action and deeper-level thinking that are cemented by atmospheric, thought-provoking descriptions of experience.

Detective investigations accompany insights on forgiveness and higher-level spiritual thinking, moving the fantasy components into realms suitable for spiritual reading groups and book club discussions.

As with the other books in the series, the heady mix of supernatural intrigue, thriller components, and spiritual reflection may prove challenging to some, but the purpose and outcome of this series and the characters who strive to accomplish goals above and beyond their individual missions and interests creates a compelling story that defies pat categorization.

In the end, the Vessels and their missions revolve around bigger events and thinking than struggles for redemption or individual meaning: "He had shared love and asked forgiveness. He'd conquered his darkness." Libraries that have seen patron interest and attraction to the prior books in The Vessel series will find this healing story of second chances and mystical adventures to be as compelling as its predecessors.

The Return is about spirits in transition that find renewed purposes and connections in their choices and impact. Its powerful blend of intrigue, action, and religious flavors make it ever bit as alluring and philosophically and spiritually revealing as the other books in the series.

Baen Books

Baen Books is a premier publisher of science fiction and fantasy. Five of their new titles are especially and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists and community library collections:

John Ringo and Lydia Sherrer's Through the Storm (9781982192990, $28.00) is a powerful TransDimensional Hunter novel that uses a reality game's intersection with the real world as its foundation of action. Teen Lynn Raven is mandated to conquer the game or be destroyed by it. Not content with her reputation as a gaming prodigy, Lynn's carefully honed anonymity is challenged as she competes in the latest dangerous game, only to find its special form of reality challenging her abilities and life. Fast-paced action and high drama make for an impossible-to-put-down read.

Tom Kratman's Dirty Water (9781982193003, $26.00) is a time-travel journey to Boston, where a gate that grants wishes brings fresh Christmas angst to the efforts of aliens, witches, a special toy store, and a grandfather's interest in exploring bygone Boston with his granddaughters. Time travel is vividly rendered and immersive in this gritty adventure, which links disparate figures and interests for a delightfully unpredictable romp. Both books are highly recommended for discriminating sci-fi collections.

Jacob Holo's The Dyson File (9781982193010, $18.00) blends a sci-fi backdrop with a detective story when a corporate venture comes to a halt from the apparent suicide of its lead engineer. A detective and a special agent newly returning to active duty find the diagnosis of suicide masks a deeper war that embroils them in a mystery and cultural exploration. Special interests come to light in a dark tale of mind-hacking adventure and strange encounters that will keep readers thoroughly immersed.

Larry Correia and Jason Cordova's Monster Hunter Memoirs: Fever (9781982192938, $28.00) will attract prior Monster Hunter fans with a foray into early escapades of Monster Hunter International in the 1970s. The culture of the times blends with a growing darkness that requires half-demon Chloe and other Monster Hunter International team members to step up their game of discovery and action. Newcomers to the series as well as prior fans will find the story vivid and exciting.

The Self-Help Shelf

Self-Care for the Creative
Stefani Fryzel
Muse Literary
9781960876126, $20.99 PB, $0.99 Kindle, 370pp

Self-Care for the Creative: A Survival Guide for Creatives, Empaths and Highly Sensitive People is highly recommended for artists who navigate different emotional and creative landscapes. It addresses the specific needs of creatives, with an eye to presenting self-care strategies to support their sensitive natures and navigate blocks that may stifle their creative forces.

These strategies are concrete, easy, and meaningful in a way that more general self-help titles don't address, producing insights into the creative mind and the myriad of life influences that can all too easily quash it. Stefani Fryzel's book is brutally candid with the depth of her inspections as she considers how creative people move through life's challenges at the expenses of their own inspiration.

From protecting one's sensitivity to their environment, to building a physical creative space that protects and fosters those who struggle with emotional quandaries, Fryzel creates a unique program of opportunity and response that is designed to strengthen and build creative forces. Her presentation of examples of creative processes and realizations weaves case histories into suggestions that reinforce the special nature and struggles of the creative individual.

Libraries and readers seeking a specific self-help book that promotes the creative impulse will find Self-Care for the Creative packed with concrete strategies for kind self-care and routines and choices that support these efforts.

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
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phone: 1-608-835-7937

Diane C. Donovan, Editor & Senior Reviewer
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phone: 1-707-795-4629

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