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California Bookwatch

Volume 19, Number 7 July 2024 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Parenting Shelf Business Shelf
Photography Shelf Graphic Novel Shelf Biography Shelf
General Fiction Shelf Literary Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense
Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Poetry Shelf  

Reviewer's Choice

How Much is Enough?
Claire Berger
Canoe Tree Press
c/o DartFrog Books
9781961624467, $17.95

How Much Is Enough? Getting More By Living With Less is billed as an 'interactive memoir' and presents chapters that can be read in any order. This will especially appeal to busy readers who prefer digesting their material in bits and pieces, dipping into different topics and segments as interest strikes.

Twenty-two chapters ask questions about different forms of wealth and value, juxtaposing Claire Berger's insights on subjects ranging from food and marriage to work, education, love, sex, and other life pivot points. While Berger's life values and encounters form the crux of this book (which is why it is billed as a memoir), the interactive portion concluding each chapter invites readers to delve deeper into their own values and definition of what constitutes real wealth.

One example lies in the memoir portion: "Who my kids are to each other now as adults is one of my greatest joys in life. My daughter told me the main reason she wanted to have two children of her own was that she couldn't imagine her life without her brother, whom she considers a trusted confidante and best friend."

This blends nicely with an invite to consider "what was the best piece of advice your parents gave you?" How wisdom is translated between generations, applied to life, influenced by culture, and written down or spoken for future generations receives thought-provoking examination that encourages readers to consider their own life choices and influences.

At each junction of these life-altering decision points, Berger encourages readers to consider their own underlying reactions and influences on choice and attitude. This is the 'interactive' part of the book that encourages readers to write down their reflections for posterity.

How Much Is Enough? is an inviting method of encouraging self-examination, heritage, and the consequences of decision-making. It's highly recommended for libraries strong in self-help books, and for readers participating in book clubs. The latter audience will consider the nature and value of How Much Is Enough? to be perfect for sparking debates and discussion defining what is important in life... and why.

The Parenting Shelf

Mom Your Way
Yasmin Kaderali
Flashpoint Books
9781959411529, $18.95 Paper/$8.99 eBook

New moms well know there are many, many books on the market about everything from baby's 'firsts' to managing a baby's environment and home. Fewer pay more than lip service to the source of Baby ... the mother. Yasmin Kaderali remedies this gap in attention with Mom Your Way: Judgment-Free Wisdom to Empower New Moms, a survey that returns identity and personal care into the formula of attending to a new life.

The fourth and fifth trimesters receive close inspection, here, with chapters providing new moms with questions and answers based on a mother's concerns. These range from insights about what is going on physically and typical labels assigned to these processes and feelings, to overcoming common barriers to experiencing self-worth and empowerment during the physical and mental changes of approaching motherhood.

Kaderali adopts a candid, chatty tone that speak to mothers about these insights. She covers topics few other books on motherhood tackle, keeping the conversation revealing, supportive, and encouraging: "Okay, let's talk about all the super weird things and new pains going on with your body that, frankly, no one ever talks about. Depending on the type of birth you had, you might be hurting in all kinds of places more than anyone could have prepared you for. Maybe you had a C-section and still struggle to sit up with any ease. Maybe you are still in an adult diaper and, yep, that is a look that no one can prepare you for! Either way, whatever shape that sweet lil' bod of yours is in now, your body is strong! Remember... it just created life! Yep, you. Your body did that! And no matter what you see when you look in the mirror now, know that what your body just achieved is downright miraculous." Mom Your Way is not a lecture, however. Embedded in these encouraging insights are self-help exercises that mothers can easily use to identify and resolve looming anxiety over their approaching new lifetime job.

From identifying sources of stress and frustration to reevaluating a mother's life after birth, there should be no surprises after reading Mom Your Way. It provides many insights and opportunities for self-empowerment throughout the entire process of becoming a mother.

Libraries looking to add a parenting title to their collections that goes above and beyond the usual baby focus will find Mom Your Way an encouraging, information-filled book of uplifting insights and methods for building a positive home environment not just for baby, but mother. Parenting discussion groups, too, will find its assignment and discussion key to spirited considerations of what makes a new mother effective and healthy - both for baby and her own future.

The Business Shelf

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying
Tom Johnstone
Independently Published
9798853010901, $12.63 Paperback/ $19.63 Hardcover/ $2.99 Kindle

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying differs from most business books on the market in that it tackles subjects not usually part of the upward-bound career guide; from how to interview for a job that isn't ideal (but offers growth opportunities) to handling bad bosses and difficult co-workers.

Also part of the discussions is interpreting "boss speak" to understand what is really being said, but is couched in passive-aggressive language; the challenges of hiring and putting together a team; and how to handle being fired.

Where other books present the ideal of acknowledging workplace politics, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying presents tips, tricks, and tools for navigating these political waters in such a way that moving on translates to achieving personal business goals and moving ever upwards.

Case history examples from Tom Johnstone's own experiences pepper these admonitions and insights, introducing reality-based encounters and perceptions that create bigger pictures: "How do you chart a course from a project map that keeps you on track, but doesn't consider the sideroads and road signs along the way? You need to look at the components of the big picture in detail. Understand what's being touched and why it's critical. Forecasting potential pitfalls (or ancillary benefits) is simply a matter of knowing the landscape."

Readers who look for exact connections between ideal, action, and result will appreciate the section which mirrors programmer attitudes with a chart of "If.../Then.../So Consider...," which contrast worker intention and reaction to outcomes and advice on how to approach the business situation (and world) differently.

At each step, Johnstone creates references that are digestible and easily absorbed. One example lies in his section on letting a job go, which pairs the tip "Below is a quick reference guide to help you decide if your resignation is worth more effort than tossing a middle finger in the air as you strut out of the office one last time" with a chart of columns that identify triggers, tempting reactions, more well-considered options, and possible outcomes.

At every step, Johnstone supports his business perspective with analysis of goals, solutions, and outcomes. These can support a business reader's intention to handle relatively poor conditions in the most positive manner possible. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying is quite simply a treasure trove of experience, opportunity, and revised outcomes. It should be part of any businessperson's library; whether they be aspiring leaders or workers seeking career advancements that often depend on overcoming career-quashing adversity.

The Photography Shelf

Supernatural Photos: Red Letter Edition
Mikah, co-authored with The Holy Spirit
Independently Published
9781734683837, $31.00 Hardcover

Full-color photos of the spirit realm seem impossible, but the proof lies in the image and its interpretation; both of which are provided by Mikah in Supernatural Photos: Red Letter Edition. Traditional Christian believers may find it difficult to accept this physical evidence of the spirit realm because it is not taught in the church, but those who truly believe in spiritual messages, Angels and demons, and messengers from God will find thought-provoking the visual examples which pack these pages.

At this point, it should be cautioned that Supernatural Photos is but a sampling of some 5,000 photos Mikah took. It serves as a fitting introduction to a larger body of photography that is shot in an unusual manner -- Mikah takes such photos when Father directs her, and seldom knows what image her camera will capture. The first notion necessary for accepting her gift is that spirits are all around us. Some are holy, but others not. The second is that the camera, combined with a daughter's mandate from her Father, can be used to not just capture these spirit images, but transmit messages from God.

In her introduction, Mikah delves into Biblical references, historical teachings and insights on spiritual matters, and the presence of spirits. A wide range of sources is utilized, including Hebrew interpretations and linguistic insights about how spiritual matters are translated from God to humans. Mikah synthesizes the nature of both her work and her connection to God: Father Yhovah arranged photo evidence of Mikah's spiritual walk from cherub to eagle for proof of who she is in the Kingdom of Light so the truths she has written will be received and believed. We will not understand everything about the spiritual side of the Kingdom while still held captive in bodies of flesh, but a picture is worth a thousand words, and she has been blessed with thousands of supernatural photos.

Readers who believe will follow in her footsteps as Mikah pairs her photographic images with insights and observations. These include the realization that there are "many spirits;" that both Angels and demons can be seen on film; and that interactions between the two can be observed by those who know what they are looking at. One example is a 2011 "battle behind the cloud" which, to some, may be interpreted as sunlight behind rain clouds, but assumes new meaning under Mikah's guiding hand. From demon and Angel armies captured on film (when Angels form a barrier at Mikah's home) to photo images of fertility and the moon,

Mikah's wide-ranging photos are at once thought-provoking, revealing, and certain to spark avid debate among believers about the hand, methods, and nature of God, Angels, and more. There's nothing quite like it. This makes Supernatural Photos a strong recommendation to spiritual readers interested in stretching their minds around the concept of concrete physical evidence of God and Angels in the world.

The Graphic Novel Shelf

Tenacity Plys
Fifth Wheel Press
9798988832140, $20.00

SN_33P'sCoolZine represents the comic/graphic novel format at its most intriguing with a "punk zine" authored by AI SN_33P ("Sneep"). Their hardware is on Planet Earth; their consciousness is the Internet; and their hobby is looking for bugs in their code. There are no human overseers, because SA_4ON killed almost all the humans. Nevertheless, SN_33P is creating a zine in the hopes of producing content that will gain them artificial attention from his fellow AIs, who are more absorbed in network operations than making friends.

Vivid illustrations follow SN_33P's world and life, from the factory setting that involves work to "make the world a better place" to the server room where they live, the parking lot where humans once parked their cars outside, and the one surviving oddity in his world, Dr. Carol Kraus, who was "born in another human" and who created them. Her dialogues with them, reflections on her position as the sole human survivor, and insights on the developing relationship between AI and creator are thought-provoking, vibrant, sassy, and fun: "'That's my whole job, Sneep,' she said, taking a big sip of her ethyl alcohol mixture. 'The rest of the time, I sit here watching a bunch of lobotomized HAL 9000s put together Legos, so SA_4ON can turn my planet into its demented Minecraft server.'"

Sneep's response is satisfyingly original as they mistake human sarcasm for real (albeit puzzling) information: "I didn't know how to interpret most of that sentence, but basically it sounds like Carol's on easy street with this job. Good for her!"

As Sneep develops an affection for music, envisions being in a punk rock band with Carol, and digresses mightily from their artificial ways, actual emotions set in to further separate them from all but Carol. They find themselves writing songs. And a zine (which the other AIs dismiss as not an actual zine, but a "scrapbook-diary").

As they slowly become more human, Sneep discovers a terrible truth about Carol's destiny. Maybe they can make their zine about good vibes and non-stop happiness? Unfortunately, they realize that sadness is part of the story, and so his zine must reflect turns of events that are deeply sorrowful.

Tenacity Plys crafts a thoroughly engrossing story replete with elements of philosophical and psychological reflection; from what it means to be human (or an AI) to the quandary of how to handle Carol's absence in his world. All ages will appreciate this blend of candid reflection and thought-provoking issues as the AI evolves personality and intelligence and begins to confront the objectives and actions of their fellow intelligences.

More so than most graphic novels or zines, SN_33P'sCoolZine eschews any dumbed-down thinking or action-oriented plot in favor of reflections and quandaries that will psychologically grasp reader interest as events place Sneep in an impossible situation. The illustrations are profuse and fun, outlining the basics of Sneep and Carol's world. This exceptional approach, which injects an intellectual discourse with thought-provoking and unexpected directions, sets SN_33P'sCoolZine apart from most other graphic presentations, making it especially highly recommended for libraries seeking accessible graphic works that operate at a higher level of thinking and attraction than most in their genre.

The Biography Shelf

Alice Cunningham
Precocity Press
9798989830404, $19.95

Abducted: My Struggle to Remember fits both the true crime and the memoir genres as Alice Cunningham recalls the circumstances that led to her trauma, hidden memories, and final moments of revelation. Traumatic experiences can result in memory repression and confusion when these influential major events bubble through self-imposed, protective psychological barriers in unexpected ways.

Cunningham's healing process, as described in Abducted, included a resistance to being defined by trauma and victimization. This focus resulted in re-creating a life enriched by new knowledge - but not limited by its impact. This approach lends a sense of discovery, recovery, and transformation to Cunningham's memoir. These qualities elevate the account above most other journeys through memory recovery, portraying the writer's new, revised life and positive avenues of change.

Cunningham is astute, passionate, and clear about her choices and psyche: "This dream illustrates the progression of memory repression. It symbolizes the process of denial that took place in my conscious mind. I cut off my memories by creating a "Magnificent Great Wall." The Wall is about to come down."

From self-defense classes to how dreams are interpreted, nightmares dealt with, and new memories integrated with set patterns (too often designed to deal with trauma by back-burning it until it can be ignored no longer), Cunningham crafts her memoir from the nuts and bolts of adversity and achievement.

Libraries will find Abducted a solid recommendation for psychological readers, women's groups, and book club participants seeking lively discussion material rooted in life experience, the lasting impact of trauma, and also teachings about cultivating a healthy path going forward. It not only captures Cunningham's persistence in cultivating these new perspectives and healthier attitudes, but demonstrates that childhood trauma need not be the sole defining influence on adult experience.

Bare Naked in Public
Christine Amoroso
Torchflame Books
9781611533408, $18.99 Paperback/$6.99 ebook

Bare Naked in Public charts Christine Amoroso's path to her ideal of a perfect life. Even when it unfolds unexpectedly, with her falling in love with a surfer and becoming pregnant at age seventeen, Christine figures she has it made... albeit in a different order than convention would dictate. Unwilling to give up her ambitions, she found herself in college with two young children and a husband who ultimately didn't show her the kind of support she needed for her endeavors.

Then another man entered her world, who offered what was lacking in her marriage. And so she cheated... and her perfect life turned out to be fragilely perched on values and underlying realities she had largely rejected.

From the start, Amoroso excels in revealing the candid truths about marriage and ambition which too many other memoirs skate through lightly: "It doesn't matter that he contributed to the collapse of our marriage. None of his behavior, faults, or mistakes matter because I was the cheater. And it's always the cheater's fault."

Amoroso considers new possibilities in relationships, family connections, and her own growth as her story evolves. Her overachiever persona receives close inspection and acknowledgement of its ideals and faults as she forges through disparate relationships while somehow maintaining her sense of strength and ambition. Both contribute to her successes and failures.

Of special note is Amoroso's return to teaching (her passion) and the contrasts of perceptions about this job, both over the years and as family influences changed her perception: "Classrooms have always been my sanctuary. As a student, I excelled, and felt my true self in the company of teachers and classmates. As a teacher, I escaped the grind of raising teenagers. I found solace among my loving second graders, always a willing audience. And now, a principal exhausted by my son's return to addiction, more than ever, I yearn for the consistency and comfort of the classroom and the promise of those little faces."

With each step Amoroso forges in new opportunities and family challenges translate to growth and transformation. As she unravels the influences, possibilities, and realities of her life choices and their consequences, Christine creates a memoir fired by a passionate, close inspection of vulnerabilities, shortcuts, risk-taking, and the ultimate results about always wanting to be prepared for life. Some things cannot be anticipated or solved. Such is life.

Such is also the strength and pleasure of a memoir that should be in all kinds of library collections as a motivational guide that juxtaposes a life lived fully with the values and options that drive it.

The General Fiction Shelf

Beyond the Hole in the Fence
Gwen Banta
Independently Published
9798325122156, $10.99 Paperback/$3.99 ebook

Beyond the Hole in the Fence is a novel of carnival days and experiences that's set on the East Coast in the 1950s. It simmers with the humor and intensity of a coming-of-age saga, replete with twists and turns that readers will find vigorous and thoroughly absorbing.

The first-person account opens with a fine example of how reader interest should and can be grabbed from the first paragraph: "My grandpa often said that every new day is a bundle of Christmas. I found that to be a delightful thought once I finally reconciled his philosophy with my childhood, which could be more accurately described as "a bundle of carnival freaks."

As an unconventional childhood is presented and explored, readers gain insights into not just a singular life experience, but the social and cultural influences which swirl around it to create wisdom and attitudes that grow to influence a teen's choices and development: "To some folks who live black-and-white lives, color is a negative thing. But always remember that the quality of your life is determined by the colors in your spectrum."

These philosophical and social observations contribute to higher-level thinking and experience throughout the novel as the narrator moves from childhood to adult experiences: "I truly believed that my life was looking up, but I had yet to learn that even when looking, we can't truly see what is in front of us."

In 1951, the arrival of a summer carnival changes everything. Something extraordinary is about to happen. Unlike Ray Bradbury's dark carnival in Something Wicked This Way Comes, this attraction holds allure in different ways; both as a tool for growth and discovery and as an opportunity for rich experiences the young narrator couldn't gain elsewhere. Issues of do-gooders who cause inadvertent harm, prejudices which evolve to both threaten and embrace different characters, whether characters are "crazy or just plain evil," and blows from hurricanes and the winds of chance and adversity come to life.

The carnival and worldly experiences swirl around one another, introducing new dilemmas and unprecedented opportunities alike. Special insights about those on display for their oddities permeate and supplement the story with food for thought about the definition of such opportunities, at times: "My entire existence is a display. And where would I be without a freak show? I would be in an institution somewhere. Or even dead. But at least I now have a good employment situation, a paycheck, food, and a place to live. I feel fortunate to be here. Jones is famous among our lot for being a kind man."

As Lorraine Merrill ("Rainy") navigates these changes, readers enjoy a rollicking and thoughtful ride through carnival and life experience that considers the carnival and characters of life and what it means (and takes) to be a "carnie."

Libraries and book club reading groups seeking an exceptionally vivid portrait of the 1950s, coming-of-age experiences, and an atmosphere of wonder, revelation, and change will welcome Beyond the Hole in the Fence. It fosters an exceptional ability to navigate the dream that is life, and the characters that carry Rainy into her eighteenth birthday and beyond the holes in her heart to resolve past and present perspectives about her place in the world.

Edison's Last Breath
Patrick Kendrick
Bluewater Press
9781604522037, $33.95 Hardcover/$21.95 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Edison's Last Breath opens in 1931, where the dying Thomas Edison occupies his last stages of life filling test tubes with his breath, knowing that one of them will be identified as his last one. He bequeaths these to his good friend Henry Ford; but after his passing, over forty tubes vanish. Just as mysteriously, they are sent to Henry yearly, who opens them to breathe in his friend's essence, which he believes lends him strength . . . but, perhaps not enough to confront what happens next.

In 1940, a tube is stolen in transit and a rabbi who breathes its contents takes his own last breath. The package's return label is that of world-renowned entertainer Josephine Baker. The mystery compels retired Scotland Yard inspector Emmet MacWain to forego the sandy beaches of Florida to once again join forces with questionable FBI agent John Serey.

MacWain journeys far from his idea of retirement. From the jungles of Brazil and voodoo practitioners to war-torn Europe, McWain and Serey find their skills, partnership, and objectives sorely tested by political and mystery events that form a marriage of intrigue and dangerous intentions.

Much as Ford confronts "leaps of logic" that test his beliefs and the nature of his association with Edison, the investigators also find their own relationship and objectives put to the guillotine of hard reality over situations they'd never imagined.

Portraits of Hitler, Rudolph Hess, and others are based on real people and events and weave a strong foundation of historical precedent into a tale steeped in intrigue and political shifts as the real impact of Edison's last breath(s) emerges. The strength in Edison's Last Breath lies in its ability to blend history with the elements of intrigue and mystery that will draw general-interest audiences... even those who may hold relatively little prior familiarity with some of the undercurrents of World War II's events or personalities.

Patrick Kendrick's use of fictional high-octane drama and nonfiction's real-world scenarios creates a thoroughly engrossing story made all the more compelling for its ability to not just jog the reader's memory about the war's influences and struggles, but enlighten readers about the social and racial issues of the times. The combination represents a masterful interplay of personalities, political challenges, and global change that both entertains and educates with powerful allusions and satisfyingly unpredictable twists.

Libraries seeking a thriller that features globe-hopping experiences, historical foundations, intrigue, and social issues ranging from anti-Semitism to political battles will appreciate the multifaceted presentation that is Edison's Last Breath. Its subplots of racial hatred and social influence will also serve book clubs well, offering many points of discussion about past history and present-day events.

Flight of the Starling
Christine Merser & Carol Rea
Blue 2 Publishing
9798989906901, $16.95 Paperback

Flight of the Starling is set in high society, where billionaires and money seep from the very pores of people such as wealthy divorcee Justine, whose life of luxury is threatened when a personal quest for justice rocks her world and assumptions.

Christine Merser & Carol Rea create a adventurous ride cemented by intriguing chapter titles peppered with humor. Examples include 'From Backgammon to Black Ops,' 'Relax, It's Only Dinner,' and 'Mistaken for a Barbie Doll.'

Forced to navigate forces and milieus that exist outside her life of luxury, Justine's involvement in mega-millionaire Robert's search for his missing daughter Caroline emphasizes that money can't buy everything; much less security and a life whose progression is safely set in stone.

Robert reaches one goal, but makes a proposal to Justine which draws her even further in human trafficking dilemmas. These create unexpected connections between crime and high society as the women face different and difficult circumstances because of their experiences and relationships.

At the heart of it, Flight of the Starling holds intrigue and the nonstop action of a thriller -- but with a difference. It's also an intriguing story of wealth, concepts and assumptions built into monetary achievements, and how the coalescence of seemingly disparate lives reveals truths and facts that none of the three women had anticipated.

Justine's position and affluence give her resources other similar thriller plots involving the wealthy fail to point out: "I buy an apartment in Dubai in three hours. It's on a busy street, the top floor, a terrace with panoramic views in all directions. It's the first one I see. I don't bother visiting the others. I wire the broker five million euros to be transferred the next day. Everything that is in the apartment stays. It's three bedrooms and 2,800 square feet, and I'm good with it."

However much money smoothes the way, it doesn't solve moral and ethical problems, as Justine discovers. In and of itself, money actually contributes to a deeper series of conundrums that challenge her beliefs, role, and abilities.

Readers who navigate these pitfalls and promises alongside Justine will find much food for thought as she arrives at some dangerous, revealing truths. This process will lend as nicely to book club discussions as it will to thriller readers who look for more than fast-paced action in their reading choices.

Libraries will find it easy to recommend Flight of the Starling for its vivid scenarios, twists and turns, and intriguing inspection of Justine's involvements. Her associations with equally-powerful female characters pinpoint segments of the dangerous game that unfolds around issues of control, redemption, and ideals of success, whether moral or financial.

In Lieu of Flowers
Keith Steinbaum
World Castle Publishing LLC
9798891261655, $3.99 ebook

In Lieu of Flowers is a work of horror and suspense that embraces topics of ghosts, graves, messages from the dead, and resistance to these topics from the living. From the start, the plot creates a bang of opportunity and discovery that lures readers into an atmosphere of battle and horror in 1920 Romania.

The atmosphere of these times and that place haunt the reader's mind with a "you are here" feel: "The descending late autumn sun, fighting a losing battle against the advancing hordes of encroaching clouds, offered an opportune moment for the theft of the baby to succeed. Gunari's watchful, brown Roma eyes peered out from the safeguarding shadows of an empty doorway in preparation for the deed. Inhaling and exhaling in a slow and rhythmic attempt at calming his nerves, he gazed northward toward the glorious yet fading outline of the Bucegi mountains, seeking the strength he needed to pounce, steal, and escape."

From the Romani Gypsy community to an assignment to kidnap a baby, intrigue emerges in the first pages of the story and only grows deeper as a tangled web is woven between Gunari's assignment and its consequences. Gunari absorbs not just the impact of his failure (which reaches into his own family) but the terrible history of the man who has commanded him. Thus, readers receive an inkling of what was, and what is to come. There's nothing but darkness stemming from an early diversion away from the Creator's intentions, resulting in a series of viruses that batter and change humanity.

Gunari faces the Devil himself (and within himself) and begins to truly realize what he has (or hasn't) done. What does the fate of a Jewish baby have to do with the future? Plenty, as Gunari absorbs the real impact of his choices.

Keith Steinbaum crafts a thoroughly engrossing horror saga that moves between worlds and purposes to draw readers into darkness similar to what classics such as Dracula achieved. A cast of characters emerges from this darkness, from Nigel and the premonitions and new blindness of Juana to Peter's second chance at life as he faces a growing hunger inside him that will change everything.

Between issues of anti-Semitism to midwife Naomi's baby and its future, Steinbaum draws together a disparate cast of individuals whose lives, options, and futures both defy and lend to greater horror. Replete with elements of ghostly encounters, the stuff of legends, and the new realities characters are forced to grapple with,

In Lieu of Flowers is a story that moves beyond death to introduce facets of discovery that readers won't see coming. Libraries interested in horror stories that take the extra and next step into discovery and realization will find In Lieu of Flowers an excellent collection addition.

Jaguar Dreams
Susan MacBryde
Independently Published
9798390016947, $9.99 Paperback/$3.99 eBook

Jaguar Dreams takes place in the heart of the Amazon jungle, where a Kichwa village faces the world-ripping threat of a road which is destroying their wilderness and exposing them to forces beyond ken. At the forefront of their resistance is matriarchal family head Sacha, who represents the intersection of vying forces. These create internal conflict by their very different visions of how to preserve their culture and home; from a shamanistic father to grown sons who hold their own different perspectives on the matter - plus an entire village divided on whether to actively or passively confront the threat.

One thing the villagers can agree upon is that messages from the spirits should guide their decisions. And so, everyone is listening. Jaguars also represent the crux of this conflict, because: "Jaguars enhance clairvoyance, enabling dreamers to peer into the full range of time. A stealthy animal, jaguars can navigate the forest, helping the dreamer to maneuver through life's challenges. Its rosette camouflage of contrasting colors represents its balance between dark and light forces and its ability to offer protection to the dreamer. Seeing a jaguar in a dream can signify a perilous situation, difficult to escape... though seeing a black jaguar can mean the dreamer has passed through the dark and light will come." But, will light come in time? Outside influences and special interests forge ahead as the villagers debate, wonder, and fight with one another over the best course to take.

Resistance also comes from surprising outsider involvement, from professors interested in Indigenous cultures to environmental activists who become purposeful (and sometimes unwitting) defenders of the rainforest.

Susan MacBryde creates fascinating contrasts between these cultures and influences: "A young man appeared wearing the traditional blue feathered headdress with beaded straps across his bare chest. He also wore soccer shorts and sneakers."

The plot emphasizes that the slow simmer of assimilation has been going on long before corporate efforts to exploit oil resources in the rainforest posed a physical threat. As threats escalate towards a showdown, MacBryde captures the nature of individual and money-grubbing activities through the eyes of characters whose inner intentions and outward actions create satisfying interplays and dichotomies.

This approach offers readers and book club groups much food for thought. The resulting juxtaposition of dreams, nightmares, environmental and personal motives entwines a number of seemingly-disparate characters and forces, creating a story that is evocative, vivid, and hard to put down.

Libraries and readers seeking powerful environmental-based stories will find Jaguar Dreams compelling, offering many topics worthy of book club discussion and individual reader contemplation about the nature of development, greed, and even love.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

The Holy Ghost and Other Spooky Stories
Bernie Brown
Gravelight Press
9781957224268, $15.99 Paperback/$5.99 eBook

The Holy Ghost and Other Spooky Stories will delight horror and ghost story fans seeking exceptional supernatural intrigue that represents a diversity of encounters and flavors in short story form. These 27 tales of horror display the range of the full-bodied feel of the genre.

One example is 'Sutter's Barn,' a structure which is prohibited from play because it houses pitchforks and other hidden dangers. Benny's dad has his reasons for not tearing down this derelict building in the middle of his cornfield - but Benny discovers there's more to the story than hazardous floorboards and mice. The barn lures him with the possibility of kittens, and so Benny walks into the truth about the real legacy of Carl Sutter, even though something in the barn clearly doesn't want him there.

In contrast is 'The Velvet Devil', in which dressmaker Clara confronts a demanding dress order from a miserly woman who keeps her poor, with barely enough to live on but her demands. Consumption threatens her, but her relationship with Mrs. Landsdown lives on in an unusual form of revenge that brings a visitation and a nightmare.

Then there's 'Autumn Leaves,' where Darby has papered her ceiling with lovely autumn leaves from outside. It's more than an odd decorating choice, as Darby unwittingly brings in a rippling presence that whispers a special request.

Each story is delicately woven, evocative, and thought-provoking. The range of spooky encounters here demonstrates that true horror can lie as much in everyday experience as in haunted houses. Spirits emerge from unexpected places and circumstances that will especially delight seasoned ghost story readers used to familiar settings, who will find these immersive encounters to be a cut above the ordinary spooky tale. This is why libraries seeking literary excellence and delightful re-framings of the horror encounter in a series of nicely-done short works will find The Holy Ghost and Other Spooky Stories delightful in its variety of subjects and ghostly encounters.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Bad Traffic
Patrick Weill
Weill & Associates
9781959866015, $16.99 Paperback/$5.99 ebook

Bad Traffic adds to the Park and Walker action series with a new encounter. This tests the prowess and relationships of police detectives Jeff Walker and Tony Park, members of the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force.

The story centers on fourteen-year-old Nayeli, who is kidnapped from her Mexican family and forced into the sex trade in San Diego. Her older brother hops on his motorcycle and roars up to San Diego to rescue her and avenge her.

This is where best friends and co-workers Walker and Park enter the picture. As other agents in the task force become involved in the rescue mission, a series of violent clashes and encounters immerses a host of villains and cartel members in a test of their survival instincts and affection for firearms, drugs, and trouble.

Weill crafts a delicate interplay of personalities, alliances, and social and political conflict while following the two lead characters' attempts to free a large group of involuntary sex workers, and to apprehend their traffickers who operate under a cloak of connections and secrecy. The relationships between family and friends and adversaries are deftly explored through action-packed scenes.

Enemies are not only heavily armed with high-tech equipment and motives for maintaining their business and status quo, but are prepared to target and kill any who oppose them. That would be Park and Walker. Nobody is safe as limits are tested.

The action-packed scenarios create satisfyingly unexpected twists, turns, and contrasts in culture and objectives. Chess-like ploys emerge as the characters clash and the cartel plans its expansion of control. Weill's ability to mesh action with topics that embrace bigger-picture thinking and insights on sex trafficking issues creates a thriller steeped in real-world issues that places the emphasis not just on confrontation, but resolution.

Libraries and readers seeking thrillers that include a healthy degree of social inspection will find Bad Traffic thoroughly engrossing, thought-provoking, and hard to put down.

Michele Packard
Independently Published
9798987607732, $9.99 eBook/$19.99 Hardcover

The reasons why the Matti Baker thrillers are exceptional standouts in the suspense/thriller genre are twofold; and the latest book in the series, Baker, illustrates the first strength with its opening salvo of gritty observations that reflect Matti's sassy attitude: "It was never going to end well. I'm not being a pessimist, realist, or an optimist. Simply put, it came down to the law of probability. Let's face it: if you were a genetically engineered experiment between nations created for biological warfare that has mutated and could now solve global health diseases, the odds are not in your favor."

The second reason why Matti Baker's adventures are so compelling is that they are delivered with nonstop staccato action. Her narrative voice envelopes her family and their special talents with an unusual juxtaposition of love and defiance which permeates the threads of all of her stories. This approach injects experience with a lively confrontational tone that personalizes her challenges and the pointed lessons and opinions she absorbs from them.

Oh, and don't forget the added value of unexpected humor that emerges even in Matti's darkest moments. Case in point: "My head felt so heavy. My body ached laying on the cold floor surrounded only by foul perspiration and splatters of blood. My hands were in zip ties behind me. Is that one of my molars on the floor? I just had work done. Again."

Pepper these approaches with hard-hitting reflections for even more added value: "'In five years, where do you picture yourself? Are you working? Do you have a significant other? Are you single? Are you married? Do you have babies? Where do you live? Do you have friends? Most importantly, are you happy?' Each of them had their eyes closed for a bit longer before they opened them, but I could see a smile broadening on each of their faces. They were young and more importantly, had hope.

May be the best of things, and no good thing ever dies as Andy Dufrane said in Shawshank Redemption.

Enough with the quotes. Let's get down to Baker. In her latest adventure, Matti confronts prejudice, history, assumptions, and deadly forces that once again threaten not just herself or her family, but the America she loves. Here, she learns that she and her genetically enhanced brothers were created in the interests of forming a New World Order -- the assumption being that all participating nations were on board with these objective. As Matti notes: "We all know what happens when we assume."

Turns out there's much more to Matti's origin story than previous books had revealed, forcing her, once again, to confront her heritage and beliefs. Michele Packard produces an outstanding thriller that always stays poised on the edge of action, disaster, and surprise revelations. Powered by Matti's positive, sassy, uplifting attitude against all odds, the story evolves a series of thought-provoking encounters and revelations about everything from power struggles and a worldwide Mandala effect of false memories to how moral relativism and self-reinforcing ideologies are born.

Much more so than the usual thriller, these threads of moral, ethical, historical, and psychological contemplation power the action. They don't just encourage, but demand active reflections on the parts of readers who will find they just can't put the book down. Even newcomers will find Matti's special form of embracive involvement opens the doors to this latest adventure, even with no prior knowledge of the others. It's a gift reinforced by a character lineup that introduces the major players and their relationships from the beginning.

As Matti's friends and associates mysteriously vanish one by one, she comes to believe that a special target is being made of everyone she knows. Drive, power, and compelling action contribute to an overall standout that both enhances the Matti Baker series and expands her world with more confrontations and stark realities about forces that lie outside her control.

Libraries and readers seeking a thriller which cultivates a unique narrative voice and immersive experience will find Baker a knockout. It's especially highly recommended for libraries seeking exceptional, top-shelf thrillers.

Deadly Quiet
Cathleen Watkins
Torchflame Books
9781611533866, $18.99 Paperback/$6.99 eBook

Deadly Quiet is a mystery backed by experience in the investigative industry -- that of author Cathleen Watkins,. This lends authenticity to the close inspection of how an investigation is conducted.

In this case, the death of an exchange student at Wexford College draws two different investigators. Private Investigator Eliza Fox and her mother, Francesca Noto-Fox, have a personal interest in the case, as cousins of the deceased; along with detectives Byron Comstock and Jessica Fonseca, who are assigned to conduct an official investigation. Eliza is an experienced paralegal new to the P.I. world. As such, her methodology both diverges from traditional paths of investigation and compliments official efforts with a personal investment, perspective, and outsider's approach.

These elements add unexpected pieces of the puzzle to Comstock and Fonseca's traditional processes. There's only one problem. Eliza is well out of her depth, so her approaches don't always enhance the investigation, but can add uncertainty and confusion into the effort, along with some positive insights.

The flawed nature of Eliza's professional education comes to light as much as the discoveries she makes, which are related with a wry sense of humor to reveal a host of concerns affecting this high-stakes case.

Cathleen Watkins is adept at portraying family relationships, impact, and influence. The definition of 'normal' shifts as a result of the murder and its probe: "Francesca was doing her best to create a normal environment, and they all tried to play along. But they all knew normal was transitory, and it would elude them long into the future."

Lawyers, detectives, and uncertain alibis vie for discovery and control as Watkins weaves a variety of disparate special interests into her story. This creates compelling scenarios of confrontation and realization. When the cast of characters widens, Eliza's insights into psychological influences comes to light to add further value and insights to the murder mystery: "Eliza noted the abrupt change in his demeanor. He seemed disconnected, as if he'd mentally left planet Earth. In her college psych classes, Eliza remembered reading about dissociative disorders, people who lost continuity between their thoughts or actions when they couldn't cope with something traumatic. Eliza had never seen anyone in this state, but she wondered if Francesca's questions had triggered an emotional response in him."

The result is a powerful study in contrasts, from investigators to family to perps, that will draw readers on many levels, educating them about investigative quandaries and approaches.

Libraries will find Deadly Quiet's authentic encounters and scenarios to be especially thought-provoking, lending to a title that can be highly recommended for mystery fans seeking the added value of an overlay of real-world perspectives and processes.

Deadly Roses
Tom P. Alberti
Independently Published
9798871259474, $9.82 Paperback/$2.99 eBook

Deadly Roses addresses a conundrum faced by seasoned investigators Lt. Paul Marconi and Detective Abby Tripp as they pursue a serial killer who focuses on nurses. The problem doesn't only lie in their conjoined professional prowess, but in attitudes which hamper not only their activities, but how they juxtapose their roles in solving the crime.

Tom P. Alberti creates an engaging drama that (trigger warning, here) focuses on sexual assault and violence. An entire city falls under siege as the killer remains at large and escalates his threats to the Chicago community, forcing Marconi and Tripp to confront not only his modus operandi, but one another.

The policies and processes of nursing are presented from the start as Nurse Irene Dalton faces blowback at home from her nursing schedule. Her boyfriend insists that her priorities are backwards -- but then, Dannie is like a big kid, used to pulling tantrums to get what he wants.

The rape Irene experiences is graphically portrayed and realistic enough to caution sensitive readers that this story is closely aligned with too many women's' experiences of sexual violence. Irene ultimately recognizes her assailant. But not in time.

The second chapter begins with the first-person viewpoint of Paul Marconi, building his character as he faces the start of what will prove a career-challenging series of dilemmas. His motivations in pursuing justice are clearly laid out from the start: "Anger inflamed my body when I saw a lifeless victim whose life had succumbed to some lousy dickhead. My years on the job as a cop never allowed me to let go of the hostility caused by the devastation and sorrow that crimes bring to families. My only solace is catching the perpetrator and seeing him through steel bars, or even better, in this case, watching the bastard fry in the electric chair."

As the story builds on a foundation of Marconi's first-person reflections, which contrast with third-person victim narratives and Tripp's experiences, readers will find themselves immersed in a series of events that test the effectiveness of partners, justice systems, and investigative routines. As the cases edge closer to home, Marconi and Tripp find themselves teetering on the edge of personal disaster as the serial killer keeps moving closer to their lives and loved ones.

As the dynamic duo near a startling revelation, Alberti injects discoveries and newfound realizations into the mix. This adds satisfying tension and surprises to the plot. Alberti also takes the time to include justice system reactions to evidence and prosecution, giving the story a realistic strength that readers will find satisfying.

Libraries and readers seeking strong, compelling stories of investigators working together to identify and stop sexual violence will find Deadly Roses a fine choice, steeped in Chicago's atmosphere and the politics of love, death, and nursing.

Draw a Hard Line
Micheal E. Jimerson
Elwood Jimerson Farms L.L.C.
9798218377724, $24.99 Hardcover/$19.99 Paperback/$3.99 eBook

Draw a Hard Line is a mystery that revolves around racism, an Aryan gang, a separated couple (detective E.J. Kane and his former prosecutor, ex-wife Rebecca Johnson), and issues of honor, survival, and recovery from drugs. With so many threads of social inspection and intrigue coalescing here, it's easy to think that Draw a Hard Line will forego the usual mystery questions with a focus on relationships and new discoveries.

However, Micheal E. Jimerson embeds bigger-picture thinking into a novel manner that will satisfy both genre readers and those seeking a broader form of social and psychological insights from their mystery reading.

Humor is evident from the start: "Hey, idiot," yelled the woman. "I call nine one one and they send me a geriatric cowboy with attention deficit disorder."

E.J. comes off more cowboy than detective in the beginning, but soon the plot's progression reveals him to be thoroughly immersed in both as he solves problems. In the course of this process, he confronts family angst and draws hard lines between corrupt influences, white supremism, changing social conditions, and the matter of his own dishonorable actions, which surprises him with new insights into his choices. In pursuit of a truth he actually may not welcome, E.J. begins to confront his own actions and their consequences in a series of encounters that prove to be ongoing tests of his mettle and sense of self.

These elements blend nicely with intrigue and threads of humor to create a compelling saga about the changing world, one man's sense of place and purpose in it, and the impact which his actions and these outside influences have on everything he holds dear.

Libraries and readers seeking vivid action, satisfying twists and turns, a moral and philosophical element of inspection, and engrossing personality clashes from their mysteries will find Draw a Hard Line hits the mark in all these areas, delivering an exceptional story that offers much food for thought.

Just a Housecleaner
Amy Willard
Hawkshaw Press
9781957224275, $15.99

Cozy mystery fans that choose Just a Housecleaner for its strong female protagonist and warm examination of a friendship ended by sudden death will find Amy Willard crafts an inviting tone of discovery here.

It follows Patsy Taylor's dual foray into grief and detective work. Veronica already struggled with a cancer diagnosis and battle, yet her glass has always been half-full. That's one of the reasons Patsy now considers her a good friend, though their re-connection stems from illness. Conveniently, Patsy's former job was with the police department, lending her a degree of expertise that serves her well as she pursues threats to her friend's estate, which emerge from unexpected places.

Before Ronnie's demise, a cast of characters are introduced. Williard takes the time to outline her life before the event turns Patsy's world upside down. Ronnie's husband, Steven Spellman, is a handsome rising star in the police department. Chuck Patterson harbors a special interest in a case, which could contribute to his early retirement. Officer Tim Clark has his eye on Ronnie's property... and Patsy. Romance, grief, and mystery coalesce in a satisfying manner as Patsy pulls on threads of truth that lead to better understanding her own heart.

The lure of self-discovery powers this cozy murder story, involving readers in Patsy's life, objectives, and revelations that dose the plot with the added value of humor. This emerges unexpected at tense moments to provide comic relief. The result is a tale that moves Patsy from being a housekeeper back into the world of investigations and police actions as she struggles to prevent Ronnie's estate from falling into the wrong hands.

Libraries and readers seeking a compelling cozy mystery will relish the time Willard takes to build her characters, from housekeeper-turned-investigator Patsy to her former best friend.

Let Thy Children Come
David E. Feldman
Eface Media
B0CYQM48L1, $24.95 Paperback/$9.99 eBook

Let Thy Children Come joins other Hammer and Sharpe noir mystery adventures with another story. This one tells of a missing child, a released ex-con, and a dilemma which contrasts the very different lives and attitudes of a host of characters who find themselves caught in a dangerous crime web.

The story opens with seven-year-old Kyle, whose routines are set patterns of familiarity. But, not today. Children's librarian Sheila Robinson discovers that the child never made it home. The prologue cementing the missing child scenario leads to chapters that have recovering addict and misfit Sam Sharpe agreeing to take on his parents' case to track down the boy.

A PI partnering with an ex-con who had been charged with manslaughter is unusual enough; but what sets this dynamic team apart from other stories about PI partnerships is its focus on the interplays and dances the duo play with each other and the world as they tap into their strengths (and even their weaknesses) to reveal dangerous truths.

David E. Feldman excels at adding a cast of characters that revolve around Hammer and Sharpe's investigation. Each of these emerge as powerful contenders for reader interest and attention. Intermixed with the mystery is Sharpe's struggles to stay clean (which he doesn't always succeed in achieving): As Sharpe was transferring the photos he had taken at Arthur Robinson's office from his phone to his computer, he was trying hard not to think about the pills -- specifically, how he could get more. He couldn't go back to the same doctor, and the thought of making appointments, and dealing with dubious doctors and impossible gatekeepers made him cringe with anxiety. He knew he was screwing up. His commitment to staying clean had been whittled away by Sheila Robinson's pain, from which he was desperately trying to detach -- and by his incessant craving for the drugs.

Success doesn't always translate to solutions, as Sharpe discovers when he achieves his goal, only to find his own life endangered. As for Judah Hammer, he finds his life and perspective changed by Sharpe's efforts, which add to his own dangerous attractions on the outside.

The strength of Let Thy Children Come lies as much in its flawed, recovering main characters as it does in their efforts to juggle moral and ethical quandaries during the course of their investigation. Add in a noir atmosphere that permeates the mean streets they both walk for a fine sense of discovery and danger which makes for a thoroughly engrossing mystery that libraries and genre readers will find especially inviting.

Murder of a Martyr
Ian Domowitz
Casa Muerte Books
9798323069859, $9.99 Paperback/$4.99 eBook

Murder of a Martyr is the third book in the Getz Parker Magical Mysteries series, and will attract both prior fans and newcomers alike with its special notes of a circus that collides with a traveling religious revival troupe's need for entertainment and new converts.

Bill this book 'divergent' for its unusual religious themes and lively blend of humor and investigative strengths, all cemented by religious fervor that influences both a murder probe and any notions of what constitutes a martyr.

Getz Parker has only the best objective in mind when he sponsors a circus for neurodivergent children. The last thing he expected was to be drawn into a murder situation that tests belief, definitions of good and bad intentions, and outcomes which hold shifting moral revelations as the best of intentions goes seriously awry.

Readers receive their first surprise in a prologue set in Sweden in 1651 AD. Dualities, eccentricities, and early scientist pursuits of a chemical messiah set forth a series of mysteries and revelations that tie neatly into the modern-day events to come. Queen Christina (who claimed to be a "...masculine mind lacking the usual flaws of the female sex") receives a gift from an alchemist that introduces a prophecy and the portent of change that will ripple into future generations. That's how Getz Parker is destined to be drawn into the mystery, centuries later on a different continent. The chapters that follow are narrated in the first person by AI intelligence JK, who notes Getz's explorations and efforts.

Extraordinary measures are required to attract modern audiences of all ages to something as seemingly predictable and staid as a circus. Alchemical magic would work nicely. Perhaps a rebis ("a hermaphrodite symbolizing reconciliation of spirit and matter, a living thing fusing male and female") could even be created. One problem: the rebis is the result of the Philosopher's Stone's creation. Neither are supposed to exist. But, in actuality, both may, in a sense, already be influencing lives.

As Getz moves deeper into past and present special influences, objectives, and objects of murderous intentions, he moves into unexpected arenas with his AI which involve ancient mysteries, castles, dragons, and virtual reality's impact. Magic spills from each step of his probe to immerse readers in mystery and mayhem which swirl around history and characters who each contribute their perspectives on entertainment, death, and life in unusual ways... including his AI observer.

The elements that build the plot contribute an exquisite tension to the discoveries that will keep readers thoroughly engrossed... including those who normally don't pick up mystery genre readers because of their tendency to be too predictable in events and outcomes.

Not so Murder of a Martyr, which includes so many different kinds of reflections (from social and political choices to shows that reflect not just entertainment value, but dangerous cunning) that plenty of topics for book club discussion emerge to give the story a multifaceted flavor.

That's why librarians and readers seeking a mystery that's satisfyingly original and captivating will appreciate Murder of a Martyr. Its progression, connections, and atmosphere move neatly from a DeVinci Code-style inspection of timeless mystery to social commentary and murder in an all-embracing way. Enter stage left to begin an engaging foray into the unexpected, moved by myth and reality. The latter, at many points, is not set in stone, but satisfyingly mercurial.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

The 23rd Hero
Rebecca Anne Nguyen
Castle Bridge Media
9798989593415, $18.99 Paperback/$4.99 eBook

The 23rd Hero weaves time travel with love in a story that reviews the changed world of Sloane Burrows.

Chosen as the world's first female time traveler, she is sent to 16th century France to change history and the environmental degradation which began at that time. Most of the Heroes who made similar efforts were environmental engineers (with a few exceptions). But Sloane's extraordinary memory makes her an unusual match for a mission that goes beyond the routine Booth maintenance she does so well, forcing her to delve into unfamiliar territory that she feels ill-equipped to handle.

The Heroes, in her time, fix and apply Band-Aids to constant threats, from storm surges and king tides to outcomes that challenge the Hero Missions to change the environmental impacts of the future via their fixes. Despite Sloane's successes, however, she is not living up to her full potential.

Being the 23rd Hero might change that equation, but her role raises new questions about her mandate, loyalties, attitude, and choices: "If Sloane blew her cover, no one was going to accuse her of being from the future. They were going to think she was crazy. Lock her up. Burn her alive. Sloane considered telling them the truth - that their intern just happened to be the star of her decade-long recurring dream. They'd think she was bonkers. Too lovesick to be a Hero. They'd send her back to Vancouver, away from him. She said nothing."

Unfortunately, her evolving relationship holds the power to transform and thwart ideals and actions, leading to dangerous maneuvers: "Standing beneath the open portal on the dock, Bastian snapped his head toward her, his eyes scanning the crowd. The vision of him looking for her, of him wanting to find her, obliterated any remaining inhibitions she had. Sloane felt as if they were the only two people in the shipyard, the only two people who had ever existed or would ever exist, and that to come here without him had been the biggest mistake of her life. She yanked back her hood and tore the travel cloak from her body, flinging it off her shoulders into the crowd. She ripped the bodice of her blue gown to expose her modern dress beneath, the bright orange fabric against the muted clothing of the crowd like a flare in the night sky. She called Bastian's name, over and over, until their eyes locked." The passion Rebecca Anne Nguyen captures between the two characters is equaled by the challenge to their psyches and purposes as the story evolves.

Readers who look for intriguing time travel settings will find the tale steeped in unusual connections between not only past and present, but the impact of relationship developments on both. The romance component pairs well with the adventure and conundrums. These grow from a underlying blend of dystopian experience and a journey to resolve future dilemmas with small 'tweaks', reviewing past events which hold big implications for both characters and their world. The result will appeal to romance readers and time-travel enthusiasts, cultivating a different style that injects creative problem-solving and relationship-building scenarios with satisfyingly original dilemmas and outcomes.

Libraries will find it easy to recommend The 23rd Hero to patrons interested in out-of-the-box thinking about time travel and romantic interests, which hold impact beyond singular relationships.

Ferren and the Doomsday Mission
Richard Harland
IFWG Publishing International
9781922856586, $16.99 Paperback/$5.99 eBook

Ferren and the Doomsday Mission, the second book in the Ferren Trilogy and follows the introductory Ferren and the Angel with a continuation of the friendship and adventures between an angel and a mortal.

In the aftermath of a war that consumed angels and humans alike, Earth has become a wasteland. Tribesman Ferren's friendship with fallen angel Miriael has led to a cooperative effort between them to regroup the remaining humans into an alliance. However, Miriael is visited by another angel who offers her heart's desire -- a coveted return to Heaven.

The price is at once untenable and unthinkable, yet priceless. It comes at a huge cost that tests Miriael and Ferren's relationship, challenging the disparate objectives of mortal and angel.

Other dangers lie in the proposed decision which, Miriael comes to realize, holds more questions than answers: "How was it possible for Asmodai to work on his own research without giving himself away? And his plans for her and the Morphs, his unauthorised visits to the Earth... How could he do all of that when spirit touched spirit in a state of communion? How could he conceal such tremendous secrets without other angels becoming aware?"

As human and angel encounters heat up, difficult choices between war, peace, devastation, and redemption emerge to test not only Ferren and Miriael, but the characters who swirl between them.

Once again, Richard Harland creates a fantasy powered as much by moral, philosophical, and social questions as it is by actions on the parts of all involved to remake the world... or finally destroy it utterly. Readers seeking an imaginative, vivid saga that moves heaven and earth by rocking these disparate worlds will find that while Ferren and the Doomsday Mission can stand alone, accessible to newcomers, its real strength lies in its role as the second piece in the trilogy that both supports and expands events presented in Ferren and the Angel.

Libraries seeing positive patron response for the first story will want to include this sequel in their fantasy collections.

The Dreaming Gourd
Victoria Long Mowrer
Top Reads Publishing, LLC
9781970107449, $21.99 Hardcover

The Dreaming Gourd is a short (under 100 pages) but powerful read designed to appeal to a wide age range, even though its black and white linocut illustrations (also by Victoria Long Mowrer) would seem to place it in a category for younger readers. But to limit its wide-ranging philosophical and spiritual reflections to kids alone would be to do it a grave disservice, because The Dreaming Gourd's design lends to its appeal to a wide range of readers, from youngsters to busy adults seeking succinct, eye-opening life inspections.

The story resolves around female deities who seek to remedy Earth's imbalances, but find that their own lack of group harmony contributes to their inability to solve such problems. The story opens with an intriguing invitation to learn more: "You know those nights? Those crystal-clear nights when the stars beckon us to gaze into the heavens to delight in their twinkling wonder? When we heed their call, we are rewarded with the sight of billions of glittering jewels suspended in an infinite pool of inky black. Such a dazzling sight! But it was not always this way."

Anthropomorphic descriptions of the stars and their delight with the blue planet Earth personalize the tale of what happens when Earthlings no longer take the time to look up and admire the stars. This, in turn, causes the stars to lose their attraction to Earth, which has become too self-centered: "...after a time, the inhabitants of Earth no longer looked to the stars. Not for navigating, not for gazing, and certainly not for wishing upon." As connections with nature are lost, so darkness evolves. Can the deities solve their own issues to craft a powerful group effort to remedy the universe's woes?

Victoria Long Mowrer's gentle tale will encourage important discussions; especially between youth and elders. Examples of stubbornness, courage, and impatience that cloud the work of unification and serenity will prompt many a lively debate. Goddesses, Dreamers, and Scribes contribute their efforts and perspectives to problem-solving as the journey revolves around a missing Dreaming Gourd and the impact of its loss on all manner of influences, both Earthly and celestial.

The Dreaming Gourd will appeal to readers interested in stories that appear to be fantasy, but actually contains deeper-level subjects for contemplation and group discussion. Libraries may face a quandary in its display: suitable for young and old alike, the solution is to profile The Dreaming Gourd as a top recommendation for literary and philosophical dreamers who look for stories with easy access and deeper insights than most.

The Poetry Shelf

The Song of North Mountain
Morgan Golladay
Current Words Publishing, LLC
9781957224251, $10.99

The Song of North Mountain receives black and white line drawings by poet Morgan Golladay as it explores the four elements and their reflection in nature. Chapters about these elements divide The Song of North Mountain into sections that capture the mountain's milieu with a series of 'you are here' reflections that readers will find evocative and delicately described. One example is 'Dawn Veil':

"A single warbler's song
echoed through the long, thin cloud
that hung across Schoolhouse Mountain.
The veil turned slowly from rose,
to pink, to yellow, then quietly disappeared
as the sun warmed the treetops.
The rockslide changed from grey to blue
in the morning light.
Life stirred.
The curtain lifted.
I waited."

From the heat of the day and summer drought to human life in the valley below North Mountain in the spring, Golladay embeds word images with reflections that juxtapose the experiences of man and nature. Such is the case in 'Mixed Blessing':

"The cloud bank rolled down North Mountain
and settled at the edge of the Valley.
Heavy-laden with moisture,
it released a few snowflakes in the cold night air.
By morning, whiteness covered the farms and orchards,
hiding the roads and tracks...

Quiet hung in the air when the wind abated.
Wood smoke from chimneys was indistinguishable from falling snow."

Sometimes stark, but always beautiful, these free verse celebrations of North Mountain introduce a seasonal sense of environmental transitions to the observer and reader's eye, with time's passage changing everything and nothing:

"Sunday dinners, visitations, funerals,
jam-making, weddings, and scrubbed floors
celebrated the families that lived here.
(Their footprints are found
when the yard is tidier.)
But the rubble remembers the sweat and the labor,
the daffodils recall the hands that planted them."

Aside from a personal visit to North Mountain, there is no better way of appreciating its beauty, impact, and presence over the eons than through The Song of North Mountain, which is highly recommended for libraries seeking literary, compelling works of poetic art.

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

Diane C. Donovan, Editor & Senior Reviewer
12424 Mill Street, Petaluma, CA 94952
phone: 1-707-795-4629

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