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California Bookwatch

Volume 19, Number 6 June 2024 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Biography Shelf General Fiction Shelf
Historical Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf
Poetry Shelf Language Studies Shelf Self-Help Shelf
California Shelf    

Reviewer's Choice

Hidden Price Tags Volume 8: Artificial Intelligence
C.J.S. Hayward
C.J.S. Hayward Publications
9798876241801, $5.00 Kindle/$10.00 Paperback/$20.00 Hardcover

Hidden Price Tags Volume 8: Artificial Intelligence joins others in Hayward's series connecting spirituality and technology; this one narrowing the focus to AI and its promises, failures, and need for mindful applications.

C.J.S. Hayward is no novice at technology. He takes the time not just to install and use it, but to think about its greater impact and the reasons why a seeming advancement may prove to be something else entirely, promoting detrimental assumptions, thought processes, and habits that clash with spiritual intention. "The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same."

So Hayward discovers as he carries readers into his experiments with realizations that prove especially thought provoking. These reference other thinkers and spiritual writers, contrasting notions of technology and progress while presenting Hayward's own experiences and resulting decisions from them. Hayward's reflections on ChatGPT, for example, and how a product claimed to be intellectually stimulating actually is the opposite, creates thought-provoking reading for spiritual-minded readers who arrive with their own questioning processes intact and engaged: "Advertising copy for ChatGPT claimed that it could stimulate the imagination, and I looked at it for a second and said that it could probably do that used a certain way, but the more likely outcome would be that people would have it do their thinking for them."

Hayward's ability to connect the dots in thinking about the pros and cons of AI as it relates to values, spiritual enlightenment, and everyday living is powerful -- and often unexpected. Readers might not expect discussions about virtue to appear in a book about AI, for example, but there are plenty of opportunities within the overall theme for broader discourse and critical thinking, which Hayward provides with a combination of scholarly reference and psychologically astute insights.

The result nicely complements his prior books, offering a specific focus that delves into the nitty-gritty of technology's applications, promises, and ultimate impact on a spiritual thinker's life. Hidden Price Tags Volume 8: Artificial Intelligence is particularly highly recommended for group discussion and debate, as its contentions are designed to spark critical thinking and highly attuned dialogues in groups ranging from library book clubs to spiritual and philosophical circles.

In the brave new world of generative AI, Hayward offers a prophetic voice and an assessment of hidden aspects of the project that the hype will never tell you: jobs are not the only thing artificial intelligence is costing us.

The Biography Shelf

Inmates in Charge
Walter Beamon
KP Publishing Company
9781960001467 $29.95 Hardcover/$19.95 Paperback

Inmates in Charge: Top Level Leadership - Lacking Vision, Corrupt, & Couldn't Be Trusted is a memoir that reveals the duties and experiences of an African American chaplain in the US Air Force Chaplaincy... but to peg it as a military read alone would be to do it a grave disservice.

Inmates in Charge actually holds invaluable lessons on racism, leadership, belief systems and control processes and imparts a healthy set of insights in all these arenas, which civilians and military minds alike will appreciate. The "inmates in charge" Walter Beamon refers to don't come from an insane asylum (though many of their repressive actions teeter on this brink). They represent engrained prejudice in leadership at the top levels of the Air Force Chaplaincy, and were referred to as such by not just the author, but fellow African-Americans in the military.

Memoir readers will find the usual chronological assessment of life changes from childhood to adulthood, but with a difference. With the focus on Walter Beamon's life comes accompanying insights into faith, duty, and his efforts to cultivate a decisive, often controversial leadership against all odds. Beamon thus offers insights on military processes and structure which lend to a better understanding of the role of chaplains in the counseling and leadership routes.

Of particular interest is the way in which racism exhibits itself in missed opportunities, passed-over promotions, and other ways which mirror civilian business and political environments (but with a difference): "Chaplain Scott had achieved more than any other chaplain, African American or White by serving as Command Chaplain at three of the most important commands in the Air Force, but he never reached the status of general officer. As I pondered this information about the circumstances related to Chaplain Scott's career, I decided that they were "unjust and unfair." I wondered how a person could accomplish so much and yet be denied promotion to general officer rank! He never shattered the glass ceiling. I am compelled to believe that the reason he didn't was because the "inmates" were in charge."

The lessons Beamon absorbs about the nature and solidity of the military network and its unacknowledged glass ceilings translates to a powerful survey that opens with personal encounters, but quickly moves to social, organizational, and political reflection. There are also invaluable examples of shaking that tree of limitation and adversity, and the consequences of employing controversial attitudes and tactics within a structure cemented by racism: "In 1997, after four years serving as the Wing Chaplain, making the controversial decisions that I had made, I knew there would be some repercussions. The inmates would not allow me to move on in my career without some form of punishment. I did not know what it would be or how it would happen, but I prepared my heart and mind for "something" to come down."

Libraries and readers looking for exposes on leadership, racism, military processes, and engrained attitudes (especially collections appealing to Black patrons interested in military chaplain roles) will find Inmates in Charge a revealing, eye-opening experience.

The Road to Boston
Steven Clark
Independently Published
9798877908918, $16.00 Paperback/$5.99 eBook

Few can say their lives are memorable enough for a single book, let alone multiple volumes; but this second book in Steven Clark's memoirs demonstrates that depth and detail can require more than one title... especially when the quality of memories, illustrations, and variety of vivid experiences are captivating.

In The Road to Boston, Clark continues his life journey through military and college experiences, cultivating an ongoing dream of getting to Boston and far away from the dysfunctional alcoholism of his mother in Missouri. As he reveals a mother whose mid-life crisis propelled him away from home, and a stoic, distant father whom he subconsciously imitated, Clark explores the psychological and social impact of life changes that lead him both away from home and towards new goals.

These are presented in the intellectual and lively life tone of an author who grasped new realities and possibilities with both hands, formulating his own definitions of growth and meaningful living as he entered the 1970s to create his own path forward.

Clark discovers that the opportunities for enlightenment and realizations come from many choices, from girlfriends to educational and social encounters. Each holds the ability to influence not just his life direction, but his perception of the past and its impact on his future: "I did feel better being away from St. Louis and that awful sense of failure; again, having escaped what I perceived was Dad's influence over the city."

The road to Boston is paved not only with good intentions, but the salt and blood of military training, encounters with good old boys, and an ability to appreciate a wider circle of acquaintances and friends than his upbringing afforded: "I dealt with Bennett's sourness, thankful his pepper was balanced by the salt of the men in the Battery. They were good old boys; it was a good old boy place. A third of the battery was related to each other. A large Confederate flag hung in the motor pool, proudly flown when the battery went on annual training. They were down to earth, plain, good guys to be with."

Clark's ability to walk out of his world to embrace new experiences and possibilities is powerful as he reflects on the ongoing influence of his childhood while taking steps away from it and some of its impact. These elements contribute to a memoir steeped in positive perspectives and uplifting encounters.

Libraries and readers seeking a memoir documenting recovery, discovery, and life experiences (which will especially appeal to teens on the cusp of their own independence) will find this second volume in Steven Clark's memoir not only a fine adjunct to the first, but an excellent stand-alone opportunity. It will spark discussions about family, psychology, substance abuse, and wider subjects of the changing milieu of American experience.

The General Fiction Shelf

Mia's Journey
Diane Byington
Red Adept Publishing
9781958231456, $16.99 Paperback/$9.99 eBook

In Mia's Journey, soon-to-be-launched astronaut Mia Gray is in a car accident weeks before her first mission -- which changes her life, goals, and abilities. Overnight, Mia is set adrift from everything she's valued in her life, and from the skills that once set her apart from others.

Even her dreams have changed: "I daydream about how it will feel to be without gravity, without sound, without a tether to the world I've always known - it will be glorious, exhilarating, free." Newly bound to Earth for the rest of her life, Mia struggles with her latest limitations, recovery, and reinventing her future as she puts aside old dreams and comes to realize there are new ones to replace them. Before she does, however, she rids herself of old connections... including her husband. Everything has and must change, and so Mia embarks on a personal journey to reassess her goals in life and discover how she can obtain a new perspective.

A new program introduces a new challenge and forces her to revise her ideals in order to survive a grueling assignment: "For now, I stand in the doorway and take in the space where I'll be held prisoner for the next two weeks. No, it's not helpful to think of it as being held prisoner. Rather, it's the place where I can relax and refresh. That's better."

Intrigue enters the picture, with bomb-making and other efforts propelling Mia far from what she anticipated for her new life.

Readers interested in stories steeped in emotional growth, intrigue, and discovery will find the characterization and twists of Mia's Journey provide many satisfyingly unexpected moments. How she discovers that there are actually "many ways to fly" will keep readers engrossed to the end. Libraries will want to recommend Mia's Journey to book clubs seeking lively discussion opportunities about life-changing experiences, healing, and transformation.

Beyond Stonebridge
Linda Griffin
The Wild Rose Press
9781509254279, $16.99 Paperback/$4.99 eBook

Beyond Stonebridge is a sequel to the novel Stonebridge, is set in 1959, and continues the story in the aftermath of an abusive relationship that ended with death. Readers who believe the saga ends with that demise will be surprised to learn that Jason's death is only the beginning of new dilemmas, questions, and traumas.

These include wife Rynna's pregnancy while she still grapples with the impact of Jason's abuse; disabled quiet cousin Ted, who moves with her to Brenford in hopes of a new life sans the sordid memories of abuse and what happened to Jason; and a spirit which lives on after death, bent on revenge.

Leaving Stonebridge Manor resolves little. The move actually introduces further trauma as Jason's legacy lives on and Rynna despairs of ever being entirely free of his clutches ("She was on the edge of despair. He would never leave them in peace.").

As the miracle baby transforms Ted and Rynna's new little home, questions arise of how Jason can get custody of little Robert from beyond the grave. Linda Griffin's ongoing story of recovery, dilemmas, and transformation is especially highly recommended for prior readers of Stonebridge.

This audience, armed with the history and precedents of Rynna's previous life with Jason and the truth surrounding his actions and demise, will find this sequel thoroughly engrossing and hard to put down. The ongoing challenges pair with how Ted and Rynna confront and overcome them, creating engrossing reading where joy and angst co-exist as the characters continue their upward trajectory towards love, freedom, and a vastly revised future.

Libraries and readers interested in ghostly paranormal backdrops that touch upon romance and center on issues of possession, recovery, and redemption will find Beyond Stonebridge an absorbing saga of sacrifice and promise. It is both uplifting and compelling.

Thirty Days Hath September
Ronald Dwinnells
River Grove Books
9781632998170, $16.99

Thirty Days Hath September opens in the airs over Germany in 1943, where First Lieutenant Delbert Vines contemplates what his fiancee Mildred would do if he was killed in battle. When the bombardier faces an explosion that sends his plane careening into oblivion, Mildred's gentle voice offers him an alternative... but not one she will recognize or understand, as he becomes lost to her.

Fast forward to 1982 Kentucky. Mildred still mourns Delbert, who has been missing in action for over forty years. She's now facing a challenge which could prove equal to Delbert's loss, forcing her in an entirely unexpected direction in life, where she seeks resolution of the past while entering a new milieu.

The story moves from past to present and back again as it unfolds. Ronald Dwinnells cultivates a fine narrative of love, aging, and the last wishes of a woman who seeks to be reunited with the love of her life, but finds herself confronting an odd assistant in the process. The aid comes from frustrated would-be doctor Jack Maizel, who is not your usual med school student. He holds a basic dislike of his chosen profession (which he's been pushed into by his parents), and also harbors disdain for some of the needier patients which cross his path.

As Jack builds an unexpected connection to Mildred and discovers within himself a newfound empathy for her as a patient and a person, he discovers his former attitude towards his profession is being challenged and revised by his struggles to help her, resulting in new dialogues with peers and teachers: "The lesson here, Mr. Maizel, is you must always approach all ailments and complaints seriously, and you must have a differential diagnosis. There are so many things that can mimic each other. Did you even have a differential on her condition?" Without giving him time to respond, Dr. Jones looked toward the other acting intern. "What about you, Mr. Zuri? Any clues? What do you think about Miss Dixon?"

Readers will anticipate the life-changing experience Mildred faces... but not the concurrent newfound revelations and value that Jack discovers in his search for answers and hope, leading to an unexpected twist. Underlying themes of kindness, forgiveness, and discovery give the story emotional accents of further interest that will attract readers especially drawn to novels about growth and discovery at any stage of life.

Libraries and readers seeking a warm story of past and present choices and a search for missing links and love will find Thirty Days Hath September an evocative creation.

The Three Layers of a Moment
Samar Reine
Carmel-By-the-Sea Publishers
9798988411024, $16.99

Although The Three Layers of a Moment is the third book in The Pioneer Ranch Saga trilogy, readers who come upon it without prior knowledge of previous events will find it a compelling stand-alone novel. The quote that drives all the books remains as relevant here as it did in previous experiences, as a family struggles with issues and interpersonal challenges: "There are three layers to a moment -- your experience, your awareness of the experience, and your interpretation of it."

Veterinarian and mother of two Bryce opens this story with tender ministrations to the elderly and the sick Kelcy, who is facing the end of his life. His legacy to her is summarized in a few potent lines: "He'd marked a century, but as always, Kelcy didn't dwell on the gloaming of his life, only on its glitter. 'The bells toll for me, but I still have something to say. Tell me again, what have I taught you all your life?' She was a veterinarian and the mother of two, and she wanted to placate the man who had buttressed her childhood.

'Get up, look up, show up, and never give up.'" She is a fan of "Life, nature, intelligence. All good and beautiful things," who enters into a relationship with one who "feels sorry for the ugly." As Bryce leans into further relationship revelations and a life that evolves from family interactions, love, and transformation, readers receive a series of insights which will not only keep them reading, but thinking: "Bryce leaned into her husband and whispered, "Maybe our problem is we don't know what we're not to each other, but need to be."

The story unfolds in rich origami layers of revelation and connection as Bryce and those around her confront their losses, the impact of grief, a historic family ranch's threats, and the arrival of a stranger who poses yet more issues at a vulnerable time in the family's world. As her marriage teeters between disaster and change, Bryce is called upon to make decisions that test past precedent, current events, and future goals and connections.

Readers of previous Samar Reine novels will find the same rich attention to detail which gives her characters three-dimensional depth. Texas and New Mexican culture blend with family experience to cement the sense of environment that the historic Pioneer Ranch embraces, while influence and technology offer both new opportunities and contracts that reinforce family and outsider connections alike.

Libraries and readers interested in a dynamic story of suffering, recovery, and new directions will find The Three Layers of a Moment vividly compelling, whether it's chosen as a stand-alone read or as a complimentary expansion and part of the trilogy.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

Quantum Voices
Stephen Spotte
Open Books
9781948598767, $17.95

"And so we were at war." Such is the opening of Quantum Voices, a novel that captures the experiences of scientist Anax Grayson as a Marine during the Vietnam War. But, don't expect an ordinary story of battle, here. Anax stumbles upon a neurological mystery in a fellow Marine, whose special condition involves seeing ghostly, extra-corporeal projections of his dead twin brother.

As Anax documents war experiences and neurological insights, readers are treated to a satisfyingly different story of Vietnam. It brings to life facets of interaction and relationships that operate on a deeper level than most stories about Vietnam: "We communicate in military jargon, a sort of pidgin. We use it for two reasons. It abbreviates and thus streamlines language, making it more efficient just as mathematics is reduced to symbols; and it enhances the sense of camaraderie. We are "brothers" because we speak a common language not spoken or generally understood by civilians."

Journal entries document past traumas, breakthroughs, and moral and ethical dilemmas, creating an absorbing story steeped in psychological and philosophical revelation about perception, connections, and belief systems: "That I have been sent to a foreign place and instructed to kill people with whom I have no quarrel is sufficient evidence that the god worshipped in western religions does not exist, which leaves a dilemma: what sort of obligation will I feel if confronted face to face by an enemy combatant?"

Although Quantum Voices is a work of military historical fiction, the story excels in a powerful interplay of scientific and psychological inspection, as well. The added value of the tale lies in arenas that embrace history, but move into this milieu to create a depth and subjects unexpected in typical approaches to military fiction.

Anax's complex journal and experiences ultimately move beyond personal inspection, serving as a guidepost or blueprint for deeper psychological and scientific understanding. This is why libraries and readers interested in the military fiction genre will find Quantum Voices exceptional. Its employment of journal writing lends an immediacy and personal touch to Anax's observations. This approach allows for reflection on the evolution and incarnation of 'self', as much as the responses to outer and inner stimuli, driving the story into unpredictable, thought-provoking realms of discovery.

The Spanish Sacrifice
Jay Perin
East River Books
9798988264811, $4.99 eBook

The Spanish Sacrifice is the sixth book in the One Hundred Years of War series by Jay Perin and blends history with vivid suspense and action that binds the political and social tension built up in the previous books. This is why, ideally, readers of The Spanish Sacrifice should be fans of the prior series titles. It enhances the progressive action with further details and fast-paced adventures, yet supports and expands characters with more developments readers won't see coming.

Former American president Temple has designated Lilah to carry on his legacy -- but she comes with her own baggage and special interests, which are not always in sync with his agenda. Murder, blackmail, vengeance and revenge, and corporate and political ambition coalesce in this story, the first in a two-part grand finale designed to draw together disparate threads of influence and action in a crescendo of action-packed concluding events.

There is no single stage upon which this action plays out. Globe-trotting events move from America to Paris and Spain, and from political offices to corporate boardrooms, with a swift and logical eye to building action that is unpredictable, filled with satisfying twists and turns. Allies and networks, antitrust investigations, romance, and a clash of vivid personalities drive the story in directions even prior series readers won't see coming: "Patrice did her idiot sons a disservice by not acknowledging the one man who would've knocked some sense into their heads. Richard could've shielded Brad from Godwin's machinations. Richard would've told his brother to be grateful for the good fortune tossed his way in life, including the wife he got handed to him on a platter."

The interplays between special interests and family alliances, subterfuge and revelation, and political entanglements and goals are very well written and incorporated into the psyches and special interests of a host of characters: "What's going on now is a subversion of our democracy. An extra-constitutional ruling system is being built, and it affects all of us whether we realize it or not. I'm here to give our elected leaders my opinion."

The result is a rich addition to the series that continues to guide it towards a conclusion that remains mercurial and thought-provoking throughout The Spanish Sacrifice. Libraries seeing patron interest in the previous series titles will welcome the opportunity to add yet another brick to the construction of the intrigue and personalities that Jay Perin built in his previous novels. He supports this structure with an ongoing, delightful blend of historical facts in this adaptation of Indian epic mythology, the Mahabharata.

Elena Storer
Independently Published
9798988975601, $TBA

Scatterings is a novel set in California in the 1980s. It weaves together the real events of Santa Cruz's serial murderer (the Trailside Killer) with the fictional abduction of a twin sister. Santa Cruz culture comes to life as psychologist author Elena Storer wields her craft to create a powerful account of a family torn asunder by emotional currents and the violence that changes their lives.

The relentless storms that buffet the region in winter portend an equally powerful set of emotional and social struggles that bring both Northern California and the era to life. From the very beginning, Storer captures all the nuances of this world's times and culture, painting a fine backdrop for the trauma that emerges to impact the lives of all characters -- perp and victims alike: "A red, green, and yellow poster of Bob Marley smoking a giant reefer faced a campaign placard of President Carter and Walter Mondale with toothy grins and the now-ironic caption: "We've earned your trust. Four more years! Carter-Mondale 1980!"

Viola Newman faces a momentous birthday marked by her unexpected cruelty to Miranda. These circumstances are only the tip of the emotional iceberg that ends her life while introducing Miranda to a deadly world of possibilities that smack an idyllic setting with murder, kidnapping, and danger. Viola's is a nightmare case in which there is no body and no suspects. Miranda is drawn into it when she, too, faces threats and a scenario that tests her survival skills: "The time it took for O'Connell to catch his breath felt to Miranda like they were trapped in a slow-motion horror film with subtitles that were out of sync."

As Miranda pursues her dissertation and life while navigating grief and puzzles about past and future, readers receive an emotionally charged story. (Warning: this might trigger readers who hold a history of violence in their lives): "I am so sorry. Loss changes you, and the missing never goes away. But to lose those you love at the hands of a monster who relishes his cruelty and depravity... that is the worst of the worst."

Viola's referring to not just herself, but her entire family, including a godmother. The real meaning of her words strengthens as everyone struggles. As the Trailside Killer's link to Viola emerges, Detective O'Connell's investigations draw them ever closer to an unprecedented truth that shakes not only their lives, but their formerly quiet and close California community.

Six months of darkness as events play out draw readers into the specter of a relentless killer whose shadowy modus operandi challenges life with death. The emotional layers are deftly added as family, friends, and strangers come together in shared grief and the objective of preventing more. Storer is particularly adept at documenting the very real psychic assault on the Santa Cruz community as the Trailside Killer maintains a mercurial countenance and creates ongoing chaos and impact.

Libraries and readers seeking stories steeped in emotional connections and interplays between characters who harbor their additional traumas (whether they be potential victims or threats) make for a powerful story. Scatterings is especially recommended for psychology and book club reading groups seeking fictional tales (based on reality) of grief, violence, recovery, and healing.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Deep Wedded Blues
Joy Ann Ribar
Wine Glass Press
9781959078227, $17.95 Paperback/$4.95 eBook

The fifth book in the Deep Lakes cozy mystery series, Deep Wedded Blues, opens with Alonzo and Frankie preparing for daughter Sophie's bridal shower. Alonzo has known Frankie for twenty years, but in many ways she is still an enigma. It's been less than a week since Frankie's life shifted, yet already, lover and investigator Garrett Iverson re-enters her world, even though Frankie still hasn't fully absorbed the shock, its impact on her future, or Garrett's presence -- and his former partner Dani's surprise appearance, as well.

Invited back to Duluth to consult on a different investigation, Garrett and Dani pose quandaries and challenges to Frankie's relationship even as wedding plans progress, only to hit a wall of intrigue.

Joy Ann Ribar flavors her cozy mystery with a taste of baked goods, warmth, and small town associations that lend atmospheric backup to the developing story and action: "Frankie looked around the kitchen. The dough from the cooler was rolled out and cut into donuts, which were now resting on the far counter. A bowl of lemon icing sat waiting nearby and a delightful aroma was drifting from the oven." This creates a realistic "you are here" feel to the tale that involves readers equally in Sun Velvet Cake and butterhorn recipes, the politics surrounding development plans, wedding plans, and Amish community issues.

A warm sense of place is added to unfolding characters and quandaries that require no prior familiarity with previous series titles in order to prove immediately accessible (and equally compelling) to newcomers. From land acquisitions issues to Garrett and Frankie's evolving love, Deep Wedded Blues is a finely tuned story of not just intrigue, but Wisconsin community involvements and Amish culture and issues.

Libraries seeking cozy mysteries that either stand nicely alone or compliment a series will find Deep Wedded Blues the prefect recommendation for a cold night and warm reading.

The Desperate Trials of Phineas Mann
Mark Anthony Powers
Hawksbill Press
9781737032960, $16.99

Think 'medical thriller' and Robin Cook usually comes to mind. This should be replaced by Mark Anthony Powers, because the arrival of another addition to the Phineas Mann thriller series lends added value to the genre by profiling the diagnostic physician's application of his talents and medical eye to bigger-picture circumstances.

In The Desperate Trials of Phineas Mann, these involve not just diagnostic medicine, but the accompanying human fallacies that introduce bias into medical and problem-solving situations. Phineas faced similar circumstances in prior novels; each of which taught him more about ethical, moral, and investigative conundrums.

The fictional cases (that challenge even Phineas) come across as especially realistic because of Mark Anthony Powers's real-world job as a medical consultant in the field of pulmonary medicine.

Another conundrum Phineas faces is that, with severe and rapidly progressive Parkinson's disease at the age of seventy-five, his skill set and the respect for his abilities is rapidly waning among his peers, often leading him to be tapped only for impossible puzzles: "He had become their last resort for hopeless mysteries -- but only if a baffled physician happened to remember that Dr. Phineas Mann still existed."

Phineas is aging out of his own abilities -- and it doesn't look pretty, from his side. Or, is it merely a matter of ageist thinking on the part of others, who inject bias into his assignments?

As in the other Phineas stories, Powers creates satisfyingly rich details about accompanying issues, which even include examinations of political influences on healthcare: "'VIP medicine... Hmph.' The 'special' VIP treatment the rich and famous often receive sometimes leads to extra tests and the risks and red herrings those tests create. In this case, it was the opposite, a government official, now deteriorating in an ICU free-fall, had insisted on excessive privacy - and consequently his physicians never got to know him."

The challenges Phineas faces as colleagues and others practice medicine inject satisfying reality into procedures, choices, and outcomes, both in patient management and medical approaches: "From Phineas' seat on Iris' front side, he could tell that Moro was palpating Iris' bony posterior landmarks to identify the pelvis site for sampling -- and still he explained nothing. So much for his promise that he'd tell her what he was doing."

Complications, nostalgia, the rigors of an aging physician's physical ailments, and lawmakers, dubious partnerships, and medical and ethical objectives marry with intrigue and tension. This creates a delightful interplay between medical experience and outcomes. Powers includes just the right mix of tension over various issues to intrigue readers who may not anticipate many of the story's subplots and accompanying dilemmas. The result holds surprises for even the experienced Phineas, delights for readers, and reviews of medical, social, and political conundrums which consider bias in all forms and incarnations.

Libraries and readers seeking a vividly realistic medical thriller will find this display of insights over success, crime, and complications go beyond standard medical mystery to prove especially thought-provoking. The Desperate Trials of Phineas Mann is perfect for either individual pursuit or book clubs that look for medical thrillers replete with topics for ethical and moral debates.

In the Mind of a Spy
Bruce M. Perrin
Mind Sleuth Publications
B0CW1HWYVQ , $3.99 eBook/$10.99 Paperback

In the Mind of a Spy (which joins Bruce M. Perrin's Mind Sleuth series) tells of Jesse Bolger, whose unexpected encounter with high school classmate Robert Gleason leads him to believe that Russian spies have hatched an active plot to infiltrate and destroy the United States. Jesse believes he's listening to a hoax, so he listens with half an ear to a nearly impossible story.

However, he is soon drawn into events when the FBI identifies him as a participant in the plot and a possible double agent. Gleason conveniently vanishes, leaving Jesse high and dry. What is the actual truth?

In order to answer this question, Jesse must move outside his comfort zone and experience, conducting an investigation that immerses him in not one, but several deadly games. He can't do this alone. So he hires private investigator Rebecca Marte to join him, and together they unravel facts that could, indeed, change the course of America's future.

Perrin crafts an intriguing story that takes the usual Russian spy activity to new levels, embedding his saga with two strong personalities whose association and psychology guides readers into new territory in unexpected ways.

Consider Jesse's assessment of the FBI interrogator's methods: "The notion that he, a person who had struggled in high school art and had no training since could sketch a scene close enough to aid in the investigation was ridiculous. But then, Jesse was sure the agent wasn't really interested in his drawing ability. Rather, he was interested in how he would handle the additional mental load of sketching the scene on top of the requirement to keep all of his fibs and their implications straight."

The fine art of this work lies in how it fulfills its promise of depicting a 'mind sleuth.' Jesse employs psychology as he delves beneath the surface of events to arrive at new revelations about motivations, actions, and likely outcomes.

In the Mind of a Spy exposes the modus operandi and nature of not just the spy, but investigators whose experience and viewpoints create scenarios and possibilities beyond the typical investigative approach of assembling facts and figures. Perrin's story is, first and foremost, a terrorist plot expose, but the undercurrents simmering beneath its surface are those of tides of change and challenge. These keep readers immersed and thinking about the cat-and-mouse games which challenge both perp and problem solver in new ways.

Rebecca also applies this special brand of psychological inspection to events as they play out: "...whoever had dressed Jesse in those rags for the final part of their run knew exactly what they were doing. Given the obvious socioeconomic differences between the two men, no one would suspect they were together."

Libraries and readers looking for the devices of a spy thriller that are enhanced by psychological revelations and analysis will find In the Mind of a Spy thoroughly absorbing. Readers interested in a story that introduces thought-provoking insights about the nature of spying and countermeasures will find it realistic, engrossing, and powered by characters who are unforgettable and unpredictable.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Disquiet Gods
Christopher Ruocchio
Baen Books
9781982193224, $30.00

Disquiet Gods is the sixth book in the epic Sun Eater series, and takes place nearly two hundred years since Hadrian Mealowe assaulted the Emperor and abandoned war, his empire, and more.

Humanity is at a low point as the result of a plague and the Cielcin's success in overrunning human enclaves. A messenger in search of a hero, a plea for help, and the discovery of a powerful Watcher whom the Cielcin worship, whose presence will change everything, brings the aging Hadrian from exile to confront an impossible task.

Readers seeking epic stories of heroes, galaxy-changing confrontations, and impossible confrontations, especially those who have enjoyed Ruocchio's previous Sun Eater stories, will find the continuation of struggle in Disquiet Gods to be as epic as its predecessors; highly recommended for sci-fi libraries seeing popularity in the other series books.

Half Sick of Shadows
Micah House
Kendrell Publishing
9798988729655, $28.95 Hardcover/$16.95 Paperback/$9.95 eBook

Half Sick of Shadows is the fifth book in the Blanchard Witches series, following The House of Duquesne with a continuation of family ties, new directions, and confrontations. These lead surviving family members to question their ongoing role as the keeper of secrets between supernatural forces and humanity. Familiarity with the prior books will lend to the enjoyment and absorption of this saga, which sends Salem, Fable, Jerry, Seth, and a host of returning characters in disparate directions as they confront forces both within and outside their family.

The solitary Blanchard family find themselves testing their own self-imposed boundaries as circumstances draw them ever closer to danger and discovery. It should be noted, at this point, that there is a wide cast of characters in this installment (some deceased, whose legacy lives on) that belays any notion of a singular witch story or a linear plot. Its broad set of personalities and their ongoing interactions will prove especially inviting for prior series fans, who won't need to re-absorb the relationships and history of past events. This familiarity lends nicely to understanding the new and old nuances that flavor Half Sick of Shadows with an absorbing set of realizations and connections that continue to grow:

"'You really do love my boys, don't you?'

'I really do. I promise you I will not let anything happen to Con. No one is going to harm that boy.'

'Thank you, Jerry.'

She wept. She wept from fear, and she wept from gratitude. Somehow over all this time Jerry Miller had become an indispensable part of life without her even paying attention. He was always there for her and her boys. How had she never noticed? Or maybe she had. Maybe that's why her instincts drew her to him for help tonight above anyone else. Jerry had become the father she needed at this stage of her life, and this was perhaps the first time she'd ever fully appreciated it."

From family struggles with grief and abandonment issues to a new crime that Demitra Blanchard tackles, to a mysterious albeit inexperienced assassin out to kill anyone Blanchard, Micah House crafts another engaging Blanchard family experience that is thoroughly absorbing, filled with satisfying supernatural, psychological, and problem-solving twists and turns, and expands the Blanchard history and possible futures touched upon in previous books.

Libraries and readers who have enjoyed the ongoing Blanchard Family dynamics will find Half Sick of Shadows takes a big step closer towards resolution and revelation as the witches confront each other, their legacy, and the impact of Huntress Artemis.

Beacon and Ice
N.K. Carlson
Creative James Media
9781956183788, $16.99 Paperback/$5.99 eBook

Beacon and Ice is the third book in the epic fantasy series The Chronicles of Terrasohnen. Although young adults are indicated as its audience, it would be a shame to limit this action-packed adventure to only youth; because many an adult will find Beacon and Ice a stimulating story.

The tale opens with a reference to the past. The last time Rein was in the Elven city of Crain, he had been fleeing the attack on his human hometown of Coeden. The recap of past events that leads to the opening of Beacon and Ice invites newcomers to quickly absorb prior influences, settings, and battles that moved from Gray Man's plans to attacks that changed the face of the region. Reith's new role as human ambassador to the elves placed him in a position of power and influence that continues in Beacon and Ice, where the threatening Shadow once again looms in an attempt to destroy the people of Terrasohnen.

Supporting characters Dema (a "torch in the night," whom Reith fell in love with), dwarf Yaz (appointed by the Queen to be Dema's guide), Reith's close friend Ellamora, and others offer their different origins, objectives, and shared interests to the story, flushing out its action with strong psychological twists and personalities.

N. K. Carlson's ability to weave a disparate group of characters into an overall power struggle that involves physical and mental journeys empowers an epic story that arrives with many satisfying twists and in-depth action. A journey to a frozen river, lost temples, and confrontations with monsters and humans alike keep the tale fast-paced and unpredictable.

Vivid descriptions supercharge events via energetic encounters with adversity: "The beast stopped, stood on its hind legs and bellowed a cry of pain to the mountains, which reverberated around and around, nearly deafening Reith. The monster turned, snarling at Reith. Reith retreated to where Dema stood ready with her long dagger in hand. This time, the creature went slowly, instead of springing forward. It had learned a sharp lesson in steel. Blood dripped from it as it stepped toward them, leaving dots of red in the snow behind it."

The result is an epic fantasy of an "interrupted life" in Crain and an intimacy tested by events which also interrupt other friendships and connections. Libraries and readers of all ages who look for epic journeys fueled by equally memorable personalities will find Beacon and Ice a powerful saga that enhances the series while standing nicely alone for newcomers to Carlson's world.

The Long Haul: Pursuit of Hope
Lena Gibson
Black Rose Writing
9781685134235, $24.95 Paperback/$6.99 eBook/Audiobook price TBA

Although The Long Haul: Pursuit of Hope is the second book in the Train Hoppers series, newcomers will find its blend of post-apocalyptic survival and dystopian community to be as inviting as did those who enjoyed the first book in the series.

Set in 2195, the story tells of GreenCorps, which has a stranglehold on seeds and controls a chunk of the former United States. Elsa has the key to the Doomsday seed bunkers which would eliminate this control which makes her a person of interest who faces danger and discovery. Her world is the exact opposite of privileged girl Ginger, who also longs to escape her circumstances but for vastly different reasons.

Her flight from her privileged life introduces her to the harsh realities of thirst and deprivation that separates dissimilar classes of survivors, leading her to become a member of the resistance. There, she battles her own family.

Lena Gibson crafts an intriguing contrast and connections between these disparate lives, creating a train-hopping series of encounters that test the morals and mettle of each of the characters in different ways. Always facing and escaping GreenCorps pursuers and the impact of their choices, Ginger and Elsa evolve a renewed sense of purpose and connection.

Their relationship fuels the entire story with action and discoveries that create much food for thought: "She might have passed on the responsibility for growing food, but there was so much more to do to redistribute wealth and free the people enslaved by GreenCorps by circumstance and lack of equality."

Gibson's story is more than that of individual survival. How one survives emerges as being even more important than the basics of food, water, and shelter as the characters face issues of privilege and control, evolving a new vision for not just their futures, but that of humanity's survivors.

Libraries and readers seeking post-apocalyptic adventures that juxtapose nonstop action and train-hopping tension with equally provocative moral and ethical concerns will find The Long Haul: Pursuit of Hope an astute story of survival and growth. It lingers in the mind longer after the conclusion because its roundup of issues of equality and family are wonderfully revealing and surprising for a genre usually rooted largely in entertainment value.

Sword and Soul
K.M. Warfield
Creative James Media
9781956183665, $16.99

Sword and Soul is the third book in a sword-and-sorcery fantasy trilogy that began with Scales and Stingers.

It continues the saga of Thia Bransdottir, who is shunned because she is half-Fallen. Paladin Jinaari Althir has sworn to protect her from her own dangerous half-heritage - but to do so, he must not only join her on a quest, but figure out how to confront the part of her which is eroding her health and trying to kill her.

The danger emerges from without and within as Jinaari and Thia struggle to juggle her ability to heal with the irony that she may not be able to cure herself. Jinaari has promised the gods that he will protect her at all costs. But, how does he protect her from herself?

K. M. Warfield crafts a vivid story of friendship, courage, struggle, and healing in Sword and Soul. It requires no prior familiarity with the relationship evolved in prior books, in order to prove immediately compelling and accessible.

The main characters are involved in delivering character Gnat to safety, as well. This mission adds to their complexity and challenges as the journey becomes one of confronting forms of evil in their various incarnations, facing choices between present-day mandates and future goals: "Why leave it for others? Aren't we supposed to be killing monsters, defeating evil?" As Jinaari juxtaposes his assignment with his powerful role as the Shield, the Protector of Avoch, he is forced to consider how far he will go to protect not only Thia's body, but her soul.

Complicating matters are the perceptions others have of Thia's countenance: "I see only a Fallen witch. One who stole the scepter, slayed our kin, and has no honor." He glared at Jinaari; his face twisted in hatred and contempt. "Or have you brought her to us to atone for her sins? A whore for us all to take generations of pain and loathing out on?"

As Thia faces new choices, so Jinaari finds his definition of and mandate for her support shifting.

Libraries and readers anticipating the third volume in the fantasy trilogy (as well as an excellent stand-alone adventure that evolves relationship quandaries and new challenges about friendship, support systems, and social perception) will find Sword and Soul a vividly immersive experience.

The Poetry Shelf

Paradise Lost: A Poetic Journey
Paul Buchheit
Resource Publications
c/o Wipf and Stock Publishers
9798385210794, $27.00 Paperback

Paradise Lost: A Poetic Journey is a literary poetic reinterpretation of Milton's classic. It employs traditional structures (sonnets, common meter, iambic hexameter, and dactylic heptameter, to name just a few) to create an intersection of poetic and prose narration. So few poets employ these forms in modern times that one likely audience for Paradise Lost: A Poetic Journey will be literature students and teachers devoted to exploring the potentials and applications of traditional rhyme and storytelling devices to classics such as this. As an early example of how Milton's story plays out under Paul Buchheit's hand, consider 'Satan Frees Himself', which is presented using iambic tri- and tetra-meter:

"A burst of frantic speed
propelled the Demon now.
He snapped his captive chain
and turned away to lead
his partner with a vow
of vengeance, to obtain..."

While purists might have anticipated a reconstruction of Paradise Lost using just one or several of these traditional poetic forms, the broader juxtaposition here (as well as identifying each form usage in the book's table of contents) allows for not only a smoother narrative, but a better understanding of the contrasting impacts of the meters themselves.

Milton's original Paradise Lost was a story written in blank verse. For maximum appreciation of what Buchheit has achieved here, it's important that the original epic be either pursued side-by-side with this reinterpretation, or have recently been read and analyzed, for best cross-comparison of the employment and impact of these forms.

High school to college teachers will especially welcome Paradise Lost: A Poetic Journey for its opportunities for deeper-level analysis of the relationships between structure and narrative. This is why Paradise Lost: A Poetic Journey is very highly recommended as enlightening, vivid reading for anyone pursuing the classics with a different eye to identifying what makes them powerful and effective.

Libraries will welcome this addition to any serious poetry or literature collection.

The Language Studies Shelf

Breaking the Bias of English
Vivian R. Probst
LifeMark Press, LLC
9781735513478, $14.95 Paperback/$2.99 eBook

Breaking The Bias Of English: How English Disempowers Women And How To Fix It In Only Six Words! takes the next step towards tackling prejudice and change by proposing a seemingly small change that actually holds big impact - adjusting six words whose usage is embedded with bias. These six words are identified here by Vivian R. Probst, a linguist who mission is to equalize the English language to include women. These 'gendered words' have bias so solidly incorporated into their usage that they inject (both subconsciously and consciously) prejudice into every facet of English usage. Probst's personal mandate is to identify, address, and instigate changes results via this manifesto, which she names WEnglish for WEquality (WFW).

While English may seem a complex and ultimately all-embracing language to many, in reality it is packed with gender-specific words that actually have little room for 'we' or 'us'. Probst's mission, upon making this linguistic discovery, was clear: "This linguist wants to make English work for those of us who aren't men as well."

She is equally cognizant of the fact that her approach and mandate may not touch everyone: "NOTE TO READERS: If you believe that equality between our sexes isn't an issue or that English is fine as it is, this book is not written for you. But please feel free to read on as it might give you much-needed insight."

Of course, Breaking The Bias Of English is unlikely to be pursued by those who not only hold the belief that English is fine as it is, but that gender bias in language doesn't really matter. However, any reader concerned about bias, prejudice, women's issues, or social change will find that Breaking The Bias Of English offers key lessons not only in the English language, but in the more subtle (and obvious) linguistic forms of and influences on empowerment and disempowerment, as well.

Rich in these lessons, Probst's account is specific in identifying 'easy' fixes. These may challenge grammar and spellcheck programs, but they adjust pronouns and language to reflect a more conscious approach to reducing its inherent bias: "'She' and 'Her' are our next most powerful and common words in English because these are its first and only references to those of us who aren't men in the 100 most common English words. What a tragedy! WFW believes that we should stop and pay particular attention to these."

While Breaking The Bias Of English is likely to be valued and chosen primarily by women's groups and others interested in breaking the boundaries and bonds of gender bias, it would be a shame to limit its intellectual and social value to a single interest group. Ideally, Breaking The Bias Of English will be chosen by general-interest libraries (who might point out its topics for book club discussion groups); by English teachers at the high school level and up (for discourse on language's power and impact); and by social issues readers concerned about how to enact, in practicality, lasting changes in the most basic of life approaches... language.

The Self-Help Shelf

The Slow Runner's Nirvana
Craig A. Grossman
Xebec Publishing
9798988649304, $16.95 Paperback/$6.99 eBook

The Slow Runner's Nirvana: Discovering A Path to Joy in the Presence of Pain began as a suicide note to family and close friends. Thankfully, matters didn't end there, because Craig A. Grossman didn't collapse under his pain and fade away, but tapped into it to fuel the rest of his life after 40 years of struggle with depression and a sense of failure. The evolution of an 'ethical will' into a blueprint for runners, depressed individuals, and those seeking examples of a way out of life struggles other than suicide makes for a blend of memoir and opportunity.

The Slow Runner's Nirvana should be on any bookshelf where topics of depression, ambition, mid-life assessments and recovery are of interest... and running. From the start, Grossman is candid about his life and the feeling of emptiness which accompanied apparent successes: "Somehow I snared a highly intelligent wife, and two children followed. Having pursued the twentieth-century road map to privilege and success, I had everything, but as is the cliche, so very painfully cliche, I was not happy and had learned nothing of value. So cringingly trite, but this is where I stood at the dawn of middle age."

As he enters a marathon and encounters different kinds of stresses and challenges, Grossman outlines his fear in new ventures and opportunities: "The more I learned, the harder things became. The more I knew, the more there was to worry about. Every book and article I read, however framed, really seemed to be about possible problems, and every problem seemed possible. Nothing was ever decided. Everything was tentative and provisional. This was all new turf. I had no basis in experience on which to rest. All I had was gargantuan fear and a desire to allay my fear by addressing possible problems."

Grossman considers the consequences of wisdom and contemplation and forges a novel direction in his life that moves him away from his pre-40s notions. This reveals the nuts and bolts of growth to offers readers in similar mental situations some nuggets of wisdom that can result in effective change: "I have been naturally unhappy. Staying aboveground has been a struggle. I am forever fighting my natural internal state and interpretation of the world. Survival is work. Doing what I need to do to be a father, husband, and friend is work. Happiness is possible and achievable, but it is a life's work, daily effort, hourly effort. I cannot choose to be happy and be happy."

The result is a powerful survey that deserves to be on the shelves of general-interest libraries seeking materials about mid-life crisis, depression's impact and incarnation, and the choices which can lead to meaningful transformation. Grossman's bigger picture memoir contrasts the typical American vision of success with insights on mental illness, all tempered by the physical pain of a new marathon runner who tests his limits in different, unexpectedly healing ways. In a world fraught with a sense of uncertainty, fear, and purposelessness, The Slow Runner's Nirvana provides a course away from pain, making it a 'must' recommendation for readers who would not only understand some of the wellsprings of their suffering, but possibilities for mitigating or replacing it with something better.

The California Shelf

California Lost Tales and Sunken Mysteries
David Finnern, FRGS
Independent Publishers
c/o Robert D. Reed Publishers
9798883161840, $16.95, PB, 200pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "California Lost Tales and Sunken Mysteries", writer, explorer, and investigator David Finnern delves into the far corners of the Golden State to uncover the forgotten tales and sunken mysteries of the past.

The treasure-laden Brother Jonathan slams into a submerged rock and sinks in 1865 to become California's worst maritime disaster. The airship USS Macon was one of the largest flying objects ever built, only to crash into deep water off Monterey in 1935. The USS Bennington lay quietly at anchor until a mysterious explosion rocked San Diego Harbor in 1905. A harbor filled with enigmatic shipwrecks, including a notorious Chinese pirate ship, hidden off Los Angeles.

These are but a few of the tales told in the pages of "California's Lost Tales and Sunken Mysteries".

Readers will explore the true accounts of lost aircraft, missing riverboats, and the very ship that Jack London used as a model for Ghost in his immortal tale, The Sea Wolf. They will learn of the search for such enduring legends as the Ghost Ship of the Desert - true accounts of not only history but the adventure of exploration and discovery as told by a seasoned storyteller and explorer, illustrated with over a hundred vintage and present-day photographs.

Critique: Fascinating, informative, compelling, illustrated with B/W photos, and of particular interest to fans of treasure hunting, real-life adventure, and California history, "California Lost Tales and Sunken Mysteries" is a fun read from start to finish, making it especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and college/university library California History collections. It should be noted that "California Lost Tales and Sunken Mysteries" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: David Finnern has spent over 35 years searching for shipwrecks, sunken aircraft and lost relics. He has published hundreds of stories on underwater exploration and written on-assignment for such magazines as Skin Diver, Western and Eastern Treasures, Wreck Diver, Underwater USA, Western Diver and Immersed. Finnern is the author of several books, including the critically acclaimed Passage Through Deep Water and Lost Below, and has been a featured speaker throughout the United States and on international and national television. He is a member and former president of both California Wreck Divers, Inc. and The Adventurers' Club, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 2002.

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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