A fast-moving, romantic vampire story that convincingly harks back to Gothic conventions.

A WALK IN THE SUN

A debut vampire novel, set in 19th-century Europe, full of romance and revenge.

Nicholas Justine was born into money but neglected by his family. At age 17, he’s attacked by a vampire and, as a result, turned into one himself. As he struggles to comprehend and deal with his new fate as an immortal, supernatural being, he still desires his human love, Elena, and dreams of marrying her—even though it seems that they couldn’t possibly be together. As he pursues her, he also encounters the story’s villain, Count Victor Du Fay, a practitioner of the dark arts who is driven by his ambition and greed. Fate, and the conventions of the genre, require that Nicholas and Du Fay battle each other for Elena’s love—and for power. The novel’s suspense comes as a result of this battle between good and evil, as readers wonder which will win out: Will Nicholas manage to defeat Du Fay and be united with Elena, or will Du Fay destroy his hopes and ruin any possibility of love? The vampire genre appears to be boundless in its appeal; Machat’s entry may satisfy avid genre fans, with its briskly paced story and direct, engaging style. Its diary-entry format is reminiscent of the earliest vampire novels (such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula). The novel may especially please readers familiar with the classic horror from such practitioners as Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis. Although the plot—a vampire, in love with a human, battles an archnemesis—is fairly standard fare, and the setting recalls 19th-century Gothic romance more than modern horror, fans looking for a familiar tale with appropriate chills may find much to satisfy them in this thriller.

A fast-moving, romantic vampire story that convincingly harks back to Gothic conventions.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

The villains have little impact in this tale, but its white-collar plot is continually fascinating.

The Five Lions of the Volta

A STORY OF ROMANCE, GREED, AND DANGER IN AFRICA

A scientist’s attempt to secure funding to harvest Ghana’s African plants for medicinal value becomes not-so-simple when Russian gun smugglers and Muslim terrorists demand a cut in Shields’ (Double Dealing, 2012) thriller.

Bioengineer Allan Sinclair is excited to tell his girlfriend, Lisa Sharpe, about a West African nutmeg plant, Kombo, that may offer a breakthrough for treating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Lisa relays this information to her venture-capital firm’s boss, Scott Sherman, whose mother has Alzheimer’s. He finds out that his former Cornell University colleague, professor John Stamen, has the patent on Kombo, so Scott gets funding from pharmaceutical company Wyzer and travels to Ghana with John. They’re promptly kidnapped by Richard Akromah, a rebel whose armed men are running protection rackets on illegal mining operations. Lisa and Scott’s best friend, journalist Mark Halper, helps with the ransom payment, but Richard, seeking amnesty from a 50-year-old murder, ultimately becomes their partner, helping to collect Kombo for a profit. Unfortunately, Richard has shady associates in his past. One is gun smuggler Sergei Andreyavich, who set up Richard’s bank account 15 years before and isn’t happy about recent transactions; he assumes correctly that Richard’s now in business with someone in the United States. He and his Russian pals are willing to align themselves with terrorists in order to get the money they feel Richard owes them. Although this book contains thriller components, such as the ever present Russian threat, its high-speed resolutions curtail the suspense; a hostage situation, for example, is resolved in the course of a relatively short scene. Nevertheless, Shields excels at the surprisingly riveting financial aspects; Richard may be a criminal, but Scott is equally ruthless in setting up shop with John, despite what it does to Lisa’s relationship with Allan. Politically, the story stays middle-of-the-road. It’s indisputable that Ghana has been victimized (or “raped,” as a local doctor puts it) by foreign companies for its natural resources, but big money is also shown to be a necessity to get projects off the ground; for example, Allan, on his own and without steady revenue, makes no headway. Shields rounds out his story with melodrama, such as when a distraught Lisa continually checks to see if Allan has left her a message.

The villains have little impact in this tale, but its white-collar plot is continually fascinating.

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78301-901-4

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2016

A powerful tale about family, forgiveness, and, ultimately, salvation.

Ghost Hampton

From the Ghost Hampton series , Vol. 1

In McGorry’s Hamptons-based debut mystery, the first in a trilogy, an unlikable lawyer attempts to save a crumbling Victorian house, rumored to be a haunted former brothel, after experiencing deeply troubling visions.

The 55-year-old attorney Lyle Hall proves to be a paradoxical yet endearing character right from the very beginning of this novel. After he’s involved in an automobile accident that kills an elderly woman, he’s wheelchair-bound and also inexplicably has a new empathic ability. As a result, the formerly morally bankrupt lawyer now finds that he’s far more attuned to people’s suffering. After he sees an apparition of a girl and also experiences a premonition of the imminent death of his daughter, a newly promoted Southampton police detective, he’s moved to save the old Victorian and somehow free the tortured spirits inside. But the entire community is against him, his daughter thinks he’s crazy, and more than a few old enemies set out to discredit and humiliate him. Hall’s mission proves even more difficult when one media company, “the CNN of paranormal news,” makes him into a pop-culture celebrity and ignites a media frenzy. This fluid, cerebral narrative features a cast of unconventional characters and an offbeat sense of humor. The tone is very much reminiscent of crime fiction writer Charles Willeford’s, and the paranormal element gives the storyline a dark, almost surreal feel, especially when the town of Bridgehampton becomes a media circus, replete with tent cities filled with paranormal-activity aficionados. Mystery fans should find this darkly comedic novel not only entertaining, but enlightening as well, as Hall’s redemptive, brilliantly plotted journey is both painful and poignant.

A powerful tale about family, forgiveness, and, ultimately, salvation.

Pub Date: March 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5305-7723-1

Page Count: 466

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

A generally engaging addition to the expanding library of historical fiction.

Home Fires

Debut Canadian novelist Cameron, inspired by stories from her grandparents and uncles, pays homage to the early settlers of Ontario’s northern territory.

This novel celebrates the strength of ordinary people in the face of extraordinary circumstances. In the beginning of the 20th century, the Canadian government, anxious to develop the northern reaches of its Ontario province, began selling cheap acreage to those willing to homestead, clear the vast forests of a rather unforgiving, lonely terrain, and work in the mineral-rich mines in the north. In England, Annie Larsen Kidd’s husband, Jim, sees this as the opportunity they’ve been seeking—a way for the financially struggling young family to finally secure their own home and provide a future for their children: “Listen to this!” he says. “Ye can buy land fo’ fifty cents an acre and just pay a quarter of the price in cash.” Reluctantly, Annie packs up her three children and follows him to New Ontario, where she discovers that he’s built them a rustic, two-room log cabin; their nearest neighbor is a couple of miles away. Thus begins a prototypical immigrant tale of poverty, frustration, and perseverance. Cameron’s focus is on the details of Annie’s daily life: the milestones (including two more births) and the more mundane, repetitive chores. Although the story is light on action, and Annie is the only three-dimensional character, Cameron’s simple, third-person narrative works well to bring readers into the long-lost moments of a past century. There are some compelling sections, when the major events of the era wreak havoc on the small, isolated village; Cameron depicts a devastating forest fire, World War I, and a lethal outbreak of Spanish Flu through graphic imagery, as in this description of Jim’s arrival at the front line in France: “The fields around them were littered with corpses and decomposing body parts; the dead left to decompose where they fell.” In the “Author’s Notes,” Cameron says, “I wanted to put flesh on the bones of those early pioneers and let them live again.” In this, she succeeds.

A generally engaging addition to the expanding library of historical fiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77180-154-6

Page Count: 278

Publisher: Iguana Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

An engrossing portrayal of war, unfortunately bogged down by a welter of parallel plots.

Whisper In My Ear

VOLUME 2 OF 3

This second novel in a trilogy follows three Americans wrestling with the horror of the Vietnam War.

Norman Coddington, an ace fighter pilot in Vietnam, falls deeply in love with a Filipina nurse, Barbara Mandera. He struggles to fully give his heart to her, filled with fear of both commitment and rejection. He also knows his cold mother will never accept a daughter-in-law who isn’t white, and marrying Barbara might jeopardize his considerable inheritance. Barbara has anxieties of her own: born into an impoverished family, she was a prostitute and a sex slave before fleeing a sadistic American husband to attend nursing school. She changed her name, and told Norman she comes from a respectable middle-class family, but her murderous ex-husband is intent on tracking her down. Cathy Addison, Barbara’s best friend and fellow nurse, is also endangered by this relentless predator. Cathy’s grim experiences as a combat nurse provide some of the more realistic glimpses into the gritty ravages of war, and the heavy emotional toll such a relentless spectacle exacts. Cathy is engaged to Dion Murphy, a lieutenant in the Marines, who has disappeared and is hunted by a prolific enemy sniper, Ngu Gin. Meanwhile, one of Dion’s best soldiers, Pvt. First Class Randy Peterson, inadvertently reveals sensitive data to an enemy agent disguised as a prostitute. While some information from the first volume is revisited here, this novel is best read as a sequel to its predecessor, rather than a stand-alone story. Hardy (Whisper In My Ear, 2015, etc.) deftly plumbs the darker aspects of war, shorn of romanticizing sentimentality. And this second volume allows him ample opportunity to layer the three main characters—Dion, Cathy, and Norm—with even greater depth. The writing can be haltingly earnest, especially when juxtaposed with such unflinchingly realistic depictions of violence. In anger, Norm thinks to himself: “Those bastards are trying to kill the only woman I ever loved and the dozens of other caregivers who work there, not to mention the sick and wounded, and they may have already murdered Dan too!” Additionally, like the first volume, this book is needlessly long, and the multiple subplots, developed too slowly, will likely weary the reader. But for those who enjoyed the first installment, there’s still plenty of riveting action here, and an artful reprisal of the principals.

An engrossing portrayal of war, unfortunately bogged down by a welter of parallel plots.

Pub Date: July 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5148-0101-7

Page Count: 420

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2016

An ardent, well-told story that manages to connect Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and Doctor Zhivago.

Letters to Alice

A New York City writer and editor and his publishing-executive wife try to keep their marriage together and advance their careers and causes in Grossman’s debut novel.

Frazier Pickett lives in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan with his wife Margaret and their two kids. He works as an editor at Flying Pens, a B-list literary agency, while she’s flown up the ladder to become director of creative nonfiction at HarperCollins. Lately, Frazier has been under the spell of a French girl named Anastasie Moreau, his new muse, while Margaret has been fixated on a project concerning a poet whose work is connected to the Arab Spring. Lower Manhattan is buzzing with the beginnings of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and a pro-Israel group named Temple Mount Zionists has been making noise in New York as well as in Omaha, Nebraska. A parallel plotline, set in Russia, tells the story of Katya Ivashov, a writer in the late 1930s who’s involved with a Jewish anti-fascist group during Stalin’s purges. Her extraordinary experiences include working with Boris Pasternak at his country house as he’s writing Doctor Zhivago. As Katya struggles to find her exiled lover, Oleg, she also bears the responsibility for ensuring the publication of both Zhivago and her own book, My Long Journey Home. Back in present-day New York, Frazier and Margaret discover Katya’s story, which has profound personal and professional implications for them that also connect with the uprisings they see at home and abroad. Grossman writes with enough spirit and optimism that the novel’s complex, likable characters have room to flourish. Frazier and Margaret’s relationship is a wonderful depiction of a marriage that’s somewhat on the rocks but still has great communication and emotion: “Frazier both hated and loved Margaret’s lionhearted tenacity, probably because he wished he had more of it himself.” The author’s keen observations about the American mortgage fiasco are given with down-home realism during a crisis involving Frazier’s family in Texas. New York is shown as being as alive as ever but also filled with “dim-eyed ones who were in between dreams or broken to the point of no return.” The novel is overlong, with some paragraphs spanning multiple pages. Yet it succeeds very well at telling a story of characters discovering a hidden past as they stumble toward a more meaningful future.

An ardent, well-told story that manages to connect Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and Doctor Zhivago.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9976708-9-9

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Occupy the Word Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2016

An informative, well-presented application of traditional activities and philosophies to modern-day life.

Tao of Sustainability

CULTIVATE YOURSELF TO HEAL THE EARTH

Ripley (Primal Energy, 2014, etc.) offers a path back to nature in this philosophical work.

Humans are farther from the natural world than at any point in history, according to this book; the environment is in a state of imbalance, and the culture is obsessed with ever more complex technologies. Ripley’s text, which is rooted in the Taoist quest to return to man’s original state, seeks to provide “pathways toward reconnecting with nature...for the health and wellness of each of us as individuals, and for the health and well-being of the planet as a whole.” For the author, this includes embracing traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and other practices that concentrate on the qi (energy) cycle. He also extends the idea to diet: “Some foods help relax the Liver and move qi in the body. They include asparagus, cabbage, lemon, and coconut.” Ripley’s approach is holistic, covering not only medicinal and dietary topics, but also the ways in which a person interacts with the world, physically and mentally. He introduces readers to nature-inspired body/mind practices, such as qi gong and taiji, as well as the Bagua—symbols representing nature categories that one may use to inform and augment the aforementioned practices. Ripley’s influences are rooted in ancient China, but they also include input from the Stoics and modern, ecologically conscious lifestyles and thinkers. He writes in an easy, instructive prose, explaining the underlying reasoning for each of the aspects of his regimen and how they fit together harmoniously. His prescription to return his readers to a simpler, more natural life sounds quite appealing, and the photographs of natural landscapes here do much to sell readers on the shortcomings of cheeseburgers and land subdivisions. However, Ripley’s glorification of man’s natural state ignores, to a certain extent, how scientific developments have made people healthier. The attraction of his recommendations will likely depend on how much skepticism readers hold toward ancient philosophies. That said, his call to slow down, seek balance, and be conscious of one’s role within the larger ecological system is good advice for readers of all belief systems.

An informative, well-presented application of traditional activities and philosophies to modern-day life.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-931483-31-5

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Three Pines Press

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

A military tale explores the strengths and frailties of the human mind in the aftermath of war.

A Crowded Heart

A soldier struggles to come to terms with the psychological impact of war in this historical novel.

Willis Hancocks, a debonair Canadian soldier, fights on the western front of the European theater of World War II. He is first encountered recuperating in an Army hospital, where he delights in charming the nurses. Here he meets Sam, a cocky yet warmhearted soldier and fellow casualty. Sam’s presence buoys Willis, and he is disappointed when the young man returns to combat. Asking whether he will be sent home, Willis learns that he will be kept around “for the entertainment.” He is posted to the Netherlands, where he celebrates the liberation of Eindhoven. He encounters Sam, and falls for a beautiful waitress called Frieda, who fills his dreams long after he’s kissed her goodbye. After a period of fighting, Willis and Sam enjoy a short leave in London. Willis meets Ellie Birch, an art student, and in a whirlwind romance, he proposes to her before heading for combat. Following the fall of the Nazis, Willis returns to Ellie, yet he’s withdrawn, depressed, and sensitive to sudden, loud noises or commotion. Willis is sent away to convalesce, but the difficulties of settling back into everyday life only intensify when Ellie gives birth. Will Willis find the strength to fulfill his role as husband and father? Will the dream of Frieda ever leave him? This sensitive, vital novel examines the psychological toll of war on the soldier and those closest to him. The result is a deeply personal and affecting narrative, punctuated by touching letters and snippets of italicized inner monologues. In the midst of battle, Willis writes: “In this place, there are days I can’t see past the end of my nose, and other days all I can see is my whole life ahead of me.” Ellie responds by letter: “I wish for happiness this year: an end to this war and our own suffering. I wish for you to come home.” Raine (Outcast: A Short Story, 2015, etc.) generates a powerfully genuine sense of yearning, which becomes tragic when Willis is unable to reciprocate this emotion when returning home. The novel lacks vivid combat descriptions, which would have helped inform the physical cause of Willis’ “combat neurosis,” now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. Furthermore, Sam’s character appears rather underdeveloped in comparison to the multifaceted Willis. Nevertheless, this is a well-written, emotionally intelligent book.

A military tale explores the strengths and frailties of the human mind in the aftermath of war.  

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62901-313-8

Page Count: 174

Publisher: Inkwater Press

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2016

Solid, well-structured support from someone who’s gone through the downsizing process.

Upsizing in a Downsizing World

LESSONS LEARNED AND TIPS TO GET YOU BACK ON YOUR FEET AFTER JOB LOSS

Chau shares her own story and advice on getting back into the job market in this debut self-help guide.

“It happened so fast,” the author recalls about her termination, in her 50s, from the unnamed company where she’d worked for nearly 20 years. In this guide, she takes readers through her journey of receiving the news (“I cried, I couldn’t help it, but held myself together and went bravely down the elevator”), telling her family, using her company’s career-transition firm, networking, and, eventually, landing her next job. Chau organizes her narrative into 33 brief chapters, which relate her personal saga largely chronologically but also focus on specific, practical topics, including “Employment Lawyers—Do You Have a Case?,” “Creating a Personal Brand,” and “Going Back to School.” Other chapters acknowledge and address the emotional consequences of being downsized, such as “The Hurt That Never Goes Away.” Most end with several bullet-pointed “Lessons Learned,” including the necessity of talking with someone about one’s problems and of being honest about gaps in work history. She concludes the book with tips regarding the contents of one’s job-hunting “Toolbox”: a resume, a cover letter, a reference list, business cards, a prepared 90-second introduction for interviews, a marketing profile of skills and strengths, and more. Chau, a longtime personal journal writer, has crafted a clear, conversational guide that provides basic yet bracing advice on how to handle a job loss. Although many of the tips are obvious, such as to include contact information on one’s resume, the book does effectively walk readers through the routine yet important tasks of a job search. Best of all, Chau speaks with the authority of a survivor who, while offering few details about her own professional life, ultimately serves as an inspirational model of positivity and perseverance.  

Solid, well-structured support from someone who’s gone through the downsizing process.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4620-6426-7

Page Count: 152

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

A wholesome tale that will appeal to horse aficionados of the younger set.

Cotton Candy Sally Finds a Home

A horse finds a new home in the first installment of debut author Belove’s Sally Horse Chronicles for children.

Cotton Candy Sally, a competitive “quarter horse,” lives an idyllic country life with her horse friends Dutch, Hunting Pony, Comet, and Solomon at Gone Away Farm in Iowa. But change comes when Sally’s owner, Lauren, is forced to close the barn following Lauren’s parents’ divorce. Sally and the other horses are loaded into trailers and driven from Iowa to a horse auction in New Jersey. There, Sally and Solomon are separated from their friends and sent to Bernadette’s Riding School in the heart of New York City. Bernadette is a kind, no-nonsense trainer, and she hopes that having a blue-ribbon winner like Sally in her riding school will raise its profile. But the trainer’s patience and expertise can’t conquer Sally’s fear of the city—in particular, her aversion to riding on busy streets alongside fast traffic. Terrified of cars, Sally starts throwing her riders and becomes unmanageable. Soon she’s relegated to her stall and rarely taken out, even into the training ring; Bernadette, despite her affection for Sally, can’t afford to keep a horse that no one can ride. But there’s one more person who believes in the horse: a troubled young rider named Kara who finds a special connection with the wary animal. Belove’s attention to detail when describing the world of horse training is superb, which is unsurprising given her background in the field; she once attended a riding school in New York City and continues to be involved in dressage and other aspects of riding. She seamlessly weaves training and equipment jargon into the prose, although it would have been helpful if some of the terms were defined more clearly for readers who are new to horses. The characterizations of the horses themselves are also well-done; Belove gives Sally a strong personality, for example, without making her seem too much like a human being. The plot is straightforward and predictable and the ending a little too neat, but it fits with the book’s uplifting theme and tone.

A wholesome tale that will appeal to horse aficionados of the younger set.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2016

An engaging opus, packed with action and conspirators, that gains punch and steam after a sluggish start.

Justifiable Evil

An array of players instigates a three-pronged terrorist attack in Puerto Rico in this debut thriller.

A mysterious man named San Miguel meets with accomplices regarding their plan to wreak havoc in Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan area by blowing up bridges and capturing hostages at a hotel, cruise ship, and the governor’s residence. The terrorists’ stated aim is independence for Puerto Rico, with a student group, Socialist militants, and consulting Venezuelan army specialists all part of the coalition. Yet San Miguel, whose nationality is unclear, also has a henchman wheel a “device” to a secret location within the city. The terrorist plot is executed successfully, forcing officials and everyday people to react. A key responder turns out to be Lucas Alfaro, who runs a jewelry shop in Old San Juan yet also has Army Ranger training. Rushing to the governor’s residence to rescue his godson, who’s visiting the leader’s young son, Lucas manages to disrupt the terrorists’ operations. His TV reporter sister Michelle plays a part as well, as does a professional male escort aboard the cruise ship. Working with these citizen helpers and trying to meet the terrorists’ demands for cash and the release of an imprisoned militant leader is a weary police superintendent, who’s also tracking a mole within his department. Before the novel’s end, there’s renewed patriotism and harmony in Puerto Rico, but then Lucas discovers, and must foil, San Miguel’s plans for that device. In this novel, Pabon creates a fun, San Juan–set pastiche of cinematic blockbusters such as Independence Day, Die Hard, Poseidon Adventure, Rambo, and, especially, given the story’s tense showdown, Speed. The narrative gets off to a slow start, burdened by having to introduce its overly extensive cross-section of characters and provide the flavor of its political backdrop. Somewhat fuzzy, especially to a non-native, is whether some political/historical elements are fictional or not. Still, once the plot gets rolling, the author effectively cross-cuts between his three theaters of war, providing a page-turning brew of humor, pathos, and suspense.

An engaging opus, packed with action and conspirators, that gains punch and steam after a sluggish start.

Pub Date: April 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9965481-5-1

Page Count: 1190

Publisher: IPBooks

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2016

An often engaging mystery, set against the indigenous cultures of Peru.

The Aclla's Legacy

Adams-Little tells of a young American woman searching for the secrets of her South American past in this debut novel.

Virtuosic astrophysicist Joanna Nickels-Stewart is shocked to learn that she might be adopted. She was raised thinking that she was the daughter of Virginia bluebloods, but a document sent to her prospective father-in-law, a U.S. senator, suggests that she was actually born in Lima, Peru. Now the senator wants Joanna to prove that she’s white enough to marry his son, the scion of a long line of respectable Southern gentlemen. Joanna asks her parents about it, only to have them confirm the news: “You were born in a hospital…in Lima to—to a woman of Hispanic lineage and a man who was a Quechua Indian.” When another letter arrives inviting Joanna to do postdoctoral work at the National Astronomical Observatory in Cuzco, she seizes the opportunity to learn more about her origins. Her fiance, Michael, reacts poorly to the entire affair, but the trip gives her a chance to reunite with her old boarding school friend, Rosa, and Rosa’s brother, Carlos, who has connections among the Quechuas. In her search for her birth parents, Joanna encounters the history of the acllas, the virginal priestesses of an ancient Inca moon goddess who were often married to the sons of royal families. They relate to a myth that a mysterious nun named Sister Elena believes, which may hold the keys to Joanna’s past and future. Adams-Little is an assured, accessible writer who pulls the reader along with conversational prose that’s subtly calibrated to the shifting emotions of the story. Many aspects of the narrative—including the inciting incident, Joanna’s relationship to her family, and several complicating twists—undermine the story’s verisimilitude. However, the mystery itself is actually quite compelling. The author manages to weave in the history of the Inca people as well as that of the Catholic Church in Peru. Overall, although the plot ends up in some ridiculous places, the reading experience as a whole is mostly an enjoyable one.

An often engaging mystery, set against the indigenous cultures of Peru.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Farris Press

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2016

A rich, exotic journey that will leave you reaching for your passport.

Silk Road

THE JOURNEY

In a bohemian odyssey set in the 1960s, a young man just out of college backpacks around the world, sampling hash, sex, acid, and illumination as the Vietnam War rages.

In 1966, fresh out of UC Santa Barbara, Ken and roommate Jeb set out to hitchhike to New York City. In New Mexico, Jeb lucks out and catches a solo ride, while Ken climbs in with Lester, a spooky ex-con. Lester gleefully tells of a 13-year-old girl who “cummed in her panties” at a Beatles concert, and he warns Ken to look out for Texas Rangers. Ken lands in the East Village and is soon living with Brenda, a secretary at Columbia University. They marry and set off to backpack the world. Debarking in Ibiza, Ken memorably sees his landlords’ pet monkey carbonize himself as he grabs an electric line. After some hash in Tangiers, the couple reach Italy, where Brenda is groped—a recurring problem—this time in Naples. The travelogue moves on: Byron’s name chiseled by the poet into a marble column in Greece; Masada in the early morning; a Sikh worship service in Tehran; into Afghanistan and hash in Herat. As the narrative turns to New Delhi, its primary strength and challenge become clear: this is an exceedingly rich buffet. But patience is rewarded, as Canatsey (Confessions of a Friendly Anarchist, 2012, etc.) excels at the mesmerizing detail: the monkey’s “palms melted into the wires as electricity coursed through his body, and his body gradually diminished in size as the volts steadily burned away his flesh, muscles, sinews, organs and fat—the greater part of his entire physical mass.” At 400-plus pages, the novel could sometimes benefit from the spicy ironies of a Paul Theroux or the careening freedom of a Kerouac. But overall, Canatsey’s grasp is equal to his reach, and many passages will leave armchair Marco Polos hungering for more.

A rich, exotic journey that will leave you reaching for your passport. 

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-5144-0536-9

Page Count: -

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

An auspicious series starter that blends murder, bad medicine, and screwed-up family dynamics.

Two Dead and Counting

From the Underdog Detective series

In Schwartz’s debut mystery, an amiable but flawed private investigator finds himself not only in the midst of two complex cases, but also dealing with a midlife crisis.

Former Mississippi policeman Jack Kendall is pushing 40, and all he has to show for his life is a struggling PI practice that specializes in cheating spouses, a dilapidated house, and a 10-year-old Toyota Camry. He’s never found Miss Right because he always pushes women away when the relationships become serious. As he explains to his best friend, Daniel Steinberg: “You know how I get. When she started talking about moving in together, I sent her packing.” Jack’s latest client is Teresa Lindsay, who suspects that her physician husband, Alan, is having an affair. Jack takes on more responsibilities after Daniel dies during elective surgery and an aggressive malpractice attorney, Cedric Johnson, urges Daniel’s widow, Christine, to sue the anesthesiologist. Jack was already planning to investigate Daniel’s death, but he’s also suspicious of the gold-digging lawyer: “No matter how he looked at it, it just seemed sleazy to approach Christine so soon after losing Daniel.” Neither case is as simple as it seems, as two illegitimate children, a spurned nephew, a dead child, and unethical medical experiments soon come into play. Schwartz skillfully weaves a complex mystery that keeps Jack and his helpers, including police captain Kevin Thomas; Johnson’s associate, Joshua “Josh” Royce; and Josh’s former assistant Stacy Young, in the dark for much of the story. He methodically doles out clues, however, so that readers will be likely to reach the solution before the professional and amateur detectives do. Schwartz fleshes out his characters well, making them believable and, in most cases, likable. Even Jack becomes a more evolved human by novel’s end, as he figures out what’s missing in his life. It all adds up to a fast-paced, challenging thriller that shows promise for future volumes of a planned series.

An auspicious series starter that blends murder, bad medicine, and screwed-up family dynamics.

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9970965-0-7

Page Count: 398

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

A well-crafted resource for youngsters and anyone else interested in personal self-improvement.

I Am Awesome!

A HEALTHY WORKBOOK FOR KIDS

A fun debut workbook to help tweens and teens develop self-esteem, created by former health and physical education instructor Richards.

The author draws on more than 40 years of experience educating middle school children, and her book offers chapters on developing six types of maturity: personal, emotional, physical, social, intellectual, and ethical. Each one opens with a three- to four-paragraph definition and description of that chapter’s topic. Several activities follow that allow children to explore that topic in depth, including quizzes, fill-in-the-blank games, and graphs. The author also gives readers the opportunity to draw pictures, record personal experiences, and more. One activity, “Adult Interview,” provides a list of questions for children to ask parents or guardians about their early lives, including, “What would you change about your childhood?” The fun activity pages are designed so that readers can easily put them down and resume them later without confusion. After this interactive portion, Richards provides a page of “inspirational thoughts” on the topic, encouraging introspection and introducing children to authors, philosophers, and historical figures (including Samuel Johnson, Maya Angelou, Winston Churchill, Pablo Picasso, and many others) that they may encounter later in their education. Richards quotes Mother Teresa in the chapter on ethical maturity: “It is not how much we do, but how much love we put into the doing.” Finally, each chapter concludes with suggestions for goals that children may set for themselves (such as researching a topic of particular interest, keeping a reading log, or reading aloud to preschool children), strategies for accomplishing them, and graphs to chart their progress. The book doesn’t contain any large blocks of text, which will appeal to readers of all levels. The colorful illustrations and graphics enhance the work but seem more appropriate for children at the lower end of the recommended 8-14 age range. Younger teens may say the workbook is “uncool” but secretly like it; tweens, however, will adore it, and even adults may benefit from its recommendations. Richards presents the concepts, which may be new to younger readers, in a clear, easily understood manner without condescension or preaching. With some explanation by adults, the workbook could even function as a read-aloud for younger children. In general, it’s an excellent way to encourage reflection in kids of all ages.

A well-crafted resource for youngsters and anyone else interested in personal self-improvement.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-937333-06-5

Page Count: 200

Publisher: First Steps Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

A well-developed romance wrapped in an engaging and fast-paced Western, complete with strong protagonists, colorful...

Desperate Straits

An Irishwoman encounters intrigue and the search for a lost treasure when she moves to the Arizona Territory in this debut novel.

Sarah Ryan is heartbroken after the death of her father. Instead of remaining in Ireland, she intends to move to America, where her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Ben McAllister, live in the Arizona Territory with their son, Will. Upon arriving in Arizona, she finds her world shattered by another tragic loss—Mary and Ben. They were murdered on their ranch, Hermit’s Rest, leaving their son an orphan. Grief-stricken, she resolves to stay and help Will and the ranch hand, Jeremy, run Hermit’s Rest. When Texas Ranger L.T. McAllister, Ben’s brother, comes to town with a suspect in the murders, the townspeople anticipate a quick resolution to the case; but the arrest draws the ire of the sheriff, Grant Simpson. He is less concerned about maintaining law and order than he is about finding a treasure known as the Lost Adams Diggings. L.T.’s arrival threatens his ironclad grip on the town and his plans to locate the treasure. As Sarah and L.T. settle in to life at Hermit’s Rest, they discover a powerful, mutual attraction, but secrets from his past, and a dangerous enemy, put their lives in danger. Squires’ briskly paced romance crackles with energy thanks to well-drawn characters and settings. Sarah, a sympathetic heroine, discovers a fierce inner strength through helping Will and Jeremy run Hermit’s Rest. She has a strong romantic foil in L.T. Although he declines to discuss some aspects of his past, his rugged appearance and tough demeanor belie a kind heart and honorable sense of justice. They are surrounded by a colorful cast of supporting characters, including Jeremy, a longtime ranch hand at Hermit’s Rest who may hold the key to finding the lost treasure. Squires’ use of historical details bolsters her settings, particularly the depiction of everyday life in the Arizona Territory and the references to the Lost Adams Diggings.

A well-developed romance wrapped in an engaging and fast-paced Western, complete with strong protagonists, colorful settings, and superb historical details.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63355-755-0

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

A woman’s vivid, personal account of the real world’s interactions with the spirit realm.

Heaven and Nature Speak

A chorus of spirits discusses the deeper nature of reality with a medium.

This latest book from Martyn (New Ages and Other Wonders, 2016, etc.) presents an ethereal tapestry in which a large selection of spiritual entities and spirit guides communicates with her about her own life and human existence in general. Martyn, who says she hears particularly from guides named Josiah, Isahal, and Rashka, styles herself as a powerful, spiritually tuned mystic, a woman capable of the psychic feat of repeatedly and easily contacting otherworldly beings. She communes with Aaros, a spirit guide who specializes in a kind of mystical magnetism, and Helena, a water-oriented guide. Helena at one point gives Martyn the impression that the Earth’s sea creatures who surface to breathe will be leaving soon for “their native watery worlds”—presumably in some sort of spiritual dimension, because all marine mammals were born and evolved right here. Everyone has a “Master Guide,” she writes, a spirit who bears primary responsibility for an individual, and Martyn’s is called Serrale. All of these different spirits bear the same message: “It is important to know,” they tell Martyn, “that source [God] wants all beings to be happy and fulfilled.” All that exist stand in service to a divine purpose, they instruct Martyn, and all will be changed in the new age that’s coming, when everybody will serve “the springtime of the world.” The author tells stories of her upbringing and family life, but the otherworldly narrative that parallels her autobiography quickly comes to dominate the fast-paced book as a whole. Martyn explores various New Age-style topics like automatic writing and reiki meditation, but the main body of the narrative consistently drifts toward deeper philosophical waters, where the prose is often at its strongest (“In the presence of divinity, motion is so fast that it feels still. Power is so great that it feels like peace”). Fans of New-Age spiritualism should find Martyn’s vibrant book a feast.

A woman’s vivid, personal account of the real world’s interactions with the spirit realm.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: LitFire Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2016

An absorbing tale of Muslim women taking their destinies into their own hands.

Beneath A Shooting Star

Two Pakistani women have their friendship challenged by sectarian division, violence, and sexism in this debut novel.

Brash, outgoing Nadira and shy, dutiful Hameeda are opposites, but the two Lahore schoolgirls become fast friends. Religious differences—Nadira’s family is Sunni, Hameeda’s Shiite—intrude when a Sunni mob attacks a Shiite procession, killing Hameeda’s grandfather. Her pious father commands her never to see Nadira again, an abrupt rupture that leaves the girls feeling wounded, guilty, and lonely. They grow up and embrace similar roles as upper-middle-class housewives, which chafe them in different ways: the smart, ambitious Nadira feels ignored and marginalized by her increasingly brusque husband, while the more conventional and religious Hameeda remains plagued by her querulous, live-in mother-in-law. The two housewives’ sheltered—and confining—lives are gradually intruded upon by the growing turmoil of Sunni-Shiite violence, Islamic extremism, and terrorist outrages in Pakistan, until a shocking crime forces both women to take stock, try new paths, and rekindle their long-lost friendship. Much of Rashid’s novel is a subtle portrait of domestic life, as Narida and Hameeda oversee their households, ride herd on kids, negotiate with parents and husbands, and come to terms with disappointments and constraints. Their perceptions are shaped in complex, sometimes surprising ways by changes in Pakistani society: Nadira is empowered by new opportunities for women to get an education but frustrated when her career prospects remain limited; Hameeda finds that wearing an all-enclosing burqa in public makes her feel confident and safe. Writing in a limpid prose style, Rashid depicts her vivid characters and their society with nuance and sensitivity, setting them against a colorful tapestry of local culture, including a dazzling wedding set piece. In this quietly affecting novel, Nadira and Hameeda are believable and appealing protagonists, and readers should find their life choices and predicaments both exotic and familiar.

An absorbing tale of Muslim women taking their destinies into their own hands.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 401

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

A lovingly constructed, engrossing novel about an African-American family and hamlet.

Bibsy

Ross tells the story of a woman searching for peace in a threatened black community in the Hudson Valley.

Raised in a Roman Catholic orphanage in Baltimore, Bibsy arrives in New York to live with her sister and experience the Harlem nightlife of the 1950s. Her path takes an unexpected turn, however, after a chance encounter with Jake Tucker, a boisterous, light-skinned widower from a rural bend in the Hudson River who has come down to the city to get drunk and meet women. The two hit it off, and Bibsy returns with Jake to the Beach, his small outpost of black America in upstate New York, where he and his family subsist on hunting animals and growing vegetables. Adjusting to rural life takes some getting used to, particularly for Bibsy, who is trailed by her own unwelcome memories of childhood and familial complications. And yet country living seems liberating, far away from the expectations of urban life: “Jake’s place was so unkempt he couldn’t have made a worse mess on purpose,” she observes upon first reaching the Beach. “Everywhere else she’d lived had been very orderly and spotless; and she’d been expected to help keep it that way.” Their paradise becomes endangered, however, by plans to extend the state’s road system with a new bridge, and their quiet hamlet may be swallowed up by the encroaching threat of suburbanization. Ross is an infinitely humane writer, and her characters in this debut novel burst with humor and warmth. The love story of Jake and Bibsy remains endearing despite their flaws: it has the lived-in weight of a real love affair, not simply a literary creation. Bibsy’s back story, delivered piecemeal over the course of the book, provides just enough mystery to keep the reader hooked, but the true achievement is the revelation of small-town life among African-Americans in the middle of the last century. Readers are extremely familiar with depictions of Harlem, but the fictional Langston County provides a seldom-seen glimpse into a real piece of New York history, one that subsequent human migrations have erased from the map.

A lovingly constructed, engrossing novel about an African-American family and hamlet.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4969-6589-9

Page Count: 386

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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