A dense, inventive, challenging account of one woman’s bizarre West Coast entanglement.


A literary novel about one woman’s strange journey through Northern California.

Mason (Sebastopol, 2009) presents Elizabeth Cromwell, a professional dominatrix in San Francisco. Elizabeth is in attendance at a party during gay pride week hosted by the XX Lite Lash Society when she comes across a man named Geoffrey Godwin Dilworth. Geoff has a strange story to tell. It seems that he had a negative encounter with a dominant named Prescott. Prescott left Geoff tied up at a hotel called Tor’s Lake, with certain parts of his body painted in nail polish, and then proceeded to call Geoff’s wife. After Geoff begins referring to himself as Lance (and referring to Geoff as his “weak sister”), it’s clear that things are even odder than they first appear. Two weeks after Elizabeth’s encounter with Geoff, she is made aware that he is attempting to give her a comic-book collection valued at some quarter-million dollars. By this point, Geoff has disappeared, and Elizabeth isn’t quite sure she wants the collection, seeing how Geoff gave her “the creeps.” When Elizabeth attempts to speak with a lawyer named Sheila Prescott, an explosion outside of San Francisco’s Civic Center kills and wounds a number of people. Elizabeth comes away with only minor injuries and a blind man’s service dog. She decides that she will attempt to find the dog’s owner. It’s a mission that only adds to her convoluted journey through California towns like Vacaville and Petaluma. It is a journey that will come to involve ever stranger elements like a burned down comic-book store, a photograph of a mysterious railroad car, and a lengthy tangent on F. Scott Fitzgerald. Mason’s winding, Pynchon-esque California adventure is, in the tradition of Pynchon, sometimes difficult to follow. Although conversations tend to consist of questions and answers, they often produce more of the former than the latter. When Elizabeth asks an attorney how long Geoff’s parents were separated, the response is: “Before Melissa was born. Anne was born in San Francisco.” It’s an opaque exchange even when read in the context of the scene, not to mention the fact that it entirely ignores Elizabeth’s inquiry. Although recaps of events do occur (e.g. Elizabeth’s attempts to find the owner of the service dog are explained), the reader can expect little in the way of hand-holding. This isn’t to say the text is inscrutable, only that close reading is necessary. The payoff comes in poetic descriptions such as an “underground campground of the mad” and a visitor’s lounge with “a dozen old people with nothing to move for.” All told the story feels much longer than its nearly 400 pages, though the reader can expect the adventure of a sleuthing sadomasochist professional to prove to be every bit as odd as it sounds.

A dense, inventive, challenging account of one woman’s bizarre West Coast entanglement.

Pub Date: April 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4808-1757-9

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

A must for future and current retirees; an entertaining excursion through the world of philosophy for everyone else.



An intriguing combination of economics, philosophy, history, and advice aimed at readers who wish to plan for a meaningful retirement.

To debut author Wright, a financial planner and retiree, retirement offers the chance to recapture the youthful idealism lost to years of work, responsibility, and keeping up with the Joneses—an opportunity to instead enjoy pursuing the pleasures of the mind and continuing the kind of intellectual education most of us left off after college or high school. To this end, he concentrates the first section of the book on how to financially prepare for such a retirement. His plan to save enough money to retire early, or at least have enough by age 65, involves, in part, excelling in your career (hopefully one that you like) while at the same time eschewing status-seeking conspicuous consumption. In other words, forget about the Joneses. He suggests some investing but only if you are satisfied with a fair return over time. If “you become greedy, you will be burned.” Business out of the way, Wright launches into his passion: philosophy. Plato, Mill, Thoreau, Sartre, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud; Wright covers them all logically and lucidly. With lively, down-to-earth prose, he manages to present understandable thumbnail sketches of each philosopher’s worldview, from the ancient Greeks to the present day, all while demystifying complex ontological and epistemological concepts and bringing to life the personalities behind them. Wright exudes an infectious enthusiasm and offers something of a life preserver to those so jaded by their work lives they “cannot conceive of any meaningful alternative to work, other than death.”

A must for future and current retirees; an entertaining excursion through the world of philosophy for everyone else.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9969451-0-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Real Leisure Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

A brief, intense, and entirely enjoyable tour of nature.



An almanac provides meditations inspired by encounters with the natural world.

“When I go too far out, I need to gather my landmarks of home around me,” writes radio broadcaster and veteran almanac author Felker (Poor Will’s Almanac for 2018, 2017, etc.) in his short, aphoristic new work of reflections on nature. “Distant locations only make sense against my local gauge.” The more he understands where he is, he tells his readers, the more he understands himself. Consequently, he lavishes extraordinary care and attention on his small plot of field and woodland in Yellow Springs in southwestern Ohio, often characterizing the locus of home as the “prime meridian” in even the most far-ranging voyages. In the long tradition of nature diaries, he anchors dozens of short pieces on explorations of the seasons of the year, the moods of the weather, and, most of all, the characters and behaviors of all the animals he spots, particularly birds. Several of the architects of this kind of writing, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to John Burroughs, are quoted or paraphrased with obvious affection, and Felker’s animal portraits are warmly enhanced by what he freely admits is a liberal amount of anthropomorphizing. His birds and woodland creatures are often as metaphorical as they are material. He’s a careful and meticulous observer who nevertheless seldom falls into the trap reserved for scrupulous spectators: being tedious. He’s saved from this because he commands a light-footed prose style and he keeps his vignettes very brief. Felker has been crafting these almanac-style entries for many years, and his experience shows not only in the smoothness and economy of his storytelling, but also in the winning combination of humility and poetic insights he’s clearly mastered. He’s delightful company on the page, in everything from his subtle, sensory-heavy evocations of the seasons (winter being a specialty) to his accounts of the stars and his lush descriptions of the natural world’s various inhabitants, captured even in a quick list of the region’s bird life: “The sparrows, like starlings, staying tight to the motions of the flock; the acrobatic chickadees swooping in and out, remaining only seconds to grasp their sunflower seed and fly off; the wary, fluttering titmice; the blue jays, harsh and bullying; the hopping, syncopated nuthatches exploring upside down.” These passages are often layered with musings about the author’s moods—the immediate and sometimes-odd ways his feelings intersect with the flora and fauna he stumbles on (one of the book’s closing scenes, involving a group of pantry-raiding mice, is an especially touching example). The tone throughout remains highly personal, almost confessional, which often adds to the charm of the work. The author’s knowledge of the plants and animals in his realm is encyclopedic but never comes across as pedantic, and the resulting almanac is a tightly focused and wonderfully executed example of small-bore nature writing.

A brief, intense, and entirely enjoyable tour of nature.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5441-3462-8

Page Count: 110

Publisher: Green Thrush Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

A layered, action-packed mystery with a cautionary message about the need to protect our environment.


In Sweetapple’s novel, two scientists, one a former special ops undercover agent, are kidnapped off the coast of Nigeria.

Dr. Tanya Melnik, a naturalist for the National Park Service, and Dr. Gwen Stillwater, a marine biologist, visit the island of São Tomé to study coral reef formations. Underwater, they notice some reefs appear to be heavily coated with oil and some are bleached. Shortly thereafter, Gwen and Tanya are shocked to see their dive boat speeding away, abandoning them miles from shore. They are soon kidnapped and taken by boat to a remote village. They’re told they are being held for ransom. When Gwen’s husband, Jim (who was Tanya’s former undercover partner when she worked in special ops), learns about the women’s disappearance, he believes they were taken by pirates. He travels to Nigeria with his colleague, special agent Morgan Smith, where they meet with friends Col. Hans Becker and Griz Grizwalski, the chief of security for Fossil Petroleum. When a ransom exchange goes awry, Jim lands in a deadly conflict, possibly related to circumstances stemming from his previous work in Nigeria. Additionally, it’s revealed that oil spills in the area may be linked to the Russians. The novel skillfully braids several storylines—the search for Gwen and Tanya; Jim’s perilous adventures; and various illegal activities, particularly in the world of environmental cleanup—and Sweetapple (Wasp Sting, 2016 etc.) shows deep knowledge of the setting and international challenges his characters face. At times, dense dialogue slows the pace of an otherwise high-energy story. Jim’s tenacity and resourcefulness make him a likable protagonist, and his well-developed back story adds dimension. Fans of action-adventure will enjoy. The book includes an author’s note explaining the importance of preserving coral reefs.

A layered, action-packed mystery with a cautionary message about the need to protect our environment.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-93153-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Eclectic Manor Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

An espionage tale with believable characters that draw readers into the action.



MI6 agent Michael Vaux returns to track down a security breach in Lebanon in Croft’s (The Maghreb Conspiracy, 2014, etc.) thriller.

When British intelligence assets go missing or turn up dead in Beirut, an MI6 subgroup, Department B3, turns to semiretired Vaux for a secret freelance assignment. Specifically, they ask him to find the person who’s been leaking key information. However, Anthony Mansfield, MI6’s head of station in Beirut, quickly becomes aware of Vaux’s operation, and he’s unhappy with what he sees as B3’s “interference.” Mansfield sends his own agent to keep an eye on Vaux, who, in turn, makes contact with Chris Greene, B3’s man in Beirut. Vaux also acquires his own asset—a student at the American university—but his investigation hasn’t gone far when he and Greene stumble upon a new body. Vaux further deduces that the killers may also be engineering a frame-up. Things get even more problematic when Greene mysteriously vanishes and Vaux receives a ransom note. The agent, with help from Sgt. Pitt of the British Embassy and others, quickly plans a rescue mission. As the murders continue, Vaux devises a way to trap the mole before anyone else dies. Croft incorporates a suitable amount of tension into his plot. This is largely accomplished by the historical setting, as it takes place in 2010 and includes the real-life Israel-Lebanon border clash. This event unnerves the already anxious Mansfield and acts as a constant reminder of the potential for violence. But the novel gets the most mileage from its down-to-earth qualities: Vaux may be a professional spy, but he still has to borrow Greene’s Sig Sauer—and when Greene wants that returned, Vaux is forced to borrow someone else’s weapon. The self-aware Mansfield also provides plenty of wry humor; he’s a fan of spy fiction and contemplates adopting the jargon of his CIA counterpart, Alex Mailer (such as the term “dangle” for a double agent). The reveal at the end is satisfying, though somewhat predictable.

An espionage tale with believable characters that draw readers into the action.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5470-7727-4

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Cassio Books International

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2017

A strong, important account of self-preservation.



A debut memoir examines narcissism and women’s rights.

McKneally grew up in New York state during the 1940s and ’50s, the eldest of a large Roman Catholic family. She opens her book with a line from her father: “No daughter of mine is going to college!” The author does attend college, however, with her father’s signature on the application. This dynamic repeats many times: her father and then her husband, Dan, telling her she can’t study, work, parent—do anything—and McKneally proving them wrong. She met Dan in college. He drank too much and survived cancer but was also a rising star in the business world. She believed that “God had intended” them to be together. Signs of Dan’s controlling personality surfaced early. He insisted she quit her job, move to Chicago (his hometown), and prepare to have 10 children. When Dan was invited to the Aspen Institute, McKneally followed as “wife of.” Although not officially allowed to speak in sessions, she did indeed provide valuable input. The couple eventually had five children, and the author was offered jobs, but Dan refused to let her work: “What could you ever do?” Dan became physically abusive at home, and McKneally descended deep into depression. In therapy, she realized Dan was the problem but felt blocked from divorce by Catholicism, the return of Dan’s cancer, and his crumbling career. In the mid-’70s, she finally secured a divorce and recovered in part through art. McKneally’s voice is assured and intelligent. Even when conveying her confusion and depression, her writing is convincing. She tells her story in vivid scenes and dialogue that draw readers into her home, the Aspen Institute, the therapist’s office, and other settings. In addition, she deftly conveys the social atmosphere and expectations of the ’60s and ’70s (“ ‘Equal rights’ was merely a murmur, and feminism in my world poked its head through the status quo only to be stepped on and shoved back down”). To appeal to a broader audience, her book might have expanded on the issues of women, work, abuse, and mental illness during these decades and trimmed some personal events and details. Nonetheless, her story remains engaging and inspiring.

A strong, important account of self-preservation.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-974286-71-3

Page Count: 302

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

A gritty and engaging, if dense, supernatural noir thriller.


In this sci-fi–tinged novel, winged superheroes called Raptors battle demons in a dystopian city.

As a Raptor, Ariel just tries to get the job done: kill a shady lawyer named Nicolai Tesslovich, who—unbeknown to most humans in their city—also happens to be a demon. She beheads him in an ambush at his office, where she also rescues a bound-and-gagged private detective named Frank Bishop, who’s investigating the disappearance of several children. Bishop and Ariel join forces, and, along with a young vagrant hacker named Mouser, they learn that whatever’s happening is bigger and darker than they’d anticipated. For one thing, Tesslovich shows up in court—in a neck brace but unquestionably alive. Sister Mary Catherine, the tough nun who operates a runaway shelter, tells Bishop that more young people are disappearing. And all the clues seem to converge on a biotechnology mogul named Yamazaki “Zaki” Kiriyenko, who’s built a massive lab guarded by sentient gargoyles and invites the city’s elites to his personal stadium to watch fighters in vicious hand-to-hand combat. At the height of the probe, Mouser disappears. Ariel and Bishop must venture into the city’s network of underground tunnels, “the Deeps,” and ally with werewolves and a scientist with a score to settle with Zaki to infiltrate the lab, rescue Mouser, and prevent the worst from happening. Bostick’s (Reptyle Dysfunction, 2013) novel overflows with characters and plot twists, which can make the story bewildering. The structural descriptions of the tunnels and the interiors of long-abandoned shopping malls may test readers’ patience. At the same time, that profusion is impressive—the myriad characters are joined by a tangled web of relationships, but the author fluidly manages the players and their overlapping, intersecting plotlines. The back-alley ambiance is a little overpowering at times—the grimy bars too grungy, the stakes disproportionately high (the fate of the world, of course), the dialogue overly hard-boiled: “I’ve been surfing the minefields of the information highway. It’s been wild. The off-route blog-o-sphere is rife with rumor if you can mole your way into it without getting nuked.” But overall, the tale remains absorbing, and Bishop displays a winning, dry wit. After he’s put in charge of a ragtag band of children, he thinks: “Great! I’ve been adopted by the road company of ‘Lord of the Flies.’ ”

A gritty and engaging, if dense, supernatural noir thriller.

Pub Date: June 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-938749-34-6

Page Count: 522

Publisher: Enchanted Indie Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2017

Readers looking for easy money may be discouraged by Sutton’s demonstration of just how complex real estate money can be,...

Loopholes of Real Estate


Investing in real estate is as easy as understanding the tax code and personal-injury law, according to this informative but daunting primer, part of the Rich Dad Advisors series.

Sutton (Run Your Own Corporation, 2012, etc.), an attorney, expert in business law and one of real estate–investment guru Robert T. Kiyosaki’s stable of Rich Dad Advisors, offers clever, if complicated, new ploys to grow and safeguard a fortune. He begins with a motivational sketch of the cash-flow investment doctrine popularized in Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad—buy rental properties with borrowed money; rake in cash from tenants; leverage the equity to buy new properties; repeat until rich—but focuses on the labyrinthine “loopholes” that make the formula tenable. The first kind involves subtle tax dodges that add greatly to the profitability of property investments—everything from “cost segregation” depreciation to “passive loss” allowances to the “1031 exchange.” The flip side of amassing real estate wealth, the author continues, is protecting it against lawsuits, especially those filed by tenants. Sutton therefore explores another suite of legal loopholes for sheltering assets from court judgments, including insurance, limited liability corporations that distance owners from their wealth, and the tactic of loading properties with debt so they are less tempting targets for plaintiffs. There is plenty of arcane tax, legal and corporate-structuring lore here, but Sutton explains it in admirably lucid, straightforward prose supplemented with entertaining fictional case studies, including a picaresque involving an alpaca ranch, a moonshine still and whiplash payouts. Readers will learn a lot from the book, though not quite enough to master the subject; Sutton stresses that a team of expert “advisors”—a lawyer, broker, accountant, insurer, property manager—is indispensable for guiding investors profitably through the legal/financial minefield. The book cuts against the grain of Kiyosaki’s cash-flow populism, his credo that real estate investment, not earned income, is the little guy’s road to riches. Here, the investor is the almost vestigial figurehead for the army of business-service professionals who do the legwork. Still, novice investors will find it an excellent road map for getting started.

Readers looking for easy money may be discouraged by Sutton’s demonstration of just how complex real estate money can be, but others will find helpful guidelines, tips and tricks presented in a clear, engaging style.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2013

ISBN: 978-1937832223

Page Count: 352

Publisher: RDA Press, LLC.

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

Humming with inspired metaphors and everyday relevance, these poems are gems.


A debut poetry collection explores faith and sexuality.

Many of these poems have previously appeared in literary journals or anthologies, and Dordal (English/Vanderbilt Univ.) has received a Robert Watson Literary Prize and an Academy of American Poets Prize. Her degrees in divinity and fine arts account for her graceful interweaving of Christian references. For instance, “On the Way to Emmaus,” alluding to Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance, presents the narrator’s own dramatic metamorphosis: still closeted while teaching a New Testament course, she came out on the last day of class. Many poems dwell on this seemingly autobiographical theme of coming to terms with one’s sexuality and laying claim to a new voice and identity. The multipart “Holy Week” juxtaposes a mother’s death from heart problems with the disconcerting revelation that she may also have been lesbian—“the queerness you passed on…falling out of hiding” in the next generation. “Clues” is a prime example of religion and sexuality’s intermingling: “Her lips parting for me every time— / a deep-throated ‘hey’ or ‘hello’ / was enough, the way a weekly token / of bread or wine can be enough.” That first line—initially erotic, then an introduction to casual conversation—leads into Dordal’s reminder that sex and religion meet deep human needs as loci of connection and nourishment. Similarly playful and sensual is “Plumbing the Depths,” in which a plumber’s sticking-up zipper is “a tiny, totem dick.” Two poems in this outstanding collection reflect on encounters with prisoners at Riverbend Maximum Security Institute; the natural world provides the imagery of the title section. These pieces aren’t about showy structures or sonic techniques but about well-chosen words carefully arranged. Rhythm is key, and internal rhymes and alliteration have subtle potency. The title phrase comes from “Even Houseflies,” in which the insects’ manifold eyes are likened to those of gods hiding in corners of rooms—a down-to-earth lesson in seeing the holy everywhere. Likewise, the various approximations of prayer are helpfully loose: recognizing a prisoner’s fellow humanity, stilling one’s breathing, and communing with nature.

Humming with inspired metaphors and everyday relevance, these poems are gems.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62557-986-7

Page Count: 65

Publisher: Black Lawrence Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

An engaging account, gripping from start to finish, that should appeal to a wide audience, including sailing enthusiasts.



A debut memoir reveals a turbulent adolescence.

At first glance, the voyage of Bjorn Johansen and his three daughters from San Diego to the islands of Tahiti in 1975 aboard the Aegir (Norwegian for “lord of the stormy seas”) has all the makings of a standard adventure story. But there is much more beneath the surface that sets this stirring book apart from other renderings of the challenges of adolescence. Nack is the middle daughter, who turned 14 years old right before they set sail, and she cleverly provides a definition of “navigation” in the opening pages because it serves as one of the text’s central metaphors. Her mother, often absent from the action here, struggled with mental illness and substance abuse. The author’s early characterization of her father as “volatile and demanding” is an understatement, as he turns out to be physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive. Thus the inclusion of “Survival” in the subtitle acquires another layer of meaning. In a breathtaking scene, Nack bravely defies her father’s orders and confronts him about the sexual abuse. She writes: “We’d been at sea seventeen days. He was like a lion crouching low, studying his prey. The gazelles eventually get worn down. They cannot be on high alert every moment of the day. Nobody can. I was tired of being scared.” After a series of cultural encounters and harrowing events once they reach their destination, the return voyage involves a different boat and crew. Although the riveting book ends before they make landfall, it is an appropriate moment to reflect on what has happened up to this point. The exhausted crew has just emerged intact from a ferocious two-day storm, which required lots of concerted effort and skilled maneuvering. They’re not there yet, but they are getting close. In keeping with the tone of the project as a whole, this ending, while somewhat abrupt, is powerful and inspiring. Perhaps the only quibble is that Nack leaves readers wanting more.

An engaging account, gripping from start to finish, that should appeal to a wide audience, including sailing enthusiasts.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63152-941-2

Page Count: 300

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2017

A highly readable family story that brims with heart and optimism.



A debut multigenerational memoir focuses on the strong women in the author’s family tree.

In this book, Stradling mingles the standout stories from her own genealogical past with the spiritual lessons exemplified by those tales. Her narrative spans five generations of her family's history, and she delves deeply into as many of the particulars as she can uncover from each era. She tells the stories of her great-grandmother Mackie, her grandmother Minnie, and her mother, Gail, generously mixed with echoes and reflections on her own contemporary life. Readers will likely be struck immediately by her decision to employ a number of novelistic devices, such as dramatic pacing, crosscutting between narrative strands, and reconstituted dialogue. She uses all of these techniques with a very skilled and pleasingly light hand—the result is the kind of reconstructed family history every author strives for but rarely achieves. Readers follow these women as they deal with the heartbreak of losing loved ones, a kind of tragedy that strikes Mackie often and quite dramatically, which helps to make her the book’s most memorable character. “People were instinctively drawn to her,” readers are told. “She was charismatic and empathic.” Stradling also chronicles the challenges of these women’s daily lives and careers, particularly in the case of Minnie, who earned her master’s degree from the University of Washington in 1936, became a Shakespeare scholar, and had a strong effect on the education world of her day. The author has deeply researched her subjects and steeps her account in letter and diary extracts, all assembled and studied with obvious care. Small recurring details—Gail’s love of the written word, for instance, or the comfort Mackie drew from the teachings of Christian Science—are thus brought wonderfully to life. And the work’s underlying spiritual message—“Faith and prayer are more than a few words”—is rendered all the more clearly for not being stridently presented.

A highly readable family story that brims with heart and optimism.

Pub Date: April 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62747-037-7

Page Count: 186

Publisher: Dharma Press LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

Marsh blends superpowers, paramilitary action, and alien machinations to triumphant effect in this follow-up.


In Marsh’s (The Changed, 2013, etc.) sequel, a superpowered contingent hopes to harness alien devices that can tame a plague.

The farming community of Salvation, formerly Pogo Springs, is within the local quarantine zone. The Sickness that killed 80 percent of the area’s population—while granting some of the survivors superpowers—rampages still. Sixteen-year-old Oscar is one of the Changed; specifically, he’s the Messenger—a position that’s vital to humanity’s survival since he’s able to telepathically communicate with helpful aliens. One day, two intruders breach the quarantine: a scientist in a hazmat suit and a soldier who shoots and wounds the scientist before he delivers a mysterious metal case. Oscar, meanwhile, has been in a mental realm that he calls The Nowhere, talking with the alien Teleoinan. He’s learned that the microorganism causing the Sickness, the Manal, is evolving into something even more dangerous. Oscar’s people already possess an orb-shaped piece of alien technology called the Vessel; now they must recover the scepterlike Conductor to, as Teleoinan says, “stop all this from spreading.” However, Teleoinan’s disembodied nemesis, Thevetat, may still be influencing people, as some in Salvation are ready to use violence to force local change. Also, Oscar finds that the dying scientist possesses a photo of his missing father. For this high-stakes sequel, Marsh delivers a sci-fi adventure that keeps characterization and strong emotion in the foreground without sacrificing action. He subtly comments on America’s entrenched partisan politics with the verbal sparring and division in Salvation; in one scene, Oscar’s friend Roxy tells a manipulative blowhard: “It’s not about being right. It’s about keeping people safe.” Although the violence is brutal—often echoing real-life terrorism—Marsh keeps things light and nerdy with references to Captain Planet and the Planeteers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Clever new members of the Changed tribe include a humanoid dog named Donald and Zelda, who can absorb and retain information from printed content (such as an encyclopedia) through her hands. Even as certain mysteries are explained, a fiendishly bold cliffhanger ensures that fans will return for the next volume.

Marsh blends superpowers, paramilitary action, and alien machinations to triumphant effect in this follow-up.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5472-3278-9

Page Count: 254

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

A mesmeric peek into the modern dismantling of the Russian monarchy.


A debut historical novel depicts the fall of the Romanov family during the Russian Revolution.

In 1912, Charles Sydney Gibbes had tutored the Romanov children in English for about four years and had become a trusted extension of the family. Czarevich Alexei, the young heir to the throne and one of Gibbes’ pupils, is deathly ill, plagued by hemophilia, a condition his parents, Nicholas II and Alexandra, hide from the public. Out of desperation, Alexandra sends for Grigory Rasputin, an enigmatic holy man darkly and deftly drawn by Jorgenson, in hopes that his healing powers can revive Alexei. But Gibbes loathes the man, who has a reputation for coarse vulgarity, and worries that Rasputin's relationship to the imperial family has sullied its reputation during politically precarious times: “How holy could a man be if he were marked by a relentless devotion to fornication, adultery, drunkenness, boastfulness, and countless other corruptions?” Rasputin predicts the boy will recover, and when he does, that pronouncement takes on the air of a divine prophecy, elevating his status in the eyes of the Romanovs. But after Rasputin is murdered by political rivals, the Romanovs’ fortunes take a turn for the worse, and as a result of a popular uprising, Nicholas II is compelled to abdicate the throne. The imperial family is forced into exile and placed under house arrest, and Gibbes decides to loyally remain by its side to the morbid end despite ample opportunity to return to his native England. Jorgenson artfully brings to vivacious life the imperial family and showcases the full plumage of their moral complexity. Gibbes, too, is deliciously labyrinthine, especially when he wrestles with his respect for the religious faith he fails to summon for his own consolation. He is a brilliantly conceived portal into Romanov family life, sympathetic and intimate—Alexandra enlists him as her confessor—but still an outsider capable of some measure of detached objectivity. Most readers of course know in advance the plot’s conclusion, but it’s to Jorgenson’s considerable credit that this doesn’t dampen its dramatic power.

A mesmeric peek into the modern dismantling of the Russian monarchy.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4834-7204-1

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

A solid historical novel with engaging characters.


In this novel, three African-American childhood friends try to reconnect many years later, with varying success.

In 1992, Camille Warren, a woman in her mid-40s, is feeling lonely, so she decides to get in touch with her two old Brooklyn friends Jewel Jamison and Saundra Farrell. Looking back on this reunion 20 years later in 2012, Camille remarks that “Time took us in different directions….Things were said that couldn’t be unsaid.” The book examines what went wrong, moving back and forth between the 1992 events and the trio’s earlier lives, tracing how they met, became friends, and then drifted apart after college. All have painful memories of childhood; Camille, for example, grew up with her grandmother because her mother was in jail for killing her father while driving drunk, and Saundra was sexually abused by a neighbor. The three girls went to college in the 1960s, experiencing the era’s growing political consciousness as well as new freedoms and challenges. By the time of the 1992 reunion brunch, Camille has become an assistant principal in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and a devoted single mother; Jewel has founded a prosperous entertainment agency; and Saundra is getting back on her feet after divorcing a violent man. Camille has a new romantic possibility, Coleman Barnes, a Marine recruiter, while Saundra makes an unexpected reconnection with Les, a white musician whom she’d dated in college. As for Jewel, she’s planning a June wedding, although the groom—who’s still married—doesn’t know this. Friedman (Ian’s Pet, 1991, etc.) writes a multilayered account of these three women’s lives that pays close attention to setting, character development, and history. Camille is particularly well-drawn, as when she’s shown to be thoughtfully indecisive about her relationship with Coleman. Engaging reflections on issues of race, such as interracial dating, give the novel a strong social underpinning. That said, it’s unfortunate that the novel seems to link Jewel’s growing paranoia, delusion, and sexual harassment of young men to her ambition—in contrast to Camille, who turns down a promotion in order to spend more time with her son.

A solid historical novel with engaging characters.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-974638-59-8

Page Count: 412

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2017

A fine entry in D’Avanzo’s oceanography-themed series, which fills an unusual niche in the mystery genre.



In this mystery sequel, D’Avanzo (Cold Blood, Hot Sea, 2016) puts her heroine, Dr. Mara Tusconi, off the coast of British Columbia to investigate some fishy activity on Haida Gwaii archipelago.

A shady American businessman, Roger Grant, persuaded the Haida people to allow tons of iron slurry to be dumped into the ocean off their island’s coast, as it would supposedly encourage algae blooms, which it does, and dramatically increase the salmon population, which it doesn’t. Mara and two colleagues from the Maine Oceanographic Institute, Harvey Allison and her half brother (and Mara’s boyfriend) Ted McKnight, have been sent under the aegis of the United Nations to see whether the dumping arrangement is legitimate and ecologically sound. The jamming of the rudder on Mara’s sea kayak is just the first of a string of suspicious “accidents” that suggest bad guys at work. But when the body of William Edenshaw, a young tribal Watchman, is found dead in a hot pool, it’s clear that evil is afoot. Many scary adventures ensue, culminating in a kidnapping, which leads to a couple of very impressive climactic chapters. There are a few loose ends that aren’t tied up, such as why a member of the town environmental council exhibits Jekyll-and-Hyde tendencies and how William was actually killed, but for the most part, readers get the answers that they’re looking for. There’s also a clever subtheme of Mara’s strongly scientific worldview being challenged by preternatural occurrences (such as “Feathers that magically appeared”) that, to the Haida, are almost mundane; this gives the character a chance to gain wisdom. Readers will also learn a lot about oceanography, as it’s marine ecologist and environmental educator’s D’Avanzo’s professional interest. A third installment is in the offing.

A fine entry in D’Avanzo’s oceanography-themed series, which fills an unusual niche in the mystery genre.

Pub Date: June 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63381-109-6

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Maine Authors Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

Anyone interested in a good mystery along with insights into marine life will enjoy D’Avanzo’s latest.


Mystery writer D’Avanzo (Demon Spirit, Devil Sea, 2017, etc.) is back on the coast of Maine, dealing with a bunch of lobstermen who want no truck with nosy outsiders.

In the very first chapter, marine biologist and amateur sleuth Mara Tusconi discovers a body under her cousin Gordy Maloy’s mussel aquaculture raft, a body that had belonged to lobsterman Buddy Crawford. Whodunit? Mara soon finds herself on Macomeck Island, a speck in the Gulf of Maine about 25 miles off the coast. Lobstermen have lived on the island for generations, and something akin to the law of the frontier holds sway. Mara, who is fighting her own demons of loneliness and insecurity, finds comfort in grandmotherly Abby Burgess. Abby’s daughter Patty, Gordy’s girlfriend, is sure that the killer is hotheaded Tyler Johnson, reputed druggie. But Mara keeps sniffing around and uncovering old wounds, grudges, and hatreds. There are also very vivid scenes such as a near catastrophe when a sudden squall threatens to swamp Mara’s sea kayak. Pushing on, she begins to recover from her own wounds (some self-inflicted), and the final episode in a submersible with her old flame, Ted McNight, may just put her life back on course. It should also be mentioned that her best confidant is a lobster named Homer, (who of course is very discreet). D’Avanzo writes well (“The knots in my stomach would have made a sailor proud”) and delivers a nice mix of Mara’s outer challenges (who killed Buddy?) and inner (will she ever find love?). She also delivers a lot of very interesting facts about oceanography and marine biology, having earned a Ph.D. from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. That alone is worth the read. She switches to dialect when she deems it appropriate (“lobstah,” “habah,” “remembah”). Some readers may find this charming; others may find it a bit tiresome and distracting. This installment contains a preview of her next Mara Tusconi mystery, Glass Eels, Shattered Sea (2019).

Anyone interested in a good mystery along with insights into marine life will enjoy D’Avanzo’s latest.

Pub Date: June 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63381-136-2

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Maine Authors Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

An entertaining, unique spin on the popular holiday that caters to readers of all ages.


Adolescent siblings may be in a position to stop a ruthless mogul from taking Christmas away from Santa Claus in Spremo and Vlcek’s debut adventure tale.

Jenny and little brother Tommy lost their parents at a very young age. Specifics on what happened to Mom and Dad are vague, and the kids spend years bouncing from one guardian to the next. When they believe their latest move will separate them, Jenny and Tommy head north—way north—to see the grandfather they’ve never met in the Arctic. In the same region is Santa, who’s understandably worried. The icy foundation of the North Pole is melting faster than anticipated thanks to the world’s recent climate change. To relocate and protect all the elves, Santa will have to make a deal with Kritch, whose trillion-dollar Kritch Industries produces the bulk of the world’s toys. Kritch only wants Santa’s name, face, and likeness for advertising Kritch Toys. But the businessman owes his overwhelming success and wealth to a powerful crystal orb that he retrieved years ago from a South Pole cave. He may have his contract virtually locked in with Santa, but that doesn’t ease his tension when he learns that someone has swiped the orb. Said artifact somehow winds up in Grandpa’s hands, forcing the elderly man to go on the run with Jenny and Tommy when Kritch sends his minions after them. The sibs, who eventually get an inside look at the heavily fortified Kritch Toy Works facility, do whatever they can to keep the orb from the shady businessman. Much of the charm here lies in portraying the magic of Christmas as something ordinary and routine, best exemplified by the character of Artie, a typical working elf. His biggest dilemma is personal. After overhearing a private meeting on the potential relocation, he inadvertently incites a panic when he tells everyone about it. In the same vein, details on the orb are scarce, and characters scramble to procure it rather than consider its supernatural capability. There is, in contrast, a wonderment with nature. Jenny and Tommy stand astonished by the multitude of stars in the Arctic and the desolation of its landscape: “All that remained was the sound of wind-blown snow. The snow glowed under the light of a single platform light.” Still, the authors inject a healthy dose of ironic humor. Countless parents and children, for example, line up to be the next Spokeskid, the new face of Kritch advertisements. But the role of Spokeskid may be more akin to captivity. Irony likewise surrounds holiday- or winter-related items: a sled is more practical than fun; candy canes entice kids into creepy Kritchland, which maps DNA, fingerprints, etc.; and self-dubbed Hot Chocolate Guy is Kritch’s go-to henchman. The story accommodates mystery (a shadowy figure suddenly appears to help someone) as well as action, including a high-speed snowmobile pursuit. Unanswered questions could indicate a forthcoming sequel, especially regarding the siblings’ parents.

An entertaining, unique spin on the popular holiday that caters to readers of all ages.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: 317

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2017

A triumphal work that addresses the incalculable horror of nuclear war yet offers a message of hope that redemption remains...


English-born South African author Fugard’s (Lady of Realisation, 2016) collection delivers 15 poems on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and five travel stories of Japan.

This timely and powerful book has been long in the making. The author writes that she first composed its poems in the 1970s after having a vision that showed her “with a mounting sense of horror, that huge clouds had massed in the sky….I was certain that an atomic bomb had exploded out there over the ocean.” Accompanying this sight, she says, were the voices of the dead from the Hiroshima bombing, reaching out to her across time and space. She immediately set to writing the poems, both as an outlet for her vision and as a memorial for the victims of Hiroshima. These free-verse works are difficult to read—not because they are narrowly typeset in a manner that seems reminiscent of traditional Japanese scrolls, but because of the terror of the author’s vision: they’re arresting, unrelenting, and encourage stunned contemplation. She strips her poems of superfluity and leaves the trauma and the weight of that dreadful day: “They are the dead / Who walk ahead / As Christ walked / Their religion the testimony / To the God of the mushroom cloud / Energy / The total atom.” Nevertheless, she doesn’t let her verses slip into hopeless nihilism. Her travel diaries, following the poetry, say that the attack on Hiroshima should not be held up as a cosmos-shattering event but as the consequence of beings trapped in their desires and bound to the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. This Buddhist view of events, Fugard asserts, opens one up to compassion, forgiveness, and healing in the face of one of the most terrible events in human history.

A triumphal work that addresses the incalculable horror of nuclear war yet offers a message of hope that redemption remains possible.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5245-3554-4

Page Count: 82

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

Best for fans of historical fiction but engaging enough for a broader audience.



Schrader (Envoy of Jerusalem: Balian d’Ibelin and the Third Crusade, 2016, etc.) follows up her Jerusalem Trilogy with an imaginative, fictionalized account of the d’Ibelin and Lusignan families and the founding of the Kingdom of Cyprus.

By the last decade of the 12th century, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was reduced to one-fourth its original size. Even the city of Jerusalem was now held by the Saracens (Arab Muslims), who had overwhelmed the Christian lords and knights in 1187 and 1188. The novel opens in 1193, and Balian d’Ibelin (a celebrated knight, member of the high court, and husband of Maria Zoë Comnena, dowager queen of Jerusalem) now lives in reduced circumstances in the manor house of his barony in Caymont. When he learns that Aimery de Lusignan, constable of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, has been arrested for treason under orders from Henri de Champagne, he travels to a palace in Acre to broker a deal with Champagne. Balian has a special interest in the affair. Aimery is married to Eschiva, Balian’s niece. Champagne agrees to the terms: Aimery resigns his position and is released to join his brother Guy de Lusignan, Lord of Cyprus, to help maintain rule over the rebellious Orthodox Greek Cypriots. Thus begins the eventual migration of the Lusignan and d’Ibelin families to Cyprus. Readers may find the extensive character list, which occupies several pages, and complex relationships daunting. Plus, there is a plethora of alliances, marriages, and historic, cultural, and religious clashes to be navigated. But just a bit of effort brings the reward of a surprisingly addictive narrative. Schrader is a deft, knowledgeable writer, capable of portraying a complicated historical period through accessible, descriptive prose (“The gold mosaics, the blue, turquoise, and aqua-colored tiles, the marble fountains, and the potted hibiscus”). With her focus on the individual, albeit imagined, personal dramas of the primary protagonists, Schrader brings detail, excitement, and life to a bygone era. And she offers a little something for everyone: royal intrigue, rivalry, bloody battles, love, tragedy, and memorable characters.

Best for fans of historical fiction but engaging enough for a broader audience.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62787-517-2

Page Count: 412

Publisher: Wheatmark

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

Perhaps too mercenary for some, but when implemented properly, the mostly sound principles can lead to financial stability...



Using the principles of Sun Tzu, the ancient general and military tactician, Cheung draws parallels between military and financial strategies.

Selected excerpts and quotes attributed to Sun Tzu provide the basis of Cheung’s suggested strategies for financial success. Just as a military leader must observe the cycles of heaven and Earth, so should the financial planner observe economic cycles and plan accordingly. The end result is a presentation of conventional wisdoms offered from an unconventional point of view which briefly covers a wide range of some well-known, basic financial skills: Don’t spend more than you earn; don’t accumulate debt; try to do work that you love; invest wisely and plan ahead for retirement. Some strategies relate to personal finances, such as building individual savings, choosing individual investments, and completing a personal analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). Other strategies are used to discuss finances at a higher level, such as getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of business competitors and using them to an advantage. Some of the relationships between Sun Tzu’s principles and finance aren’t clearly made; for instance, Sun Tzu advised that “All conflicts are based on deception,” but for Cheung, deception “often involves possessing an asset your competition lacks and using it in surprising ways.” Examples include the protection of intellectual property and proprietary information, which might better be categorized as defense against industrial piracy rather than deceit. Other pieces of advice drawn from war-based parallels may not sit well with everyone, such as the section devoted to the use of spies and the advice to cultivate relationships with a competitor’s administrative assistants in order to gain access to information and the competitor’s leadership. While the generally sound strategies follow tried-and-true methods for achieving success, the challenge is often in the details, which are sometimes left unaddressed. Diversifying skills is always good advice, but the suggestion to “go back to school…or begin a new career” may come across as blithe and superficial to someone who can’t pay for classes.

Perhaps too mercenary for some, but when implemented properly, the mostly sound principles can lead to financial stability and success.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-1480089006

Page Count: 212

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

A simple, disciplined, and affecting addition to the genre of Holocaust memoirs.



A debut author recounts her experiences before and during the Holocaust.

Born in the eastern Czechoslovakian town of Sekernice to a family of religious Jews, Lumer had a traditional upbringing in a time and place with few amenities. She was responsible for working at her parents’ store, caring for her younger siblings, and praying every day: “I had no idea what I was saying, but I knew it was very important, because if I didn’t say that prayer every morning, there was a very good chance I would get punished by God.” The first section of the book comprises anecdotes about growing up in Sekernice, a multilingual town in the Carpathian Mountains home to various ethnic groups and religious traditions. The second section follows Lumer’s life after her relocation in 1943 to Budapest, where her parents sent her at the age of 15 in hopes that she would be safe there with her older brothers for the duration of World War II. The following spring, Germany invaded Hungary and began deporting its Jews to concentration camps. Lumer’s wartime experiences included multiple camps and forced marches in dire conditions, though she somehow found the will—and luck—to remain alive despite all that the world threw at her. The author, as the introduction reveals, wrote this book with the editing help of Joe Lumer, her son; it is dedicated to his memory. She tells her story in simple, declarative prose, with little commentary beyond the bare facts and emotions of each experience. “The guards kept telling us it was only a little longer, only a little farther, and we would arrive,” she writes of one march. “I fell again and couldn’t get up, so I started crawling on all fours, like a dog.” She resists offering easy explanations of the conflict and the genocide, or what both might portend for the future, simply repeating her remembrances and allowing them to weigh on readers. This gives the earlier episodes, like the one involving Lumer carrying a live chicken in a sack to the shochet (slaughter), an almost folkloric quality. The later recollections vividly reveal the horrific absurdity of war.

A simple, disciplined, and affecting addition to the genre of Holocaust memoirs.

Pub Date: May 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-80577-0

Page Count: 193

Publisher: Temple Hill Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

Astute and instructional; should help point the way to effective employee relations for company leaders.



A communication executive expounds on employee engagement in this debut guide.

In a work she describes as “a quick read and reference,” Horn deftly outlines the basics of employee engagement. Her wide-ranging material about communicating with workers supports that theme. Divided into four parts, the strong book covers communication frameworks and tools, explains employee surveys, and wraps up with a plan for putting together a strategic message system. The author is careful to point out the differences between how executives and employees define communication, which, she suggests, “is the root cause of many problems—and too often those problems are addressed with the wrong solution.” Horn distinguishes among executives, managers, and employees throughout the book while presenting basic communication techniques that can be applied across all organizational levels. One of the more compelling discussions surrounds the issue of communicating with specific audiences. While many business communicators might start with the message, Horn writes, “a better plan is to begin by thinking about the audience….If you consider the audience first, it will allow you to put parameters around the message.” Her insights into the need for “assessing the amount of attitude change” among various corporate audiences are likely to be of great value to senior managers. Likewise, the author’s recommendations for developing key messages, supplemented by a step-by-step guide, offer a streamlined method for any communicator. The lengthy chapter regarding employee surveys may be too densely packed for some readers, but it does explain in detail the implementation and scoring of such assessments. On the other hand, the chapter that explores how to develop a “connected listening strategy” is concise yet cutting-edge in its approach to using data to understand staff needs. Horn is clearly a subject matter expert, enhancing each chapter with a closing section, “My Experience,” in which she shares examples and observations from her more than 30 years of work in companies across numerous industries.

Astute and instructional; should help point the way to effective employee relations for company leaders.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9975166-3-0

Page Count: 226

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

Engagingly rendered, thoughtful hard sci-fi.


In Dingus’ (Worlds in Transition, 2017) sci-fi novel, a 24th-century scientist, caught in a Martian revolt, tries to protect his two secret projects: an advanced computer intelligence and a group of children who are a leap forward in human evolution.

In the year 2331, an overcrowded Earth has caused humanity to spread across the solar system. Mars is a particularly restive colony, with insurgencies violently agitating for political independence from patrolling military forces. Genetic engineering and the Martian environment have spawned distinct differences between the Martian residents and the oft-augmented Earthers, escalating the hostility. In this volatile cauldron of interplanetary intrigue, George Mills, an idealistic scientist with personal failings and a divorce in his past, makes two major breakthroughs. One is a self-aware quantum-computer intelligence called Will whose abilities and apparent emotions surpass any technology yet developed. The other, George’s collaboration with his sometime-lover and soul mate, biologist Joanne Zhu of Mars, is a set of genetically engineered children who are not only superior in intellect, but also cleansed of humanity’s instinctual aggression and bloodthirstiness. They are, in fact, a new species. Both creations are regarded as threats by Earth’s heavy-handed authorities, who once considered Mars an inferior backwater. Dingus is a scientist himself with a background in physics and software development, and one is tempted to compare his impressive novel with the work of sci-fi grandmasters such as Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, or Arthur C. Clarke—also researchers, inventors, and thinkers who blended narrative with extraordinary scientific acumen and heady concepts. However, the way that George, Joanne, and Will shield themselves, as well as the children, from a dismal fate tends to fall together a little too neatly (via deus ex machina, in more ways than one). The well-engineered prose still effectively reflects the author’s upbeat, humanistic worldview, though, even though the plot could have easily veered into weapon-happy, paramilitary-thriller territory. George is a likable, reluctant hero throughout, although the action sometimes halts for long, hard-science exposition dialogues. However, these intervals are cleverly staged as sojourns in virtual reality (courtesy of Will), where time passes differently.

Engagingly rendered, thoughtful hard sci-fi.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-9785232-0-6

Page Count: 440

Publisher: SpeculativeFictionReview.com

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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