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California Bookwatch

Volume 16, Number 1 January 2021 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Parenting Shelf General Fiction Shelf
Literary Fiction Shelf Romantic Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf
Fantasy/SciFi Shelf California Shelf  

Reviewer's Choice

Awareness. Clarity. Power.
Jill S. MacDonald
Warren Publishing
9781733795586, $14.95

"Awareness. Clarity. Power." by Jill S. MacDonald is a personal transformation opportunity that no growth-oriented reader should miss, whether they're already grounded in new age and self-help techniques or not. Readers may be surprised to learn that part of empowerment embraces an ability to understand the forces that drain that power.

MacDonald surveys how personal power is given away; but mostly importantly, she provides the nuts and bolts on how to recognize when this happens. Various such powers are discussed, from that of faith in a 'bigger picture' to aligning thoughts and emotions to affect and translate experiences. Each step of her process opens the chapter with a (often surprising) contention ("Conclusions are illusions") and a discussion that revolves around how to move past self-limiting thoughts and concepts to reach for the stars.

One of the many empowering ideas here is to embrace and support the kind of fluidity in thought and approach to life that lends to better outcomes, more clarity, and deeper meaning. Readers who embark on Jill MacDonald's journey will find it thought-provoking, revealing, and filled with not just admonitions, but accompanying life examples designed to resonate with the psyches and experiences of a wide audience of readers.

Anyone interested in meditation, self-awareness, and development-oriented reads will relish the passion, strength, and specific tools for growth that are carefully cultivated cornerstones of "Awareness. Clarity. Power."

The Parenting Shelf

You Are Their Lighthouse
Jill S. MacDonald
Warren Publishing, Inc.
9781735560151, $14.95

Parenting and being responsible for another's life trajectory, guiding their most influential years, is a big challenge. Many have wished for a blueprint of advice covering major hurdles and best practices along the way.

"You Are Their Lighthouse" provides an inspirational, uplifting support system and is recommended reading for new parents, especially those who feel overwhelmed. It also helps to have a prior dose of new age familiarity with conscious-raising and self-help approaches, because "You Are Their Lighthouse" incorporates these and more into its advice. From parenting blueprints and self-awareness exercises to insights and wisdoms from experience that are meant to help parents sync with their core values and perceptions of what it means to be both a parent and a child, this guide opens with a thought-provoking contention.

"You Are Their Lighthouse" also provides an introductory caution -- that parents who choose this book need to be open to self-awareness and growth. Those who initially think the guide will include advice on rigid boundary-setting and approaches to controlling situations may be surprised at the emphasis of lessons which cultivate a sense of parental mindfulness in the parenting process. As the chapters evolve, parents receive a primer that throws down a gauntlet of growth and guidance not just for the child, but the reader: "Continue to challenge your beliefs of what a good parent should be. Ask yourself if those beliefs are actually even yours." And as these lessons on how to be more self-aware are imparted, parents should see a correlation between their own growth and the evolution of their attitudes about parenting and their child's unique path in life both due to their influences and independent of them.

"You Are Their Lighthouse" is simply outstanding, detailing a growth-oriented approach that celebrates and guides the parent's efforts and new role. It's the primer that should be a baby shower pick alongside all the guides covering the basics of how to handle a baby and raise a child.

The General Fiction Shelf

Take These Broken Wings and Learn to Fly
Brenda J. Grodzicki
Page Publishing, Inc.
320 Water St., PO Box 700, Conneaut Lake, PA 16316
9781647012182, $17.95

Take These Broken Wings and Learn to Fly will attract women's literature readers with its rich story of a woman who emerges from a difficult childhood in a New Hampshire orphanage to lead a self-actualized life based on strength and positivity. It's a story about family influence and love, healing, and a journey away from roots of neglect and abuse as it follows Prudy Hopkins through life and disability and into a new supportive world that embraces love, trust, and courage. Women who like love stories that don't begin in adulthood but evolve to embrace all of life's slings and arrows will find this a powerful work of literature.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

Inferno of Silence
Tolu' A. Akinyemi
The Roaring Lion Newcastle
9781913636029, $3.99 ebook

Poet Tolu' A. Akinyemi's previous writings captured the intimacy of interpersonal relationships, pairing them with life-affirming admonitions and observations, but Inferno of Silence departs from his usual approach by providing a literary short story collection that examines social issues ranging from racism to love in the face of political upheaval. Each short work is powered by this social observation, taking individual lives and linking them to broader perspectives and concerns to provide astute insights on mental health, personal struggle, and connections between individual choice and social impact.

Take the title story 'Inferno of Silence', for example. Here, Kunle is a married man often puzzled by his situation, women in general, and his wife in particular. His helpful father tells him he just needs to learn how to 'manage' women in true Nigerian style, but Kunle finds his attitude and occasional violence against his mother to be distasteful. And so he is stuck in a limbo between different approaches to the women in his adult life. He finds marriage principles "almost impossible to abide by" and an antithesis to the initial attraction he felt towards this woman who became his wife. When Adaeze moves in, she changes his life. But, she controls everything from the start. Does his voice deserve to be heard? If so, how? The marriage changes everything and challenges him to find his voice apart from cultural traditions and the lack of information from either the pastor or his father.

'Return Journey' is also a story about men, women, relationships, and social expectations. Ade's argument with his father about settling down is an ongoing one, as he's immersed with pleasing 'Capitalist Investors' over building a life that satisfied his parents and cultural expectations. As he faces an unusual woman, situation, and the notion that "...a woman could stand in the place of a deity," he finds not only his life changed, but his attitudes and values, as well.

Inferno of Silence is a wide-ranging collection that tackles different themes of love, life, interpersonal relationships, and social and political challenges. It's a hard-hitting, revealing collection that keeps readers engaged and thinking with each short exploration of characters who confront their prejudices, realities, and the winds of change in their lives. Readers of literary explorations that include African cultural influence and modern-day dilemmas will find this collection engrossing.

The Romantic Fiction Shelf

The Weight of Salt
Sandra Montanino
Edwards Publishing
9781734509007, Ebook
9781734509014, $14.95 Paperback
9781734509021, $28.95 Hardcover

Historical romance readers will discover that The Weight of Salt holds its own in a field known for novels that too often meld romance with a dash of history rather than the other way around. The plot gives equal emphasis and strength to both facets as it describes the milieu of 1906 Florida, where 15-year-old Italian girl Angelina Pirrello finds herself and her family trapped between the rising Suffragist movement, the Mob, and the prejudice against the Italian-American community she lives in.

Adding romance to this already-multifaceted mix might seem over the top, but Sandra Montanino does a fine job of exploring all of the evolving social, political, and personal forces at work in this young girl's life. This adds a rich dimension of reality to experiences which are, after all, cemented in personal growth and struggle. One might think that, given its teen protagonist, the age group of this story's intended audience would be young adult; but to limit it to these eyes alone would be to do the novel a grave injustice.

With its swirl of political and social insights, The Weight of Salt should ideally reach far beyond a young adult audience to touch all ages. Perhaps an older protagonist would have lent validity to an older audience choosing the book initially; but from the very beginning it's evident that the attraction here lies in the depth and variety of events and cultural inspections, even during an initial description of childbirth choices.

Another strength to this plot lies in its depictions of old-world Italian traditions in contrast to the new world cultural influences of America. One reason these insights are so realistic (they will be more than familiar to anyone who has grown up second generation in America, as has this reviewer) is that many of the experiences stemmed from Sandra Montanino's own background and family tales. These lend a solid set of insights throughout a story that embraces Sicilian family traditions; from the specter of an arranged marriage to a boy Angelina doesn't love to the choices she faces in confronting family over the changing milieu of American liberties and women's rights.

At times it may feel like there is almost too much happening as far as social pressures. However, this reflects the reality of the times and the many forces Italian families and communities faced; especially against the backdrop of Ybor City, Florida, where the promise of riches to be gained by hard work is overshadowed by those who would take advantage of hard-working peoples. It's a delicate dance between Angelina's evolving emotions, her coming of age during these times, and the pressures that drive her to reconsider long-held family values and personal goals.

The various insights from other women Angelina encounters, along with their experiences of marriage, are particularly well done. Readers receive all these insights and more in a story that is compelling, complex, and especially satisfying. It's highly recommended reading for historical romance readers who look for an emphasis on the sociology and history of the times as well as evolving romance.

To limit this book to young adults alone would be to limit its potential. The Weight of Salt will ideally reach beyond the historical romance genre to engross readers of immigrant experience, women's literature, and women's social issues alike.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Hidden Intentions
Alan Brenham
Black Opal Books
9781644372845, $14.49 pbk / $2.99 Kindle

When 13-year-old Cailey Marshall accepted a dare to enter a haunted house, she didn't expect to be kidnapped and held for ransom by non-ghosts. Hidden Intentions follows the dilemma posed to her father, Barry, who is forced to choose between his daughter's life and killing his brother, the price demanded by her kidnappers. It's a riveting conundrum that keeps father and daughter on their toes as each struggle to survive and make the best decisions under impossible circumstances.

The point of view moves between Cailey's experiences to those of her father, switching chapters in a clear manner that is identified in chapter headings, so readers always know who is 'speaking'. The perp in this case is sadistic, cruel, and will stop at nothing to force Barry to make impossible decisions that go against everything he believes in. The psychological tension and dark threat creates a powerful interplay between characters which is remarkable because Alan Behr takes the time to explore all the emotions, motivations, and thoughts and perceptions of both victims and perps alike.

These reflections drive the action, logic, and changing scenarios of threat, juxtaposing emotion with atmosphere in a compelling manner that brings the story to life.

Another pleasure of Hidden Intentions is that it doesn't evolve in a predictable direction. Readers are kept on their toes as the story forges ahead with revelations and changes made on all sides in a cat-and-mouse game of demands, death threats, and murky intentions that are so well-hidden, even the characters don't always acknowledge them. As the story evolves into a social dilemma that involves Cailey and her father in a world neither had known about, readers are both educated and entertained by a thriller that holds the ability to power its action through a blend of deep psychological inspection and fine suspense.

Hidden Intentions is a riveting saga that crafts heroines and heroes who are believable, ordinary people tested to the limits of their abilities to survive. Its mercurial, changing story will especially delight readers who look for the unexpected and twists of plot they didn't see coming, and is especially highly recommended for seasoned thriller readers who like blends of suspense and psychological inspection.

Scrooge and Cratchit Detectives
Curt Locklear
Warren Publishing
9781735728070, $27.00 hard cover
9781735728087, $15.95 soft cover

What happened after Ebenezer Scrooge had his great revelation about his life's trajectory and his inherent selfishness? Scrooge and Cratchit Detectives takes place a year later, when Scrooge has already put a great deal of work into reinventing himself and his life. He didn't expect a return visit from Jacob Marley and an assignment to solve a mystery, but Jacob sends him on a journey to Cornwall to save the life and reputation of one Hezekiah Hiram Grumbles, who has been accused of murder.

Traveling with a business partner, office clerk, and nephew at his side, Ebenezer encounters puzzles at every turn as readers are steeped in the atmospheres of Victorian London and Cornwall alike. Curt Locklear's delightful approach in winding Scrooge's redemption into a mystery probe will attract holiday readers who like a good mystery planted on the foundation of Dickens' world. Scrooge comes alive as a changed character who now works towards different goals while remaining cognizant of the horror of the past that changed his life and forced him to confront his selfish ways.

In this takeoff, Scrooge is not just a figure facing social and personal inspection of his impact on the world around him, but is forced to once again confront his fears and his effectiveness in the world. Locklear offers a different take on selfish behaviors and intentions that expands the original Dickens story while remaining true to its feelings and purpose. Scrooge's reflections of past and present require no ghost, here, other than that of failed opportunities.

As he encounters some of the threats peculiar to fellow detective Sherlock Holmes and unravels threads that seem to connect to this famous man's similar struggles with perps, readers who enjoy a good Holmes whodunit will find themselves captivated by the blend of Scrooge's redemption processes and Holmes's ability to get at the heart of a dangerous puzzle. The result is a holiday mystery that will delight fans of Dickens, Doyle, and beyond. It's one steeped in holiday flavors, the English countryside, and the efforts of one man to solve some of the biggest puzzles in his life.

Highly recommended for its astute attention to detail, strong characterization, and realistic atmosphere, Scrooge and Cratchit Detectives is hard to put down and is a fine Christmas mystery about ongoing second chances.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Singularity to Humanity
Daniel R Scott
Clipper Implants Press
9781734050721, $16.99 Paper, $7.99 Kindle

Book 2 of the Humanity Transformed series, Singularity to Humanity, expands the story of a human race buffeted by the double-sided threat of bioengineering and AI development, returning the Cameron twins to the spotlight as they struggle to assure humanity's survival in a story that was introduced in Great Dieback to Singularity. This sequel opens in India, where Yasmeen Khan has left the University of Wisconsin when her PhD program is put on hold to return to a land replete with strife and struggle.

The introduction and editors' notes section that follow Yasmeen's appearance might best be placed first, because it sets the stage and introduces the basic foundations of a compelling story that takes place between 2067 through 2076, synthesizing background from the first book and helping newcomers understand Yasmeen's world and its challenges. The color maps of the 'Great Melts' and the character list in this section might neatly set the stage for a more immediate understanding of setting and events, although beginning with Yasmeen's journey does inject a level of emotional attachment before these facts are revealed.

As chapters move into scenarios in which the AI known as Bold Beaver and other characters (both human, enhanced, and non-human) come into play, Yasmeen's world is again challenged by forces that would not just eliminate humanity, but alter its psyche. Cultural interactions between different peoples and perspectives are very nicely presented as the tale evolves. It should be mentioned that Singularity to Humanity is a work of hard sci-fi and social examination.

Readers with an affinity for technological and sociological works will find its action, challenges, and characters particularly intriguing. It should also be noted that the timeline of events shifts back and forth. Chapter headings clearly delineating time and place assure that readers easily follow these jumps as various factions interact in the course of the singularity's rise. The result is a thoroughly engrossing book that should ideally be followed by readers who have enjoyed the prior Great Dieback to Singularity.

This audience will find the sequel an exciting enlargement of the issues and many of the characters in the first book, walking humanity through loss and transformation as individuals face evolving love and new possibilities for their uncertain futures.

Trials of Uwe: The Next Generation
Steven L Masia
Independently Published
B08HX5TBYC, $3.50 Kindle

Six universes and several books ago, a self-aware universe was created. When it recognized the inevitable results of its own entropy, this entity created intelligent beings that would manipulate space and time to find a solution to the challenge of death. These first humans evolved to become feared as demons. The Trials of Uwe: The Next Generation follows their ongoing impact as wizards, fairies, and other forces that feed off pain confront those who that would defeat and defy them. Familiarity with Steven L Masia's prior Uwe universe books and their premises will lend to a smoother transition to this latest adventure. Those with such a background will find the same attention to adventure, action, detail, and clashing forces as in the other books, with more added purpose over fate, fortune, and Uwe's magical efforts to aid his children.

The descriptions, confrontations, and settings are very nicely done, with dialogue reinforcing these worlds, how they came to be, and Uwe's decision-making process. From those who show uncommon and dangerous sympathy for lesser beings who are slated only as food for others to demon princesses and complicated power struggles, Evilore Uttera's struggle with her own body (which attempts to betray her amidst battle), and the struggle for peace between humans and demons, Trials of Uwe: The Next Generation is filled with engrossing maelstroms created by a magic-eating vacuum.

Fans of the prior Uwe universe will find much to like in this vivid, continuing fantasy saga which is replete with sexual encounters, emotional connections, good versus evil, and the struggles that define them all.

The California Shelf

Life Lessons on the Sierra Trail
Allen Clyde
Craven Street Books
c/o Linden Publishing
2006 S Mary St., Fresno, CA 93721
9780941936040, $17.95

Life Lessons on the Sierra Trail will reach travel audiences with a special interest in the Western US and is based on Allen Clyde's experiences in the Sierras with some 40 years of horse packing in the John Muir wilderness. It tells of 18-year-old Pablo's discoveries when a savvy mother takes her wayward son away from potential trouble by hooking him into a summer job working for horse packer Dr. Clyde. The life lessons he learns from this experience and the importance of self-reliance and lessons learned from and in the wilderness make for a powerful story of discovery, maturity, and wilderness attractions. The natural history embedded into this saga places it in top position as a pick not just for self-help and travel holdings, but for any California readers with a special interest in the outdoors and the opportunities it offers.

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

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

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