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California Bookwatch

Volume 17, Number 1 January 2022 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Art Shelf Biography Shelf
General Fiction Shelf Literary Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf
Fantasy/SciFi Shelf    

Reviewer's Choice

Changing Children's Lives with Hypnosis
Ran D. Anbar, MD
Rowman & Littlefield
4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706
9781538153666, $35.00 Hardcover/$33.00 ebook

Changing Children's Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center gathers case history examples of patient healing processes to encourage and support the notion that children, too, can be healed by hypnosis. It poses a variety of applications answering many questions about the process and the results that can be gained through such treatment. Changing Children's Lives with Hypnosis is particularly notable because the bulk of medical books about hypnosis therapy apply to adults. Another important note is that Dr. Anbar is a physician who specialized not in hypnosis, but in pediatric pulmonary disorders. As he learned about and came to apply hypnosis therapy to his young patients, Dr. Anbar discovered that nearly every child under his care who suffered from a chronic physical or mental ailment seemed to benefit from adding hypnosis treatments into the regimen.

The rationale for why this treatment works so effectively and universally is presented in the first chapter: "The reason hypnosis benefits children with a broad range of symptoms is in part that this therapy is unique in meeting them where they have the most need. In many children with chronic illness, for example, the burden of their medical issues leads to anxiety, depression, or other psychological reactions. By learning how to use hypnosis to better regulate themselves emotionally, these children can handle their illnesses with less psychological distress and more resilience. In children whose psychological burdens cause them to develop physical symptoms, those symptoms often resolve completely when the children learn to understand and regulate their feelings and responses. Finally, almost every child can benefit from learning how to control their negative reactions to uncomfortable medical procedures and stressful situations."

By incorporating hypnosis therapy into his practice, Dr. Anbar discovered its wide-reaching impact helped not only his young patients, but their family members. The results were so astonishing that Dr. Anbar established his own hypnosis clinic. This book represents a three-fold exploration. It defines and explores the process and theory of hypnosis in therapeutic settings; it considers how patients and therapists interact during sessions to build a process that holds lasting value; and it supports its approaches and contentions with case history examples that capture the hypnosis experience.

General-interest readers need not be versed in either hypnosis or medical terminology in order to find Changing Children's Lives with Hypnosis accessible and enlightening; especially since it also includes tips and insights that family members, caregivers, and health professionals can use to support and understand the hypnosis treatment (even incorporating these techniques into their own everyday lives).

While not intended to circumvent or replace the work of a seasoned medical provider trained in hypnosis, this book creates a supportive system and atmosphere that allows adults to be more proactive in supporting all children, including those who are in hypnosis therapy. From psychological revelations on how pain is addressed and converted to how "hypnosis can recalibrate a child's fear by putting the original incident into new focus,"

Changing Children's Lives with Hypnosis is highly recommended for those who would like to better understand how hypnosis approaches to therapy can both support traditional medicine and move beyond it to address psychological needs in children. It should be on the shelves of any medical library as well as many a general-interest collection strong in parenting and self-help.

The Art Shelf

Art in California
Jenni Sorkin
Thames & Hudson, Inc.
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110-0017
9780500204610, $24.95, PB, 256pp

Synopsis: The newest addition the outstanding Thames & Hudson 'World of Art' series, "Art in California" is an informative introduction to the art of California and focuses on the distinctive role the state played in the history of American art, from early twentieth-century photography and Chicanx mural painting to the fiber art movement and beyond.

Shaped by a compelling network of geopolitical influences, including waves of migration and exchange from the Pacific Rim and Mexico, the influx of African Americans immediately after World War II, and global immigration after quotas were lifted in the 1960s, California is a center of artistic activity whose influence extends far beyond its physical boundaries.

Including work by artists Yun Gee, Helen Lundeberg, Henry Taylor, Richard Diebenkorn, Albert Bierstadt, Chiura Obata, and Judith Baca, among many others, in the illustrated pages of "Art in California", art historian and academician Jenni Sorkin tells California's story as a place at the forefront of radical developments in artistic culture.

Organized chronologically and thematically with full-color illustrations throughout, this attractive study stands as an important chronicle of California's contribution to modern and contemporary art in the United States and globally. In a single, remarkably informative volume, "Art in California" provides a definitive history of contemporary art in California.

Critique: Enhanced with the inclusion of 165 full color illustrations, "Art in California" is impressively organized and presented, making it unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and university library American Art History collections in general, and as a textbook for California art history curriculums in particular. It should be noted for students, academia, art historians, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Art in California" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).

Editorial Note: Jenni Sorkin is an associate professor of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She writes on the intersections between gender, material culture, and contemporary art, working primarily on women artists and under represented media. Her other publications include: Live Form: Women, Ceramics, and Community; Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016; as well as numerous essays in journals and exhibition catalogs. Additionally, she is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Modern Craft.

The Biography Shelf

Third Time at Bat
Leigh Davis
Warren Publishing
295 Herlong Ave, Suite 401, Rock Hill, SC 29732
9781954614345, $14.50, PB, 282pp

Third Time at Bat comes from an actress and artist who tells of two past abusive marriage choices. This sets the stage for a final third (successful) relationship, which will especially appeal to women interested in their own processes of interpersonal relationship assessments and growth.

From childhood lessons absorbed, about the ideals of a love relationship, to affairs, alcoholism, and abuse, Leigh Davis moves readers through the stormy experiences and outcomes of her relationships and the situations, choices, and consequences that led to two failed marriages. These insights educate different readers, from those young enough to be just embarking on their own love lives to others who may have failed relationships behind them, and who look to mates to make them whole again.

Many different kinds of lessons are imparted in this memoir through the course of its interactions and experiences. Readers will appreciate the inclusion of theological as well as psychological inspections that collect and impart candid nuggets of wisdom. From how others around her find and experience love and peace to how Davis navigates obstacles that lead to her own stronger life and lessons, Third Time at Bat is just the kind of personal inspection one can learn from. One of the most intriguing aspects of this story is how Davis keeps coming up against major differing belief systems and perceptions that contrast heavily with her own values: "It was apparent their denial was the Great Wall of China that I was slamming against."

The allusions to baseball that permeate the narrative help readers navigate its shifts and changes, cementing themes that ultimately lead to home runs. The result is a study in perception, emotion, and interpersonal dialogues between adults, children, and friends and lovers that will intrigue anyone who wants to more closely examine concepts of what makes for a strong, lasting relationship. Going to bat for others means that, to be most effective, you have to be willing to understand and go to bat for yourself. Davis offers these experiences to any who would "Be brave enough to open the doors by yourself."

Third Time at Bat belongs in any memoir or psychology holding strong in interpersonal relationships, marriage, or self-help.

The General Fiction Shelf

A Small Hotel
Suanne Laqueur
Cathedral Rock Press
9781737264958, $24.99 Hardcover/$18.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

A Small Hotel is the introductory book in the Small Hotel series and opens in the summer of 1941, when Europe is at war, but America is still experiencing the height of the tourist season -- a last hurrah before the nation is pulled into conflict.

Kennet Fiskare has fallen in love with Swedish-Brazilian hotel guest Astrid Virtanen, but it's a love destined to be buffeted by the winds of war and Kennet's entry into battle in France. As his world is transformed by previously incomprehensible fights and struggles, Kennet finds that his perspective, relationships, and values in life have also changed...perhaps to the point that a romance with Astrid is no longer possible. Or, is it?

Author Suanne Laqueur depicts a fine interplay between family, love, and the revised family circumstances of being part of a military world. She takes the time to move readers between these milieus, capturing various sentiments between generations about the impact of battle and survival. Laqueur also takes the time to portray the impact of soldiers as they move through the countryside and the lives of those who interact with them.

These close inspections of the rituals, routines, and connections between soldiers, families, civilians and lovers come full circle in a story that moves from one hotel in America to sojourn overseas to new seasons and ideas as Kennet moves past war to find an uncertain and different form of peace in his life and loves.

As A Small Hotel evolves, readers receive a vivid, emotional survey of families challenged by war's arrival and the kinds of decisions that change everyone. Its powerful force brings the times and individual struggles and perceptions to life, making A Small Hotel highly recommended for any fiction reader interested in World War Two's impact on disparate lives around the world.

Life Rolls Along
Linda Nielsen
TouchPoint Press
9781952816901, $4.99 ebook

Most men who discover their business partner coveted their wife would find themselves confronting both wife and partner in an effort to preserve one or both relationships. Not Skye Topple. His method of dealing with this problem is to make it a non-issue by revising his own trajectory and expectations of his financial and personal world. This approach leads to far-reaching changes as the Covington family moves from owning a consulting firm to becoming involved in real estate.

In many ways, Life Rolls Along is a portrait of adaptation that leads a family in unexpected directions. Readers already familiar with its predecessor, Because I'm Worth It, will be further enlightened on the methods employed by the Covington family as they chart a different course.

Skye married into a wealthy Southern family, and their relationship set their world on end. His reaction to these new circumstances will, once again, challenge the family's approach to life, finances, and legacy as he handles his relationship with daughter Monique, lives with hard decisions made in the past, and interacts with Sophie, who is in stark contrast to wife Delaney Mae Anne Von Campe-Covington-Topple.

Linda Nielsen recreates the dialogue and captures the contrasting social inspections of the South and North alike, but her story also embraces Paris and other milieus. It also contrasts generational perspectives and experiences as Skye's mother Melissa absorbs the unfamiliar world of Chicago, considers her son's revised life and challenges, and faces an uncertain future.

As the Covington heritage and Skye's world continue to expand outward with new challenges and opportunities, readers will find Life Rolls Along a satisfying companion to the first story, while newcomers will become enthralled with the different ways the characters move through their social worlds and adapt to challenges. Novel readers who enjoy interplays between Northern and Southern perspectives and strong stories of relatives struggling with themselves and one another will find Life Rolls Along fun, engaging, and thought-provoking.

From Where I Stand
Caroline Goldberg Igra
Koehler Books
9781646635504, $27.95 Hardcover/$19.95 Paper/$7.99 ebook

From Where I Stand presents Elizabeth, who is tired of trying to live up to her mother's demanding expectations, and is determined to parent her own daughter Belle differently, even though Belle wants to be left alone. An amazing opportunity for Belle to pursue her musical dreams early, in New York, means that Elizabeth must hand Belle over to the mother from who she once ran -- a woman whose influence she's worked hard to overcome. Belle is thrilled to get away and Grandmother Lillian welcomes the opportunity to host her teen granddaughter and redo her own disappointments through her experiences. Back at home, Elizabeth finds solace by redirecting her mothering skills to a troubled girl who, unlike Belle, is desperate to stay with her mother.

Caroline Goldberg Igra juxtaposes the lives and viewpoints of each character in alternating chapters that use the first person to capture the character's perceptions while clearly identifying them in chapter headings. Another aspect of the story's development is the significant role of the Jewish Community in enabling the characters to pursue their dreams and find a healthier path.

As Elizabeth, Belle, Lillian and Julie move in different directions, their relationships grow and change. Igra captures these moments of transformation, also including the psychological backdrops to each individual's reaction to those around them, as in Julie's response to Elizabeth's purposeful support.

From different memories and pain to the emotional damage that threatens long-held dreams, each life and viewpoint is a dance of realization and change that ripples into the others' lives through a current of transformation. The result is a close inspection of family ties, mother/daughter bonds, and dreams both followed and broken that will especially interest women who struggle to revise their own family relationships.

Collections strong in contemporary women's literature and mother/daughter perspectives will find From Where I Stand a thought-provoking story firmly embraced by Jewish culture and community.

Ciscoe's Dance
Marion Hill
Red Mango Publishing
9781734644524, $13.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

It's hard to easily categorize Ciscoe's Dance. At once a fantasy, a dance story, and a lively reel of action, the story is set in the fictional world of Kammbia, where married professional dancers have made a success of their traditional form...until modern Piccanta music, with its very different dance style, takes over.

Suddenly, Ciscoe and Latisha Maldonado are the dinosaurs of style in a world changed by a passion for Piccanta, and their art and traditions languish as the next generation eschews both. As community support for their beloved Guanamamma music fades, the couple (and those involved with their creative effort) begins to feel outdated and unwanted.

At this point, it would have been all too easy for the story to fall into the moralistic avenues of aging and transformation. Marion Hill takes a turn that leads it in an unexpected direction...and herein lies the magic of Ciscoe's Dance. Its ability to capture hearts and minds with a story of adaptation, struggles with bitterness and change, and the affects of present-day choices and their past influences becomes a study in adaptation.

As intrigue grows surrounding this mercurial past's impact and lessons, readers will enjoy Ciscoe's evolving sense of purpose and possibility, and the messages that come from their study of the Book of Kammbi, which maintains that "Things in life cannot be made straight after becoming crooked."

The spiritual discussions of choice, consequences, and lasting impact are particularly revealing as Ciscoe and Latisha struggle with issues of faith, learning to dance different roles amidst their community's changes. As study of the Book of Kammbi reveals new messages that can be applied to these times, Ciscoe and Latisha tackle family, community, and artistic truths that "hurt, but also heal," finding within themselves the courage to forge ahead, albeit in a revised fashion.

Music and dance are at the center of this story -- but so is faith, growth, and healing interpersonal relationships of all kinds. These multifaceted themes make the first novel in Hill's "Dance & Listen" series an adventure worth reading. It which holds a passion for not just dance, but life's unexpected movements and the opportunities it brings to draw disparate people together. Whether as a novel or a fantasy recommendation,

Ciscoe's Dance holds special appeal for literary and arts readers who will find its special enthusiasm for art and life to be both thought-provoking and entertaining.

Still the Night Call
Joshua Senter
Roubidoux Press
9781737585619, $2.99 ebook
9781737585602, $21.99 Hardcover

Still the Night Call revolves around a staid, calm Missouri dairy farmer by the name of Calem Dewayne Honeycutt, who sees his world and livelihood changing at the hands of social and political forces beyond his control. The Night Call referenced in the book's title is the force of worry and angst that comes, too often, under cover of darkness, "intertwining fact and fiction until they become a mutated gospel of the world around you as well as your place in it."

Calem struggles with his inner demons and their reflection in his life as he faces guilt over what could have been, and his role up to this point in his life. Calem makes final decisions about how he will inject truth into this world and change his choices and trajectory, and readers receive reflective descriptions that capture this simple rural farmer's logic and reflect his sense of place and purpose: "...tonight I'll have some fried hogsuckers fresh out of the crick with Miles. And then, before the Night Call begins in earnest, I'll shut it up right quick. I'll get off this damn conveyor belt. I'll escape the herd. Nobody is gonna wrangle me up no more. I'm gon' be free."

Joshua Senter creates an excellent review of family, place, and adversity that reveals connections and struggles. The dialogues he incorporates between these simple folk and their changing lives is particularly well done, capturing family interactions as Calem journeys down a path that carries him away from all that he loves.

Many of his struggles to separate reality from illusion and facts from lies reflect current social struggles to do the same. Senter's story thus resonates on levels that wouldn't have been possible even several years ago, and will reach audiences who will find much to relate to in Calem's world and the ways he chooses to empower himself against its currents of change: "There's lots of us who wonder what's actually real and what we've just been lead to believe is real." From unreliable weather and environmental conditions to the human condition, Still the Night Call traverses matters of the heart, family, and rural conditions.

In many ways, Still the Night Call is a call to action. The first step is reading this book. The second lies in recommending it for discussions about free will, choice, civil war, and social change.

Shadow Atlas
Hex Publishers, LLC
9781736596418, $4.99 ebook

Shadow Atlas is virtually impossible to peg as a genre read. Quite simply, it's a blend of horror, speculative fiction, and alternative history told through short stories contributed by 38 authors and poets, including Josh Malerman and Jane Yolen.

This production by the "Scribes of the Umbra Arca" opens with the intriguing form of dossiers and memos attempting to explore the roots of the Umbra Arca Society and its works. As the "Western Scriptorium" secret society's writings draw readers into a world layered atop the familiar one, shades of The Twilight Zone and paranormal influences blend with an alternate history and social inspection to provide a powerful series of interconnected stories designed to capture high interest.

An 'FBI Directive' to investigate this world opens the story with a concluding memo that adds mystery, questioning the Society and its revelations. A letter from Dane Essa introduces the concept of the Shadow Atlas further, explaining how this secret came to be imparted on the threshold of death, was identified as a possible prank by a mischievousness professor who wanted to leave behind a legacy of fiction and mystery, and gives a possible motive for deception: "...if one cannot participate in history, then one must reinvent it, with one's own life rough-hewn into the preferred narrative." The story unfolds in a satisfying manner that reflects the diverse approaches of the authors.

From Dark Watchers to poetry and prose that captures evolving events, Shadow Atlas represents a vivid intersection between literary formats and perspectives, creating a vivid story that rewrites the definition of fantasy, horror, and fiction as well as historical representation. Each story is very different in its characters and events. Each also contributes a new adventure to the exploration of the truth about a mysterious book. Think The DaVinci Code or Indiana Jones, but with more literary force, as it comments on mortals, immortals, and the intersection of worlds which holds them.

Mercedes M. Yardley's story of Moira, banshees, and a sense of home and purpose in "Sand and Salt" is one example of a compelling piece of the puzzle. Its focus on Moira's relationship with Imogene, a "relentless town," and the past is exquisitely wrought: "She missed the storms from home. The black skies, the voices of her sisters as they whirled together in the night. This place was lonely and harsh in a completely different way than the high cliffs. After her shift ended, Imogen punched her card, gathered her things, and rode her bicycle home. The air was hot and fetid even in the dark. Her house was still full of her parents' old things. Why give them away? Why keep them? Why do anything but curl up in the rooms at night and watch the stars from the window? Why even do that, or really, anything at all?" Moira followed Imogen's family to this desert world from Ireland. Imogen is the last of her tribe. What will happen to Moira when she dies? Does she return home, or will she pass this legacy to another generation by having a child?
The lovely descriptions permeate Moira's decision and provide a powerful impact on the reader.

Contrast this with Jeanne C. Stein's "Diablo Ballena," which depicts two seniors in the last phase of their lives who met as anthropology majors in college and headed for adventure in Columbia. Investigations into mythology and religion changed their lives. The narrator resurrected a legendary monster. He also uncovered a lust for revenge that ties into his next decisions.

Each story contributes a powerful stand-alone piece that dovetails nicely with the premise and promise of the Shadow Atlas's world. Each will delight readers who look for diversity, powerful literary voices, and stories that grab hold with mystery and supernatural intrigue to rewrite not just history, but concepts of reality, fantasy, and lives that exist in between.

Peppered with black and white drawings that add further visual dimensions to the tales, Shadow Atlas is a top recommendation for horror, fantasy, and literary short story readers seeking diversity in voices and visions. Its collaborative intersection of different worlds thoroughly delights.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

Newer Testaments
Philip Brunetti
Atmosphere Press
9781649219022, $25.99 Hardcover/$17.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Readers seeking literary blends of visionary fiction, philosophy, and psychology will find Newer Testaments a satisfyingly complex novel that defies easy categorization while embracing elements of these disciplines and more.

A prologue, for example, usually sets the stage with either present atmosphere or past experience. In this case, Newer Testaments opens with "Disintegration" and provides the first-person reflection of a self-proclaimed "Jesus Girl," a nameless individual who faces an existential twist between instant love and death. From confrontation with death and love to slavery and "practicing the art of nothing," the narrator considers the dissolution of self in staccato moments of exploration and explosion. This "short trip to nowhere" sets the stage for a literary and philosophical inspection that offers a kaleidoscopic dream world of archetypal images and personas using a host of characters both male and female, real and imagined.

From sanity, insanity, and a Facility that seeks to eject Model Patients from its realm to dreams and realities that move between past, present, history, and future possibility, Philip Brunetti's mind romp brings with it a powerful associative investigation of self and purpose. These invite reader to enter a realm of tragedy and dreams. Literary readers who appreciate historical, psychological, and cultural cross-references will find Brunetti's story oblique and astute.

Newer Testaments is a French New Wave existential inspection of life and spirituality that brings readers on a roller coaster ride through the phenomenology of the Jesus Girl and beyond. Its special brand of allusion won't be for everyone, but will delight literary audiences who appreciate mercurial inspections of unfolding dreams and alternate realities.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Acapulco Double-Cross
Wade Stevenson
Independently Published
9798726189505, $7.99 Paper/$1.99 ebook

Acapulco Double-Cross is a rollicking road trip of a thriller that tells of Nicole's journey to Mexico. There, she looks forward to a place where there "will be more than enough room for her body and spirit," away from her on/off affair with Pierre. She has no definite goals in mind and just longs for a blend of adventure and respite, but what evolves is more than a sandy romance on the beaches of Acupulco. Nicole falls into a chance romantic encounter that evolves into ongoing brushes with death. Perhaps her sojourn produces more than she'd hoped for, on many levels? But, then, Nicole was ready for something different. Or, so she'd thought.

Author Wade Stevenson does an excellent job of portraying the mishaps and adventures of a leggy brunette who seems ripe for trouble even as she questions her life's dubious trajectory. Readers might not anticipate the sense of humor that underlies some of Nicole's encounters (such as a rubber ducky that harbors a Molotov cocktail), but Stevenson includes these ironic inspections of intrigue and tension as his story evolves, injecting a delightful tickle of fun into the story.

As Nicole lives a new life of "totally unexpected adventure," she learns lessons from Bobby, a woman who represents (to her mind) the "new woman" who is tough, independent, and embraces life to its fullest - a blonde, lusty buddy that Nicole has difficulty holding back from danger. The result is a suspense story especially recommended for women who like their tales of friendship and adversity centered on powerful characters. Their diversity and differences accent a thriller covering different approaches to life as well as adversity. This audience will find Acapulco Double-Cross a fine inspection of the different lives of men and women who come together in a milieu that tests their presumptions, abilities, and futures.

The blend of romance and action will delight those who look for both, in equally powerful doses.

Blood Before Dawn
Daniel V. Meier, Jr.
BQB Publishing
9781952782350, $16.95 Paper/$7.49 Kindle

Volume 2 of the Dung Beetles of Liberia series, Blood Before Dawn, will best be enjoyed by prior readers who appreciated Volume 1's political and social adventure. This grounding will provide immediate access to the riveting continuation of events that opens here with a bang: "I'd always known that one could get into trouble just standing on a street corner, but never like this."

It's 1979. Ken Verrier and his wife Sam are returning to Liberia to buy diamonds in an effort to raise some quick and easy cash, but become caught up in political struggles as a coup overthrows the Tolbert presidency and threatens their lives. Ken becomes involved in the conflict and taps CIA agents and past friends for the truth, uncovering subterfuge and gun and drug smuggling. His effort to stop them will require and test all of his special skills and knowledge. As danger escalates from all sides, Ken and Sam become embroiled in a series of confrontations that challenge their ability to survive, make the right choices, and come home together, in one piece.

Once again, author Daniel V. Meier, Jr. provides a riveting, fast-paced adventure that holds its roots in real-life events while keeping the characters and action vivid. Meier employs the first-person perspective and alternates seamlessly with the third person omniscient point of view to bring all these elements into an immediate emotional realm, yet maintains an attention to historical detail. Unfolding events make the story semi-autobiographical, semi-historical, and nicely steeped in drama.

On the cusp of completing his mission in Liberia, diamonds in hand and the West African Air Service returned to profitable status, betrayal and a twist keep Sam and Ken involved and evolving. The blend of family interactions and a joyful confession immediately backed by new threats keeps suspense high. Thriller readers will be especially pleased at how Meier teases the emotional strings of tension with back-to-back conflicting emotions.

Every bit as riveting as The Dung Beetles of Liberia, Blood Before Dawn represents a captivating exploration of African political and social processes wrapped in a layer of intrigue designed to delight thriller audiences looking for reality-based adventure.

Buried Secrets
Mike Martin
Ottawa Press and Publishing
9781988437781, $16.95 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 260pp

Buried Secrets adds the 11th volume to the Sergeant Winston Windflower mystery series set in Canada. It takes place as a pandemic is ending and his small Newfoundland town is experiencing unprecedented murders. It's a far cry from the marijuana safety checks and other small-town issues Windflower is used to dealing with; especially since the murders bring a sinister and bigger picture into the town which threatens its peace of mind and makes Windflower the unwitting focal point.

Windflower is just trying to raise his family and do his job. The job description, however, has just expanded to include not just murder, but a whirlwind of controversy that threatens the small town environment and Windflower's own world.

As in the previous Windflower stories, author Mike Martin takes the time to inject Windflower's personal life into the mystery. This concurrent focus on family affairs creates a three-dimensional character who has more on his mind than problem-solving at work, making for a novel that will appeal beyond the usual murder mystery audience.

Windflower and his wife Sheila have two kids: two-and-a-half-year-old Amelia Louise and five-year-old Stella, who they are in the final stages of adopting. So, Windflower has much to lose and much to fight for as his latest case edges into his personal life to provide additional conundrums.

Part of the reason why Martin's stories are so vivid is that they give equal time to personal life's evolution and processes. The investigator's ability to simultaneously navigate a puzzle and his family milieu enhances an involving story that operates on different levels; not just that of a murder mystery. Add political ramifications and small-town living to the mix, then wrap all in an overlay of ancestral teachings and dreams for a spellbinding probe that represents more than a whodunit alone.

Newcomers to Windflower will find this stand-alone story easily accessible and thoroughly absorbing, while prior enthusiasts receive another Windflower mystery that furthers both his professional abilities and his personal life in a small town that's suddenly embracing big-city problems.

Four Reasons to Die
K.P. Gresham
Epiphany's Flame, L.L.C.
B09G8JVYMB, $4.99 Kindle

The fourth book in the Pastor Matt Hayden mystery series, Four Reasons to Die, introduces the former-cop-turned-pastor to a new threat when a benediction request made by his governor friend results in a tangled blend of political and religious special interests surrounding a missing reverend whom nobody seems concerned about.

Matt is reluctant to get involved, even though he senses something is deeply wrong. He's still recovering from his last brush with death, and the last thing he needs is a new case. When Reverand Duff's assistant is found dead, Matt's investigation brings into question deeply held memories that challenge him on more than one level. As Matt, his beau Angie (who owns Fire and Icehouse, across the river from his church), and personal and spiritual struggles with sorrow move to the forefront during the course of the investigation, the murder mystery becomes a social, political, and spiritual probe that adds thought-provoking elements into the story. Injustice brings with it renewed resolve and fury as Matt edges closer to answers that involve Shelly Duff and other family members, as well as his own incomplete struggles and pain.

The blends of police procedural and religious and social inspection are especially well balanced and nicely done, and will delight readers interested in a mystery that moves beyond the usual whodunit trappings. From the politics of a pulpit war between mega-churches to the specter of a national power grab and families locked in the middle of too many battles, Four Reasons to Die presents many clashing perspectives that will engage readers on more than a singular mystery level.

From Angie's renewed insights about Matt and why she so loves him to Matt's troubling revelations, Four Reasons to Die crafts superb characters and moral, ethical, and religious conundrums to keep readers involved. One might think that the fourth book in a series would rest on the shoulders of its predecessors and require knowledge of prior events. Yes and no. It does support the ongoing evolution of Matt, Angie, and their world. But, it requires no prior familiarity to be accessible and thoroughly engrossing to newcomers. This comes with a caveat, however: readers who enjoy this latest action-packed mystery will want to pursue Matt's past experiences for a fuller flavor of his growth processes and evolution.

Freeze Before Burning
Nikki Stern
Ruthenia Press
9780999548769, $14.95 Paper/$3.99 ebook

Freeze Before Burning adds another book to the Sam Tate mystery series. It opens with Ed Rizzo's humorous confessional: "Forgive me, Father," he intoned, "for I have sinned, although I'm pretty sure God will cut me some slack even if my wife won't, if you take my meaning." When he receives no response from the other side of the confessional, Ed investigates, only to find the red-hot body of the priest.

Sam, now a Maryland county lieutenant visiting family in New York City, is pulled onto a case that is anything but the usual. A clever serial killer whose dramatic modus operandi rests on both scandal and clever tactical moves is targeting true crime fans. Sam is operating in territory both familiar and alienating. It's hard for her to believe that life might again be normal after the pandemic sparked an uptick in homicides that stretched her investigative skills. Added to the challenge is a flirty new love interest that holds the hope of keeping Sam better engaged in the non-criminal world, even if the person of interest "doesn't know what he wants in the love department."

As in the other Sam Tate mysteries, Nikki Stern is especially adept at juxtaposing Sam's personal conundrums with her professional challenges. The added value of an evolving emotional connection to others and the growth experiences offered by crime problem-solving challenges keep the story firmly rooted in psychological transformation as well as whodunit twists and turns. Both are wrapped in a contemporary overlay of angst and confusion that will make the proceedings more than recognizable to Sam's fans.

The introduction of an antagonistic NYPD detective named Chloe Nichols throws Sam for a loop, especially because she treats the older woman as a problem to be solved. Readers also gain an intriguing perspective on interpersonal relationships that evolve on different levels of mystery and complexity. Stern crafts another Sam Tate story that serves nicely as a series addition and, for newcomers, as a stand-alone read steeped in intrigue and social and political inspections. All these challenge Sam's heart in an ongoing manner that involves Sam socially, politically, and psychologically, in a deadly series of events.

Mystery readers are in for a real treat!

A Mistaken Hostage
J.F. Foran
Independently Published
9781614686507, $8.99 ebook

Dr. Brooks Davidson is back in San Francisco after having completed a deal with the president of Egypt. He's just in time to embark on a new romance with psychologist Sarah Pierce. But, in A Mistaken Hostage, Egyptian special interests return to haunt him in an unexpected manner. Even though they are far from the Middle East, their reach continues to prove as powerful as Davidson's influence.

Author J.F. Foran tackles evolving events not just from Davidson's perspective, but from the point of view of the Egyptians who view him as a threat: "What was Davidson's next move? he wondered. Was he becoming a risk to my position in the government, to my relationship with the president?" This provides a satisfying shift of viewpoints that move between Davidson's political interests and his personal affairs to the concerns of those who reach the boiling point in Cairo and send some of that fire into Davidson's life. Minister Omar Sayed's inspection of Davidson's influence leads to an assessment and a vow that places Davidson in the crosshairs of danger.

From family and legal connections to political cat-and-mouse games of intrigue, A Mistaken Hostage draws connections between individuals intrinsically tied into the fabric of relationships between the U.S., Egypt, and their own affairs. As a serious international crime involves leaders, lackeys, and independent thinkers in a clash of political and social ideals, readers will find the story's attention to Egyptian politics and life to be easily accessible even if they have no background in Middle East affairs or international business interests. The kidnapping is only one piece of the action. At play are underlying elements of psychological and political tension that will delight thriller readers looking for a story of suspense and revelation.

A Mistaken Hostage belongs in any collection strong in international intrigue. Its wide-ranging and involving tale of treachery, adversity, and social and economic conundrums will keep readers guessing to the end.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Kfir Luzzatto
Pine Ten
B09H4QWC91, $5.99 ebook

Dystopian sci-fi readers will find Rewired a satisfying sequel to Chipless. It continues the story of Kal, who is now chipless and determined to expose the forces that hold The City's citizens under thrall. Amber, too, is motivated to join this quest because she plans on rescuing her father from the High Professor's clutches. Her days with Kal taught her a different kind of truth -- one that paints quite a different picture of High Professor Alvin, who perfected the chip implanted in every citizen's brain on their first birthday to control them and assure The City runs in a predictable, orderly way.

From the moment Kal's chip first malfunctioned and revealed the desolate truth about the physical and psychological world, he's been on a mission to reveal the real threat to the dying city. As the story progresses, readers are treated to ongoing ethical and moral concerns about the vision of this new society and its impact. Can a group of ex-chipped independent thinkers change the dying course of society?

As the story moves through disparate groups and realms, Kfir Luzzatto creates excellent contrasts between different worlds. Kidnappings, attacks, rescues, and parting gifts challenge the characters to not just rebel, but grow from their discoveries in new ways. Kal's journey to become a free man brings him full circle in an unexpected manner that will delight readers who won't fully fathom the impact of his decisions until the end. Beware of what you's what you might become.

Rewired is a delightful companion to Chipless, best absorbed by prior fans who will find the continuing social inspections and conundrum to be thoroughly engrossing.

The Spell of the Rose
Toni Behm
Independently Published
9780578313382, $5.99

Fleex: Adventures Around the Worlds sounds like it is (or will be) a fantasy series, but The Spell of the Rose is a story that stands firmly alone with no prior adventures to introduce it. It will prove immediately absorbing to those who enter Toni Behm's world through Fleex's eyes. The choice between good and evil and the classic influences upon making that choice are revealed as Fleex contemplates his immediate goals and undertakes bigger-picture spiritual and philosophical reflections on life's meaning and influences.

The story opens with his desire for romance. It paints a warm picture of the little village of Fogland, located in the valley called Lowland; a melancholy place in eternal fall. Behm's ability to weave atmospheric descriptions into his story is evident from the beginning, as is a wry voice of social and spiritual observation: "Sometimes, the most curious ones would climb up the slopes of the Mysterious Mountains which surrounded the village, but the thick fog did not allow them to see much. Autumn melancholy was typical for Fogland, as it was always autumn there. Its villagers, of course, could sow crops during the sunny days of the year and gather them on the cold days, but how exactly that should be done was decided by Fog Almighty, who made sure Foglanders did not starve and had, in abundance, almost everything they needed."

Fleex is in love with Fin, but she confesses to him that she's had a hard time finding joy in life, lately. The "thing-nobody-speaks-about," a form of amnesia that affects anyone who enters their land, is lending to her melancholy. Those who do begin to recall their past and share it publicly are taken by the Fog and never seen again; but if that past is shared with only one person, its nature changes and the threat dissolves.

Fin's memory has led to the point where she no longer feels there's a life for her in the village. Her revelation sends Fleex on his own journey away from Fogland, "a land which you could enter but could not leave. Not on your own. It was a place with a purpose. But exactly what that purpose was, none of the locals knew."

As Fleex makes leaps of faith and enters new realms of possibility, readers embark on a trip that is affected by truth, lies, and changing judgment. His passage through Book World and other milieus will delight readers, pairing whimsical fantasy with a thought-provoking philosophical and spiritual overlay. As he becomes a hero in the eyes of some and is seen as a rebel and threat by others, the allusions to religious history (inspired by ancient Thrace and Thracians who lived on the Balkans about two thousand years BC) will delight those who want to look at events and stories in a very different light.

From goddesses and road trips to influences of darkness and light, readers embark on a bewitching mix of mythology, Bulgarian references, loosely reconstructed ancient history, and a struggle for freedom and meaning that introduces Fleex to a myriad of characters and special interests. Colorful drawings pepper the story, providing an artistic visual flavor to an adventure as embedded with technological wonders as it is replete in social inspection.

Toni Behm's enchanting fantasy may be read on many levels. It works as an attractive adventure story, a philosophical inspection, a religious commentary, a cultural exploration, and a dynamic myth-based mystery, all in one. While fantasy readers will be its most likely audience, The Spell of the Rose is also (and especially) recommended reading for those who appreciate bigger-picture thinking and inspections that lead to reflections about life, civilization, and the choices involved in changing hearts and minds.

It's rare to find a story that will appeal beyond a single genre audience, but The Spell of the Rose is such a creation. Perhaps that's why it reads so sweetly.

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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