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California Bookwatch

Volume 17, Number 7 July 2022 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Health/Medicine Shelf Cookbook Shelf
Beer Shelf General Fiction Shelf Historical Fiction Shelf
Literary Fiction Shelf Romantic Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf
Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Activity Shelf Business Shelf
Christian Studies Shelf Self-Help Shelf Biography Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

Reading Matters
Janet Levine
Armin Lear Press, Inc.
9781956450149, $24.95 Hardcover; $19.95 Paper

It's a well-known adage that "Reading great literature can unlock your mind." But, how exactly does this process work, and how do the results resonate in modern times? Janet Levine creates an opportunity for literature readers to better understand the importance of literary creations. Reading Matters: How Literature Influences Life draws important connections between reading choices and decision-making processes, using a range of literary examples, from Herman Hesse's spiritual journey in Siddhartha to the passage of time and its impact on memory in Virginia Wolfe's To the Lighthouse.

More so than most literary analyses, Reading Matters explores a sense of self, place, and society that are represented in these major works. It considers the impact of these works around the world and links them in chapters which move between analyses to cross-compare the literature and its impacts on other countries and individual lives. Ideally, readers of this survey will be either widely read, or will choose to read (or reread) the selected major works featured herein, in conjunction with this book. This approach will lend familiarity and immediacy to Janet Levine's comments and reinterpretations of the characters and their deeper impact and meaning.

Epiphanies tend to come from life experiences, but they also can stem from literary influences. In exploring the presence, nature, and incarnations of these realizations in major writings, Levine provides important food for thought and guidelines for literature classes and readers interested in all kinds of works, from fiction to poetry and plays. The broad inspections and applications of Reading Matters deserves recognition and discussion in a variety of ways; from book clubs interested in pursuing literary reinterpretations to high school to college teachers seeking a modern discussion of why classic literature remains relevant and important to today's readers.

The Health/Medicine Shelf

Food As A Prescription
Anthony and Staci Lo Cascio
Notebook Publishing
9781913206451, $21.97 PB, 17.29 Kindle, 102pp

Food As A Prescription: A Handbook for Those Currently On or Prescribed a Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Corn-Free and/or Dairy-Free Diet addresses a common problem in health circles: the challenge of revising a diet to eliminate many trigger foods. On the surface, embarking on a gluten-free or dairy-free diet might seem easy, but anyone who has done so well knows that gluten, corn, soy, and dairy is often an intrinsic part of the usual daily diet, and can be a challenge to eliminate. Or, it would be without the advice of this book.

Food As A Prescription holds more than recipes. It provides an assessment of dietary changes and their links to health and lifestyle changes, including many tricks and tips to streamline the process and make it easy to follow. Anthony and Staci Lo Cascio are professional dancers whose health and careers were jeopardized by their diets. Their shifts in mentality and lifestyle which led to their perception of food as a prescription for improvement and change are traced in a book that offers myriad techniques for adopting new, more healthful dietary habits.

It also considers dietary supplements, food choices, and even eating out challenges, providing a healing journey that promotes many different strategies to making changes and eating more mindfully. From keeping a food diary to developing questions for different food establishments to gain the kinds of specific answers that translate to a better knowledge of ingredients, the authors offer many techniques that foster understanding, from food apps to planning ahead to eat at friends' houses. The result is a wide-ranging key to dietary knowledge and the relationships between food choices and health, offering myriad tools that can be used by any reader. All that's required as a prerequisite is a willingness to change and adapt.

Personal, community, and academic libraries strong in food and health books must add Food As A Prescription. It goes where few others attempt, making important connections between food knowledge and better health.

The Cookbook Shelf

Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings
Elle Simone Scott
America's Test Kitchen
9781954210004, $30.00 HC, $15.99 Kindle, 288pp

Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings is a study not just in ingredients, but presentation style. It provides hosts with tips on how to assemble eye-catching, attractive food boards for all kinds of events and purposes. Readers who associate such "grazing boards" with meat and cheese may be surprised to know how much more is possible. Ella Simone Scott presents display ideas and trade secrets that range from plating techniques to how to keep boards looking fresh and new throughout the length of an event. The result is a highly recommended, colorful, photo-filled guide certain to shake up the usual notion of board food.

Personal, professional, and community libraries culinary collections looking for a different take on cooking and entertaining will welcome the addition of this attractive book. Lavish color photography vividly demonstrates tips, tricks, and techniques for appealing culinary presentation. Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings is an excellent resource for planning parties and celebrations, highly recommended. It should also be noted for personal reading lists that Boards is available in a Kindle edition ($15.99).

Kitty & Al Tait
Bloomsbury Publishing
9781635578041, $30.00 HC / $12.60 Kindle, 304pp

Breadsong: How Baking Changed Our Lives is not your typical bread book, but a blend of memoir and celebration of the baking business that presents a British father-and-daughter duo, whose innovative recipes and connections create memorable results. It follows both their family's involvement in baking and their fun experiments and shared experiences which evolved into The Orange Bakery, their first business partnership. The dual blend of cookbook and engrossing story of Kitty's struggle with mental health and their family and community connections (cemented by baking) makes for far more than a cookbook alone.

Breadsong is highly recommended for personal, professional, and community libraries interested in culinary-based explorations that hold a taste of something satisfyingly different. In addition to 80 recipes, Breadsong offers heart-touching stories about baking as a business, and personal struggles with mental health. Breadsong is a treasure for connoisseurs of culinary stories as well as for bakers of all skill and experience levels. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Breadsong is also available in a Kindle edition ($12.60).

Curry Everyday
Atul Kochhar
9781472985996, $35.00 HC, $14.46 Kindle, 304pp

"Curry Everyday: Over 100 Simple Vegetarian Recipes from Jaipur to Japan" by Atul Kochhar traverses the world in its search for curry dishes that represent different cultures, and is highly recommended for collections that seek to move beyond the usual association of curry with India alone.

Even those who regularly make curry dishes will find many wonderful flavors here, from a Kenyan Sweetcorn & Kidney Bean Curry to Ugandan Rolled Egg Wraps. These and other recipes stand out from most other curry books, accompanied by Atul Kochhar's notes, which add additional attraction and flavor to the idea and making of curry.

Very highly recommended for personal, professional, and community library cookbook collection, "Curry Everyday" is a strongly suggested pick even for cooks and collections already steeped in curry cookbooks. Featuring vegetarian recipes from India, the Far East, and Africa, Curry Everyday features a global smorgasbord of delicious recipes that make the most of curry's versatility. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Curry Everyday is also available in a Kindle edition ($14.46).

The Beer Shelf

Wild Brews
Jaega Wise
Kyle Books
9780857837813, $24.99 HC, $12.99 Kindle, 192pp

Wild Brews: The Craft of Home Brewing, from Sour and Fruit Beers to Farmhouse Ales promotes naturally fermented beer brewing from yeasts and bacteria. This old style of flavor and brewing is fostered by Jaega Wise, head brewer at East London's Wild Card Brewery and an expert in wild fermentation processes. His book explores both the science of such brews and recipes that can be used by the home brewer, featuring a diverse range of styles and an important section on trouble-shooting issues that can arise from using wild yeasts. The result is a craft brew guidebook that places home brewing possibilities in the hands of novices who would become experts in wild fermentation processes.

"Wild Brews: The craft of home brewing, from sour and fruit beers to farmhouse ales" provides an approach that will make a fine adjunct to any personal, professional, or community library collections strong in beer-making discussions. Chapters cover the science of home brewing, how to troubleshoot common problems, an extraordinary array of craft beer styles, and much more. Highly recommended! It should be noted for personal reading lists that Wild Brews is also available in a Kindle edition ($12.99).

Editorial Note: Jaega Wise is head brewer at Wild Card Brewery in East London, a qualified chemical engineer, a beer sommelier and a TV presenter. Currently the British Guild of Beer Writers' Brewer of the Year, Jaega is a popular speaker on all things beer and brewing. She is the beer presenter for Channel 5's The Wine Show and is a regular on BBC R4's The Food Programme. Other TV work includes presenting for BBC's Inside the Factory and Channel 4's Food Unwrapped. In 2018 she was named one of the Evening Standard's 1000 Most Influential People in London.

The General Fiction Shelf

Mark Zvonkovic
Dos Perro Publishing
9781735275147, $16.99

Belinda tells the story of Belinda Larkin. It opens in 2017 Texas, where this workaholic lawyer, long married to her job, begins to experience ennui and dissatisfaction with her life decisions. She is now sixty, and her firm is pressuring her to submit her retirement schedule plans for easing away from the company. The law her been her life. What would she do without it? Belinda faces boredom on personal and professional levels as the rising tide of wanting something different begins to overwhelm her innate desire to fight retirement and the dead-end it portends.

Contrast her perspective with that of Jay Jackson, who grew up on a Texas ranch and who once was a powerful lawyer - and a spy. Now he's a cowboy who never looks back. Jay found it easy to leave the profession. His life and lessons could serve as a blueprint for Belinda's later years - if she would listen. Jay's world is as far from her life as one can get, and he harbors his own sage reflections about the legal profession: "Practicing law, he'd told his partners, was worse than kicking shit around a pasture. His partners were probably still kicking shit at each other." It's time for his next phase of life, too: returning home to run the family ranch and retiring from the Agency, his spy firm/handler. But, can one truly turn one's back on success?

Belinda and Jay's trajectories collide in different ways as each strives to name and tame their restlessness with choices that reinforce an end game that neither wishes to admit is on the horizon. "Good deals are often built on compromise." As Belinda and Jay face unpredictable concessions over their own futures that send them on very different paths than they'd imagined, readers will thoroughly enjoy a story steeped in later life conundrums and the pull of careers which are difficult to release. Mark Zvonkovic excels in portraying and contrasting the profiles of these disparate individuals. The psychological explorations are exquisite examples of how a novel can address and immerse readers in life issues while spinning a fine yarn of intrigue and change.

As a legal case and active surveillance draws these and other characters into a conundrum that challenges their professional skills and personal growth, Zvonkovic creates a masterful story of intrigue, transformation, and analysis based on a spy's rationalization process, a woman's misgivings, and new visions and revelations. Tests of decision-making process, visions of strengths, and the characters' ability to rewrite history and destiny enhance a multifaceted novel that delves into mystery and new possibilities with equal assurance that neither are predictable. Zvonkovic's ability to juxtapose the processes of these different yet similar lives evolves a story replete with twists and turns that are lively and evocative.

Belinda's study in contrasts and opportunities will delight readers with a story that grabs on both an emotional and action-packed basis. It keeps readers wondering about many options until its end, and is recommended for libraries seeking strong novels about older characters that have not lost their ability to redirect and transform their lives.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

Poster Girls
Meredith Ritchie
Warren Publishing
9781954614598, $16.24 Paper/$23.21 Hardcover/$4.99 Kindle

The novel Poster Girls is based on the true events experienced by a diverse group of American women during World War II, and represents historical fiction at its strongest. The prologue opens in 1944 in Charlotte, where a fire breaks out during the night. One man is charged with a rescue during the chaos that ensues. The next chapter moves to 1943, where Maggie Slone is dreaming of her husband Charlie, who is in the Pacific, fighting in the war. Her job at the Shell Assembly Plant helps her participate in the war effort at home, introducing her to a disparate group of women. Her friendship with fellow military wife Kora Bell at first seems unlikely, given the racial divide and differences between their lives, but connections and similarities between the two women grow.

The rules that strive to dictate their lives and actions, keeping not just order but racial divides and biases, are slowly broken as Kora and Maggie become involved in unionization efforts and the effort to see their husbands safely return home. The culture, personalities, and world of the South come to life through changing perspectives as Maggie and Kora's stories evolve. Meredith Ritchie incorporates real history into her story of women who are drawn into relationships and choices that lie outside their comfort zones, personalizing facts and events with the fictional overlay of their lives. This crafts a story that moves from social to political inspection, with the fire that opened the story moving to central position in Maggie's life. Faced with the choice of lying or telling the truth about what she's seen and participated in, Maggie stands at a crossroads.

This is depicted with delicate tension and fine description: "The report was correct and wrongfully ignored, or the report was unreliable and justifiably ignored. The latter signals a rank and file issue. The former points to a more serious systemic issue around management, plus a general disregard for safety." Owens drained her beer. "We need you to say you don't trust the source of the report." As she considers the price of her loyalty and beliefs, readers become immersed in the domestic dilemmas and changes brought about by World War II, and will find the presentation thought-provoking and enlightening on different levels. Poster Girls is a vivid story of confronting many different forces during the war. Maggie's difficult choice assures one outcome: "They can't paper over everything we did." Libraries strong in historical novels, especially those that revolve around military wives during World War II, will find Poster Girls an exceptional story.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

Still Life - Stories
David Sylvester
Troy Book Makers
9781614687153, $12.95

Still Life - Stories features short vignettes depicting literary glimpses of life. It opens with "The Start of Something" capturing the first-person narrator's meet-up at a college town bar in the aftermath of a blizzard.

The narrator reflects a feeling of loss early in the tale ("Earlier that evening I had gone to a reading at the university, a well-regarded author promoting her new novel. These literary events are my last connection to a magical life I once imagined for myself. I go alone to them feeling safe that no one there knows my life is not magical."). She's at the beginning of something new after the end of something that once attracted her ("Andrew left ten months ago. I had been a moon caught in the gravitational pull of his Saturnalian embrace of all things sensual. I had been having a bad time of it. Andrew knew how to have a good time and I loved him for that."). COVID has also changed everything. "Normal" is different. And so are relationships. Even if you are over thirty.

"We never notice the beginnings of things, do we? We only recognize beginnings when we return after so much time, piecing things together." As the short piece unfolds and relationships blossom, the real impact of the "new normal" and old habits come to light in a compelling manner to bathe the mind with outstanding reflections that "...even the loveliest of beginnings require middles and endings. I never know how to act in the wild, unpredictable middles, and the endings... things just end."

Consider, in contrast, "Cat People." Here, a daughter's cat has moved in with the narrator. As the story unfolds, readers come to realize that the cat is allowed, but the daughter is not. She finds a place in a homeless shelter. Why would a "...middle-aged, middle-class guy from the suburbs let his twenty-one-year-old daughter live in a place like this"? "Cat People" is about more than cats. It's about boundaries, love, loss, and family relationships in the face of homelessness. "You can keep someone safe, but you can't make them feel safe."

The narrator's attention to detail and surveys of feline and human lives creates a powerful juxtaposition of worlds that includes astute, attractive philosophical inspections: "Memories are really points of light in the night sky. We gaze at them and shape them and tell stories about them and one day those stories become us." Each of these short stories offers resounding lessons about life. The result is a creative exploration of different lives that provides readers of literature and philosophy with much food for thought.

Paradise Close
Lisa Russ Spaar
Persea Books
9780892555512, $25.95 HC, $12.99 Kindle, 224pp

"Paradise Close" by Lisa Russ Spaar opens in 1971 New Jersey, where an orphaned anorectic teen is released from a psychiatric hospital and takes refuge in The Close, then is stranded after a snowstorm. Spaar's exploration of Marlise's story is in the first section, which then turns to modern times on the eve of the Trump election when Tee Handel, also a loner, finds his life changed by an unexpected encounter.

These life stories read like a memoir and initially seem to share only their appearance under one cover, but a host of threads and insights emerge that invites unexpected connections between them. The result is a literary survey of two disparate lives whose connections are far closer than originally thought -- a delightful synthesis of lives and metaphors for alienation and connection that is highly recommended for modern literature collections.

Personal, community, and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections looking for accomplished first novels will find "Paradise Close" to be a fine addition.

The Romantic Fiction Shelf

A.L. Hawke
Independently Published
9781953919182, $11.99 Paper/$3.99 Ebook

Paranormal romance readers looking for just the right blend of intrigue and emotional draw will find Alondra an exceptional story that follows protagonist Liam into an unusual relationship with a Goth girl who lives up to her role in unexpected ways. Liam didn't expect to be attracted to Allie. She's very different from anything he's encountered in his world before. But as he becomes involved with her and comes to realize she is the real thing (in more ways than one), he is introduced to not just romance, but events that defy his set concepts of what the world is and how to navigate it. As he moves from a "friendless freshman" in college with a crush on a girl (which he's never acted on) to a participant in events that defy logic, from ghost hunters to witches and different forms of magic, Lee finds the compelling allure of Alondra something he can't resist.

Sexual scenes are graphic. The romance is recommended for mature teens into adults, and holds attractions beyond physical experience as Lee and Allie tackle forces of evil with an uncertain brand of good intentions and bad experiences. Dating a witch is rough on other facets of life; especially those connected with the normal world. A.L. Hawke creates an intriguing story that departs from the usual formula read of a paranormal romance to enter into realms of coming-of-age, growth, and empowerment as a self-professed nerd who doesn't quite fit in finds himself unexpectedly connected to a vibrant young witch who awakens not just his own powers, but different perceptions of who he is in the world. This focus on revised purposes, perceptions, and psychological growth adds a dynamic element to the story that will especially please readers interested in stories of empowerment and growth.

Yes, paranormal romance readers will find it holds all the trappings of love...but presented in a medley of experiences that question the roots of good, evil, and what lies between them. Libraries strong in paranormal romances and coming-of-age fiction for adults will find Alondra more than a cut above the ordinary, filled with thought-provoking twists and turns that create a satisfyingly unique take on the genre.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Dead Man's Pose
Susan Rogers & John Roosen
9780645413601, $6.99 Kindle

Mysteries, tension, and yoga do not often appear under the same cover, but Dead Man's Pose, a Yoga Mat Mystery, combines these elements and more to create an urban crime scenario that is unusually compelling.

Elaina Williams finds inner peace on her yoga mat ... until one of her yoga students dies in class, disrupting the atmosphere of calm and safety that Elaina has cultivated for her students and herself.

Shaken by not just Mario's demise, but a desperate message he tried to give her before he succumbed, Elaina finds herself investigating events to determine their underlying influences, embarking on a journey about as far from serenity as you can get.

Susan Rogers and John Roosen nicely juxtapose the unexpected milieu of the yoga world with its counterpart and alter ego in the crime world. Scenarios rely on yoga principles to move into realms the typical investigative personality can't fathom.

As international financial affairs, high-stakes gamblers and rollers, and connecting the dots to trace money, relationships, and mystery evolves into deadly danger, Elaina and Ric find they've uncovered a complex situation that draws them ever closer to danger.

The story is cemented not just by a sense of Australian culture, but with atmospheric descriptions the authors take the time to fully develop: "Ric awoke with the sunlight clawing at the corners of the blind. The squillo trumpet sound from one raven was like that of a brazenly robust opera singer beginning an aria. Backup ravens provided the chorus while flitting around in the trees."

Intrigue, urban underground lifestyles, and a bigger financial picture of entanglements than either could have realized keep Elaina and Ric on their toes and immersed in a "crime potluck" that is satisfyingly filling and attractive.

The Australian backdrop, the connections of the key characters in the yoga world, and the political questions which arise during the course of their investigation makes for a multifaceted story which operates firmly in the arena of the unexpected. This succeeds in presenting satisfying twists and turns that even seasoned mystery readers won't see coming.

Rogers and Roosen have created a winning formula in the form of a serene yet determined yoga instructor who ventures beyond the mat and into a world beyond her normal comfort zone.

Readers looking for mysteries that are more than a cut above the ordinary progression of events will relish the changing crime scenes and their financial world roots in Dead Man's Pose, and will find the realistic characters and their compelling investigative challenges to be thoroughly absorbing.

A Wrinkle in the Mind
Bruce M. Perrin
Mind Sleuth Publications
9781955114042, $3.99 Kindle

A Wrinkle in the Mind adds to the Mind Sleuth series and tells how P.I. Rebecca Marte finds her latest case complicated by politics and a conspiracy theory that may be all too real. Violet Cruz is accused of shooting a U.S. representative in the midst of a delusion. The trouble is: her impossible rationale for attempted murder may have its roots in an equally unlikely reality. Rebecca teams up with psychologist consultant Sam "Doc" Price, and together they prove a formidable team as they struggle to understand Violet's influences and their underlying political and criminal meaning.

The timeline for their investigation is short and is labeled in chapters that move from April 6th to April 20th. As Rebecca interviews Violet's family and associates and begins to piece together a puzzle centered upon impossible circumstances, she and Sam experience their own break as their methodology and belief systems clash. Bruce M. Perrin is especially adept at exploring the process of their dissolution and contrasting their different responses and options through this dilemma. As high tech answers enter the bigger picture to pose even more unexpected dilemmas that reach from Violet's perceptions and choices to taint Rebecca and Sam's world, readers will especially appreciate the unexpected twists and turns that keep the thriller edgy and delightfully unpredictable. Will Sam's changing personality and perceptions warp their relationship forever?

Perrin is also adept at moving the story from an assassination attempt to how the PI and her sidekick themselves find the same types of influences changing their lives and approaches to problem-solving. This highlights a unique set of issues that move beyond a political thriller's focus on motivation and conspiracies into the realm of high-tech intrigue. Whether readers are newcomers to the Mind Sleuth series or prior fans of Perrin's works, both audiences will find A Wrinkle in the Mind a satisfying blend of political, psychological, and technological intrigue that draws attention and attracts on different levels. Its strong characters and ability to move from a mystery to an interpersonal conundrum makes for a story that is especially powerful in its interpersonal inspections: "All she wanted was for him to see her and not the past or a man-made apparition."

Grind Slowly, Grind Small
Thomas D. Holland
Independently Published
9798413305867, $14.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

Grind Slowly, Grind Small returns prior character Big Ray Elmore to the scene of yet another small-town crime when a construction job in Split Tree, Arkansas reveals the body of a young girl long dead. Not only does this discovery hold ramifications for a present-day police case, but it dredges up small town skeletons that the local sheriff would be only too glad to bury. That's when police chief Big Ray Elmore ramps up investigative skills that prove all too keen, threatening the status quo and rocking the foundations of the town's beliefs and residents.

Grind Slowly, Grind Small represents a satisfying police procedural with a difference. Thomas D. Holland takes the time to craft a story that holds its basic intrigue in not just a murder mystery, but the dilemma faced by a small town with a vested interest in turning the other way when evidence arises that confronts and betrays its social status and connections. Holland introduces his story with a background history of Big Ray, setting the stage both for the evolving investigation and for understanding Big Ray's influences, approaches, and role in this latest conundrum. The prologue opens in Locust County, Arkansas in 1946 with an eye-catching confession: "Donna Jean Anderson didn't like being called a whore. That isn't how she felt about herself, but even if she did, she didn't like being called that. The funny thing is that the only person who said that, almost the only person anyhow, was her mother."

Fast forward from Donna's fate to 1960 Split Tree, where Big Ray narrates his background and present-day occupation, neatly setting the stage for events that challenge him in ways he'd never expected. The infusion of Southern culture, characters that clash with and support one another, and the makeup of a small town whose roots rest in realities and lies creates a compelling story that winds through disparate yet heavily interconnected lives. A wry sense of humorous observation also lends a hand in creating a story replete with the lives of these small-town residents and the culture that connects them. As Raymond forms connections based on a pile of bones and a peck of trouble, he walks a careful line in who he involves in his investigation, and how. Holland's inspection of interpersonal relationships changed by past and present choices, and Raymond's special approach to considering the impact of his own actions on his friends and fellow townspeople, imparts a special feel to his story that gives it an authentic, character-driven flavor.

Readers who choose Grind Slowly, Grind Small for its intriguing title and promise of a murder mystery thriller will relish its inspections of police processes and interactions; but the real delight (and heart) of the story lies in social and political inspections which evolve alongside with the mystery. The result is a fine tale that takes many unexpected twists and turns, and is highly recommended for mystery readers and fans of small-town intrigue. Big Ray concludes his case, but doesn't fully cover the can of worms he's opened by pursuing it.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Cataclysm: End of Worlds
David Gittlin
Entelligent Entertainment, LLC
9780988263581, $0.99 Kindle

Obviously, the world didn't end with Book 1 of novella series, The Silver Sphere, because the follow-up Cataclysm: End of Worlds continues the ongoing adventures of reluctant world-saver Jacob and the artificial intelligence Arcon that he discovered on a beach (which has purposely selected him).

Readers won't expect the mystery of a body on the beach that draws the two into more world-changing possibilities and inquiries. Prior fans receive the same wry wit and irony of a writer who steps into his own novel through impossible encounters with death, aliens, and threats from afar. Gittlin is especially masterful at creating dialogue between the two disparate beings which both capture and juxtapose their differences: "Before we do anything hasty, let's think about this."

"What is there to think about. We have a dead body here. We have to notify the authorities. Maybe on your side of the galaxy you get to play it by ear. We don't do that here." The hero holds the tendency to over-think situations, thanks to his writer's eye for trouble: "The world is about to end and my over-clocked imagination isn't helping." As the story unfolds, the clock is ticking down on humankind's destruction. And there's too much they can't tell the authorities: aliens are on the way, aliens are on the loose, there's a strange resurrection, and dangerous assumptions that lead to the possibility of Jacob's loss of a publisher. Gittlin is a master at developing the dialogue, wit, and suspense particular to a well-written short literary form that packs a punch with nearly every word.

Jacob disagrees with Arcon's suggestion of writing a true account of the mission when he says: "Aside from the fact that I don't write non-fiction, I don't want to be searching for a new publisher under the heading of Crackpot Press." Cataclysm: End of Worlds continues and expands upon the introductory The Silver Sphere and also ends with the cliff-hanging portent of more satisfyingly compelling action in the next book. While sci-fi readers who like quick openings to new worlds will be the best audience for this book, it should also be on the reading lists of contemporary fiction and sci-fi students of the novella form, as an example of how to make the most of a very short opportunity to grab reader attention.

The Silver Sphere
David Gittlin
Entelligent Entertainment, LLC
9780988263567, $0.99 ebook

"I am reasonably certain of only three things. (1) I am not a terrorist. (2) I'm no security expert. (3) Although I am trying to save the planet, there is a high probability I will be incarcerated, and shortly afterward, the Earth will explode."

David Gittlin's The Silver Sphere: It's Coming--No Time to Waste is a succinct alien encounter/apocalyptic story that opens a connected series of novellas. Sci-fi enthusiasts who love the theme of first contact, but eschew the typical wade through a War of the Worlds-style scenario, will relish both the format and the opportunity to absorb a high-octane drama in an hour. Protagonist Jacob Casell is strolling along a moonlit beach with anything but aliens or planetary disaster in mind when he stumbles upon a silver orb that communicates with him telepathically. His discovery both sets the stage for an out-of-this-world adventure and embraces karma, opportunity, and a wry sense of humor as the orb attempts interaction with a truly inferior species. The machine is both surprised by its interaction and tasked with engaging Jacob's help in preventing a planetary disaster. Jacob is initially too preoccupied with finishing his manuscript on time to be interested in the idea of saving the world.

By now, it should be evident that Gittlin's story takes quite a different approach than the usual alien first encounter tale. Pair a self-absorbed human with artificial intelligence Arcon that finds his task doubly complicated by his perhaps-poor choice of an assistant for a spoof on sci-fi alien encounters and disaster scenarios alike. Color photos pepper the story, adding a visual draw to this tale of intrigue, extraordinary efforts, and adventure. "I had to be the only person in the world with the vaguest notion of what was going on. Thank heavens for small favors." The novella utilizes every word to create a satisfyingly original blend of humor and entertainment in a small but compelling package.

And thank heavens there are more books to come. Those seeking the rare draw of a literary sci-fi novella format as well as busy readers who want to digest an action-packed, unpredictable story in one sitting will find The Silver Sphere a complete delight on many levels.

The Activity Shelf

Country Puzzlers
Kyle Branche
Independently Published
9798543912461, $11.99, PB, 178pp

Country music dates back to 1927 and includes a host of subgroups and formats that developed throughout its long history. Fans of country music of all styles who also harbor affection for puzzles will find Country Puzzlers of particular and specific interest because it tests the diverse musical knowledge of this genre. Kyle Branche has done a fine job of both selecting top representations of country music and synthesizing his effort to make Country Puzzlers a wide-ranging, broad gathering of puzzles.

They cross eras, blending facts about bands, vocal groups, male solo artists, female solo artists, and singer-songwriters that reflect Country, Country Rock, Americana, Cowboy Western, Folk, Bluegrass, Rockabilly, Honky-tonk, Gospel and some Country Pop crossovers. Because the overall genre of country music embraces all these and holds such a long history, the effort to condense puzzles into a logical and comprehensive arrangement must have been immense.

Numerous books of puzzles on this one subject alone could be written, but Branche's survey embraces nearly two thousand works and invites puzzle solvers and trivia pursuers to test their knowledge of the past and country music content. The puzzle book's chapters are ordered by album type, including special collections, artists, and more.

The biggest names in country and their songs are featured in puzzles organized by group and artist that wind through a hundred years of country music in close to eighty word search puzzles. Branche used to work in the music business. His extensive knowledge is evidenced by the selections chosen to capture the extent of country music in Country Puzzlers, which will attract and interest anyone with a background in both country music and word search challenges.

The Business Shelf

The Emergent Approach to Strategy
Peter Compo
Business Expert Press
9781637422618, $28.99 Hardcover/$17.99 Kindle, 330pp

The Emergent Approach to Strategy: Adaptive Design & Execution focuses on business strategy practice in action, eschewing the usual theoretical focus of such titles to match the processes of strategy practices to business best practices and real-world implementation. This allows business leaders and problem-solvers to consider strategy in a different light than most books on the subject, placing it in the realm of agile management and adaptive frameworks to consider its applications and challenges in a dynamic business environment.

Dr. Peter Compo lived his subject. He spent a quarter century at DuPont in working leadership positions in product, market, supply chain, and business management and planning. These roles allowed him to match theory to practical business pursuits, creating the revised emergent approach he presents in this book.

There are differences between theory and execution, both in matching aspirations and change to business environments that may not hold the framework for adaptation, and in fostering an agile environment that requires different design principles for successful execution. Compo employs diagrams, charts, references, and hard-hitting, exact definitions that identify the core reasons why strategic theory often fails in business applications. His attention to detail in clarifying and redefining business frameworks and avoiding many common pitfalls (such as normal probability distribution thinking, where "such distributions are not good representations of the future") makes for a scholarly bridge between theory and applied business design principles.

From analytical metrics to conflicting truths that are half-successful under different circumstances but not fully effective, Compo does an exceptional job of drawing together math, philosophy, business theory, and real-world scenarios in a way business leaders can readily understand.

As a result, The Emergent Approach to Strategy: Adaptive Design & Execution should top the reading lists of any business thinker and leader who wants to better understand (and more successfully employ) emergent approaches to businesses of all size and shape. It's recommended for business and leadership library collections as being a key discussion point that rewards its readers with execution-centered philosophy that addresses and defines chronic strategy problems, creating a new paradigm for understanding and success.

The Christian Studies Shelf

New Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 1
C.M.H. Koenig, compiler
C.M.H. Koenig Books
9781956475265, $24.99 HC / 9781956475241, $14.99 PB / $6.99 Kindle, 226pp

Having whetted the Biblical scholar's appetite for better understanding the Bible by pairing readings and interpretations that pique the mind, C.M.H. Koenig moves his compilation skills to the New Testament with the first book in this series, New Testament Readings & Devotionals.

Here, the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are reviewed, analyzing their powerful messages from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As in the previous Old Testament volumes, selected passages from these books are accompanied by insights and reflections by Biblical scholars Robert Hawker, Charles H. Spurgeon, and Octavius Winslow. The readings combine devotionals with much food for thought, but unlike the Old Testament books, points from Psalms are not included. The intent is to profile the intentions and good works of God.

Most of the selected Biblical passages are one-liners, such as Matthew 11:28's "Come to me." Spurgeon, the commentator for this promise, delves into the "cry of the Christian religion, 'come'" and explores the promise of the call to lead a spiritual life. Footnotes to each devotional cross-reference other books of the Bible, which lends to further discussion among Christian Bible students. The result is a methodical blend of history and analysis. It creates the perfect format for daily devotionals which are succinct in presentation and full-flavored in analytical prowess, accessible to scholars and lay readers alike.

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 11
C.M.H. Koenig, compiler
C.M.H. Koenig Books
9781956475234, $15.99 HC / 9781956475210, $8.99 PB / $3.99 Kindle, 92pp

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 11 features the books of Ezra, Esther, Nehemiah, and Malachi, and follows the building of Jerusalem and the historical and spiritual events that affected the Jewish people and the evolution of the Middle East. God's love for his people is explored through Old Testament quotes from these books and accompanying analysis and interpretation by Robert Hawker, Charles H. Spurgeon, and Octavius Winslow, who accompany readings from these books with reflections on God's word.

As a daily devotional that adds to the other analytical revelations compiled by C.M.H. Koenig, this 11th volume continues to represent a fine inspection of both history and scripture. The passages and their accompanying considerations link Biblical events with the intention and word of God, offering both interpretations that pique the mind and inspections designed to prompt reader reflection and self-analysis.

Koenig is particularly adept at adding the kinds of commentary that turn Biblical puzzles into understandable representations of God's purpose and will. This makes for an accessible study that will attract scholars of the Bible, reaching beyond this specialty audience to engage and educate ordinary thinking Christians, as well.

The selected readings are enhanced by the in-depth commentaries, which offer far more connection than the passages alone would create. The result is a study in Biblical history and interpretation that should be required reading for any Christian student, whether they be Biblical scholars or thinking followers.

The Self-Help Shelf

The Power of Wellbeing
Clive Elliott
Cogent Publishing NY
c/o The Whitson Group, Inc.
9780925776501, $18.00 Paper / $0.99 ebook, 235pp

Self-help libraries seeking collection additions might at first consider this book another how-to guide for individual growth; but The Power of Wellbeing: A Blueprint For Rebuilding The Social Fabric And Reimagining An Inclusive Society is a powerful pick for social issues holdings, addressing the concept and applications of wellbeing on a society-wide and global level designed to encourage change in not just individuals, but entire cultures. Global wellbeing may sound like an elusive goal. At least, it's been this way for a very long time.

Given COVID-19's "wake-up call to action," there may be revised opportunities to make the sweeping changes considered in this book; especially if it becomes assigned reading for social issues and political science courses and in professional circles alike. Clive Elliott tackles an elusive goal and brings its issues and possibilities into the arena of "achievable." His blueprint involves everything from defining quality of life and its improvement to encouraging positive participation over partisanship and making the basic tenants of the U.S. Declaration of Independence ("...all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness - That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men...") part of a global quest for wellbeing.

Idealistic? Sure. Impossible to achieve? Absolutely not. With The Power of Wellbeing, the rebuild process became not just imaginable, but possible. In fact, it's being achieved, in different ways, in countries around the world. Elliot outlines this in endeavors that range from sports competitions and a "win-win Kiwi way" of dealing with opposing parties in dispute to a chart of problems and proposed actions and solutions that tackles some of the basic conundrums faced by societies around the world.

Much more than just a survey of goals to attain, Elliot focuses on the 'how' of such matters, providing concrete strategies that have their foundations in proven avenues of success. The result is a powerful study filled with real-world examples, suggestions based on proven techniques, and wellbeing concepts that reach out to embrace different cultures around the world. It's self-help, but on a global scale.

The Power of Wellbeing should be in any library interested in global change and social issues, and ideally will be on the discussion lists of book clubs, debated in political science circles, and considered by organizations looking to encourage positive change on a global scale.

The Biography Shelf

To Where You Are
Jason Fisher
Warren Publishing, Inc.
9781954614963, $22.37 Hardcover/$16.95 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Memoir readers who look for stories of widowhood and single parenting will find an added element in To Where You Are. Jason Fisher not only lost his wife suddenly, but was in sole charge of his nonverbal daughter, who had a rare condition that challenged his parenting skills and ability to cope. His years of grief and trauma and his process of moving into an effective role not just in his daughter's life, but in his own cultivation of growth and achievement, creates a riveting story that operates on many different levels.

To Where You Are represents a dance between different worlds as Fisher tries to balance his daughter's needs with his wife's sudden medical emergency, only to find himself struggling alone. His experiences handling both his new responsibilities and emotional trauma are candidly related in a manner certain to prove familiar to those who have walked similar paths. While much of the story reviews his life with Mandy and their family challenges together, the story also presents many absorbing insights into the growth that emerges from loss and change.

The memoir's most powerful messages are couched in this process of realization and evolution, making To Where You Are a powerful illustration of navigating grief, change, and life. Libraries strong in memoirs about parenting special needs kids, and grief, will find that To Where You Are deserves a place not just on bookshelves, but as a focal point in discussion groups about any of these topics.

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Midwest Book Review
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