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California Bookwatch

Volume 15, Number 9 September 2020 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Computer Shelf Technology Shelf
General Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

Dreams of a Viking Wedding
John David Muth
Kelsay Books
9781952326110, $18.50

Dreams of a Viking Wedding presents the poems of a son-turned-caregiver to his aging father, who faces the special challenges of living his life while handling an adult who once was his leader and rock. John David Muth's own impending first wedding at middle age and his navigations through life create a satisfyingly reflective juxtaposition of events past and present. Muth captures ordinary tasks with the astute observational style of a philosopher, often presenting double meanings in his free verse. The poem 'Ode to My 2-XL', about an attic treasure find, is one of the best examples of this device: "I plug the power cord into an outlet/hoping to see the red glow of its eyes/hear the high-pitched voice/ready to teach me once again/but nothing happens./It must have been the heat up here." Placed where it is, after introductory poems outlining his father's condition and his newfound role in his father's life, the poem packs power with a multifaceted conclusion. Many poems weave surprises into their dialogues and discussions, as in the surprising conclusion offered through the words of wisdom of an inebriated grandfather in 'Talking with Grandpa after He's Had Ten Beers (circa 1987)', which includes the reflection that "Sex is a crucifix to their vampire./Truthfully, they're all vampires." Irony and humor also penetrates many of these life experiences, as in 'She Didn't Seem to Mind', where Muth mistakes a woman's restroom for a men's room and finds himself in an uncomfortable position. Wit and wisdom coalesce as these poems build a foundation for understanding not just Muth's life and experiences, but the typical man's walk through middle age. Dreams, daily trials, fantasies and truths move through poems with an ability to pair the ordinary experience with astute observations. Poetry enthusiasts seeking a free verse walk through a man's life and the rigors of middle-age challenges will find Dreams of a Viking Wedding well-written, hard-hitting, thought-provoking reading.

The Computer Shelf

Mercury Learning
c/o Stylus Publishing, Inc.
22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166-2012

Munir M. Hamad's Autodesk Revit 2021 Architecture (9781683925194, $59.95) includes a disc of companion files of exercises, projects, and finished plots and images from the text to accompany an in-depth coverage of Revit 2021. The survey uses both metric and imperial units to accompany the discussions of drawing and editing tools, packs in exercises and workshop examples that lend to hands-on self-study, and surveys both the basic and advanced features for beginning users of Revit 2021 Architecture. Owners of the program need this introductory survey, which offers step-by-step processes in architectural design and drawings using Revit's various advanced features. Black and white screen shots, charts, formulas, and discussions in creating shapes, manipulating views, contrasting different design options and best practices, and applying Revit's special features in a logical manner makes for a progressive learning tool that should be part of any Revit study program, whether as a classroom supplement or in a self-study environment. S.R. Chauhan and S. Jangra's Computer Security and Encryption: An Introduction (9781683925316, $54.95) covers one of the fastest-growing technologies today and describes cryptography and system security models and best practices based on the latest technology and applications. From a basic survey of system security concepts and communications to chapters that probe specific types of encryption systems, from public key certificates and IP and remote access security to virtual private networks and firewalls, Computer Security and Encryption is a basic IT primer no computer library should be without. The third updated edition of Andres Fortino's Data Visualization for Business Decisions: A Laboratory Manual (9781683925958, $49.95) provides a workbook for business analysts that combines a lab instructional with surveys of data visualization approaches. It's designed as a self-study guide that uses RAIKS survey approaches to help readers judge comprehension before and after using the book, and is packed with exercises and a companion disc of files, including video tutorials and templates. All these books are top recommendations computer reference collections need.

The Technology Shelf

Cognitive Radar, second edition
Joseph R. Guerci
Artech House
685 Canton Street, Norwood, MA 02062
9781630817732, $139.00,

Cognitive Radar: The Knowledge-aided Fully Adaptive Approach revises a best-selling primer and the first book on the subject, updating the latest advances in the field of cognitive radar and discussing new methods, research, theory, and applications in CR. This updated edition reflects many breakthroughs in the field and provides a range of new methods for tackling clutter environments, using contemporary examples to illustrate topics and problems and supporting them with hundreds of equations. The numerous examples drive the technical details and make for a clear reference that's highly recommended for technical study or refresher courses in radar technology alike.

The General Fiction Shelf

The Kincaids: A Novel
William Graham
Independently Published
9798654461964, $14.99 Paper/$6.99 Kindle

The Kincaids follows the rise and fall of a wealthy family that experiences hard times, dissolution, financial and social challenges, and changes. It is recommended for novel readers who enjoy sweeping productions, and closely examines the legacy of Irish immigrants who move to the Midwest to experience disputes between faith, economics, and family structure, decades later. The devout James Kincaid loves financial success as much as he loves his religion. His sons, scattered around the world, struggle with politics and their own special brands of conflict between beliefs and life experience. Family secrets closely held are threatened as new circumstances evolve, leading James' sister, journalist Catherine, to come into direct conflict between her desire for justice and the realities of her own roots. Catherine is looking to shake up the world by reporting injustices. It's ironic that her own family's choices may wind up at the top of her list of exposes if she makes the choice that threatens to reveal them. Her ability to confront and reveal problems gets her into trouble as a portent of the bigger issue she'll confront in the course of this story's evolving political and social problems. By using the Kincaid family as a microcosm of world ills and experiences, William Graham crafts an absorbing tale of change and civil unrest not just in America, but overseas, as the family spreads out to influence other events. The combination of strong characters and their individual social and political pursuits, and decisions which begin at home and evolve into different directions, is part of what makes this story so compelling. Its changing perspectives, contrasted with the influence of heritage and modern dilemmas, creates a story that is realistic, absorbing, and psychologically astute. Readers seeking novels about multigenerational influences, life choices, and divergent individual paths that change the world and come full circle to affect family relationships and future history will find The Kincaids an engrossing survey of money, influence, and changing times. It lingers in the mind long after the final event is revealed.

Confronting Religious Fanaticism Book 3: Ira Neebest and The First Coming
Steve Shear
Independently Published
9798650212935, $12.00 Paper, $3.00 Kindle

The third book in Steve Shear's 'Confronting Religious Fanaticism' series is best absorbed by prior readers of this trilogy of novels. Each book uses a different perspective to examine the life and times of Ira Neebest, who survived being kidnapped by ISIS for writing a Nobel Prize-winning novel, The First Coming, about the evils of religious orthodoxy, e.g., a book within a book. This third book, Ira Neebest and The First Coming, introduces further details of lives entwined with Ira's, from his mother Rebecca (introduced in An Eye for An Eye), who continues to struggle with her Hasidic roots and modern religion's incarnation in an increasingly dangerous world, to Ira's beloved wife Natalie Perrogi (Black Hearts & Hungry Bears), whose psyche is also changed by religious fanatics, rape, and kidnapping.

As with the other books in the series, Ira's journey in this third book (and Finale to the trilogy) continues, this time exploring his reasons for writing The First Coming which challenges not only his world, but the lives and hearts of everyone around him as it confronts closely-held religious ideals and spawns a whirlwind of violence and controversy.

As a result of a Fatwa against Ira, he becomes lost in the jungle while Natalie is in a coma in Arizona. That represents the culmination of his greatest critical inspection of the most sacred of beliefs in the world and the outpouring of revenge that changes all of their lives forever. Prior readers of the series will find this a satisfying culmination that draws together many strings of inspection and circumstance. The journey to a jungle hell replete with ancient gods such as Hermes and Aphrodite, Ira's production of the Great Manifesto that changes the/his world, and his ongoing probe of the backlash and foundations of religious fanaticism makes for a gripping story. Like its predecessors, Book Three is satisfyingly complex, yet lively in its ever-changing scenarios and challenges. Steve Shear's ability to draw together disparate pieces of Ira's life and those around him, and important revelations about his book's impact, makes for engrossing discoveries and changes as Ira navigates both the pinnacles of literary success resulting from his own book and personal challenges that come not just from Fatwa proclamations, but the Catholic Church itself. Descriptions of these reactions and their wide reach are intriguing. Ira Neebest and The First Coming is certain to hold a perspective that will offend any deeply religious believer. It also presents an atheist's unusual involvement in the Coming, and his key to unlocking unexpected world mysteries. From the perils of orthodoxy to the ironic tests that can either destroy or save Ira's world, readers continue the romp begun in the prior books, reaching a surprise conclusion. Those seeking a literary and religious commentary of the foundations of fanaticism, passion, and change will find Ira Neebest and The First Coming a fine continuation of a surprising story and a fitting, supportive pillar concluding the series.

Finding Forever
Anthony Sciarratta
Post Hill Press
9781642934205, $16.00 Paper, $9.99 Kindle

Finding Forever: A 1970s Love Story is set in New York City and follows the changes experienced by an Italian-American man who falls in love with a Broadway actress. Michael Coniglio is on the rebound from a failed love which changed his self-perception and life when he meets successful actress Elvira Vaughn, who overcame much adversity to achieve her goals. Elvira admires many things in Michael despite his current state of affairs, and gives him a sense of wonder and support that helps him regain some of his self-confidence to form a new vision of life's possibilities. Elvira's intuition is that Michael is special and different from other men she's known. She also suspects he's a helpless romantic whose gentle inclinations are part of what kept him from success. Michael also admires Elvira, and finds himself immersed in her life and the desire to support her talents. As the romance unfolds, readers receive a gentle story of evolution. Romances usually revolve around attractions between disparate individuals who discover in each other some degree of inspiration and connection. These two are nothing special in this regard, discovering in each other some of the qualities they both admire and long for in themselves. Where other romances would create clashing, high drama centered on issues, differences, and obstacles to affection, however, Finding Forever's more pragmatic approach eschews contrived action in favor of a slower process of character discoveries both about themselves and each other. Though readers seeking high-octane drama and confrontation will undoubtedly find this process slower than some, Anthony Sciarratta paints a simpler picture of developing love and its side effects on both participants. This, in turn, offers a more familiar probe of daily life and the changes romance introduces to it. Too many romances either assume the guise of thrillers, wildly undulating between clashes and connections, or artificial portraits of perfection. In adopting a more reasoned contrast of two very different lives that interact and change each other, Sciarratta crafts a warm, realistic vision of love that will especially appeal to romance readers looking for slower, heartfelt evolutionary revelations. This audience will relish the portrait of urban affairs and the love between talented individuals who find that their relationship changes everything. Finding Forever is recommended for romance readers looking for something less sensational, more compellingly realistic, and truer to life's ups and downs than most.

Bluff City: A Novel
William Graham
Independently Published
9798608360169, $14.99 Paper, $6.99 Kindle

Bluff City is set in the Midwest and offers a sweeping epic story spanning some six generations of a family as it experiences the vast changes of a fictional city that grows along with them. Readers seeking a historical backdrop that personalizes the trans-generational evolution of a family through a town's growth and changes will find this is the perfect item of choice. The story opens with a short prologue about the Mesquakie (or Fox) tribe of Native Americans, who experience changes and challenges with the arrival of the white man. It quickly moves to the 1950s, where World War II veteran Joe has moved from farming to driving a milk truck. The story then moves though infidelity and shootings, Joe's lack of education and involvement in politics, men who stand in the paths of others and those who live with secrets of infidelity and betrayal, and the forces that motivate individuals to step beyond their lives to assume a greater community role. Bluff City is more about the evolution of a town, but the individuals who live within it and interact with each other in changing ways. It should be warned at 326 pages, this is not your usual diminutive Kindle creation, hastily wrought and artificially separated into Book 1 of a series. It's a stand-alone, satisfyingly rich production that links a city's history with the lives of the people within it who aren't born to political or social positions, but work their ways into it. The juxtaposition of family, social, and political evolution is particularly well done, as is the backdrop of Midwestern lives and changes affecting everyone. Readers looking for a sweeping, involving story that doesn't limit its scope or word count, but makes the most of every life examined within its pages, will find Bluff City a fine read that requires only time and interest in worlds that move from the 1950s to the present time in order to prove satisfying. It's highly recommended for its complete vision of how people and societies evolve in general, and a Midwest down's pulse of development in particular, as the initially-narrow community grows to accept all peoples and religions in an unexpected way.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

All Done With It
Maggie Toussaint
Camel Press
9781603818322, $16.95, Paperback
9781603814393, $TBA, Digital

All Done With It is the 7th book in the cozy mystery Dreamwalker series and tells of Dreamwalker Baxley Powell's challenge to solve the murder of a jogger. Baxley's connection to the spirit world may be the only force able to solve the puzzle of both this and the mysterious infusion of the dead woman's spirit into a deputy's body, rendering him unconscious. Leads are few. But when Baxley uncovers a different kind of psychic threat that could affect her unborn child, she is rendered helpless by the decision that she will have to cut off the one unique tool that could solve this crime, dreamwalking, in order to protect her baby. This shadowy threat knows about her and invades other bodies, demanding that Baxley ignore her personal safety to use her abilities to confront it against all odds, despite the obvious danger. Can Baxley resist its allure, given that it is intent on engaging her at the expense of other lives? Part of the ongoing attraction to this story is the undercurrent of psychic connections Baxley harbors not just with other entities, but with her partner and deputy Native American husband Sam Mayes. The communiques which take place in this dream/telepathy state are clearly delineated in italics and supplement the outward progression of events with an inward inspection that reveals the hearts and minds of all involved. This lends a compelling, involving element to the story that lends it an emotion-based strength in addition to developing a solid mystery that is equally engaging. The themes of a soul-stealing adversary, conflicts and conundrums over an unborn child, and a homicide that links Baxley to an evil entity keeps readers on their toes and guessing throughout. As with the others in the series, Maggie Toussaint excels at creating a story powered by the interpersonal interactions of all involved. This compliments the paranormal mystery by adding social, psychological, and cultural depth. One might think that the 7th book in a series would require prior familiarity with some or most of the others, but that's not the case. All Done With It's ability to build on the prior books, yet remain accessible to newcomers, makes it a highly recommended cozy paranormal mystery pick for both audiences, easily available and compelling.

The Friday Cage
Andrew Diamond
Stolen Time Press
9781734139228, $12.99, Paperback
9781734139211, $3.99, e-Book

The Friday Cage follows Claire Chastain through a life transformed by a stalker who engages her with a deadly purpose in mind. Claire used to be good at solving others' mysteries, and had rejected the city that once placed her in jeopardy. Now she's on her own in that same town, and seems powerless to stop the stealthy perp who has penetrated her barriers and entered her world. Readers follow her moves as she changes from chalking up her perceptions to paranoia to realizing that something is going on that she can't quite identify. Claire's discovery process proves to her that she must be on her guard, whether in daily life or in love. As Claire is forced to analyze her life and her inclinations to flee even something she desires, readers are brought into a world that is filled with more than mystery and confrontation. Psychological growth and confrontations test Claire's many abilities to survive and lead her to question her inclination to run away from some hard truths. Intrigue and romance blend in a fast-paced thriller that races through Claire's motivations, inclinations, successes and failures alike. Andrew Diamond's ability to weave the greater mystery into her personal failings, shame, and self-examination process contribute to a believable character whose struggles are moving and action-packed. Claire is guilty of always giving the impression and idea that she's ok when really she is not. She thinks she knows herself, at the beginning of the story. Part of the draw to this thriller lies in her process of self-discovery as much as in the cat-and-mouse game that draws her in. Readers who enjoy solid thrillers spiced with psychological depth and revelation will find The Friday Cage a compelling saga that moves in satisfyingly unexpected directions, keeping the reader engaged in the evolution of a character who never gives up, on either her pursuit or herself.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Baen Books
PO Box 1188, Wake Forest NC 27588

Two new publications from Baen are recommended picks for science fiction readers looking for strong writers and original stories. Jerry Pournelle's Mamelukes (9781982124625, $25.00) includes contributions by David Weber and Phillip Pournelle as it provides a Janissaries novel set thirteen years after Rick Galloway survived civil wars, battles, medieval nights, and climate change alike while attempting to help the human race survive his alien employers. Here, new star men arrive on the planet Tran, which is far from Earth, to again challenge him with a new threat. A thoroughly engrossing series of confrontations and adventures emerges. Peter J. Wacks and Eythan Kollin's Caller of Lightning: Benjamin Franklin in Arcane America (9781982124632, $25.00) tells of a magical battle that takes place in 1759, when a comet strikes and changes Earth, bringing magic into the world and causing fairy tales to come alive. Who can help the world face this disaster? Benjamin Franklin, the master of electricity, whose scientific experiments have prepared him to be a hero, as well. A fun story of magic and struggle ensues which brings this world to life in a vivid, compelling story that proves hard to put down. Fans of alternate history will relish the blend of magic and realism in this unexpected adventure.

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Midwest Book Review
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phone: 1-608-835-7937

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12424 Mill Street, Petaluma, CA 94952
phone: 1-707-795-4629

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