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Small Press Bookwatch

Volume 17, Number 8 August 2018 Home | SPBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Biography Shelf Architecture Shelf
Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf
Military Shelf Travel Shelf Parenting Shelf
Sports Shelf Pets/Wildlife Shelf  

Reviewer's Choice

Sicily: A Captive Land
Mary Rose Liverani
Novum Publishing
9783990489567, $25.99 pbk / $14.99 Kindle, 373pp,

Synopsis: Part political critique, part travelogue, "Sicily: A Captive Land" by journalist and author Mary Rose Liverani will evoke compassion for ordinary Sicilians and outrage at the havoc long wreaked in their lives. Mary Rose had expected to do no more than write a few travel articles on the region when visiting Sicily a year after her husband's death. He was a Florentine who long extolled his affection for the people of Sicily and his delight in their land.

For more than a year she explored Sicily, puzzling over the contrast between a region, once the most envied outpost of Greater Greece but now a wretched subsistence economy limited to agriculture and construction, one of the poorest regions of Italy with a permanent unemployment rate of 25 per cent, rising to 35 per cent of young people, unthinkable in the developed world outside crisis situations.

How did this calamitous situation arise and who are the powers that preside over the region's troubles? Most outsiders would immediately blame the mafia. That organization's pernicious and pathological activities are not exaggerated but theirs is the role of enforcer for the Church of Rome whose longstanding rivalry with the state and its disregard for the formal machinery of government has reduced Sicily, as one writer has put it, to a Vatican holding'.

Church, mafia and the gentry, comprise an unholy alliance of rentier capitalists whose primary goal is to block any change in the status quo, its success manifest in the plainly visible abuse of those fundamental human rights deemed essential in other regions of the European Union.

But "Sicily: A Captive Land" is more than a polemic. The author's sense of adventure and frequent lively encounters with the locals are both entertaining and instructive: from a poet priest lamenting Mary Rose's want of reverence', and a beautician dispensing political wisdom, to a restaurant owner who goes trekking the streets to catch passing tourists, the characters met on her travels demonstrate the various means Sicilians have developed to retain their dignity and humanity in the cruellest circumstances.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, impressively informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking read from beginning to end, "Sicily: A Captive Land" is an extraordinary and detailed account that will linger in the mind of the reader long after the book has been finished and set back upon the shelf. While very highly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Sicilian Studies collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Sicily: A Captive Land" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

To the Fire of Normandy and Beyond
Frank Kozol with Neil Kozol
Archway Publishing
9781480843028 $33.99 pbk / $8.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Frank Kozol Paul Kramer, who served in the U.S. Army during WWII is the eyes and ears for the reader on what it was like to leave home and go off to War.

While he has changed the names of the people he served with, everything he writes about is true.
As he takes the reader on his journey to serve his country from leaving his family and neighborhood for Registration to returning as an honorably discharged WWII veteran, the author describes his day to day adventures which lead to unexpected service for the US Army behind enemy lines, embedded with the French Resistance.

He describes his friendships, his day to day activities as an army medic and working with the French Resistance, during the war. Kozol must draw upon his patriotism, loyalty, character, and apply the values he was taught as a child to the challenging circumstances of war in order to survive.

This book conveys a captivating true story, by one of the many heroic soldiers protecting our country during WWII from a perspective that has rarely been seen or told. This is the adventure of one mans war-time journey to The Fire of Normandy and Beyond.

Critique: The extraordinary and engrossing memoir of an American army medic who worked with the French Resistance, To the Fire of Normandy and Beyond: Behind Enemy Lines during World War II is riveting from cover to cover. To the Fire of Normandy and Beyond provides an intense, you-are-there experience as seen through the eyes of a survivor and a patriot. Highly recommended, especially for public library biography collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that To the Fire of Normandy and Beyond is also available in a Kindle edition ($8.99).

The Stories We Leave Behind
Laura H. Gilbert
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781981186013, $14.00, PB, 158pp,

Synopsis: Laura H. Gilbert holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and currently divides her time between long-distance caregiving, volunteering, biking, and creating memories with grandchildren.

She has written "The Stories We Leave Behind: A Legacy-Based Approach to Dealing with Stuff" for the specific purpose of helping the reader in preserving their personal stories for the benefit of future generations. Rather than asking which items we can live without, "The Stories We Leave Behind" focuses on three specific questions: 1. How do I want to be remembered?; 2. What stories tell that legacy?; 3. What stuff highlights those stories?

In the process the reader will highlight items that tell a legacy story, identify valuable stuff that may be otherwise overlooked, minimize challenging decisions for loved ones, and reclaim space, time, and energy for themselves.

Critique: Unique, 'real world practical', impressively informative, and thoroughly 'user friendly' in tone, organization and presentation, "The Stories We Leave Behind: A Legacy-Based Approach to Dealing with Stuff" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists for anyone wanting to leave a record of their life story for others to enjoy and benefit by -- as well as community and academic library collections.

There's a Window to Heaven
Garrett L. Turke
Privately Published
9780997019513, $9.95, PB, 136pp,

Synopsis: In 2007 Garrett Turke's elderly father, Walter Turke, was in the grip of advanced Alzheimer's disease when he was stricken with a rapidly progressing and terminal lung infection.

He was given 48-72 hours to live after being taken off failing life support. He didn't die. Instead, Walter Turke journeyed with an ethereal "kind man with a grey beard," accompanied by host of "angels," to a "shining city filled with light."

These "visits," which have striking similarities to historically documented near-death experiences, lasted for 17 consecutive days.

Meticulously and dutifully written down each day on a well-worn legal pad, Walter Turke's experiences are now finally told in the page of "There's a Window to Heaven: 17 Days of Revelation and Hope" by Garrett Turke.

Critique: An inherently fascinating read from first page to last, "There's a Window to Heaven" is an especially recommended addition to community and academic library metaphysical studies collections and the personal reading lists of anyone with an interest in near death experiences.

The Biography Shelf

Pioneer of Inner Space: The Life of Fitz Hugh Ludlow
Donald P. Dulchinos
Logosophia Books
9780996639491 $45.00

Synopsis: This is an updated and illustrated biography of 19th century master of fiction, travel writing and criticism, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, with his poetry and letters published for the first time. Reportedly Dickens' favorite American writer, he was an early New York City Bohemian, and his friends and colleagues ranged from Walt Whitman and Mark Twain to Brigham Young. Dulchinos masterfully weaves contemporary accounts with many family missives to draw the amazing and tragically short life of Ludlow, a nearly lost central figure of American letters.

Critique: Pioneer of Inner Space: The Life of Fitz Hugh Ludlow with Collected Letter and Poetry is the first and only biography of Ludlow, as well as a literary treasure trove. Ludlow's work has a certain notoriety since it included drug writings. It is no coincidence that Pioneer of Inner Space appears in an era when some states are shifting toward the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana. Pioneer of Inner Space is a fascinating compendium preserving the insights of an extraordinarily gifted author, highly recommended especially for public and college library biography collections.

Lessons from Life
Steven M. Darter
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781981970919, $14.99, PB, 242pp,

Synopsis: "Lessons from Life: Four Keys to Living with More Meaning, Purpose, and Success" is the deeply personal and inspirational memoir of Steve Darter in which he asks himself the fundamental and universal question: - What is the purpose of my life?

Using incredibly entertaining storytelling, Steve takes his on a journey of emotion, reflection, and insight that encourages how to think about how to live with more meaning, purpose, and success at any age -- young, old, or in between.

Steve has a distinguished career as a consultant, author, educator, and speaker. For more than forty years, he has counseled people, ranging from troubled teenagers to CEOs of Fortune 500 corporations, on work, career, and life issues. In "Lessons from Life" draws upon his vast experience and wisdom to the benefit all.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Lessons from Life: Four Keys to Living with More Meaning, Purpose, and Success" is an extraordinary personal story combined with life enhancing, life affirming commentaries. While very highly recommended, especially for community library Contemporary American Biography collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Lessons from Life" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

The Hilarious Pig
James E. Berlin
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
9781524691806, $26.99, HC, 210pp,

Synopsis: After college and active Marine Corps duty, James Berlin began his journalism career as a reporter and popular humor columnist for a Michigan newspaper. At age 24 he became the youngest nationally syndicated columnist in U.S. history. Eleven years later, he followed his heart and became a street-cop in one of America's largest cities. The stories comprising "The Hilarious Pig" are true first-hand accounts drawn from his life and experiences behind the badge, and provide an uncensored glimpse into the hearts and minds of the Thin Blue Line. These true life anecdotes are not for the politically correct. It is interesting to note that "The Hilarious Pig" was written by Berlin "under fire", that is, between shifts and on weekends while he was still a working street cop. Berlin's experiences range from outrageously funny to deeply moving -- but all of them are related just as they occurred.

Critique: Inherently fascinating, often humorous, and always entertaining, "The Hilarious Pig" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community library Contemporary American Biography collections. For personal reading lists it should be noted that "The Hilarious Pig" is also available in a paperback edition (9781524691820, $13.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).

The Architecture Shelf

The Making of an Icon, second edition
Jim Merkel
Reedy Press
9781681061535 $21.95

Synopsis: The Making of an Icon by Jim Merkel captures the spirit behind the conception and construction of one of America's most distinctive and beloved national monuments. More than two million visitors stand in awe at the Gateway Arch each year, and the stories behind it were unearthed in breathless detail in the first edition. Back with even more lore and the addition of beautiful color images, Merkel brings new information on the Arch grounds and museum to this updated and revised second edition. Now expanded, his book includes more stories, compiled from hundreds of interviews with the visionaries, finaglers, protesters, and intrepid workers who built the arch while one misstep away from a fatal fall. Merkel's book will help us appreciate the relentless pursuit, innovation, and toil that raised the Arch to the sky.

Critique: Featuring a medley of black-and-white photographs and a handful of color photographs, and now in an updated second edition, The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, the Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch tells how this landmark American monument was built in Saint Louis. Chapters are filled with stories compiled from interviews with visionaries, protesters, workers (who risked falling to their deaths during construction), and more individuals involved in the creation of the Arch. The Making of an Icon is highly recommended, especially for public and college library Architecture collections.

The Fiction Shelf

The Adventures of Phatty and Payaso: Central Park
Marie Unanue
iUniverse, Inc.
c/o Author House
1663 Liberty Dr. Suite #300, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781532040535, $26.49, HC, 192pp,

Synopsis: Phatty the cat loves nothing more than spending his days balanced atop his favorite chair gazing out his windows at Central Park below. Everything is simply fan-tabby-lous until one day when the meanest hawk in the park decides to land on his terrace and makes a terrifying announcement that he is coming for Phatty and his furry little friends!

Phatty is tired of being a scaredy-cat. He jumps into a laundry bag and escapes to Central Park to stop the bully hawk once and for all. But his unplanned operation goes horribly wrong when he finds himself alone and lost in the park.

When Phatty's best friend, Payaso realizes his partner in crime is missing, he teams up with several animals to find Phatty. As the band of furry pals set out on a hilarious journey, they quickly realize that if they put aside their differences and work together, it might just be enough to save a lovable undercat and each other.

Critique: A delightfully original and deftly crafted novel by an author with a genuine flair for anthropomorphic character and narrative driven storytelling, Marie Unanue's "The Adventures of Phatty and Payaso: Central Park" is an unfailingly entertaining read that is unabashedly and unreservedly recommended for community library Contemporary General Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Adventures of Phatty and Payaso: Central Park" is also available in a paperback edition (9781532040511, $13.99).

Battle at the Comic Expo
Richard Andreoli, author
Frank Svengsouk, illustrator
Privately Published
9781732272415, $24.99, HC, 240pp,

Synopsis: Ron Lionel is the hottest creator working in comic books today. His comic series, The Enduring, sells out every month and is set to become a major motion picture. Ron has no problem using his status to get what he wants, whether that be special treatment from his publisher or seducing fangirls.

Joe Cotter, on the other hand, gave up his dreams of being a writer years ago, and now lives for a steady paycheck. Joe's sense of right and wrong was born from years of reading comics, fantasy novels, and growing up in fandom, and as the security chief for America's Finest Comic Book Expo he's as strong-willed as any hero with a power ring.

Enter Velma, an obsessed fan with a twisted sense of reality and some disturbing questions about The Enduring. When her righteous plan to gather answers backfires, the two men are accidentally abducted and left in a seedy motel room. Now these two unlikely allies must work together to save themselves and the convention before Velma's mania takes over and destroys them all.

From drug-sniffing celebrities and uptight volunteers to long-forgotten tunnels under the streets of downtown San Diego, one fact remains clear: The truth is never simple, it's sometimes darker than expected, and is often hidden just beneath the surface.

Critique: "Battle at the Comic Expo" is a deftly crafted and impressively entertaining novel that will have a very special appeal to all comic book fans and anyone who has ever gone to a comic book convention. While very highly recommended and certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library Contemporary General Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Battle at the Comic Expo" is also available in a paperback edition (9781732272408, $14.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).

Double Down
Bruce Wessell
4900 LaCross Rd., North Charleston, SC 29406
9781987794106, $11.99, PB, 278pp,

Synopsis: Johnny's having a bad day. The worst, actually. A sales rep for a food-service company, he's at the top of his game and usually enjoys his job. But today, he just lost out on his company's prestigious sales award (the bad news delivered by his smug, egomaniacal boss), he's trying to rebound from losing two key accounts, his customers won't pay, and to top it off, he catches his long-term girlfriend cheating on him in his own bed.

So when his worst customer, a world-class, sleazy jerk named Bernie Jacks, yanks Johnny's business at Mother's Cafe, Johnny reaches his boiling point. Bernie accidentally leaves a bag full of cash unattended, and Johnny knows it's time to take the money and run -- to Vegas!

With a plan to wash the stolen money by betting on everything from sports to blackjack, and with Bernie and his behemoth mother soon on his trail, Johnny embarks on an adventure in Sin City full of loudmouthed Vegas partiers, a sage, mysterious gambler, bickering tourists, sweet waitresses, a drunken bachelorette party, an annoying pop star, Russian mobsters, and an escort with a heart of gold.

Can this pissed-off, cheated-on, mistreated regular guy pull off the ultimate win -- and get away with it? Will the Vegas trip land Johnny in more hot water, or will his brush with stolen money leave him with a clean start?

When the cards are stacked against you, sometimes the only play you have left is to Double Down!

Critique: A deftly crafted and throughly entertaining read from first page to last, "Double Down" showcases author Bruce Wessell's genuine flair as a novelist for narrative storytelling and the skilled creation of memorable characters. An inherently riveting, 'page turner' of a read, "Double Down" is very highly recommended, especially for community library Contemporary General Fiction collections.

Send Him an Angel
James W. Haddad
Commonwealth Publishing
PO Box 770354, Coral Springs, FL 33077
9781892986108, $22.00, HC, 143pp,

Synopsis: At seven, James Smith realizes his life is different than other boys his age. He lives in a rat-infested shack in a poverty-stricken slum with his mentally-deranged mother, crystal smith, who thrives on cruelty and hatred.

He is subjected to verbal and physical attacks so often he believes this is the normal way of life. And just when he feels there is no hope left in life and his survival is remote, his mother informs him they are moving to the tiny island of St. Croix in the Caribbean to reunite with his long-lost father.

The little boy is ecstatic because he is embarking on a new life and believes his grief, misery, pain and torment are all in the past. But the nightmare is only beginning.

Critique: A deftly crafted, emotionally impacted, and inherently engaging read from first page to last, James Haddad's "Send Him an Angel" is an succinctly extraordinary and enduringly memorable novel by an author with a genuine flair for character and narrative driven storytelling. Recommended for community library Contemporary General Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Send Him an Angel" is also available in a paperback edition (9781892986061, $13.95).

Shirley Dawson
Mirador Publishing
9781912192229, $15.00, PB, 294pp,

Synopsis: To 7 year old Billy Arnold the German air raids over London are just a part of life, until the day his school is bombed. Frightened and confused, he is wrenched from the only life he knows and evacuated to the relative safety of rural Northumberland.

Taken in by the kindly Wells family, Billy soon finds himself thrust into a totally different way of life amongst complete strangers.

However, Billy quickly acclimatises and encouraged by his friend Abe, an old farmhand, he discovers that he has a real talent for woodworking.

As the Second World War draws to its successful conclusion, London is barely recognisable as the country recovers from the aftermath of one of the largest massacres the country has ever faced. A chance encounter with an old friend leads Billy to make a life altering decision, one which will teach him the true meaning of loyalty and betrayal. But ultimately it is also one that will allow him to find true happiness and to fulfil his dreams.

Critique: An immediately compelling and inherently engaging read from first page to last, "Billy" is a novel that clearly showcases author Shirley Dawson's impressively genuine flair for character and narrative driven storytelling. The result is a highly recommended addition to community library General Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Billy" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.95).

Angels on a Tombstone
J. F. Foran
Page Publishing Inc.
9781642981377, $33.95, HC, 354pp,

Synopsis: Devoted to free Ireland from British dominance, Jeremiah Knox joined the Fenian Brotherhood in the late 1880s committed to remove the British by military insurrection. Realizing the limits of armed rebellion, he enrolled at Edinburgh University to study law in the belief that political persuasion coupled with military action would be the most effective course to remove the oppressors. During a summer break in his studies he planned an ambush of a British munitions train. Snitches in the Fenian Brotherhood revealed the plot to the British exposing Jeremiah and his fellow conspirators. The majority of the Fenian prisoners were sentenced to long jail terms. A first time offender, Jeremiah's sentence was immediate deportation, exiled to the United States where a family member had sponsored him.

On arriving in Boston, Jeremiah learned that his family, opposed to his politics and in concert with the court in Dublin, had him dispatched to a stone quarry in Central Massachusetts. Alone and isolated in quiet region of the country, he was far away from his political connections in Ireland as well as from the Fenians active in cities along the East Coast. There, sentenced to back-breaking labor cutting stones for graveyards, he knew he must find a new platform in life to replace his career in law.

Angels on a Tombstone is a sweeping novel that traces one man's life from exile to the search for meaning and involvement in the New World. It tracks his evolution from stoic acceptance of his condition to a life full of opportunity, love and, inevitably, loss.

Critique: A deftly crafted novel with impressive attention to historical detail, "Angels on a Tombstone" by J. F. Foran is an inherently engaging and unfailingly entertaining read that showcases the author's genuine flair as a novelist for character and narrative driven storytelling. While very highly recommended, especially for community library Historical Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Angels on a Tombstone" is also available in a paperback edition (9781642147797, $20.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

You or a Loved One
Stories by Gabriel Houck
Selected by David Haynes
Orison Books
9780996439787 $18.00 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

Synopsis: In his debut story collection, You or a Loved One, recipient of The 2017 Orison Fiction Prize, selected by David Haynes, Gabriel Houck ushers readers into the hidden worlds of working-class people and their families, delivering their stories in raw, unflinching prose. An unhappy switchboard operator at SaveLine comforts distressed callers while her own life collapses around her. A man hired to perform choreographed fights for children in a Spider-Man costume comes undone and breaks a client's jaw. An adolescent Dungeon Master discovers the fact of his queerness while traversing the spooky realm that lies beyond childhood. And a lonesome bachelor hides a fugitive woman in his underground bunker while reckoning with the ghosts of dead loved ones.

With sly wit and tenderness, Houck swings open a door into a peculiar existence that few writers are willing to enter. Even more remarkably, You or a Loved One captures those rarest of moments when a character hears an uncanny whisper of comfort from nowhere or defies the unrelenting tug of gravity and glides out into the void. While shining a light on those who often hover in the periphery in life, Houck's stories recall the strange tales of grief and redemption we privately tell our loved ones and ourselves.

Critique: The debut short story anthology of author Gabriel Houck, You or a Loved One is a whirlwind tour of the heights and depths of human emotion. Offering a thoughtful glimpse into contradictions and the inner conflicts that drive everyday individuals, You or a Loved One is captivating to the last page and highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that You or a Loved One is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Nataly Restokian
Tellwell Talent
9781773708102, $22.99, HC, 256pp,

Synopsis: As a disappointment to her parents, Anna walks the challenging paths alone, making her way toward fame and fortune despite lacking the support system to do so. Doors begin to open for her, and she enters the world of Arab celebrities. She is now a public figure in the Middle East, living an immoral married life in a materialistic world surrounded by influential business people and royal family members.

Anna tries, in vain, to fill the void in her soul with sexual adventures and controversy by taking a wide variety of lovers. Her adventures invariably end in misery, doing nothing to awaken her from her numbness. Still, her vivid, out-of-control personality helps her move forward while simultaneously getting her in trouble. In the early stages of her life, she has suffered the unthinkable, being bullied and raped, with the civil war a constant backdrop throughout most of her childhood. "Masks" delves deep into Anna's mind as she has flashbacks of the trauma she has suffered, offering the reader a hint of an explanation for her behavior.

In a society in which men dominate women, Anna is one of the few who realize that fashion, social status, plastic surgeries, and bright smiles are not the answer to happiness. She lives in a world where a girl is only worth as much as her virginity, where women do not dare to ask for a divorce, where the fear of retribution keeps them locked in a cage that is very rarely gilded.

As fame, money, and power slowly eat at her soul, the arrogant Anna falls in love with a total stranger (a young, single bachelor from Canada) after a night of secret passion. Anna realizes that neither her marriage nor her achievements have ever made her happy, so she decides to throw it all away. The lies and deceit that fill the so-called glamorous life she has been leading are floating up to the surface, including her husband's infidelity and the critical steps she has taken to reach the top.

Marriage, family, career -- everything is destroyed in order to be united with the stranger. She starts a new battle, this time struggling to change her destiny for someone she barely knows, who lives oceans apart and offers her nothing except his heart.

She risks everything, turning her whole life upside down. Anna realizes that her happiness, inner peace, and love are found worlds away from her own, with someone she would never have expected to be her soul mate. Still, Anna's sacrifices are not behind her, and the struggle has not yet ended, although she has found what she has needed all her life: redemption and unconditional love.

The stranger enigmatically hints at emotions in Anna that have been hidden for a long time behind the masks of her dark and shallow lifestyle.

Critique: A deftly written, inherently fascinating, iconoclastic novel of one woman's emotional struggle to break through a patriarchal society's compulsory norms for her gender and the difficulties of being true to her own personal and emotional aspirations, "Masks" is a compelling read and one that is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community library Contemporary General Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Nataly Restokian's new novel "Masks" is also available in a paperback edition (9781773708096, $13.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Dead Drop
P. K. Norton
Stillwater River Publications
9781946300485, $13.00, PB, 220pp,

Synopsis: In Amy Lynch's world the past ever really leave us. What starts out to be a well-deserved vacation for Amy as a volunteer at an archaeological dig on the outskirts of Paris suddenly turns ugly when the head archaeologist is found dead at the dig-site.

A recently uncovered relic from World War II threatens to expose treachery and betrayal from the time of the German Occupation. It endangers the life of anybody bold enough to delve into its significance.

New England Casualty and Indemnity, the insurance company where Amy works as a claims investigator, is insuring the dig. Amy's world turns upside-down as she reverts from vacation mode to conduct a full-blown investigation where she meets with obstacles, resistance and threats to her own safety (as well as an adorable French detective!) in her quest to unmask a traitor.

Critique: A gem of a novel by a master of the genre, "Dead Drop" by P. K. Norton is a beautifully crafted mystery complete with unexpected twists and turns that will keep the reader riveted from first page to last. While unreservedly recommended, especially for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated mystery buffs that "Dead Drop" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.95).

I Can Handle Him
Debbie K. Lum
9781944463120, $11.99, PB, 362pp,

Synopsis: Quinn Corbin's got nothing to lose -- except maybe her life. She's finally got the attention of the man she's always loved, Nick Allen. But Nick has a reputation for trouble. And after a car explosion killed his last girlfriend, many people in San Antonio, Texas think Nick got away with murder.

But Quinn, a 24-year-old elementary school teacher and bubbly optimist, believes Nick is innocent. So does her best friend Tory, a law student and sarcastic realist. Soon Quinn and Nick find their relationship growing when suddenly their world upends.

Now Nick is in major trouble again and Quinn may have made the biggest mistake of her life. With incriminating evidence mounting against Nick, Tory works to prove his innocence. But Nick finds himself in a bigger battle when he must fight to protect, and win, his true love.

Critique: A simply riveting read with more twists and turns than a Coney Island rollercoaster, "I Can Handle Him" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Romance & Mystery collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "I Can Handle Him" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99).

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Always Gray in Winter
Mark J. Engels
Thurston Howl Publications
9781945247194 $12.99 pbk / $2.99 Kindle

Synopsis: A distant daughter. A peculiar device. A family lineage full of secrets. When werecat Pawlina Katczynski finally resurfaces, her location previously unknown to anyone close to her, the reunion is short of welcomed. Instead, she finds herself thrust tooth and nail - tooth and claw - into a feud between opposing werecat clans as her family and their enemies reignite a battle that has raged for years. Always Gray in Winter invites the reader to join the feud and see if blood is truly thicker than water...

Critique: The engrossing debut novel of author Mark Engels, Always Gray in Winter is a military sci-fi saga set in a world where the armies of three continents vie to utilize the exceptional prowess of a race of genetically-enhanced, shapeshifting, super-soldier werecats as weapons of war. Always Gray in Winter is first in a series focusing on a werecat family. Pawlina "Pawly" Katczynski becomes drawn into a desperate, tooth-and-claw struggle for an experimental device that may hold the key to soothing the intractable bloodlust of werecats - or weaponizing it. At odds with her estranged kin, Pawly must make a dangerous choice between hiding and sharing her identity with the only human she has ever loved. Both options put her life and her love at grave risk! Always Gray in Winter is captivating from cover to cover, highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Always Gray in Winter is also available in a Kindle edition ($2.99).

The Military Shelf

Spies of the Midnight Sun
Samuel Marquis
Mount Sopris Publishing
9781943593231, $16.99, PB, 418pp,

Synopsis: "Spies of the Midnight Sun" by military historian and novelist Samuel Marquis is the true story of legendary British safecracker and spy Eddie Chapman, the British Double Cross Spy System, and Norwegian female Resistance operatives Dagmar Lahlum and Annemarie Breien.

Known as Agent Zigzag, the most remarkable double agent of WWII, the fearless and roguishly handsome Chapman fell in love with and spied alongside the stunning 20-year-old model Dagmar Lahlum in Occupied Norway. Based upon recently released historical records from British and Norwegian archives, this WWII adventure and romance tale illuminates for the first time the intimate relationship between the two spy-lovers as well as the wartime exploits of Lahlum, Breien, and the Norwegian Resistance to liberate Norway and combat the Gestapo's bloodhound investigator, Siegfried Fehmer.

The contributions of Dagmar Lahlum and Annemarie Breien to the Allied war effort are many and incontrovertible -- and yet history has never properly recognized these courageous Resistance women for their achievements. -- Until now.

Critique: A simply riveting read from beginning to end, "Spies of the Midnight Sun" the heretofore unknown World War II story of Eddie Chapman and his associates with respect to their valiant and hazardous efforts to defeat the Nazis and their seemingly invincible military occupancy of Norway. Impressively informed and informative, and a work of solidly researched history that is so well written it reads like a novel, "Spies of the Midnight Sun" is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library World War II Military History collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists of students, academia, and military history buffs that "Spies of the Midnight Sun" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).

The Travel Shelf

The Spirit of the Trail
Carrie Morgridge
MFF Publishing
9781732208308, $15.00, PB, 236pp,

Synopsis: Two professionals in their 50s, Carrie Morgridge and her husband John, made a choice that some might call crazy: they pulled out of their busy lives for two months and tackled what is called the most challenging bike route in North America. In "The Spirit of the Trail: A Journey to Fulfillment Along the Continental Divide", Carrie take her readers along this journey.

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route runs from the Canadian Rockies, into the Grizzly filled woods of Montana, across the plains of Wyoming, up to 11,910-feet above sea level in Colorado, and through the mountains and flood plains of New Mexico.

As Carrie recounts each grueling day on these trails in her diary, she reveals their triumphs and fears, their struggles for food and water, and how their physical and mental strengths were pushed to the limits. She also showcases the kindness of people, the warmth of small towns, and the great majesty of our country.

What the Morgridges learned about the trail, besides how hard it was, is that people are generous, days are long when they are full of new adventures, and when you set your mind to it, you can achieve anything.

Critique: An engaging, entertaining, and ultimately inspired and inspiring read from cover to cover, "The Spirit of the Trail: A Journey to Fulfillment Along the Continental Divide" is an extraordinary adventure that is particularly recommended for the personal reading lists of bicycling enthusiasts and armchair travelers. It will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library Contemporary Travel & Travelogue collections.

The Parenting Shelf

Claire's Dad
Shad Arnold
Pinpoint Innovation
9780692992777, $12.99, PB, 132pp,

Synopsis: Like everything worthwhile in this world, the title of "dad" isn't given -- it's earned. But society hasn't done a great job preparing men to raise daughters. That's a shame, as daughters have a deep, often unacknowledged need for their fathers to take an active role in their growth.

In "Claire's Dad", author and father Shad Arnold offers an engaging look at the difference a father can make in his little girl's life as she grows into a mature, responsible, and self-assured young woman. Using his own experiences as a touchstone, Arnold explores the principles and standards a father can model for his daughter.

While Arnold bases his parenting on Christian values, his advice is relevant to all fathers. You will be your daughter's first impression of what she should expect of a man in her life. It falls to you to demonstrate the respect, love, and chivalry she deserves.

Finally, if you've truly earned the title of dad, you'll receive your reward: watching your daughter mature into a loving, responsible young woman in charge of her own destiny. That's what it means to be more than a father -- that's what it means to be a dad.

Critique: A welcome and thoroughly 'reader friendly' compendium of practical advice, insights, and constructive commentary, "Claire's Dad: How I Earned the Title. Grow Your Relationship with Your Daughter Through Persuasive and Challenging Insights, Practical Tools, and ... Will Inspire You to Earn the Title of DAD" is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Parenting instructional reference collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Claire's Dad" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

The Sports Shelf

Play Ball!
Lance Van Auken & Robin Van Auken
Omnibus Publishing
PO Box 152, Baltimore, MD 21162
9780998681184, $34.95, HC, 296pp,

Synopsis: On any given spring evening, 360,000 children around the world can be found on the dusty mounds and grassy fields of a Little League field. With more than four million people playing or volunteering in Little League games every year, Little League is the institutional rite of passage into the quintessential American pastime.

"Play Ball!: The Story of Little League Baseball" by Lance and Robin Van Auken charts Little League's history from the earliest days and shows how, in many respects, its history parallels America's history: isolation in the beginning; rapid expansion; a civil war of sorts, followed by reconstruction; struggles over civil rights and gender equity; and foreign entanglements.

A microcosm of American society, Little League reflects, and is affected by, cultural, political and historical trends. Now in a newly updated and expanded second edition, "Play Ball!" includes a new chapter on John Grisham's movie "Mickey"; the Danny Almonte scandal; Tee Ball on the South Lawn; Pitch Counts and Arm Injuries; Child Protection Act; ESPN; and the new World of Little League Museum.

Today, Little League is played on 12,000 fields in every U.S. state and in 103 other countries on six continents. Little League also sanctions play in softball, Tee Ball, and baseball for disabled children-called the Challenger Division. The Little League Baseball World Series, played annually in Williamsport, is watched by crowds of 40,000 each year in person, and by more than ten million on ABC's Wide World of Sports.

Critique: Illustrated throughout with black/white photography, "Play Ball!" is impressively informative and will prove to be particular interest parents, former players and coaches, as well as fans of Little League Baseball, general baseball enthusiasts. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community and academic library Sports/Athletics collections in general, and Little League supplemental studies lists in particular, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Play Ball!" is also available in a paperback edition (9780998681191, $21.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

The Pets/Wildlife Shelf

Lil Bunny Sue Roux
Jackie Deak Akey, author
Lindsay Maloan, author
Rachel Korsen, photography
Polar Press
c/o Golden Bell Studios
9781946185143, $24.95, HC, 106pp,

Synopsis: With more than 550,000 fans, Lil Bunny Sue Roux has one of the largest Instagram followings of any cat.

Roux was born without her front legs, but that doesn't slow her down! Born without her front legs, Roux's playful and affectionate demeanor has made her an internet favorite.

"Lil Bunny Sue Roux Photo Book & Inspirational Quotes" is a compendium of hundreds of high-quality and never-before-seen photos of Roux taken by Lindsay Maloan and sprinkled with inspirational quotes by Jackie Deak Akey and Lindsay Maloan.

Critique: A 'must' for the legions of Lil Bunny Sue Roux fans, this wonderfully charming and entertaining collection of feline photos is a true treasure to browse through and highly recommended for personal and community library collections. It would well serve as a template or example for others to create photographic compendiums of their own feline companions!

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

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