AcaPolitics: A Novel About College A Cappella
Stephen Harrison
Aftermath (, $14.50 paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-615-51305-8
This first novel chronicles one school year in the life of college freshman Ben Jensen, who becomes involved in the a cappella community at fictional, middle American Brighton University. The sense of competition between the various groups—particularly between Ben's Chorderoys and the rival Harmoniums—becomes even more pronounced when budget cuts place in jeopardy the future of at least one of the school's six a cappella groups. Adding to this "acadrama," a love triangle arises when Ben falls for Caroline Cooper, but gets ensnared by the ambitious, conniving president of the Harmoniums, Dani Behlman. A very conventional narrative takes shape, the action limping toward the campuswide a cappella competition. Harrison occasionally overexplains the thoughts and emotions of his characters, leading to clumsy moments, e.g., a singer's "power gospel voice originated from a pounding red-hot core of feeling inside her chest."

American Fever: A Tale of Romance & Pestilence
Peter Christian Hall
Arterial Witness (, $25.95 paper (306p) ISBN 978-0-9846780-0-6
In Hall's confident debut, a New York City blogger, libertarian, and self-appointed "digital zombie" charts the deadly progression of a flu epidemic and becomes an enemy of the state. The online scribe known as Maskman—he is also called Count Blogula—splits his time between blogging about the deadly "Great H5N1 Avian Pandemic Flu" decimating America and selling protective gear to the masses over the Internet. But amid widespread airborne infections, riot squads, and disorder, Maskman's increasingly outspoken blog posts garner him unwanted attention from governmental agencies eager to contain public hysteria. It's evident that Hall has researched human physiology, influenza, and how society processes deadly pandemics, and this lends credibility to a story line that—with the exception of pages of overwrought expository asides—proves compelling. And while Hall's novel may not be particularly original, he executes the material well.

Born in Rio
Cássia Martins
CreateSpace (, $17.50 paper (330p) ISBN 987-1-4664-4179-8
After her mother's death, 37-year-old Rita leaves Manhattan and her lucrative job on Wall Street and returns home to Rio de Janeiro, where she will attempt to find herself and confront her past. Martins effectively captures life in Brazil's most famous city—ably rendering Carnival, the beaches, and the people—but her novel suffers from a propensity for misusing words—e.g., a character's eyes are described as "glass-breaking"—and clunky, repetitive exposition. Additionally, the author's characterization is weak; Rita remains stubbornly opaque throughout, while supporting characters are stereotypical, e.g., a wise godmother; an evil, absent father. Readers interested in Brazilian life may find something worthwhile, but most readers will likely lose interest.

The Burning Veil
Jean Grant
Mishmish (, $18.95 paper (362p) ISBN 978-0-9825074-0-7
Sarah and Ibrahim are in love, but their troubles are just starting. When Ibrahim proposes, Sarah balks because she doesn't want to move to Saudi Arabia. This girl-meets-boy story is wrapped in a provocative tale of how a liberal American woman adjusts to living in one of the most restrictive nations on earth. After Sarah agrees to move, she must deal with both her parents' bigotry and the restrictive rules that govern where she goes, to whom she talks, and what she wears. The romance itself suffers because Grant fails to show the reader Sarah's motivations, particularly why she falls in love with Ibrahim in the first place. Nonetheless, it's touching to see how they rely on each other for strength. And the author clearly highlights the difficulties Americans have understanding Arab Muslims and provides an illuminating—if imperfect—view into what life is like in Saudi Arabia in the post–9/11 world.

Bow of Heaven: Book I—The Other Alexander
Andrew Levkoff
Andrew Levkoff (, $13.99 paper (358p) ISBN 978-0-9839101-2-1
In this first novel in Levkoff's series chronicling the life of Marcus Licinius Crassus as seen through the eyes of one of his slaves, the author presents a vigorously detailed account of romantic intrigue inside a Roman household, but pays scant attention to actual Roman history. Set in the years leading up to Crassus's ill-fated Syrian campaign in the first century B.C.E., this episodic tale follows Alexander, a young Greek student who is captured by the notorious general and dictator Sulla and given as a gift to Crassus. As Alexander rises through the household ranks, he watches as Crassus acquires wealth and power. However, there are virtually no references to Crassus defeating Spartacus, revealing the Catiline conspiracy, or even his role in the First Triumvirate. While Levkoff makes Alexander a wry and sympathetic character, and a host of Roman figures, including a lecherous Julius Caesar, make guest appearances, little is revealed about one of Rome's most hubristic cautionary tales.

Chain Gang Elementary
Jonathan Grant
Thornbriar Press (, $12.95 paper (344p) ISBN 978-0-9834921-0-8
In Grant's satirical novel, Richard Gray is a self-righteous newsletter editor and stay-at-home dad thrust into the local spotlight after assuming the presidency of the bitterly divided parent-teacher organization at his child's school. As president, Richard juggles the demands of overinvolved parents, the licentious PTO secretary, and his precocious son and emotionally frigid wife, all while waging war against Estelle Rutherford, the demagogic principal of Malliford Elementary, and her blatantly racist policies meant to protect the school's reputation. Although Grant provides trenchant criticisms of educational policy, much of his novel resembles an overripe soap opera. And while predictable and convenient plotting, inconsistent characterization, and sloppy exposition are saved by Grant's acerbic wit, in the end his novel is undermined by the specters of sexual abuse and murder that haunt his protagonist's past. A brief interlude in which Richard returns to his childhood home to attend his father's funeral and solve a dark crime from his youth is at once the most incongruous and most enticing portion of the novel. But once Grant has exposed Richard's dark history, none of the remaining twists and turns of this suburban intrigue seem equally important.

The Compass Master
Helena Soister
Lafayette Books, $16 paper (532p) ISBN 978-0-615-46162-5
Dan Brown fans looking for similar fare could do worse than this overlong religious thriller from Soister. Six years earlier, when she was a grad student in Chicago, Layla Daltry caused a stir with the public presentation of her master's thesis. Its argument was leaked to the press, turning what should have been an ordinary lecture into a media circus. Daltry posited that the Book of Revelation was influenced both by paganism and "opium-induced subjective delusion." The ensuing violent furor led her to shelve academia and accept an offer from Sotheby's to seek out lost antiquities. This new profession turns dangerous after Maeve Bryson, an elderly scholar and close friend, dies. Bryson's husband tells Daltry that Maeve's "secret" has been stolen, and he asks for help, starting a chain of events that puts Daltry in the crosshairs of assassins in the service of a covert fundamentalist organization connected with the Knights of Malta. The frenetic action sequences are familiar, but unlike many Da Vinci Code wannabes, the internal logic holds together.

Damp Whisper
Gabrielle F. Culmer
Vantage (, $14.95 paper (254p) ISBN 978-0-533-16405-9
Amelia Mullbury is a wealthy woman in London, with a handsome fiancé, a supportive family, and a healthy real estate career. While she recently lost her mother, she's not letting that stop her from planning the wedding of her dreams. But her plans are briefly stymied when thieves steal her dead mother's identity and attempt to sell millions of dollars worth of art belonging to the family. However, the thieves are soon caught, and Amelia is able to go on to marry Lars in the perfect wedding at her grandparents' estate in Bermuda. Readers will be frustrated by Culmer's sluggish second novel and have difficulty remaining engaged with a heroine who never faces any major struggles or displays significant inner life. Even the whiff of the criminal plot is quickly dismissed, with no consequences, and Amelia's greatest challenge seems to be convincing her fiancé to move in with her. The plot is scanty, the prose stilted, and the characters flat and interchangeable.

The Darkening Dream
Andy Gavin
Mascherato (, $14.99 paper (392p) ISBN 978-1-937945-01-5
This horror novel by the creator of the video-game series Crash Bandicoot is a gorgeously creepy, strangely humorous, and sincerely terrifying tale of clever teens trying to rid the world of ancient monstrosities. In Salem, Mass., in 1913, Sarah Engelmann and Alex Palaogos bond over scholarly pursuits while trying to ignore their awkward mutual attraction. But Sarah's strange dreams, the pair's discovery of the mangled and then reanimated body of a local boy, and the bizarre amnesiac illness that afflicts one of their friends pull them—with grudging support from Sarah's father, a powerful Jewish magician, and Alex's grandfather, an elderly vampire hunter—into a battle with centuries-old vampires and Egyptian gods who seek the lost horn of the Archangel Gabriel. Gavin's prose has both beautifully dark and startlingly scary moments, and his characters and their behaviors are refreshingly authentic for the genre: young people who are impulsive and full of bravado; older magicians who are slow to act, but protect their children; and vampires, who though undone by ambition, old enmities, and greed, act like people who have the perspective of centuries of (un)living.

Dusk in Del Rio
Joe Hassett
Vantage (, $16.95 paper (276p) ISBN 978-0-533-16504-9
The conventions of the western are followed faithfully in Hassett's debut novel, which boasts some rousing shootouts in which the mettle of the out-of-place Eastern transplant is tested, found wanting, and then stiffened according to a romanticized if clichéd view of life in the frontier town of Del Rio, Tex. Young Jim Rutley is shamed at the hands of villainous gunslinger Brock Lacey, but learns the ways of the gunslinger though the benevolent tutelage of a mysterious ranch owner, Don José. Jim's works to learn how to handle a gun and regain the admiration of his love, Jean Fargo, even as rival suitors challenge his romantic ambitions. The gunfight scenes pack some action and tension, especially the showdown between Rutley and Lacey, but the novel often suffers from overly labored prose.

Frankenstein's Daemon: A Sequel to Frankenstein
Michael Meeske
Usher Books (, $14.99 paper (204p) ISBN 978-0-9838989-0-0
Despite an afterword that makes a case for a continuation of Mary Shelley's classic Frankenstein, there's nothing in this workmanlike horror novel that will convince readers of the need for a sequel. Meeske's novel picks up where the original left off, related in a letter from the captain of the H.M.S. Prosper, Robert Walton, to his sister. Distraught at the death of his friend, Victor Frankenstein, Walton leads his crew in a futile attempt to kill the scientist's unnatural creation. The daemon has little difficulty defending itself, but chooses to spare Walton to gain access to Victor's writings. An explosion set off by Walton's only surviving shipmate appears to claim the monster's life, but—rather unsurprisingly—it's only a matter of time before the creature resurfaces. The action then shifts to Switzerland, home of Victor's brother Ernest. The novel's resolution disappoints, and its plot failings overshadow a solid effort to emulate Shelley's prose style.

The Guys' Guy's Guide to Love
Robert Manni
Live Oak (, $16.95 paper (346p) ISBN 978-1-936909-25-4
In Manni's entertaining first novel, two men navigate the trenches of love, sex, and dating on the island of Manhattan. "Hungry, optimistic, and unwavering in the pursuit of his dreams," 36-year-old advertising professional Max Hallyday is unceremoniously dumped via text message by his girlfriend. But his compassionate ex-flame, publisher Cassidy Goodson, persuades him to channel his disappointment into writing an advice column in her new magazine. Meanwhile, Hallyday's pal, Roger Fox, a slick, self-proclaimed womanizer, continues to live up to his "wham-bam machine" moniker. As Manni ramps up the melodrama, Max's column turns out to be a hit with New York City women and both his personal and professional lives soar. The author inoffensively explores the nature of men and women, the wily ways of seduction, and how contemporary culture has evolved romantic mores and enhanced (and complicated) the dating dance. Manni—an advertising agency executive who met his wife on—deftly plumbs the thorny depths of dating and sexual politics with this breezy romp and characters to which readers will relate.

Hear, O Israel
Sam Jon Wallace
Puna Press (, $14.95 paper (218p) ISBN 978-0-578-09635-3
An Israeli mother, grieving at the loss of her only son in the Second Lebanon War, and an American journalist searching for the truth about his long-lost father team up in Wallace's middling political thriller. Noa Kagan, a scientist at a nuclear research center, is devastated to learn that her beloved Sasha burned to death when a missile hit his tank, and ends up blaming her country rather than Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Alan Raskin investigates the death of his biological father, a British lawyer with the Palestine civil administration, who was killed years earlier in a hit-and-run accident in Jerusalem. Raskin learns that two of the men directly responsible for the death are now highly respected citizens of Israel. His quest for information about his father ends up coinciding with Kagan's desire to strike back at the Israeli government. Wallace throws in some political intrigue, but the novel might have been better served had the author chosen one plot line and developed it more fully.

If Thy Right Hand
Robin Lamont
Dog Ear Publishing (, $14.95 paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-45750-026-8
Although the ending is a bit clichéd, Lamont's whodunit debut is solid, making good use of the author's experience as a private investigator and prosecutor. Fresh off an impressive conviction, Ilene Hart, chief of special prosecutions for Westover County, is ordered by her boss to attend a heated community meeting about a controversial rehab facility for young sex offenders. The opposition to the facility's presence moves from talk to action when someone begins targeting sex offenders for murder. Hart has the de rigueur complicated family life—a romantic relationship with chief of police Matt Bingham and a 19-year-old son with Asperger's syndrome named Sam. Things turn bizarre when someone sends Hart a note identifying her as "a Prophet" and the only person capable of rescuing an unnamed child. With so little information, preventing a tragedy seems impossible, and to make matters worse, Sam is accused of sexual assault. Lamont creates well-rounded and likable leads that are capable of sustaining a series.

Incensed: The Novel
Cary Jane Sparks
Strange Boat (, $15 paper (418p) ISBN 978-0-9837612-0-4 

Sparks's first novel follows three very different seekers in their pursuit of professional success and spiritual fulfillment—or at least the appearance of it. Michaela Thomason, a graphic designer and spiritual skeptic, is plunged into turmoil by a professional disappointment. Rennie Morrow, a handsome but unfulfilled incense salesman, discovers a wildly powerful product that could transform his career if he could only discover how to get more of it. And Dorothea Light is a famous spiritual teacher whose success is matched by her selfishness. At its best, the book is a humorous exploration of the conflict between the pursuit of earthly ambitions and spiritual growth, and Sparks, a spiritual practitioner and teacher, handles her subject matter with honesty and humor. However, the narrative is disorganized and diffuse. Sparks gets bogged down in long technical descriptions of meditation practice, which disrupts the thin and sluggish plot. Although the book has some funny moments, the story is marred by the book's clumsy structure. At time, Sparks writes efficiently and with humor, but the book's engaging moments are obscured by its long-winded failings.

Joshua: A Brooklyn Tale
Andrew Kane
Abbott Press (, $28.99 paper (484p) ISBN 978-1-4582-0074-7
Kane's sprawling novel charts the ways in which two divergent communities in Brooklyn, N.Y.—the Hassidic and African-American populations of Crown Heights—converge through an exploration of the interconnected lives of Joshua, an African-American man struggling with drugs and crime; Rachel, the daughter of a rabbi; and privileged Paul, from a Long Island Jewish family, who hopes to escape his troubled past. Perhaps overambitious in his scope, Kane attempts to cover everything from city life and life on the street to race relations and religion, shoehorning in race riots, interracial love triangles, adultery, a secret love child, therapy, murder, rape, incest, blasphemy—and that's when things really start to take off. The author certainly has a story to tell, and while there's nothing especially original about the way he tells it, readers willing to commit to this profuse novel will be entertained.

The Mongrel Mafia High School
R.J. Brenn
Vantage (, $14.95 paper (345p) ISBN 978-0-533-13460-8
Brenn's plodding second entry in the Mongrel Mafia series finds the group of Italian boys from the first book facing new problems and tough decisions in high school. Tony, son of the local Mafia boss, is taking after his father and becoming more controlling, violent, and insular with his group of friends. A.J.—Tony's Jewish best friend—is discovering the friction that comes with age: friendships do not always stay the same, and sometimes your best friend can become your enemy. The gang manages to reconcile by senior year, but when some members start doing drugs, they're driven apart again, with shattering consequences. Brenn's novel is one-dimensional, full of stilted dialogue, and occasionally racially insensitive.

Painted Women: A Warbonnet Mystery
Robert Kresge
ABQ (, $15.95 paper (294p) ISBN 978-0-9838712-1-7
Kresge's first installment in the Warbonnet Mystery series—the western Murder for Greenhorns—was a finalist for the 2011 Bruce Alexander Award for Best Historical Mystery, and this captivating sequel is equally good. Set in the late 19th century in Warbonnet in the Wyoming Territory, Marshal Monday Malone faces a quintessential close-to-home crime when he learns that his brother, Tom, has been locked up for murder in Laramie. A young woman named Francine was stabbed with Tom's knife, making the circumstantial case against his brother very compelling. Despite family tension (Tom cheated Monday out of his share of the family ranch), the lawman agrees to look into the case, aided by the very capable Kate Shaw, a schoolteacher angling to land a spot on a geologic survey. Given that the killer sliced Francine's heart in two with one blow, Monday suspects that a second, shallow wound may be a key to the mystery. The author succeeds in incorporating deduction into the Wild West, and this series will be enjoyed by fans of Steve Hockensmith's Holmes on the Range and William L. DeAndrea's Lobo Blacke/Quinn Booker series.

Running in Bed
Jeffrey Sharlach
Two Harbors (, $14.95 paper (306p) ISBN 978-1-937293-48-2
Sharlach's winning debut is a moving portrait of the gay community before and during the age of AIDS. In the 1970s, Josh Silver moves to Manhattan and becomes an advertising executive, all the while repressing his sexual feelings for other men and even engaging in aversion therapy. After a dinner—and an epiphany of sorts—on a business trip, he finally accepts his sexuality. Returning to New York, Josh ventures out to his first gay bar and runs into co-worker Randy Starke, who becomes a close friend. Randy and his partner, Gerard, take Josh under their wing, and his social life blossoms—including a serious relationship with Tommy Perez. But soon AIDS hits the gay community—and close to home for Josh, who loses more than two dozen friends to the disease. The author does a masterful job of portraying love and loss in a fast-moving and engaging story that will linger with the reader long after the final page is turned.

Slotback Rhapsody
Christopher Harris
CreateSpace (, $12 paper (266p) ISBN 978-1-4664-8556-3
The trials of a struggling, increasingly desperate football hopeful are chronicled in Harris's charismatic novel. Nick "Mouse" Morrison may be too small to succeed in a sport populated by lumbering linemen and huge defensive tackles, but he refuses to give up. Making a final attempt to realize his elusive dream at a training camp in Detroit, the undersized athlete befriends team employee Patrick Gasper and—in a last ditch effort to go pro in his waning 20s—begins using human growth hormones. Amid rigorous scrimmages, painful injections, and arguing with his pretty college girlfriend, Morrison's performance on the field reaches new heights. However, those heights having been achieved by artificial means—and this doesn't jibe with Morrison's spiritual beliefs—ultimately, he knows he must come clean. Peppered with football lingo, authentic play-by-play descriptions, and raw dialogue that may rise above the heads of less sports-savvy readers, the author's testosterone-fueled story trudges along at a steady clip that will keep football fans glued to the page. An ESPN commentator, Harris knows his subject matter and delivers a serviceable narrative that's lively and readable, but probably best suited for sports fans.

Splattered Blood
Michael A. Draper
Vantage (, $14.95 paper (318p) ISBN 978-0-533-16469-1
Draper stretches plausibility beyond its tensile strength in this contemporary whodunit set against the world of professional basketball. Insurance agent Randy Larkin turns gumshoe after the suspicious suicide of his friend and client Johnny Kelly. Kelly, a former state trooper, recently started a new job as chief of internal security for the National Basketball Association's New England Highlanders, and his widow, Roseanne, refuses to believe that her husband killed himself. Larkin—along with Roseanne and her brother, Graham—decide to advance the sluggish official investigation, but soon find themselves mixed up with brutal drug dealers and out of their depths. Despite unintentionally causing more bloodshed, the trio plunges ahead, moving the case forward in ways that aren't particularly convincing. Undeveloped characters and a sometimes silly plot don't help.

That Which We Are
Martin Malloy
CreateSpace (, $12.99 paper (286p) ISBN 978-1-4563-4778-9
When a teenage girl goes missing and is later found dead in the resort town of Yarmouth Beach, veteran cop Nicholas Caulfield is hot on the trail of her killer, working tirelessly and without sleep until the case is solved. Along the way, Caulfield finds himself falling for a local woman and dealing with the tragic events of his past. Although Malloy—a retired police officer—knows his subject matter well and is brimming with real-life stories, his novel suffers from clunky sentences, weak dialogue, and unnecessary exposition. Additionally problematic is that many of the characters are unrealistic, e.g., Malloy's portrayal of Caulfield as a modern-day Renaissance man with knowledge of fine wine and love of literature is hard to swallow.

The Tower at Petite Vigne
Rob Stone
Rob Stone Books (, $15 paper (257p) ISBN 978-0-9838783-4-6
A small French village is drawn into WWII when it's chosen to be the location of a German antiaircraft installation in the run-up to D-Day. The arrival of a German construction crew under the leadership of Franz Duggendorf forces the local mayor and priest to mediate between the Germans—who are requisitioning material and labor—and the unhappy villagers. In his attempts to maintain a workable relationship with the French, Duggendorf raises the suspicions of fellow Nazis as friction increases between occupiers and occupied and between competing village resistance groups. Stone's competent but flat novel benefits greatly from the author's accurate depiction of occupied France and rendering of the tensions within the Third Reich and between the Nazis and villagers. However, Stone's narrative shifts between too many thinly drawn supporting characters, and this dilutes the urgency of an inherently dramatic situation, making it difficult for readers to engage emotionally with the book.

The Wonder of Ordinary Magic
Lilli Jolgren Day
Lilli J. Day, $10.95 paper (252p) ISBN 978-0-615-48039-8
Bobby Weaver is a successful writer who has been in a coma for years. In his head, he's still trying to finish his latest novel—a murder mystery about hikers on the Appalachian Trail—and all around him, his family members are going on with their own lives. Niece Chloe is facing maternal pressure to grow up and spends time bonding with grandfather Jack, who is recovering from the loss of his wife. Bobby's brother, Tom, is terrified of losing his job and his relationship with his wife, Miranda. Meanwhile, Miranda's brother is still negotiating his relationship with long-term partner Josh. While Day does a workmanlike job rendering the inner lives of her characters and weaving together the many narratives threads, her story is extremely short on plot. The use of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 is completely unrelated to the rest of the story, feeling like a ploy that may alienate some readers.

Zombie Maelstrom
Bryan Cassiday
CreateSpace (, $21.95 paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-4679-3136-6
Cassiday pits a heroic Texan pilot, a CIA agent, an arrogant banker, a preachy minister, a whiny call girl, and ordinary folks against zombie hordes that have overrun smog-engulfed Los Angeles. As civilization crumbles and the slaughter escalates, one character wonders, "Is this madness really happening?" The superabundant gore carries implications of human-zombie moral equivalence, a notion extended by the crucifixion of zombies. Character-ization throughout is as weak as a zombie's dignity, and the subplot of disputes over leadership and the best course of action yields predictable results. "I can't take much more of this," one character moans, but she has no choice.


A Beginner's Guide to the Brain: Major Discoveries that Will Change Your Life
Elaine B. Johnson
The Teaching & Learning Compact (, $12.95 e-book (172p) ISBN 978-0-9830956-1-3
With a straightforward approach, Johnson, an internationally recognized authority on contextual teaching and learning, explains the basics of brain structure and function, and then tackles such topics as memory and emotion. She also cogently explains the relationship between emotion and decision-making, and argues that the human brain in wired with an inherent morality that includes a sense of fairness, a desire to do no harm, a respect for authority, and a sense of purity. All of this serves as prologue for Johnson's central aim: how to put this knowledge to work to live a happier life and contribute to a healthier social community. Her prescriptions are basic: live a life consistent with basic morality, get adequate sleep and exercise, nourish good relationships, and make conscious use of critical faculties. Mundane or not, these suggestions are more than platitudes when reinforced by the sophisticated description of the brain's functioning. Readers will appreciate Johnson's accessible explanation of complex processes.

Billion Dollar Batman
Bruce Scivally
Henry Gray Publishing (, $29.95 paper (446p) ISBN 978-0-615-30641-4
Pop culture historian Scivally follows his comprehensive Superman on Film, Television, Radio and Broadway with an even more extensively researched—and possibly more obsessive—look at the Caped Crusader's celluloid career, ranging from Columbia Pictures' 1943 Batman serial to The Dark Knight in 2008. Scivally also provides an enjoyable romp through the history of the Batman television series, cutting through its camp notoriety with insightful comments from primary scriptwriters. Scivally delivers more than a fanboy compendium of famous stories, obscure facts, and insider secrets—although he has lots of those—along with hard financial reporting. Throughout his lengthy narrative, Scivally never loses sight of Batman and secret identity Bruce Wayne's complex relationship with the law and society. He expertly explores the issues of Wayne and Batman's psychological pain in the two Tim Burton–directed Batman films of 1989 and 1992. And he expertly discusses how director Christopher Nolan's 21st-century Batman Begins and The Dark Knight moved beyond superhero adventure genre and explored the ethical issues of America's war on terror. Coming just in time for the release this summer of Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, Scivally's work is essential reading for anyone interested in the cowled crime fighter's rise from comic book hero to international icon.

Cancer Warrior: Where the Mind Goes
Ruth Levine
QuillHouse (, $16 paper (150p) ISBN 978-1-933794-41-9
In 2006, Levine was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. She endured chemotherapy and radiation treatments before an eight-and-a-half hour surgery consisting of rectal and liver resections, a radical hysterectomy, and removal of her gall bladder and 24 lymph nodes, leaving her with a temporary ileostomy. Wry humor accompanies grim descriptions of her transformation from overextended but motivated wife, mother, and graduate student to cancer patient, "trapped in a maze" of medical tests, evaluations, and hospital stays in New York City and New Jersey. Tracing the roots of her illness to stress provoked by family concerns and her studies in occupational therapy, as well as genetic links, Levine makes a strong case for the power of prayer, laughter, and positive thinking during medical crises. She tempers blunt appraisals of dismissive health-care workers with moments of gratitude for people who don't view cancer as a death sentence; e.g., a physician who said 60% of the battle is mental. While Levine's narrative lacks polish and is laden with coarse battle imagery—she visualizes herself slaughtering cancer cells with a machete and chemotherapy as medieval knights destroying her tumors—her book will be a great comfort and motivator for cancer patients who are determined to find meaning in and to fight their illness.

Conscious Calm: Keys to Freedom from Stress and Worry
Laura Maciuika
Tap into Freedom (, $17.95 paper (180p) ISBN 978-1-937749-02-6
Unlike many self-help titles on the market, clinical psychologist Maciuika's useful guide to stress-free living does not offer a grab bag of tips, tricks, tools, journal pages, questionnaires, and quizzes. Rather, she uses crystal-clear language to describe a few core concepts and basic practices. In 12 short chapters, she reinforces the simplicity and practicality of her methods, which aim to redirect mental, emotional, and physical energies from external events and circumstances to internal experiences by cultivating attention and awareness of the body. For example, to shut down what she calls "motor mind"—a replay of negative thoughts and self-dramatizing stories—she suggests shifting from nonstop "doing" by taking frequent "being breaks." Among the activities she prescribes for such breaks are scanning the body for physical sensations, deep breathing, physical exercise, listening to music, spending time in nature, and cooking. A primary feature of her program is the Emotional Freedom Technique developed by Gary Craig. EFT professionals believe that tapping energy meridians in the body while focusing on areas of tension releases energy blockages and clears "static" arising from past emotions. Each chapter ends with an exercise to help readers recognize negative patterns and choose calming ones instead. With stress levels spiking everywhere, this refreshingly accessible DIY plan produces results and will not add to overwhelming to-do lists.

Confessions of a Band Geek Mom: One Exhausted Parent's Take on Carpools, Room Mothers, High School Band, and Hernias
Stacy Dymalski
Saffire Press, $14.99 paper (230p) ISBN 978-0-615-47499-1
This laugh-out-loud funny parenting memoir from standup comedian Dymalski (The Vixen Chronicles) will keep readers entertained, whether they want children, have children, or want nothing to do with children. Dymalski's witty remarks and sarcastic retorts prove to be the perfect way for her to chart the trials, tribulations, and joys of raising two boys after 36 years of childless freedom. Dymalski shares the ways in which her life changed with motherhood and describes how the brutal reality of parenting is very different from preconceived ideas about having children. Full of hilarious and memorable moments and including chapters titled "The Art of Using Scissors (Blood and Gore, Part 1)," "Working Off Fat Season," "Mom Jeans," and "Excuse Me, I Volunteered for What?" Dymalski's book will engage readers cover to cover.

Core Strategy for Success: How to Lead the Pack in a "Dog-Eat-Dog" World
Fred A. Manske Jr
Leadership Education and Development (, $16.95 paper (150p) ISBN 978-1-60013-782-2
With a writing style that's as straightforward as his advice, M.B.A. and former CEO Manske outlines comprehensive strategies for business success that emphasize ethics and responsibility. While the attitudes and practices of much of corporate America seem to reflect a greed-is-good and win-at-all-costs philosophy, Manske lays out a compelling case for why the most valuable employees, strongest leaders, and industry winners practice a business model that is ethical, caring, and encourages lifelong learning. Manske offers actionable suggestions for cultivating individual behavior and peppers his manuscript with quotations from famous figures like William J. Bennett and Carl Schurz. While much of Manske's advice could likely be found in countless other self-help books, his focus on ethical behavior in business is refreshing.

EcoChi:Designing the Human Experience
Debra Duneier
New Voices (, $23.95 hardcover (162p) ISBN 978-0-9748103-8-6
When Duneier's corporate gift business failed, her husband filed for divorce, and her children went off to college, she made a drastic change: she moved to Manhattan and got her real estate license. On a whim, she decided to investigate feng shui, using what she learned to develop her EcoChi System. In this accessible how-to, Duneier outlines the tenets of EcoChi, which combines the teachings of feng shui, sustainable living, and environmental psychology in order to "create an inviting atmosphere and a place where people feel safe, secure, and embraced," whether in a home, office, or public facility. Duneier cites many EcoChi success stories, including Ann, who found love after changing the art on the wall opposite her bed, and Steven, a former hoarder who gave up much of his clutter. In the final chapter, the author lays out very specific ways you can change your outlook on life with the EcoChi system and make your home or facility more pleasant and environmentally friendly. Duneier's prose is clear and articulate and her system is easy to understand and implement.

Law Made Fun Through Harry Potter's Adventures
Karen Morris and Bradley S. Carroll
CreateSpace (, $12.99 paper (268p) ISBN 978-1-4611-5723-6
Morris and Carroll's book provides an entertaining introduction to the American legal system as viewed through the lens of the Harry Potter series. The authors cite various events from J.K. Rowling's popular books and explain how those incidents would play out in the Muggle world of law and order. Readers learn that the Dursleys, who took in the orphaned Harry when he was a baby, were guilty of neglect and, arguably, abuse for mistreating their ward. Additionally, Uncle Vernon Dursley also commits mail fraud when he interferes with the letters sent to inform Harry of his admission to Hogwarts. Since much of Rowling's series takes place at Hogwarts, a section of the book explains the laws that govern schools and protect students' rights, including legislation against bullying that would have protected Harry from the harassment he suffered from Draco Malfoy and his friends. This book is a must for readers of all ages who love Harry Potter and have an interest in learning more about the legal system.

Lipstick and the Leash: Dog Training a Woman's Way
Camilla Gray-Nelson
Double Dove (, $17.95 paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-615-46558-6
In this clear and accessible dog-training manual aimed at women, Gray-Nelson stresses that natural leadership is gained through careful control rather than aggression, debunks long-held myths about the use of force to gain dominance over dogs, and offers easy-to-follow instructions to help dog owners learn the power of positive reinforcement. After working with many female clients, Gray-Nelson—who has more than 20 years of dog-training experience—noticed recurring problems specific to female dog owners. In this guide, she focuses on those problems, provides behavioral explanations, and details a step-by-step process to help readers earn the love and obedience of their dog. The author's understanding of dogs and dog behavior is evident in her clear instructions—her manual shows women how to connect with their dogs in a way that might just improve their professional and human relationships as well.

lol... OMG!: What Every Student Needs to Know About Online Reputation Management, Digital Citizenship and Cyberbullying
Matt Ivester
Serra Knight Publishing (, $14.95 paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-4662-4207-4
Ivester, founder of the now-defunct, the largest college gossip Web site in the United States, writes a practical and vital primer of digital dos and don'ts, cautioning careful consideration of every online posting because of the permanent and quickly accessible nature of the Internet. He counsels students to not be "their worst enemies" by posting drunken rants, outrageous comments, or evidence of scandalous acts, as there are few real opportunities to "unsend" or erase online content. Many of the author's suggestions are on target: for example, he urges readers to consider the significant impact posts on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can have on job opportunities. Most important, Ivester's winning book draws attention to the perils (and pleasures) of the new digital age, where cyberbullying is unwelcome and consciously controlling your online reputation is essential.

Roots, Perspective, and Genesis
Khan Hussan Zia
Trafford (, $26.16 paper (536p) ISBN 978-1-4269-5586-0
In this history of the Indian subcontinent, retired Pakistani naval officer Zia aims to correct what he sees as the West's loathing of Islam and favoritism toward India. Zia (Muslims and the West: A Muslim Perspective) covers everything from Alexander the Great's invasion to British colonialism. He focuses on the century before independence, emphasizing that partition was essential to protect the minority Muslims. As proof, he argues that Hindus were largely responsible for the massive massacres following British withdrawal. Zia's history is editorially challenging, teeming with unfamiliar names, events, and battles, long quotes from other authors, speeches, editorials, and irrelevant digressions. The result is a passionate, wildly prejudiced, but sometimes convincing history.

The Persian Room Presents: An Oral History of New York's Most Magical Night Spot
Patty Farmer
Vantage (, $28.95 hardcover (222p) ISBN 978-0-533-16511-7
Once upon a time, the Persian Room was rated among the best of the swank nightspots in New York City, taking its place with the Copa and the 21 Club. Farmer, a lover of all things cabaret and high style, fondly takes the reader back to the glory days of the Plaza Hotel's elegant, sophisticated supper club, which showcased top-drawer acts in a posh setting of ruby-colored chairs, crimson velvet drapes, and a 27-foot-long bar. From 1934 to its closing in 1975, the Persian Room was a romantic, cherished escape from the bitter realities of the world, with fine food and cocktails, and stellar talents such as Hildegarde, Victor Borge, Julie Wilson, Andy Williams, Polly Bergen, Bob Hope, Lillian Roth, Carol Channing, Edie Adams, Dinah Shore, Ethel Merman, Robert Goulet, and Frank Sinatra. With such a tribute, there is a sizable amount of name dropping and light gossip, including singer Connie Stevens meeting hubby Eddie Fisher there and Celeste Holm's dates with John F. Kennedy. Achieving a magical sense of time travel in photos and text, Farmer's homage to the Persian Room is a return to golden memories at a mythical venue unlike any other.

The Red Skirt: Memoirs of an Ex Nun
Patricia O'Donnell-Gibson
StuartRose (, $14.99 paper (349p) ISBN 978-0-9836112-0-2
Just out of high school, O'Donnell-Gibson was received as a postulant to the Roman Catholic Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Mich., moving from a sheltered suburban childhood to the equally sheltered campus of Siena Heights University. Thoug the distance in miles was short, the convent might have been located in another universe. Having been raised in a devout Roman Catholic family and educated at a strict girls-only school, she nevertheless experienced a painful transition to religious life in the early 1960s. In this troubling coming-of-age memoir, O'Donnell-Gibson describes surreal, identity-erasing spiritual processing: nuns censoring her mail, searching her belongings, chaperoning her on family visits, giving ambiguous but dire warnings about sex. O'Donnell-Gibson is an adroit writer; her accounts of being terrified to turn her back on God and moved to rapture while singing psalms, for example, will keep readers committed to her story as she travels from the convent to Joliet, Ill., where she taught at a Roman Catholic elementary school. Given her own room, more freedom, and students to worry about, in 1968 she chose the "red skirt" (a symbol of worldly abandon), gave notice, and rode off into the night—and secular society—in her sister's Karmann Ghia. Despite many touching reflections, her insights rarely plumb the deepest levels, suggesting that she has not fully digested her past.

Sexy and Sparkling After 40: 7 Steps to Revitalize Your Radiance & Create Romantic Adventure in Your Life!
Sherri Nickols
Aviva Publishing (, $19.95 paper (284p) ISBN 978-1-935586-44-9
In this spirited self-help manual geared toward the woman looking to spice up her life and romantic prospects, relationship coach Nickols introduces her SPARKLE system for empowerment. While the approach—SPARKLE is both an acronym and a reference to women as diamonds in the rough that need polishing to display their true brilliance—may be too traditional for many women, with its emphasis on set gender roles, Nickols does underscore the importance of self-worth and reassessing priorities. With the SPARKLE system, Nickols encourages women to See your bright future, Pinpoint your passion, Adjust your attitude, Renew your relationship with you, Know who you are, Laugh and play, and Embrace your life. With these steps women will begin to figure out how they want their lives to look; visualization is a key component for Nickols, from picturing goal achievement to imagining a dream vacation. Putting her methods into practice, Nickols developed what she dubs "Romance-Capades," or role-playing scenarios to make your relationship more sensual. From "Neptune's Desire" (think bathtub and a mermaid costume) to "Casino Royale" (Bond girl plus martini), the step-by-step guides outline the invitation, costume, and food and drink selections for each "adventure." Though targeted to a particular niche audience, Nickols's message of embracing passion at any age is encouraging.

The Suited Monk: A Guide to Life Purpose and Happiness
Raf Adams
Wow! Books, $19.95 paper (196p) ISBN 978-0-9570553-3-9
According to life coach Adams, we can all possess an outward "suit," while maintaining a spiritual integration that is in tune with our inner "monk." In this self-help title, the author offers a path toward a more meaningful life, incorporating personal experience into lessons to teach readers how to turn "unhappiness into happiness and negative emotions into positive emotions." Adams offers advice on "how to find your true purpose and give you an understanding of how the journey of life works." His guide is replete with graphs and visual aids meant to differentiate his approach and explain the personal journey each person must take toward enlightenment. However, much Adams's advice will sound familiar to readers, e.g., how listening to an inner voice will free people from external constraints, allowing them to "live each moment with total bliss, flow, and joy." Adams is not the first person to champion the go-with-the-flow-and-let-your-intuition-guide-your-life plan, and the spiritual masters he quotes throughout have better expressed the essence and experience of spiritual awakening than he does.

Twilight or Dawn?: A Traveler's Guide to
Free-Market Liberal Democracy
Bill Stonebarger
Gilman Street Press (, $16.95 paper (396p) ISBN 978-1-55979-195-3
In his latest, Stonebarger (The Road to a Tea Party) examines the current state of America, Western society, and free-market democracies. Stonebarger, owner of Hawkhill Educational, charts various threats to the West, including the Great Depression, communism, and the cold war, arguing that these dangers were overcome because win-win economics and capitalism value entrepreneurship and individual liberties. Western societies provide incentives for success and progress at a stable rate, unlike the former Soviet Union or North Korea, where citizens are stifled by dictatorships. The evidence for the benefits of Westernization are persuasive, even if evidence about climate change feels cherry picked and runs counter to other sources. The book itself is certainly thought provoking, a mix of assembled reportage and Stonebarger's own experience from his life and travels, which weave together into a celebration of the rise of the Western world and a hopeful call for its continued success in the future.

The V Society: The True Story of Rebel Virgin-Girls
Adele Berry
30AD Media (, $17.99 paper (426p) 978-0-9834816-0-7
In Berry's memoir, she and her closest friends at the University of Pennsylvania are not unlike most college students. They go to class, are members of film and photography clubs, share late night conversations that "[spin] wildly... synthesizing all sorts of unrelated ideas," and zealously discuss the cutest boys on campus. However, when it comes to boys, they never go beyond talking: the five are creators and members of the V Society for "cool and funky [women] committed to abstinence." Aiming to wait for marriage to have sex, they spend their days praying, studying the Bible, and laughing at their own inside jokes, many of which are reprinted in their entirety. The story of women committed to virginity during the college years has the potential to be rich with inner conflict and challenged beliefs. But Berry's book falls flat. Most of its pages are simply a retelling of every mundane detail of the author's college years—one chapter is entitled "Random November Stuff—and, as a result, the book lacks a sense of plot or character development. The epilogue reveals that all members stayed true to their pledge and waited until marriage, and the reader is left wondering how rebellious these "rebel virgin-girls" really were.

You Are Here: How to Awaken Your Potential and Live Your Greatest Life Now!
Dora Nudelman
Mill City (, $14.95 paper (260p) ISBN 978-1-937600-48-8
Nudelman, a "personal-development and self-empowerment writer," is founder and owner of the Quality of Life Advisors Group, a lifestyle consulting company that provides "expert advice and guidance for successful living." In this well-intentioned guide to awakening one's inner self, she outlines methods for reducing stress and finding peace of mind, providing her premise at the outset: "It is to help you become aware of the most powerful moment you will ever have to create the life you want to live. And that moment is now." To accomplish this, she offers exercises at the end of each chapter, e.g., in "One with Nature," the author advises that as "Life Force flows generously" through nature, readers should observe nature on a daily basis. Other chapters include "Stillness," "Letting Go," and "Releasing Fear and Dumping Regret." Some passages parallel the spiritual path described by Ram Dass in Be Here Now, yet Nudelman's book lacks the luminous visionary arc of that landmark classic. As is the case with many self-help books, redundant paragraphs become conspicuous, and the author's simplistic prose often belabors the obvious.

Children's Books

The Winner Is...
Kathy Brodsky, illus. by Cameron Bennett
Helpingwords (, $19.99 hardcover (42p) ISBN 978-0-9828529-0-3
The creators of Purrsnikitty and Just Sniffing Around offer another animal story, introducing Gabriel, a plucky bloodhound who spies a poster announcing a cat contest. "I saw the word ‘cat,'/ then thought for a while,/ ‘I can do this, I know.'/ The idea made me smile," muses Gabriel. Enlisting the help of several other animals, Gabriel doggedly works to disguise himself as a cat, tying his droopy ears into a bow, obtaining clawlike nails at a salon, and imitating a jumping kangaroo. Bennett's peppy paintings magnify the story's humor, as Gabriel strikes some silly poses: nose in the air, he mimics a zoo lion to learn "cattitude," and he dons a blonde wig in hopes of appearing hairier for the contest. Brodsky's couplets, however, are often strained or nonsensical ("I peer out at cats/ and see lots of faces./ I need information/ to touch all the bases") as Gabriel comes to realize he's better off being a dog after all. The book closes with questions about kids' feelings about themselves and suggestions for staging contests. Ages 3–6.

Bingo Explores the Farm
Julia King
King Publishing (, $15.99 hardcover (42p) ISBN 978-0-9839827-0-8; $8.99 paper ISBN 978-0-9839827-1-5
In this mild, meandering story, the feline star of Bingo's Big Adventure roams the farm in search of adventure. Loquacious narrator Bingo first tries unsuccessfully to start a toy car: "Oh dear, I am not a mechanic. I am only a cat. I do not have hands or tools either. I must admit my adventure is not starting well." When he wanders into an empty barn, Bingo thinks he has stumbled upon his adventure: "It is solving the mystery of who lives in this building!" Back outside, the cat discovers a horse, but "Tall Lady," his "human," warns Bingo that he's too small to play with the animal. Finally, Bingo finds a perfect companion (and an adventure) in "the Boy," who entertains the cat with a stick and gently pets him. The overly wordy narration and slow pacing (eight pages are devoted to Bingo's inability to start the toy car) drag this tale down; King's candid photographs of Bingo and his farm surroundings are the stronger part of the story. A farm q&a and some search-and-find activities are also included. Ages 3–8.

Quincy Moves to the Desert
Camille Matthews, illus. by Michelle Black
Pathfinder Equine Publications (, $15.95 hardcover (40p) ISBN 978-0-9819240-1-4
In this handsome sequel to Quincy Finds a New Home, the title character, a horse whose "coat was the color of a new penny," takes a cross-country trip from a New York State farm to his new home in New Mexico. After Quincy and his best friend Beau, a wise older horse, are loaded onto a horse trailer, a sequence of U.S. maps charts their journey. Beau shares tidbits about the horses they see from the window and the tasks those horses are performing: draft horses pull farm equipment in Pennsylvania Amish country, thoroughbreds race on a track in Kentucky, and a cowboy rides another horse at a Texas rodeo. Matthews's narrative moves ahead at a steady clip, and Beau imparts a good amount of
information about different horses and their jobs to Quincy and, by extension, readers. Black's polished paintings are a highlight, and many scenes have a photographic crispness. The story ends with Quincy's question about what job he'll be given in New Mexico left unanswered—perhaps leaving the gate open for a follow- up tale. Ages 6–12.

Summer Dance
Lynn Swanson
CreateSpace (, $12.99 paper (274p) ISBN 978-1-4637-4216-4
A dancer and dance instructor, Swanson clearly is well versed in the technique, language, and emotional intensity of ballet. Her novel centers on 13-year-old Sara, who is spending the summer at prestigious Lakewood Dance Camp. Family finances are tight, and Sara knows she must win a scholarship at the end of the session if she is to return the following year. That pressure causes Sara considerable angst throughout the summer, during which she watches the San Francisco Ballet perform Swan Lake, takes a class with one of that company's members, rehearses for and participates in various performances, and forges friendships with her cabin mates. Befitting the summer camp setting, drama abounds: looking for a missing friend in the darkness, Sara inadvertently causes Robin, a pompous girl for whom she is understudying, to injure her ankle, and Sara is later caught kissing Robin's boyfriend. A subplot featuring flirtations with boys at a neighboring camp adds a note of tentative summer romance. Young dancers should be easily drawn into the passions and frustrations of Sara and her friends and the nicely evoked upper Michigan setting. Ages 10–14.

Jack and Larry: Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog
Barbara Gregorich
CreateSpace (www, $12 paper (102p) ISBN 978-1-4679-5801-1
Gregorich (She's on First) offers an intermittently heartwarming and heartbreaking account of the career of Graney, an outfielder for Cleveland's American League team (now the Indians). The story, which begins in 1912, is effectively and accessibly told in free verse and co-stars a major player in Graney's life: his beloved bull terrier, Larry, the team mascot. Kids will be entertained by Larry's antics: he thrills Cleveland fans by leapfrogging over players' backs and howling when an opposing batter is in a tight spot; he is also the first major league mascot to be introduced to a U.S. president. Baseball devotees of all ages will appreciate the "firsts" associated with Graney, which include his being the first batter to face Babe Ruth, the first player to wear a number on his uniform, and the first former major leaguer to become a sports announcer. Sobering intervals include the death of Graney's teammate and best friend, Ray Chapman, after being hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays, and Larry's demise. But the many uplifting aspects of Graney's story will linger most with readers. Ages 10–up.

Dog Park: A Novella
David Jaicks
The Troy Book Makers (, $10 paper (54p) ISBN 978-1-935534-77-8
Jaicks's (Driving Home) subdued story follows James, a man who dabbles in carpentry and works as a college janitor. James moved to an unnamed town "out east" during his "dark years" to seek help from an undisclosed "place." Though his "sadness hadn't left him completely," he finds solace in the companionship of his golden retriever, Benny, and the people he meets at the local dog park. These include Claire, an effervescent young woman; Pete, a restaurateur and relentless jokester; Pierre, who teaches cooking classes; and Davita, a Polish woman who (improbably) gives birth to a baby on a park bench. These friendships brighten and enrich James's life, and he comes to realize that "just as Davita had given birth, so had he to himself. He was a different person now." Jaicks's imagery is sometimes baffling; returning from a trip to his Illinois hometown, James "arrived at his house that seemed to kiss the new air like opening the tight seal on a refrigerator." With almost no teenage characters, this pensive, offbeat tale of self-exploration is better suited to adult than YA readers. Ages 12–up.

Emlyn Chand
Blue Crown Press (, $12.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-9839-3080-8
This debut novel and series launch centers on Alex, a blind high school sophomore who longs for a friend. He finds one in Simmi, a new girl from India, to whom he feels a strong attraction. Alex is puzzled and terrified when he begins to have trancelike visions in which Simmi is killed by a boy named Dax—multiple times and gruesomely. When Miss Teak, who works as a psychic, tells Alex that he possesses the ability to see into the future, he becomes determined to save Simmi from a violent fate. Chand awards psychic gifts quite liberally: Simmi is "clairsentient," a "psychic feeler" who can manipulate others' emotions; Miss Teak's daughter, Shapri, a friend of Alex, channels the dead; and Alex's father can read minds. Still, they are credible characters, with Alex and Simmi emerging as especially sympathetic. A showdown between Alex and Dax (who sets loose all the animals at the Bronx Zoo) brings the novel to a surreal and sufficiently suspenseful close. Ages 12–up.

Pandora's Key
Nancy Richardson Fischer
CreateSpace (, $7.50 paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-4679-6653-5
In this inventive debut installment of the Key Trilogy, an Oregon girl's life is uprooted by the discovery of her pivotal role in a prophecy stemming from Greek mythology. On her 16th birthday, Evangeline receives a necklace from her mother that features a small silver key; her mother, whose behavior has become increasingly erratic, explains that it was a gift from her own mother, and that she doesn't know what the key unlocks. Confused by her sudden transformation from an "ugly duckling" into a beauty, Evangeline learns that she is a descendant of Pandora and has inherited the role of keeper of the key to Pandora's box. Evangeline is thrust into a sometimes bloody battle between a sect of women committed to protecting the keeper and the Archivists, an ancient organization determined to obtain the key and the box it unlocks. Surprising twists—Evangeline has good reason to doubt who she can trust—add to the story's intrigue. The coauthor of several sports autobiographies, Fischer hits her stride in this quick-paced novel. Ages 12–up.

Twisted: Tales to Rot Your Brain, Vol. 1
Nora Thompson
Hairy Eyeballs Press (, $24.95 hardcover (108p) ISBN 978-0-9836699-0-6; $14.95 paper ISBN 978-0-9836699-1-3
In "Garlic Toast," one of nearly 30 brief works of "flash fiction" in this collection of dark comedy and horror, the main character is brutally attacked and chased by a monster, before awakening in bed from a nightmare. "You wipe the sweat from your forehead.... You close your eyes and smile. You hope the next one is just as good." That type of kid—the one who revels in being terrified—is the audience first-time author Thompson is aiming for. In stories that last only a few pages and comics that resemble Nickelodeon cartoons on acid, Thompson riffs on zombie, werewolf, and other ghoulish genres, while also finding the horrific in unexpected places. In "Testophobia," a test-taker's increasingly anxious thoughts are superimposed over a blurred-out exam below ("Hemophobia: Fear of blood. Won't wipe off. On fingers. On sleeve, paper. Smeared. Trembling. Shaky. Shaking"). And in a cartoon labeled "Lobotomy Pie," a freshly baked pumpkin pie cools on a counter, while a jack o'lantern sits mutilated in the foreground. Just the thing for readers who aren't scared of the dark—or for those who are and like it. Ages 12–up.