David R. Fett and Stephen Langford
Synergy Books (www.whitesleeper.com), $18.95 trade paper (260p) ISBN 978-0-9834879-3-7
A recovering alcoholic doctor who works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention converts effortlessly and rapidly from insightful intellectual into an action hero; those who accept the implausibility of the setup will find this present-day medical thriller diverting. Dave Richards’s once bright professional future has been blighted by his addiction to the bottle, but he catches a break when his boss sends him away from Atlanta headquarters to look into unusual deaths in Arkansas, some from bubonic plague. He’s joined in his investigation by Paula Mushari, a Muslim FBI agent, who is both proficient at her job and a looker. Richards quickly realizes that a serious bioterrorism threat looms, and the reader knows its source. Ben Curran is introduced in a flashback to 1996, as his parents are gunned down by ATF agents in an incident reminiscent of Ruby Ridge, and the authors trace his evolution into domestic terrorist. Things move swiftly to a satisfying conclusion.
Gone to Graveyards: An Epic Novel of the Korean War
Brewster Milton Robertson
Quail Hollow Books (www.createspace.com), $25 trade paper (736p) ISBN 978-0-615-44535-9
Collier Boyd Ramsay is a young man uncertain about what he wants to do with his future. He is married to a nurse who is frustrated with his artistic aspirations and wants him to have a serious career. With the Korean War raging, Ramsay enlists and enters Officer Candidate School. After finishing the program, Ramsay trains as a medic before being sent to Korea. There, he witnesses enough death and destruction to make him question his country’s involvement in the war. When he gets home, he divorces his philandering wife and marries the woman he has always loved. While Robertson’s writing is solid, he is overly detailed in his depiction of Ramsay’s life—the protagonist doesn’t even get to Korea until page 561. Robertson has the basics of a compelling book, but it could be more streamlined.
Food Court Press, $16.95 trade paper (278p) ISBN 978-0-9834893-0-6
In 1978, two young lovers leave Boulder, Colo., and head to Berkeley, Calif., where they struggle with life’s messy problems and intrusions in this capable, well-developed look back at an edgy, bygone time. Arriving at the University of California, Berkeley, Laura—with free-spirited boyfriend Walt in tow—begins graduate studies in biology. It isn’t long before she meets fellow student Cob, an irresistible fruitarian from Nebraska with whom Laura eventually has a passionate affair replete with unbelievable orgasms. But the relationship with Cob—and the sex—lacks love, and Walt is summoned to the rescue. This love triangle plays out against the background of the political and social upheaval of the time, with Weil referencing everything from the controversial Proposition 13—which rolled back property taxes—to the mass suicide by cult members of Jim Jones’s People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana. Weil ably captures the period, while convincingly delineating her characters.
.com), $12.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-4635-2528-6
An American tour guide to Japan in charge of a handful of motley, clueless compatriots finds his charges’ eccentricities touching in this nicely noisy, descriptive novel. At 55, Phil Fletcher, a recently downsized advertising salesman from Katonah, N.Y., finds himself shepherding tourists around Japan for two weeks on behalf of the Zarin World of Travel Agency—a not unwelcome distraction from his grief at the untimely death of his wife, Helen, to whom he writes a running letter on his laptop when in his hotel room. As Phil dispenses Japanese history to tour groups, visits temples, and tries not to lose anyone on the trains, he becomes involved in the lives of the tourists, including an elderly couple who have come to Japan to kill themselves, a sex-obsessed husband who requests Phil translate an erotic comic book, and a hapless woman who is being drugged by her Japanese boyfriend. Wood ably manipulates his awkward Americans around Japanese tourist sites, and the reader finds his characters, as Fletcher does, winningly humorous and sympathetic.
Transplant: A Young Woman Struggles to Adapt to Her New Face
Novel Voices Press (www.novelvoicespress.com), $20.95 trade paper (342p) ISBN 978-0-9868773-1-5
In Neufeld’s tedious debut novel, a team of doctors selects Jenny Beaulieu to be the first recipient of a face transplant in Canada after she is disfigured in a car accident. Her friends and family are enthusiastic about the opportunity, but Jenny is hesitant because of both the medical and psychological side effects: transplant rejection, notoriety, lowered life expectancy, and feeling disconnected from her new face. Jenny decides to have the procedure and is grateful that she can finally eat, breathe, and talk normally. But postsurgery, she feels like her new face is only a mask. To fight depression, she dedicates herself to her job as a linguist, through which she meets a blind child who finally helps her accept her new life. Neufeld interviewed both transplant surgeons and recipients and his thorough research is evident in many scenes depicting the debate over Jenny’s decision to have transplant surgery. While the author’s background in science writing—he was a professor of linguistics and psychology—lends well to these types of medical discussions, he struggles to develop compelling characters. Even Jenny is more of a vehicle for addressing medical issues than an interesting protagonist, which makes for a very dry read.
iUniverse, $17.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-4620-2267-0
In Trachtenberg’s debut novel, Rebecca Ross knows from an early age that her calling is to be an actress. A perfectionist, Rebecca soon finds herself performing in an off-Broadway production. A move to California after college brings success closer, but Rebecca’s true potential is out of reach because of her self-righteous attitude and the influence of her overbearing, doubting mother. In the novel’s first half, Trachtenberg impressively charts Rebecca’s adolescence and attempts at stardom with grace and humor. However, the book’s second half—which details Rebecca’s neurotic fall and marriage to a man she barely knows—takes the story into unexpected territory. Rebecca finds herself questioning her life and struggling with depression. But the character’s absurd decisions and behavior will likely confuse and annoy readers. The first half of this novel is marvelous and fun; the second half can be skipped completely.
An Uprising of Angels
Marc D. Baldwin
.com, $13.95 trade paper (314p) ISBN 978-1-4609-7078-2
The 1992 L.A. riots that followed the acquittal of the four policemen accused of beating African-American Rodney King are the basis for this fervid debut from Baldwin. Using the inhabitants of “an integrated, staunchly respectable neighborhood,” Baldwin tries to illustrate the rage and despair that were fueled by the King beating. Characters run the gamut from ex–vice cop Michael Macetti and his beautiful daughter, Sonja, to Gunther, an unemployed black man who turns to drug dealing, and his son Anwar, who falls for Sonja. Rabid gangbanger Rayhab has both avid followers—like Fedallah and Tashtego—and reluctant followers, such as Anwar and Hangman. Baldwin’s liberal use of ghetto slang doesn’t always ring true and his characters sometimes sound or act out of character or excessively preachy. However, he does a fine job of portraying the chaos and violence that convulsed the city.
ForceField Studios (www.forcefieldstudios.com), $24.95 (508p) ISBN 978-0-9833608-0-3
This ambitious, lively, but character-clogged rock ’n’ roll mystery charts the course of two rival immigrant families—the Iranian Monsouris and the Italian Pecorinos—in New York City in 1982. Caught in the middle of this family feud is rock musician Jon Cells. After getting busted for drug possession, Cells finds himself on probation and forced to work at the Monsouris’ Laden Imports perfume factory. But by night, Cells frequents the Black Sheep, a staple of the downtown music scene, owned by the Pecorinos. Meanwhile, the United States Customs Bureau is watching the Monsouris’ perfume factory for irregularities, while also keeping an eye on the Pecorinos—believed to be mixed up in the drug trade. The novel finally gets underway when Princess Tears, a perfume spiked with heroin, is stolen from the Monsouris, and all clues point to the Pecorinos. Unfortunately, Levine isn’t able to keep all the balls in the air; Cells fades into the background and the novel dissolves into cacophony.
Out of Tune Piano Blues
Performance Recordings (www
.performancerecordings.com), $19.95 trade paper (246p) ISBN 978-0-615-41841-4
The extreme difficulty of conveying classical music in prose proves too formidable a challenge for Boyk, who grafts an murder mystery onto a contemporary coming-of-age story that explains how a 30-year-old concert pianist “learned that life can be tragic.” In 1995, the musician, Arthur Singer, arrives at Wisconsin University at Black Falls to perform and conduct master classes. In less than a week, he becomes passionately involved with faculty member Fumiko Kawatani de la Riviére, also a pianist, and lands in the middle of a homicide investigation when someone affiliated with the school is shot to death. Mystery fans, be warned: almost half the book goes by before the killing. The author includes a variety of documents, including instructions for visitors to the local prison, which distract rather than reinforce the insights about human nature he’s trying to convey.
Cathy Cash Spellman
The Wild Harp and Company (cathycashspellman.com), $23.99 trade paper (649p) ISBN 978-1-4611-7736-4
Politics and religion collide as Spellman (Bless the Child) delivers another fast-paced, suspenseful, and totally enjoyable thriller. When mathematical genius Jack Monahan and his parents are murdered, his wife, Cait, is thrust into a complex web of faith, mystery, magic, and ancient history. With little understanding of the powerful forces closing in around her, Cait must choose whom to trust and whether to believe in the existence of the Spear of Longinus, a sacred object that is said to hold absolute power and possible immortality. Soon, Cait and her daughter, Lark, are on the run, hunted by the same men who killed Jack: members of a power-hungry secret society that believe she and the brilliant Lark are the only people capable of unlocking the secret location of the Spear. Spellman’s characters—particularly Cait and Lark—are well drawn, believable, and likable. The author constructs a blistering story—replete with political and religious intrigue—that never slows down and will keep readers turning the pages of this spectacular thrill ride. An absolute must for Spellman fans.
Chicago Shiver: A Harry Pines Adventure Novel
Holland, $18 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-615-39630-9
Holland’s second present-day mystery featuring ex-con–turned–detective Harry Pines isn’t quite as good as 2008’s An Ice Cold Paradise. After getting out of prison for assaulting a federal agent, Pines catches a break when Chicago attorney Muhammad Ali prevents him from getting arrested after he defends himself from muggers. So when Ali asks Pines to leave Hawaii for the Windy City to help sportswriter Jack Netherland, found shot in a locked room on top of a strangled woman, he doesn’t hesitate. The victim, Erica Conway, a former model, worked for a company that opened theme restaurants using the names of entertainment and sports stars, founded by the current governor of Illinois. Pines digs through her financial records and discovers that Conway was somehow able to deposit into her bank account $10,000 every month, despite being unemployed. Few will be shocked when the investigator finds Conway’s diary, complete with embarrassing revelations about Gov. Michael Stratton. Things play out pretty predictably from there, and the book’s ending will be familiar to readers of Holland’s first Pines novel.
Oddity Media (www.odd-i-t
.com), $9.99 trade paper (345p) ISBN 978-0-615-50544-2
Introducing an amnesiac lead that clearly is more than he appears often works as a narrative hook, but Mosquera’s inability to make Eric Caine more than a cipher is fatal to this contemporary thriller. A Miami Beach inline skater witnesses a street person collapse after muttering something in Arabic. When the street person, who turns out to be Caine, wakes in a hospital, he’s baffled to learn he was speaking Arabic and unaware that he was recently involved in a serious car accident. This leads to a suspension from his job as a paramedic. After ending up in a bar fight, Caine gets a break—a mysterious Venezuelan businessman recommends him for a position as a senior information officer to a U.S.-based development company called Corso International. He’s soon dispatched by Corso to Caracas, Venezuela, ostensibly to check out some security weaknesses and resolve them. That assignment is prologue to the assassination of a high-level government official, which sends the country into turmoil and forces Caine to go on the run. Clunky prose (“Truth cut through Trishna like a lightning bolt”) coupled with role reversals that won’t shock anyone make for a disappointing read.
The Spy Book
McNeil & Richards (www
.mcneilandrichards.com), $13.95 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-0-9825602-0-4
The point of this heavy-handed farce about the waning days of the Soviet Union will elude most readers. In 1990, KGB operative Nick Boorstin—whose cover is posing as an auto mechanic in Brooklyn, N.Y.—is ordered by his bosses to activate a sleeper agent. That mole, Natalie Kramer, is ordered to enroll in two economics classes taught by University of Virginia professor Eugene Thurston as part of a slow-motion effort to salvage the Soviet economy. The plan, which comes from the mind of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev himself, is for the sultry Kramer to get close to Thurston so that he can figure out how Soviet financial ruin can be avoided. Although Gorbachev himself states that the analysis must be done “immediately,” Thurston is never captured and confined until he generates something useful. Instead, Kramer tells him that she wants his help in writing a book on the subject and seduces him. Thurston’s battles with his colleagues, who are jockeying to succeed the retiring department head, add little.
The Mosaic Artist
CreateSpace (www.createspace.com), $14 trade paper (356p) ISBN 978-1-4538-6004-5
When Jack Manoli was a young man, he left his wife—and two children, Shelley and Mark—to marry his secretary, Sylvie. Years later, when Jack dies of cancer, Shelley has managed to find peace with her father, while Mark still clings to anger and abandonment. Further complicating matters, Jack bequeaths his and widowed Sylvie’s summer home to Shelley and Mark. Now Sylvie, Mark, and Shelley must struggle to come to terms with one another and the past. This is an exceptionally well-crafted novel, a delicate story, and a fine exploration of divorce, forgiveness, happiness, and loss. The relationships between the characters are thoughtfully constructed, and Ward’s decision to alternate among points of view provides an invaluable window to character growth and evolution. Perhaps the only underdeveloped character is Sylvie, who remains more an object (of love or resentment) than a fully realized individual. This is unfortunate, because it’s her perspective that many readers will find most intriguing.
The Takers: Ahna
Studio on a Hill (www.studioonahill.com), $15 trade paper (350p) ISBN 978-0-615-43720-0
The first volume in Weaver’s Chronicles of Eden series, this novel takes readers 4,500 years into the past in Greece, a realm of nomadic tribes, barbarians, and destructive social change. This coming-of-age story follows Ahna, the daughter of a nomad chief who is desired by two men, introducing a world of nomadic societies that are defined by paganism, polygamy, and harmony and discord between warriors and women. While interesting in concept and plot, the novel would strongly benefit from a thorough edit. Weaver’s use of modern details (e.g., knowledge and understanding of concussions) and the contemporary tone of some dialogue may prove distracting. This epic will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction that forgoes fact checking.
Zombies for Jesus
BookLocker (www.booklocker.com), $16.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-60910-100-8
Eerie, erotic, and magical, this book of loosely connected stories delves deep inside the consciousness of American Mormons. Set mostly in the South, Townsend’s tales feature Mormons with a lot on their minds: environmental collapse, church politics, racism, and homophobia. But mostly they think about transgressing the church’s restrictions on sexuality. “She felt guilty for sinning,” Townsend (himself a Mormon) writes of one character, “but there was something exciting about it, too.” Some of the stories’ plots wander into the supernatural—a girl is visited by the ghost of religious leader Joseph Smith’s wife, a woman’s breasts come alive after her silicon implants interact with electricity—but Townsend keeps his stories grounded despite the fantastic elements, allowing him to reveal what it means to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
There Is a Road
Vantage Press, $11.95 trade paper (190p) ISBN 978-0-533-16371-7
Johnny Lawless is a smuggler in the Florida Keys. He brings health care supplies and food to Cuba and smuggles back boxes of cigars. While he exhibits basic humanitarian concern, Johnny refuses to get involved in politics. During a smuggling run, Johnny’s long-lost son, Monty, arrives in Florida and starts looking for his father. Almost as soon as father and son meet and begin to get to know one other, another figure from Johnny’s past appears: Alonso, a Cuban drug dealer. Alonso begs Johnny to help him smuggle out of Cuba a family that has run afoul of the country’s government. Johnny reluctantly agrees, but dies while trying to rescue the family. This purported crime thriller rambles. The pacing is poor, the philosophical pretensions (Johnny has a parrot named Kierkegaard) are thin, and some aspects of the plot are ludicrous (Johnny’s friend, Knuckles, frequently shoots police officers for no reason and is never caught). Readers will likely be frustrated.
Pure Gold: Adventures with Six Rescued Golden Retrievers
Glad Dog Press, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-9836451-0-8
Pfau, a truly gifted writer and avid golden retriever lover, recounts the joys, challenges, and rewards of sharing her life with six rescued goldens, each with a distinct personality that offers genuine love. One by one, Pfau introduces readers to these remarkable dogs—from the wise Nikki to the abused but loving and energetic Chatter. Readers will be captivated by Pfau’s characterization of these canines with their profound ability to enhance the lives of those around them. Nikki, who inspires Pfau to embark on a new career path, aids her owner as a therapy dog to senior citizens and rehab convalescent patients, while Bodie, a gentle but adventurous pup, is best suited to working with wheelchair patients and provides his own brand of comfort. A loving and respectful tribute to the amazing animals that have graced Pfau’s life, as well as the lives of many others, this book celebrates the special bond that elevates canine friends to family members.
Backwards Beliefs: Revealing Eternal Truths Hidden in Religions
Nanci L. Danison
A.P. Lee & Co. (www
.apleeco.com), $19.95 (198p) ISBN 978-1-934482-10-0
During a near-death experience, Danison connected with Source (her term for a universal spirit in which all of creation resides) and viewed the entirety of human religious history. Additionally, she came to realize the ways her Judeo-Christian upbringing misled her and how people use organized religion for personal gain. Danison conveys a message of universal love and hope, and encourages readers to abandon any fear of death and be skeptical of people using religion to advance nonspiritual agendas or claim exclusive license over the truth. She also provides a summary of the evolution of the Judeo-Christian tradition to highlight where humanity has erred in the path from universal truth. Her insights come across as harmless and well-meaning, and while readers may be skeptical about near-death experiences and comprehensive instantaneous knowledge of the universe after death, her points about universal love and good works are positive. However, readers will find her credibility strained when she begins predicting future events.
Flying Horses: The Golden Age of American Carousel Art, 1870–1930
Peter J. Malia, photos by Bryan Page
Connecticut Press (www.connecticutpress.com), $75 (196p) ISBN 978-0-9825468-2-6
Carved wooden carousel horses parade the pages of this collector’s limited edition, published in cooperation with the New England Carousel Museum. This splendid book captures a bygone era, as museum director Louise L. DeMars notes in her foreword, “With less than 200 antique, wooden carousels still operating in the United States, they have become an endangered species.” Beginning with British steam-driven steeds of the 19th century and Coney Island mechanic Eliphalet S. Scripture’s 1850 patent for a “galloping roundabout,” Malia describes the three major carousel horse-carving styles. The Philadelphia Style originated with cabinetmaker Gustav Dentzel, father of the modern American carousel. A perfectionist who launched America’s first carousel company in 1867, Dentzel “showcased beautifully carved animals with handsome faces, real horse-hair tails and meticulous attention to detail, craftsmanship and old-world artistry.” The Coney Island Style was born when Danish woodworker Charles Looff carved Coney Island’s first carousel in 1875, while Brooklyn toy manufacturer Charles Dare created the Country Fair Style, favored by carnivals. Spurred by this trio’s success, other startups launched in the 1880s, and the glorious Golden Age was underway. Malia offers authoritative, comprehensive coverage, while the 187 high-quality color photos of prancing ponies plus 46 b&w photographs and 18 illustrations make for an attractive package. Anyone unfamiliar with the art of carousel carvings will find this an informative and impressive introduction.
Champagne and Roses: A Story of Love and Cancer
Arthur J. Benson
Vantage (www.vantagepress.com), $22.95 (129p) ISBN 978-0-533-16417-2
It was a losing battle, but for 21 months Benson fought bravely alongside his wife, Sandy, during her grueling treatment for lung cancer. The couple conceded little during the fight, least of all hope—continuing to press for new medications, holistic treatments, and stem cell therapy. “I just keep believing, and try to keep Sandy believing, that we’ll get through this, too, as long as she keeps giving me one more day, and never, ever quits,” Benson writes in this heartbreaking, lyrical, and sometimes humorous memoir. Whatever bitterness Benson harbors is reserved for the doctors, declaring that with “certain notable exceptions,” he “lost all respect for the medical profession,” including one callous oncologist who would meet with patients only once a month and another who told the Bensons their decision to fight was merely “a crap shoot.” In the end, Sandy died too young and suffered too much. But Benson’s keenly personal memoir and collection of e-mails from friends and family show how uncompromising love and unflagging commitment can help families face even tragic diagnoses with hope and courage.
Fabulous in Flats: Putting My Best Foot Forward!
Mary T. Wagner
iUniverse, $14.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-4620-1531-3
In this latest collection of essays, Wagner (Running with Stilettos; Heck on Heels) again brings her wit and everywoman brilliance to the page, providing readers with insights into her daily battle to juggle the multiple roles of womanhood and live a balanced life. Among the many standout essays are “Read the Instructions,” in which Wagner shows herself to be a woman with a stubborn side who wants to do things for herself, and “Tiger Beat,” in which she reveals her “mother tiger” side. Wagner’s essays are straightforward, to the point, and touching. Any woman struggling to combine work, family, love, and life in general will not only appreciate Wagner’s words but also identify with her completely. Once upon a time, women were told they had to wear many hats in life, but Wagner proves that it’s the fabulous shoes that make all the difference.
The Legacy of Ida Lillbroända
Arlene Sundquist Empie
Boulder House (www.boulderhousepublishers.com), $24 (288p) ISBN 978-1-931025-05-8
An immigrant woman finds broader horizons in America in this warmhearted family history. Empie (Minding a Sacred Place) recounts her grandmother Ida’s journey from a Swedish enclave in western Finland in 1893 and her life as a farmer’s wife in Washington’s Skagit River Valley. The first part of the book is an epic of genealogical sleuthing that introduces the author to long-lost relatives and Finland’s haunting midsummer twilight. The rest is an exegesis of family lore drawn mainly from her Aunt Leona’s lively memoirs. (There’s a scrapbook feel to many passages, as the author sprinkles in recipes, news reports, and a bookshelf catalogue.) There are flashes of adventure—Leona is a witness in a kidnapping case—and tragedy, when Ida loses a son to drowning and a grown daughter to a grisly car crash. Mostly, though, it’s a quiet story of happiness achieved through hard work and love, fleshed out with Empie’s thorough research on everything from transatlantic travel to the feminist stirrings that the assertive, forward-thinking Ida welcomed. Written with an affectionate sense of place and character, Empie’s recreation of Ida’s world offers shrewd insights into her life and times. Photos.
Rabbit Trail: How a Former Playboy Bunny Found Her Way
TAP Publications, $9.95 trade paper (180p) ISBN 978-0-615-37570-0
In this straightforward memoir with a heavy religious emphasis, Pimental traces the course of her life, from Irish Catholic schoolgirl in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Playboy Bunny and her quest for spiritual fulfillment. Though she attended church regularly as a child, Pimental became disenchanted with Catholicism—particularly its emphasis on men and women rather than God—as a teen. Leaving New York for Los Angeles in the 1970s, she burns through a series of temporary jobs until auditioning for a coveted spot as a Playboy Bunny, a job she holds for four years. Among the book’s highlights are Pimental’s descriptions of the ins and outs of wearing the trademark bunny ears while learning a complicated alcohol list and dealing with “hands-on” customers. Though she left Catholicism behind, the need for a connection with God remains, and Pimental tries Buddhist chanting, followed by a serious attempt to be accepted into the Mormon Church. A failed marriage leaves her increasingly unfulfilled, despite her two children, and it’s not until her marriage to her current husband, Keith, that her passion for God is reignited. While Pimental’s search for a spiritual connection is intriguing, secular readers may be put off.
The Sleeping Giant: The Awakening of the Self-Employed Entrepreneur
Kyle Kade Press (thesleepinggiant.com), $24.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-9829108-0-1
McElroy, a successful self-employed entrepreneur, encourages would-be entrepreneurs to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities available even in the current economy. He identifies an emerging group of people who are creating their own employment destinies—a group he calls the “Sleeping Giant.” To illustrate the varied yet pragmatic paths available to those seeking to take charge, he includes 20 stories by successful individuals who carved out careers for themselves with an idea and little experience or money. While some of McElroy’s terminology seems dated—new economy versus old economy and the Internet and its endless possibilities—the stories he includes are just the opposite. Fresh, practical, and full of warts-and-all commentary, the advice these entrepreneurs share is insightful and of value to those contemplating starting their own businesses. Carol Frank’s “Choose Your Partners Well” is a cautionary and frank account that everyone starting out should read. Neil Balter’s “A Twenty-Year Overnight Success Story” shows the importance of resilience and highlights best practices as well as mistakes to avoid. And “Follow the Cash” by Richard Levychin shows that sometimes new business opportunities find you and advises on everything from cash flow to brand integrity. Interestingly, McElroy’s own story is missing, but he more than redeems himself in his solid choice of contributors who harness a wealth of wisdom that can set new entrepreneurs on the right path.
So You Want to Go to College!
Richard LaDoyt Pinkerton, Ph.D.
Vantage Press, $15.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-533-16346-5
Former college professor Pinkerton presents high school students (and returning adult students) with clear facts about college and dispels many myths associated with higher education in modern America. Those myths include that college is something everyone must do, that everyone can be good at everything if they work hard enough, and that the only good education is an Ivy League education. Pinkerton advises students with unclear ambitions to look for a college that will make them well-rounded individuals and strong critical thinkers, and urges students with clear goals to consider pre-professional or vocational programs. Pinkerton is unabashedly opinionated and extremely brusque in his writing style—readers may be turned off by his abrasiveness. While some of his candor is refreshing, Pinkerton’s relentless attitude (as well as his occasionally meandering prose) will likely turn some readers away. Although Pinkerton provides a few good resources for students, he is not providing information that parents and students can’t get in a host of other places.
The Recipe for Ecstasy: What Women Want: Sexual and Relationship Satisfaction
Myrtle C. Means
Myrtle C. Means (www.createspace.com), $24.99 trade paper (260p) ISBN 978-0-615-49004-5
A researcher specializing in female sexuality, Means’s professional goal is to identify what brings women (particularly African-American women) sexual and relationship satisfaction. To this end, she examines the self-reported desires and stimuli of different groups of women—married women, single women, mothers, etc.—and offers tips and strategies for attaining maximum relationship and sexual satisfaction. These are laudable goals, to be sure. However, Means delivers this information and advice via a poorly constructed cooking analogy that is overused to the point of incomprehensibility and will leave many readers scratching their heads. All of the author’s advice can be found in other sources that are more straightforward and skip the clunky analogies. Means tries for a text that is academic and friendly, but ends up missing the mark.
Wanted: Gentleman Bank Robber: The True Story of Leslie Ibsen Rogge, One of the FBI’s Most Elusive Criminals
Nish Publishing (www.nishpublishing.com), $15.95 trade paper (211p) ISBN 978-0-615-26845-3
Will readers will share in the author’s enthusiasm for his career criminal relative, who robbed almost 30 banks from the 1970s to the 1990s across the United States, as well as escaping from jail? Batty’s account of his uncle, Leslie Ibsen Rogge, is cobbled together from interviews and letters written by Rogge. And while some anecdotes about him may have garnered laughs at family get-togethers, they are likely to leave readers cold. Batty minimizes the harm Rogge caused. Not only did his victims suffer substantial financial loss, but those he threatened to kill felt real terror, even if Rogge never actually resorted to violence. Rather than presenting a balanced account of his uncle’s life, the author simply repeats what a nice guy Rogge is and how his friends stood by him even when they learned of his crimes. While some lack of balance is to be expected, Batty goes too far—even criticizing the FBI for interviewing people after those people had spoken to the fugitive.
Henry! You’re Late Again!
Mary Evanson Bleckwehl, illus. by Brian Barber. Beaver’s Pond Press (www.beaverspondpress.com), $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59298-357-5
It’s “just another crazy morning” at Henry’s house—his father overslept, his mother forgot to set her alarm, his sister can’t find the socks that match her underwear, and his brother needs a diaper change. Knowing that he’ll be late for school again, Henry fears the wrath of Miss Timberlane, the school secretary. The boy’s narrative alternates between descriptions of his chaotic household and musings on the secretary’s life (Does she ever forget to set her alarm? Does she have a baby?). Henry’s fretting is for naught: when he arrives at school, a cheerful Miss Timberlane tells him that there’s no school for students (it’s a teacher workday), that he can make the morning announcements the next day, and that she’ll give him a wakeup call each morning. While it’s unclear whether Miss Timberlane has had a sudden change of attitude or if Henry’s fears are unwarranted, Barber’s jaunty illustrations add liveliness. His loose yet polished cartooning offers many visual gags, including portraits of a ferocious wolf hanging over the secretary’s desk and bed, and Henry’s dog’s exaggerated facial expressions. Ages 3–6.
Blooming Buddies in the Garden: A Blooming Book of Verse
Wendy Peterson, illus. by Debbie Donner
Pixie Land Inc. (www.bloomingbuddies.com), $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-9825819-0-2
Anchored by Donner’s sunlit watercolors, this choppy read-aloud collects snippets of verse, written in the voices of the flowers depicted in the paintings. A number of the singsong ditties, which are vaguely tied to a theme of friendship, are ambiguous or awkward (“I’m shy but I must tell her/ She’s standing on my stem/ Please move a bit Miss Posey/ So my play time can begin”). Occasionally, a clear message surfaces—“We understand you’re curious/ Now here’s a tip for you/ When you see others talking/ Please wait until they’re through”—but the absence of anything resembling a story line is difficult to overlook. Donner’s floral images, though somewhat static for a young audience and lacking visual variety, feature dappled backgrounds and a lovely pastel palette, accentuated by splashes of vivid color. This sweet-intentioned but unfocused compilation is more pleasing to the eye than the ear. Ages 3–6.
Chippy Chipmunk: Babies in the Garden
Kathy M. Miller
Celtic Sunrise (Atlas, dist.), $19.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-9840893-1-4
Miller’s sharp, close-range photographs of a chipmunk family and other backyard animals are the mainstay of this sequel to Chippy Chipmunk: Parties in the Garden. Chippy’s mate, Lily, leads her six-week-old chipmunk babies into the garden, where “they huddled together and gazed at their new world with wonder and curiosity.” Endearing images of the interactions among the siblings are front and center as they investigate their new world and nuzzle nose-to-nose. Miller stretches the story to accommodate pictures of other creatures: the chipmunks listen to the songs of an array of brightly colored birds, and a squirrel warns them about predators such as eagles, owls, and a cat (which is seen gazing out at Chippy from indoors). There are some overly precious moments, including a game of hide-and-seek among the chipmunks, but they don’t detract much from this innocuous, if discursive, story of backyard exploration. Information about chipmunks (and about Chippy and Lily’s four babies) appears on the endpapers. Ages 4–up.
Quests of Shadowind: Sky Shifter
Millhouse Press (www.questsofshadowind.com), $10.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-615-43925-9
In Miller’s complex novel, first in a planned eight-book series, 15-year-old Logan Oakes and his younger sister, Mindy, awaken one morning to many surprises: they are in someone else’s house (and pajamas), the world’s adults have vanished, and giant mechanical insects, “anibots,” appear and kidnap their older friend Preston. When the siblings discover that they can enter Shadowind, a “planetoid” full of virtual humans, through the computer, they work together to solve numerous puzzles, in hopes of acquiring the Staff of the Sky Shifter before the evil Lord Torrent and his Spirit Beast computer virus (or local bully Kyle) find it and destroy both worlds. While Miller’s many action sequences are suspenseful, the premise is complicated and the characters undeveloped. The plot branches out into too many story lines, the narrative hopping between players on all sides, with plodding and explanatory prose (“[Torrent] would get what he wanted by ridding himself of the meddlesome, goody-two-shoes Logan and by manipulating a computer program and then governing Kyle”), and the story often loses its focus and steam. Ages 6–12.
Dot to Dot
CreateSpace (www.createspace.com), $8.95 trade paper (202p) ISBN 978-1-4563-6804-3
In Bakke’s (Miss Alcott’s E-mail) second book, her first for teens, the life of 12-year-old Dorothy Mary-Jane (aka Dot) is altered after her mother is hit by a truck and killed. Dot is left afraid of things connected to the accident—libraries, traffic, the color red. Her bossy and determined Aunt Tab swoops in and insists they take a trip to England to scatter Dot’s mother’s ashes and research Dot’s namesakes: Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, and Dorothy Wordsworth. When Dot meets the ghosts of these writers, she learns, through their conversations and novels, that she is not as alone as she believed. Bakke faces Dot’s pain head-on (“[I]t’s hard to care about three women who’d been dead for two hundred years when your own mother has been dead less than two months and you weren’t too sure about the point of staying alive yourself”), and the shifting relationship between Dot and her aunt, as well as Dot’s tender memories of her mother, are especially well done. With complex characters and eloquent prose, it’s an absorbing story of a girl’s surprising path through her grief. Ages 12–up.
Heaven Is for Heroes
CreateSpace (www.createspace.com), $11.99 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-4635-6954-9
Sharon’s first novel is a slow but sincere contemporary wartime romance. Seventeen-year-old Jordie’s older brother, Levi, is a Marine, who has just been killed in Iraq during a mission with his childhood best friend, Alex. Alex returns missing a leg and with no memory of the incident. Despite her grandfather and mother’s acceptance of the official military report, Jordie can’t shake the feeling that her traditionally reckless brother’s death wasn’t an accident: “He and my mother would be just as happy to believe a lie. If I wanted the truth, I would have to find it myself,” she thinks. Athletic and willful, Jordie makes it her mission to heal Alex and find out what really happened, rereading the letters Levi sent her from Iraq and learning more about his “dark side.” As Alex struggles through physical and mental rehabilitation, Jordie worries about their potential relationship and her post–high school plans. Although the dialogue can be overly dramatic and the plot is somewhat overwrought, the underlying emotions come across as authentic. Ages 12–up.
The Battle for Tomorrow: A Fable
Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
Strategic Book Group (www.strategicbookgroup.com), $18.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-61204-219-0
At age 16, Ange Jones has experienced more than most adults. When the book opens she is going in for her second abortion after her 23-year-old boyfriend badgered her into having unprotected sex. Her mother, a callous beauty queen, recently suffered a stroke, and Ange has been her primary caregiver while attending school and working. Inspired by a social activist’s kindness and resentful of adults’ condescending attitudes, Ange changes her look from goth to nerd and heads for Washington, D.C., to dedicate herself to political activism, with no intention of returning to school in the fall. She stays at a hostel, takes a job at a deli, and gets her GED, relishing her independence. Participating in a nonviolent antiwar protest, Ange is arrested and put in a juvenile detention facility, which raises the book’s central issue of teenagers’ lack of rights. Bramhall’s first novel gets bogged down by extraneous details and takes too long to reach the central conflict; dialogue is often stilted, and Ange’s character is little more than a vessel for the author’s message. Ages 12–up.