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The Ugly Teapot, Book 1: Hannah

Fred Holmes. CreateSpace, $12.95 paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-5307-4371-1

In his first novel, Holmes (Letters from Dad) introduces 14-year-old Hannah Bradbury, whose photojournalist father has recently died while on an assignment in Iraq. The last gift he gave her was a beat-up lamp (“It looked like a teapot, and a particularly unattractive teapot at that”) that he swore was Aladdin’s lamp. After Hannah rubs the lamp, a genie appears; naturally, she wishes for her father to be alive again, despite the genie’s cautions. Thus begins an adventure in which Hannah struggles to keep the lamp out of the hands of the evil Magician and return it to the fabled Cave of Forty Thieves with help from friends and her dog, Griff. Holmes crafts a fast-paced adventure, one that includes a few relatively horrific scenes, as Hannah travels from her Tennessee hometown to Iraq, but the story stumbles as questions build and are left unanswered (such as Hannah’s telepathic communication with Griff). Though the revelations of the final chapters offer something of a blanket explanation for any inconsistencies that arise, readers who have invested in Hannah’s journey may feel cheated by what they learn. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Letters from the Pacific: 49 Days on a Cargo Ship

Sandra Shaw Homer. CreateSpace, $9.99 trade paper (132p) ISBN SBN 978-1-4944-7531-4

Homer (The Magnificent Dr. Wao) inspires readers with this chronicle of a 49-day “voyage of exploration” she took through the South Pacific—from the Panama Canal to Tahiti, Fiji, New Caledonia, Australia, and New Zealand—as a passenger aboard a cargo ship. Homer embarks on her journey for a number of reasons: to experience again “the joy of being afloat in the vast, undefined watery spaces” that she first felt as a child on her father’s boat; to find some sort of “magic” that would wipe out troubles both physical (arthritis) and mental (doubts about her long-time marriage) ; and, while seeing other countries, to experience what a friend tells her: “Keep looking inward and see what the moment has to teach you.” What she discovers—and artfully describes—are the joys and hardships of life on a working ship (“A freighter is a noisy, dirty, smelly beast”), the beauty of the high seas (“With little warning, the red blob of sun oozed forth from the primordial soup, then slowly backlit the clouds above it, first in mauve, then rose, then gold”), and the strength she finds to go back to her daily life renewed, with a new appreciation for the “someone who has always been inside me but has been ignored for too long.” (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey through a Shamanic School

Weam Namou. Hermiz, $15 trade paper (241p) ISBN 978-0-9776790-3-4

Spiritual coach Namou (The Flavor of Cultures) describes her personal journey in this first volume of her four-part memoir. It begins with a phone conversation between Namou and author Lynn Andrews that was an essential part of Namou’s development; quotes and themes taken from this conversation are woven throughout the book, which recounts how Namou processed and came to terms with her childhood arrival in Detroit, Mich., after emigrating from Baghdad at the age of nine. Andrews encourages Namou to participate in the Mystery School, a lineage of learning based on Native American shamanic teachings, and this brings Namou a sense of release from the traumatization of being suddenly uprooted at such an early age to move to a vastly different culture. This thorough and descriptive first installment includes a deep look into her Iraqi past and Chaldean Christian background, and explores how that spiritual upbringing has influenced her present life. Spiritual terms and symbols that could be new to some readers are explained well throughout the book. Readers interested in personal journeys of faith will be eager to follow Namou along her spiritual path. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Great Heist

Jeff McArthur. Bandwagon, , $12.95 ISBN 978-1-4935-3269-8

Nebaska native McArthur (Pro Bono: The 18-Year Defense of Caril Ann Fugate) goes into exhaustive detail in this meandering account of a 1930 armed robbery of Nebraska’s Lincoln National Bank, in which six men, armed with pistols and Thompson submachine guns, got away with nearly three million dollars (a record for that time). The first chapter is a blow-by-blow account of the actual robbery. The story loses focus thereafter, spreading out in directions only distantly related to the heist. McArthur discusses the effects on the bank and the community of losing that much money in the days before federal insurance; he also tells of the founding of the Secret Six, a group of rich businessmen dedicated to combating lawlessness in Chicago, who were not in any way involved in the heist, and includes an entire chapter on Al Capone, who was only peripherally linked to the crime. More pertinent parts describe the desperate efforts of Lincoln DA Max Towle to nab somebody for the crime and possibly get the money back. Unfortunately, the many sidetracks in McArthur’s narrative take away from the story of the crime. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Two Ways Home

Sandra Kraak. Trail House, $12.99 trade paper (291p) ISBN 978-1-5355-6701-5

Kraak’s winsome Christian historical romance traces the path of redemption by going home again. Set just before the turn of the century, the novel begins in tiny Pine Creek, Wash., a town without much to offer young people who dream of bigger things. So Mary Smith decides to go off to Portland to study music. But with her father at risk of losing their struggling dairy farm, she decides to return home and help make ends meet by milking cows by day and playing piano for miners and lumberjacks by night. Mary’s old enemy from childhood, Luke Thomas, always dreamed of becoming a Texas Ranger, but when he left Pine Creek to pursue that career, his reasons turned out to be more complicated than mere goodwill. Now he has come back home to Pine Creek, wounded, amid a heated race for sheriff. Effective flashbacks reveal a lifelong friendly antagonism between Luke and Mary, fleshing out their characters and offering perspective on the couple’s current relationship—one that appears doomed from the start. Kraak provides plenty of twists and turns in this leisurely paced fun novel centered on Christian values. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Lady of the Bridge

Laura Kitchell. Laura Kitchell, $6.99 trade paper (152p) ASIN B015ZIGMOK

Kitchell’s warmhearted 17th-century Japanese historical romance (after Lady of the Imperial Court) beguiles the reader with passion, secrets, and deadly action. Forward-thinking warrior princess Saiko is tormented when her father, the most powerful man in Japan, informs her that she will become the consort to the figurehead emperor. She seeks solitude at her favorite bridge, where she meets elite loyal samurai Hosokawa Takamori. An immediate attraction between the two grows steadily during their daily clandestine meetings. Saiko evades Takamori’s inquiries about her identity and their future, as defying honor and the protocols of duty can have deadly consequences. When Saiko’s father assigns Takamori to escort her to the emperor, she manages to keep her secret until the retinue is attacked. Saiko uses her warrior skills alongside Takamori’s as they race across Japan to safety. While awaiting reinforcements, they create blissful intimate memories and strategize how to defeat their enemies. Just when it looks as though loyalty will win out over love, a twist of fate brings happiness within their reach. Cultural and historical nuances and a spirited heroine overcome a meandering beginning and a less developed hero in this fine period romance. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Casting in Stone

Morgan Smith. CreateSpace, $2.99 e-book (134p) ISBN 978-1-5239-9704-6

Smith’s second Averraine Cycle installment (after A Spell in the Country) is a short, concise journey to self-knowledge. In a tiny mountain village in a remote part of a fantasy world, Caoimhe lives as quietly as she can to escape her past. But even in so remote a place, trouble comes to find her. Though she is the ruler of the area in name, she has taken no interest in leading or protecting her people. Since her infancy, Caoimhe has been hated and rejected by her family, and she only found a home after being orphaned and taken in by a household that eventually gave her a place as a warrior and protector. Now her origins have come to haunt her village, as have outsiders who would force her to take up the fate she has spent a lifetime trying to escape. Smith has crafted a simple, dangerous world and a fascinating protagonist. The pace is a little slow, and in some places unnecessarily static. The ending is sudden and relies on Caoimhe’s good luck and sharp instincts, but Smith has taken pains to establish those as the heroine’s traits. The story never cheats, leading to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Abe Lincoln on Acid

Brian Anthony and Bill Walker. Walker/Anthony, $17.95 trade paper (334p) ISBN 978-0-9897457-7-2

In the joyful sequel to Abe Lincoln: Public Enemy No. 1, Anthony and Walker continue their goofy, endearing adventures of an immortal ex-president battling the evil of Hoover’s henchmen during the Summer of Love. This charming yarn speeds along at a breakneck pace but takes time to linger on pleasant nostalgia trips, as Lincoln reprises his penchant for bank heists and daring escapes, expanding his interests to psychedelic experiences. With the gentle, constant support of folk singer John Voci, Lincoln crosses the country twice in search of himself, like everyone else in the psychedelic era. Along the way he inspires radical youths, gives support to a noble minister, and explores his own legacy. The authors’ irreverence is enhanced by an obvious affection for the material. Though the setting and situations are absurd, the perils contrived, and the outcome preordained, the journey is made worth the trouble by the protagonist’s relentless optimism coupled with steely pragmatism. Readers will delight in this fun, frivolous indulgence. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Burned

A. Blythe. Red Palm, $3.99 e-book (301p) ASIN B01DFCMS5E

In this first installment of the Magic Bullet series, a supernatural secret agent is disavowed by her bosses, depowered, and thrust into a world of trouble after a mission goes terribly wrong. Now djinn Alyse Winters is back home in Philadelphia without access to her usual resources or any idea of why she’s been “burned,” and with any number of enemies hot on her tail. To make ends meet, she takes a retrieval job for the mob. However, when she becomes a suspect in a series of brutal murders involving missing body parts, she’s forced to investigate in order to clear her name. Luckily, she still has a few good friends on her side. Blythe (Death Match) focuses a great deal on worldbuilding and setting up the premise, but this is still a fast-paced, somewhat over-the-top adventure. Her heroine is resourceful, determined, and smart-mouthed, able to roll with the constant surprises and twists. Though this does have a paint-by-numbers urban-fantasy feel to it, Alyse’s world of magic, mayhem, and murder has plenty of potential for further entertaining entries. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Transfer Day: Special Centennial Edition 1917–2017

Sophie Schiller. Sophie Schiller, $13.99 trade paper (386p) ISBN 978-0-615653-43-3

The 1917 transfer of the Danish West Indies to the United States, which forestalled imperial Germany’s hopes to control strategically valuable ports during WWI, provides the background for Schiller’s engaging historical thriller. In 2001, journalist Søren Jensen, still grieving over the loss of his wife, travels from Copenhagen to the Virgin Islands to investigate a report that documents exist supporting the claim of Abigail Maduro to have “personally thwarted a German invasion” of the islands. Abigail recently died at the age of 101, and Søren meets her granddaughter, Claire Lehman, a possible new love interest (Claire’s eyes have “an inner fire, a boldness that resonated deep within him”). Claire gives Søren access to her ancestor’s diary, which details the teenage Abigail’s growth into self-sufficiency and her role in countering German espionage before the sale of the islands. Schiller deftly blends fact and fiction in a page-turner with emotional resonance. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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