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The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms, and Survival

in the Caribbean. Rita M. Gardner, illus. by Mike Morgenfield. She Writes Press, $16.95 paper (204p) ISBN 978-1-63152-901-6

Their father claims they are in paradise, but shadows fall over Eden for an American family forced to settle in a beautiful but volatile and poverty-stricken Dominican Republic ruled by dictator Rafael Trujillo. In this poignant, jarring memoir and coming-of-age story, Gardner recounts the pain, sacrifices, secrets, and infrequent joys of a dysfunctional family heading towards catastrophe. Throughout, storms serve as rich metaphors for pain, tragedy, and isolation, while natural beauty and family love clash with violent personalities and cruelty. Gardner has written a rich, haunting book that vividly captures her childhood and makes everyday turmoil vital through precise and honest prose.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Ambivalent Memoirist: Obsessions Digressions Epiphanies

Sandra Hurtes. CreateSpace, $12.95, paper (217p) ISBN 978-1-4923-5972-2

Hurtes offers up a scathingly honest memoir full of compassion and wit that infuses ordinary events with intimacy and intensity. A divorce and overbearing parents complicate Hurtes's attempts to reinvent herself in Brooklyn Heights. Teaching college English courses and preparing her first essay collection, she must address her own pain and doubts, as well as her parents' experiences during the Holocaust. Hurtes makes her raw, intimate struggles relevant to anyone who has loved, lost, and grappled with indecision and missed chances. Writing as art and psychological salvation is at the heart of this book, taking "readers deep below the surface" of words toward personal vindication.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My Soul Is Among Lions: Pages from the Breast Cancer Archives

Ellen Leopold. Valley Green Press, $9, paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-9898737-0-3

In this important collection of articles and essays, righteous outrage, education, and the redeeming power of love inform powerful narratives of women battling breast cancer. Leopold's book documents not only the fear and pain of the disease but also the economic, political, and gender conflicts women have faced seeking proper treatment. Among the many highlights is Katharine Lee Bates's poignant account of the death of her life partner, Katharine Coman. In "Shopping For The Cure," profit-induced charities are exposed, while the public cheerfully buys into corporate interests in "The Tyranny of Cheerfulness," exchanging activism for "cause marketing." Urging readers to be advocates of change, this collection expose a culture almost as destructive as the disease that it unwittingly accommodates.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Midlife Cabernet: Life, Love & Laughter After Fifty

Elaine Ambrose. Mill Park Publishing, $12 paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-9883980-7-8

Ambrose faces the frights, frustrations, and fancies of aging in this refreshingly honest and laugh-out-loud funny survival guide for middle-aged women. Infusing her prose with sarcastic dark humor, the author offers homespun recommendations on dating and sex, raising adult children, and the physical effects of aging—all with brazen cheer. From stressful divorces and facing Christmas alone to disastrous sexual misadventures nothing is sacred or off limits. The author's prose is lively and entertaining, with statements like "one of the many advantages of living in the last third of life is that I don't accept crap from anyone." Sure to be irritated and edified, women over 40 will find a lot to like here.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Catalyst: How Confidence Reacts with Our Strengths to Shape What We Achieve and Who We Become

Steven Smith and David Marcum. Veracity, $9.99 e-book (110p) ISBN 978-0-9915680-0-0

In Smith and Marcum's fascinating study of what constitutes true confidence—a "catalyst" of human achievement—the authors examine research on character strengths, expose how strengths can become weaknesses or "counterfeits," and offer an exploration of how both strengths and weaknesses might play out in readers' lives. The authors make thoughtful, well-argued points about which traits come from places of strength and which come from a places of weakness and overcompensation. Readers will certainly recognize some of the character traits discussed here in themselves. And while the authors could have provided more tools to help readers dissect strength and weaknesses in their own lives, this is an engaging study that will be useful to most people.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Widow's Walk, Part 1: The Precipice

Kenneth Spillias. Abbot, $17.99, paper (246p) ISBN 978-1-4582-0728-9

Sex, violence, and the supernatural clash with compassion in this serviceable yet flawed modern morality play. When Jim Donovan was 16 years old, to events occurred that would shape the course of his life: he was sexually humiliated by a girl named Rachel Feinberg and his father. When he later suffers a nervous breakdown, Jim finds himself in therapy with the sinister Dr. Pierre Pe're. And after his rise to prominence as an evangelist at a mega-church in South Florida, Jim is toppled by scandal and becomes embroiled in a struggle between good and evil. In this first in a series from Spillia, vivid characterization and evocative atmosphere are somewhat diluted by the author's emphasis on rigid morality. Still, readers searching for a quick paced supernatural thriller will delight in this Christian parable.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Thorns of Rosewood

Gina M. Barlean, illus. by Victorine Lieske. Gina M. Barlean, $15 paper (326p) ISBN 978-1-4928-8235-0

In 1974, four women suspected of killing a judge's wife in the small town of Rosewood, Neb., were set free—but did they get away with murder? Years later, Gloria Larson, editor of the local paper in Rosewood, is curious about what happened to the women—dubbed the "Thorns of Rosewood"—after their release. Gloria becomes more interested in the case when her adoptive parents reveal that her birth mother was from Rosewood and was suspected of murder in 1974. Gloria tracks the four women down, finding them at an assisted-living facility in Lincoln, where she convinces them to tell their story. Despite some plot points that strain credulity, this is an enjoyable and compelling novel. Barlean skillfully renders the book's small town setting, while the companionship of the women is believable. Gloria and the four Thorns of Rosewood are well-developed characters—and readers will find themselves eager to learn their story.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl

Julian David Stone. For the Duration Press, $14.95 paper (408p) ISBN 978-0-9898315-0-5

The golden age of television comes to life in this scathingly critical and immensely entertaining novel from Stone. Set in 1950s New York, TV writer Jonny Dirby loses his job for refusing to sign a loyalty oath to the United States during the Red Scare. But when he seeks revenge by altering the dialogue of sketch parodying Superman before its broadcast, he inadvertently creates Justice Girl, a character that quickly grabs viewers' hearts. Jonny is quickly re-hired to create an entire show around the Justice girl. The catch? Justice Girl is played by Felicity, a communist hunting fanatic determined to blacklist Johnny. Stone draws upon his career in entertainment to drive this lurid depiction of mass media's power in shaping our fantasies, values, ideals and fears. The author ably captures the tension and excitement of live television, focusing on how quickly this medium made and destroyed both careers and lives. This modern fable of fame and failure emphasizes the political and economic agendas that molded the entertainment industry and a generation. This fast-paced and emotionally vibrant satire is a treat for television buffs and general readers alike.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Rule of Equity

Jonathan Neville. Letmereadit.com, $16.99 paper (342p) ISBN 978-1482687-42-2

Combining an economic war against the United States and a complex plot intended to provide justice for Native Americans is an interesting premise, but its execution is mixed in this fast-paced thriller. Neville's book opens with a bloody ritual at Thomas Jefferson's Indian Mound in Virginia, involving a man, later identified as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs Hyrum Cobb. The knife-wielding medicine man conducting the ceremony warns Cobb that all men to previously undergo the ordeal died without fulfilling their destiny. The action then flashes forward two years, as the author slowly teases out what that destiny is, beginning with the murders of two government officials in Washington, D.C. Unraveling the scheme falls to a somewhat clichéd pair: Tom Madison, a successful businessman able to kick butt when needed, and his ex-wife, Magena Brown, who turns out to be Hyrum's niece. Although the resolution strains credulity, the pacing and clever plot twists will satisfy fans of the genre.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Killer App: Would You Die to Be Young Again

John Writher. Higive.com, $9.99 paper (342p) ISBN 978-0-9928373-1-0

In the near future, British Prime Minister Robert Hand is facing a crisis: the U.K.'s economy is in trouble because of the rising number of aging pensioners and the soaring cost of entitlement programs. But businessman Bill Haugan has a plan. A brilliant geneticist named Janet Icks has discovered a way of transferring a person's DNA—along with all the person's memories—into a newborn baby's body. Haugan proposes that Britain use this procedure to restructure the age of its population. This fast-paced techno-thriller address issues like overpopulation, the morality of scientific progress, and individual agency—and sets them against humanity's ever-present fear of mortality. And while the concept may be better than the execution and Haugan a cartoonish villain, Writher's novel is a compelling, chilling page-turner.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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