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Debunking the Bump: A Mathematician Mom Explodes Myths About Pregnancy

Daphne Adler. Daphne Adler, $14.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5053-9312-5

In this important book, Adler, a mathematician, management consultant, and self-proclaimed "numbers junkie," equips mothers with researched data behind recommendations for what to do (and not do) during pregnancy and kids' early childhood. She decided to write the book after becoming exasperated with the bounty of conflicting (and often scary) information about pregnancy. Revelatory chapters address pathogens, environmental toxins, "voluntary poison" (tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine), lifestyle, positive influences, and unavoidable risks. Adler writes that not only is it nearly impossible to avoid food poisoning through dietary changes, but that only a handful of food-borne illnesses will cause problems for one's pregnancy. Each "myth" is summarized with Adler's own threat/benefit level rating system; for instance, the threat level of eating oysters is very low, while kissing your kids poses a medium threat, due to viruses. Comprehensive appendices cover Adler's methodology and calculations and the exhaustive catalogues behind her conclusions. She writes in a tone that is both authoritative and assuring—that of a mother rooting for all other mothers. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Death of a Diva: From Berlin to Broadway

Brigitte Goldstein. Pierredor, $14.99 trade paper (278p) ISBN 978-0-692-24666-5

The murder of a prominent Broadway actress and international movie star in 1941 New York City drives Goldstein’s suspenseful whodunit. Austrian immigrant Stella Berger, acclaimed for her portrayal of Desdemona, was, ironically, strangled in her dressing room during a run of Othello. Suspicion falls on the empathetic narrator, Misia Safran, a premed college student who considered Stella a mentor and a hero for her outspoken opposition to the Nazi regime. On the fatal afternoon, Misa let a street musician who played the violin opposite the theater’s entrance into the building shortly before Stella was murdered. With no solid evidence against Misia, the police release her, but keep her under surveillance. Aided by her boyfriend, law student Curtis Wolff, the future doctor does her best to learn the truth about Stella’s death. Flashbacks from the perspective of violinist Viktor Erdos, who knew Stella in Europe, enhance the mystery plot en route to a satisfying surprise resolution. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Betsy Town

Michael J. Malone. Well Lit Books, $11.99 trade paper (314p) ISBN 978-0-9856328-6-1

In the last of the Tompkins Trilogy, David Campion, an obsessive-compulsive New York City librarian with a Derek Jeter fixation, wants to marry his news-reporter fiancée, but he feels compelled first to resolve the circumstances of his family history. When David was an infant, his mother—while holding David in her arms—was struck and killed by a train in David’s hometown of Elizabeth, N.J. In a scattered narrative voice, David recounts his visits to Elizabeth, which he keeps secret from his fiancée the way another man might an infidelity. As his behavior becomes increasingly bizarre—he acts on the compulsion to reach for a police officer’s gun and ends up in jail—David emerges as less a man struggling with his past and more one suffering from mental illness. Malone’s storytelling has the same quality of listless meandering as his protagonist. Yet David’s fixation with his roots, seedy Betsy Town, and the tragedy that spared his life, lend poignancy to a novel of flailing through crisis and emerging out the other side. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Baggywrinkles: A Lubber’s Guide to Life at Sea

Lucy Bellwood. Toonhound Studios, $19.99 paper (132p) ISBN 978-0-9882202-9-4

Bellwood’s stints as a deckhand on the Lady Washington, a modern-day replica of an 18th-century brig, inform this funny and enlightening comics collection, which is part memoir, part breezy overview of nautical history and lore. In six longer comics and several interludes, she discusses her own introduction to confusing nautical terminology (“So I’m guessing you could easily find me the for’topms’tays’lhalyrd,” jokes a crewmate), the scourge of scurvy, the dubious history of plank walking, and a notable voyage of the original Lady Washington to Japan, more than 60 years before Commodore Perry showed up, among other topics. Bellwood is a gifted raconteur, skillfully blending historical anecdotes with irreverent contemporary humor (“So we’re gonna need like... all of these,” two admirals tell a Sicilian lemon farmer, aiming to curb scurvy). Her artwork, meanwhile, is in line with of-the-moment creators such as Kate Beaton and Lucy Knisley, and her chunky line work also nods to woodcut prints and tattoos, the latter getting their own chapter, too. The only downside to this collection is its brevity—here’s hoping Bellwood has more stories on the way, nautical or otherwise. Ages 9–12. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Stone Circle

Anthony Tuck. Wheatmark, $12.95 paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-62787-307-9

Siblings fight ancient evil with help from mythological figures in Tuck’s engaging first novel. Telepathic 12-year-old twins Maisie and Jasper Tuck are spending the fall with Professor Winslop while their parents are away on an archeological dig. With nothing to do but listen to the Professor’s lectures on history and myth, the twins take to exploring the New Hampshire woods. After they find a circle of stones reminiscent of Stonehenge, the professor reveals that they are the Children of Gemini and they must use the stone circle to locate four jewels to complete the Crown of Seasons and defeat the Dark Ones. Tuck draws on a wealth of mythological elements from Norse, Greek, Native American, and other sources to create an appealing adventure, though the story can get bogged down in details and lore surrounding barrow wights, selkies, and other creatures and legends. While Maisie and Jasper are equally capable and important to the story, the characters as a whole are fairly one-note. Regardless, Tuck provides intriguing food for thought about the oral tradition of myths and the ways stories change as they’re told. Ages 9–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Song Birds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music

Heather Augustyn. Half Pint, $25 (423p) ISBN 978-1-5024-3604-7

In this engaging, well-researched book, Augustyn (Ska: An Oral History) states that women had almost no chance in the male-dominated Jamaican music industry in the 1940s–1980s; it was all “overt power and testosterone.” In the songs, women were “the playground for men” or “wrongdoers,” and the lyrics were “misogynistic and thus not very appropriate for female consumption, must less creation.” She shows that the women who pursued music careers in this setting were trailblazers. Augustyn profiles dozens of women who persevered through tough times, juggling child rearing, gender discrimination, and low pay. She includes Louise Bennett, who “brought the Jamaican patois, folklore, and culture to the stage [and] her talents to Harlem”; Millie Small, whose “bubbling” voice made her cover version of “My Boy Lollipop” an international hit; and Susan Cadogan, who went from “quiet library assistant to... superstar.” This is an exhaustive, if overlong, history of Jamaican music. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sour Candy

Kealan Patrick Burke. Elderlemon, $2.99 e-book (66p) ASIN B017QCGW24

Horror author Burke (Kin) delivers an excellent terror-filled novella. Philip Pendleton is an unexceptional man, living a carefree life with his young son, Adam. No one who observes them has any idea that Philip has only known Adam for a short time, and this carefree life is really a living hell: after the two randomly meet at a store, Adam decides to make Philip his newest “parent,” using his terrible powers to completely rewrite Philip’s life so that everyone else thinks he’s always been there. Only Philip remembers the life he used to have, and those memories are no comfort as he becomes a prisoner in his own home, a slave to a demonic child. Bringing the evil-child trope to its devastating apex, Burke creates a horrific vision of what might happen if children utterly controlled their parents. Burke’s writing is visceral; Philip’s descent into madness is rendered in unnerving terms. Adding in a Lovecraftian pantheon of monsters, Burke creates a stomach-twisting ride through the depths of horror, breathing new life into an often-stagnant part of the genre. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Stay: Troubled Hearts, Book 1

Savannah Brooks. Amazon Digital, $2.99 ASIN B017EL0B24

This tender, uncomplicated love story has an old-fashioned happy ending, complete with a wedding—all the sweeter because it’s a pleasant 21st-century romance between two men who find love on an eastern Arizona ranch turned campground. When 23-year-old Blake Stevens wanders onto the grounds of Spirit Lake Camp, all he wants is a job, even if it’s temporary—maybe especially if it is. He just needs cash and a place to sleep. Ever since being thrown out of the house by a disapproving father, the former Marine has been trying to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Spirit Lake’s family scion Asher Collins decides the best thing Blake could do is share that life with him. The ensuing cat and mouse game comes with no earth-shattering surprises and few complications, but no matter. For fans of straightforward romance with a smattering of steamy lovemaking, this story will fit the bill nicely. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Nutcracker King: Coming from Darkness, Book 1

Eustacia Tan. Eustacia Tan, $0.99 e-book (115p) ASIN B018VK9132

Tan inexplicably morphs the joyful Nutcracker story into a gruesome, horrific rampage of a psychopathic prince turned doll who murders his family members and bathes in their blood, all for the sake of his quest to become human again and win the hand of his dear Marie. This unsettling alteration of the original story eschews the happy ending and takes place eight years later, with the love story between the Nutcracker and Marie unresolved. The plot of this sexist novella involves a kidnapping, forced marriage, torture, and a ditzy “heroine” who makes excuses for the evil the Nutcracker does in her name. The brutality rivals the original Grimm fairy tales and is certainly not appropriate for children. Tan mixes third-person and first-person points of view to the detriment of the narrative flow, abuses clichés, misplaces colloquialisms, and includes anachronisms that would have baffled E.T.A. Hoffmann. Those hoping for a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies–style bit of whimsy will be very disappointed. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Graveyard Shift

Angela Roquet. CreateSpace, $14.95 trade paper (259p) ISBN 978-1-4800-0418-4

Roquet breathes new life into death with the debut of her Reapers, Inc. urban fantasy series. Lana Harvey is an eighth-generation reaper, content with harvesting low-risk souls on a freelance basis. She gets her docket in the morning, heads over to the mortal realm to pick her passengers up, and then takes them back to her ship in Limbo City. Every afternoon, she and her sailing partner drop their souls off in the respective afterlives. At night, she enjoys poker games with her friends, including the angel Gabriel, and spends countless hours warming a stool at the demon-run Purgatory Lounge. Lana’s quite content with her life until she’s chosen by Grim, the CEO of Reapers, Inc., to help quell an insurrection threatening to destroy the fabric of Eternity. The blending of cultures and traditions is handled respectfully, with more than a touch of humor mixed in with hints of romance and mystery. The setting is rich and varied with a little something for fans of several different genres. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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