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Red Sulphur: The Greatest Mystery in Alchemy

Robert Bosnak. Red Sulphur, $3.99 e-book (504p) ISBN 978-0-9909321-0-9

Bosnak debuts with a high-stakes fantastical tale set largely in the Netherlands during the late 17th century. Mundanus, an Italian alchemist, sets out on a mission to visit the venerated Dutch physician Helvetius. He brings with him the famed Philosopher’s Stone, forcing Helvetius to reconsider his skepticism of alchemy. Meanwhile, Mundanus is drawn to Helvetius’s wife, Marianne, who is herself an alchemist, and to her ailing niece, Clara. Mundanus and Marianne begin to use an alchemical compound called red sulphur in experiments, many of which have life-altering effects. He also hopes to prove himself a better physician than Helvetius by curing Clara’s lingering illness. Occasional modern colloquialisms and phrasing hinder the flow, and the atmosphere suffers as a result. However, Bosnak excels at depicting human drama, particularly the love triangle among Mundanus, Marianne, and Clara. Bosnak’s characters are three-dimensional, and the interactions among them are often thought provoking. The fantastical elements assist but never overshadow the main story, and the characters’ emotional entanglements are balanced by a complex plot with a well-realized historical setting. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Project Nephili

T.L. Farmer. Story Merchant, $15.95 ISBN 978-0-990421-62-7

At the outset of Farmer’s fast-paced thriller, Angie McDowell’s boss at the Blytheville Express sends the dogged reporter to investigate Blytheville State, a Georgia psychiatric hospital, after the Department of Health and Human Services threatens to close the facility for mismanagement, a move that would put many locals out of work. Angie soon learns that the hospital zealously guards its secrets and that all copies of a history written by a former chaplain, who worked there for almost three decades, have disappeared. The rumors about what was going on at the hospital include claims that Martin Luther King’s assassination followed word that he was about to push for a federal probe into Blytheville State. Farmer consistently maintains the intrigue of the opening sections and doles out teasers at regular intervals, including references to the mysterious Watchers and Angie’s encounters with Sallie, a six-fingered ghost. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Meant to Be

Jessica James. Patriot Press, $16.99 ISBN 978-1-941020-02-9

James uses the idyllic setting of Ocean City, Mary., as a man and woman quickly fall into a whirlwind romance. Rad meets Lauren as he is jogging on the beach; despite being brushed off, he meets her again on the boardwalk, and she agrees to go to the Ripley Museum with him. Their romantic day on the boardwalk together turns into a most memorable night as she meets his friends at a beach bash, and their romance continues until almost dawn. Neither Rad nor Lauren disclose any information to the other about their jobs or what paths led them to Ocean City, and they go their separate ways. But not much later, through circumstances related to their military careers, they see each other again. In this difficult new situation, however, both Lauren and Rad need to set aside their personal feelings to complete their respective assignments. Sweetly sentimental and moving, James’s novel is an endearing page-turner offering a unique view of military life and the difficult choices faced by those involved. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Your Dream Job: Use Dating Secrets to Get Hired and Build a Career You Love

Dom Bokich. Bocksberg, $16.99 trade paper (218p) ISBN 978-0-9887000-2-4

Bokich might initially hook readers with the tantalizing proposal that, by buying his book, “you can become better at interviewing” (from the job candidate side, not the hiring side), but quite a few are going to drop out before the end, either because they don’t need its advice or because they’re put off by its “dating secrets” framework. This is definitely a book for an under-30 audience, the first clue being pop-culture references that include Anchorman 2 (“one of the funniest comedy sequels of all time”) and How I Met Your Mother. Readers who push on will be rewarded by some useful suggestions, especially the “40 questions” that will help even the most uninspired writer create a strong résumé. Unfortunately, even the best material is likely be skipped over when the dating metaphor is carried to creepy extremes (“Seducing Your Date,” “Getting Intimate”) or when examples begin with headlines like “Lauren the Hot Marketing Intern.” Bokich shares a number of good responses to likely interview questions that bear studying, but some of the supposedly real-life examples he offers come across as very unlikely. The “Questions You Should Ask” section—although helpful—is also very basic, underscoring the impression that this is a book for inexperienced job-hunters with a high tolerance for inappropriate sexual innuendo. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Kid Me Not: An Anthology by Child-Free Women of the ’60s, Now in Their 60s

Edited by Aralyn Hughes. Violet Crown, $12 trade paper (126p) ISBN 978-1-938749-10-0

Fifteen women in their 60s share personal reminiscences of their youth, praising birth control, abortion access, and the support of activists who told them that they had more options than babymaking and secretarial work, and showing how life without children—either by choice or circumstance—worked out perfectly fine for them. Alternating with joyful photo collages and cute lists of events, TV shows, movies, and music from individual years in the ’60s, these narratives of sex, love, career, family, and relationships together give a warm impression of women whose paradigms were changing, whether they fought for it and or just found themselves at the forefront of new opportunities. Lovely pictures of the writers as young women and in the present accompany each vignette and serve as a delightful testament to aging gracefully. Younger feminists might find that compassion for the struggles of their second-wave foremothers is evoked by the words of well-spoken, everyday women who look like their own mothers and grandmothers. Their stories are a reminder that our choices now do carry us into the rest of our lives. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Time Sailors of Pizzolungo

Scott Abrams and Adam Blockton. Scott Abrams (timesailors.com), $9.99 paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-9905278-0-0

Time-traveling kids terrorize the 15th century after a mysterious ship catapults them back to 1497 in an adventure that plays fast and loose with history while taking advantage of the era’s rich tradition of exploration and discovery. Even though sixth-grader Guillermo Infante Jr. and his friends are suddenly facing real-life pirates and meeting famous explorers like Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus, Guillermo just wants to get home to the small Sicilian town of Pizzolungo. When he acquires a treasure map, he sees an opportunity to dig up the riches and help solve his family’s financial woes. With the wind at his back and his friends at his side, Guillermo sails the Grande Infante across the deadly seas in search of fame and fortune, with surprises at every turn. First-time authors Abrams and Blockton craft an entertaining tale, full of colorful personalities, and if they take some liberties with historical representations and gloss over logistics (the modern protagonists have no trouble communicating with the people they meet in 1497, for instance), it’s all in good fun. Ages 7–12. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Life, Love, and a Hijacking: My Pan Am Memoir

Wendy Sue Knecht. CreateSpace, $10.79 (208p) ISBN 978-1-5025-2349-5

Knecht's delightful memoir introduces readers to the exciting world of air travel. She spent decades as a flight attendant for Pan Am Airlines, getting to experience the glamour of world travel and an older, more luxurious way of getting places (before budget airlines ascended and Pan Am went bankrupt). Her years of travel took her all over the world, led her to meet many amazing people, and helped her maintain close ties with family, friends, and lovers, especially with her family's liberal use of her travel benefits. She exposes this world to readers in delightful anecdotes—some funny, some heartbreaking—and on every page displays an infectious lust for travel and adventure. Knecht draws readers in with charm and makes them feel a part of the Pan Am experience. Given the present-day experience of flying coach-class, even readers too young to have flown on Pan Am will feel nostalgic. She also provides valuable advice on packing, eating, and generally being a smart traveler, as well as some recipes for some of Pan Am's most popular in-flight meals. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Healing Ruby

Jennifer Westall. Jennifer Westall, $3.99 e-book (369p) ASIN B00O3GRNF2

Coming of age in Depression-era Alabama is fraught with pitfalls for Ruby Graves in the opener of Westall’s (Love’s Providence) Healing Ruby series. Ruby is a typical young woman of her time, but then tragedy strikes her family repeatedly, much like the biblical figure Job. In the wake of those tragedies comes a new understanding of her faith, and more questions than she can ever find answers to, among them mysteries in her family’s past. Plot strands are teased out slowly and answers revealed as the story progresses, and the novel builds to a satisfying climax followed by a gentle push toward the next installment. Woven with scriptural references that and brutally frank regarding the treatment of people in the 1930s South, Westall’s story also sounds notes of hope and faith that balance her portrayal. Insight into history and race relations enrich a textured narrative. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Third Daughter

Susan Kaye Quinn. Susan Kaye Quinn, $12.99 trade paper (346p) ISBN 978-1-4937-7477-7

Romance and intrigue collide in the fluffy, entertaining first installment of Quinn’s Dharian Affairs steampunk trilogy. As the third daughter of the Queen of Dharia, 17-year-old Aniri has the opportunity to marry for love. However, she agrees to an arranged marriage with Prince Malik of neighboring Jungali after he makes an impassioned plea for peace—and her mother presents a calculated need for a spy amongst the Jungali. Far from home, Aniri must find the evidence needed to prevent war, even as she maintains the pretense of romance with her betrothed. As danger mounts, so do the lies, deceptions, and mysteries. The feisty, resourceful princess leaps into and out of trouble with grace and style. Quinn (the Mindjack trilogy) could have done much more with the alternate East Indian setting, which feels mostly like window dressing, but steampunk fans will appreciate the airships, swordfights, illicit romance, fantastical technology, desperate escapes, last-minute rescues, and breathtaking scenery, all pulled together by a genuine sense of fun. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Narrow Path to War: Marshals of Arion, Book 1

DL Frizzell. BookLogix, $14.95 trade paper (363p) ISBN 978-1-61005-499-7

Frizzell’s imagined universe becomes less interesting as his debut proceeds—not a good sign for a series kickoff. A fleet of six spaceships “crossed an entire arm of the galaxy in only a decade” to establish a new home for humanity on an earthlike planet, Arion. During the next 500 years, the population of Arion lost the use of all “micro-electronics.” The introduction of the main characters is well handled; student Alex Vonn refuses to take shelter during a powerful magnetic storm so that he can witness the phenomenon, and Frizell makes the danger palpable. Marshal Hugh Redland is first seen on the trail of an escaped prisoner, only to find that he’s chasing the wrong quarry, a mercenary in possession of an odd map of the entire planet. All the ingredients for excitement are here, but the plot focuses on Vonn’s tiresome search for the truth about his father, the characters lack depth, and the prose is unmemorable. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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