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Just Keep Shooting: My Youth in Manhattan

Judy McConnell. Ingram Spark, $14.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-692-66597-8

In her second memoir (after A Penny a Kiss), McConnell embarks on an immersive journey through nearly six years of post-college life during the late 1950s and early ’60s, though it’s difficult to discern any real impact that time has on the author’s life. She traveled from home in Minnesota to Manhattan, Paris, and Spain, then to California and back to New York. McConnell recalls people she met and experiences including jobs at the U.N., in publishing, and at Forbes magazine. These gigs don’t hold much for McConnell, nor do her loves and friends, who come and go. Her passions feel more like hobbies, as her film and writing aspirations are never fully realized. Throughout the book, McConnell makes clear her disdain for her mother, including her attitude toward the volatile politics of the day and married life. This gives the reader a loose sense of McConnell’s ideals and beliefs, only to have it dismantled as she concludes the book with a rushed description of falling in love and getting married. McConnell works to define herself and her place in life, but by the end, readers are left with no better an understanding of her than when the book began. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Enjoy the Dance: Dancing, Book 2

Heidi Cullinan. Heidi Cullinan, $4.99 e-book (344p) ASIN B01KVVFRM8

The rapidity of change in American politics allows Cullinan to make her second Dancing novel (after Dance with Me) a period piece set in the distant historical era of the early 2010s, in a Minnesota considering the repeal of same-sex marriage while the nation is on the edge of marriage equality. Dance teacher Tomás Jimenez’s student, Duon Graves, winds up on Tomás’s doorstep after enduring homophobic abuse from his family. Tomás’s neighbor, closeted kindergarten teacher Spenser Harris, takes the boy in. Someone needs to give Duon a new home, and Spenser realizes that Tomás cannot risk exposing his undocumented parents, whom he supports while they raise his deadbeat sister’s children, to the scrutiny of the foster care system. Cullinan balances activism and escapism as she places Tomás and Spenser’s interracial love-conquers-all romance in a context full of real contemporary challenges, letting the reader indulge hopeful thoughts of the possibility of successful support networks for gay men and immigrants without straying too far into after-school special territory. However, her analogy between the freedom of dance and the freedom to allow happiness into one’s life often feels overblown. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Last Room at the Cliff’s Edge: A Detective Linda Mystery

Mark McNease. MadeMark, $10.95 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-0-9916279-9-8

This suspenseful series launch from McNease (the Kyle Callahan Mysteries) introduces retired homicide detective Linda Sikorsky. Linda has opened a “vintage everything” store in New Hope, Pa., where she lives with her wife, aspiring writer Kirsten McClellan, whose first novel features a lead based on Linda. But Linda’s past turns out not to be past. When they get caught in a torrential rainstorm while driving to a writer’s retreat in Maine that Kirsten is eager to attend, Kirsten wants to keep going. Linda persuades her that they need to stop for the night, which they do at the seedy Cliff’s Edge motel. Linda is suspicious of the creepy desk clerk, Lenny Winfrow, and that feeling is only intensified after she hears some odd noises from an adjoining room that Lenny insisted was vacant, but which the reader knows is occupied by an ambitious small-town journalist, Cayley Drees, who’s following up an anonymous tip. Plausible sleuthing and smart characterizations combine for a winner. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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My Temporary Life

Martin Crosbie. CreateSpace, $12.99 trade paper (340p) ISBN 978-1-4699-6562-8

The first section of this gripping debut—the first volume in a trilogy—takes a serious, disquieting look at the sometimes sordid realities of adolescence and adulthood as he depicts the bullying, bad parenting, and violence encountered by a smart and sensitive young man. The novel begins in 1976, when 13-year-old Malcolm Wilson lives with his aloof father in Scotland during the school year and with his promiscuous Canadian mother in Vancouver during the summer. Malcolm and his best friend, Hardly, are targets of trickery and beatings by schoolmates; a particularly unnerving incident occurs in their refuge, an old tree. The one time Malcolm fights back, he accidentally strikes a teacher. He moves to Vancouver and, helped by the kindness of his wealthy summer employer, attends a private school. The second section, set 20 years later, is a fast-paced, romantic thriller with sleuthing, a dark secret, and a vile, maniacal character. Malcolm, now 34, lives a comfortable, drama-free life as an unmarried accountant until he meets the lovely Heather Postman, whose mysterious secret sends them off on a suspenseful caper . Malcolm can’t get at Heather’s secret and doesn’t know whom to trust. Crosbie’s novel captivates from the get-go with spine-tingling drama and penetrating character portrayals that send a strong message about family, and friends who become family. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Your Holistically Hot Transformation: Embrace a Healthy Lifestyle Free of Dieting, Confusion, and Self-Judgment

Marissa Vicario. Marissa’s Well-Being and Health, $12.99 trade paper (252p) ISBN 978-0-692-66240-3

Written for fans of glossy magazines, Vicario’s book rolls out a well-integrated, holistic lifestyle plan based on what she touts as her successful personal transformation. She left a successful but stressful PR job and abandoned her unhealthy eating and drinking habits, and is now a health and nutrition coach. It’s easy to jump on Vicario’s bandwagon; she uses strong salesmanship techniques (asking questions that can only have one answer), serves up plenty of encouraging words, and shares personal details about her transformation to great advantage. (Once she found her “purpose” in health coaching, the rest of her life fell into place, she explains.) In addition to self-help narration, the book includes healthy food choices and a sprinkling of recipes. “Client Story” sidebars illustrate successful practices and brief “Put It in Action” summaries at chapter ends are useful reminders of small and manageable changes to incorporate into one’s life. In addition to nutrition, Vicario covers the well-stocked pantry, “stress-free” cooking, exercise, relationship tips, and a few out-of-the-ordinary subjects (tongue scraping, mask treatments). Lifestyle change “doesn’t have to be complicated,” Vicario insists, and for determined readers, this book may well be the impetus for transformation. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Sketches of a Black Cat: Story of a Night Flying WWII Pilot and Artist

Ron Miner. Riverdale, $20 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-5350-5488-1

Miner uses the diary, drawings, and WWII memorabilia of his late father, Howard, to piece together an account of his father’s experiences as a WWII pilot in the Pacific Theater. He combines Howard’s writings with interviews with WWII veterans, crafting a loving tribute to the young men who fought in WWII. He begins with the Sunday brunch date when Howard heard President Roosevelt announce the attack on Pearl Harbor, moving through the hardships, terror, and tedium of fighting a war. Howard, a college student at the outbreak of war, enlisted with the Navy and became a pilot with the Black Cats squadron. The squadron primarily flew at night, scouting for Japanese ships and enemy positions or doing rescue missions. Miner mixes training and flight stories with observations on the importance to enlisted men of cigarettes, alcohol, movies, and mail from home. Reports of friends’ deaths and needless losses throughout the war are jarring for their regularity, but lighthearted moments arise in Howard’s confessed awe at his friends’ successes with women and his own ineptitude. Despite some awkward writing and a need for more extensive notes and definitions, Miner does his father and other WWII veterans proud. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Hope’s Melody

Jeanna Kunce, illus. by Craig Kunce. Windhill, $14 paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-944734-08-4

In this lightly illustrated chapter book from the Kunces, whose previous books include Darien and the Lost Paints of Telinoria, eight-year-old Abigail treasures the stuffed lion she calls Lionie. As Abigail debates whether to leave her current school and friends to study at a music school, Lionie comes to life. Nicknamed Gus (his real name is Augustine), he explains that he and several other animals were created by a magician long ago but separated during a storm, kicking off a quest to find the other animals and “save the world of imagination.” Scraggly b&w spot illustrations punctuate this daydream-like but drawn out story. Readers taken with the idea of a favorite stuffed animal coming to life may look past the fact that the underlying reasons for it are rather vague (of the magician: “Somehow the love between the man and his animals created a new magic in the world—the power of imagination was born into every living child”). In the end, Abigail’s personal growth as she weighs what to do about her future schooling is more engaging than the story’s fantasy elements. Ages 6–9. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Soul Mender

R.S. Dabney. Red Pen Warriors, $14.99 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-0-692-47201-9

A familiar science fiction theme—a parallel reality populated by alter egos of the inhabitants of our own—gets a fresh spin in this intriguing variant of a dark fantasy. Since childhood, Riley Dale, an environmental scientist living in Boulder, Colo., has been plagued by visions. Then she unexpectedly crosses over into the world of her imaginings with the help of a magic ring left to her by her grandmother. Partnering with Oz, a drug-addicted ne’er-do-well who represents the other half of her divided soul, and protector Zachary Stone, who’s a serial killer in her own world, Riley travels cross-country to Los Angeles, the terrorist-bombed capital of this alternate U.S., to learn the crucial role she must play in events rocking the parallel world. Dabney’s writing is crisp and confident, and her characters—including both of their personalities—are well-developed. She introduces more subplots than can be resolved by the novel’s end, making this a promising start for a projected trilogy. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hunting in the Zoo: A Detective Pete Nazareth Novel

R.H. Johnson. Hampton, Westbrook, $17.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-5323-0214-5

Johnson’s suspenseful third novel featuring Det. Pete Nazareth of the NYPD (after A Measure of Revenge) places presidential candidate Archer Grande, who boasts that he could “stroll naked down Fifth Avenue, and my supporters would still vote for me,” in the crosshairs of an assassin. Nazareth is half of a team dubbed the Dynamic Duo, after he and fellow detective Tara Gimble amassed an impressive record for “not only closing the toughest cases but also for putting themselves in harm’s way again and again to get the job done right.” New York City’s mayor taps the pair to go after Stone Jackson, an expert sniper who has begun taking out child molesters, starting with the Little League coach who abused him. As Nazareth and Gimble search for Jackson, the killer ups the ante after concluding that Grande is a dangerous demagogue. Unexpected developments ratchet up the tension en route to a dramatic climax. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Flame Eater

Barbara Gaskell Denvil. Gaskell Publishing House, $4.99 e-book (424p) ASIN B01B8SEC3S

This meticulously detailed romantic thriller portrays two flawed families in medieval England whose less moral members are victims of a murderer/arsonist. The families are united in 1485 when heiress Emeline Wrotham marries Nicholas Chatwyn, an earl’s son and the aloof, scarred younger brother of Emeline’s true love, Peter, who was murdered. On their wedding night, the castle is engulfed in flames, and Nicholas is injured. Emeline and Nicholas, who is still recovering from extensive burns, depart for his cousin’s Nottingham home while the castle is being repaired, but an outbreak of the plague sends them away, eventually to London. During their travels, the marriage is consummated, and they become true partners, in love and in adventures. Charismatic and witty, Nicholas is the heart of Denvil’s novel; he works undercover for King Richard, rooting out political threats while maintaining the persona of a lazy drunkard to his disapproving father, whose favorite son is dead. Denvil’s numerous minor characters are as intriguing as Nicholas, infusing vitality and never detracting from the story. Everyday 15th-century life is richly evoked—the clothing, food, travel, habits—providing substance to a winning narrative. Family dysfunction is deftly woven into a mélange of murder, politics, and romance, with a wickedly realistic, often comical portrayal of kinship. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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