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Mystery of the Troubled Toucan

Lisa Travis, illus. by Adam Turner. WorldTrek, $5.99 paper (126p) ISBN 978-1-936376-24-7

This sixth installment in the Pack-n-Go Girls Adventures series, mystery chapter books featuring young heroines from around the world, transports readers to the Amazon rainforest. After nine-year-old Sofia Diaz’s parents announce that they are separating, her father takes her with him from their home in Miami on a trip to Brazil. Though Sofia is brooding over this recent development and wondering whether her father will continue to be a part of their lives, the sights of Brazil distract her from her pain. She soon meets a girl her age, Júlia Santos, whose passion for protecting the rainforest animals from poachers and other threats proves infectious. After the girls discover pink dolphins called botos that have been tied up by poachers, they attempt to find out who is responsible. Travis writes clearly and engagingly, infusing the story with information about conservation and the rainforest, as well as Portuguese vocabulary (a glossary is included). Turner’s b&w cartoon spot illustrations do a fine job of capturing the local flora and fauna, while tapping into the unfolding mystery and the camaraderie between the girls. Ages 6–9. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Coming Out

Seven Slade. Howling Mad, $12.99 trade paper (322p) ISBN 978-0-9861465-4-1

Slade’s clever contemporary romance deposits best friends Tamsyn Archer and Rodrigo Vega-Goldstein into a screwball comedy of sexual misinterpretation. They’ve been friends since the second grade, when tough butch Syn defended Rigo (who’s “queer as a left-handed, blue-footed boobie”) against a bully who teased him for wearing a pink shirt. Now they’re 22 and still stuck in their tiny hometown of Middle, N.C. Rigo claims to have the hots for the aptly named Simon Sex, the lead singer in a rock band, but Syn worries that he’s setting himself up for a fall if the guy’s not gay. However, when Simon and Rigo finally do meet, it’s a very different sort of disaster: Simon is willing to experiment with gay sex, but all Rigo can think about are Syn’s breasts. And though she’s in a relationship with another woman, Syn secretly yearns for Rigo. Bittersweet fun ensues as each wrestles with the risk of losing a friend by fessing up and coming out as straight. This charming story will win readers’ hearts. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Dirty like Me

Jaine Diamond. Jaine Diamond, $2.99 e-book (301p) ASIN B01KAKAU2M

The sparks fly when a Vancouver-based rock star hires a struggling artist first to appear in his new video and then to act as his girlfriend as he goes on tour across North America. Katie Bloom has no intention of being known as rocker Jesse Mayes’s latest fling, but the money is too good to pass up, and she’s secretly intrigued by Jesse’s blend of roguish charm and private playfulness. Their mutual attraction is impossible to deny, and what starts off as a performance for the cameras soon turns real, with the two lovers burning up the sheets even as Jesse’s album burns up the charts. But they both know it’s only for the duration of the tour, and Katie can’t wait to get back to a normal life. For this first entry in the Dirty contemporary romance series, Diamond (Deep) crafts a spicy, sassy, sexy romance with likable characters who share intense chemistry, and populates it with a memorable, entertaining supporting cast. It feels like Katie and Jesse take forever to realize their obvious feelings for one another, but their story is still satisfying. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Feast of the Raven

Catherine Spacer. Quillstone, $16.95 trade paper (254p) ISBN 978-0-9971535-0-7

A warrior has a crisis of faith in Spader’s thin medieval adventure of pagans versus Christians. In 782 Germania, Saxon pagans are forced by the Frank King Karl (Charlemagne) to abandon their old gods and convert to Christianity. Gerwulf, born from a Saxon wolf warrior father and a Christian Frank mother, yearns to purge his mystical wolf nature and embrace the Christian god with the help of colorful Brother Pyttel. He hopes that if he tracks down the rebel Saxon Widukind and retrieves Karl’s powerful relic, the Holy Spear, the king will absolve him of his pagan sins. But he’s distracted by the charms of Widukind’s accomplice, the magical shieldmaiden Vala, who worships Wodan and draws Gerwulf in with the hunger of the Raven spirit, the Eater of Souls. Historically accurate settings of the Hellweg, Lippespringe, and Teutoburg Forest are lovely; the sprawling plot and lengthy diversions are all the more unfortunate by comparison. Gerwulf frets convincingly over his soul, but the other characters lack dimension. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Custer Conspiracy

Dennis Koller. Pen, $14.99 trade paper (348p) ISBN 978-0-9980808-0-2

What if the true story of Custer’s last stand was quite different from the accepted version? That’s the intriguing premise of Koller’s second thriller featuring homicide inspector Tom McGuire of the San Francisco PD (after 2016’s The Oath). McGuire, who was once a high school football coach, is pleasantly surprised to hear from a former player, historian Matt Conroy, who’s working on a book about Custer. Conroy has just confirmed a discovery about the Battle of the Little Bighorn that could “possibly rewrite the past hundred and forty years of world history.” McGuire agrees to meet Conroy at the battle site, but on arrival he finds that a sniper has just murdered the historian. McGuire reaches out to another former player, Rob Kincaid, an ex–Navy SEAL, to help him find the truth after the U.S. Park Police and the FBI are taken off the homicide inquiry. The romance that develops between McGuire and Katelyn Murray, a member of Kincaid’s team who got her airplane pilot’s license at the age of 13, adds some human interest. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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An Affair with Beauty: The Mystique of Howard Chandler Christy

James Philip Head. North Loop Books, $23 (292p) ISBN 978-1-63413-882-6

Head’s glowing and revelatory biographical novel chronicles the life of Howard Chandler Christy, a talented painter of celebrities, dignitaries, and beautiful women, whose models were known as Christy Girls. Born in an Ohio log cabin in 1872, Christy’s talent was apparent from a very young age; at 18 he went to New York to study at the Art Students League, where he was singled out as “brilliant” by his teachers. Christy was a magazine illustrator in his early 20s, followed by a stint as a sketch artist in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Back in New York, Christy became a well-paid illustrator, then shot to fame with his Christy Girl portraits and large-scale historical murals. His famous painting of the signing of the Constitution hangs in the U.S. Capitol. Christy’s second wife, Nancy, was his model and muse until his death in 1952; the narrative is mostly from her perspective and from reminiscences or writings ascribed to her. Abundant anecdotes provide insight into Christy’s personality, life with Nancy, and philosophical musings. Head emphasizes that Christy’s lifelong obsession with beautiful women, the “romanticized, statuesque goddess,” was as much about inner beauty as physical perfection. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Sew Jewish: The 18 Projects You Need for Jewish Holidays, Weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs Celebrations and Home

M. Bywater. Sew Jewish, $29.95 trade paper (150p) ISBN 978-0-9968582-2-9

Bywater, who designs wedding chuppahs for the wedding rental company Huppahs.com, assembles 18 projects for crafters interested in creating items for Jewish events. Each project is introduced with a quote from the Torah or rabbinical texts. Bywater introduces readers to each project with a quote or idiom and a short explanation of the religious significance of the item. There are projects for all skill levels, ranging from a simple decorative wrap that can transform an everyday jar into a special tzedakah box (used to save coins for charitable donations) to a DIY wedding chuppah with directions for both the canopy and stand. The color photos and simple instructions and patterns will help anyone feel confident in taking on a project. Suggestions on choosing and cutting appropriate fabrics make this a perfect book for beginners. Bywater’s cheerful writing style and helpful explanations of the religious significance of items will appeal to younger readers or those new to Judaism and wishing to learn more. Color photos. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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LoFrisco Family Cookbook: How Josie Brought Sicily to Brooklyn

Anthony LoFrisco. Trylon, $39.95 (280p) ISBN 978-0-9975458-0-7

First-time cookbook author LoFrisco’s love letter to Italian cuisine is equal parts memoir and cookbook, a welcome trip through time. LoFrisco’s nostalgic stories from his youth in 1950s Brooklyn, such as his brief foray into a life of crime—lifting fistfuls of candy bars to share with his friends, only to have his father, a police officer, answer the call from the shop owner—are charming and delightful, and give the book a generous helping of personality and place. His recipes are perfectly fine, but also perfectly ordinary; most of them are for Italian standards (panzanella Sunday sauce, veal parmigiana, lasagne) with some culinary outliers (a Niçoise salad, potato pancakes, beef stew, coffee cake). Readers of a certain age and those with an affinity for family cookbooks are sure to find a lot to like here. LoFrisco’s a warm storyteller. His deep affection for his family and the foods of his childhood is truly a delight to behold, and it shines through in what is clearly a labor of love. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | 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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