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Life Between Naps: Stories from a Full-Time Unemployed, Stay-at-Home Dad

Jim Noonan. Morning Noonan Night, $9.99 (110p) ISBN 978-0-692-59895-5

In his first book, Noonan, a stay-at-home father and former jack-of-all-trades (actor, fitness instructor, landscaper, park ranger, salesman) strings together his conjugal and parental moments of high drama and self-actualization into a collection that’s more lighthearted and jokey than useful. Noonan’s stories and reflections center on surviving bodily discomfort, facing one’s fears, coping with devastating chagrin, and continually realizing the preciousness of family. Some of Noonan’s subjects are inherently entertaining. He describes getting stuck in the ocean surrounded by whales on all sides, receiving an emergency x-ray in underwear embarrassing enough to elicit the laughs of his nurses, and driving through holiday traffic with a fallen Christmas tree dragging behind his car. However, Noonan’s writing reads like a speedily written journal (“The intense pain suddenly shifted from unbearable to holy shit!”) that is occasionally overly sentimental (“I think of my own marriage and how my love and affection toward Cathy was strengthened during a time of crisis; my wife is my eternal mate”) and relies on evocative description (wading in the Nordic coast: “I couldn’t see my feet, my legs, my wiener space, or my hands! Where were my hands? The water was black. It was black-cold.”). Noonan’s collection is goofy but highly energetic and warmhearted, and best suited for awkward dads with a sense of humor. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Cotton Candy Sally Finds a Home

Karen Belove. Karen Belove, $7.99 paper (90p) ISBN 978-0-692-67888-6

In this first book in the Sally Horse Chronicles, first-time author Belove follows an eight-year-old quarter horse named Sally from an Iowa farm to a New York City riding school after Sally’s owner is forced to sell her horses. Adjusting to city life proves difficult for Sally—a nearby expressway terrifies her—even with the patient efforts of the school’s owner and a girl named Kara. Belove doesn’t skirt the hard realities that come with training and keeping horses, but despite some tense and emotional moments, the story finds its way to a rewarding happy ending that suggests brighter days ahead for both Sally and Kara. Ages 8–13. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Cole’s Perfect Puppy

Frances M. Crossno. First Edition Design, $14.95 paper (98p) ISBN 978-1-5069-0168-8

Newcomer Crossno introduces a boy named Cole, who adores Scarlett, a golden retriever puppy for sale at the mall pet store. Cole jumps at an offer to work as an assistant at the store, where he can earn enough money to buy Scarlett. The plot proceeds slowly until the dramatic final chapters, when Cole’s photographer parents go missing abroad, and the pet store unexpectedly closes. Tender scenes involving Cole, his younger brother, and a new friend are a highlight, but the dialogue and narration tend to be robotic; although the cost of pets is central to the story, options like shelter adoption are never discussed. Crossno incorporates an evangelical Christian subplot, and religious discussion questions are included. Ages 6–12. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Severed Threads

Kaylin McFarren. Creative Edge, $12.95 trade paper (342p) ISBN 978-1-475186-52-9

Fans of action-packed suspense with a heavy dose of romance will find McFarren’s series debut to their taste. Rachel Lyons, four years after her father Sam’s death in a diving accident, is working for a California foundation that provides funds to museums. That work brings her back into contact with treasure hunter Chase Cohen, the man who was with her father when he died and whose presence in a room can still get her pulse racing (“deep inside, she had never stopped yearning for his touch”). Chase now runs Trident Ventures, a firm working to validate a potentially significant maritime discovery in the Sea of Cortez. Dr. Ying, a professor who knew her father, is seeking funding to recover an ancient Chinese vessel and its valuable cargo, including a “priceless relic known as the heart of the dragon.” Rachel gets involved in a dangerous quest to find the sunken ship’s secrets. McFarren offers plenty of plot twists along the way to a dramatic ending that sets up a sequel. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Jolly Coroner

Quentin Canterel. Acorn Independent, $14.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-909122-81-9

At the center of this literary crime novel composed of vignette-like chapters is Billy Rubino, a persnickety and self-aggrandizing coroner working in the gritty Southern town of Hokum—who may be the devil. Canterel creates a hard-boiled fantasia, delving into the pathology of his characters with relish, including a Polish mathematician whose identity has been confused with that of a corpse, and a group of teenagers who kidnap their teacher, forcing her to drive them across the Mexican border (the teacher falls ludicrously in love with one of her captors). Canterel’s prose style swings between heights of hyperbole and verbosity and depths of existentialist despair. Canterel is at his best when making preposterous scenarios and describing the water-logged bayous and depraved establishments of Hokum. When Billy falls in love with a junkie whom he saved from an attempted suicide, the crackling energy at work in Canterel’s prose begins to lose its focus, yet his narrative consistently shows a polished command of language and a self-assured style. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/29/2016 | 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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