Here are the reviews of the book we selected from this round of submissions:


The Midnight Special: A Novel About Leadbelly
Edmond G. Addeo and Richard M. Garvin
AuthorHouse (, $28.49 (356p) ISBN 978-1-4389-7579-5
Impressively, this compelling biographical novel makes the life of the early 20th-century folk and blues musician known as Leadbelly interesting—even to readers who are not fans of his music—without sugarcoating the singer's unsavory character and life. Addeo and Garvin take the reader from the birth of Huddie William Ledbetter in Louisiana in 1888 to his death in New York City in 1949. At an early age, Leadbelly develops a taste for, and proficiency in, making music, all the while witnessing the racism of the American South. Sexually precocious, a 15-year-old Leadbelly impregnates a girlfriend, the first of many lapses, most of which were much more severe. Although his temper leads him to numerous criminal convictions for violent offenses, he maintains that his crimes were the fault of his victims. The arc of Leadbelly's life, which includes his two releases from prison under unusual circumstances, is indeed stranger than fiction, and the authors' workmanlike prose keeps things flowing smoothly.

Beaufort 1849
Karen Lynn Allen
Cabbages and Kings Press (, $13.95 trade paper (306p) ISBN 978-0-9671784-1-7
In this lively historical novel, set in Beaufort, S.C., at the apex of the town's antebellum period, prodigal son Jaspar Wainwright returns to his family plantation after 12 years abroad to educate his kin about the evils of slavery. When he left Beaufort for Harvard University and world travel, Jaspar was known as a hellion, savage drinker, and frequent duelist. Returning now—with an education and in the company of emancipated slave Spit Jim—to visit his cousin, Henry, at the lovely Villa D'Este, Jaspar is stunned that Henry's niece, Cara Randall, is no longer the child he remembers, but a poised, intelligent, self-taught young woman keen to expand her mind and horizons. Having rejected numerous local suitors, Cara has no intention of marrying, and Jaspar—widowed after a disastrous marriage—vows never to make the same mistake again. But both will be proven wrong, if the matchmaking Henry has his way. Cara is a singular, independent female in a culture of aristocratic entitlement, and she and Jaspar aim to change the town's brutal system of slavery and bigotry in their own, converging ways. Charged with subtle period detail and boasting fully developed characters, Allen's work is sharp, smart, and well focused.

Finding the Way Home
Sarah Byrd
WestBow Press (, $19.95 trade paper (268p) ISBN 978-1-4497-0350-9
In this predictable debut novel, Byrd offers up chirpy versions of grief and transformation. Reeling from the death of her husband, Suzanne—with young daughter Blair in tow—leaves home for a three-month stay at Wisteria Cottage in Cornwall, England. Upon arriving in Cornwall, mother and daughter—rather unsurprisingly—encounter a handsome headmaster named Peter. During an early meeting with Suzanne, Peter is smitten: "a slow smile crept across [his] face and crept towards his eyes." And soon enough, Suzanne and Blair have nearly simultaneous breakthrough moments about death and loss. Following the usual ups and downs and twists and turns, both Peter and Suzanne realize they left their homes "in search of something true." But it's not until a boating accident leaves Peter close to death that Suzanne feels "something unlike anything before." Most readers will be able to guess the end—and the middle—of this unoriginal novel. But readers looking for a sweet treat to savor on a summer afternoon will find this lightweight tale perfectly paired with some English sponge cake.

Terry Pellman
AuthorHouse (, $24.99 (216p) ISBN 978-1-4389-7099-8
Pellman's unadorned, unsentimental novel about domestic terrorism follows Kelly Hastings, a 52-year-old police detective in Averton, Ohio, at the center of a plot by extremists to use his small, isolated town as ground zero for armed anarchy against the United States government. After the local power station and several homes in Averton are bombed, Hastings learns who is behind the destruction: a sinister separatist organization called the Fourth World, which is determined to reshape the American way of life. Pellman deftly captures the mood of Averton's frightened public, describes the pressures of a small town in the media spotlight, and illustrates how police and federal agents can end up chasing their own tails at a time of national crisis. At the book's center is a radiant, well-developed relationship between Kelly and Molly, a divorcée who understands the troubled cop, locked inside himself and searching for answers. With all its tenderness and brutality, Pellman's novel speaks volumes about the climate of fear, violence, and manipulation in today's polarized world.

Four Years of Hungering
Dalton Stephenson
Vantage Press (, $8.95 trade paper (76p) ISBN 978-0-533-16305-2
Set during the 1940s, Stephenson's sparse novella documents how a young man named Dal navigates his new life as a student at Baxter College in the South. Attending Baxter on a scholarship gained via the recommendation of a local preacher, Dal—the last of nine children born to farming parents—soon finds himself in the company of various young men and women, as well as a succession of roommates, most of whom remain peripheral throughout the book. Stephenson's highly anecdotal approach, which features little reflection or character development, does manage to create an abundance of nostalgic warmth, with Dal alternating between campus, work, family visits, dates, and a brief hospitalization for chronic appendicitis. However, during Dal's four years at Baxter, potentially salient moments, including the production of a minstrel show in the segregated South, the end of WWII, and his own marriage, are all but glossed over. At the novella's end, Dal emerges as a good-natured witness to his own life, rather than a memorable figure going through profound changes. In this mild account of incidental encounters, Dal declares, "So much satisfaction had been gained in my four years of hungering for knowledge..." However, the book and its characters lack the complexity requisite for such a statement.

I'm Not Muhammad: An Ordinary Rendition
Jason Trask
Red Wheelbarrow Books (, $14.95 trade paper (253p) ISBN 978-0-9759515-2-1
This strong, well-developed first novel charts the plight of an Arab-American conflicted about his identity well before the government harassment of the post-9/11 world. Born in Montreal, Yusuf Alsawari moves to New York and marries Ruth, a Christian woman who converts to Islam. But then Ruth announces that she has "accepted Christ as my personal savior." Three years later, the terrorist attacks of September 11 push the already-angry Yusuf to change his name to Muhammad, shave his head, get a new passport and bank account, and move to Seattle. His movements are tracked covertly by the U.S. government, and he is snatched from the streets and shipped to a jail cell in Cairo, where he is tortured into revealing his true identity. While Trask does a skillful job capturing Yusuf's change of identity, the character's motivations are not always clear and at times obscure the plot. Nonetheless, Trask does a workmanlike job of portraying the harrowing descent into hell of a man falsely accused.

What the Trumpet Player Revealed
Jean-Francois Renard
Vantage Press (, $14.95 trade paper (205p) ISBN 978-0-533-16400-4
In Renard's dull historical thriller, a chance late-night encounter leads Canadian-American trumpet player Jonathan Malavoix to witness a savage murder in 1942 Paris. On his way home from another night of trying to scrape together some money performing at outdoor cafes, Malavoix is intrigued by an attractive blonde woman and decides to follow her. When that pursuit leads him into an apartment building, he's horrified to witness his quarry repeatedly stab a sleeping woman. Malavoix faints and, as soon as he regains consciousness, flees the crime scene. With Paris under German occupation, he immediately rejects the idea of reporting the killing. Soon, Malavoix hits it off with another woman he meets at a bar. More violence follows, but the path to the truth behind the crime is labored, while the book's resolution is improbable.

Yellow Bird
Linda Johnson
Garden Gate Farm (, $12 trade paper (151p) ISBN 978-0-578-06973-9
When her grandmother dies, Amanda receives a curious inheritance: a dilapidated farmhouse and a bookstore called the Yellow Bird. In a nearby town, Jeremiah "Cody" Stone is recovering from a war wound and pursuing a career as a musician. In their dreams, Amanda and Cody occasionally catch glimpses of each other—although they've never met. Both of them begin to view the other as an angel or guiding spirit. When a flood hits the town, this spiritual connection helps them survive. And when they finally meet in person, Amanda and Cody know that it is true love. Johnson's novel is difficult to follow. The stories of Cody and Amanda are woven together, but prove to be meandering and confusing. It's difficult to keep track of where the characters are, if they've actually met and if they have mutual acquaintances. This creates a sense of mounting frustration for readers, who won't be engaged enough in the characters to care about what happens to them.

Bill Gourgey
Jacked Arts (, $14.95 trade paper (434p) ISBN 978-0-9797435-9-7
In a postapocalyptic world, the reclusive inventor Capt. Magigate experiments at his lab hidden away on Isla de Tiempo Muerto, where he holds captive Samantha Biggs, aka the Prophet, a woman who once controlled the planet's commerce. Magigate's Glide technology has revolutionized transportation in "a world no longer confined by the yoke of gravity." As Glide devices become commonplace, surface roads become obsolete. Seeking adventure, two teens explore Magigate's mansion; the young Michael glides in on his Glide board, followed by talented expressionistic painter Madeleine. The Prophet escapes, taking Madeleine hostage, and the action accelerates. Gourgey writes with a fine flair, injecting believable characters into highly imaginative situations punctuated with humor and intrigue. His clever extrapolations of such current technology as avatars, the Kindle, the "monopolistic Amazon," CNN, military drones, Google, blogs, online games, and text messages are an added fillip.

The Man from Somalia, Citizen of the World
Ivan Scott
Vantage Press (, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-533-16350-2
Scott's fictional account of Barack Obama's rise to power is thinly disguised and embarrassing. In the novel—allegedly written by a longtime associate of the president—Barack's name is Bret, while the author coyly refers to Michelle as Marcia "for reasons of delicacy." Key politicos are featured, including a chief of staff named "Saul" and Secretary of State "Helena Clayton." Although the plot follows real-life events, Scott admits he's happy to fill in blanks "with abundant gossip." Scott's assessments of the players are concise and biting. Marcia has an "uncommon capacity to influence things under her sway." Bret's cabinet—assembled to "look like America"—is purported to include a transvestite, although Scott notes dryly, "I never saw any sign of ‘cross dressing.'" As might be expected, Scott's evaluation of the Obama administration is negative. Scott compares Bret's response to the "war on terror" to "finding a solution to a puzzle which has no answer." And while Obama's story has yet to be determined, in Scott's world, not surprisingly, it ends in a violent maelstrom. If Scott was hoping to emulate the brilliance of William F. Buckley Jr., he fell far short. This is pure partisan fiction; line up accordingly, to either purchase or pass.

Strange Fruit
Bryan David Hiltner
Vantage Press (, $22.95 (184p) ISBN 978-0-533-15726-6
Loosely based on the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, Hiltner's first novel is an admirable attempt to illuminate the racism that plagued the American South, divided its citizens, and subverted justice. Told from the perspective of FBI agent Daniel Pierce, this procedural pairs a white agent with an African-American one, Franklin Jones, in an effort to illuminate both sides of the racially charged story. However, Hiltner's one-dimensional characters make it clear from the beginning for whom readers should be rooting. As soon as the agents arrive in the town where the murder took place, they're greeted by caricature after caricature: a perpetually smirking, cigar-chomping good-old-boy sheriff, a cantankerous old lady, and a racist hillbilly with a temper. Even more puzzling is that while attempting to make a statement about racism, Hiltner fails to present the agents as equals. Pierce is clearly calling the shots and frequently tells Jones what to do via condescending commands. Additionally, Hiltner's insistence on attributing every line of dialogue quickly grates. Hopefully, the book's sequel—at the novel's conclusion, Pierce is sent to Dallas to assist the presidential motorcade—will see Hiltner offering up a more carefully crafted historical whodunit.

Cloud Birds
Sheila Joy Packa
Wildwood River Press, $15 trade paper (106p) ISBN 978-0-9843777-2-5
In this third collection, Packa—the current poet laureate of Duluth, Minn.—infuses the northern woods with reverence and acknowledges its particular terrors in poems that bristle with color and texture, beauty and menace. Spanning three sections—"bear," "cloud," and "wing"—these poems pair themes of womanhood with observations of an avid naturalist, allowing homespun images and accretions of family memories to play against natural mysteries. The spiritual is seldom overt, however, revealing itself through attentiveness rather than direct appeals. Like Mary Oliver's earlier work, these song-like missives explore regional haunts with full confidence that microcosms can indeed reflect universal ideas. Recurrent figures include Persephone, the speaker's mother, and grandmother; frequent approaches include spare, columnar forms, as well as the first person, all of which evoke the conventional rather than the innovative. Though Packa navigates within a circumscribed range, her poems require no further pyrotechnics. These quiet, assured poems remind readers to pause during moments when they are "not lost but passing through/ boundaries" and consider life as an exploration of the unknown, with all its perpetual astonishments.


Gifts from Shane: A True Story of Love and Loss
Marie Bartlett
ASJA Press (, $19.95 trade paper (298p) ISBN 978-0-595-40515-2
Bartlett has written a heartwrenching but sometimes plodding, memoir about the loss of her son to a terminal blood disorder. Shane was a teenager who suffered from mild mental retardation. He had a sweet, guileless disposition that endeared him to everyone he met. During his senior year of high school, he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare and often fatal condition that prevents the body from producing enough new blood cells. Waiting in the hospital for the bone marrow transplant that could save Shane's life, Bartlett gave him a journal to record his thoughts and feelings. Once his family realized that Shane would not get a donor match in time, they began to come to terms with losing him. He took a trip to New York courtesy of the Starlight Children's Foundation and, after coming home, died. Bartlett—who returned to her freelance writing career—has crafted a careful account of Shane's battle with the disease. Although his trip to New York is bittersweet and his untimely death tragic, the book lacks a compelling narrative arc. Instead, it only offers readers a window into Shane's slow decline and a few brief moments of hope. This alone cannot sustain the book, although readers will truly feel for Shane and his family.

Blacklisted from the PTA
Lela Davidson
Jupiter Press (, $15 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-936214-43-3
There are precious few laughs, or even grins, in this collection of more than 60 short comic essays from the managing editor of The subjects covered in the book's seven sections (e.g., "Birth, Babies, and Beyond," "Suburban Bliss," "Me Time") are familiar and handled more deftly in anthologies such as Beth Feldman's See Mom Run: Side-Splitting Essays from the World's Most Harried Moms. Davidson's insights and asides are mostly clichéd and banal: "I'd love to see these A-listers before their morning triple tall latte. Show me the beautiful people frantically chasing down a toddler, trying to get neon poop out of the carpet, and dripping in spit up. Then I'll be impressed." Her accounts of her children's curiosity about human anatomy, her disgust at fancy birthday parties, and her sarcastic letter to her mother, "Thanks for the Whore Barbie," are predictable. And there are too many superior accounts of misadventures in the kitchen to make "Top 10 Things That Could Go Wrong While Baking—A Cautionary Tale" at all worthwhile.

Theological Graffiti: Writings on the Wall of Belief
A. Deacon
Vantage Press (, $12.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-0-533-16339-7
In this ill-informed and insipid attempt at theological reflection, Deacon seeks to promote an understanding of Christian faith and tradition that is compatible with "twenty-first century reality." Regrettably, Deacon never makes it clear what he means by "twenty-first century reality" and fails to address how such a concept might affect belief and faith. The author covers a host of typical theological questions, addressing everything from original sin and the relevance of sacred scripture to the concept of evil and life after death. But in drawing his conclusions, Deacon often fails to marshal any evidence or cite theological writings. For example, in his brief discussion of evil he simply asserts that "in the absence of humanity, immorality/evil cannot exist." This shallow, poorly written book never states its purpose clearly, never develops any of its ideas, and thus fails to accomplish anything at all.

The Boomerang Effect: How You Can Take Charge of Your Life
Nicola Bird
iUniverse (, $13.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-4502-8722-7
With her trademarked therapy techniques, psychotherapist Bird promises an end to repeating cycles of negative thought and emotion, unfulfilling relationships, self-hatred, and depression. She describes three instinctual personas—the fighter, the hider, and the runner—that people use to manage the "muck" (i.e., challenges, fears, loss, and sadness) in their lives; guides readers to identify their primary protective mechanisms; demonstrates how those mechanisms initiate a "boomerang effect" in which problems recur; and explains why cognitive awareness alone will not break futile patterns. Her therapy consists of deep breathing, guided meditation, and visualization to stimulate a relaxation response and transform unconscious beliefs and reactions. She writes: "Many of us don't know the underlying causes of our conflicts or the deep-rooted issues that are affecting our perceptions and reactions. Even if we have some sense of the core reasons for our behaviors, thoughts and emotions, we still find ourselves struggling with our reactivity." Bird brings a remarkable degree of clarity and an engaging style to complex psychological concepts. In this slim volume, she simplifies the process of change with a few effective exercises that can be done quickly throughout the day.

God, Torah, and the Meaning of Life: Musings on the Things That Matter
Barry Leff
The Neshamah Center Press, $19.75 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-965-7508-01-5
This collection of Leff's self-selected greatest written hits—almost all of which are sermons he delivered—represents his philosophy and theology, but proves to be nowhere as interesting as the author's life, which included two decades as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and trips to Germany, Thailand, and Iran. Part of the problem is repetition. Too many concepts recur too often, while his choice to present the sermons as written works, complete with scheduling information about synagogue activities, is an unfortunate one. In addition, many of Leff's homilies end in a way that undercuts the case he's making for particular religious practices. Oddly, some entries, including a prayer he wrote for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, are unaccompanied by an explanatory preface. Readers are left to wonder why Leff felt Katrina merited its own prayer, but September 11 did not. Ultimately, the book suffers—and will most likely not reach a wider audience—because Leff's rich intellectual curiosity is not given enough room to flourish.

Go Undiet: 50 Small Actions for Lasting Weight Loss
Gloria Tsang
HealthCastle Media (, $21.95 trade paper (210p) ISBN 978-0-9832167-9-7
Founder of the nutrition network and a registered dietician, Tsang presents a straightforward plan to help readers control their food and nutrition choices via small, achievable steps. Tsang asserts that diets, as a rule, don't work and instead suggests readers incrementally change the food they consume. She shows readers how to identify and avoid highly processed foods, offering a five-second-scan method that includes "uncartooning" (animated characters on a box usually means high sugar content), avoiding fat-free food, and examining nutritional information and ingredient lists. Tsang sticks with the "undiet" theme (uncrate eggs, un-medicate your meat, unveil fish), while covering a range of food topics. She's not hesitant to name names, pointing out the unwholesome features of specific products and warning that fat-free salad dressing is "a Frankenstein's monster of artificial ingredients." Tsang cautions against overeating and urges readers not to be tricked by misleading food labels. Instead of foods high in sugar, fat, and calories, she steers readers toward mindful eating and better choices. Tsang's plan is logical and uncomplicated; readers weary of yo-yo dieting will welcome the chance to eat healthy food without obsessing about calories and rigid rules.

Circle of Friends: Thomas Jefferson and His Women Correspondents
Gerard W. Gawalt
CreateSpace (, $14.99 trade paper (282p) ISBN 978-1-4563-5538-8
For historians who love the formal language common in letters of the 18th and 19th centuries, Gawalt's collection of Jefferson's correspondence with women will be a pleasure. For the rest of the world, it's going to be a plodding challenge. And that's unfortunate, because the book contains some amazing moments. In one letter, a Jefferson correspondent, in describing her escape from Paris before the storming of the Bastille, writes, "I am not sure the Revolution can be prevented." This is a chilling and prescient comment about the impending French Revolution, coming from a woman during a time when females were expected to be delicate, uneducated, and cloistered. In another letter, Madame de Corny, commenting on the Louisiana Purchase, remarks, "I am not sure even with all your skill Louisiana will not give you some embarrassment." The correspondence also provides a glimpse of Jefferson as a romantic dreamer, shows the struggles he endured, and illustrates his lifelong financial problems. He writes to a daughter about his plans to "sell the detached tracts of land... so as to pay the debts I have." Gawalt's pithy commentary between letters is so informative that fewer letters and more contextual information might have allowed the correspondence to shine more brightly.

Information Bombardment: Rising Above the Digital Onslaught
Nick Bontis
Institute for Intellectual Capital Research (, $28.95 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-9867945-0-6
A professor at the McMaster University in Canada, Bontis has lectured widely to various banks and businesses about how to handle "the information bombardment that attacks us from every angle" in the digital age. The difficulty is evident in his first book: a clearly written, well-organized, but uneven volume. Stating upfront that his is a "practitioner-focused book," Bontis effectively argues that "most of us have no idea how to filter, organize and prioritize all the information we receive" from multiple sources such as e-mail and the Internet, and that we have "become addicted to knowing the latest and greatest piece of information." The bulk of the book presents concise descriptions of the impact of information bombardment on individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions. Bontis is especially good at detailing the resultant stress-related physical conditions. But the author's concluding prescriptions for dealing with information bombardment tend to be bland and general: "prioritization is a useful tool for managing email messages" and "[a]ccelerated information sharing is best promoted when an aligned team atmosphere is present."

Waltz of the Asparagus People: The Further Adventures of Piano Girl
Robin Meloy Goldsby
Bass Lion Publishing (, $14 trade paper (278p) ISBN 978-1-4564-7754-7
Goldsby's witty sequel to her memoir Piano Girl matches its predecessor's humor and breeziness. The first book recounted her experiences playing piano in New York City hotel lounges before moving to Germany. This collection of more than 20 essays includes episodes from before and after her move, starting slowly with "Mr. President," a tale about how she crossed paths with former president Bill Clinton while recording a segment for National Public Radio. Goldsby hits her stride with the title essay, in which she recounts a bizarre display at the Grand Hyatt of over 200 asparagus stalks arranged to form a village and "hand-painted, shellacked, and dressed in a little outfit." Her trials and tribulations while trying to obtain a driver's license in Germany—complete with a road test on the Autobahn at a speed of 100 miles per hour and a written test with extremely esoteric questions—is another high point. But pride of place must go to "The House on Sorority Row," which describes Goldsby's portrayal of a doomed sorority sister in a 1980s cult slasher film—a role that gained her a degree of celebrity.

Grip: A Memoir of Fierce Attraction
Nina Hamberg
Route One (, $12.50 (288p) ISBN 978-09827547-0-2
After being assaulted in her own bedroom by a masked intruder when she was a teen, Hamberg found her relationships with men complicated, to say the least. In this thoughtful memoir, she shares the victories and defeats that shaped those relationships in vivid detail. Introspective without lapsing into solipsism, Hamburg paints a portrait of a woman who stood up to her attacker, embraced feminism, and still managed to fall for the worst guy in the room, be he a spineless hippie, a manipulative ex-con, or a karate instructor with anger issues. Hamburg never resorts to caricatures; while each beau has his flaws, she also illustrates his particular appeal and the unique dynamics that kept the relationship going. This is no small feat. Strangely, it's her last (and healthiest) relationship that gets short shrift. Hamburg's marriage sounds like a stable one, but the reader is unable to determine who her husband is, why they clicked, and what has kept them together for a decade. Soundly edited, focused and well-crafted, Hamburg's memoir is an examination of what it means to be a strong, independent woman, and how we often manage to lead ourselves astray despite the best intentions.

Collision: When Reality and Illusion Collide
Ron Bruguiere
AuthorHouse (, $15.99 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-4567-2525-9
A 40-year career in theater management is drawn in this show business memoir that provides an insider's view of the industry and its history. Bruguiere covers a variety of topics, including theater innovations (the advent of air conditioning), musings about the cost of maintaining proper facilities, and meditations on the production of inferior plays: "It starts with the producer, and what his goals are. Yet, the mysteries of the ‘why's' and the ‘how's' will always exist because every producer believes he has a winner." The book's scope is broad and celebrities abound. The idiosyncrasies of such stars as Carol Channing, Maggie Smith, Ethel Merman, and many others are intriguingly and kindly related. And it appears Bruguiere—whose experiences include theater tours and television productions—knew absolutely everyone in the business. Despite his success, Bruguiere often found himself at the mercy of early closings and unexpectedly short runs. He also recounts discreet details of failed love affairs, family relationships, and skirmishes with alcohol and drugs.

Fish & Fashion
Mari Lorraine Kimura
A Zone Publishing, $14.99 trade paper (357p) ISBN 978-0-9832193-0-9
Kimura's overly detailed memoir charts the life of a Japanese-American woman who worked in the fishing industry before becoming a successful stylist and costume designer in Hollywood. Kimura drops celebrity names and encounters throughout, including her childhood meetings with Donnie and Marie Osmond. Her father actually comes across as the "creative genius" she dubs him, although his accomplishments are lessened by some major missed opportunities. According to his daughter, Tadao Kimura was the real inventor of the California Roll, and blew opportunities to be an early investor in Microsoft and distribute Hello Kitty products in the U.S. The author's decision to end her memoir abruptly in 1992—just as she "discovered the missing link to an amazing technology that may someday revolutionize the way to environmental cleanup"—is an odd one, even if the event did turn her into a "pro-environmental, self-educated scientist." Nonetheless, Kimura's prose is solid, if not gripping, and readers who persevere will get a partial picture of an interesting and original life.

I'm Not Crazy Just Bipolar
Wendy K. Williamson
AuthorHouse (, $16.95 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-4520-6851-0
In this candid but commonplace mental health memoir, Williamson describes a life spent battling addiction and bipolar disorder. Undiagnosed well into her early 20s, the author's condition lead to manic episodes in college involving alcohol abuse, drug binges, risky choices, and extremely unsafe behavior. Additionally, Williamson battled depression and, during her 30s, was hospitalized, attempted suicide several times, and struggled with her weight. Now that she is stable, Williamson presents her memoir as a guide for people affected by bipolar disorder—those who suffer from the condition as well as their family, friends, and acquaintances. Williamson's prose is direct and thankfully not given to flowery language or circumspectness about her condition. The book is straightforward and the author achieves something difficult in a memoir: she remembers feelings from a period of her life, while still providing distance and perspective. Williamson's analysis of the mental health field and mental health professionals is insightful without being preachy, and she presents her story with grace and humor.

Cottage [Twelve]: A Story of Two Paths Toward One Heart, One Given... the Other Discovered
Mike Biggs
Wasteland Creative (, $14.99 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-0-9761479-3-0
This tortuously bifurcated memoir charts a brother's efforts to deal with a sister's disability, as well as his later divorce and religious awakening. Born three years after his sister Kathy, Biggs is delivered via cesarean section, echoing his sibling's complicated and debilitating birth. Very soon, the differences between the children becomes apparent to their homemaker mother and high school coach father. While Biggs is active in sports, Kathy—diagnosed with cerebral palsy—grows increasingly debilitated; she requires assistance performing such automatic tasks as swallowing and breathing and is soon bound to a wheelchair and institutional care. After his parents divorce, Biggs heads to college and later embarks on a promising career in public relations. However, his life and accomplishments are accompanied by a deep sense of guilt about Kathy's disability and his rare visits to her residential facility in Oklahoma. When his own marriage ends, Biggs gains custody of his son and a deep faith in Christ. The author's account of his life rambles and—despite Kathy's role in his transformation—the story lacks focus.

What'll I Do with the Baby-o? Nursery Rhymes, Songs, and Stories for Babies
Jane Cobb
Black Sheep Press (, $39.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-9698666-1-9
Children's librarian Cobb (I'm a Little Teapot! Presenting Preschool Storytime) presents rhymes, stories, and book lists for newborns and toddlers in this creative resource geared toward early-childhood educators, parents, and caregivers. Because a child's primary brain development occurs during the first three years of life, Cobb emphasizes the importance of properly utilizing this period. Cobb insists language play is needed on a daily basis to have the greatest impact during this time of growth. She cites nursery rhymes as powerful tools for fostering attachment and brain and language development. In separate chapters, Cobb presents various types of rhymes, including bouncing rhymes, games and dances, face rhymes, hand rhymes, greeting songs, lullabies, rhymes in other languages, toe wiggling rhymes, and good-bye songs. She also provides clear guidelines for both parents and educators on how to encourage and enhance development and offers sample programs for educators to use. Containing nearly every rhyme imaginable, this is a charming and useful resource for early-childhood educators, librarians, day care teachers, and parents of young children. Includes a CD of nursery songs.

Breast Cancer: Reduce Your Risk with Foods You Love
Robert Pendergrass
Penstokes Press, $24 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-0-9844769-0-9
Pendergrass, a pediatrician and educator, packs this slim volume with simple, sensible advice about reducing breast cancer risk that is clearly explained and easy to follow. There are no magic bullets, miracle cures, or guarantees. Instead, Pendergrass—who studied under physician Andrew Weil and believes in eating a variety of real, whole foods—argues that every choice we make moves us in the direction of either lower or higher risk. Sections include "General Guidelines for Cancer Prevention," "Top 10 Foods for Breast Health," "Foods to Avoid," "Eating for Healing," and "Integrative Medicine." Pendergrass takes a holistic approach, asking readers to "think of human health as a vegetable garden" where different produce represent kinds of health, invasive weeds represent cancer, and one's lifestyle choices amount to tending the garden. The author is realistic about the difficulty of making lifestyle changes and provides useful suggestions for readers of various backgrounds and incomes. Appendixes include a breast cancer action plan and resource list; helpful Web sites are provided throughout the book. There's nothing revolutionary, but in a world of cookie diets and quick-fix cures, this compendium of sound advice is refreshing and provides a primer for those beginning to take action against breast cancer risk.

What Really Works: Blending the Seven Fs for the Life You Imagine
Paul Batz and Tim Schmidt
Beaver's Pond Press (, $20 (184p) ISBN 978-1-59298-360-5
For this first offering in a planned series of inspirational books, study aids, and workshops, Batz (Inspire Persuade Lead: Communication Secrets of Excellent Leaders) and Schmidt surveyed leaders and professionals working in a variety of fields to identify their satisfaction in seven areas: faith, family, finances, fitness, friends, fun, and hopes for the future. The authors contend that striving for the elusive work/life balance is limiting. They contend a holistic "blending" of personal and professional goals creates inspired leadership and promotes authenticity in the home and workplace. The book's easily digested advice is illustrated via stories from the lives of people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs, all of whom have developed habits to overcome challenges to the Seven Fs. Presented with a mix of high-powered executive coaching lingo and popular self-help jargon, the book contains simple, often unexpected suggestions (doing business with friends; expressing faith in the workplace) for leaders to support and encourage employees and positively influence society while becoming happier, more successful, and healthier people.

Children's Books

The Journey of the Shih Tzu: From Prehistory to Present, from Asia to the World
Helen Asquine Fazio
Travel Dog Books (, $19.95 (42p) ISBN 978-0-615-39686-6
Raja, a shih tzu, delivers a detailed first-person chronicle of his breed's history, tracing shih tzu evolutionary roots to "wolf cousins" in East Asia and describing their roles as companions to nomadic people, Tibetan monastery pets, and "palace pets" in the homes of Chinese aristocrats. Throughout, Raja explains how the breed's history has contributed to its temperament and appearance ("Hundreds of years of monastery living made us docile and quiet"), describes how European and North American visitors to China became interested in shih tzus, and includes entertaining tidbits with citations in an afterword. While initially rare in America, the "adaptable, companionable, brave, adventuresome, sturdy and cuddly" shih tzu became a sought-after pet. Digitally composed photo-collages add a goofy element, despite their inelegant execution; in one, Raja is superimposed next to a monk in a Tibetan painting, while a trio of dogs later appears outside a row of picturesque British cottages, though badly out of scale with their surroundings. Shih tzu devotees ought to appreciate this enthusiastic homage. All ages.

Sea Horse, Run!
Tammy Carter Bronson
Bookaroos (, $17 (32p) ISBN 978-0-967-81677-7
In a tender underwater story about valor, false perceptions, and belonging, a sea dragon is rumored to be approaching the coral reef, and a shark, eel, and octopus flee, advising Sea Horse to do the same ("Sea Horse, run far, far away"). Sea Horse, though, refuses to abandon his friend, Coral (the reef): "I can swim away, but you cannot. I will protect you, Coral. I will save you from the dragon!" But when Sea Horse also tries to protect floating Seaweed, the creature asks, "Have you ever met a plant with two eyes and a snout? Look closely. Are you sure I am a weed?" and Sea Horse discovers that sea dragons are not beasts with "fifty rows of teeth," but rather his own relatives. Though readers may be puzzled by the emphasis on running, given Sea Horse's lack of legs, Bronson's prose can be lyrical ("When Sea Horse was not with Coral, he was blue like the sea"). The underwater creatures in Bronson's mixed-media collages vacillate between cutesy and naturalistic, but Sea Horse's personality ought to win over readers. Ages 3–10.

Entangled in Freedom: A Civil War Story
Ann DeWitt and Kevin M. Weeks
Xlibris, $22.99 (180p) ISBN 978-1-4535-5526-2; $15.99 trade paper ISBN 978-1-4535-5525-5
Set over the course of seven months during 1862, this historical novel is narrated by Isaac, a 22-year-old slave who has lived his entire life on a farm in Oxford, Ga., owned by slaveholder Master Green and educated by Master Green's wife, Sally. Isaac is married to another slave, Rosa Lee, and the two live in relative comfort with their infant son. When Master Green requests that Isaac offer him protection as a soldier for the Confederacy, Isaac is conflicted. But because of his loyalty to Master Green, his desire to safeguard his family, and Master Green's promise that he will free him and Rosa Lee afterward, Isaac accompanies Master Green to Cumberland Gap, Tenn. Teenage readers may struggle to identify with Isaac, whose voice can feel weighed down by a textbook tone that results in some clunky dialogue ("Because the planters did not want to pay the high wages, they looked for cheaper labor in other countries around the world. They found the solution in Africa," he tells a fellow soldier). It's an intriguing but not altogether successful exploration of a contentious historical topic. Ages 12–18.

The Raven Girl
Kathy Cecala
CreateSpace (, $12 trade paper (242p) ISBN 978-1-4610-6637-8
Aedan de Adamo is a young man training to be a priest. On the nearby island of Inis Ghall, a foreign girl named Marra washes ashore. Her arrival is accompanied by an outbreak of fever on the island, and many villagers assume she's a witch. Word of the mysterious girl reaches Aedan and his mentor, Lord Fulke, both of whom decide to investigate. When Aedan finds her, he immediately falls in love, but that love is complicated by the arrival of his long-lost father, pirates, and Lord Fulke, who is determined to keep his mentee in the priesthood. Aedan stands his ground, and when Marra is falsely accused of murder, he flees with her, risking their lives and abandoning the only home and family he has ever known. Cecala's debut novel is a fascinating introduction to medieval Ireland. The romance is well suited to teen readers, who will identify with the protagonists. Aedan and Marra are earnest and endearing, and their world is well drawn. A compelling, fast-paced story. Ages 16–up.