A Field of Poppies
Sharon Sala
CreateSpace (, $16.99 paper (456p) ISBN 978-1-4699-3717-5
In Sala’s heavy-handed novel about the consequences of sin, secrets, and selfishness, heroine Poppy Sadler flounders after learning that both her parents have died. In the first four pages of the book, Poppy’s mother succumbs to cancer and her father, Jessup, is murdered. The 20-year-old waitress feels alone in her harsh, hardscrabble mining hometown on the wrong side of the tracks in West Virginia. She can’t even get to work since the family’s only car is now a crime scene that has been impounded by the police. What Poppy doesn’t know is that, thanks to the unexpected mercy of mine owner Justin Caulfield, things may not be as bad as they seem. But life is definitely going to get a whole lot more complicated because Caulfield is harboring a guilty secret. Sala’s characters are well realized and vivid, but the novel is tainted by the author’s cloying moralism.

Accidental Felon
Gloria Wolk
Bialkin Books, $21.95 paper (362p) ISBN 978-0-9652615-5-5
Wolk’s taut legal thriller powerfully depicts an innocent woman caught up in the machinery of the criminal justice system. Carly Daniels does data entry for Archer Life Settlements of Southern California. Despite her mostly clerical duties, a federal investigation of Archer Life for insurance fraud catches her in its net. The company specialized in viatical settlements in which terminally ill people sold their life insurance policies for cash. The Justice Department believes that Archer Life routinely bought policies it knew were fraudulent, taken out by policyholders who had lied about serious pre-existing medical conditions—a practice called clean-sheeting—before applying for coverage. Daniels does her best to aid the probe, but is indicted anyway, and faces the prospect of jail, which is especially disturbing given her son’s Asperger syndrome. The details of the alleged scheme are clearly conveyed, but the book’s real strength stems from its David vs. Goliath battle to avoid an unjust criminal conviction.

After the Fog
Kathleen Shoop
CreateSpace (, $14.99 paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-4699-3570-6
Set in the steel town of Donora, Pa., Shoop’s second novel follows hard-drinking, foul-mouthed community nurse Rose Pavlesic as she struggles to maintain control over her family and life. Raised in a “wretched orphanage,” Rose compensates for her unfortunate upbringing by excelling as a nurse and encouraging her teenage twins to attend college and escape the mill town. Everything begins to disintegrate, though, when she finds out both children have different plans and her husband loses his job at the mill. Rose’s own career is at risk when the new mill superintendent’s wife, Mrs. Sebastian, is reluctant to fund the town health clinic. Through her attempts to persuade Mrs. Sebastian by treating her asthmatic daughter, Rose is forced to confront a secret from her own past. Rose’s personal drama unfolds as a “killing smog” descends on Donora, forcing her to care for dozens of suffocating townsfolk. As one surprise follows another, each begins to lose its shock value and the novel descends into melodrama. The unexplained smog, an actual event that killed 20 Donora residents and sickened thousands, becomes an afterthought in the background of Rose’s family conflicts. Despite its potential, too many twists and subplots crowd the novel, leaving it feeling unfocused.

Babes in Tinseltown: A Mystery of Hollywood’s Golden Age
Sheri Cobb South
CreateSpace (, $12.95 paper (238p) ISBN 978-1-4700-9374-7
Cardboard leads and a paper-thin plot are the primary features of this subpar whodunit from South. The year 1936 finds 19-year-old Frankie Foster traveling to Hollywood from Georgia to pursue her dreams of stardom. Her train trip takes an unexpected turn when she is enlisted to help Mitch Gannon, an attractive man who boarded without a ticket. He returns the favor almost immediately, rescuing her from a pimp who attempts to convince her that he’s a star-maker when she arrives in California. Foster is painfully naïve and struggles to navigate an unfamiliar world. Gannon ends up doing her another turn, this time professionally. After his training as an engineer lands him a job as best boy for Monumental Pictures, he persuades producer Artie Cohen to give Foster a spot as a film extra. Soon after, Cohen drops dead, and Foster takes it upon herself to investigate what she is convinced is his murder. Her awkward amateur sleuthing, coupled with predictable romantic developments, don’t add up to a satisfying read.

The Breeders
Matthew J. Beier
Epicality (, $14.99 paper (426p) ISBN 978-0-9838594-0-6
In this tense, dystopian thriller, Beier inverts the social order to explore sexual politics on a global level. Several centuries from now, following the devastating Bio Wars, homosexuals have seized control of what’s left of the world, turning heterosexuals into a heavily oppressed minority, good only for strictly regulated breeding purposes. And when Dex Wheelock and Grace Jarvis—both part of the ruling order’s backup plan for reproduction—conceive a child during a one-night stand, they are forced to go underground to avoid prison—or worse. Meanwhile, the ruling New Rainbow Order sets plans in motion to enact a final solution for all heterosexuals. The end result is a bleak, terrifying world in which all hope seems lost. Unfortunately, Beier takes his material so seriously that the book’s satirical elements may be lost on many readers. The author’s solid prose and unforgettable story line are undone by heavy-handed allegories and an unsatisfying conclusion.

Dead Light
Mike Pace
River Point (, $11 paper (450pp) ISBN 978-0-615-51842-8
This horror novel draws readers in with a likable hero, Sheriff Estin Booker, who is trying to solve a series of teen suicides in the town of Cumberton, Md. Booker is joined by Anna Tucci, a Baltimore homicide detective on a forced vacation whose tough attitude and smart remarks lead the sheriff to label her a “bitch.” Naturally, they are romantically involved by the end of the book. While the two cops exchange forced and inappropriate banter and chase clumsily placed red herrings, frequent flashbacks to colonial Maryland inform the reader that the cause of the suicides is more supernatural in origin. Unfortunately, the book degenerates into increasingly gory deaths and a wildly unlikely plan to save the world. The climax is dragged out with multiple near-disasters and dramatic flashback revelations, diluting any fulfillment readers might derive from solving the contrived mystery.

Designer Dirty Laundry
Diane Vallere
Polyester Press (, $14.99 paper (274p) ISBN 978-0-9849653-0-4
Vallere’s decades of experience in the fashion industry don’t quite translate into entertaining storytelling in this middling cozy. Samantha Kidd takes a professional gamble—leaving her secure job as senior buyer of ladies’ designer shoes in New York City to become the trend specialist at Traveda—a family owned company in her hometown of Ribbon, Pa. But the first day at her new job couldn’t be worse: she finds her fashion director boss, Patrick, dead in an elevator, and after the EMTs arrive to transport the corpse, the body vanishes. With the only person able to verify her employer dead, and no actual body to examine, the police are naturally skeptical of her story. Determined to restore her reputation, Kidd sets about playing detective. Patrick’s scheduled involvement in an upcoming design competition—he was to be one of the judges—is one of several motives Kidd investigates. Her bravado (“Some crazy killer out there was going about to learn one thing. You don’t mess with the Kidd”) comes across as silly rather than convincing, and the intelligence Kidd must have had to succeed in her field is sadly absent in her avocation as amateur sleuth.

The Devil’s Dime
Bailey Bristol
Prairie Muse (, $14.99 paper (372p) ISBN 978-1-937216-16-0
Set in 1896, this engaging, if uneven, first volume in Bristol’s Samaritan Files series introduces New York Times reporter Jess Pepper, whose investigation into a decades-old string of violent crimes uncovers corruption in high places and sets into motion a series of events with wide-ranging consequences. When lovely violinist Addie Magee locates her long-lost father, Ford Magee, she quickly learns that Police Chief Deacon Trumbull is also hunting for Ford, with whom he has a score to settle. Meanwhile, Pepper, blindly smitten with Addie, pens a column that inadvertently leads the corrupt Trumbull right to Ford’s door, putting the old man’s life on the line. All is resolved with just a touch of forgivable deus ex machina. While the romance is tender and the suspense taught, the overall effect is confused.

Eucalyptus and Green Parrots
Lori Eaton
Lori Eaton (, $8.99 paper (250p) ISBN 978-0-9851614-0-8
Virginia and Clem Reed are Americans living in Argentina in 1943. While WWII rages all around the globe, Argentina remains neutral. But Clem—who works for a cotton exporter—yearns to do more for the Allied war effort. On a trip to the coast, he tells Virginia he has become involved in covert operations to smuggle radio equipment that will help locate German ships. Virginia is furious, especially when Clem leaves to go on a mission and their daughter falls ill. When Clem returns, he is arrested for covert activities, and Virginia must take control of her family and save her husband. Eaton offers a detailed look at a place and time with which most readers will not be familiar and describes an often overlooked aspect of the espionage story: the suffering of the family at home. While Virginia’s experience of the war is far less colorful than Clem’s, her story is compelling and told convincingly. Eaton’s tale never quite achieves the intensity requisite for a tale of espionage, but readers will still be curious about Virginia and Clem’s fates.

Lula Belle
Creative License Press (, $10.50 paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-615-57254-3
Belle’s explicitly preachy debut is an exploration of an alternate America in which Sarah Palin—after the death of John McCain—became president and promptly restricted reproductive rights across the country. Living in Palin’s United States is 15-year-old Sheila Martin, a rape victim whose mother won’t let her get an abortion. Instead, Sheila is sent away to a House of Mercy, a destination for underage, pregnant girls. Her roommate, an 11-year-old girl who was raped repeatedly by her older brother and forced by her Roman Catholic parents to keep the child, crystallizes Sheila’s feelings about abortion. Soon, Sheila resolves to help her roommate escape and get an abortion, but her plan fails, setting up further confrontations with her parents and the system. Belle’s novel—perhaps an attempt at a cross between Girl Interrupted and The Handmaid’s Tale—is sadly little more than a diatribe against conservative America, thinly veiled as a teenager’s journal. While readers will sympathize with Sheila’s experience and find her voice reasonably convincing, the insertion of facts about abortion and lectures against its restriction diminish her story.

Extra Innings
Bruce E. Spitzer
Bear Hill Media (, $16.95 paper (412p) ISBN 978-0-9849569-0-6
A preposterous premise and predictable plot fail to diminish the entertainment value of Spitzer’s debut novel, in which Ted Williams (widely acknowledged as the greatest hitter in baseball history) is resurrected via the science of cryonics in the year 2092—nine decades after his real-world death at the age of 83. Dr. Elizabeth Miles reanimates Williams by grafting his preserved, frozen head onto the body of a deceased 25-year-old professional tennis player, and although it takes him several months to adapt to his new surroundings, Williams winds up reliving significant elements of his first life by rejoining his old team, the Boston Red Sox (which now plays at Fenway Island, after global warming generated coastal flooding) and then re-enlisting in the United States Marine Corps to fight the Pakistanis. Along the way, Williams must adjust to a baseball culture in which players legally consume a mixture of steroids known as “the cocktail” and the pitchers are hulking robots. He even manages to fall in love. Spitzer seamlessly mixes fact with fiction, and the future world he imagines isn’t too far-fetched. But by attempting to make sweeping statements about everything from performance-enhancing drugs, global warming, and corporate greed to war, morality, and mortality, Spitzer swings for the fences when a triple or even a double would have been good enough.

Eyes of God
Philip Babcock
Edgeworth Press (, $12.95 paper (354p) ISBN 978-1-4637-2819-9
This political thriller labors under its own weighty atmosphere and is tripped up by the author’s heavy-handed style, although the web of intrigue at the book’s center is well constructed. When an ex-pat oil executive in Indonesia commits suspicious suicide, his protégé, Harry Griffin, is thrown into a dangerous mire when he questions the official story. Soon a fugitive, Harry flirts with insanity and endures delusional bouts as he struggles to piece the story together. Corrupt government officials, greedy foreign businesses, and crooked diplomats make the situation all the more fraught. Meanwhile, Indonesia in 1998 is in turmoil—rioting and a financial crisis eventually result in the ousting of Suharto. Babcock’s novel—which features a mysterious narrator prone to long tangents—is bloated with awkward, vaguely artful prose. Readers’ interest may flag.

The Firing of Stephen Ledberg
Allen Lenzner
The Troy Book Makers (, $21 paper (298p) ISBN 978-1-61468-059-8
More a muddle than a mystery, this strange novel ham-handedly shoehorns issues of race and religion into a bewildering plot. Beginning on a light note, the novel introduces hapless reporter Stephen Ledberg, who discovers some naughty dealings on a golf course. As it turns out, his discovery is merely an entrée into a drama of hidden identities, political corruption, and African economic policy. Stephen is fired because of the story, but quickly gets a new job helping free spuriously jailed civil rights activist Marcus Aurelius Brown. When Marcus skips bail and flees to Africa, Stephen is sent after him, but fails to persuade the civil rights activist to return. Improbably, nearly every character from the first part of the novel then shows up in Africa. There’s also a confusing subplot about Jewish businesses in Tanzania and a bizarre interlude involving Ralph Nader. These elements only contribute to the confusion.

FireSeed One
Catherine Stine. Konjur Road (, $11.10 paper (296p) ISBN 978-0-9848282-0-3
Set in 2089, Stine’s latest adventure describes a globally overcooked and devastated Earth divided into three sociopolitical regions: the Hotzone, where burn-scarred workers struggle to survive in 160 degree temperatures; Land Dominion, where realtor Melvyn Baron builds an empire by exploiting the Hotzone and its people; and Ocean Dominion, where newly orphaned teen hero Varik Teitur runs a vast sea farm. But when Marisa Baron—the idealistic, rebellious teenage daughter of Melvyn—and her activist friends break into Varik’s farm, his crops are poisoned and humanity’s food supply is imperiled. Cardboard characters Varik and Marisa embark on a predictable quest to find FireSeed, exotic plant life that can rebuild their world. In a fictional world creakily created to allow Stine to present her politics, Varik’s predictable coming-of-age story and general hypersensitivity undermine this would-be thriller.

Julia Episcopa: A Woman’s Struggle in the Church
John I. Rigoli
MBA Consultants, $14.95 paper (296p) ISBN 978-0-615-59023-3
In an effort to prove there were no female leaders in the earliest Christian communities, Cardinal Antonio Ricci charges two women scholars, Valentina Vella and Erika Simone, to pore over manuscripts in the Vatican to produce materials confirming the primacy of male leaders from the beginnings of Christian history. In the novel’s opening scenes, the women stumble upon a scroll written by Julia Episcopa (formerly Julia Achilles), who performed the duties of bishop in late first-century Rome. To investigate further, they enlist the help of a seasoned archeologist and Mossad agent, Yigael Dorian—who previously discovered other documents relating to Julia. The women must deceive the Vatican as they gather evidence in an intrigue-filled journey that takes them from Paris to Jerusalem and Ostia. Lacking suspense, believable conflicts, convincing characters, and replete with stilted dialogue, Rigoli’s preachy novel tells an oft-told tale (scholars have long known that women served in these offices) that is little more than a veiled attempt to assert his views of the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings.

Naija Stories: Of Tears and Kisses, Heroes and Villains
Edited by Myne Whitman
NS Publishing (, $14.99 paper (260p) ISBN 978-0-615-61355-0
In the introduction to this anthology of short stories by contemporary Nigerian writers, the editors make it clear that they intend to avoid the clichés of African literature. “Most of us have only seen zebras in the zoo,” they write. Selected from contributions to the Naija Stories Web site, the stories in this anthology certainly eschew many of the expectations of African literature, but, unfortunately, they do little to build any new or exciting literature in its place. Many of the stories demonstrate some of the common pitfalls of inexperienced writers: poor pacing, didactic moralizing, and an inability to differentiate between story and anecdote. Ironically, the strongest stories in the collection—“Visiting Admiral John Bull,” about a young woman interviewing her uncle, a leader in the Liberation Army of the Niger Delta, and “What Theophilus Did,” in which the author teases out the conflicts between Christianity and tribal spirituality—are the tales most interested in African culture and history. While the intentions behind this anthology are certainly admirable, the results are lackluster.

One Passion
Teresa B. Matvejs
Dorrance (, $24 paper (316p) ISBN 978-1-4349-1126-1
Rose Vitkovskis is a lifelong circus performer and mother of five children. Her time in the circus has been a mix of familial community and economic uncertainty, and she couldn’t imagine life any other way. But when a natural disaster destroys the circus, Rose ends up in Brisbane, Australia, where she starts film school, but has trouble adjusting to civilian life. However, she is soon discovered by a producer and sells the rights to her story, allowing her to restore the circus to its former glory and reunite all her friends. Matvejs’s debut reads like thinly veiled memoir masking as fiction. The author’s experience as a circus performer is apparent on every page, and this realism will be appreciated by readers. However, the narrative meanders and is repetitive, the dialogue is stilted, and the prose is tedious. While Matvejs clearly has a fascinating story to tell, she fails to present it in a compelling way.

Prescriptions for Boredom: Take Two a Day
Ruth Ada Clark
Vantage (, $15.95 paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-533-16508-7
Clark’s story collection features highly descriptive portraits of smalltown life that examine themes such as racism and senility through protagonists ranging from eccentric elderly women to beavers. Throughout, style trumps content and story development, and there are few connections between stories. While Clark demonstrates an excellent command of descriptive language, some of her creative choices are bewildering and presented with little context. While many story collections have a unifying theme (geographic, etc.), this collection seems to have no common motif, which some readers may find frustrating. Additionally, readers may have difficulty becoming emotionally invested in any of the characters. At best, these are snapshots of Midwestern life.

Redemption Day
Steve O’Brien
A&N (, $14.95 paper (313p) ISBN 978-0-9820735-2-0
When Supreme Court Justice Silvio Caprelli is kidnapped, all the evidence points to recently laid-off terrorism analyst and protagonist Nick James. Now both the terrorists and the government are out to get him in this testosterone-fueled novel featuring plenty of violence, a crazed and committed militia group, a sexy female FBI agent, government graft, intrigue, creepiness (Caprelli is sequestered in a coffin), and a romantic subplot. Readers might hear a patriotic score playing in the background when the action closes in on Washington, D.C., and the book lurches toward its violent but righteous conclusion. Unfortunately, O’Brien’s characters are no more than caricatures, and readers will have little invested in who survives and who dies a miserable death—by toxin, via noose—and it’s pretty clear from the start who’s going to triumph in the end.

Peter T. Tomaras
CreateSpace (, $15.99 paper (380p) ISBN 978-1-46803-916-0
Set in Egypt in 1982, Tomaras’s uneven historical thriller begins with a bang as federal air marshal Stephen Kappas succeeds in foiling a hijacking attempt by terrorists on a flight from Cairo to Cyprus. After an attractive stewardess is taken hostage, Kappas’s quick thinking saves the day and prevents the death of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Mitchell Robertson. Whatever momentum this beginning generates is quickly lost when Tomaras launches into a series of flashbacks, first to the meeting of his hero’s parents in 1948, and then to Tomaras’s school years in Sparta, Wis. By the time the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command—the terrorist organization behind the hijacking attempt—reappear and vow retribution, many readers will have lost interest—a problem exacerbated by additional visits to Kappas’s past that do little to flesh out his character. The author throws in the de rigueur romance, but it lacks genuine emotion, and the eventual resolution of the plot strains credulity.

Robert, Last Name Unknown
Robert Corrales
Vantage (, $16.95 paper (379p) ISBN 978-0-533-16516-2
Corrales’s novel—based on “a lifetime of memories”—reads like an optimistic and less profane cousin to the slightly fictionalized autobiography of Charles Bukowski. Impressionistic vignettes of early childhood in a German orphanage lead to an overly detailed blow-by-blow account of how the protagonist, Robert, bootstrapped himself from runaway orphan to aeronautics tycoon, all on his powerful knack for business and invention. There is an interesting story here, but it is hampered by anachronism (as his son contemplates fighting in the Vietnam War, Robert orders the confiscation of laptops), grammatical errors (the text switches person, narrator, and tense without warning and with disruptive frequency), and repetition of events. Additionally, Robert’s constant business success is hard to believe.

The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice
Amy Logan
Priya Press (, $14.95 paper (268p) ISBN 978-0-9853080-1-8
Logan’s debut novel deftly explores honor killing, religious suppression, and the Druze—a Middle Eastern religious sect—as seen through the eyes of an American journalist seeking justice. On assignment in Israel, freelance reporter Fereby McCullough Jones is outraged and grief-stricken when her Druze friend, Leila, is found brutally murdered in what is ruled an accidental death. Believing that the reason for her friend’s death is tied to Leila’s forbidden and provocative paintings, Fereby begins a tumultuous journey to find the truth. The book’s many characters are well drawn, vivid, and, like puzzle pieces, each is essential to the whole. At times the depth of historical detail disrupts the narrative flow, but in the end this thought-provoking tale is part women’s history, part armchair adventure, and an eye-opening investigation of an often hidden world.

Three and a Half Virgins
John Blumenthal
Farmer Street Press ( $17.95 paper (286p) ISBN 978-0-9679444-1-8
This latest from the author of What’s Wrong with Dorfman? tells the tale of Jimmy Hendricks, a lonely, middle-aged man on the brink of divorce, who finds himself reminiscing about his old girlfriends. Jimmy contemplates the what-ifs, all the while fantasizing about the possibility of reunion. But when he remembers the cruel ways he ended his relationships, Jimmy decides to repent in person—and if in the process a torrid love affair ensues, then so be it. As he makes his apologies, Jimmy drags along friend Morris, an Orthodox Jew, whose observant habits are featured prominently. Each of his exes gets her own chapter, with Jimmy first giving a full account of their past relationship, followed by their present-day encounter. However, this proves to be more of a chance for Jimmy to flaunt his sexual conquests and describe in detail how he tricked this series of hot women into sleeping with him. The novel features a slew of scenes that seem inspired by pornographic films, e.g., Jimmy’s soon-to-be ex-wife turns to his new girlfriend and compliments her “nice tight ass.” Blumenthal’s bumbling main character has wit, and there are moments of definite charm in the dialogue, but not enough to salvage the flimsy structure of this sexual odyssey.

Don Handfield
Sky Village Press, $12.99 paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-9854552-8-6
Handfield’s novel about a fallen football star and second chances—the 2011 film adaptation of which, written and directed by Handfield, starred Kurt Russell and Christine Lahti—will resonate with readers. One of Scott Murphy’s finest moments came as a high school star quarterback when he scored the winning touchdown in the championship game in Coldwater, Ohio. But Murphy was viciously tackled on the same play, leaving his leg bones shattered. Living in Coldwater 20 years later, Murphy, who lost his father in the Vietnam War, still suffers from his football injury and is haunted by fantasies of his stunted pro-football career. A volunteer fireman, Murphy’s life is a succession of failures—his soybean farm is financially imperiled and his marriage is sexless and stagnant—and he sees suicide as the only option. But instead of a heavenly afterlife, Murphy finds himself young again, back in high school, and with the opportunity to change the course of his life. Although the premise of righting the past’s wrongs is a well-worn theme, the author’s treatment is engaging and his breezy, uncomplicated style will appeal to readers looking for a feel-good summer read.

The Weapon
Heather Hopkins
Vantage Press (, $15.95 paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-533-16476-9
Hopkins will lose many of her readers from the outset of this present-day thriller when she introduces her heroine, Veronica Stone, “the leading technologist in the world,” who also happens to be “tall, raven-haired, and curvaceous,” and often mistaken for a model. After her company rolls out a high-definition, three-dimensional video cellphone, Stone is approached by her chief business rival, Hirojia Nakashimi, who wants her assistance making conventional arms obsolete by weaponizing radio signals and light—the key to creating this new weapon (based on old Russian plans) is Stone’s breakthrough in three-dimensional imaging. Unsurprisingly, Stone’s decision to help Nakashimi places her life in jeopardy and leads to threats against her family. Plausibility is in short supply, with hard-to-believe gaps in national security created to advance the plot and Stone’s transformation into a woman of action unconvincing.

White Heat
Paul D. Marks
Timeless Skies Publishing (, $14.99 paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-9850760-2-3
A stalker slaying modeled on the 1989 murder of television actress Rebecca Schaeffer forms the basis of this taut crime yarn set in 1992 against the turmoil of the Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of the police officers charged with assaulting motorist Rodney King. PI Duke Rogers views his life as a succession of failures—and those culminate with an error in judgment that leads to murder. When a squirrelly man named Jim Talbot hires Rogers to track down his friend Teddie Matson, the sleuth uses a source at the Department of Motor Vehicles to get Matson’s address. But a week later, Rogers is horrified to learn that Matson, an actress, was shot to death in her home—and the PI is sure all the evidence points to Talbot. Pressured by his friend at the DMV to come forward, Rogers decides to close the case himself. Rogers’s powerful guilt over Matson’s death successfully drives the plot, and the author ably evokes the chaos that erupted after the Rodney King verdict.

Zero Point
Wasique Mirza.
$24.99 paper (356p) ISBN 978-1-257-79192-7
Mirza’s present-day political thriller set in Pakistan begins in dramatic fashion, but is undone by a contrived plot. Malik Jahangir, a strong candidate to become his country’s next prime minister, is shot to death while addressing a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. Suspicions about his death are fueled when authorities prevent doctors from performing an autopsy. Among those suspicious about the country’s official line on the tragedy is Dr. Kamran Haidar, who teams up with reporter Sana Aziz to investigate the slaying. Early sections of the book introducing Jack Donaldson, a Texas senator and presidential aspirant, and Bronx hitman Vincent Portelli, suggest a possible American role in the assassination. Meanwhile, Haidar—risking his career—steals blood specimens drawn from Jahangir for independent analysis. He soon finds himself in the crosshairs of an assassin, who—improbably and conveniently for the plot—fails to confirm the death of a target. Fans of political suspense novels may be intrigued by the exotic setting, but will likely be disappointed by the illogical story line.


By His Own Blood
John Montandon
Rockford Brownstone (, $14.95 paper (302p) ISBN 978-0-615-60483-1
This sincere, gentle memoir documents the unfortunate story of the death of the author’s beloved father, Doc Montandon, an elderly Texas farmer infected with HIV via a blood transfusion in 1985, when testing was rare, public policy unformulated, and public perception of the disease fearful and linked almost entirely to homosexuality. The bulk of Montandon’s book is neither medical nor legal drama but rather simple family stories about growing up on a farm, told in straightforward prose that emphasizes Doc’s virtues. Montandon’s depiction of his family throughout his life and during his father’s death is understated and told with dignity and grace. And in this—more than in addressing the issues of HIV/AIDS—the book succeeds as a heartwarming bit of rural Americana and a loving story of a mostly unremarkable life.

Campaign!: The 1983 Election That Rocked Chicago
Peter Nolan
Amika Press (, $16.95 paper (220p) ISBN 978-0-9708416-8-1
This veteran newsman’s account of the tumultuous mayoral race that upended city politics and made Harold Washington the first African-American to lead the city of Chicago offers a bit of political history, some rough character sketches, and snippets of professional memoir. Nolan paints a deft portrait of the political vacuum that ensued after iconic mayor Richard J. Daley’s death in 1976 and the players that jockeyed to fill his shoes. As a political reporter, he’s well-informed about the way things worked in Chicago, but his periodic departures into what seems to be nostalgia for an outdated model of governance prove distracting. At the same time, the dispassionate recounting of brutal race politics and their inflammatory effect on the 1983 election offers a solid, workmanlike piece of journalistic history. Nolan’s dedication to recounting the perspective and political records of bit players, though, means he commits the journalistic sin of burying the lede, noting only in passing that a federal investigation into voter fraud threw Washington’s 48,000-vote margin of victory into question.

Drowning in the Dark: My Descent into Hell and the Long Road Back
Daniel C. Friend
Inkwater (, $12.95 paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-59299-730-5
Entering the Air Force in 1963, Friend served in the Air Defense Command before traveling worldwide as a CIA operations officer and instructor and working in special operations and counterterrorism. He was still in the CIA when he began his 14-year battle with suicidal depression. In 1988, he was ready for a new assignment in Pakistan, but his wife did not want him to go. In what he regards as a “betrayal of mammoth proportions,” she made a phone call that put him in a mental hospital, preventing his planned career move. In the first part of this memoir, Friend describes life in the psych ward: the medications, the psychological tests, his friends there (and the loss when they were discharged), group therapy, the stress of dealing with his domineering wife, and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Retiring from the agency, he finds new work in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and separates from his wife. Although Friend’s prose is literal and flat, his struggle to rebuild his life after losing his family, friends, and career keeps one turning pages.

Far Distant Echo: A Journey by Canoe from Lake Superior to Hudson Bay
Fred Marks and Jay Timmerman
Vantage Press (, $17.95 paper (344p) ISBN 978-0-533-16463-9
Outdoorsmen and armchair travelers will encounter history, ravenous insects, trail menus, hungry bears, and the quiet joys of endurance in this intriguing recounting of a 2008 canoe expedition. Six men began a 1,300-mile canoe trip along a traditional fur-trading route. During the two-and-a-half-month expedition, four of them dropped out. One of the two who saw it through (Marks) turned 62 on the trail, and the satisfaction of the authors at completing the trek is expressed in vibrant if understated language: “Both of our hearts were racing. We had made it.” The highly detailed account of planning the trip underscores the atmosphere of authenticity, and problems encountered along the way ring true. This is no journal of transcendental rapture; the emphasis is on the incidental and, often, on mishaps. Moments of serendipity, too, are presented keenly. Yet the perspective is not mere self-absorption: the account touches upon Canadian culture and history. Invoking traditions of earlier travelers on the route extends this theme. But antiquarianism is no goal in itself; the travelers rely on satellite phones and GPS devices as well as maps. Although the expedition concludes with an airplane flight home, no ironic overtones seem intended in the comment: “sorrowfully we are on our way back to the twenty-first century.” Readers with a yen for adventure—whether in person or vicariously—will appreciate the achievement and the wilderness explored along the way.

Governing Ourselves: How Americans Can Restore Their Freedom
Harold D. Thomas
Booklocker (, $14.95 paper (194p) ISBN 978-1-61434-913-6
Sweeping statements bolstered by opinion rather than research form the backbone of this Tea Party–tinged treatise on the proper role of government in the lives of the citizenry. Thomas begins by enumerating the failures of the federal government, followed by the familiar doomsday scenarios of collapsing currency and foreign domination, before presenting purely fictional case studies of what life would be like if a libertarian utopia emerged post-crash. In this scenario, corporations police themselves, banks operate with transparency and ethics, and children are home-schooled by mothers who don’t work. Problematically, the book goes on to utilize these invented case studies as evidence that social programs only foster dependence and laziness, and that regulations do nothing but suppress entrepreneurship. Thomas further claims that trade unions are unnecessary because people can always find other jobs, that unemployment insurance and Social Security simply bail people out of bad life decisions, and that the needy could be cared for by the charity of their community. A chapter on the environment dismisses global climate change. Readers looking for doctrinaire right-wing politics will find it here..

The Green Foodprint: Food Choices for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet
Linda K. Riebel
Print and Pixel (, $15.95 paper (200p) ISBN 978-0-9833051-1-8
Environmental educator Riebel’s updated and expanded follow-up to Eating to Save the Earth is a congenial treatise on the importance of conscious eating. Her equation is simple: wise food choices equal greater personal and planetary health. With appealing can-do spirit, Riebel resists bashing the prime suspects behind global warming, diminishing natural resources, and epidemic rates of obesity and life-threatening diseases. Instead, she describes efforts made by various people, businesses, and public and nonprofit organizations to lighten individual and collective “foodprints”—the toxic waste created by the production, distribution, and consumption of food and beverages. Riebel offers tips and case studies for developing Earth-friendly practices: eating seasonally, purchasing organic whole foods, limiting intake of meat, dairy, eggs, and fish, supporting local farmers, developing a diverse diet, and living sustainably at home, work, and in the community. Some readers may be surprised to learn that simply covering pots when cooking significantly cuts energy use, that soaping hands before turning on the faucet saves gallons of water, and that not stocking up on perishables prevents waste. Most importantly, Riebel makes it clear that even with little time, money, and effort, everyone can do something kind for themselves and the earth by eating smart.

Hill of Beans: Coming of Age in the Last Days of the Old South
John Snyder
Smith/Kerr (, $24 paper (256 pages) ISBN 978-0-9830622-0-2
In this moving memoir, Snyder documents growing up in the Carolinas during the Great Depression and offers a detailed look at that fascinating period of American history. Presenting remembrances from three geographic locations that shaped his young life, Snyder explores Cedar Mountain, N.C., “a remote place inhabited by mountaineers” who lived in rough cabins without electricity until the late 1930s; Greenville, S.C., “the textile center of the world” in the early 1940s; and the Snyder family farm in Walhalla, S.C., where sharecropping was the primary means of agriculture. Snyder also expertly profiles a wide range of family and friends—most notably his father, a hard man given to arcane phrases (“Cut that racket!’ he shouts, ‘or I’ll come down there and transmogrify your paraphernalia’”) and his Aunt Bess, whose streak of cruelty is displayed in her love of killing chickens and telling Snyder and his brother extremely scary bedtime stories—all of whom seem to have walked straight out of a Flannery O’Connor story and into Snyder’s life.

Inside the Cup: Translating Starbucks into a Drinkable Language
Kenneth Brown
Fee Publishing (, $14.99 paper (250 pages) ISBN 978-0-9852408-0-6
This is the perfect gift for the kind of coffee-crazed reader who is partial to Starbucks and its “half caff, double, tall, one and a half pump, soy, extra hot, no foam, two equal, vanilla latte kind of drinks.” Brown, a former Starbucks store manager, offers an unauthorized, insider’s look at the world of Starbucks—his goal being to help customers learn how to choose and modify drinks in ways they might not have known possible. “You’ll learn how to speak Starbucks,” he promises. It’s a promise on which he delivers, providing clear, often humorous, consistently informed, and detailed descriptions of the company’s myriad beverages and the many options available for each and every drink. After reading Brown, you’ll know how to confidently order espresso shots “long or ristretto” or—to impress friends—“affogato.” Best of all, Brown spends the bulk of his book describing the ingredients of specific drinks (e.g. the Mocha) and then offering recommendations (the “Grande Marble Mocha Macchiato—not well known but underrated”), low-fat options (“Tall, sugar-free caramel, nonfat, no whip, mocha”) and decadent options (“Grande, whole milk, caramel drizzle, extra whip, in a venti cup, mocha.”)

My Top 40 at 40: Making the First Half Count
Kari Loya
XK Productions (, $24.95 hardcover (252p) ISBN 978-0-9847637-0-2
In this entertaining nonfiction collection, voice-over artist Loya celebrates his 40th birthday with 40 wide-ranging tales from his own life. During his teens and early 20s, the author searched for the reclusive J.D. Salinger on his Dartmouth College campus, parlayed a family connection into an internship with Nike at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and joined Teach for America to help socio-economically disadvantaged first- and second-graders learn to read. In his late 20s he lost his prudishness and stuffed himself into a flimsy Speedo in a beach town near Rio de Janeiro, and hosted a pig roast—feasting on the animal’s brains—after completing a triathlon in New Zealand. During his 30s, Loya celebrated a three-day James Bond theme wedding in Argentina, enjoyed an epic six-day, guided horseback crossing of the Andes, and partied with President Obama at the Southern Inaugural Ball. These stories present enthusiastic, energetic, heartfelt if pedestrian musings from a man in his prime who always tries to enjoy life to its fullest.

Plats du Jour: The girl & the fig’s Journey Through the Seasons in Wine Country
Sondra Bernstein
The girl & the fig (, $48 hardcover (336p) ISBN 978-0-615-51364-5
In this her second cookbook, Bernstein—chef and proprietor of the girl & the fig and other restaurants in Sonoma, Calif.—presents 28 three-course meals arranged by season and based on the French custom of daily set menus. Recipes for more than 100 starters, main dishes, and desserts call for a cornucopia of organic fruits and vegetables, but meat and dairy—and, of course, figs—are the centerpieces of many recipes, e.g., confits of duck and rabbit, wild boar ragout, sweetbreads, pots du crème, custards, and crème brûlée. Although Bernstein claims simplicity in her approach, considerable behind-the-scenes work is required for these sophisticated dishes. Fortunately, the promise of these meals—truly rich and rarified experiences—will provide readers the incentive to source ingredients, select cheese and wine, and adapt recipes to local seasonal fare. The cookbook’s artful design invites readers to savor tempting food photographs, study sidebars on cheese, cured meats, and wine, and read longer sections about the author’s collaborators, branded ventures, and method of growing a business. Together with her rousing commitment to Sonoma, the author’s passion will likely spark readers to create their own culinary treasures.

P.O.W.: A Sailor’s Story
Ralph C. Poness, edited by Ralph J. Poness
Vantage (, $16.95 paper (243p) ISBN 978-0-533-16447-9
Ralph C. Poness, who died in 2002, spent most of WWII in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Although the memories of WWII brought him “anxiety and sometimes great pain,” he began to write about his experiences as a POW. Telling these grim stories, however, became “almost unbearable” for him. In 1991, he wrote, “The story of my capture at the fall of Corregidor Island and of my internment by the Japanese for almost four years is one of brutality, degradation, torture, and witnessing agonizing death.” He describes the chaos in the Philippines on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. One of the last to leave the navy yard in Manila, he headed for action in Bataan: “This small group of sailors and marines, ill-prepared, lacking logistical support, and poorly equipped, had been ordered to attack and defeat a well-trained, well-equipped, and fanatical enemy.” After his capture at Corregidor, Poness details deprivations, humiliations, and horrors at the Cabanatuan POW camp, where 15–30 people died each day. He and his fellow prisoners were then taken to another camp in Japan where “daily beatings, deaths from dysentery, pneumonia and malnutrition were considered routine.” Poness documents his survival strategies amid these nightmarish experiences, but his closing chapters are filled with joy and emotional resonance, as he recalls the relief and exhilaration of the Allied victory and his journey back to America. Poness’s son has skillfully edited his father’s drafts into a vivid memoir of WWII.

Prescriptions from Paradise: Introduction to Biocompatible Medicine
Carlos M. Viana
Healing Spirit Press (, $25 paperback (240p) ISBN 978-0-9789920-4-0
In this compendium, clinical nutritionist Viana claims the requirements of socialized medicine and insurance companies result in mainstream physicians offering generic, ineffective care, and offers an alternate approach to healing. In an appendix to his alphabetically listed guide to treatments, health concerns, and life-threatening illness, he explains the concept of biocompatible medicine, a healing modality he developed at his medical center in Aruba to provide optimal, personalized treatments that are not recognized or not covered by insurers. Those unfamiliar with Viana’s complex philosophy should read this section before reviewing his recommendations. Certified in traditional Chinese medicine, addictionology, and colon hydrotherapy, Viana draws on myriad holistic and traditional practices for his three-step program of detoxification, nutritional therapy, and lifestyle changes, placing emphasis on oral health, stress relief, and pH balance. His methods of reducing inflammation and acidity—which he cites as implicated in all degenerative conditions—include sophisticated testing, a blood type–based diet, acupuncture, colon cleansing, chelation therapy, and in more extreme cases, cell replacement injections. In each of the book’s sections, Viana defines his subject, places it within a biocompatible framework, and concludes with a brief list of suggestions. The volume serves best as an introduction to Viana’s work rather than a comprehensive reference. Readers interested in alternative healthcare will find Viana’s advice fascinating and his viewpoint fresh.

Vodka on My Wheaties
Ann Lloyd
Biographical Publishing (, $19.95 paper (361p) ISBN 978-1-929882-57-1
Lloyd’s unconventional memoir is told with gusto and packed with honest, entertaining episodes. Raised by “intense and neurotic” parents, the quirky narrator with a “mind and a will of [her] own” endures a lonely childhood and tumbles through her colorful life. Tying the knot with her handsome boyfriend results in a dangerous marriage that threatens her life. Her second marriage leads the author to support her new husband’s many “failed business enterprises” and then maintain a resort in the Bahamas. Her brief third marriage leads to substance abuse, as she starts “drowning her depression in vodka.” Eventually Lloyd discovers a 12-step program to maintain sobriety, filling the “empty void left by the removal of alcohol” with the “fruits of spirituality.” But the onset of an autoimmune disease changes everything and forces Lloyd to remake her life yet again. The author’s constant digressions, excessive detail, and meandering narrative hinder this account of her adventures, but her voice remains determined and fearless nevertheless. Unapologetic name-dropping is made more convenient—and slightly more ridiculous—by the inclusion of a “Celebrity Index.”

Children’s Books

Picture Books

Amber Tayler, illus. by Kelly Ewing Powell
Robertson Publishing (, $9.99 paper ISBN 978-1-61170-057-2
Inspired by the childhood transgressions of Tayler’s (What Do Monsters Look Like?) son, this breezy book chronicles a day in the life of a free-spirited toddler and his beleaguered mother. The day starts out auspiciously, with Oscar putting on his matching dinosaur T-shirt and underwear, reminding his mother that “that meant it was going to be a good day.” Alas, not for her. In quick succession, Oscar pours milk in Grandma’s purse (“I had to remind mom to use her quiet voice”); buries his mother’s jewelry in the yard (“I had to remind mom we should forgive others”); and sets free his spider collection indoors (“I had to remind mom we should love all of God’s creatures”). While kids will be tickled by the rampant mischief, a few lines break the illusion of a small boy narrating; after Oscar repaints the living room walls, he says, “I had to remind mom we should enjoy all forms of artistic expression.” Powell’s energetic paintings easily keep up with Oscar’s exuberance, and her round-cornered rectangular scenes are suggestive of family photos from a busy, messy day. Ages 3–up.


The Ancient Realm
Sarah Leith Bahn
CreateSpace, $5.99 trade paper (114p) ISBN 978-1-4681-2401-9
Launching a series, this briskly paced though somewhat muddled fantasy centers on Agnes, an 11-year-old tomboy who lives in a Nova Scotia village with her twin brothers and widowed fisherman father. The simplicity of her life is shattered one night when Octavia, a new babysitter, gives Agnes a box of magical salt crystals that, when scattered, create a trapdoor leading to a castle floating in the ocean. There Agnes learns that Octavia is actually the Queen of the Pacific Ocean, one of the Guardians of Nature who serve in the Ancient Realm; Octavia recruits Agnes to join their ranks as Princess of the Bering Sea. Readers may have to work a bit to sort out Bahn’s complex plotting, as Agnes meets two rogue Guardians (kings of mountain ranges) who both want to destroy nature for different reasons. Agnes joins forces with another Guardian to thwart one king’s plan to contaminate the Earth’s rivers, successfully completing her first mission as princess. Though the roles of some of the novel’s many ancillary characters are murky, Agnes is a well-drawn, down-to-earth heroine with a sharp sense of humor. Ages 6–12.

Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble
D. Robert Pease
Walking Stick Books (, $12.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-615-52499-3
The first book in Pease’s SF series is a sprawling story that hurtles back and forth in time and space, reaching as far back as 8512 B.C., and as far into the future as the 31st century. The premise is an occasionally hokey but entertaining spin on the tale of Noah’s ark: born a paraplegic on Mars, 12-year-old Noah Zarc now lives on a massive spaceship called the ARC (Animal Rescue Cruiser) with his siblings and scientist parents. The vessel is filled with thousands of animals that the family has rescued by traveling back hundreds of years to before the Cataclysm destroyed life on Earth. Attempting to quash their mission to repopulate a revived Earth with the animals is Haon (“Noah” spelled backwards), who clashes with the Zarcs in a theatrical showdown. The story also includes a revelation about Noah’s true parentage and explores his friendship with a girl from the Ice Age. Pease’s strength as a storyteller lies in his ability to connect multiple time periods imaginatively, as well as Noah’s excited, fast-paced narration. Ages 6–12.

The Rumor: And How the Truth Sets You Free
DeShawn Snow, illus. by David A. Perrin III
Carpenter’s Son Publishing (, $6.99 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-9839876-8-0
One of three titles launching the Lil’ Shawnee series by television personality Snow (The Real Housewives of Atlanta), this slight novel introduces Shawnee, an African-American fifth-grader who longs to make friends at her new school. She’s thrilled when she’s asked to a sleepover hosted by classmate Rayna, but once Shawnee arrives, she discovers she’s only been invited because Rayna wants Shawnee to do her science project for her, and that Rayna is prepared to spread a rumor that Shawnee has a contagious disease if she refuses. Fearing that the school will “go crazy with worry about some disease,” Shawnee agrees to do the project, then grapples with telling her parents the truth. Guiding Shawnee is fairy godmother–like Nevaeh, who pops in to bolster Shawnee’s confidence in dealing with Rayna and encourage her to tell the truth. There’s little subtlety to the story about following one’s conscience and doing the right thing: Nevaeh (“heaven” spelled backwards) is prone to platitudes, and Rayna is an over-the-top mean girl. Perrin’s crisp, b&w cartoons reinforce both Shawnee’s earnestness and Rayna’s nastiness. Simultaneously available: Keeping Up with the Joneses and Taking Center Stage. Ages 7–12.

On the Bright Side
S.R. Johannes
Coleman & Stott (, $8.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-9847991-3-8
Johannes (Untraceable) kicks off the Starlings series with this fresh novel about an angel’s peripatetic path to earning her wings. Though the backstory is sad—14-year-old Gabby is killed by a drunk driver—humor prevails as Gabby grapples with the task assigned her in heaven: acting as guardian angel to Angela, who is dating Gabby’s former best friend and secret crush, Michael. Several chapters are named for the rules that Gabby, as a “Bright in Training,” breaks repeatedly and comically as she humiliates Angela in hopes of sabotaging her relationship with Michael. Along the way, Gabby risks banishment from heaven to return to Earth and set things right with Michael and Angela, and has a charged encounter with the devil and his henchmen. Gabby’s repartee with her celestial best friend and fellow BIT, Jessica, as well as with her cranky mentor, is studded with puns: at the angel induction ceremony, Gabby tells a “paparazzi dude” that she’s wearing Dolce & Nirvana, while her friend brags about her Vera Wing dress. A humorous addition to the angel story genre. Ages 12–up.