A Place in Life
Robert C. Hartstein
Ink Write Press, $15.95 paper (260p) ISBN 978-0-9853566-1-3
Hartstein’s first novel is a rambling, semiautobiographical tale of a man trying so hard to survive that he loses sight of what’s truly important in life. As the story opens, it’s 1952 and six-year-old Joey is living in a New York City tenement. Almost immediately, he loses both parents—his mother to a runaway car, his father in the Korean War—and is shipped off to California to live with an abusive aunt and uncle. After enduring his teen years, Joey, now Joe, enlists in the Marine Corps and is shipped off to Vietnam, coming back with a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and PTSD. Upon his return, Joe reconnects with a high school friend and they marry. The couple has two sons—but instead of devoting his life to his family, Joe throws himself into work and nearly loses everyone dear to him. Can Joe finally let go of old resentments, or will they keep him hostage for the rest of his life? Hartstein has a gift for creating fully realized, sympathetic characters, but his plot meanders and the novel—particularly the ending—suffers for it.

Between Eden and the Open Road
Philip Gaber
Philip Gaber, $9.99 paper (184p) ISBN 978-0-615-58586-4
This collection of flash fiction and poetry roams streets and neighborhoods, bars and bedrooms, presenting a varied cast of characters. From a svelte blonde from Louisville, Ky., who “confessed to having a/ pool-hall education” to a man who’s “the Monday morning of human beings,” every character on these pages is drawn in exacting—and quirky—details. Throughout, the author provides an intimate look at his characters, all the while keeping them distant and mysterious. These are people observed, and to hear them speak is to eavesdrop on the fantastical mixed with the everyday. Conversations fill the pages. While most of the pieces, such as “the old morality was still hanging around,” rejoice in hard-edged women like Hannah Morgenstern, who “seduced the wind/with her hair and/ colored herself a blue funk,” men do make their way into these poems, too. Readers with a beat sensibility and a desire to wander the crowded roads and alleyways of people’s minds will find much to enjoy here.

Come from Nowhere
Ellen Greenfield
3Ring Press, $12.99 paper (308p) ISBN 978-0-9793527-6-8
Greenfield’s novel opens with seven female characters sharing a subway platform on the morning of July 13, 1977—the day of a historic New York City blackout. Greenfield’s characters, each on her own mission, represent the city’s diversity and parallel story lines: there’s recent immigrant Althea and her daughter Celia; Judith, a Hasidic Jew bucking tradition by studying medicine at a secular college; Johanna, a homeless woman with schizophrenic delusions; recent college graduate Pia, hunting for a job that will allow her to “become the artist she was meant to be”; Danielle, a chef suffering from the gradual loss of her vision; and a mother rat protecting her offspring in the dangerous tunnels of the subway. Despite their differences, each character is headstrong, independent, and looking for a piece of the city to call her own. The novel’s secondary characters are less fully realized and function primarily as devices through which the women express feelings or share information with readers: a classmate of Judith questions her “extremist” religion and asks, “What do you get out of living the way you do?” While the dialogue and writing are heavy-handed at times, Greenfield’s novel is a richly imagined look at women from different walks of life and the possibilities, threats, and surprises offered up by life in New York City.

Donna Huston Murray
Smashwords, $13.95 paper (262p) ISBN 978-0-9856880-4-2
Lauren Beck beat cancer, but she’s still clawing back to the land of the living. She’s lost contact with her friends; her father has moved across the country; and the woman she loves like a mother just died. To make things even worse, she’s been accused of murder and someone is messing with her—ruining her credit history, canceling her phone service, and emptying her bank account. While Huston Murray’s mystery is essentially a series of flashbacks chained together, readers will be surprised when the villain is revealed. Strong and feisty, Lauren also displays a tender side that is sweetly sentimental. Her fight to reclaim her life is filled with suspense, and the novel is a gripping page-turner.

Embracing the Elephant
Lori Hart Beninger
On Track Publishing (, $29.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-9856897-0-4
This circuitous novel opens in 1848, as 11-year-old Guine boards an East Coast ship bound for San Francisco to join her widowed father. It’s an arduous journey for Guine and may prove slow going for readers: Beninger delves into minutiae of life at sea and Guine’s drawn-out interactions with passengers and crew. The pace quickens during an action-filled stop in Rio de Janeiro and the ship’s treacherous rounding of Cape Horn, but the core adventure begins more than one-third of the way through the novel, when Guine is reunited with her father in California. The Gold Rush has begun, and he reluctantly agrees to let her accompany him to the Sierra Nevada, where he has staked a claim. Beninger provides a persuasive account of the rigors of living in a mining town fraught with greed, illness, racial tension, and violence (there’s a rape, a hanging, and a throat slitting). Guine’s deepening relationship with her father, as well as flashbacks to her more placid life in Boston, provide tender underpinnings for this historically evocative story.

Goliath and the Killer Zombie
Ian Cant
CreateSpace, $10.99 paper (302p) ISBN 978-1-4791-2925-6
Part locked-room mystery, part metafictional narrative, this engaging futuristic adventure isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. On the surface, it’s about an unnamed narrator, a 25th-century investigator for the Bureau Veritas, who, nearing the end of a relatively quiet career, is assigned a bizarre case involving a murder-suicide. The book is also the tale of Goliath, one of the prime suspects, who dwells far from civilization and spins yarns about time travel and cloning. As the two threads intertwine, the narrative takes on an increasingly self-aware, unreliable air, culminating in an appropriately convoluted fashion. Cant’s style is leisurely, even tongue-in-cheek, with a prim sensibility, e.g., “The climate is hot except in the places where it is cold.” The plot is stretched and twisted considerably via numerous digressions and expository passages. Nonetheless, the mystery at the heart of the novel and the book’s underlying sense of wonder will appeal to fans of the genre.

Kiss of the Butterfly
James Lyon
Amazon Digital Services, $3.99 e-book (335p) ISBN 978-0-9887419-0-4
Lyon’s vampire thriller boasts an interesting premise—that vampires are real and relevant to the 1990s war in the Balkans. A prefatory note explains the historical basis for the book: there were 18th-century vampire-hunting units in the Austrian army and an official vampire hunter employed by Empress Maria Theresa of the Holy Roman Empire. Those details afford Lyon the chance to present a truly original take on the blood-sucking undead. The backbone of the novel is set in the 1990s, as American grad student Steven Roberts travels to what would soon become the former Yugoslavia to do research and discovers that vampires might be more than just folklore. Obstacles thrown in his path—such as a rare book that disappears from a library after he requests it—only further convince him that he’s on the right track. Despite effective prose and a great hook, the book suffers from conceptual inconsistencies, e.g. the biology of vampires presented by the author doesn’t entirely make sense—they have no flesh and use blood to inflate their skin, but somehow are able to walk and even have sex—and this will take some readers out of the story.

Ed Willis
Amazon Digital Services, $2.99 e-book (201p) ISBN 978-1-4764-8782-3
This odd, sometimes absurd, always surprising effort from Willis is likely to confuse most—if not all—readers. The difficult-to-follow plot begins with Max, who is considering a medical procedure that involves cutting open his skull while he’s under local anesthesia. John has sex with a woman—their coupling is described as a “perpetual motion device made of meat”—that ends with a bed covered in blood. When John is next encountered, his friend Dick is telling him that asexual reproduction will soon be reality for humans—with dire consequences for the male of the species. Readers will find themselves asking, “What’s going on here?” Many will be unable to answer that question by the book’s end. And without fully developed characters with which to identify, most readers won’t stick around to sort out this bizarre narrative.

Malice: A Pete Thorsen Mystery
Robert Wangard
Ampersand, $17.95 paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-4507-9593-7
The third installment in Wangard’s Pete Thorsen series proves to be a solid contemporary mystery. This time around, attorney Thorsen gets drawn into yet another murder mystery when he accompanies a reporter friend to a crime scene. Someone used a golf club to bludgeon Les Brimley to death before staking the corpse to the ground at a golf course near Lake Michigan. Brimley, a real estate developer, was an unpopular figure in the community—so there’s no shortage of suspects, including widow Susan Brimley, who turns to Thorsen for help when she’s summoned for questioning by the authorities. Though some scenes stretch credulity, readers will appreciate the author’s workmanlike prose and a plot that’s interesting enough to keep them turning the pages.

Murder Ballad
Elizabeth K. Wadsworth
CreateSpace, $14.95 paper (381p) ISBN 978-1-4775-1711-6
Allison Malloy may just be a secretary, but she sees everything that goes on at Straight and Russell, Private Investigations. She knows about every case the detectives are working on and helps with some aspects of the investigations. Yet when one of their clients, the dazzling, wealthy, and seductive Mavis Knight disappears, and then Knight’s maid turns up dead, Malloy has to step up and help her boss Danny Russell crack the case. The perspective shifts between Danny and Malloy, giving readers an unusual view of the investigation. The duo have different styles and ways of approaching a problem, and they have a fun rapport with each other, trading puns and jokes while working. However, the pulpy novel has problems with pacing: the setup is too slow and the investigation plays out too quickly. Additionally, the author could have done more with a potentially interesting setting: New York City circa 1947.

Poetic Justice
Elliott Murphy
Elliot Murphy Books, $14.99 paper (246p) ISBN 978-0-615-66909-0
Just a boy when his father, John O’Keefe, is murdered by two treacherous men in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma, Petit Jean vows revenge. But when his mother starts drinking herself into a stupor, he is sent to New York to live with his uncle George, who runs a bordello. Growing up with his uncle, Petit Jean becomes an expert marksman, meets Walt Whitman, and eventually transforms himself into a gun for hire known as John Little—before returning to Oklahoma to find vengeance. Murphy’s western has literary themes—Whitman is a recurring character and moral touchstone for Jean, who reads poetry, However, the story is painted in overly broad strokes. Readers fond of the genre will find the book poorly researched, the plot scattered, the pacing slow, and the character arcs underdeveloped.

Jasmine Winterson
Camerado, $13.99 paper (319p) ISBN 978-0-9882208-2-9
Winterson’s latest explores the wilds of Colorado as four city dwellers leave the corrupt corporate world behind. Katherine, Jackie, Ry, and Cobie form the Grand Valley Farm Connection, a farm co-op, to help support farmers selling goods locally. With the assistance of resident Anna Garcia, GVFC gets off to a slow but steady start. But when Olympic biking champion Derek Draben moves to the area to set up a mountain biking course, the corporate transplants realize that the corruption they thought they left behind in the city may be in their very midst. While Winterson’s novel is swiftly paced and engaging thanks to the intriguing mystery at its core, the characters lack development that would make them more vivid. Nevertheless, this is enjoyable fiction that offers a fascinating view into life in rural Colorado.

Shadow Dragon
Lance Horton
iUniverse, $23.95 paper (424p) ISBN 978-1-4620-0765-3
Horton easily conjures up creeps in this modern-day horror novel that will be of particular interest to fans of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s popular Pendergast series. Kyle Andrews works as a victim specialist for the FBI in Seattle, serving as a liaison to bereaved families and providing grief counseling. Andrews gets a chance to prove himself worthy of becoming an actual special agent when he’s dispatched to Montana to assist with the investigation of multiple murders. Before long, evidence emerges that the killer is a what—rather than a who. Despite some clichéd elements, Horton maintains suspense, even as he cuts from the mayhem in the mountains to the mysterious activity of a government-sanctioned assassin. The novel’s ending may disappoint some readers, but the author’s imagination and effective prose serve him well throughout.

The Ishango Bone
Paul Hastings Wilson
CreateSpace, $15.99 paper (210p) ISBN 978-1-4700-5982-8
Wilson’s latest chronicles the journey of Amiele, orphaned as a child and sold into child slavery in North Africa. Because of her unusual brilliance, Amiele is able to escape her enslavement via enrollment as a university student in Marrakech and later transfer to Cambridge, where she matriculates as the first female student at Trinity College. Amiele’s exceptional mathematical mind enables her to study abroad at Princeton, but when she disproves a well-known math hypothesis, she provokes jealousy among other academics and suspicion by government agencies. This well-rendered character’s ability to persevere and excel despite adversity forms the basis of Wilson’s moving novel. The intellectual nature of the author’s exploration of math and physics may not appeal to some readers, but Wilson very capably weaves the academic nature of Amiele’s work with the drama of her personal life.

The Sacred Imposter
J.R. Lankford
Great Reads Books, $16.95 paper (238p) ISBN 978-0-9718694-5-5
Lankford’s third thriller in her Jesus Thief series finds former housekeeper Maggie Johnson mourning the death of her son, Jess—who was cloned from DNA taken from the Shroud of Turin—as she prepares to marry Sam Duffy, the man she loves, and the man who raped her while he was suffering from postcoma amnesia. Meanwhile, her rival for Sam’s love, Coral Anders, is drawn into the schemes of the dangerous Luis Moctezuma. And when rumors about another sacred clone surface, Moctezuma’s plans soon include kidnapping. This novel is a heady blend of diverse cultures, religions, and human passions. Despite some awkward dialogue, the story is engaging, and the characters well drawn.

Victoria Brown
Woodchuck, $14.95 paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-9854391-1-8
Prohibition-era Akron, Ohio, with its brutal factory conditions, corrupt wealth, and harsh class relations, offers the backdrop for this novel about immigrants attempting to maintain the bonds of childhood friendship as life pull them apart. Albert “Nickels” Jablonski’s family is thrown into chaos when his father, Albo, is framed for a murder at the country club where he works. Then Kurt Becker—Nickels’s pal who lives with his mother and aunt at the boardinghouse they run—gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: Russell Cantrell, the rich businessman for whom Kurt caddies, offers to pay for his college education. Over the years, Kurt and Nickels drift apart. Kurt becomes Cantrell’s protégé, while Nickels—now a reporter—and his policeman friend Charlie O’Brien continue to look for the evidence to clear Albo Jablonski. Although Brown has assembled all the right ingredients for a gritty historical novel, he fails to deliver. The book’s characters are underdeveloped—the villains simplistically evil; the heroes straightforward, hardworking, and virtuous—and the narrative is without enough tension to engage readers.


A Road Less Traveled: A Father’s Odyssey Through Autism
Eric Griffith
CreateSpace, $12.99 paper (196p) ISBN 978-1-4800-2190-7
Griffith details his family’s experience with an autistic child in this memoir, but lackluster prose overwhelms the impact of the vivid story he tells. His son, Zach, was diagnosed as autistic two months before his third birthday, and Griffith describes the frustrating process of seeking funds for appropriate education and counseling services. The emotional stress of this responsibility, coupled with insensitive reactions from strangers and relatives to Zach’s behavior, culminate in confrontations, depression, and suicidal thoughts for Griffith. The examples given of Zach’s behavior in public provide abundant evidence to those unfamiliar with autism of the family’s determination in caring for Zach. Griffith’s forthrightness about his reactions to these public scenes may enhance the importance of his experiences for other parents, his intended audience, but he is also given to facile generalizations. However, the author’s ability to move beyond his initial denial of Zach’s autism diagnosis to a place of acceptance suggests that his journey on the road less traveled has indeed been one of progress. This prospect will please readers and, perhaps, help bolster the resolve of people caring for autistic children.

B.G. Bhagee: Memories of a Colonial Childhood
Philippa Perry
CreateSpace, $17.99 paper (243p) ISBN 978-1-4611-9219-0
Perry grew up in British Guyana, the second daughter in a middle-class family of six. Despite its socioeconomic standing, her family struggled with poverty and survived in part on the generosity of wealthier relatives. Perry weaves together vignettes of her neighbors and family, painting a rich portrait of a country on the cusp of change. While she touches on aspects of Guyana’s independence, mostly she examines her own escape from poverty through education. Additionally, she contrasts her experiences with those of the country as it gained independence, giving readers a detailed portrait of a tumultuous time. Perry’s prose boasts rich imagery and compelling rhythm. However, the individual stories—which work well as discrete tales—feel disconnected, and readers will have trouble understanding how they connect to form an overarching tale—if an overarching tale was even intended. Readers will lose track of the characters and their connections to each other, but they will also appreciate the poignancy and drama of individual moments.

Brand Is a Four Letter Word: Positioning and the Real Art of Marketing
Austin McGhie
Advantage Media Group, $22.46 hardcover (281p) ISBN 978-1-59932-327-5
If Sloan Wilson’s classic The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit personifies the top-down business culture of the 1950s, individuality rules today. And businesses must embrace this evolution, McGhie suggests in this perceptive exploration of evolving marketing doctrine. With the Internet impelling unprecedented cultural change, cookie-cutter conformity ensures mediocrity; the most differentiated, strongest products come from “oddball entrepreneurs.” Contrary to conventional thinking, McGhie argues that a brand is not imposed on the market but is awarded by the market; it is “a consequence, not an action.” This shift in perception manifests the need for a dialectic between producer and customer, with sincerity at the core. McGhie draws on his extensive marketing background to show how brands engage customers in company culture and persuade them to participate in the corporate “sense of mission.” Whether the reader accepts or condemns McGhie’s contention that the model of one-way persuasion is obsolete, the heightened significance of customer word-of-mouth reaction, or its electronic counterpart, seems unassailable. The customer, not the marketer, controls the brand in the brave new world of viral marketing. And McGhie’s argument that traditional marketing theories, though still adapting to new media, are not necessarily obsolete should intrigue both industry professionals and marketing neophytes.

Confessions: A Memoir
Jodie Rhodes
Jodie Rhodes, $15 paper (341p) ISBN 978-0-9838797-0-1
This self-congratulatory, meandering memoir will leave readers wondering about the author’s reasons for writing it. Rhodes first chronicles her troubled childhood and dysfunctional family, and then moves on to document her jobs in advertising—while working in the field, she was successful and seduced a host of men. Rhodes concludes her story with how she turned herself into a literary agent—despite lacking any relevant experience. While the author may think readers will admire her chutzpah, they are instead left scratching their heads. The memoir ends abruptly; there is little reflection, and almost no self-awareness. Instead, readers are presented with a litany of lovers and anger over parental and romantic disappointments, and left with no real understanding of the author or her life.

Corporate Recruiter Tells All: Tips, Secrets, and Strategies to Landing Your Dream Job!
Ryan Fisher
CreateSpace, $14.99 paper (131p) ISBN 978-1-4699-3318-4
With job-hunting manuals as abundant as rejection letters these days, tips from a corporate recruiter might seem valuable. Unfortunately, Fisher provides a tantalizing title, but delivers little beyond the obvious. Fisher’s “twelve-plus years as a professional recruiter” have yielded an important insight: the key concern of employers is to avoid costly and embarrassing hiring mistakes. Since self-protective recruiters and companies look first for reasons not to consider applicants, what matters most is being seen as “least likely to fail.” If this makes the least objectionable applicant the strongest, Fisher says in effect: that’s tough; this is how employers really think. His initial prescription is “trust through branding,” which includes references, associates, schools, and previous employers. Left unexplained is how a candidate from a community college can bolster his brand to compete with a Harvard Law grad. Fisher focuses primarily on Silicon Valley and techies, leaving questionable how broadly applicable his ideas are. Overall, Fisher offers up a few nuggets of worthwhile advice, but his book fails to stand out in a crowded market.

Defying Mental Illness
Paul Komarek and Andrea Schroer
Church Basement Press, $19.99 paper (246p) ISBN 978-1-4793-6946-1
For the uninitiated, mental illness can be confusing, vexing, and even terrifying. Komarek and Schroer present educational and resource material for people suffering from psychiatric maladies and those supporting them. In basic terms and scope, the authors seek to demystify mental illness. Chapters on recognizing symptoms and managing disorders, as well as treatments for both adults and children are enhanced with case histories and quotes from people who lucidly recount experiences with such maladies as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Readers would be wise to recognize that Komarek and Schroer are not clinical professionals, but teachers with compassionate and enthusiastic intentions. And while their approach to and perspectives on mental illness are well-meaning, readers who find themselves (or a family member) in the throes of a psychiatric condition would be wise to seek the advice of professionals before diagnosing or treating their own symptoms. This book is mainly a useful primer for those looking to understand mental illness.

Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir
Martha Stettinius
Dundee-Lakemont Press, $17.95 paper (353p) ISBN 978-0-9849326-0-3
Dementia is a condition that affects millions of senior citizens—and the number of people afflicted is increasing annually. In this compelling memoir, Stettinius shares the struggles she faces when her mother, Judy, is diagnosed with dementia. Stettinius chronicles Judy’s story, from the near-invisible early signs of the affliction to the struggles over elder care, assisted living, rehabilitation, and finally a nursing home. Readers will sympathize with the author’s plight—and that of her mother—as Stettinius learns more about dementia and how little support exists for people suffering from the condition or people caring for an afflicted family member. Stettinius ably illustrates the challenges she faces and shares wisdom and advice she’s learned along the way. While the story has no real conclusion—Stettinius’s mother continues to deteriorate—the book offers a wealth of resources for readers dealing with dementia.

Leaving Long Island... and Other Departures
Fern Kupfer
Culicidae Press, $16.95 paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-105-53587-1
Kupfer (Before and After Zachariah) illustrates the trials encountered during the second half of her life: surviving both the loss of a child and the end of her marriage, and making the difficult choice of whether to pre-emptively operate after testing positive for a genetic disorder—the BRCA gene for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. The curse of the BRCA gene endemic to Ashkenazi Jews leaves several options: surveillance, chemoprevention, or preventative surgery, namely the removal of her healthy ovaries and fallopian tubes as well as a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. The author weaves her history into the story, painting family portraits and writing in a compassionate tone that often reads like a journal. Readers will find themselves rooting for Kupfer—and there is plenty of hope to keep her going; she remarries and has the full support of her family and close friends. This sincere memoir will resonate particularly with women undergoing similar procedures and health concerns.

Light of the Andes: In Search of Shamanic Wisdom in Peru
J.E. Williams
Irie Books, $15.95 paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-61720-374-9
Williams (The Andean Codex: Adventures and Initiations Among the Peruvian Shamans) comes up short in his attempt to convey “the complex cosmology and ancient spiritual teachings of the Q’ero”—an ethnic group native to Peru. Instead of clearly summarizing those teacshings and explaining their relevance to the modern world, the author descends into flowery mystical language, e.g. “Ayni is the touchstone of the Q’ero worldview who hold it as the code of life, an innate imprint discoverable in nature and ever present in the universe where it forms the content of every thing—the matrix of all being.” Williams’s own spiritual quest comes across as platitudinous—“To reach the next level... I must release myself to something larger than one lifetime, something more mystical than the literalness of a mountain”—despite the author’s sincere belief that the shamans have something to offer the modern world.

Make It Happen in 10 Minutes a Day: The Simple, Revolutionary Method for Getting Things Done
Lorne Holden
CreateSpace, $7.95 paper (108p) ISBN 978-1-4792-1247-7
Holden claims it took her just 10 minutes a day to write this clichéd self-help book, a statement few readers will question based on the banality of its advice. The author discovered her method when she decided to devote 10 minutes each day to planting the flower garden she had long wanted. She soon realized that breaking longer tasks down into small, finite blocks of time could work for pretty much anything. Followers of Holden’s philosophy are to start by using the first 10 minutes to plan, making sure to use positive statements. For readers ill-equipped to keep track of their minimal daily commitment, Holden recommends the use of a timer. Equally unsophisticated is the “Make It Happen” mantra, shared several times in the book: “Make it easy. Take it easy. Keep it easy.” It’s hard to imagine that many readers, even those who take more than 10 minutes to process each short chapter, will find the author’s suggestions particularly useful, especially in dealing with truly difficult and urgent tasks.

My Cat Won’t Bark (A Relationship Epiphany)
Kevin Darné
CreateSpace, $12.95 paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-4681-0472-1
Darné—a veteran of many long-term relationships and “dating advice examiner” for—distills the wisdom he has gained over the years into this handy and entertaining collection of advice, tips, and maxims. His central thesis is that most relationships break up because people choose the wrong partner. At the beginning of many relationships, people fail to be deliberate about what they want from a partner, and later find themselves frustrated. Darné reminds readers about the importance of being honest and asserts that communication isn’t a goal if it doesn’t lead to change. While a great deal of Darné’s advice can be distilled to trite maxims, he raises useful points that challenge conventional self-help texts, particularly in sections addressing when one should consider leaving a partner (as soon as one realizes one’s needs won’t be met) and the importance of ending and beginning relationships well.

Restoring the American Dream One Portfolio at a Time
Bob Kolar
Ampersand, $29.95 hardcover (312p) ISBN 978-1-4507-9596-8
Kolar eschews pandering to market manias and financial frenzies, instead emphasizing “common sense guidelines” for investors of all ages to build wealth. These focus on a balanced portfolio of mutual funds and Treasuries. His adherence to the “traditional approach” includes staying invested for the long haul, acknowledging the importance of dividends, keeping costs firmly down, and limiting purchases of individual stocks to “quality companies.” While this may be sound advice, attempts to appeal to the everyman via distracting invocations of celebrities add scant value to his ideas. Kolar’s insistence that the traditional verities of investing still offer the safest harbor for the beleaguered investor may hold true, but he scarcely acknowledges the blow to confidence from the scandals and financial tumult of recent years. Nor does he seem to sense that the escalation of the government’s impact on the economy might disrupt the historical patterns of investor gains. Still, this guide certainly has useful information and tips for investors, and readers must judge whether Kolar’s reassuring voice drowns out the skeptics.

Talking Back to Dr. Phil: Alternatives to Mainstream Psychology
David Bedrick
Belly Song, $17.95 paper (232p) ISBN 978-0-9852667-0-7
Teacher, counselor, attorney, and organizational consultant Bedrick provides alternative approaches to mainstream psychology, using television personality Dr. Phil as a paradigm for all that is wrong with conventional methods. Bedrick advocates instead for a “love-based psychology,” which “views people, including their disturbing feelings and behaviors, as a reflection of nature’s diversity.” This approach garners methods from many disciplines including process-oriented psychology, quantum physics, and Zen Buddhism. Bedrick explicates major topics in psychology including dieting, addiction, relationships, and gender roles. For each topic Bedrick uses an episode of Dr. Phil as an example and then demonstrates how his own methods would better resolve the situation. While Bedrick makes some salient points about the pitfalls of taking advice from the likes of Dr. Phil, his own anecdotes can be less convincing. The book is also rigidly structured around episodes of Dr. Phil—which proves initially a good gimmick, but eventually grows tiresome. Surely alternatives to the likes of Dr. Phil are needed, and some aspects of Bedrick’s love-based psychology are indeed appealing.

The Passionate Vegetable: Health Inspired Recipes to Revitalize Your Life for Vegetarians or Meat Lovers!
Suzanne Landry
Health Inspired Publishing, $29.95 paper (306p) ISBN 978-0-9851908-0-4
Our mothers always told us to eat our vegetables, and Landry’s appealing cookbook makes this advice very easy to follow. In three opening chapters, this health educator and gourmet organic chef covers a variety of topics, from the importance of protein and the healthiest water for cooking and drinking to the vital role of enzymes in indigestion and survival dining for vegetarians. Landry is a cheerleader for good health, and this starts with what you eat. She reminds us that “Americans are some of the most overfed but undernourished people in the world,” and her cookbook, which recommends using organic fruits and vegetables, substituting other proteins for meat, and cutting out dairy, offers enticing and mouth-watering recipes designed to satisfy and nourish. Recipes range from breakfasts and salads to soups and desserts, include little “Bites of Insight” that offer either homey wisdom about a dish or further suggestions for preparing the dish. Landry includes a glossary of tips, techniques, and shortcuts to make readers better cooks. Accompanied by beautiful illustrations, Landry’s recipes encourage good eating with fresh ingredients and simple and straightforward preparation.

The Rose Hotel
Rahimeh Andalibian
Nightingale Press, $14.99 paper (410p) ISBN 978-0-615-67223-6
Clinical psychologist Andalibian’s “true-life novel” is a dramatic chronicling of her family escapades during the 1979 Iranian revolution. Born the day her stern and religious father opened the Rose Hotel, Andalibian enjoys the fruits of her family’s wealth. Joined by her four brothers, Hadi, Zain, Iman, and the eldest, Abdollah, their idyllic life together is meandering yet meaningful. But when rapists begin terrorizing the village, her father is charged with capturing the criminals, whom he must hold on his hotel grounds. Then Abdollah is accused of a crime and disappears. Though Andalibian’s father uproots the family to Tehran and then London, the whereabouts of Abdollah remain a mystery, and the family must move forward. Andalibian’s multilayered tale flows easily and is beautifully steeped in culture and Iranian history. The author has created an ornately imagined tapestry of her personal history—filling in the blanks with the kind of creative license reserved for authors who have been there and lived through it.

Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America
Ryan Murdock
Polyphemus, $10.95 paper (348p) ISBN 978-0-9573702-0-3
Murdock’s first book, a memorable travel memoir, introduces him as a powerful new voice in creative nonfiction. In 2000, at age 28, the unmarried Canadian, fearful of living a conventional life, sets off alone for Panama, the southernmost country of Central America, planning to work his way north in an uneasy effort to “step off the fringes of my personal map.” From the initial terror and loneliness that grip him in Panama to his personal transformation during a magical, carefree week with new friends on Nicaragua’s Corn Island, the author poignantly captures what it feels like to let go of culturally bred inhibitions and preconceptions. Murdock’s colorful depictions of the characters he meets along the way add charm. Zack Peoples, a friendly, unruffled Chicagoan, becomes Murdock’s likable traveling companion, as does Jake Romano, a socially awkwardly hanger-on. Romance beckons with Ivannia Gonzalez, the beautiful 19-year-old daughter of the Costa Rican family that takes in Murdock and a pair of like-minded Slovenian women. Although the author slips into occasional melodrama, his emotional ruminations on travel, friendship, and living trump the excesses of his prose and provide open-minded readers a new perspective on their own journeys.

Why Do I Do That?: Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives
Joseph Burgo
New Rise Press, $14.95 paper (229p) ISBN 978-0-9884431-2-9
As a severely depressed college freshman, Burgo began 13 years of psychotherapy with an esteemed doctor he credits with helping him to develop distinct “views of human nature and what drives us”—which enabled him to later become a successful psychologist. This thought-provoking book explores the psychological defense mechanisms he believes all people harbor. These traits—mostly painful and restrictive thoughts and emotions—are largely unconscious behaviors and potentially threaten personal safety and happiness. The author’s tone is congenial and didactic without becoming tedious. Perhaps most importantly, Burgo reiterates that human emotions and their associated defenses (e.g., denial, passive-aggressiveness, displacement, ambivalence) are nothing to be frightened or ashamed of but rather part of everyday life. Change is possible, and those open to it will challenge “the ways [they] react and defend.” Through individual case studies, Burgo identifies and cohesively presents ways in which negative behaviors can be thwarted through direct confrontation with triggers. Exercises at the end of chapters apply techniques for recognizing and defusing oppressive defenses in readers’ own lives and bring the book down to a personal level, creating a valuable resource for readers. Burgo’s approach to understanding and controlling expressions of detrimental emotions is professional as well as empathetic

Your Mark on the World
Devin D. Thorpe
CreateSpace, $11.95 paper (215p) ISBN 978-1-4782-3969-7
Former CFO, banker, and businessman Thorpe urges readers to act on humanitarian urges by pairing their money and time while working for a single organization about which they feel passionate. The book alternates between chapters of sound financial advice and unfocused inspirational stories that fail to illustrate Thorpe’s ostensible goal: teaching people how to free a bit of income and time to volunteer without affecting career, lifestyle, or family. Beyond the basics of budgeting and saving, Thorpe covers specific issues surrounding earning, spending, and donating money. It’s clear the author is sincere in wanting to use his extensive financial expertise to help better the world, but much of his advice—directed toward middle-class Americans—feels vaguely condescending.


Goodnight Acadiana
Lesley Crawford Costner, illus. by Camille Barnes
Ampersand (www.Goodnight, $16.95 (24p) ISBN 978-1-4507-9590-6
Selected to represent Louisiana at the 2012 National Book Festival, this picture book pays tribute to Acadiana, a section of southern Louisiana steeped in Cajun history and culture. The narrative employs the well-worn device of bidding goodnight to various objects, which include Acadiana’s waterways, wildlife, architectural landmarks, museums, and—most predominantly—food. A glossary provides capsule information on the specific locations cited in the text, as well as translations of the French and Cajun French terms that give the verse local flavor. Costner’s rhymes and rhythms are largely on track, though they occasionally falter: “Goodnight Children’s Museum. Goodnight Planetarium./ Goodnight les enfants. Tomorrow you’ll learn, play and run.” Barnes offers a mix of playful images—posed next to spice jars, a crawfish waves at readers; children sprint through a museum—and gauzy vistas featuring lovely sunsets. This pleasing combination of graphics helps underscore Acadiana’s vitality and natural beauty. The collaborators provide an upbeat and effusive paean to a rich area of their home state. Ages 3–6.

Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves
James Matlack Raney
James Matlack Raney (, $11.99 paper (282p) ISBN 978-0-9858359-0-3
The spoiled son of an English lord gets his comeuppance and achieves his true potential in this fast-paced coming-of-age adventure from newcomer Raney. When James Morgan’s long-absent father, a famous naval captain, is murdered by a cabal of villains, 11-year-old James goes on the run. He eventually ends up in London, where he runs afoul of the King of Thieves, who steals his father’s last gift: a wooden box that contains the key to a great and mysterious treasure. Adopted by the feisty Ratt Brothers gang, Jim must learn to be a thief to retrieve the box and avenge his father. Pirates, talking birds, double-crosses, and a magical twist also factor into this blend of Dickens and Stevenson. While Raney paints an almost idealistic picture of life on the streets, with adults mostly portrayed as untrustworthy scoundrels or bumbling fools, the story is full of energy and a sense of wonder. Even an overly moralistic ending doesn’t detract too much from the swashbuckling, death-defying air that the author establishes. Ages 8–12.

Rosemary Van Deuren
Wooden Smith Books (, $12 paper (380p) ISBN 978-0-9858521-0-8
In this entertaining pastoral fantasy, Van Deuren invokes Redwall, Watership Down, and Beatrix Potter as she spins a magical tale of defiance and desperation in the English countryside of 1906. When Pastor Harding comes to a small town to deal with the local rabbit population, only 12-year-old Cora and her milkman father are wary of the man and sympathetic to the rabbits. Soon after, Cora is given a magical amulet that allows her to communicate with the animals. Making friends with the rabbit Basajuan, she becomes instrumental in the creatures’ struggle for survival. As Cora confronts Pastor Harding, she faces magic, mystery, and tragedy, and must decide whether she stands with humanity or the rabbits. Although the message gets a little heavy-handed at times, there’s a charm and underlying sweetness to the story that balance out disturbing imagery of the slaughter of rabbits and adults terrorizing children. The story takes some unexpected turns involving the use of transformational magic and wish fulfillment, leading to a slightly muddled, but nonetheless satisfying ending. Ages 12–up.

Elixir Quest
Sean Walton
CreateSpace, $8.17 paper (254p) ISBN 978-1-4752-6424-1
In this spirited fantasy, first in Walton’s Dragon’s Curse series, sentient dragons and humans coexist, but none too easily. Since he was old enough to swing a sword, Joseph of Tredin has, along with his coterie of knights, patrolled the borderland between dragon- and human-occupied territories, dispatching the occasional upstart dragon that dares to violate the shaky truce between the species. When Joseph’s king takes deathly ill, the metallic dragons (the good ones) propose an alliance that will allow Joseph to enter the lands of the chromatic dragons (the bad ones) to retrieve an elixir that will restore the king. Once in the dragon lands, Joseph’s entourage is picked off one by one and—to his horror—he is magically transformed into a dragon as part of a plot to foster a hybrid bloodline that will give rise to a dynasty of dragon kings. Walton carefully layers unforeseen complications into his well-crafted plot to make Joseph’s triumph all the more heroic and his destiny all the more deserved. Although the dialogue contains some anachronisms—characters are as prone to say “oops” as “nay”—they won’t deter readers from enjoying this entertaining story. Ages 12–up.

Five Nights to the Crimson Moon
Walter Renfrey
Walter Renfrey, $15.99 paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-646-58641-0
Renfrey’s spellbinding fantasy adventure, set in the high-tech land of Gol, follows 13-year-old Corbin, a bullying victim spooked by his dreams, as he uses his telekinetic ability to rescue his mother after she is trapped in the Dream-stone, a crystal with the power to control nightmares. Meanwhile, traitorous former Gol Guard Ripho seizes the Dreamstone, kidnaps the children of Gol, recruits a ruthless army, and escapes to his fortress, Howling Mountain, to consolidate power and destroy the Dreamstone when the crimson moon next appears. With time ticking away, Corbin—who receives a little help along the way—sets out to save his mother, the Dreamstone, and the world. The plot builds with fast-paced twists—electro snowstorms, mind-talking, daring recues—as the sensible hero takes control of his destiny. Chief among the book’s many strengths are its well-developed characters, who will feel familiar to readers. Ages 12–up.

Penny Piva
CreateSpace, $12.99 paper (290p) ISBN 978-1-4781-2580-8
Piva fuses romance, family, food, travel, and a touch of mystery in this charming, character-driven story narrated by 17-year-old Hazel. She’s been anticipating a fun summer at her family’s beach house, since (in one of the novel’s few contrived turns) the girl Hazel has a crush on is moving in next door. Instead, Hazel is recruited to spend the vacation in Italy with her Aunt Vix, so “she can work on her next book and I can experience life.” Hazel does exactly that as she makes friends in the Italian town where Vix rents a house, most notably the alluring and effervescent Isabella. The two share a mutual attraction and a passion for cooking, both of which intensify as Hazel resolves her conflicted feelings about love. A suave Italian boy and an outspoken American girl round out the likable cast, joining Hazel and Isabella’s quest to catch the thieves responsible for a string of robberies. This mystery angle adds some intrigue, though the solution holds little surprise. Hazel’s credible and often funny narration keeps Piva’s novel moving at a bracing clip. Ages 14–up.