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I Love You for You

Heather Lester, illus. by Vicky Fieldhouse. For Good Media, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-9992621-0-8

An adoring guardian narrates this celebration of parenthood and differences. “As you’ve grown I’ve come to realize,/ you have your own unique personality,” Lester writes. Fieldhouse’s illustrations feature diverse families, warm colors, and residual pencil lines that convey a sense of ease. A mother greets a girl in a tutu and rain boots: “You like to dress in bright colors./ I like a more basic style./ We are different in this way,/ but your outfits make me smile.” A father prefers mysteries over the fantasy books his daughter enjoys: “We are different in this way,/ but I’ll always sit with you and read” (the two appear together, shoes off, reading in a comfy chair). The verses can be clunky, and the messaging doesn’t seem geared toward children so much as their parents, but Lester explores the idea that kids are not always like their parents with a gentle touch. Ages 5–6. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Pass the Torch: How a Young Black Father Challenges the Deadbeat Dad Stereotype

Jamiyl Samuels, with Tracy-Ann N. Samuels. W.R.E.a.C Havoc, $20 (282p) ISBN 978-0-6926-1811-0

Haunted by the emotional turmoil caused by an absent father, Samuels, a media consultant, earnestly examines his life and the “deadbeat dad” stereotype in the often crime-ridden black communities in Brooklyn, N.Y. The early memories of his Jamaican father, his hero, were pleasant, but his middle-class Brooklyn home was rocked by his father’s departure during his childhood, which left Samuels feeling “unwanted, rejected, confused, sad, angry.” Though he admired his hard-working mother, he always felt the absence of his father. It was only after the birth of his son, Trey, that he realized fatherhood is “the ultimate act of selflessness to put someone else’s well-being before your own.” Samuels writes about the influence hip-hop had on his life, and refers to the memoirs of such artists as LL Cool J, “who convey the pain of their own fatherless childhood[s].” Samuels’s reconciliation attempts with the absent patriarch never seem to jell due to the sting of their lost years. Samuels’s bittersweet memoir of forgiveness and heartache is also a strong, sincere plea for young men today not to follow in the footsteps of their absent fathers. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Pirate at Pembroke

Danielle Thornton. Amazon Digital Services, $3.99 e-book (433p) ASIN B07CNZFVCX

Austen enthusiasts seeking sweet romance will be well pleased with Thornton’s Regency-era novel, which brims with proper manners and subtle courtship. Sophie Crestwood is content to live at home with her gossipy father, bookworm mother, and precocious younger brother, who dreams of nothing more than joining the Royal Navy. Though Sophie assumes her pretty face will help her find a husband, she’s in no rush to marry or even meet the new owner of the adjacent manor, bachelor and rumored pirate Captain Murdock, who moves in with much mystery and no fanfare. During a summer house party, Sophie is nudged along by a family friend with a penchant for matchmaking. Captain Murdock is a guest as well, providing Sophie an opportunity to better learn his character while they navigate card games, performances, and dancing. Thornton takes the time to draw Murdock as a hero rather than a rascally sea dog, rewarding the reader with a gentle, entertaining love story. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Matrimonial Advertisement

Mimi Matthews. Perfectly Proper, $4.99 e-book (386p) ISBN 978-0-9990364-4-0

For this impressive Victorian romance, Matthews (The Viscount and the Vicar’s Daughter) crafts a tale that sparkles with chemistry and impresses with strong character development. Helena Reynolds is desperate to be married, so she responds to an advertisement for a wife and travels to Devon to be interviewed. Justin Thornhill is haunted by his military service in India. He survived a mutiny but was captured and tortured before returning to England, where he bought an isolated estate so no one can see his disfiguring burns. Loneliness prompted his search for a wife; he is immediately attracted by Helena’s beauty, and his protective instincts are aroused. After a quick wedding, Helena soon finds herself falling for her enigmatic husband, but her past and his cynicism about love threaten her ability to transform their marriage of convenience into something more romantic. Their story moves smoothly, with occasional stumbles toward the end. Matthews combines authentic period touches with building sexual tension in an excellent series launch that will appeal to fans of Loretta Chase and Stephanie Laurens. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Happy Home for Laties

Michele Gorman and Lilly Bartlett. Notting Hill, $5.99 e-book (400p) ASIN B07DWVVYFH

Gorman and Bartlett invoke Jane Austen with partial success in this inconsistent contemporary romantic comedy of errors. Phoebe Stockton, award-winning chef, runs the kitchen at the Jane Austen Home for Ladies, a women-only care home in Suffolk, alongside her best friend, June, and her crush, Nick. While Phoebe is still dealing with the sudden death of her hypercritical mother, the care home owner decides to open the doors to men, throwing staff and residents into confusion. Soon battle lines are drawn between the women and the men, and Phoebe must navigate new circumstances with not just her family and her job, but June and Nick, as well. Clumsy attempts to mirror Pride and Prejudice through Phoebe’s flighty new assistant and June’s mysterious boyfriend mostly don’t distract from the conversational style, Nick and Phoebe’s flirting, and the charmingly eccentric female residents. The male characters are more stereotypical, and the unfocused connections between Phoebe’s emotional upheavals will confuse some readers. Those who persevere will find a satisfying self-discovery and a sweet journey to love. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Civil Blood

Chris Hepler. Christopher Hepler, $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-9996133-1-3

Courtroom drama and explosive action are the hallmarks of Hepler’s fantasy debut about vampires, their legal rights, and the ethics of vigilantism. Infinity DeStard is a member of the Force Protection (F-prot) team in L.A., a secret ops team working for the Benjamin Rush Health Initiative (BRHI). Their sole function is to confine people infected with EBL-4, the disease that causes vampirism. Then Infinity gets infected herself. Running from her own team before they learn her secret, she winds up in Washington, D.C., after seeing a video posted by Morgan Lorenz, who claims to be a vampire and demands to know who’s responsible for unleashing EBL-4. Once in D.C., Infinity collaborates with the local F-prot team, who are tasked with hunting down Morgan. But Infinity doesn’t want to imprison Morgan—she wants to help him. When Morgan sues BRHI, a legal dispute arises as to Morgan’s right to sue as a person, and trouble ensues. While raising thought-provoking ethical questions, the legal portion of the story feels long and slows the pacing of what is an otherwise action-packed paranormal thriller. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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DeadSteam

Edited by Bryce Raffle. Grimmer & Grimmer, $2.99 e-book (328p) ISBN 978-0-9952767-5-8

Raffle brings together a fine selection of 17 “dreadpunk” (gaslamp horror and dark steampunk) stories in this gritty, enjoyable anthology. The London Underground becomes a playground for the undead in Raffle’s suspenseful “Burke Street Station.” A greedy lover gets her comeuppance in Jay Seate’s “The Velvet Ribbon.” Rob Francis’s “B.A.R.B.” plays with the concept of devil worship, and the lengths a grieving man might go to revive his dying wife. The pinnacle of the collection is Ross Smeltzer’s “The Hunger,” in which a man’s encounter with the undead in a forgotten cemetery lurches him toward Lovecraftian insanity. Although Raffle includes several stories that hover around a similar idea or theme (there is a glut of vampire fiction in this anthology), the standout tales are those that break from conventional horror. The nature of human frailty and propensity towards violence is underscored in all of the collected tales, making it more than just full of good scares. Seasoned horror readers will appreciate this dark anthology. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Open Season

Alisa Schindler. CreateSpace, $14.99 trade paper (271p) ISBN 978-1-9763-8260-4

This twisty mystery from Schindler (Murder Across the Street) will catch even veteran whodunit readers off guard. The night after the Golden Rockets Little League team wins the last spring tournament, making them the top-ranked squad on Long Island’s North Shore, a groundskeeper finds the bludgeoned corpse of head coach Wayne Savage on the home plate of a baseball field belonging to the Fort Jefferson Youth Organization. Savage inspired strong positive and negative reactions, giving police detective Jonas no shortage of suspects. They include Savage’s widow, who wastes little time after her husband’s death to start flirting online with an assistant coach for the Golden Rockets. The murder also brings into the open problems at the youth organization, including nepotism and bullying, further muddying the investigative waters. Schindler makes effective use of transcripts of chats of the team members as a choruslike device. Her plausible depiction of the interpersonal dynamics surrounding a competitive youth sports team enhances her clever solution. Readers will hope for a sequel. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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High Desert High

Steven Schindler. The Elevated Press, $16 trade paper (303p) ISBN 978-0-9662408-0-1

In this sharp novel, Schindler does a fine job creating the believably gritty life and mind of a New York City cop, but the story stumbles as it moves into supernatural and religious realms. Paul Santo, a lieutenant detective who worked undercover in narcotics, walks off the job when he’s had enough of antipolice protesters (or antipolice attitudes) and retires. He’d had a distant relationship with his daughter, Tracy, now a young adult who is moving to southern California, and he decides to join her on the trip. Paul finds the desert to be entrancing, “Just a slowly disappearing racket of humans and machines,” and he settles in Joshua Tree, Calif. Soon enough, his drinking becomes problematic, and strange events (such as what he thinks could be a UFO sighting) shake him—Paul can’t tell if he’s having religious experiences, alien visitations, or a nervous breakdown. He tries to build a relationship with Tracy, and also pursue his new neighbor Kate, but instead, he withdraws into the bottle. The only way he can find answers is to challenge himself, live as a better man, and believe what he feels. Though marred by a few implausible turns, this is a provocative physical and emotional trip. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Soldier Boys: Tales of the Civil War

Jack Matthews. Personville, $3.50 e-book (169p) ASIN B01DUNJCE8

This excellent posthumous collection by Matthews (Gambler’s Nephew) is inspired by memoirs and correspondence from Civil War soldiers and ranges from dreamy to nightmarish in its penetrating descriptions of lives lived between the battles. Deceptively ordinary language (“Sometimes it seems we’re in better health when we’re on a march and dead tired and desperate and hungry... it’s almost like you just don’t have the time or energy to get sick”) reveals thoughtful insights from young soldiers who witness and participate in the atrocities of war. Highlights include “The Silver Link,” in which a sweet exchange of letters between young, illiterate lovers in 1863 leads their friends, who are reading and writing for them, to fall in love; “Johnny Kincaid,” in which a soldier is haunted by a ghost after burying one of his comrades in a grave dug for an enemy; and “The Killing of Old Mortality,” about two soldiers ordered to kill a prolific and deadly sharpshooter. Throughout, fully realized characters enliven the themes of war and survival and elevate these stories above standard Civil War fiction. Matthews’s fans will be well satisfied with this collection, and new readers will discover an alluring storyteller. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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