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Nobody Else but You

Claire Marti. Claire Marti, $12.99 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-73330-461-0

Marti (Sunset in Laguna) brings Hollywood charisma to cowboy romance with this witty but poorly paced love story. Holt Ericsson, a Hollywood stuntman turned film producer, travels to Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., to secure the use of Pacific Vista Ranch as a filming location, but the owner’s fiery-tempered daughter might throw a wrench in his plans. Ranch manager Samantha McNeill is furious her father would even consider allowing a film crew to intrude on her sanctuary, no matter how attractive she finds Holt. The McNeill family used to be in showbiz themselves, and Samantha’s dealt with more than enough paparazzi-fueled scandal for one lifetime. But Samantha’s father secretly craves his old life in the spotlight and agrees to let the film shoot on the ranch; suddenly Holt and Samantha are spending a lot of time together. Their early, contentious flirtation is sparky and delightful, but after their first kiss they immediately jump into a committed relationship, dissipating the fun of anticipation. This abrupt change in relationship status will leave readers disoriented. Despite a fumbled execution, the snappy dialogue and appealing characters mark Marti as a writer to watch. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Deep Living with the Enneagram: Recovering Your True Nature, Revised and Updated

Roxanne Howe-Murphy. Enneagram Press, $24.95 trade paper (460p) ISBN 978-0-9793847-1-4

Life coach Howe-Murphy expands on her 2013 book Deep Living in this engaging work by exploring the principles of the Enneagram, a method of personality typing grounded in the teachings of spiritualist George Gurdjieff. Howe-Murphy sorts the nine Enneagram types into three “social style clusters”—private and introspective; assured and confident; service-oriented and responsible—and goes deep into each type’s core belief, theme, behaviors, patterns, and practices to help readers “turn toward your true nature.” Personality and “mistaking your personality for who you are” forms the basis of her assessments, as do the “nine levels of expansiveness and constriction” within personalities. Her final chapters focus on what it means to change and how to do so based on one’s Enneagram type, advising readers to be curious, practice compassion, and “embrace radical honesty.” Most people, she writes, “have a deeply embedded—and erroneous—belief” that something in them must be fixed or improved, a belief that can be circumvented by “practicing presence,” defined as making “deeper contact” with one’s “open, expansive nature.” Howe-Murphy’s exhaustive, detailed work will appeal to spiritual readers looking to the Enneagram for “greater freedom, ease, and lightness.” (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Summer of Fever and Freedom

Chelsey Engel. Labor of Love, $13.59 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-578-52252-4

Engel’s debut offers an engaging plunge into the unrest and excitement of 1969 New York. Jane Martin, 18, grew up in Brooklyn and plans to attend Sarah Lawrence College to study literature. At a party in the city, she meets 23-year-old Maria Valentino, who works as a writer at an activist newspaper. Maria, who was disowned by her mother when she came out as a lesbian, has a best friend in her roommate, Kay, a gorgeous, vivacious drag queen. Kay is injured during one of the Stonewall demonstrations, but his wounds heal quickly, and Engel illustrates the intoxicating effect of Kay’s and Maria’s resilience on Jane (“To experience joy in who one was, one must know who they are”). Maria and Jane are attracted to one another, though Jane is just beginning to understand her own sexuality, and they plan to attend Woodstock together. Jane’s brother Stephen, a Vietnam veteran, agrees to drive them, and as they wait in the rain-soaked field for Joan Baez to take the stage, Stephen espouses his theory about the festival’s meaning (“we’re all here searching for something”). The unpolished prose can be distracting, but the author shines in her descriptions of new love. Engel shows promise with this tale of self-discovery. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Art of Good Enough: The Working Mom’s Guilt-Free Guide to Thriving While Being Perfectly Imperfect

Ivy Ge. All Things Women, $14.99 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-64085-951-7

This results-oriented, disappointing debut from Ge, a doctor of pharmacy, pushes women to put daily effort toward a “worthy goal” beyond creating income, parenting, and maintaining a marriage. Ge opens with a strength assessment questionnaire and advice for readers to be nicer to themselves, and then moves on to present her methods for dealing with anxiety, guilt, and shame, which ask women to supersede their emotions with logic. To help understand and overcome negative emotions, she suggests tips for combating the fear of failure, such as to “put things in perspective” and to “think like a man” by putting failure behind oneself in order to “jump back into action.” She also instructs readers in ways to age gracefully—by maintaining good posture, a regular sleep schedule, and a healthy skin-care routine—and makes suggestions for keeping up with cultural beauty standards, working out, and meeting gendered expectations like smiling or being sufficiently exciting in bed. She also provides a model of parenting that focuses on teaching children to be the “3 R’s—resilient, responsible, and resourceful.” Ge’s focus on persistence and methodology, combined with her reminder that childhood dreams don’t go away when one has a family, are inspiring. But those wrangling with the emotional ramifications of balancing career, family, and cultural expectations of women’s behavior are likely to find her approach unforgiving and facile. While Ge provides a straightforward framework, her narrow advice will only appeal to women already secure in their gender role. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Poet, Prophet, Fox: The Tale of Sinnach the Seer

M.Z. McDonnell. Moose Maple, $19 trade paper (298p) ISBN 978-0-578-40586-5

McDonnell (Miach & Airmed) draws from ancient Irish legend to craft a lyrical new myth about a transgender druid prophet in this lovely first volume in the saga of Sinnach the Seer. Raised as a girl until age 13, young Áedán flees his abusive family and joins the filid, a mountain community of scholars. As Áedán grows and learns the ways of the filid—which encompass poetry, healing, and magic—he grows increasingly determined to transform his body to reflect his actual gender. Reborn as Sinnach, he travels through royal courts and faerie realms alike, attempting to use his newfound powers to maintain the balance between the worlds. Though the dense prose occasionally falls into an academic tone that some readers will find off-putting (“nothing could have prepared him for this latest phase of somatic betrayal”), McDonnell’s deep understanding of ancient Irish culture shines. Mythology buffs and fans of LGBTQ fantasy won’t want to miss this arresting series debut. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Soul Mender

R.S. Dabney. Red Pen Warriors, $14.99 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-0-692-47201-9

A familiar science fiction theme—a parallel reality populated by alter egos of the inhabitants of our own—gets a fresh spin in this intriguing variant of a dark fantasy. Since childhood, Riley Dale, an environmental scientist living in Boulder, Colo., has been plagued by visions. Then she unexpectedly crosses over into the world of her imaginings with the help of a magic ring left to her by her grandmother. Partnering with Oz, a drug-addicted ne’er-do-well who represents the other half of her divided soul, and protector Zachary Stone, who’s a serial killer in her own world, Riley travels cross-country to Los Angeles, the terrorist-bombed capital of this alternate U.S., to learn the crucial role she must play in events rocking the parallel world. Dabney’s writing is crisp and confident, and her characters—including both of their personalities—are well-developed. She introduces more subplots than can be resolved by the novel’s end, making this a promising start for a projected trilogy. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hunting in the Zoo: A Detective Pete Nazareth Novel

R.H. Johnson. Hampton, Westbrook, $17.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-5323-0214-5

Johnson’s suspenseful third novel featuring Det. Pete Nazareth of the NYPD (after A Measure of Revenge) places presidential candidate Archer Grande, who boasts that he could “stroll naked down Fifth Avenue, and my supporters would still vote for me,” in the crosshairs of an assassin. Nazareth is half of a team dubbed the Dynamic Duo, after he and fellow detective Tara Gimble amassed an impressive record for “not only closing the toughest cases but also for putting themselves in harm’s way again and again to get the job done right.” New York City’s mayor taps the pair to go after Stone Jackson, an expert sniper who has begun taking out child molesters, starting with the Little League coach who abused him. As Nazareth and Gimble search for Jackson, the killer ups the ante after concluding that Grande is a dangerous demagogue. Unexpected developments ratchet up the tension en route to a dramatic climax. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Flame Eater

Barbara Gaskell Denvil. Gaskell Publishing House, $4.99 e-book (424p) ASIN B01B8SEC3S

This meticulously detailed romantic thriller portrays two flawed families in medieval England whose less moral members are victims of a murderer/arsonist. The families are united in 1485 when heiress Emeline Wrotham marries Nicholas Chatwyn, an earl’s son and the aloof, scarred younger brother of Emeline’s true love, Peter, who was murdered. On their wedding night, the castle is engulfed in flames, and Nicholas is injured. Emeline and Nicholas, who is still recovering from extensive burns, depart for his cousin’s Nottingham home while the castle is being repaired, but an outbreak of the plague sends them away, eventually to London. During their travels, the marriage is consummated, and they become true partners, in love and in adventures. Charismatic and witty, Nicholas is the heart of Denvil’s novel; he works undercover for King Richard, rooting out political threats while maintaining the persona of a lazy drunkard to his disapproving father, whose favorite son is dead. Denvil’s numerous minor characters are as intriguing as Nicholas, infusing vitality and never detracting from the story. Everyday 15th-century life is richly evoked—the clothing, food, travel, habits—providing substance to a winning narrative. Family dysfunction is deftly woven into a mélange of murder, politics, and romance, with a wickedly realistic, often comical portrayal of kinship. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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American Tango

Jennifer Vandever. Melograno, $14 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-9966795-2-7

In her enjoyable second novel, Vandever cleverly meshes strikingly eccentric characters with everyday situations. Rosalind Plumley, a 37-year-old Oregonian, is an artist trapped in a retail job that caters to snobby hipsters. She’s the middle child in a bohemian family and married to a sweet but sad man who has a budding marijuana addiction. Amid her failing marriage and struggles with her neurotic family, Rosalind fantasizes about escaping her life and moving to Buenos Aires. She signs up for a tango class in preparation for her imagined future, and what follows is a story about love and reevaluating your dreams when reality comes crashing down. Rosalind can be amusingly gloomy and the story is seasoned with salty wit—she describes a pair of shoes as appearing to have been “dipped in the shimmery gold powder used to kill off a Bond girl,” and when her liberal mother considers a late-in-life romance, the greatest drawback is that the man voted for Romney. Vandever (The Brontë Project) writes smart, interesting characters who gradually mature in believable ways. Perceptive, bittersweet, and sometimes darkly funny, this is light enough for a quick read, yet it has enough depth to leave a satisfying impression. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Tough Girl: An Olympian’s Journey

Carolyn Wood. White Pine Press (Oregon), $18 paper (306p) ISBN 978-0-9977828-0-6

In this scattered debut work, written after hiking the Camino de Santiago, Wood reflects on the struggles of youth as the root of her courage and strength necessary to push on in later life. Wood, a competitive swimmer in her early years, attempts to relate a life of hard lessons that got her to the 1960 Junior Olympics in Rome and helped her through adolescence in the mid-1960s. However, while Wood thinks fondly of her time in the pool, swimming feels like something she did in between more important life happenings. Wood depicts herself in turn as a daughter in a strained relationship with a mother recovering from cancer, an athlete constantly pushing to be and do better, a lesbian finding comfort in her own sexuality, and a middle-aged woman looking to the next phase of life. Making stops at every trying life obstacle from childhood to late adulthood, she introduces so many charged elements that the novel feels unsure of which story it is trying to tell. The sections on swimming, her mother, and her lesbianism are thought provoking, but this is mostly an aimless journey in the present while dipping into the past, with a number of rhetorical questions that read as though she’s trying to figure out her life as she’s writing it. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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