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The Simulated Multiverse: An MIT Computer Scientist Explores Parallel Universes, the Simulation Hypothesis, Quantum Computing, and the Mandela Effect

Rizwan Virk. Bayview, $14.99 trade paper (326p) ISBN 978-1-954872-00-4

In this eccentric head trip, Virk (The Simulation Hypothesis), founder of a video game incubator at MIT, explores the possibility that humans live in a “complex, interconnected network” of simulations. Suggesting that the universe is a Matrix-like facsimile, Virk explains the theories of Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom, who proposed that if the neural underpinnings of consciousness are “a matter of computation,” then it should be possible to simulate them with a sufficiently powerful computer. He reasons that “if one timeline could be simulated, there was no reason that multiple timelines couldn’t be simulated,” and surveys different kinds of multiverse models, including the possibility that black holes serve as “gateways” to other universes or that near-identical Earths exist on the same plane of existence, just far away from each other. Virk doesn’t imbibe all the far-out ideas he examines (he allows that the “Mandela effect,” a kind of collective false memory, may be nothing more than faulty cognition), but instead thoughtfully fleshes out the implications of taking seriously the possibility of a simulated multiverse, leavening heady discussions of quantum physics with references to Black Mirror and Philip K. Dick. Many will remain unconvinced, but the open-minded will enjoy contemplating the out-there possibilities. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/10/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Water to Bind: A Jackson Flint Mystery, Yellow Springs, Ohio

Scott Geisel. Fox & Possum, $12.99 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-73501-832-4

An original plot with fully fleshed-out personalities lifts Geisel’s second mystery featuring Yellow Springs, Ohio, PI Jackson Flint (after 2020’s Fair Game). Angelita Roja Flores, a new client, consults the gumshoe because she believes someone has been squatting in the house she recently inherited. Alarmed enough by evidence that a stranger was in her home and messing with her stuff to move out, Angelita approached local law enforcement, but they offered little help. Flint takes on her problem with the assistance of two friends with different skill sets: J’leah Dawkins, a tech wizard and surveillance expert; and Darnell “Brick” Brickman, who provides muscle when needed. The suspected intruder may be linked to stories that Angelita heard about her estranged father, who’s been in prison since her childhood, including that her father had hidden something valuable that would make his entire family wealthy. Geisel never strains credulity, and his lead can easily sustain a long series. Peter Colt fans will be pleased. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/10/2023 | Details & Permalink

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The Secret Life of Sunflowers

Marta Molnar. Marta Molnar, $5.99 e-book (390p) ASIN B0B5G1KKCZ

Molnar (Broslin Creek, as Dana Marton) offers a delightful story about an American woman’s possible connection to the family of Vincent Van Gogh. Emsley Watson is struggling to keep her niche L.A. auction house afloat and hasn’t been able to raise the money needed to buy out her cheating boyfriend partner. After her grandmother Violet has a stroke, Emsley visits her in New York City, and then inherits the contents of Violet’s brownstone upon her death. There, Emsley uncovers a diary from 1887 Amsterdam by someone named Clara. The book chronicles the life of Johanna (née Bonger) Van Gogh, who married the painter Vincent’s brother Theo, and whose story emerges in a parallel narrative. After moving to Paris with Theo, Johanna encounters the erratic Vincent. Theo explained to her how “Sunflowers mean gratitude to Vincent. He never loses faith,” and after Vincent’s death, Johanna determines to protect the Van Gogh legacy. Shifting between Emsley and Johanna, Molnar unfurls a gripping set of mysteries: Who is Clara? Could Emsley be related to the Van Goghs? And who painted the picture of an ugly baby Emsley found in Violet’s house? Molar effectively portrays Emsley and Johanna as strong, dauntless women determined to rebuild their lives after setbacks. This is a delight. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/10/2023 | Details & Permalink

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The Safekeeper

Esther Archer Lakhani. Bowker, $9.99 (188p) ISBN 978-1-73587-821-8

A sentient house named Gigi, an interesting play on alien invasion, and a resourceful heroine who learns she has a special connection to all of it distinguish this creative debut from Lakhani. Sophomore Macy Steward, 15, who has reddish-brown hair and dark blue eyes, lives with her parents at the Greenmont Grith Retreat Center in Las Aves, Calif., where they host vacationing aliens who temporarily take over the bodies of compounders—humans with a bit of alien genetic makeup. When a strange, black-haired, hazel-eyed new senior, Nick Pendigon, arrives at Las Aves High with too many questions, Macy must determine what he knows and whether he is a threat to the five offworlders at the Center. While the visitors adjust to their borrowed bodies, Macy must come to terms with Gigi’s sudden revelation of communicative abilities—and simultaneously, Macy’s identity as the Center’s Safekeeper. An alien assassination team, a missing “unofficial ‘guard crow’ ” named Clio, and Nick’s mysterious background compound Macy’s problems. The book’s short length inhibits character development, but Lakhani’s worldbuilding and vivid cast bolster a fun series starter for those seeking a fresh speculative twist. Ages 12–up. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Damaged Goods: Erica Jensen Mystery #1

Debbi Mack. Renegade, $11.99 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-1-7341094-1-2

Erica Jensen, the heroine of this sterling series launch from Mack (the Sam McRae series), survived her deployment to Afghanistan in 2011 as a member of a team of female Marines “who performed valuable back-up to the ground troops and intel-gathering duties.” But the concussion she received from an explosion left her addicted to painkillers, a condition that barred her from later getting a PI license in Maryland. Instead, Jensen takes on research assignments from clients with their own reasons for not going to someone with official credentials. Her latest such job comes from Stuart Blaine, an affluent real-estate developer with a drug-dealing conviction, whose college student daughter, Melissa, has been out of touch for four days. Blaine fears something bad has happened, and Jensen agrees to spend a little time tracking down Melissa. Her discovery of a murder victim connected with her employer raises the stakes. Mack never makes her lead’s work feel anything but realistic and captures the psyche of an addict’s struggles. Fans of flawed but empowered female detectives will be pleased with this exceptional mix of character study and detective work. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Evangeline Goes West

Julia DeBarrioz. Julia DeBarrioz, $12.99 trade paper (196p) ASIN B08MVTHYBH

DeBarrioz (the Dakota del Torro series) delivers a moving tale of personal empowerment. When Evangeline Everett’s husband, Jared Wassler, becomes physically abusive, Evangeline takes her savings and runs, heading to her childhood best friend’s ranch in Wyoming. But she’s not expecting hot young ranch hand Chase McCoy. Their attraction is immediate, but Chase is 20 to Evangeline’s 29, and the traumatized Evangeline uses their age difference as an excuse to avoid exploring their connection. As Evangeline rediscovers her love for horses and art, however, she and Chase grow closer. Evangeline’s marriage has taught her never to compromise who she is again, and she’s frank with the more conservative Chase about her views on abortion, gun control, and religion. Chase, in turn, opens up about his difficult childhood. There’s only so long flimsy excuses can keep these two apart—and DeBarrioz pushes it past the point of believability. Still, Evangeline’s humorous, folksy narration makes the meandering will-they-won’t-they work. It’s inevitable that Jared catches up with Evangeline just as her relationship with Chase takes off, but after the leisurely opening, the blazing finale—which features abductions, gunfights, and bear attacks—feels out of left field. Still, the scenic descriptions, steamy sex scenes, and gutsy heroine make this a solid pick for cowboy romance fans. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Love Is Free. Guac Is Extra: How Vulnerability, Empowerment, and Curiosity Built an Unstoppable Team

Monty Moran. Lioncrest Publishing, $10 e-book (318p) ASIN B08DT4HBRV

Moran, former co-CEO of Chipotle, debuts with an inviting inventory of the tactics he used to transform Chipotle into a national brand. After being recruited from his position at a law firm to help lead the growing eatery chain in 2005, Moran focused on empowering the company's employees by restructuring the hiring process and visiting locations to interact one-on-one with as many team members as possible. Curiosity, respect, vulnerability, and honesty, he writes, are the cornerstones of his leadership style, and while Moran believes "one's capacity to be fully human is perhaps the greatest prerequisite to being an effective leader," he doesn't shy away from delivering tough messages: "Don't fall for the morale trap... the only way to create a culture not in need of morale-boosting actions is to build a culture of empowerment." While some will find Moran's perspective a bit rosy, his down-to-earth style will appeal to managers looking for ways to engage their workforce. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Bell Hammers

Lancelot Schaubert. Lancelot Schaubert, $27 (334p) ISBN 978-1-949547-02-3

Schaubert recounts a mischievous man's eight decades in Illinois's Little Egypt region in his rambling picaresque debut. In 1941, six-year-old Wilson "Remmy" Remus cuts the tension in his classroom following news of the attack on Pearl Harbor by peeing in a bucket, launching a life of constant schemes and pranks and a lifelong feud with classmate Jim Johnstone, whose notebook was splashed in the act. Told in snapshots, the narrative recounts stories of Remmy unleashing pigs in the high school, dumping cow manure for neighborhood kids to play in, and deploying devious punishments for his children, such as sending his 15-year-old daughter on a circuitous Greyhound ride after she complains during a family vacation. He starts a home-building company with an eye on building a Camelot for a band of friends, but his plans run afoul of the local oil drilling company Jim works for. After a storm fells a derrick on his land and pollutes the well water, his petty squabbles with Jim ramp up. The aftermath of a particularly foolhardy prank in 1977 involving some makeshift medieval weaponry proves consequential. While the hodgepodge of anecdotes doesn't offer much in the way of plot, the tone of this particular old man's reminiscences about his greatest hits has some appeal. At its best, this is a hoot. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

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