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Witches of the Mount 1730

Tom Schneider. Tom Schneider, $9.99 (118p) ASIN B08YCYRRDN

A young reporter working for Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette receives his first writing assignment in this clunky historical fiction novel, based on Franklin’s 1730 satirical piece, “A Witch Trial at Mount Holly.” Emmet, implied white, is sent to Mount Holly, N.J., to investigate claims of witchcraft. What he finds is a white town reluctant to share its secrets, and two young women living “with the Indians” who might not be what they appear. Setting out to discover whether the rumors of sheep citing scripture and pigs flying are true, Emmet faces violent attacks, an innkeeper who knows more than he lets on, and a mysterious well that may hold a long-dead witch’s spirit. When Emmet stumbles on the “witches”—one half-Lenni-Lenape, half-white; the other white with a Lenni-Lenape stepfather—dancing naked in the woods, he is mesmerized. As the trial nears, Emmet becomes determined to prove the allegations false. Though moments of tension and mystery are often cut short and dialogue feels anachronistic, Schneider weaves an eerie and at times thrilling story, supplemented by b&w photographs, drawings, and maps that provide an immersive experience. Ages 14–up. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Whisper Came: A Cape Cod Mystery

Keith Yocum. Keith Yocum, $12.99 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-0-9978708-8-6

At the start of this suspenseful mystery from Yocum (Miraflores—Memoir of a Young Spy), a charter boat captain on a fly-fishing outing off Chatham, Mass., comes across a floating object that turns out to be a woman’s corpse. The authorities struggle to ascertain the dead woman’s identity and whether she was a victim of foul play. The Boston Globe assigns metro reporter Stacie Davis, who has just had a bad breakup and is in no mood to go to the Cape, to the story. Finding solid information scarce, even after law enforcement deems the fatality suspicious, Stacie acquaints herself with the locals, whose ranks include a mystery author who’s hoping to get something to write about. She learns that the region is rife with ominous folklore, including a ghost, an abandoned fishing village that people fear to approach, and mooncussers, scoundrels who lure ships to their doom by pretending that the lights they carry belong to a lighthouse. Yocum matches a creepy atmosphere with fully realized characters. Hank Phillippi Ryan fans will hope to see more of Davis. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Cursed by Death

Melissa Marr. MM INK, $15.99 trade paper (308p) ISBN 978-1-953909-00-8

Bestseller Marr returns to the world of 2011’s Graveminder with this equally quirky but uneven follow-up, which picks up where the first book left off but still manages to be accessible for newcomers. Unbeknownst to most townsfolk, the dead of Claysville occasionally wake and attack the living thanks to a curse placed on the small town centuries ago. Rebekkah Barrow and Byron Montgomery have finally accepted their roles as Claysville’s Graveminder and Undertaker, respectively, the mandated caretakers to the town’s Hungry Dead. Meanwhile, Rebekkah’s friend Amity Blue, still reeling from the death of her sister, Bonnie Jean, starts to question things she’d previously accepted about Claysville: Why does no one ever get sick? And why is it that no one born there ever leaves? Her pursuit of answers floods her with half-formed, headache-inducing memories and thrusts her into Rebekkah’s hidden world as she learns the dark truth of Claysville’s curse. The blurred line between life and death somewhat lowers the stakes, and the worldbuilding leaves many questions unanswered. The saving grace is Marr’s skillful hand at crafting fascinating, multilayered characters. Series fans will be delighted to revisit Marr’s colorful cast but may hope for more action and clarity in future installments. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Dream of the White Stallion

Julia Oliver. Page, $15.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-64544-526-5

Oliver delights in this breezy chronicle of a clever woman surviving the harsh realities of early 18th-century England. Since childhood, Kathryn Alexander has been tormented by dreams of a white stallion. As daughter of Patrick, an Irish Catholic immigrant, and Anne Marie, a disowned aristocratic Protestant English mother, Kathryn is ostracized and bullied, as is the rest of her family. Kathryn shares her love of horses with Patrick, who makes harnesses, trains horses, and provides veterinary healing. There’s no unifying thread, but there is plenty of drama as Patrick’s apprentice Billy attempts to rape Kathryn, Patrick fires him, and he threatens the family. Meanwhile, Kathryn has her eye on handsome Viscount William Stanley, but when Patrick is found dead and her prized white filly Snowflake is stolen, she must do whatever it takes to feed and tend to her consumptive mother. Oliver follows Kathryn from childhood to young womanhood with insights on the era’s class struggle and daily life, as well as detailed descriptions of horse breeding, training, and racing. Fans of historical drama will be hooked. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | 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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