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When Mountains Sing

Stacy Monson. His Image, $12.99 trade paper (422p) ISBN 978-1-73239-902-0

Monson (Shattered Image) weaves together a story of identity and ambition in this moving inspirational. Journalist Mikayla Gordon is 30 years old when she faints at work and learns she has a hole in her heart, a genetic condition that no one in her immediate family shares. Mikayla doesn’t want to let her medical issue interfere with her career, but is unable to ignore a problem that could prove fatal. Through a DNA test, she learns that the man she thought was her father isn’t. To find answers, she speaks with her mother and learns her father could be in Colorado. After accepting a job working with a youth camp in the Rocky Mountains, she meets Dawson, a wilderness camp leader, who helps Mikayla come to terms with what she has learned about her family and herself. Mikayla also discovers Dawson might be the perfect person to help her track down her elusive father. Though some of the conflict driving Mikayla’s development feels overwrought, and her religious concerns over her parents’ mutual infidelity feels heavy-handed, Mikayla’s faith and dedication to her career make her a believable, lovable heroine. Lovers of the outdoors will particularly enjoy this contemporary faith-based romance. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Kidnapping of Cody Moss

Sara L. Foust. Silver Lining Literary Services, $12.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-73290-471-2

Foust (the Love, Faith, and Hope series) launches a new series with this delightful tale chronicling the coming together of the Smokey Mountain Investigative Team. Police officer Annalise Baker is offered a spot on the team but hesitates to accept the position over concerns about her husband, Dave, and the effects it would have on their marriage. But as a new case arrives, Annalise sees that Dave is withdrawing from her and decides to take the opportunity. Zach Leebow is excited about working on the team, particularly when he hears his old friend, Annalise, will be joining. After Annalise answers a call about a gun hidden in a child’s wagon and Zach finds a body on the shore of a river, everyone is on pins and needles, fearing a murderer is on the loose. Then a child is kidnapped, and Annalise and Zach, finding clues that whoever committed the murder is holding a captive, realize the kidnapper might tie everything together. Foust balances the reality of first responder jobs with faith concerns as characters grapple with the idea that God can be in control of such traumatic events. Dave’s sudden jealousy of Annalise’s relationship with Zach also leaves her in believable, complicated scenarios that force her to make difficult choices. Readers of Ronie Kendig will relish this pulse-quickening series opener. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Cheater’s Game

Paul Levine. Herald Square, $15.99 trade paper (426p) ISBN 978-1-7342510-0-5

The recent college admissions scandal provides the spark for Edgar finalist Levine’s clever 14th legal thriller featuring attorney Jake Lassiter (after 2018’s Bum Deal). Jake is relieved to learn that his 20-year-old nephew, Kip, has survived being driven off the road into the water in the Florida Everglades. But that relief is short-lived after Jake finds evidence that Kip, who was supporting himself by tutoring high school students for the SAT, has been keeping secrets from him, such as how he was able to buy a new Tesla, with cash, and why his passport records recent frequent trips to the Cayman Islands. Jake’s fears that his nephew was attacked because of his involvement in something unethical are validated when Kip confesses that he’s part of an operation that helps give aspiring college students an advantage. In exchange for a hefty fee, Kip takes the SAT instead of the student, bribes proctors, and provides “resume and essay enhancements.” Levine makes Jake’s efforts to extricate Kip from criminal liability exciting. Fans of John Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy series will be pleased. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Twisted Crown

Anita Richmond Bunkley. Renard, $12.95 (412p) ISBN 978-0-9624012-4-4

Bunkley’s inspired latest (after Black Gold) imagines a fruitful interracial partnership amid the chaos of racist violence and injustice in reconstruction-era Charleston, S.C. In 1846, four-year-old Eva is sent by her enslaved mother from a South Carolina plantation to live with an aunt in Boston. Just before war breaks out, Eva marries Chester, an escaped slave, who volunteers to join the Union Army as soon as black men are allowed to enlist. Chester is killed, and after the war Eva sets off on a quest to find her mother. Along the way, she meets a Northern white lawyer named Trent Hartwell, who wants to help rebuild the South but is met with resistance from die-hard rebels. Together, Eva and Trent work with the thinly stretched Freedman’s Bureau to advocate for the freedom and justice that were promised after the Union victory, despite a series of threats from powerful, lawless Charleston men and the dangers of being seen together, especially as their friendship deepens. Bunkley’s wrenching descriptions of racist attitudes and violence, along with her meticulous attention to historical and regional details, lay bare the steep uphill battle of her characters’ incremental progress. This is a convincing portrait of the racist and classist divisions that persisted after the Civil War. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Vibrant Vision: The Entrepreneurship of Multigenerational Family Business

Richard N. Seaman. Seaman Corporation, $28.95 (188p) ISBN 978-1-73389-530-9

Seaman, chairman of the Seaman Corporation, addresses readers intent on developing a sustainable multigenerational family business in this thoughtful and well-written guide. This goal, he demonstrates, isn’t for the faint of heart—the statistics are pretty dismal, with only 3% of family enterprises surviving into the fourth generation. Still, it can be done, he suggests; Cargill, Comcast, Ford Motor Company, and Walmart are a few notable examples. The author’s family business is impressive, too—an industrial fabric manufacturer started in 1949 by his father, today it’s a nearly $200 million firm employing 350. Seaman, who acted as the company’s CEO for 50 years after his father’s death, shares eight key areas to focus on, such as investing in human capital, embracing long-term strategic planning, ensuring “customer-focused quality,” and developing effective corporate governance policies. Seaman provides plentiful anecdotes that illustrate his business strategy, such as when the company integrated R&D with marketing. He includes specific questions to drive discussion, and concludes with a crucial lesson on how family businesses can be harmed by a sense of entitlement among later generations. Considering how specific the subject matter is, this is a remarkably good book with valuable lessons for all manner of business leaders. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | 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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