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Ring on Deli

Eric Giroux. New Salem, $17 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-73422-400-9

Quirky characters take a stand against a supermarket in Giroux’s nimble debut. Pennacook, a rundown Massachusetts town home to wandering feral boars, barely survived the Great Recession. In 2013, Pennacook’s residents (called Pennies) depend primarily on the town’s largest employer, Bounty Bag supermarket. Working in the store’s deli is 23-year-old Ray Markham, the legal guardian of his 16-year-old brother Patrick since their parents died six years earlier. Ray juggles Patrick’s teen angst and alcohol abuse, and is heartbroken to learn his brother is involved in local thug Muscles Carbonara’s smuggling operation. After Bounty Bag’s board of directors fires beloved CEO Angie Martini, the store’s employees strike, and Ray must decide if he will join them or try to keep the store open. Meanwhile, high school principal Dr. Chong and Selectman Archie Simmons need Bounty Bag to remain a going concern in order to achieve their plans of funneling taxpayer money into building a new high school, and the boars’ activity escalates from nuisance to full-scale destruction. Readers will enjoy Giroux’s colorful descriptions of the struggling town, where the Pennies spout literary references (“Don’t make good the enemy of perfect,” Ray’s manager tells him) and get by on pure gumption. This author has talent to burn. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Boot Straps & Bra Straps: The Formula to Go from Rock Bottom Back into Action in Any Situation

Sheila Mac. Lioncrest, $6.99 e-book (344p) ASIN B089KXF6MM3

Mac’s exuberant debut combines can-do attitude with advice to help women live their best possible lives. She explains how her turbulent childhood, with a stint in foster care and periods of homelessness, led to broken relationships and feelings of low self-worth. In her early 20s, she became a mother and determined to live a happier, more successful life, for which she came up with her “BOOTS Formula”—“being” (approaching situations with positivity), “orientation” (understanding one’s place in a “life map”), “operations” (implementing a plan when at “rock bottom”), “thinking” (taking a moment to “think clearly” before making choices), and “stepping up” (accepting the personal responsibility to make change). She offers a mix of questions and suggested personal goals (such as pursuing three daily accomplishments) geared toward helping readers honestly deal with issues and determine their options. Each chapter starts with a tale of a woman in Mac’s life facing an obstacle who applied the BOOTS formula to great effect, such as her friend Angela, who rebounded from a divorce, and neighbor Geneva, who fought her way up from “financial rock bottom.” Mac’s spirited tone and personal story of overcoming adversity will inspire. Those seeking pathways to personal achievement should take a look. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | 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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