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Pistachio

Jeanie Doyle Singler. AuthorHouse, $20.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-5246-8465-5

In Singler’s taut thriller, teenager Atlanta Gabriel attends her first rock concert in Spokane, Wash., in 1967. Atlanta is a cousin of the lead singer of the featured band, Pistachio. Her experience is indelibly marred when the band’s female vocalist dies offstage during the performance. The author raises the suspense by revealing next to nothing about the circumstances, apart from an unsettling passage in which men mop up blood from the floor of a ladies’ room. The band breaks up soon afterward. Flash forward 45 years. Atlanta is forced to revisit the past when she runs into two members of Pistachio in a Tacoma, Wash., bookstore, and learns that Annmarie Erving Hamilton, one of the group’s founders, has died, supposedly from accidentally mixing medications. An unexpected encounter with Annmarie’s attorney nephew, Wharton Forde, with whom Atlanta was once romantically involved, leads to the two reuniting to probe Annmarie’s death and those of several other recently deceased members of Pistachio. Singler keeps the reader guessing throughout. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/03/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Elegant Warrior: How to Win Life’s Trials Without Losing Yourself

Heather Hansen. Page Two, $15.95 (140p) ISBN 978-1-989025-26-0

Blogger and attorney Hansen’s slim debut contains plenty of valuable, adaptable life lessons designed to help readers through tricky situations. She defines being an elegant warrior as someone who fights adversity with grace and compassion and doesn’t lose respect for themselves or those they come into contact with when competing for jobs or in academics. She then lays out 27 lessons inspired by her law career, including advice on finding mentors, speaking up at appropriate times, maintaining intellectual curiosity, and resting when necessary. She concludes each lesson with a “prove it” section, which presents further reading and studies to back up her assertions, and a “summary of the case,” which includes each chapter’s takeaways. Her most convincing lesson, “The Curse of Knowledge,” implores readers to remember that few people are experts on all matters, and that using plain language to communicate will often highlight what one doesn’t know—and can then learn. Hansen offers anecdotes from her legal career to illustrate lessons, but her techniques and tools are tailored to be applied to any business or personal matter. This well-paced, sensible volume will be helpful for any reader in search of a template for achieving personal and career goals. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/03/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Girl’s Guide to Chicago

Kelly Russell. Kelly Russell, $17.95 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-1-73211-820-1

Chicago blogger Russell crafts a thinly fictionalized version of her first year in the Windy City in her middling debut . The eponymous main character, intrigued by the city as a child, gives up her job in the suburbs in order to fulfill her somewhat vague dream of living there. She quickly finds a job as a receptionist for a digital marketing agency and an apartment to share with her homebody brother, but realizes that she’ll need to navigate public transportation, revamp her wardrobe, and revisit her expectations of urban life if she wants to survive in the city. Though colleagues and friends make appearances, none really makes an impression apart from Vin, Kelly’s boss, who becomes an integral part of her social life. The real star is Chicago itself, with key landmarks and businesses described frequently. The straightforward prose lacks emotional resonance, but the book lives up to its title through its loving portrayal of a storied city. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/03/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Miss Etta

Deanna Lynn Sletten. Dianna Lynn Sletten, $14.99 trade paper (350p) ISBN 978-1-941212-38-7

Sletten (Maggie’s Turning) eloquently captures the mystery of Etta Place, lover of Harry Longabaugh (aka the Sundance Kid) and friend to Butch Cassidy. The story opens in 1972 as 96-year-old Ethel Emily Pleasants has a story to tell her granddaughter, reaching back to the year 1911, the year she and her toddler son, Harry, moved to the small town of Pine Creek, Minn., where Emily will become the schoolteacher. Emily is genteel, prim and pretty, and gains the attention of Edward Sheridan, a banker and school board/town council member. Emily appreciates the attention of the handsome Edward, and wonders if she can settle in the town, but reports about whether Sundance—the love of her life—is dead have yet to be proved or disproved. The story moves further back to the late 1800s, the years of their courtship and love and outlaw days, and then returns to Pine Creek in 1972 as Emily’s granddaughter attempts to take it all in. Etta’s small-town experiences in 1911 are the highlights; at one point, the local sheriff wonders how a schoolteacher can thwart an attempted store robbery because she’s “capable of shooting like a gunslinger.” The imagined personality of Etta is endearing, and her story of restarting life after love is as touching as her earlier life was exciting. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/03/2019 | 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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Singing In My Own Key: A Vocalist’s Triumph Over Stroke

Valerie L. Giglio. Forza, $9.99 (250p) ASIN B01GF174YC

Giglio, a Boston-area singer and lawyer, details the year she spent recovering from a devastating brain stem stroke she suffered at age 42, which caused her musical and legal worlds “to spin out of control.” Balancing chapters on the details of her recovery—including prolonged hospital stays, confinement to a wheelchair, and “relentless” dizziness—with others on developments in both of her careers, Giglio more than meets her goal of showing readers that “miracles happen.” She deftly explores the “surreal” experience of having a stroke: “Inside you’re screaming to get out, but you can’t move.” She also describes the various grueling physical and mental therapies she endured in order to meet her goal of returning to performing in a year—a goal she accomplished with the help of supportive family and friends. She is guided by the words of her mentor, legendary jazz performer Al Vega, who shows her that “sometimes we have to take a chance and keep going no matter what obstacles we face.” Deciding that “the only limitations were the ones I put on myself,” Giglio hopes her story and struggles will help others “reach for the stars and dream big.” (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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