Beta: Project Avatar
A.M.D. Hays
Diadema, $25.99 hardcover (414p) ISBN 978-0-9854182-0-5
Hays's thought-provoking and relentless cyberthriller merges lucid prose and cutting social commentary on the technology people both covet and fear. Global conspiracies and the threat of violent death are lent authenticity by compulsive narrative drive and surprising human insight. Aboard a plane to a military conference, celebrated cryptographer Dee Lockwood helps thwart a terrorist attack. Becoming suspicious of her military hosts, Lockwood is pursued by deadly government agents determined to recover secret military software saved on her laptop. Aided by brilliant friend Abe and an ex-MI6 agent named John, Dee flees government assassins on foreign soil and unearths a labyrinthine plot featuring super technology and government conspiracy. Dee is the heart that pumps blood through this narrative. She is infused with realistic emotion and doubts as she struggles to understand the technology both threatening and preserving her. A welcome and timely addition to the genre, this stunning debut makes a statement about technology without sacrificing story.

Between Bodies Lie
H.M. Blanc
AuthorHouse, $23.95 paper (346p) ISBN 978-1-4772-6911-4
Cristobal Porter is a struggling author who flees to a tropical island to work on his next manuscript. While there, he meets Ana Kaplan, the wife of an American diplomat. Cristobal's girlfriend, Nadia, begins an affair with Ana's husband, which allows Cristobal and Ana to act upon their attraction to each other. But as their affair grows deeper, the political instability on the island escalates and tragic consequences loom for Cristobal and Ana. Almost from the beginning, readers will find Blanc's novel overly stylized in the extreme. The book's pacing is tedious, while the prose is heavy handed and overshadows the well-rendered intimate exchanges between characters.

Devil Dancer
William Heath
Somondoco, $14.95 paper (275p) ISBN 978-0-9853898-4-0
"When Wendell had turned forty several years before, one of his friends had quipped, ‘You're on the back nine now.' That was how he felt, sweating in the mid-afternoon heat, exhausted and ineffectual, as if he'd been hiking up endless fairways beneath a relentless sun and three-putting every green.” Meet Wendell Clay, a war veteran and detective who offers his assistance in the mysterious case of a prize horse—the titular Devil Dancer—that turns up dead. In this entertaining novel, Heath delivers a fascinating and well-crafted tale that takes the mystery of the noir genre and injects it into Kentucky circa the sweltering summer of 1972. Wendell's investigation proves to be a good old-fashioned barn burner as a cast of rather colorful characters stumble into view the deeper he gets, leading to a rousing climax.

Heart of Wisdom
Alan N. Clifford
Lion, $8.95 paper (216p) ISBN 978-0-9888597-0-8
In Clifford's novel, which vividly illustrates the conflicts and moral complexities of medical research, cardiologist Paul Bergman, in the late 1980s, enters the teaching program run by a demanding but famous professor, Leo Miller. When Miller—who served time in Japanese prisoner of war camps during WWII—declines to accept a prestigious award from the Japanese Medical Society, his university is incensed and embarrassed, and loses the accompanying grant. A parallel conflict occurs when Bergman learns that hotshot but arrogant researcher Eric Sanderson has committed research fraud. The ensuing complications engage the reader in a wealth of moral dilemmas, as demanding university administrators, a publicity-seeking congressman, government investigators, and a student association become involved. Clifford's ingenious balancing of competing moral imperatives more than makes up for his somewhat unconvincing characterization, and the result is a thought-provoking read.

Iraqi Icicle
Bernie Dowling
Bent Banana, $14.99 paper (376p) ISBN 978-0-9872784-4-9
In his winning debut novel—which takes its title from a variety of rose—Dowling plunges us into Australia's seedy racetrack underworld and the life of Steele Hill, an amiable young dropout who lives by the dole and his wits. Through adept plotting and juggling of time, Dowling gradually reveals Steele's immersion in daffy intrigues that create suspicions in crusty cops Frank Mooney and Bill Schmidt. Willing to fight injustice, Steele uses his street smarts to survive as the complications and bodies mount up, and he and a reclusive teen mathematical genius plot to drug a racehorse at the behest of an expatriate Russian trainer. While the narrative is at times confusing, readers will appreciate the author's ability to render colorful characters and understated witty prose.

Mechanic of Fortune
Peter Bollington
Inkwater, $22.95 paper (398p) ISBN 978-1-59299-816-6
In this whirligig, wholly original narrative, Bollington transfuses the saga of Vladimir Putin–lookalike James Terrell, a private investigator who specializes in the disappeared, into diverting if heavy-handed reflections on America and life. Retained by Evelyn Maxwell to investigate the disappearance of her ex-husband, Alex, Terrell finds his self-doubts mounting as he begins the assignment. The intervention of Alex's aide, Virona Ruth, brings Terrell out of his social isolation, which is further lessened by a series of encounters with hitchhikers. Showdown and personal enlightenment coincide as Terrell meets his prey at the Four Roses Garage where Doctor T and the Rev. Moody Jingo of the Church of the Ascended Spiritual Society promote the Neighborhood Psychopathy Patrol Corps. AB Despite occasional simplistic slogans masquerading as profundity, readers who enjoy moral fables with a heavy dollop of novelty will find much pleasure.

MFA: The Novel
Jason Rapczynski, illus. by Jennifer L. Lassen
CreateSpace, $19.95 paper (592p) ISBN 978-1-4791-4502-7
Despite alcohol abuse, dysfunctional relationships, and meagerly paid survival jobs, John pursues his vision of being a great writer and attends an M.F.A. program at Emerson College. That tension between reality and goal drives Rapczynski's overly long novel. John's choice of a gutter life plays against his ruminations on writing and writers. Rapczynski uses this discordance to contrast John's contempt for literature and writers with his desire to be one. If John is a fractured figure in a fractured world, his glimpses of academic writing programs reinforce the lack of positives. The bitchiness of the academic establishment may provide satirical insights to those who have sweated their way through the system, but John offers only a repetition of self-destructive behavior. A bartender's argument that writing classes are worthless may be an ironic reflection on John's observation that his thesis was an account of his drinking life. Although his message is often unclear, Rapczynski provides a complex picture of a self-absorbed underachiever pursuing a degree that he professes to disdain.

Missing in Machu Picchu
Cecilia Velástegui
Libros, $20 hardcover (344p) ISBN 978-0-9851769-4-5
A group of American women decide to get over their misadventures in online dating by embarking on an exclusive hike of the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu, Peru, geared for Ivy League graduates and run by the charismatic and enigmatic Rodrigo. Of course the women don't know that their tour leader is a crazed sadist bent on stealing their money and seducing them into sacrifices he believes will make his depraved dreams come true. Velástegui may have enormous respect for Incan culture and complicated feelings about the influx of tourists to Peru, but that does not translate into an enjoyable novel. Her characters are too broadly drawn and intensely dislikable. Rodrigo is a cartoonish villain, his henchmen equally shallow, and the American women screeching caricatures.

My Life on Craigslist
Alexandra Aresz
CreateSpace, $13.95 paper (204p) ISBN 978-1-4609-8582-3
In her latest novel, Ares (Dream Junkies) offers up chick lit with a twist: Emily Thompson is a 25-year-old dreamer who quits a bank job in Buffalo, N.Y., and moves to New York City to make use of her art background. Emily soon learns that Manhattan is every bit as tough as she's always been told—evidenced by her losing both her art gallery job and her cheating artist boyfriend, Toby. Emily turns to Craigslist and decides to use the site to figure out her next career and personal moves—a decision yielding disastrous results. While Ares's novel would have benefited greatly from professional copy editing, the author nails the cold, callous place New York City can be and highlights the always surprising things that can be found on Craigslist.

Nunny & Cecil: A Tale of Terror
Gaila Swindell
CreateSpace, $12.95 paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-4781-7692-3
Recently divorced psychology professor Denise Miller along with her two young children, Amy and Adam relocate to Pennsylvania's Amish country, moving into the farmhouse where Denise spent her childhood. In preparation for Denise's family, her father childproofs the house, removing piles of bones buried in the basement—a disturbance that unleashes the evil spirits of Nunny and Cecil, half-wolf, half-human brothers born at the farmhouse in the late 1800s. Nunny and Cecil befriend eight-year-old Adam and set in motion a crude plot to murder Denise, her parents, and Amy. Although Swindell offers up chills and thrills, the book's choppy narrative, stilted dialogue, and horror clichés detract from the narrative. While a series of small scares sets up a truly suspenseful and, indeed, terrifying finale, the book's outlandish premise may be too much for some readers to overlook.

Scrolls of Darkness
Paul Henry Johnson
Outskirts, $16.95 paper (209p) ISBN 978-1-4327-9531-3
Corporate attorney Brent Michaels confronts the sinister and Satanic in Johnson's formulaic supernatural thriller. Michaels, a descendent of ancient prophets, is called upon by David Baumann—a friend of his late father—to locate the Scrolls of Darkness: ancient Satanic scripts sought by the evil Sons of Darkness. Throughout the novel, plot elements are reminiscent of Ian Fleming's James Bond series, but the author's uninspired prose and pedestrian foreshadowing fail to inject tension into the narrative. Even the plot device that resolves the final crisis is flimsy, and Baumann's ultimate double-dealing is too heavy-handed to surprise readers. The book's conclusion points to a sequel, but few readers will likely be interested in a second helping.

Sighs Too Deep for Words: A Texas Gulf Coast Love Mishap
William Jack Sibley
CreateSpace, $15 paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-4776-6417-9
Novelist and playwright Sibley (Any Kind of Luck) returns with a melodramatic, spunky tale of good intentions, mistaken identity, and mixed signals. For Lester Briggs, a softhearted man serving a half-decade prison sentence for felonious theft, prison life can get stagnant and restless, and passionate sex with cellmate "Little Ray” only goes so far. So Briggs takes to the personal ads and begins a long-distance correspondence with Laurel Jeanette Yancey, with whom he soon falls in love. Freed on good behavior and filled with anticipation, he heads to Rockport, Tex., to meet his long-distance love face to face, only to discover that "Jeanette” is actually closeted Rev. Philip Yancey, who lives with his lesbian sister, Luz. A forgiving soul, Briggs gels with the Yanceys and becomes enriched (and titillated) by them both. A whirlwind of colorful characters populates Sibley's well-crafted novel including kooky locals Melanie and Daniel, who initially drive Briggs into Rockport and befriend him. While these folks add flavor to Sibley's crisply written narrative, it's very much Briggs's story about burgeoning emotions and living a true life. Sibley demonstrates dexterity in prose, deft characterization, and command of a fresh, contemporary plot line about redemption and starting over that entertains with feel-good appeal.

Simon Says
William Poe
Simon Says, $14.95 paper (348p) ISBN 978-0-615-55957-5
Maryland author Poe's deep, moody semi-autobiographical novel follows the plight of Simon Powell, a man who has spent his youth rejecting his homosexuality. This self-denial began at 17, when, after an "acid-induced revelation,” he joined the Unification Church, run by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and began a "spiritual journey” that he hoped would assist him in cloaking and repressing gay urges from himself and his conservative-leaning family. Ten years later, Powell returns home to Sibley, Ark., and becomes increasingly in charge of his ailing father Lenny's health care. After Lenny dies, Powell feels adrift and flees to Los Angeles, reuniting with old friends, including a pill-popping drunk, embarking on a violent, self-destructive drug- and alcohol-fueled existence that dominates a good portion of the novel's second half. What follows is a revolving procession of grimy hustlers and episodes of shallow sex, and a final and disastrous crack binge heralds cathartic hopefulness. Stark and gritty, Poe's story about the search for self-discovery is a sobering testament to the author's own personal journey through Rev. Moon's Unification Church, which makes the story resonate that much more powerfully. However, more detail on his main character's time with the cult and less on its self-abusive aftermath would have given this promising novel the heart and soul it truly deserves.

The Book of Paul
Richard Long
Open Eyes, $19.95 paper (492p) ISBN 978-0-615-64864-4
Like graphic depictions of violence against women and sententious mythological blather? Then this is the book for you. New York City neighbors Rose and Martin have a chance encounter and quickly develop a passionate affair. Their relationship has more than the usual challenges given that Martin's father is a master sadist who believes his violence is part of a larger plan: clan war linked to prophecies leading up to Armageddon. It's conceivable that the right author could employ gripping prose and well-realized characters to generate reader investment in a story line that most people would find distasteful. That doesn't happen here. Instead of inspiring fear and creating suspense, graphic scenes (e.g., when a person's eyelids are nailed open) repel rather than engage.

The K Street Affair
Mari Passananti
Rutland Square, $15.99 paper (360p) ISBN 978-0-9858946-0-3
In Passananti's thriller of political corruption, greed, and global terrorism, Lena Mancuso, after barely escaping an explosion at the law firm of Rutledge & Smerth, risks life and family to assist FBI agents Henry Redwell and Maxwell von Buren investigate her employer—who they suspect is in league with terrorists. Diving into a muddled vortex of murder and betrayal, Lena must unravel a byzantine conspiracy that could spark another world war. Unfortunately, quick pacing and effective prose are marred by underdeveloped characters that, in many cases, amount to little more than caricatures. While Passananti expertly exposes the dark workings of big government, she populates a potentially exciting world with a cast that will appeal to few readers. The result is an uneven thriller that fails to enliven the genre stereotypes in which it indulges.

The Kindness of Ravens
Frank Bardessono
CreateSpace, $14 paper (280p) ISBN 978-0-615-64956-6
"Perhaps they had souls behind Disney software and plastics and they were screaming, trapped in an endless, repeating performance of mock swashbuckling revelry for drone-like millions, entombed in a subterranean gulag under the streets of Anaheim.” Gifted novelist Bardessono offers this cunning observation as his protagonist Daren, a drunken college underachiever, visits Disneyland's biggest attraction for the first time. Observations like this guide readers through the author's relentlessly raw and, often, darkly humorous account of youth and young manhood set in the gritty, neon-colored Los Angeles of the 1980s. Bardessono skillfully weaves a tale of drugs and alcohol in which young men discover the music scene of this lost generation while trying to keep their heads at the same time. Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending upon how he views it—Daren meets Lee, an older Native American woman who could change his path. Bardessono's novel is idiosyncratic, hilarious, deeply emotional, and an excellent representation of the time in which it's set.

The Last Daughter of Prussia
Marina Gottlieb Sarles
Wild River, $24.95 paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-9839188-2-0
In Sarles's novel, set during WWII, Manya von Falken is a young East Prussian aristocrat in love with Joshi Karas, a Romani doctor. As the Russians are steadily encroaching into East Prussia and battling the Germans, the two young lovers get caught in the middle. Joshi is arrested by the Germans and taken to Stutthof, a forced labor camp, where he witnesses Nazi inhumanity firsthand and learns to do whatever he needs to survive. Manya and her family flee, but the journey to safety may end up costing her everything, including Joshi. While the Russians in this novel are little more than caricatures, the sentiments and terror of the protagonists are well rendered, keenly felt, and quite vivid. Sarles adapted her novel from the real-life experience of her grandparents, and readers will appreciate the characters' quiet heroism and be intrigued by this affecting tale of WWII.

The Stages: A Novel
Thom Satterlee
Smashwords, $4.99 e-book (386p) ISBN 978-1-301-08248-3
Daniel Peters is an American living in Copenhagen. He works in the Kierkegaard Research Center as a translator and suffers from Asperger's. When his boss (and former fiancée) is murdered soon after the discovery of a new Kierkegaard manuscript—a collection of poetry believed by some to be a forgery—Daniel is a prime suspect. His condition makes it difficult for him to tolerate changes to his routine or interpret people's behavior, but he is drawn into the mystery despite himself and must work with the police to uncover the truth. Satterlee clearly is familiar with Copenhagen and Kierkegaard, and this knowledge grounds the story and lends it realism. This is a deftly crafted mystery that will leave readers curious and surprised, as well as empathetic to Daniel, whose Asperger's is portrayed realistically.

The Tesla Conspiracy: How Far Will They Go to Keep It a Secret?
Michael D. Finley
Law Offices of Michael D. Finley, $14.99 paperback (327p) ISBN 978-0-9884350-1-8
Graduate students Kathy Olson and Julie Lozano find that interest in scientific genius Nikola Tesla attracts menace from sinister forces. Men in black, suspicious janitors, hooded figures, and an elusive dean are determined to suppress Tesla's discoveries in the field of free energy. As the novel progresses, stilted dialogue and paper-thin characterizations derail any suspense or tension. Absurdity rules with Tesla-inspired technology mowing down SUVs and the existence of a talk radio show that conveniently has a segment on Tesla. The unexplained disappearance of Kathy and Julie at the end opens the door for a sequel, though readers may not be interested enough in the characters to come back for more.

The Thing With Willie: Stories of Two Families
Karen Sagstetter
Bergamot, $15.95 paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-9760905-8-8
Sagstetter tells the tales of two families—one white and one African-American—and explores their differing paths from the Great Depression through the end of the 20th century. Willie, an African-American oysterman in Galveston, Tex., kills himself as the Depression takes its toll on his family. His daughter later goes to Vietnam as a translator and falls in love with a Vietnamese man—an affair that leads to tragedy. These are some of the many loosely interwoven vignettes that make up this collection, which asks readers to reflect on humanity, and interpersonal and intercultural relationships. It is difficult, at times, to see the connections between Sagstetter's stories, although each one works independently of the others. Readers will appreciate the attention to setting and character in each of the stories, but will struggle to find unifying meaning from tale to tale.

There Is No Mrs. Gezunterman: A Corporate Comedy
Kevin Mednick
Savvy, $9.99 paper (206p) ISBN 978-1-939113-04-7
"T.U.L.P. is a grassroots movement of plain ordinary people who think corporations ought to learn right from wrong just like the rest of us.... It's so unheard of, just the idea is shocking. But why? They're so much a part of our lives. Shouldn't they be good citizens too?” This is the driving question behind lawyer Mednick's (The Almost Life) new novel, which pits the little guys against the big guys in an all-out blitz against corporations. Mednick's writing is smooth, witty, and refreshing, his characters equally as enjoyable. Drawing upon his own experience as an assistant district attorney and associate council, Mednick crafts a believable yet slightly zany comedy in which three protagonists—a college graduate, a Russian immigrant, and an artist—come together to lead T.U.L.P. (Treat Us Like People), a group which brings the corporate world to its knees—almost—and ends in a captivating courtroom standoff.


Botanica: iPhone Photos
Ralph Nelson
Ralph Nelson, $60 hardcover (156p) ISBN 978-0-9882649-0-8
In this collection Nelson, a veteran motion picture still photographer, uses his iPhone camera to capture the vibrant colors and textures of flowers and plant life. The close perspective of most of the shots causes the viewer to focus on the beauty of smaller details: dewy pink petals reach toward the light, bright purples and reds dominate a photo of leaves that have fallen to the ground in fall, and a white tropical flower's pistil looks oddly extraterrestrial. The tiniest details often become the focus of the work, e.g., the grains of a dried-out log resemble storm clouds. Many of the photographs are reminiscent of the paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe, gracefully composed and brimming with a dynamic, almost sexual charge. Each image is paired with short, sometimes religious quotes extolling the virtues of nature by such notable (and diverse) figures as Michelangelo, Mark Twain, the Buddha, Henry David Thoreau, and Oscar Wilde. No information is given about the subjects for the botany enthusiast, but there is plenty to feast on visually.

Cloudbreak, California: A Memoir
Kelly Daniels
Owl Canyon, $16.95 paper (230p) ISBN 978-0-9834764-5-0
Identity issues, father-son relationships, and surfing are themes that resonate in this fascinating recollection of a young man's coming of age. Daniels, an outcast with his classmates, finds his life changed when his criminal father shows up briefly at his high school before jumping bail and disappearing. This short encounter lays the basis for Daniels's vision of a future reunion with his criminal father. His quest for meaning leads Daniels to wander around Latin America and take odd jobs, while the "cloudbreak” that gives the book its title occurs in a surfing scene, where Daniels reunites with his apparently reformed father. This working out of their relationship, coupled with his final settling into college teaching, suggests that the author's quest for identity has found resolution in helping students tell their own stories. Daniels asserts that, like Odysseus, his wanderings have ceased and he has found contentment. This is an entertaining and well-crafted memoir, and even if it wraps up a little too neatly at the end, Daniels's story will resonate with readers.

Diabetes Do's & How-To's: Small Yet Powerful Steps to Take Charge, Eat Right, Get Fit, and Stay Positive
Riva Greenberg, illus. by Haidee S. Merritt
SPI Management, $16.95 paper (296p) ISBN 978-0-9822906-1-3
Greenberg (The ABCs of Loving Yourself with Diabetes) cheerfully gives readers the tools needed to live well with diabetes. The author forgoes scientific details to focus on day-to-day living, e.g., easy to digest tips that include Food Do's, Medical Do's, Fitness Do's, and Attitude Do's. ""Quick-Starts”” at the end of each chapter offer specific suggestions for carrying out the author's advice, and worksheets provide templates for working with doctors to manage diabetes. Much of the advice is nothing new: make healthy food choices, take medicine when and as directed, ask questions during doctor's visits, exercise five days per week, and develop a support network. However, here it is all in one place, in friendly, accessible prose. Throughout, Greenberg encourages readers to be patient, stay positive, never sweat setbacks, and take small steps toward larger goals. With references for further information and an enthusiastic foreword by Dr. Michael Dansinger (an adviser on TV's The Biggest Loser), Greenberg's book provides diabetes patients with helpful advice and encouragement to better manage their health and their lives.

High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis
John Englander
The Science Bookshelf, $19.95 paper (244p) ISBN 978-0-615-63795-2
Englander provides a cogent and sobering glimpse at the effects of rising sea levels that is underway and will persist for at least a thousand years. Sea levels have been relatively stable in civilized history, but with carbon dioxide levels at a 15 million–year high, history shows that sea levels will rise 50 feet from current levels, assuming no further warming. By avoiding rhetorical frenzy, Englander gives more credence to the dire scenarios he outlines; e.g., the widespread disappearance of glaciers, possibly within decades, may eliminate water supplies for more than a billion people. The elimination of heat-reflecting ice will speed up the warming process, with major changes in global weather patterns. With the destruction of whole nations possible, an OECD study envisioning damage of $35 trillion—twice the 2010 U.S. GDP—in 136 port cities worldwide by 2070 seems secondary. Englander's copious citations, graphics, and glimpses of scientific thinking illustrate the persuasive extent of evidence to support his thesis. The author sees no simple way or magical technology to slow sea level rise, but urges the absolute need to begin planning for unavoidable changes. Few who read this challenging primer will venture to disagree.

Kaua'i Kids in Peace and War
Bill Fernandez
Makani Kai Media, $19.95 paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-4793-8491-4
In this candid memoir, Hawaii native Fernandez (Rainbows over Kapa'a) describes his hometown and the effects of the war on his childhood on the ethnically diverse island of Kaua'i. The narrative, which weaves childhood adventures with historical references, begins in peacetime with Fernandez growing up blissfully unaware of global troubles outside of his island. On an island laden with natural beauty, people trust ancient beliefs in kahunas, spiritual experts with "magical powers that can shrivel your body or snatch your soul.” Growing up surrounded by more than 20 ethnic groups, Fernandez explains "the Hawaiian way” of sharing "what you had with friends or strangers,” though, "Unfortunately, this tendency to give without expectation of reward had led to Hawaiians living in poverty.” Colorful recollections of learning how to swim, searching for a skyrocket-flying Santa Claus, learning about life while polishing shoes for American soldiers, and his parents' investment in a New York–style theater move the narrative forward. The latter half of the book depicts wartime changes in his hometown after the attack on Pearl Harbor: conflicts and tension between residents and their Japanese neighbors who feared internment; and the effect of soldiers in town. Though the chronology is sometimes confusing, this is an honest retelling of one native's experience during the war, and will be of particular interest to those interested in Hawaiian history.

Marketing in a World of Digital Sharing: Are You Drowning in Social Media Noise and Chaos?
Sujata Ramnarayan
MARS, $16.95 paper (228p) ISBN 978-0-9859386-0-4
Ramnarayan provides a detailed, contemporary primer that illuminates the promise and peril of the brave new world of social media. Marketing must aim at communicating with, not at, its targets. Although social media enable unparalleled opportunities for feedback, some channels will be more rewarding than others. With everyone able to make an opinion public, marketers must devise a strategy to facilitate this impulse. Although the traditional basics of marketing remain the same, Ramnarayan argues that, in our era of near-universal skepticism, consumers remain prone to heed the comments of those they trust. While sentiment can be manipulated, companies would do well to invite direct feedback and help foster the growth of brand communities. Ramnarayan acknowledges that business apprehension about the new world of marketing remains widespread, but provides a roster of success stories as examples of what can be achieved. Whatever one's feelings about the new media landscape—and Ramnarayan herself acknowledges that social media is no panacea—her crisp presentation, with chapter summaries to highlight the main pointers, confirms that companies that choose not to listen to customers stand to lose ground to competitors who do. The neophyte in this field would do well to review this guide.

Secret Storms: A Mother and Daughter, Lost Then Found
Julie Mannix von Zerneck and Kathy Hatfield
Blue Blazer, $14.95 paper (338p) ISBN 978-0-9857358-0-7
In this touching memoir, Julie is 19 when she is sent to a psychiatric institute in 1963 because of an unplanned pregnancy. As a young debutante in Philadelphia, there are things expected of her, and pregnancy out of wedlock isn't one of them. She gives birth to her daughter—whom she names Aimee —but the girl is put up for adoption. After she leaves the institute, Julie marries Frank, the man who got her pregnant, and they both have successful careers in show business. Daughter Aimee is renamed Kathy by her adoptive family and is loved very much. But eventually, Kathy becomes curious about her birth parents and resolves to track them down. The book shifts between sections narrated by mother von Zerneck and daughter Hatfield, and both authors have gripping stories to tell. Readers will delight in their shared narrative, which is as heartwarming as it is engaging. Von Zerneck's life alone would be a fascinating read, but combined with Hatfield's search for her mother it becomes compulsive reading.

Sorry I Was No Fun at the Circus: Devil Winds in the City of Angels
Deborah Giovanni Chastain
Santiago, $19.95 paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-615-62811-0
Chastain's memoir tells the tale of a woman who grapples with an abusive husband as well as the inexorable spread of cancer. When she is diagnosed, her husband continues his selfish mind games. As her chemotherapy treatment progresses, he announces his intention to divorce her, and she works to avoid the process server he has sent after her. Readers will be confused by the protagonist's murky motivations. And while the wife lacks a character arc, the husband is simply a caricature of the manipulative, abusive spouse. Chastain's prose is often flat, and readers will find it difficult to become invested in the book's characters or its plot.

Thou Shalt Not Steal: The Baseball Life and Times of a Rifle-Armed Negro League Catcher
Bill "Ready” Cash and Al Hunter Jr.
Love Eagle, $11.95 paper (202p) ISBN 978-0-615-44546-5
Cash offers a detailed look at his life in this fiercely opinionated memoir. While he acknowledges that he was never a household name—unlike Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige—Cash makes the case that he, along with many other talented players, were the backbone of the Negro League. His bitterness at not making it to the majors (he was born the same year as Jackie Robinson) is palpable—and certainly justified—based on his talents. Even with Major League Baseball's glacially slow efforts to include black players, Cash's batting—and especially his powerful throwing arm—should have allowed him to join the world's best players. Ironically, Cash found himself treated with more respect when he played abroad. Even readers who are not fans of our national pastime will be moved by Cash's devotion to his wife of more than 60 years and his impressive work ethic, dating back to his pre-baseball days.

Yes, We Are Stupid in America!: A Former Principal's Reality Check on Why Our Public Schools Are Failing
Vicky Wells
iUniverse, $16.95 paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-4759-7187-3
When an author begins a book by thanking Fox News for teaching her how to report the truth without fear, it gives readers a pretty good sense of her political leanings. Sure enough, Wells begins this diatribe by asserting that the federal government should have no role in public education. Readers who make it past this first section will see that Wells herself concedes that many problems stem from the local level, with incompetent school boards and unqualified school leaders—problems that would not be addressed if the U.S. Department of Education disappeared overnight. The author uses her experience in a rural town in Georgia to illustrate the inefficiencies she encountered as a teacher and principal. Instead of genuine insight, she offers truisms—”students perform best when they receive the best possible teaching....” And despite her citation of the U.S. lagging in math and science testing, she pays no attention to the challenges the country faces precisely because individual states have autonomy on how such subjects are taught.

Your Turn for Care: Surviving the Aging and Death of the Adults Who Harmed You
Laura S. Brown
CreateSpace, $15.95 paper (182p) ISBN 978-1-4782-7418-6
Clinical psychologist Brown targets a little-known counseling niche in this disturbing yet gripping study. She estimates one of three girls and one of four boys from the baby boomer generation were sexually abused before age 18—mostly by family members. In an ironic reversal of roles, many of those abused wind up caring for those elderly abusers. The difficulties these caretakers must address include cultural background, gender expectations, and economic necessity, as well as crippling memories. Brown hints at the range of psychological traumas such abuse victims grapple with and avoids prescribing universal recommendations. Her two imperatives, obvious though they seem, resonate: abusive adults are the sole parties at fault and victims choosing to offer assistance must practice self-compassion and boldly consider their own emotional well-being first. But Brown does not pretend that any bromides compensate for detailed individual analysis; indeed, the variety of reactions that an abuser's death can evoke in victims illustrates the complexities of the human psyche. These alone should reward the reader seeking general understanding. Readers with abuse in their families should find abundant ground for reflection and, hopefully, a healthier life.

Children's Books

A Short Trip to Australia
Lea & Tim, illus. by Nicola Ibbotson-Gue
CreateSpace, $9.99 paper (36p) ISBN 978-1-4782-2604-8
Three children magically globe-trot in the Worldwide Adventures of Rohini Molini series, which launches with this chipper story. Normally not fond of sticks, Rohini's dog, Bugle, is quite taken by an odd-shaped one he digs up in the park. Though some readers will recognize it as a boomerang, Rohini does not, so she, her friends Jackson and baby Florence, and Bugle "magically travel to find out where in the world the stick came from.” When they clap five times and jump, they are transported to Australia, where they meet Lachlan, a friend of Rohini's who tells them about boomerangs. The authors add occasional search-and-find elements to the story ("They had really enjoyed their short trip to Australia, but were surprised they didn't see any kangaroos. Did you?”), which also incorporates a smattering of Australian jargon and concludes with a few facts about the continent. While the story is only a light introduction to Australia, Ibbotson-Gue's vivid cartoons enhance the book's mild playfulness. Rohini and her friends learn the difference between fiestas and siestas in A Short Trip to Spain, also available. Ages 3–6.

Porcini's Great Escape
Jeanne Yee
Robertson Publishing (, $16.50 paper (78p) ISBN 978-1-61170-106-7
This meandering story introduces a mushroom with a thirst for adventure. Born "into a privileged family of mushrooms” in Italy's Apennine Mountains, Porcini, who "was known by fellow mushrooms as being down-to-earth with a nutty personality,” hopes to avoid the fate of her brethren, namely being sold at market and "most likely end[ing] up grilled and served with fresh olive oil and parsley. This was a highly desired fate and widely accepted among mushrooms.” Wanting more from life, however, Porcini has her first brush with freedom when she bounces out of the farmer's basket, only to be retrieved and eventually sold to a chef in Rome; luckily for Porcini, her downhill roll splits her stem in two to resemble legs, giving her mobility and keeping the chef from serving her to customers. Opposite Yee's recounting of Porcini's travails are clean, brightly colored digital cartoons—Porcini herself is lightly anthropomorphized with gray eyes and other facial features that remain virtually unchanged throughout. Although Porcini successfully avoids being cooked and consumed, her first adventure comes across as overlong and anticlimactic. Ages 7–10.

Jack Templar Monster Hunter
Jeff Gunhus
Seven Guns Press (, $10.95 paper (204p) ISBN 978-0-988-42590-3
In this fast-paced middle-grade adventure, first in Gunhus's Templar Chronicles series, readers meet Jack Templar, who discovers his hidden heritage as a monster hunter as he turns 14. On the eve of Jack's birthday, he develops amazing physical powers—speed, strength, stamina—and starts encountering the creatures, or Creaches, that hide in plain sight among humans. When an enigmatic teen named Eva shows up to offer training and explanations, they are quickly attacked, propelling Jack, Eva, and his friends Will and T-Rex into a nightmarish fight for survival against an age-old vampire and his hordes. Nonstop action meets surprises galore as Jack's true nature and abilities assert themselves against overwhelming odds. Written in a casually conversational voice, the narrative flows smoothly, and the characters act realistically under the circumstances. Presented as a story designed to introduce hunters like Jack to a dangerous world ("If you read this book, you will be part of this world and the monsters will come after you too,” Jack warns readers), the conceit works; author Gunhus delivers a satisfying, if sometimes hectic, tale. Ages 6–12.

Lost in Petra
Melissa Mahle and Kathryn Dennis
SpyGirls Press (, $8.99 paper (246p) ISBN 978-0-9852273-0-2
The Anatolia Steppe Mysteries series debuts with this craftily plotted novel crammed with mistaken identities, false leads, enigmatic clues, and narrow escapes. Eleven-year-old Ana arrives in Jordan to join her archeologist mother, who has been hired by the government to create a traveling exhibit of artifacts from the lost Nabatean civilization based in the city of Petra, which became lost to history following an earthquake 2,000 years earlier. When her mother fails to meet her, Ana opens a package from her containing a cryptic message and an object Ana later discovers is an ancient relic that may lead her to hidden Nabatean treasure—and her kidnapped mother. Accompanied by Gordy, the son of her nanny, Ana embarks on a quest that involves evading alleged villains, deciphering an ancient zodiac, and pulling off death-defying physical feats. The protagonists are realistically drawn and engaging kids, and Ana's clipped, present-tense narrative moves at a snappy pace in this winning blend of history, mystery, and adventure. The authors leave several pieces of the puzzle missing, paving the way for the second installment of this promising series. Ages 6–12.

The Elephant of Surprise
Brent Hartinger
Buddha Kitty Books, $12.99 paper (226p) ISBN 978-0-9846794-5-4
Funny, openly gay high school junior Russel Middlebrook—the star of Hartinger's Geography Club and two sequels—finds the adventure he is looking for when he falls for an anti-consumerist freegan who pops out of the school Dumpster. Through Wade, Russel is exposed to new experiences (like eating roadkill) and challenging ideas ("When you don't spend your whole life looking at a television or a computer screen, you can't help but take a good look at the world”). But just as their relationship turns romantic, Russel's friend Gunnar suspects that Wade and his freegan friends may be taking their beliefs to a dangerous extreme. This is an unusual story line, but, like Russel, readers may find themselves intrigued by Wade's lifestyle and beliefs. Secondary plot lines (including one about Russel's possible reconciliation with his first love, Kevin) supplement the core drama, and teens will continue to enjoy Russel's ever-humorous narration, which includes direct conversation with readers. After eating barbecued raccoon with Wade, Russel says, "If it doesn't sound romantic, you'll just have to take my word for it, because it totally, TOTALLY was.” Ages 12–up.

Hating Heidi Foster
Jeffrey Blount
Alluvion Press (, $11.95 paper (120p) ISBN 978-0-9857627-0-4
Blount delivers an emotional exploration of the power of grief and loss in the story of 14-year-old Mae McBride. Ever since her father died saving her best friend Heidi Foster from a fire, Mae has been overcome with despair, unable to let go of her father or forgive Heidi. As Mae's depression deepens, she alienates her friends and family, earning the nickname "The Tragic One” while she struggles to make sense of the world. The healing process is slow and painful, and Mae gradually finds strength to face the facts behind her father's sacrifice. But can she mend bridges with her former friend? While the story is framed as a recollection from an older Mae, the narrative struggles to find its voice, often seeming too mature for the moment, the distance of years blunting the otherwise overwhelming emotional black hole Mae wades through. For the story's slim page count, it packs in substantial drama and angst, tending to wallow in Mae's grief and despair. Ages 12–up.