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A Sudden Gust of Gravity

Laurie Boris. CreateSpace, $14.99 ISBN 978-1-5191-8193-0

Boris (In the Name of Love) executes a bit of misdirection in this stage-magic-themed romance. Waitress Christina Davenport becomes the assistant (and soon the girlfriend) of Boston street performer Reynaldo the Magnificent, despite her complicated family history with magic and her distaste for wearing revealing outfits and playing second fiddle. Though initially unwilling to accept the support of medical resident Devon Park, who sees something’s wrong when he brings his five-year-old nephew to the show, Christina reaches out to him for help once both realize they deserve better than their current dysfunctional relationships. Boris is delightful in interactions where relationships are working well, especially those among Devon, his nephew, and the rest of his loving, if demanding, Korean family, whose portrayal nicely counters “tiger mom” stereotypes. However, the tragic backstories of the characters come through as melodramatic and somehow distant, and Reynaldo’s possessive aggression toward Christine evokes only a vague disgust instead of being terrifying. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Gemini Gambit

D. Scott Johnson. D. Scott Johnson, $14.99 trade paper (454p) ISBN 978-0-9863962-1-2

Kimberley Trayne, a genius hacker once known as Angel Rage, is on the run after five years in hiding, with Mike, an AI freshly downloaded into a human body, and a geeky high school boy named Spencer as her only allies. She fends off Bolivian gangsters and eludes the FBI while attempting to defeat a conspiracy to take over the Evolved Internet—a virtual reality that exists in the world of Johnson’s debut, set 20 years in the future. It’s a cheerfully nerdy caper in which characters profess fondness for Terry Pratchett and a virtual model of a famous light sword makes an appearance. Johnson makes a conscious effort to develop a multiethnic cast of entertaining characters and mostly succeeds, but the story is overstuffed and overpopulated, and heroine Kimberley—a beauty who dresses frumpily in realspace but wears cat suits in the virtual realms—sometimes seems more like a programmer’s daydream than a well-rounded character. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Potential

David A. Davies. Book Publishers Network, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-940598-21-5

Davies brings his decades of experience as a security consultant to this fast-paced thriller set in 1995. British soldier Chris Morehouse, who has finished his tour of duty, chooses to stay in Germany, where he now works as a motor pool driver for the U.S. embassy in Bonn. When three kidnappers target the armored Cadillac in which America’s ambassador to Germany, Winston Heymann, is a passenger, Chris springs into action, killing two of the bad guys and rescuing the diplomat. U.S. senator Robert Corbin, who has presidential ambitions, is behind the attack. As president, Corbin would be able to punish the Japanese, who killed his father during the Bataan Death March in 1942, by restricting imports to the U.S. Corbin’s complex machinations require neutralizing Heymann. Readers who can overlook some awkward prose (“It would have been a fatal and instant death”) will enjoy the twisty ride to a feel-good finish that promises further adventures for Chris. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Life Is Beautiful: How a Lost Girl Became a True, Confident Child of God

Sarah M. Johnson. Morgan James, $17.95 trade paper (198p) ISBN 978-1-63047-486-7

This debut memoir from Johnson, a marriage and family therapist, recounts the tragedy that tore her family apart and led to her spiritual and emotional turmoil. In August 2008, 19-year-old Johnson was on a volunteer Christian mission in Guatemala with her family. En route to the village where they were to build a school, their plane crashed. Johnson was unharmed, but her father and brother died and her mother spent months in a hospital burn unit. The present-tense narration is a gripping way of describing the incident itself, but it seems less appropriate for flashbacks to her Wisconsin upbringing with a drug-addicted father and her growing alcohol dependence during high school and college. The account of her Aunt Vicki’s slow death from cancer provides a strong counterpoint to her father and brother’s sudden deaths. The book ably recreates conversations with family members, friends, and a therapist, but expository sections mar the quality of the writing. The book begins quickly but never reaches a settled conclusion—especially concerning her mother’s health. Even so, the refrain “Your life was spared for a reason,” and Johnson’s journey out of alcoholism and into Christian faith, are truly inspirational. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Warrior Wife: Overcoming the Unique Struggles of a Military Marriage

Hillary Sigrist. WestBow, $5.99 e-book (112p) ISBN 978-1-5127-0640-6

Debut memoirist Sigrist reflects on her struggles as the wife of a former U.S. special operations sniper and provides encouragement for fellow Christian military wives in this thoughtful work. She is candid about the difficulties of being married to a military man but focuses on how the experience can strengthen her readers’ relationships both with their husbands and with God. Sigrist writes simply and intimately, as if talking to a best friend. She recognizes the singular hardships and often unacknowledged ways that military wives support their husbands and country. She also provides tips for dealing with deployments, PTSD, missed birthdays, and long-distance communication. Her advice is intended to comfort and provide fortitude to other military wives but is generally grounded in the idea that a military wife’s job is to support her husband. She contends that “God created woman to be a helper of man... and there is nothing more powerful to attend a man’s heart than to have the unwavering support of his woman.” Each chapter is structured around a particular issue specific to the military, but Sigrist’s guidance is applicable to any woman who strives for a marriage based on conservative Christian ideals. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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More Collected Couteau: Essays and Interviews

Rob Couteau. Dominantstar, $24.95 ISBN 978-0-9966888-1-9

Couteau’s second collection, after Collected Couteau, includes essays on topics such as Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and the work of Hubert Selby Jr., as well as conversations with various figures, many of them literary biographers. Couteau’s essays are informal, fervent, and well-versed examinations of the work or author at hand. At their best, they include fascinating insights into the significance of a writer like Selby. In Couteau’s essay on Tropic of Cancer, however, his thoughtful examination of Henry Miller as a man and writer is overshadowed by a weak defense of the book against charges of misogyny. The interviews are uniformly strong and include conversations with Michael Korda on T.E. Lawrence, Justin Kaplan on Walt Whitman, and Robert Roper on Vladimir Nabokov. Not all of them focus on literature: author Jeffrey Jackson covers the 1910 flood of Paris and why it’s relatively forgotten, and Robert De Sena, in one of the best interviews, discusses his life as a gang member turned community activist. Couteau’s passion and wealth of knowledge are obvious throughout the book, if sometimes to the point of overindulgence, and should appeal to many readers. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Silverwood

D.E. Vollrath. Wicked Pig, $11.99 paper (280p) ISBN 978-0-692-44433-7

Evoking a sense of wonder and joy, Vollrath’s debut, set in the fictional port city of Flosston Moor, follows Eleanor Wigton as she starts her second year at the prestigious Penwick Academy. Magic is banished—supposedly dead—after a fire ripped through part of the city. Eleanor is a quiet, studious 12-year-old—in fact, she’s first in her class. Despite her youth, and perhaps because of her sterling reputation, she and five older students are chosen to work on a secret project, with the blessing of the headmistress. What follows is an adventure like no other, leading Eleanor and friends into a world of mysterious liquid books, Netherdoors, and dark Dwarven territories. Page-turning action entwines with familiar struggles, written in a way that calls to mind similar fantasy novels (students at Penwick must choose between houses/specializations such as Numerancy, Navigation, and Barristers). Yet Vollrath’s story stands firmly on its own merits as it explores Eleanor’s internal and external journeys, friendships, the other (dwarves, namely), and the good and bad decisions made by young and old alike. Ages 10–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Healing Ruby

Jennifer Westall. Jennifer Westall, $3.99 e-book (369p) ASIN B00O3GRNF2

Coming of age in Depression-era Alabama is fraught with pitfalls for Ruby Graves in the opener of Westall’s (Love’s Providence) Healing Ruby series. Ruby is a typical young woman of her time, but then tragedy strikes her family repeatedly, much like the biblical figure Job. In the wake of those tragedies comes a new understanding of her faith, and more questions than she can ever find answers to, among them mysteries in her family’s past. Plot strands are teased out slowly and answers revealed as the story progresses, and the novel builds to a satisfying climax followed by a gentle push toward the next installment. Woven with scriptural references that and brutally frank regarding the treatment of people in the 1930s South, Westall’s story also sounds notes of hope and faith that balance her portrayal. Insight into history and race relations enrich a textured narrative. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Third Daughter

Susan Kaye Quinn. Susan Kaye Quinn, $12.99 trade paper (346p) ISBN 978-1-4937-7477-7

Romance and intrigue collide in the fluffy, entertaining first installment of Quinn’s Dharian Affairs steampunk trilogy. As the third daughter of the Queen of Dharia, 17-year-old Aniri has the opportunity to marry for love. However, she agrees to an arranged marriage with Prince Malik of neighboring Jungali after he makes an impassioned plea for peace—and her mother presents a calculated need for a spy amongst the Jungali. Far from home, Aniri must find the evidence needed to prevent war, even as she maintains the pretense of romance with her betrothed. As danger mounts, so do the lies, deceptions, and mysteries. The feisty, resourceful princess leaps into and out of trouble with grace and style. Quinn (the Mindjack trilogy) could have done much more with the alternate East Indian setting, which feels mostly like window dressing, but steampunk fans will appreciate the airships, swordfights, illicit romance, fantastical technology, desperate escapes, last-minute rescues, and breathtaking scenery, all pulled together by a genuine sense of fun. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Narrow Path to War: Marshals of Arion, Book 1

DL Frizzell. BookLogix, $14.95 trade paper (363p) ISBN 978-1-61005-499-7

Frizzell’s imagined universe becomes less interesting as his debut proceeds—not a good sign for a series kickoff. A fleet of six spaceships “crossed an entire arm of the galaxy in only a decade” to establish a new home for humanity on an earthlike planet, Arion. During the next 500 years, the population of Arion lost the use of all “micro-electronics.” The introduction of the main characters is well handled; student Alex Vonn refuses to take shelter during a powerful magnetic storm so that he can witness the phenomenon, and Frizell makes the danger palpable. Marshal Hugh Redland is first seen on the trail of an escaped prisoner, only to find that he’s chasing the wrong quarry, a mercenary in possession of an odd map of the entire planet. All the ingredients for excitement are here, but the plot focuses on Vonn’s tiresome search for the truth about his father, the characters lack depth, and the prose is unmemorable. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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