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Michel Sauret. One Way Street, $12.95 trade paper (340p) ISBN 978-1-5228-1734-5

Sauret’s raw and bold coming-of-spiritual-age story closely examines the ups and downs of several different varieties of worship through the eyes of a young man on the cusp of adulthood. Christopher Dove was raised in a fundamentalist Christian family in central Pennsylvania, an upbringing that not only informed his daily life, but also the larger decisions for college about what vocation to pursue when he left home. His questions about God started during his childhood—but he could never give them voice, due to his domineering father. Once he escapes his father’s home, he begins his faith journey, though it’s not without difficulties and heartache. Each time he thinks he may have found God, he only finds more questions. This stark and at times painful tale of questions with no easy answers doesn’t shy away from confronting difficult topics such as sexual assault, human trafficking, and racism. The often graphic depictions of the events in Christopher’s life manage to maintain a sense of beauty beneath the overwhelming darkness. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Calum

Xio Axelrod. Xio Axelrod, $2.99 e-book (114p) ISBN 978-1-4835-4467-0

Axelrod’s novella is a short, fast-paced contemporary romance with a witty heroine and a lot of heart. Lovie just wants to spend her Christmas vacation on a beach somewhere, but when her best friend, Jo, wins their annual coin toss, the pair fly off to Scotland on a quest to find Jo a lover like Calum MacKenzie, the star of a series of romance novels. When Jo snares a very Calum-like charmer named Hamish in an Inverness pub, Lovie is thrown together with his best friend, “adorable bad-ass” Duff, whose tough image, doting grandmother, and soulful photography capture her heart. The four of them retreat to Hamish’s estate for a steamy weekend, but when the women find out that Duff was helping Hamish conceal a major secret, the fragile trust between them is broken, maybe forever. Readers may be unimpressed by this overused plot device, but the rest of the book handily avoids cliché. Axelrod notes Duff’s appreciation of biracial Lovie’s brown skin and red hair while steering well clear of fetishization, and the contrasting slang of the Scots (“Tea awright?”) and Americans (“Tea would be awesome”) is charming. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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To Trust a Rogue

Christie Caldwell. Christie Caldwell, , $3.99 ASIN B01AB1EQL6

Readers will be bored and then exasperated by the wishy-washy heroine of this awkward Regency romance. When impoverished single mother Eleanor Collins heads home to London to be a paid companion to her aging aunt, she has to come to terms with her painful past. Eight years before, after being raped, she fled her home and the only man she’d ever loved: Marcus Gray, Viscount Wessex. Now she returns with her daughter—the product of that horrible night. Marcus has never forgiven Eleanor for leaving him without a word. He still wants her, but he refuses to admit that their connection is emotional as well as physical, and thus he only offers her a place in his bed, not in his heart. When he learns of the terrible secret she’s been keeping, he vows to be there for her and her daughter, but first he has to get her to trust him and have faith in their future. Eleanor can’t decide whether she wants to be strong and determined or swoon into Marcus’s arms, and while some readers will sympathize with her assumption that he’d blame her for being assaulted, others may struggle to join him in forgiving her for running off without giving him a chance to help her. Eleanor’s Aunt Dorothea is lovable and adds some much-needed lift to the sensitive central topic of rape and its aftermath, but Caldwell (the Lords of Honor series) falls short on the plotting. The story is nothing but one big misunderstanding bogged down with excessive narrative detail that fails to move the story along at an acceptable pace. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Untouchable Lover

Rosalie Redd. Rosalie Redd, $3.99 e-book (401p) ISBN 978-1-944419-00-4

This clunky debut begins the Worlds of Lemuria: Earth Colony series by placing a stereotypical variety of near-human species in a poorly articulated fantasy setting clearly inspired by role-playing games. Redd wraps the story in the vague context of interstellar colonization: Zedron and Alora, competing gods from the planet Lemuria, have sent these species to Earth to act as pawns in a contest to determine whether the Lemurians will take the precious water of Earth by negotiation or force. King Noeh of Alora’s beast-hearted Stihaya saves vampiric Melissa from the leader of Zedron’s reptilian Gossum and feline Panthera. Noeh protects Melissa in his underground keep, as she is sought by the Panthera leader and is also the target of the universal male attention that comes from being the only fertile female Lemurian in hundreds of years. But the gods’ insistence that Noeh break his childhood vow and take a queen before the next new moon leads him to pursue her himself. Four more species mentioned but not appearing in the Earthside setting telegraph future volumes of the series, but readers have little reason to want to continue beyond this stodgy opener. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Blood Bond: A Vampire Menage Romance

Alicia Rayn. Amazon Digital Services, , $2.99 ASIN B010Y6TAZA

Rayn (Black-Winged Tuesday) layers a sexy surface over some deep emotional questions in this time-travel vampire romance. When 21st-century Vegas singer Roxana Collins is transported back to Regency-era London by vampire Darren Highmore, she pretty quickly decides that it sucks—literally. Roxana has to learn to negotiate the social mores and economic realities of the time as well as her powerful attraction to Darren. Their delicious chemistry takes off when they discover the natural alliance between Roxana’s self-injury fetish and Darren’s need to feed on human blood. But even as Roxana learns to share her darker sexual nature with Darren, she falls for the innocent Phillip Branham, the aristocratic and indebted piano player who reluctantly accompanies Roxana’s scandalous nightly performances in a London gentleman’s club. Roxana is caught between two unsatisfying options: returning to a hollow life in her own time, or remaining in a society where she can have love and passion but no freedom. This tension suffuses her touching and cautious sexual exploration with Phillip and her ecstatic experiences with Darren. The story is funny where appropriate, intense where necessary, and full of heart throughout. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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In a Right State

Ben Ellis. Ben Ellis, $10.99 trade paper (316p) ISBN 978-1-84914-563-3

Ellis’s debut romp through an unnerving dystopia uses common fears about big corporations to paint an eerie but plausible future. Duncan, recently widowed, is a small-time gardener with a big secret: he has been producing non-genetically-modified produce for years, which is unacceptable to the all-powerful Pharmara Corporation. Amy, a corporate cog gone rogue in the Pharmara machine, must track him down. Both are under watch by Pharmara Security, who are bent on removing them at any cost. Ellis writes with a keen eye for detail, and his prose wittily exposes the threats of this new world where nothing is private. His characters are ripe with personality; interspersed with the humor is a fast-paced, character-driven plot. Although it treads some familiar ground, Ellis’s work is a fresh response to the growing concern about big corporations, privacy, and the ever-watchful eye of the government. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Hotel Westend

Ashley Lynch-Harris. Barrington House, $22.99 (206p) ISBN 978-0-9965210-0-0

In Lynch-Harris’s first novel, a charming homage to the classic mystery, a secretive host summons a number of people to the Hotel Westend in the town of Westend Bay in an unspecified U.S. state. An outlier among the guests is Elsie Maitland, whose meandering voyage in search of adventure results in her unexpected stay at the hotel. The other guests, a pompous millionaire and his newlywed bride, and a grim Mrs. Iradene Hartwell and her younger sister, Marian, are connected by a murder that occurred at the site of the hotel 20 years previous; all were considered suspects at the time. After a maid is poisoned and a reverend also called to the hotel is murdered, it seems the past is replaying itself and a sergeant sequesters the guests. Elsie excitedly consults with her famed mystery writer sister via letters and begins to conduct her own investigation. Lynch-Harris playfully indulges genre tropes, raising readers’ suspicions equally among multiple characters as Elsie plays sleuth and finds romance with a journalist who has his own connection to the crimes. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Not Taught: What It Takes to Be Successful in the 21st Century That Nobody’s Teaching You

Jim Keenan. A Sales Guy, $14.99 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-0-6925-2076-5

Keenan, CEO of A Sales Guy, a consulting and recruiting firm, debuts what he calls the “new rules of success,” examining how the path to achievement has changed in the Internet age. He presents his book as a means for readers to learn new things that they need to know before they can achieve success in today’s world. Keenan proposes that humankind has moved into a new era, the information age, in a shift as significant as the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. He focuses on how the greatly increased amount of information available through the Internet has changed the playing field for businesses, creating new platforms for company-consumer interaction, the spread of products, and the dissemination of information. The downside of this seismic change, he argues, is that those over 30 are in the dark, and no one is teaching them the new rules. However, the nuggets of wisdom he offers—advising readers to expand reach, self-brand, and take chances—have long been touted. His claim that academic degrees are less important today than problem-solving skills and passion is mildly provocative but fails to live up to the earthshaking shift he insists is occurring. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Stone Circle

Anthony Tuck. Wheatmark, $12.95 paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-62787-307-9

Siblings fight ancient evil with help from mythological figures in Tuck’s engaging first novel. Telepathic 12-year-old twins Maisie and Jasper Tuck are spending the fall with Professor Winslop while their parents are away on an archeological dig. With nothing to do but listen to the Professor’s lectures on history and myth, the twins take to exploring the New Hampshire woods. After they find a circle of stones reminiscent of Stonehenge, the professor reveals that they are the Children of Gemini and they must use the stone circle to locate four jewels to complete the Crown of Seasons and defeat the Dark Ones. Tuck draws on a wealth of mythological elements from Norse, Greek, Native American, and other sources to create an appealing adventure, though the story can get bogged down in details and lore surrounding barrow wights, selkies, and other creatures and legends. While Maisie and Jasper are equally capable and important to the story, the characters as a whole are fairly one-note. Regardless, Tuck provides intriguing food for thought about the oral tradition of myths and the ways stories change as they’re told. Ages 9–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Song Birds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music

Heather Augustyn. Half Pint, $25 (423p) ISBN 978-1-5024-3604-7

In this engaging, well-researched book, Augustyn (Ska: An Oral History) states that women had almost no chance in the male-dominated Jamaican music industry in the 1940s–1980s; it was all “overt power and testosterone.” In the songs, women were “the playground for men” or “wrongdoers,” and the lyrics were “misogynistic and thus not very appropriate for female consumption, must less creation.” She shows that the women who pursued music careers in this setting were trailblazers. Augustyn profiles dozens of women who persevered through tough times, juggling child rearing, gender discrimination, and low pay. She includes Louise Bennett, who “brought the Jamaican patois, folklore, and culture to the stage [and] her talents to Harlem”; Millie Small, whose “bubbling” voice made her cover version of “My Boy Lollipop” an international hit; and Susan Cadogan, who went from “quiet library assistant to... superstar.” This is an exhaustive, if overlong, history of Jamaican music. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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