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Wet

Toni Stern. Circle Star, $16 trade paper (76p) ISBN 978-0-692-32877-4

Stern adopts a conversational, intimate, and humorous tone in this poetry collection, distilling broad concepts into sparkling little gems. Relatable and engaging, Stern is most successful in her numerous brief poems and manages to do a lot in a condensed space: "January,/ and the roses/ are shivering." At times, she embraces a more serious affect, though without the benefit of a songwriting collaborator—as in her formative time working with singer-songwriter Carole King—the poems read closer to doggerel: "The rock stars are planning a concert,/ The poets are writing a poem./ Each and every one of us/ Forsaken and/ Alone." Still, while these offerings lack the charm of her more successful poems, they possess some substance and appeal. There are a number of occasions where Stern's poems border on kitsch, unnecessarily employing strange fonts and symbols to make her points. The collection is a mixed bag, but fans of her lyric work in the '60s and '70s might find it worthwhile. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Timelapse

Lorrie Farrelly. CreateSpace, $12.99 ISBN 978-1-4699-5350-2

Farrelly (Terms of Surrender) creates a clichéd and predictable story of freedom fighters versus a murderous police state, with no new wrinkles beyond technological stagnation. Alex Morgan finds himself shifted from our world into an alternate reality where the assassination of Theodore Roosevelt led to an isolationist dictatorship. His former coworker may hold the key to fixing reality, but first Alex must survive in a brutal, backwards world. One resistance fighter, Jessie, is rescued early on and immediately falls in mutual love with Alex, a romantic plot line that feels forced rather than organic. Soon they’re improbably infiltrating state buildings, impersonating officers, and escaping capture. Nothing is hard for this couple (even when Alex is shot, it’s never life-threatening), destroying the reader’s belief that anything bad can happen. The writing can’t overcome the oversimplified plot, with point of view shifts mid-paragraph and clichéd dialogue and descriptions—especially in the love scenes. This dull thematic rehash is best avoided. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Lotus Cross

Ray Anderson. Dark Planet, $16.99 ISBN 978-1-937632-86-1

Characters and plot are both a bit underdone in Anderson’s religious thriller. When a Ugandan rebel guns down the eight-month pregnant wife of Michael Drake, a British doctor working in Africa, Michael managed to deliver his daughter, Kyla, from his wife’s lifeless body. Four years later, Kyla’s uncle reveals to Michael that he possesses an ancient scroll that contains a description of the “apostle Thomas preserving the blood of the resurrected Christ” in a vessel known as the Lotus Cross. Michael’s quest for the relic takes on more than academic significance when Kyla is diagnosed with an advanced and fatal brain cancer. His hopes for his child’s survival hinge on finding the Lotus Cross, extracting the DNA “of the risen Christ,” and using that genetic material to develop a cure. He and his archeologist love-interest, Professor Julia Carter, must contend with a mole in British intelligence and a murderous Russian, who dispatches her victims with an ice pick. Readers will find few surprises. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Fault Lines

Brenda Ortega. CreateSpace, $7.99 paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-5088-8148-3

Fourteen-year-old Dani Burkhart’s life is falling apart. Her parents are divorcing, they are moving out of the house she grew up in, and she has to find a new home for the puppy they can’t afford. Though Dani knows that her neighbor Mr. Reiber, aka Creeper, isn’t directly responsible for her problems, she still believes he’s “the jerk who tugged the loose string that started unraveling [her] life.” After a few successful vandalism acts against him, Dani is arrested after taking the heat when her younger brother accidently breaks Mr. Reiber’s window. Chapters that alternate between past and present allow readers to see how Dani got to such an unhappy place and whether she can pull herself out of it. While Dani’s grandmother comes across as a bit too saintly, Dani’s angry reactions to the changes in her family and social life are fully believable. Ortega (The Twelfth of Never) resists the pressure to tie up everything with a bow, and she avoids turning Dani’s choices into a lesson for readers. Kids going through similar situations will find Dani a relatable and non-judgmental voice. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Seven Viking Days

Lee Cuesta, illus. by Mia Hocking. Infinity Publishing (infinitypublishing.com), $29.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4958-0584-4

Combining abstracted mixed-media illustrations and snippets of European legend, Cuesta recounts the origins of the names of the days of the week. After a Viking boy named Canute wakes one morning, the sun describes the stories behind the days’ names. “Without me, no plant or animal could survive on a dark and frozen earth,” says Sun, a fuzzy-edged orb with a smirking smile. “That’s why the first day bears my name.” Monday is named for the Moon, while the others “celebrate your Mighty Ones,” as Sun explains. They include Tiu, who loses his hand to the “monster wolf” Fenrir; Thor, ruler of the sky; and Queen Frigg, Friday’s namesake, who mourns the death of her son, Baldur. Blending papers, paints, and collaged objects, Hocking succeeds in creating a dreamy, multilayered backdrop for the sun’s stories, but the quality and consistency of the images vary. And while Cuesta gives readers a taste of Germanic, Norse, and Roman legend, the stories (such as the one of Tiu losing his hand) don’t always give a strong sense of why these deities were honored with days named after them. Ages 4–8. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Authentic Sale: A Goddess’s Guide to Business

Rena Cohen-First. Hay House/Balboa, $28.95 (108p) ISBN 978-1-50433-100-5

Cohen-First, a sales coach, seeks to empower women to pursue successful sales careers in a business guide that emphasizes the importance of one’s own “authentic behavioral style.” Drawing on wisdom culled from professional and educational experiences, the author encourages female readers to go from supporting roles to the front lines, in part by tapping into the power represented by Greek goddesses, such as “Athena the Wise” and “Demeter the Primordial.” In Cohen-First’s opinion, the prevailing wisdom about the field is from and geared toward men, but women also have unique strengths they can bring to sales. Aiming to help readers overcome challenges, she explores how to tap into one’s authentic self and dedicates a chapter to the foundations of solid business practices, namely product knowledge, time management, and preparation. She quickly moves on to harder-to-acquire skills such as taking control, handling objections, dealing with customer expectations, and moving the sale forward. Cohen-First’s writing style is personal, familiar, and colloquial, not the standard authoritative voice that most how-to guides employ, and her book has plenty of astute suggestions to provide. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Points of Inspiration: An Artist’s Journey with Painting and Photography

LeeAnn Brook. Brook Design Group, $39.95 (96p) ISBN 978-0-692-25772-2

This magnificent debut from Brook, a photographer, painter, and graphic artist, showcases 150 full-color photographs and paintings by the artist, accompanied by her thoughtful reflections on the inspiration she derives from observing nature. Brook reveals that there is a wonderful serendipity to her work when she happens upon a “rusted boat... a cobblestone street... light on a quaking aspen.” New material frequently builds upon previous work, leading to an intriguing harmony between photographs and paintings: repetitive lines, textures, and colors from a weathered boat captured in a photograph show up years later in a painting of water lilies, and an intricate Victorian gate foretells a future color palette. Lavishly descriptive wording—“primal elements,” “quiet details,” “tapestry,” and “spontaneity”—enriches the narrative as Brooks provides an intimate explanation of her creative process. The paintings are vivid and scenic: a silver-gray reflection of tree lines and curves is reimagined in glorious colors, contours from a tile in Italy’s Sistine Chapel take on movement in a windy garden, and a rock pattern reflection becomes an abstract form. Brook’s artistry inspires throughout. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | 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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