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Blood Line: A Granger Spy Novel

John J. Davis. Simon & Winter, $15.95 trade paper (251p) ISBN 978-0-9903144-1-7

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Davis’s inferior thriller will leave readers scratching their heads. When intruders break into the Park City, Ga., home of Ron and Valerie Granger and hold their 16-year-old daughter, Leecy, at gunpoint, the Grangers show off their self-defense chops from their prior lives as intelligence operatives: Ron for the CIA, Valerie for the Mossad. While the parents rescue their child with ease, the repercussions of the invasion force them to flee for their lives and to reveal to Leecy the secrets of their past. Leecy’s reaction to these startling developments is unnaturally muted (“Okay, so my parents are ex spies. I can get behind that”), but that’s consistent with the lack of any psychological depth for any of the characters. Meanwhile, the town’s leaders support the local police chief after he hires a gay officer because they think the resulting controversy will be a boon to tourism. Other plot elements are just as illogical. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Priests and Warriors

Walter Joseph Schenck Jr. iUniverse, $42.95 (828p) ISBN 978-1-4917-1309-9

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Schenck’s lengthy, ambitious novel portrays Yehuway (God), Mikha’el the Archangel (destined to be incarnated as Jesus Christ), and the Israelites, after their Egyptian exodus and 40 years of wilderness wandering, battling their way toward settlement in the holy land. After Moshe’s death, Yeshua leads the warrior Israelites to be a “singular, unified nation of purpose... to rid Eretz Yisra’el of the insidious, deceitful, manipulative, immoral people of evil.” Ferocious battles are waged, and Yehuway and Mikha’el appear often to impart strategic, spiritual, and legal commands covering hygiene, adultery, clothing, trade, marriage, punishment, slave owning, prostitution, leprosy, and much more. There are morality lessons on greed, idolatry, and sexual impropriety (Achan’s sins bring a devastating punishment), as well as lessons in faith and devotion to Yehuway: the prostitute Rahab, believed to be an ancestor of Jesus, becomes a valued Israelite after accepting Yehuway and helping to annihilate Jericho, which is likened to Sodom in its sexual proclivities. Schenck proves he is an intelligent, passionate writer capable of vivid characterization, yet harsh depictions of slaughter and sophomoric, often vulgar, sexual scenes threaten to diminish the substantive quality of this account of ancient events influencing the founding of the state of Israel. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Untold: The New Orleans 9th Ward You Never Knew

Lynette Norris Wilkinson. Write Creations, $13.99 trade paper (118p) ISBN 978-0-9706292-1-0

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New Orleans native Wilkinson, who after Hurricane Katrina welcomed 16 storm survivors into her Dallas home, offers readers an engrossing and important book that provides a fresh glimpse of the Lower Ninth Ward and its “hardworking, family-oriented people, who owned their homes, had a sense of community, and were contributing members of society.” Giving voice to the voiceless, Wilkinson helps these survivors tell their stories: they describe the devastation of the storm and coping with personal losses, as well as forging new beginnings. For 83-year-old Geraldine, Katrina meant leaving “the only place I ever lived,” while for Betty it meant living “in four different cities before we came back to New Orleans.” Wilkinson’s succinct narratives prove that there’s more to the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward than was shown in the media’s coverage of Katrina, and they constitute a splendid oral history as well. This is an unpretentious, readable, informative, and extraordinary account that shouldn’t slip through the cracks. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Field Guide to Procuring and Profiting in Fine Art

Brett K. Maly. Bear N Desert, $16.95 trade paper (118p) ISBN 978-0-9915380-0-3

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Maly, best known as the art appraiser on the reality TV show Pawn Stars, helps readers navigate the murky waters of art collecting and selling in this introductory guide, which aims to keep newbies to the trade from spending or expecting too much. Maly begins at the most basic level, explaining how watercolors differ from oil paintings and the importance of a piece’s provenance, as well as debunking the debatable value of “limited editions,” lest customers get fleeced. Maly’s advice ranges from the obvious (preview an estate sale online before jumping in your car) to the specific (how to identify the plate mark on etchings and engravings), with practical tips for identifying flaws that can affect even the most valuable artwork’s value. Maly does his best to keep expectations low—the chances of finding a lost Picasso at a garage sale or on Craigslist are minuscule, he notes. While the advice is practical and well-suited for a novice readership, much of the information could be easily gleaned in an afternoon of searching on the web or at the local library. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mountain Garden

Will Ottley, illus. by Chloë Holt. Perpetualaum Books (www.mountaingarden.co.uk), $7.99 paper (104p) ISBN 978-0-9927763-1-2

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When marauding wolves and once-friendly lions threaten the deer realm, a young stag named Buckan is dispatched to ask the Great King Stag for help. The elder stag instructs Buckan to find the Mountain Garden, “a magical pace that he had heard mentioned in the fairy tales of his fawnhood,” and to “embrace the power” he finds there. The king’s warnings that Buckan’s greatest challenges lie ahead and that things “are not always as they seem” prove true as Buckan journeys through the perilous Dark Forest, encountering a conniving bat, a treacherous crocodile, and a hostile mountain goat. Ottley’s first novel is less an animal adventure aimed at children than an allegorical tale about summoning inner strength in order to triumph over dark, threatening forces. Holt’s bold, inky b&w illustrations, which have the feel of violently stroked watercolors, accent Buckan’s journey with dramatic and ominous notes. Though this fable of trust, forgiveness, redemption, and the strength-giving power of love occasionally gets caught up in its own portentousness, readers (especially adult ones) seeking a dose of spiritual affirmation can take heart in its message. All ages. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Heartbreak Hotel

Aneta Cruz. Black Opal, $11.99 trade paper (286p) ISBN 978-1-62694-060-4

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Cruz (The Guardian) tries and fails to bring a literary sensibility to contemporary romance. Kara, a young woman desperate for love, is confused and self-absorbed. Freshly graduated from hospitality school in Czechoslovakia, Kara joins the ranks of the desk clerks at one of Prague’s finest hotels. Blending in with a wide cast of likewise single co-workers, she fumbles from club to bed and from relationship to obsessive crush over the next several months, rarely settling for long with any one man or friend. Her most elusive hope is a romantic kiss in the center of the Charles Bridge. Kara’s single-minded focus on sex, virginity, and relationships gives an adolescent tone to her epic quest to find Mr. Right (Now), overwhelming the pleasant prose. Her occasional charming sweetness and the interesting but underdeveloped supporting cast aren’t quite enough to overcome a one-track plot and murky ending. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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By Water and Blood

Melanie Rose. CreateSpace, $13.95 trade paper (306p) ISBN 978-1-4826-9590-8

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Rose (Violet Shadows) weaves a modern fantasy tale that manages to be equal parts fascinating and dull. Young Sophie Durrant abandons her present-day American life to tend bar on Unst, one of the Shetland Islands north of Britain. She’s drawn to its gruff Scottish natives, its ponies, and most of all the sea—and the seals that live in it. Sophie eventually discovers that she is the granddaughter of a Selkie, a shape-shifter who can remove her sealskin to become human. She also learns about hunters who steal Selkie skins and force them into the world of human trafficking. Rose’s core conceit is strong and sophisticated; her descriptions of the pain of slavery resonate with the weight of history, and the descriptions of Unst are incredible. Far less compelling are the subplots, such as Sophie’s friend’s quest to get her to move back home, and her inevitable romance with a Selkie man who is (naturally) tall, dark-haired, and dashing. Rose’s updated Selkie myth is far too interesting to be paired with such conventional tropes, and the result is a very uneven novel. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Fun & Games

David Michael Slater. Library Tales, $17.99 trade paper (226p) ISBN 978-0-615-77415-2

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Jon is a normal teenager about to start college, but in Slater’s novel he finds that he can’t move forward in life until he comes to terms with his family’s past. While his grandmother is a Holocaust survivor, his father vehemently avoids religion. Jon’s two older sisters are a handful: Nadia is a manipulator, with her fingers in everything the family does, and Olivia is toeing the line between virgin and professional soft-porn star. When an incident at Hebrew school sends the rabbi to Jon’s house, it precipitates a crisis of faith that causes their father to abandon them for Israel, where he is killed. As Jon departs for college, accompanied by two of his best friends, the lies and intrigues get deeper, and the more he learns about his family, the more he realizes he doesn’t know them. When he returns home for a wedding, tragedy strikes and forces the family to reach a reckoning with their lies. The characters manage to be both familiar and well-realized individuals, and beneath the banal suburban setting hide deep troubles. Slater finds a successful tone between comedy and pathos that carries readers through some of the less plausible twists, even making the violent ending work. While Jon’s best friends could be more clearly defined, Jon’s own progression is strong. Slater has painted an intimate and memorable family portrait. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo

Grace Millsaps and Ryan Murphy, illus. by John Clark IV and Alyson Kilday. Sleepy Animals LLC (www.thesleepyanimals.com), $21.95 (44p) ISBN 978-0-9887603-0-1

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The husband-and-wife team of Millsaps and Murphy, along with Clark and Kilday of the Hop and Jaunt design firm, debut with a jaunty story whose publication was funded through crowdsourced contributions. In it, they tackle a question that has plagued zoo-goers as long as there have been zoos: Why are all the animals sleeping? A girl named Renee asks her father this question during their visit to New Orleans’s Audubon Zoo, triggering a long, inventive explanation on his part—namely that the animals were up all night throwing a wild shindig. While there are a few shaky moments in the meter and rhyme of Millsaps and Murphy’s verse, it provides amusing setups aplenty: “The sea lions sometimes will synchronize swim./ There’s a costume contest and everyone wins./ The best one at limbo is the white alligator,/ and when they get hungry, the pelicans cater” (directly from their bills, which are stuffed with jambalaya, gumbo, and more). Clark and Kilday’s polished cartoons are full of entertainingly goofy details—green hippos, purple seals, and other not-found-in-nature combos are in keeping with the silly, free-spirited mood. Ages 4–8. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Suee and the Shadow, Part 1

Ginger Ly, trans. from the Korean by Kay Lee, illus. by Molly Park. Bhive Comics (www.sueeandtheshadow.com), $2.99 e-book (112p) ASIN B00BIGI1XI

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Twelve-year-old Suee Lee’s first days at a new school take some strange turns in this eerie graphic novel from a Korean creative team. Suee isn’t happy about moving to Outskirtsville with her divorced father, and she’s determined to avoid “loser” status by staying as uninvolved as possible—Suee’s detached demeanor, cerebral narration, and the overall look of Park’s artwork are part Emily the Strange, part Daria Morgendorffer. (“Life in grade school. A series of tiresome events,” thinks Suee during a counseling session with her homeroom teacher.) But Suee’s school-day anonymity is threatened when her shadow inexplicably starts talking to her, and she realizes that there’s something fishy about a new after-school class. Park’s polished cartooning sticks to a palette of drab grays, spiked with pale reds, yellows, and blues—it’s very much in keeping with Suee’s outlook on life and a story in which shadows and bullying play key roles. The book ends with a major cliffhanger, but the sequel is already available, and the third and final installment is in the works. Ages 8–12. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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