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Pathways to the King: Living a Life of Spiritual Renewal and Power

Rob Reimer. Carpenter's Son Publishing, $14.99 paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-9883962-0-3

In this forthright and sincere call to revival, Reimer, the founder and lead pastor of South Shore Community Church in Bridgewater, Mass., details a plan for Christians to experience and expand "God's kingdom on Earth." The first step in this process is to personalize one's identity in Christ by meditating on scripture, seeking God for revelation, and renewing one's mind. Next, Reimer advises individuals to pursue God, because, "if you understood who God was, and how much you meant to Him, nothing would keep you from pursuing Him with all your heart." From there, Reimer suggests individuals continue their spiritual renewal via purification, praise, prayer, and persistence. Reimer's tendency to sermonize makes his prose repetitive at times. And despite the author's heartfelt passion and conviction, his book is likely to be lost in the flood of similar Christian titles.

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Million Steps

Kurt Koontz. Kurt Koontz, $15.95 paper (212p) ISBN 978-0-615-85292-8

In 2012, Koontz, a retired sales executive, set out to walk the 490 miles of the much-traveled Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain. He joins numerous other authors in writing about his steps along the famous path and attempting to extrapolate some life lessons from his journey. But here, Koontz provides more of a set of personal journal entries than a revelatory and deep reflection on life, chronicling in detail the various hostels where he stayed, food that he ate, and friendships he formed along the way. Unfortunately, Koontz's prose is flat and fails to draw readers into his story. Additionally, while on his trip, the author worries about his relationship with girlfriend Roberta, but fails to paint the sort of vivid picture of their life together that would result in reader investment. In the end, Koontz simply observes, "I had no eureka moments on the Camino.... Instead, just like life, I experienced a series of meaningful and small insights. I believe we all have an internal light, and the Camino acts as a rheostat to greatly increase the intensity."

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hair of the Corn Dog

A.K. Turner. Fever Streak Press, $12 paper (220p) ISBN 978-0-9913759-2-9

The third book in the Tales of Imperfection series from Turner (This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store, Mommy Had a Little Flask), a mother of two from Idaho, provides another hilarious account of parenthood. A self-admitted neat freak, the author details the important distinctions between paper towels and dishcloths, and wishes she could "conduct a class highlighting these differences and then create a test with various scenarios." Also a lover of travel, she signs up for HomeExchange.com—a house-swapping service—in hopes of a family holiday to an exotic locale, while pondering the headline "Idaho: Just Like New York, Only Different." With her characteristic good-spirited, self-deprecating humor, Turner describes taking her kids to a children's art camp on the Jersey Shore and surviving a back-to-school night "ice cream unsocial." Well paced, entertaining, and full of endearing stories on parenting, this new addition to Turner's popular series will leave readers looking forward to the next installment.

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief

Jill Smolowe. She Writes Press, $16.95 paper (258p) ISBN 978-1-938314-72-8

In under a year and a half, Jill Smolowe lost her husband, her mother-in-law, her sister, and her mother. Here she mostly focuses on husband Joe's diagnosis of cancer, his progress through chemotherapy and remission, and his eventual death. In the process of telling her story of love and loss, she reflects on grief—our narratives about grief, our responses to it, and how we recover. Smolowe cites the work of psychologist George Bonanno extensively, and, in sharing her story, offers thoughtful and compassionate guidance for people going through the grieving process with loved ones. Her story is heartbreaking and heartwarming, incisively written and extremely clear. Readers will find themselves sympathetic and eager to hear how Smolowe coped with her losses and how she negotiated societal expectations of grief with grace and dignity. This is an absolute must-read for people struggling with loss.

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Trinity Stones: The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles

L.G. O'Connor. She Writes Press, $18.95 paper (366p) ISBN 978-1-938314-84-1

On her 27th birthday, investment banker Cara Collins learns of a $50 million inheritance from her grandmother. The only condition of the bequest is that Cara can tell no one about the windfall—doing so would put lives at risk. Cara, who is struggling with her feelings for two very different men, also learns that she is a Soul Seeker: a human with special powers and a key role to play in the battle between Good and Evil. In this first book in the Angelorum Twelve Chronicles, O'Connor tackles important worldbuilding, while also kicking off the story with bang. Readers will have to contend with the book's confusing plot, however. While the idea of a modern war between angels and demons is fascinating—particularly as it plays out in urban areas—readers will have trouble digesting the book's many concepts and plot points. Still, fans of the genre able to move past their initial confusion will find this an entertaining read.

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tribulation: A Novel of the Near Future

Thomas A. Lewis. CreateSpace, $9.95 paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-4947-6845-4

Lewis's winning apocalyptic novel follows the lives of William Trent, a former U.S. president, and his journalist son, Brian. Over the years, Brian has accumulated enough information to be certain that climate change is irrevocably impacting the environment, and that the U.S. is careening toward a certain reckoning. Despite his family's doubts, Brian builds a sustainable compound in West Virginia—and when the reckoning does come, Brian and his family hunker down to ride out the environmental and economic devastation. At the same time, they must confront the world they have lost and work to rebuild a new society. Lewis's novel reflects the realities and dangers of climate change in a way that is deeply disturbing. His narrative—and its apocalyptic scenario—is so deftly constructed that readers will clearly understand the real stakes of climate change and the myriad skills necessary for survival. Thankfully, Lewis is never didactic with his message. Instead, he provides a quickly paced story replete with compelling characters that will stay with readers long after the final page is turned.

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Spell on Me

Serge Smith. Amazon Digital Services, $0.99 e-book (150p) ISBN 978-1-310-63196-2

An unnamed man takes a walk on the beach and feels he grasps the essence of eternity, only to be struck by how meaningless his life has been, with its pursuit of material successes. The man keeps a diary of his efforts to understand this life-altering experience and reconnect with his previous sense of contentment, as he struggles to cope with his new worldview. Smith's novel probes issues such as the meaning of life and the possibility of life after death—but doesn't come up with any new answers. Readers will likely find themselves reflecting on their own lives. But because the author's everyman never becomes a fully realized character with whom readers can identify, they may ultimately find Smith's novel uncompelling.

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Savant of Chelsea

Suzanne Jenkins. CreateSpace, $10.99 paper (214p) ISBN 978-1-4923-8694-0

This gripping novel from Jenkins delivers complex twists and turns from start to finish. Alexandra Donicka is a talented but unstable brain surgeon living in New York City. When her mother dies, Alexandra travels to New Orleans to face the tragedies and secrets of her youth. These include childhood abuse and the birth of a child, who was taken from Alexandra by her mother more than two decades ago. As Alexandra searches for her daughter, she must grapple with long-hidden emotions and discover her own humanity. Jenkins creates fully realized, believable characters and ably portrays mental illness in this dark tale that provides nonstop thrills and culminates in an explosive and unexpected finale.

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Rule of Ranging, Book 2: Into the Valley of Quietus

Timothy M. Kestrel. Timothy Kestrel Arts & Media, $33.95 hardcover (332p) ISBN 978-0-9886660-2-3

In Kestrel's uneven sequel to Eclipse of the Midnight Sun, the elderly Mr. Morton continues telling journalist Henry Raymond of his experiences as a wanderer named Finn in 18th-century America. As the British and French struggle for influence with Native American tribes and fight each other, stalwart militia leader Robert Rogers contends with incompetent British officials and leads his rugged Rogers Rangers—of which Finn becomes a member—in irregular warfare. Amid the turmoil, Finn enjoys the company of friends Fronto, Gus, and Daniel, and mourns the loss of his love, Rosie, while finding occasional solace elsewhere. Much like the previous volume, Kestrel's novel is full of adventure, battle, derring-do, and excitement. However, underdeveloped characters and poorly constructed dialogue—along with the occasional anachronism—will take readers out of an otherwise engaging story.

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Prodigy

Abigail Easton. CreateSpace, $14.99 paper (242p) ISBN 978-1-4961-0536-3

Singer and guitarist Grace Taylor, a musical prodigy, is a young woman in trouble. First she is raped by Nicholas, her boyfriend, and then abandoned by her family when she reveals that she is pregnant and wants to keep the baby. Complications at childbirth lead to the downward spiral of drug abuse and a reunion with Nicholas—but also to an escape to the Australian rainforest and a search for peace. Easton puts her heroine through the ringer, but at times the story devolves into cliché. As Grace blunders from one mistake to the next, readers will feel that her problems have less to do with unresolved issues and coping mechanisms and more to do with the author creating elaborate trials and tribulations for her characters. Additionally, many of the supporting characters are too broadly drawn, and the book's resolution is unlikely to satisfy readers.

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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