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The US Review of Books connects authors with professional reviewers and gets their titles in front of more than 13,000 subscribers to our free monthly book review. Read author and publisher feedback about the USR.

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Featured Book Reviews

 

Life As We Know It

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Badlands
by Thomas Biel
Three Towers Press


"I wanted my own bed and my own ceiling, something confined, not the vastness of the stars, the puzzle of endlessness. I wanted to go home but I couldn't move."

Some writers have mastered the art of spinning fantastic tales, trotting out lies of mystery, romance, and high adventure that while barely believable still manage to entertain us. Others choose to cut closer to the bone of truth, making us turn to the author's blurb at the back of the book to see whether or not what we are reading is fiction or fact. Biel falls into this latter camp with his debut collection of linked stories, episodes from the life of his youthful protagonist, Matthew Davis, that seem too painfully real to be imaginary. ... (read more)

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Sensual Intimacy, Sacred Power

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All of Me Wants All of You
by J Z Howard
ALL4U

reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott

"Regardless of how lonely and disconnected it felt,... the dream of sexual enjoyment and intimate connection with Kate remained dim."

This is an intricate story about love—between men and women, between people and God. Seasoned author J. Z. Howard has taken a running leap at an unusual subject: how people whose lives are grounded in Christianity deal with, or don't, problems of marriage and faithfulness. Kate and Dean are trying to regain their wedded bliss in the face of encroaching middle age, while single mom Larissa is looking for some quick solace as she despairs of raising her teenage son. When Larissa and Dean meet, it looks as though things will take a conventional turn: lonely man whose wife's affections have grown cold bedding a charmer who has always had sex first and love later. ... (read more)

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Imagination and History

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Nelson's Castle: A Bronte Fairy Tale
by Susanne Petito-Egielski
Amuninni Press

reviewed by Carol Davala

"Justice. That's what burns in all our eyes. That's what brings us hope. That's what we live for. That's how we die."

It's easy to get lost in the multi-faceted draw of Susanne Petito-Egielski's novel. Rooted in the history of her own grandmother's hometown of Bronte, the author entertains readers with a captivating mid-19th century fairytale, ensconced in the tradition of castles, hierarchy, forests and beasts, a peasant heroine, magic, and madness. ... Against the backdrop of Mt. Etna, aka "Mungibellu," the one-eyed monster, the bewitching peasant girl Gratia Maria Saitta, yearns for her mother Agata's love. ... (read more)

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This Actor's Life

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North of Hollywood
by Rick Lenz
Chromodroid

reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott

"If the audience could see inside me—at least as well as I can see out the window in the extraordinary light—they might realize that I’m youthful and charming…"

Rick Lenz is an actor.  Most people don't know the simple truth that he reveals in this captivating autobiography: Actors are real people, and acting is a real job. Tall and handsome but not "pretty" he was able to morph into a villain, a troubled teen, or the occasional edgy lead. Durable actor Lenz, who once aspired to be a doctor or a lawyer, appeared in numerous movies (notably Cactus Flower with Goldie Hawn), TV shows (Murder, She Wrote), and every sort of stage production from summer stock to Broadway to off-off Broadway, to state fairs and just about anywhere he could make a living. ... (read more)

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Encouraging the Classics

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Classics: Why We Should Encourage Children to Read Them
by Fiza Pathan

reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott

"Through this book, I in a very humble and modest way have tried to propagate my testimony about classics and what they can do for many."

Mumbai-born author and teacher Fiza Pathan believes fervently that reading classic books enhances imagination and improves language skills. She bases her theory on experience: At an early age, she read Bram Stoker's Dracula, inciting in her a love of good grammar and grand ideas. In her teaching, she observes that children who frequently surf the Internet or watch TV (even educational channels) tend merely to ingest ideas without generating their own. Once they begin reading the classics, their language and imaginative skills change noticeably for the better. Citing many examples, she demonstrates how these books contain moral story lines, excitement, mystery, and romance. From Around the World in Eighty Days, one can learn geography, from Robinson Crusoe, survival techniques, from Ben Hur, Roman culture. Books can sensitize us to critical issues: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, The Story of My Life by Helen Keller.  ... (read more)

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The Golden Age

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Grace and Grit: Insights to Real-Life Challenges of Aging for Adult Children and Their Parents
by Fritzi Gros-Daillon
Pink Tulip Press

reviewed by Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW

"I believe the world, our nation, your community, your loved ones, are facing unique challenges today when aging forces us out of our homes. These are unique challenges because the generations largely affected by this growing segment have enjoyed more freedom, more independence, and greater self-sufficiency than any generation before them."

Grace and Grit has become a popular title for books, especially since Ken Wilber's beautiful writings about the life and death of his wife. And while few people can match the work of Ken Wilber, this book, in its own way, also pays tribute to living and dying and offers heartfelt stories in this process of transition. This small, easy-to-read book offers significant insights into the world of the aging and stories of grief and joy in the challenges that face both aging parents and their adult children. Many of us are going through, or will go through, these same types of challenges.  ... (read more)

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Noteworthy Poetry

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The Sun God is a Ham
by Gene Hull
La Maison Publishing

reviewed by Carol Davala

"Time waits for no man. But when a woman is putting on makeup it stands still."

Gene Hull is clearly a man with a sense of humor. In the title poem from this varied collection, he places the giant orb at center stage, and captures a detailed performance of its rise and fall across an earthly venue. It is an "uppity star" deserving of our applause. "Uncovering a poem, making it come to life, is the fun of the writing process," reveals Hull, in a personal style where form always follows substance. Whether probing age-old questions about love and time's passage, commenting on a day at the movies, or the problem with modern day hackers, readers should find these poems easily accessible with simple visual and emotional conjuring. ... (read more)

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Real Life Images

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Short Fiction for an Absurd World
by Bronwyn Rodden
CreateSpace

reviewed by Michael Radon

"I had caught a dose of assertivelessness from the laundromat lady and paid the fruiterer with hardly a grumble."

With a bent on the curious details, the awkward moments of life, and downright dark secrets and closeted skeletons, this collection of short stories spans more than two decades of the author's work. From horrific stories of a honeymoon turned grotesque and a woman putting herself quite literally into her weaving work to an escape from the most mundane of offices and a series of chance encounters with a well-shouldered gentleman with a fussy eating dog, these stories cross genres and tones to provide a truly wide array of elicited emotions. This title carries no narrative structure from story to story but handily serves to collect the author's work in an anthology and celebrate the weirdness of life in all its shapes and circumstance. ... (read more)

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The Messiah in You

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Educating Messiahs
by Colin Hannaford
Trafford Publishing

reviewed by Carol Davala

"In general, the aim of a messiah is to show that everyone shares the responsibility for making peace or making war. Everyone has this choice. We have it now."

At 17, Colin Hannaford joined the British army. Twelve years later, now a staff officer, his protest at his government's attempt to use military force to solve a major social problem led to him being held for some weeks in a military psychiatric hospital. Though an unjust holding, there he experienced a religious awakening, similar to that of the great Catholic Theologian, Thomas Aquinas. In asking for God's help, Hannaford recalled a strong embracing figure responding "How can you be afraid? You are of me." Told to "Be honest!", it was a message that Hannaford soon realized was meant for everyone. ... (read more)

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A Search for Democracy

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Faith in Democracy
by Fabrizio Elefante
IPOC

reviewed by John E. Roper

"In all regimes, masses, which are the register of indistinction, tend to seek the protection of a structure that is totalitarian, recognizable, relieved of responsibilities, and reassuring."

Words, unlike numbers, are not immutable. Two plus two will always equal four, but the meaning, or at least the understanding of the meaning of any given word can alter over time. The term "democracy," for example, meant one thing to the inhabitants of the ancient Greek city states yet means something far removed in modern times from its original intent. The author is a great proponent of this political concept, but he feels that how it is interpreted and applied today fails to reach its truest expression.  ... (read more)

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Strength of the Human Spirit

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The Hunger Year
by Lee Conrad Kemsley
Korintok Books

reviewed by Anita Lock

"These times will pass... and we'll endure. Someone once reminded me how extraordinary it all is. I don't want to lose sight of that."

Based on the historic and freakish Vermont weather events of 1815 and 1816, The Hunger Year tells the compelling story of one girl's determination for survival. Seventeen-year-old Magen Creed seeks out her father's family farm in Vermont after fever plagues her small New York settlement. Magen is not certain what to expect upon arrival since she has never set foot on the farm, nor met any of his family. She is pleasantly surprised to find that the person who resides there is none other than her father's sister, Aunt Eliza. ... (read more)

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International Intrigue

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Raven's Run: A Cybertech Thriller
by John D. Trudel
Trafford Publishing

reviewed by RJM Terrado

"It was a maelstrom of shifting reality where the past, present, and future were readjusting in a mad ride down churning rapids of good and evil."

When impeccable research, engaging prose, and a personal connection are fused into one narrative, the result is Raven's Run, a savory, thought-provoking historical thriller with a penchant to discuss events that are at the forefront of western democracy in the 21st century. Audiences will find the plot entertaining and the characters relatable; however, the author's insights into the inner workings of the Kennedy Administration—including the planning for the journey to the moon—are perhaps the most intriguing elements of the novel as they are, to a degree, based on reality.  ... (read more)

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Shades of Compassion

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The Nesting Dolls
by Cynthia Rogers Parks
Leigh Walker Books

reviewed by RJM Terrado

"A mother-daughter cry can be risky. You don't really know who's comforting whom when both of you have dissolved into blubbering fools at once. But there are just times when it's the very thing. And this was one of those times."

The history of Russian diaspora offers a very vivid illustration of the developments in the 20th century and how people from different ethnic groups are impacted on a general scale. From the fall of the Provisional Priamur Government in Russia to the rise of the Red Guards in China, Russians struggle to earn their rightful place in various republics and cultural environments. Enveloped in these events and efforts to assimilate are souls and their stories thriving in war tension and making a living out of scratch. Parks' The Nesting Dolls is a portrayal of one of these stories... (read more)

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Coming of Age in Nineteenth Century London

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Young PRB
by Elisabeth M. Lee
April Books

reviewed by Dylan Ward

"He longed to be living in Paris, or Munich, and have a gang of like-minded friends who would build barricades, march in protests, print pamphlets, and proclaim against injustices. See what could happen if you just tried? If you were united in a cause, you could overthrow a government, expel foreign invaders, topple kings. It filled his daydreams and fed his art."

It's not hard to imagine Elisabeth Lee as she writes her coming-of-age novel, placing herself squarely in the midst of the nineteenth century and envisioning, perhaps even relishing, the world in which her young protagonists live. Young PRB transports us to mid-Victorian London where on the cusp of revolutionary change, young students William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and John Everett Millais immerse themselves in their studies at the Royal Academy. They explore and imitate the art of the masters before them while their own youth beckons them to discover their true passion and new ventures. ... (read more)

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A Space Opera

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Tavern on the Edge of Time
by Peter Darrach
CreateSpace

reviewed by Maria A. Hughes

"He howled now in fury, the blood singing in his ears, and drove those still standing back toward the rift."

Who knew that one alien's hobby of collecting other worlds' time continuums could be so disastrous? When Max Cody revisits the Tavern on the Edge of Time to give his friend T'Chell a gift, he finds out that the alien has inadvertently caused a rift between two worlds that should never have known of each other's existence. This rip not only leads them to learn of each other's existence, but also instigates an interworld war between two races. T'Chell pleads for Max, and his fiancé Elaine's, intervention. ... (read more)

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Journey Through Disaster

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On the Brink: The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi
by Ryusho Kadota
translated by Simon Varnam
Kurodahan Press

reviewed by Donna Ford

"My staff were like blindfolded pilots... of a plane with its hydraulics and everything else shot to pieces. How were they supposed to get down safely?"

What brought Japan to the brink was a natural disaster: 9.0 earthquake followed by a major tsunami. This double-whammy 2011 event crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant resulting in meltdowns of multiple reactors. It forced the evacuation of surrounding towns already devastated by the earthquake. ... On the Brink is a record of what human strength when applied to Herculean tasks can overcome. The main characters are Masao Yoshida, site superintendent, and his crew chief, Ikuo Izawa. ... (read more)

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The Red Cross of Gold

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Montooth 3: Red Cross of Gold
by Robert Jay
Cloverleaf Corporation

reviewed by John E. Roper

"The wounded professor dropped his glass and magazine, reared back into the chair, and pulled fruitlessly at the arrow, in shock, confusion, and desperation, while writhing in pain."

Successful novels tend to follow predictable patterns. An author puts together an interesting plot, throws a few well-developed characters into the mix, and spreads out the concoction in a fairly even layer throughout the length of the book. Sometimes, depending on the overall flavor of the story, he may stir in a few sub-plots that manage to merge into a tasty combination at the end. But what happens when an author attempts something a bit unusual, such as linking seemingly disparate plots together with a common character or two into one book? The result is an award-winning novel with a little something for everyone. ... (read more)

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A Job To Do

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South of Good
by Randall Reneau
Create Space

reviewed by Anita Lock

"In less than ten days, I'd gone from being a sworn law enforcement officer to a co-conspirator in a drug deal."

South of Good is a story about Hardin Steel, a sheriff who is constantly trying to nab drug dealers in a South Texas border county. When he attempts to capture the ringleader of a Mexican drug cartel, Steel is unaware of the compromises he will have to make to get the job done, as well as protect those who are near and dear to him. ... (read more)

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Jefferson Davis Brought to Light

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Jefferson Davis: Before He Wore Confederate Gray
by David Maring
CreateSpace

reviewed by John E. Roper

"As Jeff and his Mississippi regiment charged forward with a shout of victory or death, the volunteers rallied and joined them. Bullets whistled over their heads and around them, but the men continued their charge."

Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the short-lived Confederacy, has long been eclipsed in stories about the American Civil War by his charismatic general, Robert E. Lee. While Lee is frequently held up as an honorable man who felt obligated by his love for his home state to fight for the losing side, Davis, in contrast, is usually portrayed as either a villain or a witless fool. In reality, Davis was neither of these as the author shows in his highly readable historical novel. ... (read more)

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Nurturing the Creative Child

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Henry's Dragon Dream
by Vroni Hovaguimian
Illustrated by: Barbara J. Liotta
CreateSpace

reviewed by RJM Terrado

"From high in the sky down we fly, henry smiles and shuts his eyes."

With the popularity of dragon-based video games, TV shows, and films, why not children's dragon literature? Henry's Dragon Dream is a beautiful literary adaptation of this trend. Narrated by the character dragon himself, the book has a unique voice as it allows readers to see kids' creativity from the perspective of a "creation." In the story, the dragon (creation) is a product of Henry's imagination (creator). ... (read more)

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What We Loved

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50 Favs of the '60s '70s '80s
by Fred John Del Bianco, Jr.
AuthorHouse

reviewed by John E. Roper

"Ironically, another controversial, but even more blatantly outspoken, show (again on CBS) would soon emerge just two years later, not only surviving, but also becoming the number one show on television for five consecutive seasons."

The study of history usually focuses primarily on a society's politics, wars, natural disasters, and human rights as well as its achievements and innovations in the areas of weaponry, architecture, and infrastructure. Occasionally, a small section in a textbook will be devoted to the arts and literature of a specific country that somehow managed to have long-lasting effects on world culture. Sometimes, though, one will find a book devoted almost exclusively to the things of the past which captured our collective imagination for briefer moments. ... (read more)

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Writing Through Trauma

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Letter Therapy: Healing Emotional Wounds
by Nancy O'Connor, PhD
La Mariposa Press

reviewed by Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW

"The purpose of this book is to help you to, dig into the past and heal any festering old wounds that interfere with your present life and relationships."

Letter Therapy is written for those who have suffered emotional, physical, and/or sexual trauma. Written by a therapist who has 25 years of working in the field of counseling, the book relates her strategy of using written (but not necessarily sent) letters for healing. This 117-page book, with twelve chapters, explores the process of writing healing letters and gives examples of letters her clients have written to parents, mothers, fathers, spouses/lovers/partners, children, grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings. The final chapters are about the tools of recovery and making a decision about whether or not to confront the offender. The book ends with a ten-step process which she calls a "Bill of Rights" regarding the rights people have in setting boundaries, letting go of past wounds, and nurturing the self. ... (read more)

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An Eloquent Voice

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Prophase: A Present Tale
by M. Street
Mitchel Street

reviewed by Carol Davala

"The grandest form of light is love. Life, love, and light are all the same."

In the opening of Prophase, a young woman gives birth to a child in the forest. It is the vernal equinox: "a neutral moment" and the start of something new. Next we meet Piper Walker, a likeable high school senior. With the death of her mother, Piper has had to grow up fast. While helping to parent her younger brother, Charlie, she has also buffered the anger of an abusive, drinking father. This over-burdened teen finds solace in her love of nature and music. She considers the latter her "first language." Piper also garners a deep connection with her elderly neighbor, Esther, and her mystical, Lynx Point Siamese, Jazz. As Piper deals with the expected drama of high school (i.e. strained friendships and heartbreak), an unusual chain of events brings about strange occurrences. ... (read more)

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A New Otherworldy Order

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HumEM: The Life Charter Series Book 1
by Dean Evans
CreateSpace

reviewed by Michael Radon

"The injustice of entropy must be harmonized. A HumEM's life, the just resonance, depended on it."

Centuries into the future, humankind has learned a truth about the universe that creates a world with no death or suffering. All life in the solar system has ascended into new forms of EMLife, resistant to entropy through a combination of resonance and harmony. Under the guiding principles of this truth, known as The Life Charter or TLC, these new HumEMs, with seven different genders each specializing in different kinds of harmony are on the brink of a major breakthrough—one that will allow HumEMity to eliminate entropy far beyond the solar system. When the mission ends in an unexpected catastrophe that has not been experienced in 400 years, this life of transcendent paradise is put at risk, and the clock begins to tick on a now imminent threat from another galax ... (read more)

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First Chapter Reviews


First Chapter Review archive

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