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Focus Review
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House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge
by Lenny Dykstra
William Morrow


"I was in my early thirties, put together like a Greek god, and could have millions of dollars sent wherever and whenever I wanted simply by making a phone call. My ego was just as big as my bank account."

With the tenacity of Ty Cobb and the bodacious behavior of Babe Ruth, professional baseball player Lenny Dykstra embraced life both on and off the diamond. At only 160 lbs, he was a relatively under-sized athlete, but being acutely aware of his goals and possessing razor-sharp timing, he broke into the major leagues in the mid-1980s and cut a path toward becoming a dominant player. ... (read more)

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Featured Book Reviews

 

A Natural Mystery Storyteller

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Elizabeth Daleiden on Trial
by Ron Fritsch

reviewed by Donna Ford

"Elizabeth Daleiden had to know, better than anybody else, what happened the night Henry and Titus died in the fire that destroyed their house."

With his simple statement, Jonah resurrects the question he has been asking himself since a child of six, watching the fire near his grandmother's farm and listening to the hateful remarks of locals. Did someone deliberately set the fire to rid the town of two old homosexuals? Elizabeth was the nearest neighbor and would have seen a mob entering. Without hesitation she assures Jonah, now a Chicago lawyer, that the fire was an accident. ... (read more)

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Challenging Love

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Inceptions: The Kate and Robert Chronicles
by Suzanne Eglington
Xlibris

reviewed by Michael Radon

"Then I briefly thought about past women and quickly barred them from my brain. He was mine! He wanted me!"

Kate Quinn's life went into a downspin in a hurry. In her late 20's, Kate works as an in-home nurse with a family that loves and respects her while she also has to deal with criticisms from her own family, whom she still lives with. Topping this all off is Scott, her one and only boyfriend of six years who, as Kate has just discovered, is cheating on her. Kate cuts Scott off immediately and tries to deal with her problems with the help of two friends: Pepper, her headstrong dance instructor best friend, and alcohol. Scott is trying desperately to win Kate back, but what neither of them counted on was Robert Beckham, a police officer friend of Scott's that has been interested in Kate since they first met. ... (read more)

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Stunning Stories

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The Best Of Gival Press Short Stories
edited by Robert L. Giron
Gival Press

reviewed by Joe Kilgore

"Maybe if Geist had that morning turned left instead of right, he might have been alert instead of being trapped on his plummeting psychic elevator."

Eleven stories comprise this collection. They were selected for quality of writing rather than adherence to any motif or theme. Thus, they cut a wide swath through all manner of timeframes, environments, events, and emotions. In addition to first-rate writing, there is however another element that links them all together. That element is an exploration of the inner self—a searing examination of what makes us behave the way we do—and the consequences that result from such behavior. ... (read more)

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Tending to the Great Lakes

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Water Walkers
by Carol Trembath
illustrations by David W. Craig
Lakeside Publishing

reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott

"Grandmother planned to walk around each of the Great Lakes, one by one. She taught me that it is our Ojibway people's custom to watch over and protect the water. I thought about Grandmother's words. I wondered how I could help."

Mai is a little Ojibway girl who wants to learn from her tribal elders. Her grandmother is going to walk around each of the Great Lakes, and she agrees to let Mai come along because "Even our little ones can make ripples and waves.” Mai's task is to fill a copper bucket with lake water each morning. This ritual is followed by Grandmother's prayers and songs. Mai notices that in one town there are lots of plastic bags in the water, a lesson in the problem of pollution. She observes that a family of deer have to walk farther than ever to get to the edge of the lake to drink, and a bear tries to catch fish and can't find any. ... (read more)

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Taking Office

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Run: Your Personal Guide to Winning Public Office
by Senator Marian Walsh
Grand Cove Publishing

reviewed by Donna Ford

"Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams – experienced a day in their lives when they stopped complaining... It's in our DNA as a nation to make changes..."

Whether you are called to run for office or simply wish to support a candidate by donating funds and time or by posting a sign on your lawn–Run can help you become a motivated citizen. Many people see politics as a complicated maze. Walsh's advice is to start with the issue that matters to you. Learn the law involved and investigate opposing viewpoints. ... (read more)

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Improving Elections

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Election Attitude
by John R. Patrick
Attitude, LLC

reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott

"An open question is whether easier and more convenient methods of registration and voting could lead to high participation. An election attitude suggests the entire process should be as easy as one-click purchasing online."

Author and innovator in information technologies, John R. Patrick, has created this timely examination of voting/polling processes in America. It is no secret that voter participation here is perennially low compared to other countries, with many complaints among voters and non-voters alike about such issues as the reliability of current procedures, the cumbersome paper trail (or lack of it), and over all a mistrust of this system, both in terms of the machinery involved and the personnel who oversee it. ... (read more)

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Being Human

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UFOs and God
by Michael R. Lane
Bare Bones Press

reviewed by Lee Ware

"I was actually doing well until I heard her voice and all that changed. She resurrected the void in my life. I hated her for that, her and Alexander Graham Bell."

The stories range from a couple of pages to over thirty. They begin with two boys tossing pebbles and making wishes into a well, and they end with a writer awaiting the return of his wife while he contemplates the lives and scenery surrounding him. In between, we have World War II soldiers, a devout believer in UFOs, a man deciding whether to live or die, and many others creating a varied spectrum of characters and settings allowing the reader to slip from one world to the next. The stories themselves are not centered around a single idea or place, but are rather like a patchwork, a blend of time and people scattered across the pages like colored pieces of fabric. But while seemingly unrelated, Lane connects the patches, the times, and the people through his voice... (read more)

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Epic Humor

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Hail to the Chief: An Inauguration Poem, or a Lament for What Might Have Been
by Tanyo Ravicz
Denali Press

reviewed by Priscilla Estes

"It's your turn now—the Ascent of Rodham—
You get on top, I’ll take the bottom."

An epic poem may seem a curious device to trace the rise of Bill and Hillary Clinton, ending with her imaginary inauguration as 45th president of the United States. Epic poems conjure Homer’s The Iliad and Dante’s The Divine Comedy, classics expressing deep thoughts and moral consciousness. Epic poems also tickle the mind and ravish the intellect, grant more freedom of imagination than prose, and exaggerate both virtue and vice in a way that teaches, pleases, persuades, stirs, and entertains. ... (read more)

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Poems of Life

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Thrown Again into the Frazzle Machine: Poems of Grace, Hope, and Healing
by Margaret Dubay Mikus, Ph.D.
Three Heart Press

reviewed by Donna Ford

"...take this lifeboat with me through some rough seas and calm, into the streaming light on the far shore. Let me tell you a story..."

Whether in the midst of a stormy period of life or having recently passed through such a time, you will instantly relate to what the author means by being thrown into the Frazzle Machine. Beating multiple sclerosis, breast cancer, and other health issues, Mikus remains so much more than a survivor. Taking inspiration from her full life as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend, she demonstrates how to overcome. ... (read more)

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The Kate and Robert Romp Continues

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You and I: The Kate and Robert Chronicles
by Suzanne Eglington
Xlibris

reviewed by Michael Radon

"My Robert showed me his vulnerability, and it was me. I meant so much to him as he did to me."

For Robert and Kate Beckham, the wedding is over and the honeymoon is about to begin. Fresh from their hurried matrimony in Las Vegas, the newlywed Beckhams head to San Diego for some alone time full of relaxation, sightseeing, and plenty of physical intimacy. Focused on her husband—the over-possessive, at times frighteningly intense, madly in love police officer Robert—Kate is interested only in showing her love and passion for her new husband. Pleasant times in San Diego are over in a matter of days, but Kate has her wedding reception followed by an extended honeymoon across the Atlantic to meet Robert's parents to look forward to. In the blink of an eye, the couple are off, and Kate falls in love with the natural beauty of Ireland. Also to her advantage, Robert's mother, family, and seemingly the entire village take a shine to her immediately, and she becomes a popular addition to the scenery, serving as a matchmaker to those around her stuck in unhappy relationships as she once was. ... (read more)

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Exciting Coming of Age

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Hush Now, Don’t Explain
by Dennis Must
Coffeetown Press

reviewed by Joe Kilgore

"I pulled him to me as I had Billy the night before. But here I wasn’t holding a man. Instead I was holding a past."

Sometimes what is unsaid speaks loudest. Now and then a writer has the confidence to hint rather than hammer. This author’s story of the loss of innocence and the search for one’s future in the secrets of the past uses revelation sparingly—which is to say well. Nor does he burden the reader with expositional excess. No sentence, paragraph, or page feels overwritten. While one is eager for the start of each new chapter, there’s no overt attempt to create cliffhangers. This is a novel where the writer’s measured pace makes it all the more enjoyable. ... (read more)

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An Epic Saga Begins

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The Last Giant: Transgression, vol. 1
by J. R. Hardesty
Golden Cocker Press

reviewed by Michael Radon

"For the first time, Lee realized just how dangerous a Giant might be, even a small one."

Menannon, a young giant, has already lived a life that could be considered strange even in the context of the mythical world full of magic and beasts that he resides in. Exiled from his homeland at a young age because he was not taught to withhold his emotions like the other giants, Menannon and his father Gorlanndon left and assimilated with the other races of the land, settling on the island nation of Kalyria. Menannon leaves his father to go train in the Harper's Guild, the first of his people ever to do so, and is able to excel in almost all of the trades taught there except healing. He and his friends are graduating from the Guild, and his teacher insists that Menannon return home and relax for several months. ... (read more)

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Is the Honeymoon Over?

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Beckham 101: The Kate and Robert Chronicles
by Suzanne Eglington
Xlibris

reviewed by Michael Radon

"'There's my girl. Baby, you are mineall mine and only mine. I don't share.'"

Fresh from their second and full-sized honeymoon across the Atlantic, Kate and Robert Beckham are back into their routines and enjoying their lives. Resolving the cliffhanger from the previous book, Kate finds herself home alone and confronted by a jealous ex-lover of Robert's, police officer Chris Foss. The conversation between the two women is civil if not icy at first, but before long, Chris has Kate at gunpoint and is ready to kill her to win Robert back. Kate's future brother-in-law Kevin, also a police officer, is able to protect Kate from Chris' jealous rage, but Chris is wracked with grief and ultimately ends her own life shortly afterwards. ... (read more)

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Dystopian Epic

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Red Death
by Jeff Altabef
Evolved Publishing

reviewed by Maria A. Hughes

"She didn't scare easily, but the devil used the moon to create mischief, and a full moon meant danger."

In a world where the Red Death kills a person before they become an adult, Eden is the only safe haven untouched by the virus. When Aaliss' brother, Wilky, finds a cure for the Red Death, he isn't thanked for his discovery. Instead, he and his sister are betrayed by the ones who are supposed to guide and protect them. Forced to flee Eden and the life they once lived, they are thrust into a foreign world that challenges their beliefs and ability to survive. ... (read more)

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An Epic Thrill Ride

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The Gem Connection: A C.J. Cavanaugh Mystery
by Michael Lane
Booklocker

reviewed by Jennifer Weiss

"Besides not buying the story about Renita, she was suspicious about the extent of my involvement in this case. My weakness for children would have been a plausible explanation."

C.J. Cavanaugh is a well known private investigator. C.J. and his partner Renita Harris are hired by a mystery client to solve the murder of Clinton Windell, but they are not allowed to tell anyone about the case. Instead, they assume a false identity, a false job so to speak, to uncover the facts. Windell has not only been brutally murdered in his home, but also was robbed of his uncut gems worth twenty million dollars. Trying to remain anonymous, C.J. and Renita must become creative and think outside the box in order to solve the case. Michael Lane's story takes readers on a thrilling ride filled with excitement, mystery, and suspense. Mystery fans haven't read a story quite like this one. ... (read more)

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Frankie's Journey

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Frankie Jones
by J. R. Klein
CreateSpace

reviewed by Joe Kilgore

"And so the summer days turned shorter and the nights cooler and autumn arrived in Paris and the leaves changed color and spun to the ground like painted toy helicopters."

It’s the 1990s, not the 1920s, yet echoes of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises linger in the white spaces of Klein’s beguiling novel. Instead of disillusioned youth reeling from the horror of World War I and finding solace in the cafes of Paris and the bullrings of Spain, Klein writes of the disaffected upwardly mobile seeking answers in the restaurants of La Jolla and the cantinas of Mexico. ... (read more)

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Strong Voice Poetry

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At the Threshold
by Gedda Ilves
Aquarius West Press

reviewed by Michael Radon

"I am an altruist
and decided:
worms also get hungry."

Romantic, intelligent, and poignant, this third anthology of the author's poetry draws from a lifetime of international and interpersonal experience. Many of her poems deal with a disconnect in communication, one person yearning to share feelings with someone who is away on business or no longer alive. At the same time, these selections bridge continental and political borders, showing the universality of the human experience from Honduras to Hong Kong. Each poem comes from the narrative perspective of a unique character that readers will see for just a glimpse into their most private thoughts. The final section of the book is specifically reserved for poetry about children, containing little vignettes ranging to the precocious wanderings of toddlers to the silent terrors of living as a child with an abusive adult. ... (read more)

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The Stumbling Block of Fear

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The Power of Breaking Fear
by Tim S. Marshall
Green Dragon Publishing

reviewed by Mihir Shah

"Have an open mind, practice awareness and do what you fear to do. Acceptance of these words ended my complacency and second guessing."

The Power of Breaking Fear, from the first word to the last, is about physical, mental, and financial growth and development. Introspective questions are injected in each chapter to help readers counter self-defeating behaviors and ultimately, as Marshall puts it, “to have an open mind.” Marshall recognizes that readers cannot simply read this book like a novel and expect to apply its principles. On the contrary, he provides strategies geared for all levels of learners. ... (read more)

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Storytelling Now

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Postmodern Deconstruction Madhouse
by Peter Quinones
iUniverse

reviewed by Joe Kilgore

"He would be the first to tell you that he could make no sense of human nature. Theories? Something for classrooms. Psychology? Please. An abstraction. A lounge conversation."

This fellow can write. His sentences illuminate the screen of an e-reader like neon against wood paneling. His vocabulary runs the gamut from obscure antiquity to verbose hyperventilation to graphic street speech. He breathes flesh and blood heartbeats and brainwaves into intellectually agile characters that wrestle as competitively in coffee shop conversation as they do in sweat-soaked battles between the sheets—though surprisingly for this day and age, he mostly alludes to the latter while dramatizing the former. ... (read more)

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Fast-Paced Drama

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Unforgiving
by Adnan Alisic
AA Publishing

reviewed by Joe Kilgore

"My name is Meho, I am fifteen years old, and tonight I’m going to commit murder."

The Scottsdale, Arizona setting is gated communities, luxury cars, and the well heeled. Behind the high-walled mansions, and manicured lawns however, bizarre forces are at play that will find a young adolescent neck-deep in kidnapping, torture, murder, and more. Alisic has concocted a compelling thriller with a teenage protagonist haunted by his past. He’s a war orphan who managed to survive unimaginable horrors in the rape of his country, only to find himself back in battle with old tormentors plus unscrupulous authorities with their own hidden agendas. ... (read more)

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Women of Strength

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Four of a Kind
by Vanessa Russell
CreateSpace

reviewed by Wendy Strain

"The harsh fluorescent light of nowadays where so much is exposed; no longer the old ways where lives were softened and shadowed in some secret of mystery and romance in that day's flickering light of candle and gas lamps. We're always in daylight these days it seems."

Beginning with the delightful hesitant voice of 82-year-old Ruby, we are invited to share her inability to understand the death of her great-granddaughter Jesi. This happens in a first chapter set at Jesi's funeral in 1964 before the reader is sent to December 1963, a point four months earlier, when four generations of women sit down to write about their "year of awakening." Ruby's story starts along the path of women's suffrage, a cause started but not fully followed through on. From Ruby, the story passes down to her daughter Bess, as she takes up her mother's cause as her own. This, of course, affects the development of Katy as she drifts through the currents of her elders and passes down finally to Jesi. ... (read more)

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Death on the Sea

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The Body on the Lido Deck
by Jane Bennett Munro
iUniverse

reviewed by Yuliya Geikhman

"[I] saw something fall. With a squishy thud, it hit the edge of the swimming pool and bounced into the water. Red-tinged ripples spread out from where it went in. ... A trick of the light? Or was it blood?"

Pathologist Toni Day is supposed to be relaxing on a cruise to the Caribbean, but when a decapitated head nearly lands in her lap, she just has to get involved. Someone has killed a woman then stuffed her body into the roof the Lido deck. The captain is acting suspiciously, the crew's doctor is nowhere to be found in crucial moments, and, as far as Toni is concerned, no one can be trusted. How did the woman wind up in the closed roof? How does this case connect to an unsolved murder from twenty-five years ago? And why can't any of the evidence ever seem to stay in one place? ... (read more)

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A Great New Fantasy Series Begins

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The Black River Chronicles: Level One
by David Tallerman and Michael Wills
Digital Fiction Publishing Corp.

reviewed by Anita Lock

"Homily, paradigm, lucent,..."

Sixteen-year-old ranger Durren Flintrand is one of four first-level students from the Black River Academy for Swordcraft and Spellcraft. The foursome is intentionally formed for the purpose of undertaking a series of expeditions. Durren and his random troupe, that consists of a wizard, fighter, and rogue, have no choice but to work together in the hope of advancing to the second level. The tricky part is that the motley crew has to achieve that level in six months or receive automatic expulsions. What makes this attainment so difficult has everything to do with the team member's gifts, which ironically don't seem to fit his/her warrior personas. While that can possibly create problems, especially as they attempt ways to complete their missions, complications arise when they learn that one of them is harboring a well-kept secret. ... (read more)

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A Complicated, Creative Sci-Fi Fantasy

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A Test of Good and Evil
by Yuan Jur
Promontory Press

reviewed by Jennifer Hummer

"We need your help again, Reader, as karmic shadow influence and observer in Superverse events now unfolding. Terrible things have happened while you've been gone."

And so begins A Test of Good and Evil by Yuan Jur. In the third installment of Jur’s Citadel 7 series, the Superverse continues to be a complex and threatening world. The Evercycle Council remains in charge of the time—space Continuum and has created one alternate present in order to manipulate the evolution of the Superverse. Main characters, Uniss and Dogg, find themselves in precarious positions with no way of knowing who to trust or where to hide. Meanwhile, Herrex, who has vowed revenge on all of his enemies and will do whatever it takes to achieve it, is transformed into an even darker being with more demented intentions. Now, previously trusted characters prove to have murky motives and secret, dangerous goals. ... (read more)

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Consideration of the Mystical Path

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The Paths of Destiny
by Lilian Nirupa
AuthorHouse

reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott

"The Jyotishian, or expert in understanding the signs, following specific instructions of the sages stored in many thousands of rules, will use them to depict an interpretation of the person's whole life by creating a Jyotish reading."

Astrology—the belief that planets and other heavenly bodies can influence our lives—is considered by some to be a science which, properly understood and utilized, can provide practical guidance. Author Lilian Nirupa, practitioner of the Vedic astrological system called Jyotish ("light of God"), is a Christian who here expresses her conviction that Jyotish, while grounded in Eastern (Hindu) religion, can also benefit those who follow other spiritual paths. Her book is a basic explication of the Jyotish system, suitable for someone new to both astrology and Vedic teachings. She provides astrological charts and other diagrams to illustrate the many "thousands of rules" mentioned above. ... (read more)

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Protecting the Elephants

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Wanda and Winky
by Linda K. McLean
By the Creek Publications 

reviewed by Carolyn Davis

"For my grandchildren, may we only see elephants in the wild forever more."

The story, illustrated by Susan Vandeventer Warner, is geared to children aged 5-12. It tells in rhyme of the two elephants of the title's name. The pachyderms became friends at the Detroit Zoo. They had been taken from their families when they were very young and sold multiple times. In 2005, they left the Detroit Zoo for the PAWS Elephant Sanctuary. McLean was moved to write the story, as well as snatches of biographies of some other elephants, to expose the situations of the mammals as they are captured by animal hunters, sold by dealers, and sometimes rescued. There are sections called "Elephant Talk," which describe the situations not only of Wanda and Winky, but Sue and Missy. These elephants had been working for more than thirty years before their rescues. ... (read more)

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First Chapter Reviews


First Chapter Review archive

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Unforgiving
by Adnan Alisic
AA Publishing

Alisic’s opening sentence is a grabber. An adolescent tells you he is going to commit murder. It’s virtually impossible not to keep reading. As you do you are pulled into a stakeout, a hijacking, and a kidnapping all happening in real time. Before you know it, the youth is torturing someone to get information. But you aren’t the only one watching. Authorities are tracking what’s going on as well. ... (read more)

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In a Gilded Cage
by Mia Kerick
Evernight Publishing

Imagine being a 12-year-old boy who is sold by his parents to a rich, older man. This is the intriguing beginning of the story of Lucci Grimley, the boy; Damien Gotham, the wealthy owner of Gotham Pharmaceuticals who buys the child for his own sick benefits; and Prin, the student/athlete who is working for Gotham. While mowing Gotham's lawn, Prin discovers Lucci after hearing him singing in a maze located on the premises. ... (read more)

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