King of Tennessee

by David Alan Shorts
LifeRich Publishing

book review by Michael Radon

“I’m not a looter; I’m a squatter. I didn’t want to grab stuff and go; I wanted to grab stuff and stay.”

Stewart Rainquest has always been a handful in school and with his grandmother. With a father who died serving in Afghanistan and an addict mother in and out of prison, his life is by no means idyllic. However, he chooses to process this pain by lashing out as a bully and a constant troublemaker. While being driven home by his granmother after being suspended from school and threatened with expulsion, Stewart is only thinking about how to turn his discipline on its head and enjoy the time off school when the unthinkable happens. A flash of light in the sky is followed by the mysterious disappearance of his grandmother and countless other people. In the blink of an eye, life has completely changed for Stewart, who now has to rely on his wits and skills to survive on his own.

Stewart’s dream of a world without rules quickly becomes a nightmare, though, when he witnesses a local biker gang murder a woman right in front of him. He realizes that this new world he lives in is one in which some would go out of their way to hurt him just for fun or to display their power. Stranded and alone, Stewart eschews every attempt at rescue to remain in Tabersville, but each passing day wears on his mind and his body. Befriending a terminally ill teenager and staying one step ahead of the biker gang he dubs “The Plague,” Stewart proves adept at keeping himself alive. Yet every trial makes him question if this is any way for him to live. With nothing left to lose, Stewart has to make a final stand and try to escape to safety.

Drawing on concepts from the Book of Revelation and its depiction of the Rapture, the apocalyptic lifestyle that Stewart must endure also brings to mind scenes from zombie films and other movies like Mad Max. Like the twelve-year-old boy he is, Stewart at first relishes the chance to live without rules or parental supervision, something that other young adult readers may identify with. However, the author provides examples both big and small about how people live in communities for a reason, depending on and trusting each other every day in order to coexist comfortably. The perspective of a young person bucking against authority shines through with authenticity, driving the narrative forward with a mixture of street-smart responsibility and selfish disdain that helps the protagonist survive.

Troubled youth may identify with Stewart’s basest behaviors, but there is still room for growth and redemption as Stewart learns to look after the weakened Gina and even a stray cat named Norman. As the book moves on, those that might picture themselves in the main character may begin to see the opportunities for growth and self-improvement that he experiences, albeit hopefully without such a drastic change in life circumstances. Full of action, drama, and even a little comedy, this book takes biblical concepts and teachings and frames them into a worldview that proves less idealistic and maybe more pragmatic for some people, teaching how to adopt grace and spirituality in a world that seems to forego it at every turn. Young and older readers alike will remember the message of this book as vividly as they do the gruesome cinematic sequences of cat and mouse.

Wisdom of the Men

by Clint Arthur
Wharton MBA Books

book review by Robert Buccellato

“Everyone wants home runs. No one wants to do the work.”

One of the great aspects of the modern age is that it is now easier than ever for promising authors to share their stories, and some of their tales really need to be shared and discovered. This engaging book is one such offering. It is told by a talented and earnest storyteller who has managed through a tenacious drive to propel himself towards success. Along the way, he formed a compelling recipe for personal achievement and collected anecdotes from a laundry list of famed celebrities.

What is perhaps so inviting about this book is that it is not a self-congratulatory trip down a lifetime of memories. Instead, it is an intimate look at a man who was fortunate enough to meet most of the key figures of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and ask them their secrets. Instead of presenting himself as an all-knowing business leader with all the answers, he remained humble and kept developing. Each section is not just an encounter with a president, celebrity, or scholar. Instead, it is a catalog of insights the author was earnest enough to gather from these people.

The author’s openness allowed him to gain impressive access to some powerful individuals, their fabled fortunes, and their keys to success. Now he is sharing this remarkable volume of collective knowledge with the world. It is an amazing gift and makes for a pretty charming read. The author’s style is entertaining and masterful and, at times, surprisingly touching and soulful. This is a book for anyone ready to take the world by storm.

Beyond Death: Continuing Stories in the Afterlife

by Sally Muir
Outskirts Press

book review by Barbara Bamberger Scott

“What I call my ‘voice’ is telepathically communicated guidance from a source that loves, guides, educates, comforts, and blesses me.”

Just before and immediately after her good friend Ninette passed away at age ninety, author and spiritual seeress Muir began receiving messages from her that became the basis for this fascinating vision of life after death. Ninette, like Muir, had been drawn to study at the Sancta Sophia Seminary and become an ordained minister through that pathway. For nearly a year, Muir heard and transcribed Ninette’s sage counsel, described in scrupulous detail from that realm known to some as the Other Side.

According to Ninette, those who die will enter a place where angels preside and where each soul experiences an atmosphere based on their earthly actions. Those with a higher level of positive connectivity will hear lovely music (not the Muzak that Muir humorously confesses that she fears) and imbibe “the power of goodness” that dominates the atmosphere. Those who have chosen a conflicted, criminal, or violent lifespan will be maintained at different levels and, with angelic assistance, slowly, gradually move upward as they begin to long for the chance at a higher experience.

And even Ninette and those like her will feel regrets for their earthly foibles and be allowed to examine them in the clear light of karmic law and angelic oversight. They look, Ninette tells Muir, as they did in their last moments on earth, and recognize and happily greet those who have gone before them. It is a realistic learning experience. Ninette believes that Muir is destined to share her communications for the guidance of others because of the author’s innate ability to hear and understand them clearly and directly.

Muir’s personal spiritual journey began when she “heard” a telepathic message regarding her son, who, she was told, had been her father in a past life. This led her to embark on a study of such well-known clairvoyants as Edgar Cayce, a simple American farmer who had etheric visions and offered healings to many while in a trance state. Another significant influence was Rudolf Steiner, a European mystic whose teachings form the basis for the Waldorf education system for which Muir has served as a teacher.

Her book is divided into two parts: “Part I” records and amplifies her “conversations” with Ninette, allowing the author to explore her own human nature as Ninette recalls hers and gives hope for a more enlightened future for herself, Muir, and for the whole planet. “Part II” gives a sampling of the kinds of work Muir has been able to accomplish based on the wise advice of her heavenly mentor and on her own telepathic grasp of higher realities. These include a “forgiveness ceremony” for a friend who died with regrets for his wrong-doings and the use of the Unity prayer for another who committed suicide and would need greater help to move beyond the trauma of this violent end.

The author’s writing is engaging, treating serious issues with sincerity and the occasional touch of healthy humor. Muir’s narrative amply fulfills the purpose that Ninette so wisely envisioned, opening the possibility of greater spiritual insight, inner hearing, and outer healing for readers drawn to the wide scope of possibilities being offered.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

I Am Yours and You Are Mine, God’s Love

by Rev. Kelvin McKisic
Go to Publish

book review by Barbara Bamberger Scott

“Love is both an attribute of God and a description of his being.”

Minister and author McKisic presents a guide to understanding love in its ultimate sense: that of God for his human creation. His love was evident when, after the disobedience of man in the Garden of Eden, God took the slow but sure steps to create and offer his son to the world, giving us, McKisic says, “an out from the effect of sin.” God had already fashioned a beautiful natural world from which food and water and beauty could be gleaned. The author allows the reader to follow the progression of God’s chosen people as they were oppressed in Egypt, then led out of that domination and into the land of milk and honey. Moses was selected as the leader of the Israelites, assigned by an appearance of God in a burning bush. Moses felt unworthy and unequal to this huge task. But at every juncture in this journey, Moses would see that God’s love provides. God arranged that the chosen people would have sufficient wealth when they left Egypt. They were also guided by a pillar of fire by night, given a rain of manna each day, and the staff of Moses to purify water for their drinking.

New Testament incidents also underscore God’s abiding love in the actions and words of Jesus Christ. He healed a woman who had been “bent over” for eighteen years, even without her asking. He gave a blind man his sight, revealing that the man’s faith was so strong that he would immediately preach about God’s glory. He fed a multitude of hungry people who had gathered to hear him speak and relieved the illness of a servant of a Roman centurion who believed that Jesus could heal merely by his word without being present. All these biblical stories illustrate not only the physical happenings, McKisic asserts, but the ineffable, unfailing love that God holds for us, proof of his continual forgiveness and his total communication with and understanding of his created beings. In showing love for others the way that God shows his love for us, “we show the world that we are children of God.”

McKisic, who was educated in electrical engineering, later came to realize his calling to preach and teach. He offers this brief but powerful work as a revelation and motivation to others. One of the ways in which his book provides this outreach is through the well-chosen, emotive photographs that accompany the text. These give special emphasis to sweet scenes of fathers playing with and caring for young children, a potent metaphor for God’s direct concern for his human children. McKisic offers many biblical quotations and frames his own observations and advice around them, gradually and gently building his case that if his followers allow it, God will assist them in every aspect of life, even when they are rebellious, giving them ample time and scope to experience his forgiving nature. In essence, this work is a sermon delivered with pertinent examples designed to lead its audience to accept their great blessings. It is highly recommended as a focus for both workshop study and individual contemplation.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

The Best-Ever Adventure

by Eric Artisan
Eric Artisan Books
book review by Barbara Bamberger Scott

“Their kingdom was the most wonderful place and they had everything their hearts desired.”

A young prince and princess live in an ideal world where they can do as they please, and everything they do pleases them. However, soon they begin to feel a longing to experience “everything.” They consult the wizard, who asks them if they are sure they want to undertake such an adventure, cautioning them that in order to experience everything, they must go through the bad as well as the good. The two don’t even know what the word “bad” means and take “good” for granted, but the mixture somehow sounds exciting. The old wizard mixes a potion for them to drink, advising them to act like ordinary people as they confront the new land. Soon they are on a little boat and travel to separate places and live different lives.

Each finds that life is now extremely strange and even, at times, quite challenging. For example, the princess isn’t used to school and can’t seem to get good grades. The prince becomes an outcast, fighting for what he needs. At times he sleeps out in an alley. But then the princess discovers music, becoming a street busker, an activity she finds enjoyable. Meanwhile, the prince starts a life of solitude and self-sufficiency on a little homestead. However, he will have to serve in the military, and the princess will suffer the pangs of stage fright as she moves up in the music milieu. Both find that being kind to others in need produces positive feelings, and they enjoy meeting people of all types. They feel emotions new to them, such as sadness, selfishness, hope, and joy. Both live long lives in the realm of everything, and both pass away. But not long after, they awake in their beds, back in their pleasant kingdom, still young and happy to be back together.

Artisan, an award-winning author and artist, has polished this work as a rare gem, with illustrations so filled with color, texture, and detail that each is a story in itself. He has designed it to be read to younger children, from age five onwards, and readable by older ones. It is an enchanting fable, worthy almost of Aesop, with its dedication to the symbolism of seeking and the nuance of rebirth. Readers will see that the two royals first reject the idea of ever returning to the world of their adventure and then feel almost mystically drawn to do so by the allure of living better next time. The princess imagines taking up martial arts and studying to become a surgeon, while the prince sees himself as an astronaut or maybe a rock star. They are back in the boat again, “knowing they would always return home.” The book’s subtle lesson is that negative experiences can have a positive outcome if we don’t give up, if we try again. Artisan has created an engaging parable to be shared with all youngsters, who will be drawn into the story by the colorful illustrations and the simple but meaningful text. After reading this book, they will undoubtedly want to start on their own best-ever adventures.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

In the Aftermath: 9/11 Through a Volunteer’s Eyes

by Beth SK Morris
Poetica Publishing
book review by Nicole Yurcaba

“Subway destroyed, they fled east
on foot, heads covered with ash,
some wearing masks, some still
bleeding from the debris”

This cathartic, eye-opening account of the tragedy that 9/11 bestowed upon the United States transports readers to Ground Zero, where ash and debris fall, where loved ones disappear, and where for years to come, the day’s physical, emotional, and psychological scarrings refuse to disappear, let alone fade. In this haunting collection, the poem “By the Numbers, 6000” reduces humanity to “body parts recovered, sorted / into segments small enough / to fit in a test tube.” Readers find themselves face-to-face with a wife who “buries her face in her workbook, lowers her eyes” as she confesses the potential loss of her husband and the consequences his disappearance bestows upon her and her daughter’s future in the poem “The Lesson.” Meanwhile, toxic xenophobia permeates American society and shocks readers to their cores as they experience it for themselves in the poem “The Physics of Ripples.”

This collection’s power lies in its exploration of the often unmentioned—the lives and experiences of countless volunteers who risked life and limb to transform Ground Zero from a place of debris and rubble to one of pristine streets and reconstruction. As recollections and memories combine, their release onto the page and full disclosure to readers who may or may not remember that infamous day act as a great reckoning. The author’s experimentations with form and spacing create the sensations of reliving and then releasing the experiences depicted in the book, actively engaging the readers in the narrator’s catharsis. In “At the Doctor’s Office” and poems like it, readers learn of the health crises volunteers and emergency workers face. Nostalgic and poignant, honorary and honest, with a voice raw and uniquely its own, this collection captures the immediate and distant aftermath of a tragedy still prominent in American minds.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Mr. Dalton’s Christmas

by Robert A. Valle
Amazon

book review by Toby Berry

“…sometimes our gifts can be used for much more.”

The author of this unique Christmas tale sets the stage nicely, painting Dalton as a hard-working assistant manager at Macy’s with a routine life. Dalton is frozen in time after recovering from an accident that took his wife and ruined his physically demanding stage career almost a decade earlier. Through Valle’s artful character development, readers are soon cheering for Dalton to come out of his shell and reinvent himself. He does. But, did he dream this inspiration, did it happen from his own depths of inner strength, or is it all divine intervention? Readers get to decide for themselves as Valle masterfully leaves it open-ended.

Effective foreshadowing is difficult for authors to pull off successfully, but Valle nails it here, too. For example, readers might hope for a romance between Dalton and his co-worker, Maria Esperanza. Therefore, Valle expertly writes, “She rubbed her eyes, picked up the device and read the message. A smile crossed her face as she rose and headed for bed.”

Maybe what the story does best is describe how it is both possible and even necessary to make changes in pursuit of happiness sometimes. Valle writes about the strength of loyal friendships and reentry after suffering. This touching novel is about resilience and personal strength, and, for some, more strength than one may realize that they have.

Sometimes Christmas stories aren’t just for Christmas. Valle’s novel is a feel-good read, full of hope and emotional energy well spent. It is somewhat of a romance, but squeaky clean, enabling it to be appropriate for a family with preteens, as well.

Starlight in the Dawn: The poetic priestess who chose to fight

by Naveen Sridhar
KDP Amazon

book review by Mihir Shah

“Fate and faith are like friends who fail. Yet Enheduanna remained faithful to her faith, her only friend.”

Set on the banks of the Euphrates in 2286 BCE, Sridhar’s narrative is driven by compelling worldbuilding and character development. While the novel revolves around Enheduanna, the high priestess of the Temple of Ur, each character has a well-developed backstory that is instrumental to bringing the intricate system of government, politics, and power (and often the abuses of each) to life. Through the narrative, audiences will gain exposure to age-old questions such as the constant clash between church and state.

A seemingly insignificant exchange involving a foreigner, Beshi, and Ninlil, niece of Mashda the potter, has ripple effects that kickstart the plot from the opening scene. Simultaneously, the author uses this scene to introduce numerous integral characters, chiefly High Priestess Enheduanna, for whom the gift of the pitcher has been delivered. While the trajectory of every character is intriguing, the high priestess is multidimensional in nature and talent. Daughter of the emperor, Sargon the Great, Enheduanna—better known as Hedu—demonstrates an incredible commitment to her responsibility of spiritual guidance that commences with a morning terrace prayer to Inanna, the goddess that represents love, fertility, and war. As Hedu continues to see the atrocities being exacted upon the citizens of Ur by those in power, she begins navigating her internal struggle between limiting herself to just a spiritual guide (a liaison of sorts between the gods and her people) and fully channeling her inner Inanna and becoming a warrior priestess.

Hedu’s reluctance presents her as even more human, a strongly relatable and likable character whose gracefulness with the creation of hymns, poetry, and dance portends to what her ferocity may look like. Her call to action is aided by Atrahasis, leader of the Council of Elders, whose impact on Hedu is akin to Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and Obi-Wan in Star Wars. True to Campbellian storytelling, Sridhar’s incorporation of characters like Damkina, Hedu’s right-hand woman, and Atrahasis propel Hedu toward her call to action that begins with her commitment to protecting Mashda and Ninlil—and their pottery shop—from the likes of Governor Obares, dominating figures who seek to exercise their power on the most vulnerable.

Aside from strong character development, Sridhar’s work is imbued with mythological references, with Greek and Hindu myths being most prevalent. Specifically, the backstory of Sargon’s mother is intriguing in its parallels with the Hindu epic, Mahabharata, and the story of Queen Kunit of Hastinapura and her eldest son out of wedlock, Karna. With many mythological references and parallels, the author demonstrates his strong knowledge of history spanning multiple cultures, civilizations, and time periods.

Many themes flow concurrently throughout Sridhar’s work. Chiefly, the idea of power versus duty is a recurring theme best depicted by the greed of King Lugalanne and the lust of Governor Obares, neither of whom fully respect the temple’s authority. In fact, Lugalanne is determined to teach priests and priestesses like Hedu a lesson by completely stripping them of any authority they might have in the name of security and protection. Conversely, characters like Hedu, Beshi, and city commander Sisuthros are governed entirely by a sense of duty to their people and city, be that through the pen or the sword.

More importantly, Sridhar uses his characters to ignite stimulating conversations on the topic of God, faith, prayer, etc. For one, a discussion between Hedu and Ninlil on the necessity of temples delves into the role of God, ultimately presenting an understanding that one does not need a temple or deity to pray. Nonetheless, deities and temples represent man’s limitations and provide an ability for one to hone in and focus thoughts and energies on a singular entity. Such profound conversations exist between numerous characters and are only heightened as the principal players journey toward an inevitable collision course. Above all else, impeccable character development, strong worldbuilding, a well-flowing storyline, and an ability to make the reader feel present in character dialogues makes for an educational and entertaining read.

Sridhar’s Candlelight in a Storm was 2018 Eric Hoffer Book Award da Vinci Eye Finalist.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

The New Eugenics: Modifying Biological Life in the Twenty-First Century

by Conrad B. Quintyn, Ph.D.
Archway Publishing

book review by Barbara Bamberger Scott

“There has been a long-standing belief in human civilization that technology can solve any problem that arises.”

The term “eugenics” harks back to an earlier era when it was deemed medically and scientifically appropriate to modify or eliminate people—whether adult or embryo—who were considered mentally or physically less-than-perfect specimens. The “new eugenics,” controlled by determined scientists whose limitations are few, can have equally powerful if more subtle implications. It involves, Quintyn asserts, “modifying nonhumans to benefit homo sapiens.” The chemical engineering of plants and producing genetically altered pigs, monkeys, and other animals are examples of potentially useful areas of study, but all carry dangers, many as yet unknown. Transgenic animals have been developed to be disease resistant or less environmentally harmful, but in the course of evolution, what will their impact be? Should society produce smarter, taller people? Should certain traits, such as homosexuality, be suppressed? The salient question Quintyn raises is: what are, or should be, the limits of such scientific exploration?

Professor and author Quintyn raises important concerns about the potential immediate and long-term effects of genetic engineering on human biology. His worries arose as he pondered the impact on the continuing process of evolution that may arise from this use of technology, especially in the era of climate change. In this scholarly examination, he notes that certain modifications, such as of agricultural products, can have positive effects. Yet he makes a strong argument that such interventions generally interfere with the slower, possibly positive, changes that evolve naturally. He makes a highly credible case, underpinned by numerous sources, that academic and drug industry-related funding pushes for these perceived advances without necessarily considering their consequences. Historically, many human impingements on the environment have resulted in disease and disaster. Quintyn’s seriously considered, fact-filled work targets those who, like him, have a rational concern for the best uses of technology at all levels.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Five Mile Charlie: A Special Pony for Carly

by Kimberly Adams
Mascot Books

book review by Gretchen Hansen

“As Charlie settled into his new life on Five Mile Farm, he became known for taking care of the other animals in the meadow.”

On an idyllic country farm lives an adorable little girl named Carly. Her life in this delightful world of animal companions and days spent playing in the sunshine with baby animals are close to perfect. According to her, the only thing missing is a pony. Word gets around to all the creatures in the surrounding area that Carly is pining for a pony. The Queen Bee, Nora, decides to grant the girl’s wish. Her best scout bee, Journey, finds a “pony” that is a bit unusual. Once Carly discovers the new creature in her pasture, she falls in love with him instantly. She does not care that Charlie is a llama and not a pony. The two become fast friends and begin the first of many adventures together. The animals also enjoy Charlie’s company, and he feels protective of them.

Adams has drawn from personal experience to create this whimsical and endearing story. She has spent years as an attorney and judge in Oklahoma. Her animals have always held a special place in her heart, and this is especially true for Charlie, the llama. She was inspired to write her story about them after losing Charlie during the COVID-19 lockdown. A photograph of the author with the real-life Charlie is included in the back of the book.

In an interview, Adams explained when she first learned that language had power: “The children, including myself, had access to a bookmobile that traveled to the rural communities in the 1970s. The bookmobile allowed the opportunity for children to read during the summer. From this experience, I found that I could travel anywhere and experience many adventures through the pages in a book.”

The author’s writing style is clear and easy, with simple sentences that are accessible to young readers. Colorful characters with diverse personalities create a community for Carly. Adams balances fun and exciting adventures with some real-life topics, making it an effective vehicle for simple messages about compassion, friendship, and inclusion. The activities flow easily from scene to scene. Friendly dialogue between the characters builds rapport with the readers.

The pictures by David Gnass—an accomplished illustrator out of Toronto—are also well done. His vibrant, unique portrayal of Charlie and the other characters draws young readers into the story. His expertise is evident in the expressiveness of the characters. He creates lively, welcoming pictures of the farm and countryside. The warm, friendly illustrations on each page will likely entice new readers to return to the book again and again.

Overall, this book is a fun, delightful read for young readers. It would be a wonderful addition to a classroom or home collection. Adams and Gnass are a dynamic team that has an artistic chemistry. They create enchanting settings and entertaining narratives for children. While the book is grounded, it also holds up the magic of childhood. Adams notes at the end of the book that many more adventures are to come. There is no doubt that she will have many readers eagerly awaiting to discover more about Charlie and Carly.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review