Standing at Water’s Edge: A Cancer Nurse, Her Four-Year-Old Son and the Shifting Tides of Leukemia

by Janice Post-White
Toplight

book review by Michelle Jacobs

“Cancer was my job, my career. Cancer was only supposed to happen to other people’s kids.”

When Janice Post-White’s son is diagnosed with leukemia at four years old, a journey begins for her family through the difficult years of treatment and the ensuing ones of post-treatment. As a cancer nurse, researcher, and educator, Post-White is uniquely prepared to wade through the clinical side of her son’s ordeal. She tackles the consultations and treatment plans with analytical precision. But as a mother, she is wholly unprepared for the fear, stress, and suffering that cancer creates in its wake as it attacks her son’s small body. She explores the turmoil that illness brings to her family’s life with her detailed account of hospital stays, her son’s emotional outbursts, and the different ways each family member copes. Post-White is a steady voice of resolve through this transformative memoir so full of wisdom gained in the fire of experience.

Grappling with a life interrupted is a powerful theme that is brilliantly and beautifully captured through the life of a family in the fight of their life. Well-crafted and deeply reflective, Post-White’s book offers insights about living with uncertainty, focusing on love and joy instead of fear, and defining the nature of care and connection with a loved one. Her scientific mind responds to the crisis first, but her heart follows closely behind as she seeks an “equilibrium between thinking and feeling” through diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. The result is a well-balanced account of the exterior forces at work and the author’s interior life. She writes with honesty and the searing knowledge that comes from feeling death’s shadow hovering too close to her four-year-old son. This life-affirming account will move readers to accept the darkness that comes with life, make room for joy, and design a new normal when life takes unexpected turns.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

2 x 2 on the Ark: Five Secrets of a Great Relationship

by Mary J. Giuffra, PhD
Balboa Press

book review by Michelle Jacobs

“Building a love relationship and being a strong marriage partner require a lot of intentionality and self-awareness.”

Falling in love is easy. Swept up in emotions and the excitement of something new is like a rose-filled wave that lifts lovers to dizzying heights and sets them off on shore to find their way. Then the hard work begins, and sometimes that work demands the help of the experts. With over forty years of experience, Mary Giuffra offers resources and practices to empower couples to build and maintain long-lasting relationships. Filled with practical advice, insightful revelations, and candid examples, this guide will inspire couples to transform their relationships. Strategies are thoughtfully designed and thoroughly explained, so the hard work feels manageable and the results within reach.

Giuffra quickly rejects the notion that relationships are self-sustaining endeavors and identifies many familiar tropes of discontent that plague marriages. Normalizing the need for intentional, mindful, and concentrated effort on understanding the nature of love is an important step toward breaking the patterns of heartbreak. Once couples begin to make space for a true understanding of real love and commitment, they will start seeing situations differently and react more positively and productively. Giuffra offers these revelatory insights through anecdotes and philosophy and from a deep well of personal and professional experience. The result is a comprehensive guide for couples that provides a fresh perspective and gives tools to help relationships evolve and improve. Many of the suggestions can be implemented immediately. Others require time and patience as couples learn about and reflect on the impact of biological programming and family history on their own relationships.

Relationship advice is in high demand, especially as couples emerge from times of pandemic and are frustrated by their partners and perhaps adjusting to the stressors ignited by quarantine or by the changes wrought in their daily lives. People seeking couples therapy and help from an expert need to look no further than the pages of Giuffra’s empowering resource. Reading Giuffra’s advice is like having a therapist on call to help navigate the way through relationship struggles. She provides a map that guides couples deeper into their minds and hearts as individuals and then connects them through a shared vision and purpose for their lives. In the process, this book also offers hope for reclaiming relationships lost to misunderstanding, miscommunication, and missed opportunities for love. Giuffra inspires further when she reminds readers that these positive changes in relationships will be passed down as an example and model for the next generation to follow.

Couples are essentially creating new systems of behaving and relating as they build their lives together. This process takes time and effort, and that hard work is not always depicted in the stories told in romantic novels, movies, and shows. But Giuffra turns to one timeless tale again and again as a reference for building long-lasting relationships. The story of Noah, his wife, and the ark is a running thread through this book. In many ways, we are all Noah and his wife trying to keep the floodwaters at bay and remain calm in the storms that threaten to overtake our days and hijack our connections to each other. On the long journey of love, “you need rules, skills, and resources to help you stay afloat when your relationship feels battered from every side.” This book offers those useful tools to readers. Even more importantly, it gives hope to anyone who desires a loving relationship grounded in reality.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

The Last Lumenian

by S. G. Blaise
Lilac Grove Entertainment
book review by Yousra Medhkour

“They came to Galaxy Five, to the Pax Septum Coalition Worlds, to Uhna, for safe haven. What they’ve found was less than ideal.”

Blaise’s debut novel is bursting with deeply thought-out worldbuilding, tension, and a wide cast of characters with a blend of science fiction and fantasy. The plot follows Lilla, the ma’hana (princess) of Uhna, the wealthiest planet in the Pax Septum Coalition. Though a princess, Lilla has little to no say in how to lead her life. She is expected to be seen but not heard, and her duties are to marry whomever her father sees fit. However, Lilla is not someone to take lightly. She’s stubborn, outspoken, and a rightfully deserved headache to her father. Where Uhna’s outdated customs don’t allow women to be involved in politics, Lilla finds no other way to push back except to join the rebel forces, even if she must go against her father, the king, in doing so.

Yet, there is so much more at stake in this novel. Refugee retaliation resulting from mistreatment is one conflict that much of the plot revolves around. However, Lilla finds herself in a much larger-scaled battle when she discovers she is the last Lumenian, a descendant of the Archgoddess of the Eternal Light and Order. As the last of her bloodline, Lilla is forced into an Era War between gods that will determine the fate of not just Uhna but all the Seven Galaxies.

Along the way, there is a long list of characters among the rebels, royals, and Teryns visiting Uhna for alliance negotiations. Some characters are hard to keep track of, but several stand out and are adequately developed alongside the protagonist. It is especially nice to see how down-to-earth Lilla is with some of these individuals despite being a princess. For example, two of the servants at the palace—a healer and a cook—are her closest friends. On the other hand, some characters, such as her brother, are not as developed despite having several appearances.

This book is definitely a page-turner with its short chapters and fluid writing style. Lilla’s character, though, is a study in contrasts. For example, her refusal to help the Archgoddess on more than one occasion, seeming to care very little for what might happen if an Era War really does play out, comes across as a bit jarring. Yet, she also has a sense of justice, risking her own station in life to help refugees her father sees as nothing more than forced laborers.

Blaise’s inclusion and portrayal of anxiety disorder in the form of claustrophobia is well done. So often in this genre, protagonists are fearless and strong, able to overcome anything. Instead, Blaise takes a realistic approach in her characterization, showing that weakness and strength aren’t exclusive to one another. Lilla is strong-willed but struggles with her fear of enclosed spaces, which causes several incidents where she feels helpless. Having someone with an anxiety disorder in a sci-fi fantasy is a much-needed addition to the genre and makes Blaise’s story unique. Not only does this inclusion stand out, but so too does the magic system, which goes a step further from elemental magic. Seeing how magic contributes to advanced technology throughout the worldbuilding ties the sci-fi and fantasy genres together nicely. Overall, Blaise’s debut is impressive and worth the read.

A 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award da Vinci Eye Finalist

Before the Alamo: A Tejana’s Story

by Florence Byham Weinberg
Maywood House

book review by Gretchen Hansen

“You’re a very unusual young lady…. You speak like someone much older, and so eloquent.”

Exciting action, charming romance, and moral dilemmas fill this extraordinary novel set in the 1800s when Texas was still Mexican territory. It follows the life of Emilia, a woman of mixed heritage, during a pivotal time in history. She lives in a busy little town with a close-knit community and many strangers passing through. Cowboys, Mexican soldiers, and outlaws on the run deliver plenty of adventure to San Antonio de Béxar.

Readers will find it easy to become completely engrossed in Emilia’s world. She is a spirited, intelligent girl. Her mother, Maria, is a servant at a Mexican officer’s house. As a coyota (a female of mixed blood), Emilia is considered by most to be a slave. However, she pushes through obstacles to pursue her dreams. Her acute observations provide an open window into the people and intrigues of the border town.

Weinberg’s artful writing presents classic themes that dive deep into sociopolitical concerns. The dynamic, compelling characters bring to life the rustic southwestern setting. The author skillfully uses dialogue to introduce critical issues of the period with a balance of both harsh reality and sensitivity. This is especially true for Emilia, who faces racism, sexism, and classism. Readers are invited to learn the perspectives of these issues from the characters as Emilia seeks answers from her friends and family.

This novel is a delightful, unique adaptation of the standard western. Weinberg weaves action, intrigue, and tragedy into the story’s fabric. Her representation of people is dynamic and authentic. The characters are portrayed with strength when facing difficult circumstances. This book is an enjoyable, thought-provoking read that will appeal to audiences of many tastes. In the end, it is a coming-of-age story that depicts human triumph over hardship.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Black, White, and Gray All Over: A Black Man’s Odyssey in Life and Law Enforcement

by Frederick Douglass Reynolds
Mindstir Media

book review by Kat Kennedy

“If you can’t learn to swim with the tides of history, you will get swept away by the undercurrents of time.”

It seemed inevitable that Reynolds would continue down the road of crime to which he was drawn as a teenager. However, this son of Virginia sharecroppers made the fateful decision to join the Marine Corps and leave the influences of his hometown. After being honorably discharged from the service and with a young family for whom to provide, he began working for the Compton Police Department upon graduating from police academy in 1986. Reynolds worked in one of the most crime-ridden, dangerous cities in America. His career spanned events such as the Rodney King trial and subsequent riots, corruption in all levels of city government, gang violence that pushed the murder rate to astronomical heights, and scandal so pervasive as to cause the dismantling of the Compton Police Department.

Many people have interesting life stories to tell, but few can spin a tale like the author. Highly decorated and well-respected by his fellow officers, Reynolds candidly opens up his professional and personal life in a fascinating read. His easy, conversational style gives readers an intimate look into not only some of the most memorable historical events of the last fifty years but into the private life of the writer as well. Each page shows his love and affection for his chosen field and fellow officers. There are no dull moments in this book, and the author holds the reader’s attention from beginning to end. From stories about riots and murders to ones about working with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, the book is filled with entertaining tales. Some are heartbreaking, especially those of Reynold’s personal struggles, which are told with courage and honesty. For history buffs, the book also fully explains the political and cultural aspects surrounding the events discussed. This one is not to be missed.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Snoodles, Kidoodles, Poodles, and Lots and Lots of Noodles

by Steven Joseph
Mascot Books

book review by Jonah Meyer

“All you had to do was put some noodles in the Snoodle. Off you would go, and the delicious smell of noodles would immediately fill the air.”

Once upon a time in the not-too-distant future, the “air was always clean and the sky was always blue.” In fact, every single man, woman, and child in town was happy. This was all thanks to a certain Herbie Snoodleman, inventor of the SnoodleMobile. Quite the sensation and featured in all the major newspapers and magazines of the day, the SnoodleMobile—affectionately referred to by the townsfolk as simply the Snoodle—was indeed a revolutionary form of transportation. And what was the secret of the Snoodle? It was powered merely by noodles. Drivers were even able to add any special sauce of their choosing when powering up their Snoodle. And if that weren’t enough, after driving home, by pushing a simple button, a “fresh and delicious bowl of noodles and sauce” would easily serve a hungry family of four.

Before the technological advance that was the Snoodle, everyone had been driving around in the smelly, stinky KrautMobiles—which ran on sauerkraut—and which left everyone in town extremely cranky. Because of his success, Mr. Snoodleman opened lots and lots of noodle shops. But even more proudly, he opened the Snoodle Kidoodle Noodle Art Museum—the first museum of its kind to feature only art made from noodles, also known as Noodle Art. People lined up for hours just to be able to see the Kidnoodle Lisa, the most famous work of art featured there. Of course, all of this made Stinky Sour Croodleman, inventor of the now-defunct KrautMobile, very unhappy. After even more silly characters showed up, including world-famous art restoration specialist Pierre Le’Toodle and his poodle, Schnoodle, it soon became obvious that things were not going to go as planned for Sour Croodleman. Thanks to the art restorer’s pink, fluffy canine and its love for the taste and smell of sauerkraut, everything worked out in the end, though, and the town celebrated with delicious bowls of noodles.

This delightful, colorful, and fantastical children’s picture book by author Joseph is quite a treat for all of the senses. And this holds true for the youngest of young readers and those little ones to whom this delightful book is read. Moreover, the book will likely prove equally enjoyable to any adult choosing to share aloud this clever creation with its fun wordplay and rhyme as they watch smiles light up faces and listen to the giggles of their youthful audience. Featuring a cast of hilarious, over the top characters and set in a world where delicious noodles (of all kinds) are king, the sheer bold colors of artist Andy Case’s illustrations accompany and enhance an already-splendid tale by Joseph in which whimsy seems the name of the game and silly yet clever wordplay entices, from the first imaginative page to the last. The author, who writes that his stories for children “lean on the concepts of crankiness and survival—which was ever-present in his childhood,” excels at developing a quirky narrative, which proves to be nothing less than a fun, funny, and highly entertaining read. Joseph’s colorful creation is a must for children and adults alike.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Wisdom: A Very Valuable Virtue That Cannot Be Bought

by Jason A. Merchey
Values of the Wise

book review by Jonah Meyer

“Wisdom has the capacity to be our greatest strength, individually and collectively.”

An immense and insightful treatise on the virtues of wisdom, Merchey’s nearly 400-page study is a grand undertaking rooted in philosophical inquiry, examining the unparalleled value that wisdom brings to the human experience. Noting that he draws from a diverse selection of writers’ insights on the subject—ancient and modern alike—the author “feathers in” a number of his own perceptions and prescriptions, resulting in an impressive and focused examination on the singular notion of wisdom (in its many forms and contexts) and related phenomena. Divided neatly into fifteen chapters, Merchey covers abundant terrain on the following: qualities wise people value (such as altruism), emotional intelligence, insight and intuition, empathetic compassion, intellectual humility and modesty, issues of applied wisdom, self-awareness and discipline, the nuanced dynamic of wisdom, toleration of uncertainty and patience, open-mindedness (“mental flexibility”), and living a life of flourishing fulfillment. The final two chapters include thoughts on developing greater wisdom and the notion that “we must begin to love wisdom,” in that in our complex and troubled world today, the “ability to think through the consequences of our values and our choices—and to improve them” becomes quite necessary.

Merchey achieves considerable success in making a strong case that wisdom, much like creativity, self-discipline, courage, intuition, love, and other allied traits, can and should be continuously developed as a psychological strength, or “inner knowing,” and that doing so will lead the practitioner to success, joy, and fulfillment. The author offers an enormous overflow of insights regarding the subject of wisdom, both in the form of quotes from others as well as in his own often lengthy observations. Merchey has produced an impassioned and entirely well-developed argument for life-affirming attainment of wisdom as a key to human growth and potential. The sheer quality and quantity of Merchey’s deep analysis and astute composition on the matter suggest that his impressive work of comprehensive intellectual and philosophical nonfiction could very well fit the bill in serving as the modern seminal work on the subject of human wisdom. It is simply that momentous of an undertaking. Merchey has more than “done his homework” on the matter, and the years the author spent researching the literature on the subject and creating this master-class volume yields intellectual and literary dividends for any reader of general interest who is moderate in political orientation and enjoys philosophical analyses written in engaging and accessible prose.

Much of the strength for writing such a work seems to have been forged in the author’s life. Born in southern California in the mid-1970s, Merchey, “half-Jewish” and “headstrong,” has described his nature as “precocious and talkative.” The son of a physician and L.A. Sheriff’s Department (Reserve) Captain and an artistic mother involved in advocacy and philanthropy, the author is open about his family having “come apart at the seams” when he was around the age of thirteen. At this crucial juncture in his life, an onset of emotional and psychological issues arose. By age eighteen, the author writes, he experienced a desperate need to understand “himself, his problems, and the world.” Having discovered philosophy at the local junior college, Merchey later earned his bachelor’s in psychology and social behavior from the University of California, Irvine, and a master’s in clinical psychology from California State University, Fullerton. The author’s background of soul searching and intense study gives his already impressive text an added layer of authority.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Writ in Water: A Novel of John Keats

by James Sulzer
Fuze Publishing
book review by Nicole Yurcaba

“In this twilight world, the song of the nightingale is reborn as a strand in the eternal tapestry of light and darkness, weaving the weft of its eternal affirmation through the warp of time and change, of loss and longing.”

In this hauntingly poetic depiction of the tragically short life of the poet John Keats, readers follow a guardian spirit, one visible and sensed by only one person—the poet himself. As Keats suffers poverty, immense familial loss, and the all-consuming grief that follows, he also endures the painful emotional rollercoaster known as “love” as he navigates a tumultuous romance with Fanny Brawne, the captivating woman whose family hopes will marry well and for wealth. Meanwhile, the real tour guide of Keats’ experiences for readers is the unnamed spirit who observes and directs Keats directly and indirectly. The spirit is often hesitant to intervene but feels pity for the poet who continually strives for a place among the English greats and fails to meet society’s expectations. This is not because he isn’t worthy, but because of the circumstances that life and society have shaped for him.

A quiet masterpiece, this book is an elegantly philosophical depiction of the life of the youngest of the Romantic poets. Embracing the ideologies of the Romantic movement by glorifying nature, admitting and accepting emotions, and utilizing spiritual and supernatural elements, this book is a gateway into the poetry of one of the world’s most celebrated and quoted poets. It masterfully weaves a biographical tale with snippets of odes, insights about poetry and poetry writing, and delicate reflections about aestheticism, beauty, and truth. This book is sure to appeal to poetry lovers, especially those with a penchant for historical fiction and Keats’ work. Its beautifully interwoven narratives create an artistic, enticing, and tantalizing birdsong, one that trails and echoes in readers’ minds and spirits long after they have finished reading.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

The Agent

by Marsha Roberts
Easy Riter Press

book review by Joe Kilgore

“She could tell it took all of his energy not to touch her. His eyes bulged in disbelief as the reality sank in. It had all been just for fun.”

In this wickedly appetizing novel, tasty character traits are served with aplomb. Those particularly delicious qualities of deceit and betrayal virtually ooze from its pages like overstuffed cucumber and caviar canapés. Virtuous protagonists are set delightfully aside in favor of conniving con artists who ply their trade with copious attention to detail and a seemingly total lack of guiltwell—two out of three of them anyway.

To dive too deeply into the plot would be to deprive readers of revelations that unspool tantalizingly as the narrative plays out mostly around Marin County, Sausalito, and San Francisco. These upscale enclaves provide the perfect backdrop for wily goings-on among the well-heeled property owners and people they do business with in Northern California. A coterie of colorful characters keeps this chronicle of confidence games moving at just the right pace. Readers are soon compellingly caught up with siblings involved in skullduggery, woeful wives who’ve been cheated on, their philandering spouses, a psychic with a conscious, and role players on both sides of the law who may or may not be what they seem.

Author Roberts is an accomplished writer who fills her pages with articulately nuanced prose. Her dialogue is convincingly conversational and never strays into mere plot exposition. She traverses the ins and outs of real estate plus home buying and selling with the confidence of one who knows what she’s talking about. Her coverage of FBI operations also feels both credible and authentic. With an engaging plot, sly twists and turns along the way, behavior that is based on appropriate motivation, and just enough human foibles to make even dastardly characters charming, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

The Cupid Chronicles

by Dennis Copelan
Apricot Springs Publishing

book review by Kate Robinson

“The role of Cupid, the Roman god of love and desire… should have been easy.”

Satire reaches heavenly heights in this humorous, literary mashup. The narrative features eight earthly romance cases concerning the fate of angel-in-training, Cupid-1637. The accused is charged in Paradise City, Heaven. with violating Cupid’s Oath in June 2063. Pixel Millet, a social worker in Paradise City’s Department of Discipline, Mythological Gods Division, is appointed to defend Cupid-1637’s unorthodox handling of his clients’ romantic misadventures. The possibility of being flushed to lower realms hangs over the heads of both Cupid and Pixel. The social worker has represented only one other Cupid, and watching him getting flushed wasn’t pretty.

As Pixel’s allotted one-day reading of the thick red file progresses, and the disciplinary hearing begins, he begins to suspect that Cupid-1637 is being set up by the judging panelists—a trio of conspiring, imperfect angels bent on corporate domination. Then B.G. (the Big Guy upstairs) ends his thousand-year silence to make a surprise voice appearance in the hearing room. The subterfuge becomes readily apparent when B.G. makes it clear that Cupid’s Oath isn’t kosher nor sanctioned by him or the Genesis Corporation.

This snappy Bangsian fantasy barely contains a misplaced word. The poignant romance story themes and southern California settings are made fresh again with Copelan’s comic abandon and familiarity with the Golden State’s film industry. The vivid characters, scenarios, and settings flow past with cinematic clarity, reminding readers of the masters of quirky fantasy such as Thorne Smith, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman, and others. Readers looking to kick back with a lighthearted but well-written rom-com romp in the afterlife will delight in Copelan’s offering.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review