Our Precious Bond by Marlene F Cheng

Geneva hadn’t planned on falling in love that night.

But when the big, handsome, professional hockey player known only as “Y” arrives in her Vancouver Emergency Room with a leg injury, Geneva — the ER physician on duty — feels a strange vibration circling the space, “as if a wind had blown in with him and hadn’t yet settled. ”

Thus begins Our Precious Bond — an exquisitely written story of secret love, twin sisterhood, enduring family traditions, and more — all wrapped in an absorbing narrative just waiting to be made into a major motion picture.

Seriously, it’s that good.

Geneva and her twin sister Venice are part of a huge Swedish family that celebrates its rich heritage at the drop of a varmrökt lax  — that’s salmon smoked slowly over alderwood, brushed with clover honey. The delicacy is just one of many served at extended clan gatherings along with shared wisdom and an outpouring of love. These gatherings lend a warm backdrop to the developing storyline.

But the family collectively wonders: when will these two twins — one now an accomplished ER doctor and the other a successful attorney — find someone and settle down? Neither has shown an inclination toward serious relationships so far. But that’s about to change in a big way.

Alternately endearing, dramatic and lyrical by turns, this extraordinary book takes the reader on an intimate journey into the lives of the three primary players — Geneva, Venice, and the enigmatic hockey star known only as “Y” throughout the story. Along the way, we meet many singular supporting players.

There is Cloud, a Canadian First Nation anthropologist with a passion for helping his people achieve a bright future off the reservation. There is Grandpa, who startles his granddaughters with the revelation of an enduring devotion to a woman not his wife. And there is 80-year-old Sister Hilda, who extends redemptive hope one night to a schizophrenic young woman in a long red scarf — and, in so doing, touches many lives.

Exemplary writing abounds in these pages:

“I walked home in the dawn. The fog was lifting off the ocean to ascend into the North Shore Mountains in a diaphanous mist of beauty. As the morning came clear, I saw my world in a new light. My world, as I had known it, had changed. By choice, I had rendered it so.”

And,

“I had questioned my happiness, lost whatever there was to lose, and now
as I slowly find some, I treasure it with all my being. ”

And, finally, our favorite:

“She smiled at Grandpa. Their eyes met, and he smiled back. Those smiles held a thousand memories that the rest of us will never know, and love danced a terpsichorean delight around the room. ”

Five-plus stars to Our Precious Bond. Only rarely do we see such a sweeping story made intimate through the talents of a clear new voice in fiction.

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I Can See You (Emma Willis Book 1) by Joss Landry

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Ten-year-old Emma Willis can see the future. It’s both a gift and a curse.

Sometimes she saves lives. But in other cases, when she can only shiver in the night and watch helplessly, she just screams and screams until the dark visions dissipate.

And on each of these nights, someone dies.

In this, the first installment of an extraordinary series by acclaimed author Joss Landry, Emma must overcome her personal fears to match wits with a brutal kidnapper and murderer.

At the same time, she risks social isolation from family and friends, who deem Emma’s special gift a possible manifestation of witchcraft.

Emma’s powers are a genetic legacy from her grandmother. But they also are a psychic liability that is putting her young life in very real danger.

After warning off best friend Tommy from an imminent bike rally disaster, she reluctantly joins forces with local authorities in a desperate search for the killer of three small children and a police officer.

Emma’s teacher Christina also gets involved — and not just in the investigation. She rediscovers a smoldering attraction to police detective Hank Apple’s hunky persona, and their renewed relationship adds extra zest to the book’s complex and thrilling plotline.

The killer — a master of disguise — begins stalking Emma, resulting in added police protection. But Emma finds new courage — and remarkable new powers — when she digs through her grandmother’s dusty belongings and finds two items with incredible occult power: a leather-bound book of spells and a beautiful amulet on a golden chain.

Used together, they embolden Emma to turn the tables and begin tracking the psychotic perpetrator’s own movements through OBE — Out of Body Experiences. Emma uses these to help detective Apple and his partner begin tightening their case.

But things don’t go according to plan and deadly dangers arise as the manhunt closes in on the killer. The breathless ending should satisfy — and surprise — even the most demanding reader. It’s that good.

Five-plus stars to I Can See You. It’s yet another award-winner for author Joss Landry, who offers still more adventures for this exciting new young female lead character in the sequel, I Can Find You, now widely available.

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K.I.A. by Alexander Charalambides

Hildegard Pine holds her frosty breath on the edge of a snow-filled clearing, watching a couple of teen-aged fellow students being led away with bags over their heads, never to be seen again.That’s the grisly consequence of not making the grade at Truman Academy, the chill-inducing location for KIA by groundbreaking author Alexander Charalambides.

This first-rate YA thriller follows lead character Hildegard and her unlikely comrades — Grace and David — from their survival-of-the-fittest beginning at the isolated Alaskan military school to discovery of a startling secret about their own genetic pasts.

In the process, they must cope with grueling physical training and draconian interpersonal conditions that often pit them against both peers and sadistic instructors. It’s a fascinating read that moves fast and features acerbic, clever repartee among the intrepid trio as they struggle against both their hostile far-north environment and a harsh boot camp-like school setting.

Hildegard reluctantly assumes a leadership role as they fight to survive day to day and discover the true reason their parents have shipped them off to such a dreadful place. What common condition binds these extraordinary teens together, and what will they discover about their enigmatic shared beginnings and their tentative, danger-filled future?

Clever characterizations and outstanding writing  elevate this Young Adult novel far above other stories in its genre. Here’s a sample of the often lyrical turns-of-phrase found in the book:

“Light sweeps under the curtains. Through the building, I hear the vibrations of a heavy engine, coming slowly to a stop. There’s another beam of light, and then a third, rolling under the curtains, around my room, and then rumbling still.”

And, in a remarkable passage that sums up the sheer evil oozing from the chief bad guy:

“Up close, G is much worse. He smells like fresh mud, and his head looks like an egg, just fished from a sewer.”

The ending to this cautionary tale of fast friendships forged under less-than-favorable circumstances is especially satisfying. As they say: “Wait for it… Wait for it…” At well over three hundred pages, the book nevertheless holds a reader’s rapt attention from mysterious beginning to climactic finish.

KIA is a storytelling triumph by standout writer Charalambides. We’ll be on the lookout for more adventure-packed, character-driven work by this accomplished British author.

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Strutting and Fretting by Kevin McKeon

The complicated life of a repertory theatre actor takes center stage in the extremely well-written novel Strutting and Fretting by debut author Kevin McKeon. Opening in the 1970s resort town of Santa Maria, California, during one summer theatre season, the story soon plunges the reader deeply into lead character Bob’s angst-ridden life.

His ill-considered marriage back in college has ended badly, and Bob now spends his time either agonizing over what went wrong in the failed relationship, or nurturing a near-constant fantasy of bedding virtually every woman he meets.

Well, maybe not every woman. There’s Lou, the gruff middle-aged stage manager. And there’re the overworked and underappreciated wardrobe girls, whose names he never bothers to get. He barely gives them a glance, and when he does, he says with the characteristically wry humor that pervades the book, “I felt like a white slaveowner surveying the plantation.”

But pretty much every other female is fair game as he tries to sort out and balance his basically good-guy persona with the more controlling side of his nature.

Yes, Bob is complicated. And this superb work of fiction peels back the layers of his carefully guarded soul for readers to explore. It is a masterful examination of a young man struggling to balance chronic low self-esteem with a performer’s perpetual need for approval.

But there is also a skillful leavening of lightheartedness as Bob and the entertaining ensemble of supporting players gamely make their way through a season of Shakespeare, and audience-pleasing musicals, and the occasionally challenging contemporary play.

There is so much to like and admire about this book, from the well-drawn, three dimensional characters (including a fellow actor who carries a trembling chihuahua with him everywhere in a gym bag) to Darkly Effeminate Mario, the hypersensitive director of Henry V, to the author’s evocative writing style that succinctly sums up the raison d’être for actors everywhere to do what they do best:

“Basically, an actor was little more than a bum,” Bob explains to the reader at one point. “A vagrant. An addict. Theatre was the drug of choice. Once you were hooked, you were constantly on unemployment, constantly auditioning, always at the mercy of directors’ or casting directors’ taste…The performance was the high, the community and the friends you made, they were the high. But coming down was a bitch, and getting off it could kill you.”

In short, this is a wonderful insight into the world behind the stage lights — written by a man who has clearly been there, pursuing the mysterious passion that drives actors the world over to practice their craft.

We give Strutting and Fretting five-plus stars, and put it at the forefront of all the serious new fiction released this year. It currently is available only as a self-published novel like so many other Indie works on Amazon. But it deserves a much larger stage, if you will.

Don’t be surprised to see this rare gem rise quickly to bestseller status either on Amazon or with a New York publisher — and then be optioned to Hollywood. We sincerely hope there are more works forthcoming by this talented writer.

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The Prophet and the Witch: A Novel of Puritan New England (My Father’s Kingdom Book 2) by James W. George

Never has history been brought more vividly to life than in the pages of The Prophet and the Witch, where a colorful cast of characters awaits readers eager to get behind the scenes of one of America’s greatest forgotten conflicts.

Join master historical storyteller James W. George for this riotous, yet sensitive, retelling of King Philip’s War — the struggle to subjugate the native American population of 1670s New England to colonial rule. It’s also a tale full of rich portrayals and unsettling situations. Here are a few snapshots:

Defrocked Puritan minister Israel Brewster tames and marries fiery beauty Constance Wilder. Captain Benjamin Church and Captain Samuel Mosely lead a bloody but futile assault on an entrenched native American stronghold. And Linto, holy advisor of the Wampanoag tribe, agonizes endlessly about telling  elders to fight the English deep in the treacherous swamps rather than head-on. But this tactic slowly turns against the proud warriors until only a handful are left.

Indeed,  there is no shortage of conflict — actual and psychological — as the saga unfolds at a rapid rate. But the pacing is superb, and the author still manages to build in complex characterizations that propel even minor players far into the reader’s imagination.

Linto improbably quotes Biblical verse to Metacomet, the Wampanoag chief, as they stoically endure their long retreat. Elsewhere, Brewster falls in to fight alongside — and eventually against — flamboyant militia man Dutch Cornelius in one especially disturbing scene. And, along the way, another shocking revelation rivets readers’ attention to a mysterious murder, reminding us all that history is fashioned, for good or ill, by ordinary human beings, not exalted heroes.

“It’s a cruel world, Linto, and men need to kill for what they believe in,” philosophizes Metacomet’s war captain late in the narrative.  “Men need to kill and die for the things and people they love.”

This is a remarkable book that should be required reading for anyone who believes that history is just a dry procession of facts, dates and faraway places. The Prophet and the Witch roundly belies that truism, and those who read it will eagerly await more from this talented writer.

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The LGBTQ Meditation Journal by Christopher Stone and Mary Sheldon, Edited by Kris Jacen

Published by MLR Press

In a world fraught with daily tension and crippling strife, we often need a place to which we can go for inner peace. And if we carry the added burden of self-identity issues, we may even need to live there.

You may be surprised to know that such a place is easily found — and Christopher Stone and Mary Sheldon have created a guide to finding it– within minutes.

The LGBTQ Meditation Journal is a remarkable collection of empowering exercises aimed primarily at a segment of the population that has gone too long without solace and recognition of self worth.

If you’re in the LGBTQ community, you can, through these sensitive, inspirational meditations, finally quiet those inner voices of self-doubt and self-esteem — the ones keeping you from telling the world who you really are. Here’s an example of what you’ll find in these pages:

“’Is being gay or bisexual normal? Are they mental illnesses? Am I gay or bisexual? And what if I am neither completely heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual? If my fluctuating sexual orientation falls between the cracks, what then? Will I spend my life on the fringe of society? Will my family and friends disown me?’”

The authors go on to offer empathetic advice and encouragement, wrapped around easy meditation drills.

“We need to understand that in the eyes of the Universe, we are unique and perfect spiritual beings,” the authors explain, “(We are) beloved, supported, and worthy of everything wonderful.

“You must love yourself right now — just the way you are. Use the meditations … to help in that regard. For those without self-love, they may help you to cultivate what you lack. For the already self-loving, the meditations can assist you in building upon existing self-love.”

In Part Three, the authors speak to friends who may know someone in LGBTQ pain, afraid to “come out.” To these folks, they offer a unique visual exercise:

“Envision this friend standing in front of you, and explaining why he is afraid to come out. Perhaps he believes his family/friends would reject him. Perhaps he feels it would have negative repercussions in the workplace. As he speaks, visualize his every word becoming a silky strand of gossamer the moment it leaves his mouth. As your friend continues to talk, watch the strands begin to wind themselves around him, trapping him, until finally, he is encased in a large cocoon of his own fears.”

They then go on to explain in vivid detail how you can help this friend cut away that cocoon to emerge with a glad heart and clear future.

Finally, in Part Five, they suggest a novel exercise that can help deflect ridicule from small-minded, hurtful bigots. Here it is:

“First, you need to think of a small movement or gesture that is easy to do, innocuous and unobtrusive. It can be touching a special talisman, such as a ring that you always wear. It can be putting your thumb and third finger together, forming a circle. It can be putting your hand up to your ear for a moment. Whatever you choose, this will be your Magic Gesture.

“Second, think of an affirmation to accompany your Magic Gesture. Two possibilities are: ‘I am rising to a different level; nothing can hurt me.’ Or ‘I am Love and Positive Energy; I am completely safe.’ Come up with something that will proclaim your willingness to soar to a higher level and your acknowledgment that nothing on a lower level can hurt you.”

Five stars to The LGBTQ Meditation Journal. These are sensible, practical exercises that can deliver incredible dividends on the time spent in doing them. Follow them, embrace them, and live them each and every day until you, too, can come “out,” and see what it’s like to experience a fully transformed life.

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The Level Playing Field by John D. Kingston

A Japanese secret society is waging economic war against the United States in this fast-moving, well-executed thriller by debut author John D. Kingston.

The highly placed members of this cabal are killing anyone who gets in their way, and Florida financial executive Scott Maxwell is soon involved in a wild, intercontinental investigation into an economic threat that’s leaving destruction and dead bodies in its wake.

He’s joined by old friend Neil Porter and new acquaintance Tori Tahashi as they dodge bullets and escape one harrowing ambush after another in a desperate search for a solution to this far-reaching conspiracy. It’s no wonder the United States continues to maintain a staggering $1 billion-plus per week trade deficit with Japan. The game is rigged at the very highest levels of Japanese society.

Author John Kingston is clearly an expert in the intricacies of global macroeconomics, though he is always careful to explain in layman terms just what’s at stake in this startling scenario about world monetary domination. Indeed, it accounts for exactly why, more than a half century after its humiliating defeat in World War II, Japan has risen to such staggering market preeminence.

You’ll keep turning pages far past your bedtime to find out what happens next as protagonist Scott Maxwell and a dedicated cast of colorful supporting characters fight the deeply entrenched Japanese shakai from Tokyo to Washington, D.C.

Do the determined North Americans finally defeat this powerful adversary? And if so, how, when the consequences for even hinting at the existence of the secret organization means sudden death?

Download The Level Playing Field today and see what critics and readers alike are raving about. We look forward to a thrilling sequel soon.

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