The Unsettlers by Mark Sundeen

Review by David Holub

With the ever-growing popularity of organic foods, tiny houses, urban farming and the like, it appears a large number of Americans are yearning for a simpler life, trying to fit a back-to-the-land mentality in the face of modern life and a relentless media culture of consumerism and conspicuous consumption. In the book “The Unsettlers,” Mark Sundeen immerses himself with families who have taken their political and environmental beliefs to the limit, living sustainably off the grid, tending their own land and growing their own food. In a charged political climate where multiple sides are fighting and resisting power, Sundeen’s book finds itself in a particularly dynamic moment. MORE...

 

 

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

Review by Mandy Mikulencak

First, let me be clear that author Donald Ray Pollock isn’t for everyone. His Southern gothic fiction is seedy, violent, and often shocking. Yet he’s one of my favorite writers because he is a master storyteller. There’s nothing fancy in his spare, coarse prose. It’s gut-wrenchingly real , daring you to look away when you know you damn well can’t.

I bought The Heavenly Table in hardback the day it was released because I have a feeling I’ll be a Pollock fan for many years.  His debut novel, The Devil All the Time, is the better of the two books, so read that one first. Then hightail it over to Maria’s and buy The Heavenly Table. If you love the first, you’ll at least be satisfied by the latter.

The current book follows the young Jewett brothers – Cane, Cob and Chimney. When their father dies, they decide to emulate a dime-novel hero called Bloody Bill Bucket. In 1917, they begin a crime spree on horseback, not realizing how quickly robbing banks turns to murder and how their infamy is based mostly on tall tales spun by the newspapers. Several plot threads introduce a host of characters that the Jewetts run into along the way: an illiterate elderly farmer and his wife, dirt poor after being swindled out of their savings; a bum who subsists on the charity of widows; a sanitation inspector with a certain body part the size of a baguette whose job is to check the depth of waste in the town’s outhouses; a bartender with a penchant for torture; a secretly gay army officer who dreams of being killed on the battlefields of WWI but becomes the unsuspecting victim of the sadistic bartender. Well, you get the picture. The milieu isn’t pretty, but the writing is beyond beautiful.

I happen to like Pollock’s personal story as well. Born in 1954, Pollock has lived his entire adult life in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he worked at the Mead Paper Mill as a laborer and truck driver until age 50. He then started writing, earned his MFA and is now lauded as a literary master of Southern fiction, joining the ranks of Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy.

Take my advice and don’t look away. Pollock is one to watch.

Mandy Mikulencak is a local author and freelance editor. Her second novel, The Last Suppers, will be released in 2017. 

 

 

The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie

Review by Roger Cottingham

      If you’re a big Jack Reacher fan, and have read all of Lee Childs’ catalog, I have a new hero for you to discover.

      Peter Ash, like Reacher, has a military background, a veteran of the Iran and Afghanistan wars. In Peter’s case, the PTSD volume is ratcheted way up. Peter has severe claustrophobia and can’t even handle being indoors for even a short period of time.

      The opening sequence of Nichols Petrie’s The Drifter makes it difficult to resist reading further. Peter is about to begin repairing a dilapidated porch for the widow of his Marine buddy, who apparently committed suicide. But first, he has to deal with what’s under the porch – the biggest, meanest and smelliest dog he has ever seen. And an old suitcase full of cash. The discovery of these, and their removal from under the porch, sets the tone for the rest of the book. Criminals and terrorists abound, along with well-intentioned Samaritans. Many of Petrie’s cleverly complex characters could most likely hold the plot of a book on their own, but play second fiddle to the intricacies of Peter Ash.

      This book is definitely a page turner. I recommend not starting it before bed, as the story could end up carrying you through into the wee hours of the morning. Nicholas Petrie has done a fine job with this debut novel, and I’ll look forward to more Peter Ash thrillers to come.

 

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Review by Shelley Walchak, Library Director of the Pine River Library in Bayfield and author of 52 Rivers: A Woman’s Fly-Fishing Journey

It’s not very often that you find a perfect match between a character study and a suspense novel, but Noah Hawley has succeeded in accomplishing this in his new book Before the Fall. The novel centers around Scott Burroughs, an eccentric, wannabe artist. Burroughs attracts the attention of Maggie, a wealthy down-to-earth woman, who offers him a ride on her family’s private plane out of Nantucket to New York, where he is hoping to sell some of his “disaster-scene” paintings.  His fortune turns into catastrophe when the plane crashes into the ocean shortly after takeoff killing everyone on board except Scott and JJ, Maggie’s son.

Scott survives a harrowing ten-hour swim to shore through shark-infested waters and humongous waves with a dislocated shoulder and little JJ on his back. It’s too amazing to be true – and that’s exactly the problem. No one can understand how he could have could have survived and why the others on the plane, including some of the most influential businessmen in the country did not.

Hawley leads the reader along a whodunit pathway devoting a chapter to analyzing each of the victims involved as well as a few extra, like an anchor of a Fox-like news station. The reader is pulled into a detective role trying to figure out the cause of the crash through the flashbacks of each of the characters. The outcome is surprising and somewhat of a fizzle, but getting there is an absorbing journey.

 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Review by Kevin Johnson

In our era where so many are driven to decisions with sights set on immediate gratification, debating on whether to place focus and value in pursuit of professional success or personal relationships, we swim amidst a sea of what ifs.  What if we’d made a different turn in the road, taken hold of an alternative opportunity, how would our lives be affected?  And how would each individual be a subtly or not so subtly different person?

Jason Dessen has built a stable household with his college sweetheart, he teaches science at a college and runs a small bar, while raising their young son.  This may not be the life either he or his wife would have envisioned when they first got together, but life happens and plans change.  The question is how would life have been if other choices had been made.

What if every fork in the road, every choice were not what we perceive as one chosen path continuing, while those not chosen become a dead end in our past of possibility. Perhaps all of the disregarded paths continue on as a network of branching parallel lives, parallel lives that might not be as separate as we would theorize.

In “Dark Matter” Blake Crouch abducts the reader’s attention from the quaint domesticity of this Chicago family man’s run of the mill evening, to thrust imagination upon a trail of narrative winding through a quantum labyrinth of emotional upheaval and second guessing, “what if.”

 

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

A Review by Mandy Mikulencak

Local author Mandy Mikulencak’s first novel, “Burn Girl,” debuted in September 2015. Her next novel, “The Last Suppers,” will be published in 2017.

 

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of “My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout. The author wrote one of my favorite books of all time, Pulitzer-Prize winner “Olive Kitteridge.” You’d never describe Strout’s style of storytelling as plot-driven. The characters are the gold that Strout spins.

This is a complicated little book (a short 209 pages) that focuses on a five-day period where Lucy Barton’s estranged mother from Amgash, IL, visits her in a Manhattan hospital. Over the course of the visit, mother and daughter reconnect by talking superficialities, such as gossip about neighbors in the small town where Lucy grew up. Beneath the superficial, however, is a raw, slow reveal of Lucy’s childhood: the poverty, abuse and hardship that caused Lucy to put her past and parents behind her. While the visit is a flashback from Lucy’s future, after her divorce and the death of both parents, the jumps between past, present and future feel natural, as if a friend is telling us a story and must fill us in on details once forgotten and now remembered.

The book’s been called emotional and soulful. It’s those things for sure. But it’s a tough (emotional) read because of Strout’s ability to capture the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, especially one so wrought with blame and longing. I felt a bit put through the wringer after finishing the novel, but didn’t regret another chance to read Strout’s powerful prose.

 

Listen, Liberal by Thomas Frank

A Review by Kirbie Bennett

As the current madness of this election year continues to reveal both major political parties to be two cheeks connected to the same sphincter of Wall Street and imperialism, Thomas Frank’s new book is here to help make sense of the hollowing out of the Democratic Party.

Written in the vein of rabble-rousing, muck-racking journalism, Listen, Liberal documents the Party’s abandonment of the working-class in the post-industrial 1970s, thereby catering to the growing class of “professional elites”- those with Ivy-League degrees, Upper-East-Side social status (perhaps what Ted Cruz would condemn as embodying “New York values”) and Silicon Valley brains, all with the “power to prescribe” what’s best for everyone else. In assessing the donkey party, Frank reveals how proponents of liberalism have accommodated these technocratic entrepreneurs, professionals in the “knowledge economy” scheming up new rackets in finance, communication, surveillance and military contracting. Frank points out that although this “creative class” once identified as Republican, over time they became swayed by the charm of Democrats eager to ditch the unions, and ready to please their corporate suite-hearts.

Frank spends considerable time on the Clinton administration – the team Frank pinpoints as being largely responsible for transforming the liberal class. “The triumph of Clinton marked the end of the Democrats as a party committed to working people and egalitarianism,” Frank states. From the gutting of welfare reform and the increase of mass incarceration among African-Americans to the deregulation of Wall Street and the championing of NAFTA (which destroyed the local economy of Mexico while multi-national corporations devoured the profits), Clinton was able to achieve what a Republican could not have done. And this doesn’t even include the bloody military interventions in the Balkans and the crippling sanctions imposed on Iraq.

Such a conjob continues under the two-term administration of Barack Obama. Despite the creative class of technocrats and financiers throwing the global economy into a recession, no one has been held responsible for such sociopathic criminality. And under the Obama administration, mass surveillance has expanded, along with military interventions and the use of armed drones, and financial technocrats continue to run free, concocting new hustles to plunder the economy. But at least, Obama’s not a Republican, right? 

            There is a cruel irony in the fact that, while abandoning the poor and working class and catering to a corporate elite, the freewheeling years of Clinton liberalism gave rise to the power of Donald Trump. Now here we are, reaping and weeping the whirlwind.

            Taking swings left and right, Thomas Frank smashes the hollow halos of a morally bankrupt liberal class.  Listen, Liberal is an urgent read to make sense of the funk we’re in. And while Frank offers an open-ended conclusion on where to go from here, presenting a fork in the road between reform the party or revolt, given the momentum and monkeywrenching of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, in a few months the people may make the decision themselves. As Howard Zinn once wrote, “The really critical thing isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in – in the streets, in the halls of government and in the factories.”

 

 

Mortal Fall by Christine Carbo

Review by Roger Cottingham

     This is Montana writer Christine Carbo’s second mystery set in – and around – Glacier National Park.

      In her initial offering, The Wild Inside, a dead man has been found chained to a tree and partially consumed by a grizzly bear. A strange and unusual way of dying.

     For Mortal Fall, her second book, someone has fallen off the cliffs to their death along Going-to-the-Sun Road – a not too unusual summer occurrence in Glacier. What makes this a puzzle worth piecing together is the fact that the dead body belongs to an experienced and fairly well known outdoorsman, “Wolfie” Sedgewick, a controversial wolverine researcher.

     How and why Wolfie came to fall to his death is the big question you’ll be reading to find the answers about. But it’s not the whole juicy center of this mystery.

     Carbo throws in a second dead body near the first, a connection with the brother of the investigating National Park police officer, some deeply buried secrets in said police officers past, a mysterious and sinister connection with a wilderness camp that works to straighten out problem teens. This all may sound a bit convoluted, but Carbo does a great job of keep the pages turning with just enough tension to make you feel that everything pieces together perfectly.

     Christine Carbo is a mystery writer to watch. If her first two books are any indication, there is another terrific western mystery writer, besides CJ Box, that everyone will want to be reading.

 

Euphoria by Lily King

Review By Mandy Mikulencak, local author of the bestselling Burn Girl

“Euphoria” by Lily King is one of those award-winning books that climbs to the top of every top 10 list (New York Times, NPR, Oprah.com, Publishers Weekly, etc.). Based loosely on an early period in the life of controversial anthropologist Margaret Mead, this fictionalized account is set in 1930s New Guinea… Hey, don’t yawn just yet. There’s good reason this book is so popular.

The book opens with the failed suicide attempt of Andrew Bankson, an English anthropologist studying the (fictionalized) Kiona tribe. He meets a pair of fellow anthropologists fleeing from a cannibalistic tribe down river – American Nell Stone and her Australian husband, Schyler Fenwick (Fen) – and helps them find a new tribe to study.

The three young anthropologists have three completely different approaches to studying other cultures, which they find both infuriating and intoxicating. Throw in professional jealousy between Nell and Fen, and sexual tension between Nell and Bankson, and the novel moves along at a fast clip.

The complex themes made for quite a spirited discussion at my book club, with members talking over one another to make points about not only the compelling characters and story arc, but about the nature of anthropology itself. Probably the most fascinating theme is how the observer changes the nature of the tribe and people being observed. In the book, Nell takes a more personal, intrusive approach and bonds with the tribe members she studies, while her husband searches for a lost artifact that could finally make him a bigger success than his wife.

“Euphoria” is a highly enjoyable read all on its own, but readers shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves Googling Margaret Mead to find out more about the real-life inspiration for the story.

 

A Terrible Unrest by Philip Duke

Review by Roger Cottingham

 

     I love a good dose of history – especially American history. Whether its non-fiction or historical fiction, I love learning about things of the past that I didn’t know before. Local author Philip Duke’s novel, A Terrible Unrest, definitely filled that bill for me.

     Before I dived into the book, I had heard of the Ludlow Massacre and had a vague knowledge of the Colorado Coalfield War that led up to that event. A Terrible Unrest did a good job establishing a timeline for me, as well as building literary rock cairns that guided me through the escalation of tension to the massacre.

      As with any good historical fiction, Duke has done well in fleshing out the time and place using Spiro Andrakis and his family to tell not only the story of the union vs. coal mine owners, but a story of the immigrant experience in mining communities of the early 1900’s. Through Spiro, and others, I developed a feeling of understanding, rather than just general knowledge, of the difficult circumstances these people experienced as the union tried to establish a strong presence in the coalfields.

      A Terrible Unrest succeeds on several levels. It gives you a sense of time and place. It offers views from all sides of the situation and possible, yet credible, views of the mindsets of the decision makers. And, ultimately, is sends you riding on top of the landslide that bottoms out in the Ludlow Massacre.

    A good read, for sure, and exactly what I want in my historical fiction.

 

 

Custer’s Trials by T. J. Stiles

Review by Roger Cottingham

      It’s not too often you get to write up a review of a Pulitzer Prize winning book. T. J. Stile’s fascinating new work, Custer’s Trials, was just announced today as winning the prize for history. It seems like a daunting task, but I’ll give it my best shot.

      Regardless of how much you perceive you know about George Armstrong Custer, it’s a pretty good bet that the massacre at the Little Big Horn occupies a great percentage of that knowledge. Books abound with histories, and fictions, about his famous ‘Last Stand’. The accounts of that event and the events leading to it have been documented and picked apart so many times that I doubt there has been anything significantly new that has been said for decades. Custer’s trials does not exist in the realm of those previous books.

     T. J. Stiles has done a masterful job fleshing out the life of Custer prior to the time where The Little Big Horn was even visible on the horizon. From his poor upbringing to his years at West Point. From his meteoric rise to young general in the Civil War to his subsequent army postings prior to his last, Stiles paints a vivid picture of a brash and self-involved individual forced to have to reinvent himself at several junctures in his career. Circumstances shape his actions, focus, and beliefs at every turn. I imagine that the constant reinvention of oneself was common among most who ventured westward in the 19th century, making much of Custer’s life of constant adjustment pretty much on par with anyone else of time – regardless of social stature.

     Like or despise him, in Custer’s Trials you are reading the story of a man making his way through the fast developing America from the mid 1800’s through his final progression towards the Little Big Horn. Stiles is adept at making you realize how a man makes his way through time and circumstance to becoming either hero or goat to millions of Americans who came after. This is definitely a part of the story that has never been told fully. A thoroughly enjoyable read for anyone interested in Custer – or those who are interested in examining the ebbs and flows of the human condition in history.

 

Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements

By Bob Mehr

Review by Kirbie Bennett

We all know how the usual story goes of a rock band’s rise to stardom: it starts out in basements and dive bars until a record label executive stumbles upon them, leading to a handshake deal that takes the band on a roller coaster ride of bohemian splendor and squalor, all the way to the halls of rock ’n’ roll fame. But when it comes to the Minneapolis group The Replacements, take that story and multiply the madness by a thousand. After spending nearly 10 years researching the band’s history, Bob Mehr’s debut release, Trouble Boys, reveals the massive highs and lows that went into creating one of the most notorious, cathartic rock bands of the American indie music scene.

The book begins with a prologue that takes place years after the band’s breakup, during the funeral of Bob Stinson, guitarist and founding member of the group – a moment that forces the rest of the band to reconcile such a tragic loss amid fractured relationships among each other. Set against an ominous background, the story doesn’t get any prettier from there.

The story of The Replacements happens alongside the development of the independent music scene that would explode in the 1990s onward. Although the band never embraced a DIY ethic (like their contemporaries Hüsker Dü), they crafted a raw, garage rock sound that eventually laid the foundation for the alternative/college rock scene. Much like the band members wanted to avoid the options of jail, death or janitor, the band was also reluctant to be pigeonholed to a certain genre like punk rock. As Mehr amusingly points out early in the book, any time their shows became crowded with studded-and-spiked punks, they would turn their setlist into a show full of cover songs consisting of ’60s bubblegum pop and the blues just to drive away that crowd of macho punk rockers. And yet, such complicated desires and relationships proved to be the band’s downfall. Despite the unyielding commitment of their manager Peter Jespersen to keep it all together, the band’s explosive, confrontational, drug-addled attitude toward record label executives and – well, everyone they encountered, really – all of that would contribute to the inevitable demise of a group the world couldn’t tame.

A read-through of Mehr’s massive band bio reveals the heart and soul he poured into relaying the sincere, sordid history of a band that embodied uncontrollable heart and soul. As painful and grim as many aspects of this rock story contains, there is also a number of absurdly humorous moments, such as their banishment from “Saturday Night Live” in the mid-’80s; hanging out with Bob Dylan and Keith Richards in the early ’90s; befriending the legendary yet obscure Alex Chilton, whom they would immortalize in song; an arduous and unbearable tour with Tom Petty and – a favorite of mine – a drunken jam session with Tom Waits while recording their 1989 album, “Don’t Tell A Soul” (possibly the only high point of that nerve wracking recording session).

In the end, The Replacements were a band that wanted everything and nothing at the same time. For every step forward, they took five drug-and-booze-fueled stumbles back. And although they constantly struggled with the wounds of alcoholism, addiction and abuse, they were able to churn out timeless albums that today’s indie rock scene owes its existence to. Barbed-wire souls who can’t quit rock ’n’ roll. The band’s legacy is still a unique addition to the canon of rock music, and Mehr’s book a wonderful addition to the canon of music biography.

 The Valley
By John Renehan
Review by Roger Cottingham
 
 

What kind of novel can you expect from an attorney-turned-field artillery captain turned back into an attorney?

 If you’ve read John Renehan’s The Valley, you know this answer. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s an answer that’s worth discovering.

Lt. Black is a desk officer at battalion headquarters who is sent to one of the most remote and dangerous outposts in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan to conduct an after-action investigation. This investigation, called a 15-6, is nothing more than a low-level fact-finding mission to find out why an American soldier shot a civilian’s goat. This investigative version of army “busywork” quickly spirals out of control – in several surprising and alarming directions.

The Valley is definitely a whodunnit/whydunnit/what exactly is it that’s being done. But Renehan’s novel is much more than that. The story includes some sharp insight into soldiers who are put in dangerous and immediate harm’s way with ambiguous orders and uncertain leadership. It puts the social politics of isolated individuals in extreme circumstances on vivid display (think “Restrepo” x 5).

Along with the peek-behind-the-curtain view of the soldier’s world, The Valley is packed with numerous “what the hell” moments. That, along with plenty of misdirection and red herrings, will keep you reading late into the night to find out just what is really going on and who is responsible. The Valley is absolutely worth your time.

 

 

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

A Review by Clint McKnight



Imagine standing in a rolling, grassy English landscape, a world of green hills receding into the purple distance, white clouds racing across the sky. And on the gloved fist raised at your side, a fierce and feathered predator: a goshawk! 

Read the entire review HERE.

 

Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads

By Paul Theroux

A Review by Clint Mcknight

After a lifetime of riding the rails in some of the most inconvenient places on Earth, Paul Theroux turns his attentions to the rural American South. There are no graceful mansions in this Dixie, no stirring Civil War memorials, just a neglected piece of America that Theroux clearly believes more Americans should be aware of.

As he drives a wandering, circling route---so different from his famous linear train travels---Theroux relishes the freedom of his car, and meets people, white and black, and immigrants such as "the inevitable Mr. Patel". There are church pastors, gun show patrons, motel owners, and subsistence farmers. Many of them are poor folks with no opportunity to raise themselves up, living in a part of America where lack of economic investment leaves them stranded in crumbling towns barely worthy of the name.

Theroux recalls the region's long history of troubled race relations, and measures it's relentless toll. He meets embittered sons of the sons of the losers of the Civil War, where humiliation still hangs in the southern air like moss on an oak tree.

If there's one message that veteran world traveler Paul Theroux wants readers to get it's that Americans need not look to blighted locations in Africa or Asia to volunteer their time and teary liberal intentions. There are human beings just barely getting by in a vast part of the homeland who desperately need their efforts, and they live just down the road, in the Deep South.  

 

 

The Universal Tone

By Carlos Santana

A Review by Roger Cottingham

 It seems that these days, everyone’s favorite artist or band from the ‘60’s through the ‘90’s has a biography out. Patti Smith, John Fogarty, Keith Richards – lots of well written bios. Another Neil Young and several Grateful Dead books are now out and available to music loving readers. Who doesn’t want to read about the artists they listened to growing up?

The Universal Tone by Carlos Santana hits all the buttons that any Santana fan would want - from growing up in Tijuana and learning to play music, to forming Santana and the evolution of the band and its music, it’s all there. Carlos being a very spiritual person, it also covers his spiritual journey. As a life-long Santana fan, I loved reading all of these things about a man whose music was a cornerstone of my own personal music listening evolution – but that’s not the best part of this book.

The secret treat of Universal Tone is the music itself. Carlos lets us in on the musical development of the 1960’s through today. Reading about how the soon to be great guitar players of the time looked at B.B. King’s Live at the Regal album as a kind of ‘holy grail’ of how to play guitar live; or how Prince thanked Carlos for making it possible for him to play guitar solos on his songs that received radio airplay give a glimpse of the bedrock of the music we listened to yesterday and today. There are numerous insights shared about various music and its influences that are fun to discover and even more fun to apply to whatever your listening tastes run to.

If you love music, this book is a must read. The Santana story is worth the price of the book. The knowledge imparted to the reader about the music is priceless.

 

 

As Featured in Off the Shelf

A Review by Jeanne Costello

Wild Swans: The Daughters of China by Jung Chang

Like many people, I have been fascinated by Chinese culture intermittently, inspired by a book, a film, or perhaps a painting, to learn more about one so different from my own. But before reading Wild Swans, I had never actually put together the wrenching swiftness of the cultural changes in China. Chung’s memoir tells the story of three generations of women in her family. Her grandmother’s feet are bound as a baby to secure her future as a general’s low-ranking concubine, answerable to the general’s wife. Chang’s mother becomes a dedicated member of Mao’s Communist Party, and she and her husband must routinely demonstrate their loyalty to the Party above their family.

Read the entire review HERE

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A Review by Meghan Doenges

 

 

A gripping story of mystique, skillfully decorated with the flowery writing of Victorian author Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray was not only an accomplishment for its time, but remains a literary vision even today. Through the story of Dorian Gray, Basil Hallward, Henry Wolton and an eclectic mixture of other residents of late 19th century London, Wilde explores poetic notions of aesthetic quality in art, the interacting relationships of human purity and debauchery and most of all, the descent of a young beautiful man into moral destruction.

 

The Conquering Tide by Ian Toll

A Review by Clint McKnight

 

 

The Conquering Tide is filled with personalities and fascinating insights into both the American and Japanese armed forces. We know, of course, that “war is hell,” but Toll shows that it’s not just the violence of the battles that soldiers must survive, but the day-to-day miseries of warfare in paradise: Tropical heat, lack of drinking water and sleep, biting insects, disease and even malnutrition, as all the while officers tangle with their egos and rivalries.

Read the entire review HERE

 

All That Followed by Gabriel Urza

A Review by  Kirbie Bennett

 

 

 


Set in Spain during the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the terrorist attack echoes throughout the pages of All That Followed, the debut novel by Gabriel Urza. The tragic event recalls a similar experience for the residents of the town Muriga.

The novel chronicles the intertwining lives of three individuals - the widow Mariana, whose husband was murdered while running for office as a right-wing conservative; the young idealistic revolutionary, Iker, who participated in the abduction and murder of the politician; and Joni Garrett, an American teacher full of life and tragedy, a long-time resident of Spain since the days of Franco's fascist rule.

Old wounds and ghosts of guilt and regret haunt these characters, and they all struggle with the complexities of exorcising and accepting the demons of the past.

Written with tight, poetic prose, Urza creates a cast of unique, deep characters in a hauntingly beautiful world where we are always "turning up old bones in order to make room for the new." With every chapter, All That Followed is uplifting and heartbreaking in the best way. Not only is it a strong debut, but it’s also one of the best novels of the year. 

 

 

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

A review by Roger Cottingham

Winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize

Recipient of 2015 American Book Award

 A cup of Historical Fiction, a tablespoon of Mystery, and a healthy handful of Political Thriller, all combined with main Ingredients of an International music superstar and the national – and international – politics of Jamaica in the latter half of the 20th century, make for a terrific mix in this award winning novel.

 Think “The Wire” set in Jamaica, Miami, and New York circling around Bob Marley (referred to as The Singer) and populated with colorful character’s that include names like Josey Wales, Shotta Sherriff, and Bam Bam. This book is a fun read, but it also provides deep cultural and political insight that can make you rethink your knowledge of the world during this time period.

Definitely the best book I’ve read this year.

 

 

From our own Clint McKnight

WOW Guides Utah Canyon Country

by Kathy and Craig Copeland

The vast, public lands playground of Southern Utah can be a bewildering place for hikers unfamiliar with the region. Beyond the famous national parks, there's a world of rough roads, rougher trails, and destinations unmarked; simple paths of least resistance across the slickrock. Of the handful of guidebooks intended to orient the adventurer to this wilderness, my favorite is WOW Guides' Utah Canyon Country by Kathy and Craig Copeland.

Featuring art gallery-quality color photos, and informed, almost poetic text, Utah Canyon Country is endlessly inspiring. I can open it anywhere and find a magical destination I simply can't wait to see. Much appreciated, too, is the excellent natural history information regarding geology, flora and fauna, the forever-mysterious cultures that preceded us, and the essential ethics of visiting such harsh but fragile places. 

Utah Canyon Country is the best guidebook I know to some of the real highlights of southern Utah---many which you've never heard of. It must be said that, in general, the book's maps are merely indicators to help you locate the routes on the larger-scale, more detailed maps you cleverly purchased for more serious wandering. Because what you really want to know is, what's around that next bend in the canyon?

 

 

 

 

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