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Best 2015 Indie Books That'll Get You Talking

An offbeat, honest take on romance that offers cringes and laughs in equal supply.

THE D WORD

FIRST CAME ABC THEN CAME D.

Warrington tells the story of a memorably mismatched couple in her debut novel.

Clifford is 54, newly divorced and stretched beyond his financial means. He has a body that’s failing him and an elderly mother who insists that he murdered his infant brother more than 40 years ago. Meanwhile, Gina has two children from her abusive first marriage and a third from an affair, as well as plenty of regrets, a dearth of confidence, and a desire to find love again. When the two meet online, they find an immediate affinity—although perhaps it’s a warning sign that Gina is attracted to Clifford’s frank negativity. At first, it seems as if the two may form a perfect partnership, as they commiserate over how life seems to delight in tormenting people. But when the chaos of their respective lives begins to butt in, their personal flaws make for a difficult love affair. They must decide whether a relationship is actually possible and, if so, if it’s really worth the effort. Clifford is delightfully repugnant: selfish, reactionary, angry, and self-pitying. He’s an addition to the pantheon of somehow-lovable, angry, middle-aged British men in literature. Gina is more sympathetic, yet she possesses her own rich collection of shortcomings that make her a vigorous character. The couple’s vitality gives the novel a human center, which makes the plot feel effortless and organic. Warrington’s prose is as sharp and unadorned as her characters, and it’s laden with the wry cynicism of someone who isn’t interested in peddling romantic fantasies. Much of the book’s humor comes from the delight it takes in humbling its characters (“His body was a bendy metal coathanger performing a very poor job of supporting his weighty clothing”). Although the ending isn’t a complete surprise, there’s still something quite satisfying in it. Overall, this is the story of a modern, dysfunctional, second-chance sort of love—the kind that people don’t necessarily expect or desire. It may, however, be just the sort of love that has the most to teach people about dignity, charity, compassion, and trust.

An offbeat, honest take on romance that offers cringes and laughs in equal supply.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1502778901

Page Count: 264

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

A lively, if not thorough, overview of jazz’s origins.

Jazz: America's Gift

FROM ITS BIRTH TO GEORGE GERSHWIN'S RHAPSODY IN BLUE & BEYOND

A debut book that examines American jazz’s early history, focusing mainly on legendary composer George Gershwin.

A cursory look at this book’s title may make readers assume that it’s an all-encompassing history of jazz music. In reality, it only covers the genre’s origins, from the birth of American song during the 18th century through the life and career of Gershwin in the early 20th century. That said, this book at least could serve as an introduction for those unfamiliar with jazz. Rather than taking a dry, academic approach to the subject, Gerber, a musician and natural foods entrepreneur, writes in a conversational, lively, and witty style, although some of the personal tangents and jokes fall flat at times: “When European high-society muckety-muck, Lady Mountbatten (no relation to Lady Gaga) heard Gershwin play….” Using a variety of bibliographical sources, Gerber paints a vivid picture of jazz’s roots in slaves’ spirituals and minstrel shows; the music’s popularity in the Storyville section of New Orleans; and the emergence of Louis Armstrong. He unearths some interesting facts, such as shared cultural experiences of African-Americans and Jews: he notes that African-American singers such as Billie Holliday and Alberta Hunter recorded Jewish songs and that Louis Armstrong so admired Jewish people that he wore a Star of David around his neck. The last two-thirds of the book, though, focuses on Gershwin, including the creation of his immortal work, “Rhapsody in Blue”—even going so far as to include a section on the famous clarinet glissando that opens the piece. It’s interesting to learn that Gershwin’s folk opera, Porgy and Bess, was initially a financial failure, and Gerber also delves into other aspects of Gershwin’s life, including his dietary habits, his relationships with women, and his love for fine art. He makes a strong, enthusiastic case for Gershwin’s contributions to jazz, something that many jazz historians, according to the author, don’t often acknowledge (“As far as George Gershwin goes—jazz can’t live with him and jazz can’t live without him!”). In addition, Covarrubias’ vibrant illustrations really enhance the text. This title shouldn’t be the first stop for those seeking an exhaustive, well-rounded survey of either jazz or Gershwin. Still, it’s an accessible overview for novices that could point them toward more comprehensive studies.

A lively, if not thorough, overview of jazz’s origins. 

Pub Date: May 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-44553-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Gerber's Miracle Publishers LLC

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

An excellent choice for both the newcomer looking for an introduction to the debate over artificial intelligence and a more...

Are the Androids Dreaming Yet?

AMAZING BRAIN. HUMAN COMMUNICATION, CREATIVITY & FREE WILL

A synoptic overview of the debate regarding artificial intelligence coupled with a defense of the uniqueness of human consciousness.

The extraordinary progress of neuroscience has led many to believe that a comprehensive explanation of human thought—and its artificial replication—is a theoretical inevitability. First-time author and inventor Tagg argues, however, that the analogy between human cognition and artificial computation is flawed. In fact, computers don’t really seem to think or understand at all in the sense in which humans do, and their often amazing feats are accomplished with a minimum of creativity and no self-awareness. Also, while computers can mimic human communication, our exchanges are so riddled with microscopic nuance that machines could never adequately capture all of them. So while Tagg concedes that machines execute algorithms with far greater efficiency than their human counterparts, that fact alone doesn’t tell the whole story: “Machines cannot discover theorems using algorithms, yet mathematicians do it all the time.” The investigation covers the main players and theories in the field, including Alan Turing, Daniel Dennet, John Searle, Roger Penrose, and even René Descartes, among many others. The culmination of the study is a philosophical argument that human rationality is the basis for our free will, a capacity that ultimately distinguishes between human action and intellection from its artificial counterpart. Especially given the densely technical nature of the debates covered here, as well as the unavoidable employment of specialized terminology, Tagg does an admirable job keeping his prose clear and relatively uncluttered. Along the way, he includes helpful illustrations, as well as experiments and puzzles. What emerges is a challenging contention that computation is only one narrow component of human mental life, which also includes intuition and emotion. Also, Tagg articulates a kind of skeptical epistemology that outlines how one can reasonably hold a belief without becoming irrationally attached to it in the face of counterfactual evidence. An impressive effort full of depth and rigor.

An excellent choice for both the newcomer looking for an introduction to the debate over artificial intelligence and a more sophisticated reader looking for a deep reassessment.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-910464-03-8

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Hurst Farm Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

An engrossing collection giving ordinary people their due.

BRIEF EULOGIES AT ROADSIDE SHRINES

STORIES

This collection of short stories cleverly exploits the idea of descansos, those impromptu roadside shrines that commemorate loss, calling to mind both those who have left and those who are left.

Lyons’ stories are bound together by the idea that people should leave something behind in their lives. Something should honor them, whether it is a literal marker, as in “The Tallest Totem Pole in the World,” or a figurative one, as in “Security Risk.” In “Aaron’s Auto Salvage and Restoration,” Preacher Aaron, dismissed by his congregation, winds up running a junkyard in Arkansas and erecting, over the years, a great cross decorated with hubcaps, mementos of wrecks on the highway. Then, in “Arnold’s Café,” there’s the memorial to a homeless fellow who was happy to share his roadkill cuisine with hungry strangers. In “Day of the Dead,” a Border Patrol agent helps a mojado (someone who has entered the country illegally) erect a small descanso along an Arizona highway to honor his family who perished trying to cross the border; the agent then escorts him back to Mexico without the bother of paperwork. Blue-J, an orderly who catheterizes patients in a no-hope care facility, introduces some tough patients, including two who make a failed but heroic escape in their wheelchairs. (You will cheer.) More than one of these stories deals with the aftermath of war, of how it damages people. Elsewhere, in “Colors,” a wife leaves a descanso of wrecked whirligigs after she escapes her abusive husband—so Lyons stretches the idea a bit but in a good direction. A gifted storyteller, Lyons has a wonderful ear for dialect, effortlessly going beyond mimicry and on special display with Blue-J as well as Nunzio in “Holy Roller.” In “Afterword: Seeds,” Lyons explains what occasioned each story; in his case, the “write what you know” cliché worked wonders.

An engrossing collection giving ordinary people their due.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0983918875

Page Count: 218

Publisher: Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

A witty, winking political novel sure to satisfy liberals in an age of extreme partisanship.

Off the Reservation

On the verge of retirement, a straight-talking U.S. congressman campaigns for president in this fast-paced, wryly comic, and vastly satisfying political satire.

Just weeks after announcing he wouldn’t be seeking re-election, Congressman Evan Gorgoni of Indiana finds himself thrust back into the national spotlight after his frank and defeatist appearance on Meet The Press. “Truth is…there are too many people in the world,” he says. “If civilization keeps procreating this way, we’re doomed.” Refreshed by his realist approach, the media starts floating his name for a presidential bid. The Democratic senator ignores the hype—he’s enjoying retirement—until meeting his would-be contenders. “If I don’t run,” he tells Monty Berg, his quick-witted campaign manager, “the country’s going to choose between another cynical tax-cutter, and Nate Poston. Who has never met a question he couldn’t dodge.” With the help of Monty, he wins the Democratic primary and spends the rest of Merzer’s electrifying debut novel running against his Republican opponent, Gov. Malcolm Benneton, on a loose platform of population control and environmental sustainability. Refusing to prepare speeches, Gorgoni eschews grand promises and often loses himself in tangents. “My fellow Americans, I say to you with deep conviction in my soul, let us do away, totally, irreversibly, and permanently, with the leaf blower,” he says during his acceptance speech. Using real names of contemporary figures and writing with a keen eye for the absurdities of the American political system, Merzer offers a story of brash realism in an age of congressional gridlock. While most left-leaning readers will cheer for Gorgoni, many conservatives will likely find the novel dismissive of their ideology. Nevertheless, the author writes with a steady pen, and he rarely misses the opportunity for a joke. Whatever their politics, readers will chuckle at this systemwide sendup.

A witty, winking political novel sure to satisfy liberals in an age of extreme partisanship.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692315163

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Vivid Thoughts Press

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

A wise, well-honed collection of speeches that address vital issues with fresh, penetrating insight.

Making A Living, Making A Life

A real estate developer and philanthropist presents a masterful debut collection of exceptionally cogent and timely speeches and essays.

For 60 years, Rose has dedicated himself to the real estate business, but he’s also given speeches—not only about economic issues, but also his other passions, including education, religion, and the roles of philanthropy and government in resolving intractable difficulties. As a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a former adviser to the Clinton administration, Rose speaks and writes with authority, warmth, and candor. He’s no ideologue and certainly no Donald Trump. Instead, he beguiles with his broad knowledge of literature, art, and Judaica (“Judaism is a religion in which human beings talk to, argue with and remonstrate with God,” he insightfully writes), and he skillfully weaves that knowledge into his articulate, fair-minded appeals. He not only champions social and business success; he also argues that those who succeed owe a debt to society: “High standards are important in all areas of life,” he writes, “but particularly in business.” In a time when shrill voices seem to possess center stage, Rose appeals to reason, and he seems to regard his readers as being as reasonable as he is. Ever the stylist, his succinct, well-cadenced prose shows an engaged mind, sharply tuned wit, and compassion and intellect that provide a model for civic engagement. His particularly poignant portrait of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan offers a warm, engaging study of a complex thinker and political polymath. Although collections of speeches were once quite popular, major commercial publishers relatively rarely publish them these days, and this book fills a much-needed empty space. Although a few more brief remarks on the specific occasions of these speeches might have enriched their context, this collection offers the fruits of a lifetime of dedication to the affairs of the nation.

A wise, well-honed collection of speeches that address vital issues with fresh, penetrating insight.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692279724

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Half Moon Press

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

Deftly written and well-presented; principals of any service firm will appreciate this treasure trove of useful intelligence...

Clientelligence

HOW SUPERIOR CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS FUEL GROWTH AND PROFITS

An in-depth study of what it takes to develop and maintain superior relationships with clients.

Every business that provides a service has clients, and any successful service business understands how to cultivate lasting client relationships. Rynowecer has discovered the “secret sauce” to do just that, which he eloquently describes in this debut work. The author enumerates 17 “specific and unique activities driving superior client relationships” derived from an exhaustive study in which, over decades, he collected insight in 14,000 telephone interviews with senior executives. Rynowecer organizes this intelligence into a “Clientelligence Matrix” that divides the activities into four quadrants. The top right of the quadrant, which represents “high differentiation” and “higher importance,” is labeled “Relationship Bliss” and contains what Rynowecer claims are the four most important activities: commitment to help, client focus, understanding the client’s business, and providing value for the dollar. The author explains the portions of the quadrant and provides sufficient detail about each of the 17 activities, tossing in some pertinent war stories along the way. The genius of Rynowecer’s approach is twofold: first, he delivers his treatise within the context of solid research, which provides a great deal of credible support. Second, by employing such a facts-based approach, the author can address even the most emotionally charged aspects of client relationships in an objective way. Rynowecer’s sage observations are doled out at the end of each short chapter in sections called “Clientelligence Master Class.” Here, he offers specific, sometimes-blunt advice: “Superheroes don’t stop until the client’s goal has been met,” he writes. Superheroes “take bullets for their clients [and] tell clients the truth, no matter how unpopular the opinion may be.” A cleverly devised road map closes the book to help professionals master their client service skills.

Deftly written and well-presented; principals of any service firm will appreciate this treasure trove of useful intelligence for business improvement.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9964134-3-5

Page Count: 188

Publisher: The BTI Press

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

A beguiling play-by-play about a vibrant literary happening.

AUTOGRAPH PENIS

A hilarious account of the 2011 National Poetry Slam competition that illuminates a raucous subculture of competitive versifying from the inside.

Part beatnik culturefest and part bowling league, poetry slams involve teams of bards declaiming three-minute individual or group poems in front of randomly chosen judges and an audience of cheering, booing and drinking poetry aficionados. Tanager, a poet, led her four-woman team from Boise, Idaho, to compete against 71 other teams at the 2011 National Poetry Slam in Boston. Her fizzy reportage brings to vivid life this unlikeliest of American sporting events, detailing the pre-slam jitters and practice sessions; the behind-the-scenes clash of egos and gossipy backstabbing; and the quagmire of soggy identity politics. It also covers the poets’ last-minute strategizing over which poems to recite in order to sway fickle judges and audiences; the exhilaration of victory and the demoralization of loss to lesser, trendier poets; and the oblivion of booze and dancing at the afterparty. (“I’ll never leave you again, Beer!” the author vows after a painful defeat.) Tanager’s loose-limbed narrative, unfolding in a series of brief feuilletons, has a breezy, chatty tone and sprinkles the episodes from the slam with lively excursions into the food, fashions and harmless flirtations swirling around it. She’s alive to the absurdities of the scene, rolling her eyes at poetic self-importance (her own included) and lampooning preachy issue poems (“An Open Letter to that Bad Person I Read About in a Magazine”). Yet she takes the art form seriously, limns the empty spot in the soul that drives poets to perfect their craft and expose it to the world, and celebrates hard-won moments of compelling expression. There’s not much poetry in the book, but Tanager compensates with prose that is, by turns, funny, vehement, self-deprecating and gorgeous. At daybreak in an airplane, for example, she writes, “a glorious and silent choreographed battle of gold and fuchsia, pulse and vibration, grows brighter and brighter, huge and symphonic below me.” Alas, the book’s awful title will put off some readers, but those who persevere will find a whip-smart, wise and entertaining read.

A beguiling play-by-play about a vibrant literary happening.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1502758989

Page Count: 282

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

A fine, deeply felt saga of lives caught up in progress that’s as heartbreaking as it is hopeful.

The River's Song

Class and cultural rifts in booming Singapore tear apart families and lovers in Lim’s (Fistful of Colors, 2003) affecting, lushly textured historical novel.

Singapore in the 1960s and 1970s isn’t yet a glittering metropolis—instead, it’s a warren of squatters’ shacks and crowded alleys, where young Wong Ping-ping struggles to survive. Her mother, Yoke Lan, a beautiful nightclub singer/courtesan who plays a Chinese instrument called the pipa, left her for Hong Kong to seek her fortune. Ping sleeps in a cage in a rooming house, working in the landlord’s cafe and local markets to earn money for school books. Her boon companion is Weng, the son of a poor family, who dreams of being a flautist; his father, a river worker, is also a pipa virtuoso who takes Ping on as a student. They lead a threadbare but rich existence in the multiracial bustle of Singapore’s Chinatown and along the colorful, decrepit banks of the city’s river. But then Yoke Lan returns with a rich husband, and Ping moves to their grand house, posing as a distant relative to hide her mother’s disreputable past. Ping’s new life is wonderfully advantaged but loveless and tense; meanwhile, her deepening involvement with Weng becomes complicated by their starkly diverging fortunes. Her stepfather’s business moves to evict Weng’s neighborhood from a riverfront where land values are skyrocketing along with Singapore’s economy. Fate carries Ping to America, and after decades, she returns to take stock of her fraught relationships with Yoke Lan and Weng. Singaporean novelist Lim paints an evocative, atmospheric portrait of old Singapore and its vigorous, sometimes-brutal transition to modernity. She shows readers deeply rooted communities bulldozed to make way for grandiose developments; populist movements pitted against brusque bureaucracies and police strong-arming; and traditional cultures crumbling before a new ethos of on-the-make capitalism and technocratic expertise. Her well-drawn characters bear the scars of this history—Yoke Lan, for example, is a bundle of brittle social ambitions and insecurities as she tries to fit in with the elite—yet they retain their vibrant individuality as they struggle to keep their feet amid the upheaval. Lim tells their story in prose that’s subtle, cleareyed and lyrical, linking a city’s rise with the emotional travails of its inhabitants.

A fine, deeply felt saga of lives caught up in progress that’s as heartbreaking as it is hopeful.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-906582-98-2

Page Count: 363

Publisher: Aurora Metro Press

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

A moving, spiritual account of a search for meaning through meditation.

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    Best Books Of 2015

Dear Prudence

THE STORY BEHIND THE SONG

A woman depicted in one of the Beatles’ most famous songs tells her story.

Bruns played a small but significant part in the history of the Fab Four: she, along with her sister, the actress Mia Farrow, and the Beatles, went to India in 1968 to study meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Her dedicated attention to meditation for long periods inspired John Lennon to write “Dear Prudence,” which appeared on the Beatles’ 1968 self-titled record. However, most people know little else about Bruns, a Transcendental Meditation teacher based in Florida, and this debut memoir attempts to change that. As the daughter of director John Farrow and actress Maureen O’Sullivan, she grew up in a life of privilege, including servants, private schools, and trips abroad. A common thread that runs through her memoir, though, is her search for something spiritual and meaningful, going all the way back to Catholic school. She experienced personal tragedies, including the untimely deaths of her brother and father, and lived through rebellious teenage years, which included drinking and bouts of depression. A harrowing experience with LSD (“it felt as if my body was gone and I was left in hell for all eternity”) led her to practice meditation, and she describes its transformative effects almost poetically: “Although subtle, a priority shift had quietly taken place. Time took on new meaning, suddenly becoming far more precious to me—I couldn’t waste it anymore. I felt compelled to use it much more wisely.” The final chapters center on her meeting the maharishi and her experiences with the members of the Beatles, particularly Lennon and George Harrison. She was more interested in meditation during her stay than being in the musicians’ company, although she found them to be kindred spirits: “I related to George and benefited from his perspective through transference.” What makes this book stand out is the fact that it’s not a typical, dishy celebrity tell-all, although there are some fascinating stories about her Hollywood upbringing and her time with the Beatles (such as when Lennon and Harrison entered her room performing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”). It’s a portrait of a young woman trying to center her life amid personal pain and how she found herself. Overall, it’s a rather life-affirming tale from someone who’s more than just a footnote in pop-music history.

A moving, spiritual account of a search for meaning through meditation.

Pub Date: June 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5030-2988-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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