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Kirkus Indie Best Books of the Month- November

An enthralling, nontraditional romance accented with a little mystery.

A Hero to Hold

The establishment of a Crimean War charity unites a gentlewoman and a dashing veteran in Humphreys’ debut Victorian romance novel.

Viscountess Charlotte Haliday suffered exile in the country following her husband’s suspicious murder. After she returns to London, her work for the Royal Patriotic Fund introduces her to David Scott, a Crimean War hero who’s more than capable of stirring her broken heart, despite his disabling injury: a Victoria Cross medal recipient and cavalry soldier, David’s legs were crushed under his fallen horse, leaving him wheelchair-bound. His work at the Royal Patriotic Fund assisting war widows gives him purpose, but navigating fashionable society as a disabled person remains challenging. Charlotte’s own search for meaning lands her a position assisting David, and their charitable natures draw them together: “David’s compass was clearly his heart,” Charlotte thinks. They begin as friends but quickly become lovers. They agree to an affaire de coeur without marriage, but their businesslike arrangement quickly deteriorates, both in the office and the bedroom, as their passion further ignites. When questions surrounding the murder of Charlotte’s husband resurface, threatening her reputation and spawning an attempt on her life, she and David must confront the true depth of their feelings. Humphreys’ exceptional debut utterly stuns with its professional style, natural dialogue, and extensive research. It’s dotted with minute details concerning the Crimean War throughout, elucidating David’s war service. It also skillfully incorporates facts about Queen Victoria’s reign and the founding of the charity into the plot. The depiction of David’s disability is overwhelmingly positive, focusing on his adaptability while still addressing his daily challenges; Charlotte, meanwhile, is appropriately solicitous but never condescending. The portrayal of such an unexpectedly unique couple in a scintillating, romantic, and highly erotic relationship is as refreshing as it is realistic.

An enthralling, nontraditional romance accented with a little mystery.

Pub Date: June 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5346-6229-2

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Boroughs Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

A lively and clever volume about the importance of tackling new activities; perfect for toddlers who are ready for a little...

Try! Try! Try!

An energetic boy tells his animal friends that they already know how to dance in this board book for very young readers by Craig (In Our Tree, 2016, etc.).

A young boy in a cave with a flashlight in the cartoonish illustration by Tan announces that bears, like the gigantic brown one he stands next to, “love to roar!” The boy does, too, and soon the two (the child only a quarter of the beast’s size) roar together like best friends. The sound effects of the bellowing are written in a decorative font that spreads wide on the page around the pair. The boy also likes to fly with candy-colored pastel birds; the sound of their wings flapping as they carry him through the air displays that same oversized font. Next the boy joins his bunny pals to hop on the grass and his otter friends to play “slippity-slide” in their watery home. But when the muddy boy invites the animals to dance with him, they decline, embarrassed at their lack of ability (“Oh no! We can’t dance! / say my friends all-a-giggle”). Nonsense! The boy explains that if they can flap, wiggle, roar, hop, or slide, they can dance, too. All it takes is a little effort, as the book’s title emphatically declares. Soon, the animals are all vigorously dancing, using one another’s moves: the bear flaps and the squirrel (wearing an amusing “Dance Baby” T-shirt) roars. The cheerful volume offers suitable vocabulary for newly independent readers just gaining confidence. And lap readers impatient with longer books should find the pacing a joy. The lush illustrations remain a bit wiggly—on the cover, the boy’s limbs look a bit like wet noodles—but they delightfully fit the tone of the exuberant work. Readers should be encouraged by the message that they can apply the skills they love and are proficient at to pursuits they may be nervous about trying.

A lively and clever volume about the importance of tackling new activities; perfect for toddlers who are ready for a little plot with their pictures and for children who can proudly read aloud to a younger sibling.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9967212-4-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Owlbop Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

A delightfully evocative farmhouse tale; as satisfying as a summer evening on a French terrace with a cool glass of rosé in...

Beginning French

LESSONS FROM A STONE FARMHOUSE

A California couple realize their ambition of owning a house in rural France in this debut memoir by Les Américains.

Other than a handful of names being changed in the interest of privacy, this work tells the true story of an American husband and wife, Marty and Eileen, studying French and learning how to live in France. The couple co-authored the volume, with Marty “driving” and Eileen “navigating.” The stark differences between American and French cultures become clear from the outset. When they visited Paris, a concierge refused to converse with them because they “did not say bonjour,” and a raging chef burst from the kitchen wielding a knife when the party chose not to order entrees. Despite their early showcasing of French pomposity, the authors remained adamant that they did not simply want to speak the language, they wanted to “be French.” To achieve this goal, they purchased an old stone farmhouse near Bergerac in Aquitaine, southwestern France (“The large kitchen had a massive white range and a clay tile floor…and the master bedroom looked out towards the view through two walls of French doors. There was a large old tree in the courtyard”). The transition was not without calamity, and when the boiler malfunctioned, flooding the house with water and ruining the majority of their possessions, the two grasped that striving for a new life abroad can come with a price. Living in France offers many rewards, and the couple’s triumphs in learning the language and assimilating into a new culture are a joy to discover. The gorgeous landscapes provide an ever present backdrop, captured in bursts of warm, descriptive prose: “As we drove, the landscape changed from rolling hills and vineyards to forests and rocky outcrops. Golden cliffs curved out over the road, undercut by the carving action of long-ago rivers.” The duo displays a gastronomic fascination with French cuisine, and the text delivers mouthwatering recipes, such as an indulgent goat cheese soufflé and a scrumptious lemon cheesecake. Thoughtfully written, understated, and without pretension, this book should appeal to Francophiles and epicureans alike. It also pays testament to the single-mindedness, bravery, and unfaltering desire of two particularly likable “Américains” who set out to fulfill a dream.

A delightfully evocative farmhouse tale; as satisfying as a summer evening on a French terrace with a cool glass of rosé in hand.

Pub Date: June 1, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 215

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

A smart, occasionally wise, and always entertaining recollection of addiction, crime, punishment, and recovery.

Fixed

DOPE SACKS, DYE PACKS AND THE LONG WELCOME BACK

In this raucous debut memoir, an addict hits bottom in spectacular fashion by getting arrested for a string of bank robberies.

Piotter describes a Seattle boyhood tangled in familial and personal dysfunctions: an authoritarian yet deadbeat dad, swerving between frauds and gambling binges; a defeated, alcoholic mom; and junior high pot smoking and dealing that served as a gateway into serious cocaine and heroin addictions. His adulthood was even more chaotic as he weathered homelessness, jail stints, gangsters who beat and shot at him, epic benders with druggies and prostitutes, and a ceaseless, exhausting search for anything he could steal—including oscillating fans, driving gloves, and a box of raw oysters—to feed his $500-a-day habit. It was with palpable relief that in 1993, after a spell as a gentleman bandit knocking over local banks, he was sentenced to nine and a half years in a federal penitentiary. There, Piotter began an unlikely turnaround as he received treatment for his addictions, kept his nose relatively clean, and learned construction trades. He’s a keen observer of the prison’s often bizarre and occasionally noble characters and twisted moral economy; for example, in one sequence fraught with chilling irony, a sober friend flushes his dealer cellmate’s stash down the toilet to avoid a search by guards, which puts him in debt to the prison’s Colombian cartel, who in turn extract repayment by making him kill one of their Mexican rivals. Piotter’s narrative unfolds as a picaresque of brief, punchy, shaggy dog stories; even after his release, as he stays sober, starts a construction company, and woos his wary future wife, he’s still beset by lurid happenstances, including road-rage episodes, a public sea lion orgy, and the hanging suicide of his neighbor. His storytelling is briskly paced, evocative, and laced with piquant character sketches and wisecracks such as, “I’m allergic to alcohol; every time I drink I break out in handcuffs.” The author’s life, as portrayed here, contains enough screw-ups for 10 dysfunctionality memoirs, but unlike other memoirists, he eschews angst and self-pity and highlights the absurd humor of the predicaments he made for himself. The pathos here is all the more moving for being spare, understated, and well-earned from hard experience.

A smart, occasionally wise, and always entertaining recollection of addiction, crime, punishment, and recovery.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9965800-0-7

Page Count: 346

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

Well-crafted verses with strong images and good storytelling.

Blood Transparencies

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN VERSE

This collection of poems explores themes of childhood, family, and growing up, often making ancient connections with the natural world.

White (Motherlode/La Veta Madre, 1977), whose work has appeared in several literary magazines, uses the metaphor of a slideshow in the title poem to link the author’s personal history with the outdoor landscape. In it, family snapshots, ethereally illuminated and projected on a bedsheet screen, are as eternal as fossils; the father’s narration gives substance to the passing moments captured in the photos. The author links this powerful image to the flickering light that illuminates cave art and to Oklahoma red-dirt furrows “full of sunset.” Yet darkness waits in “the pause between slides”—a darkness that is, like a lightbulb-battering moth, “drawn to the brief incandescence / of our lives.” One could also see the slideshow as a metaphor for poetry, which similarly captures moments through illumination and language—often with darkness in the pauses. This poetic autobiography relates a childhood in the Pacific Northwest, where wild nature granted blessings but could be harsh—like the game-warden father in “Wrestling Odysseus,” who teaches his son how to wrestle: “My mother leaves the room, my sisters begin to cry.... // There is no honor, no prize of arms to win in this, / no lesson here but fury.” Yet he’s also the man who brings his son “a cup of ‘Don’t-tell-your-mother coffee.’ ” Other poems explore children’s egotism; the importance of imagination, stories, and family; and how innocence becomes experience. Some especially strong poems describe three seasons of service on a fire crew, a coming-of-age process in which the speaker learns the job, develops camaraderie, dreams of women, and begins to know his profession. White’s fresh images resonate, such as this description of aspen trees carved by generations of Basque shepherds: “The body at burial should be like this, scarred, wound in song / our pitiful histories scratched on paper thin as light.” Family photographs tie in with the title poem’s themes, giving the book another layer of meaning.

Well-crafted verses with strong images and good storytelling.

Pub Date: June 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9975040-0-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Blue Oak Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

An intense, perceptive tale of two sisters grappling with a turbulent family history.

Mine

In this debut novel, a woman learns a truth as old as literature: she can’t escape the past just by moving away and up.

This hardscrabble story opens in 1947. Maggie Coyle and her little sister, Janie, huddle outside their shabby house while their mother labors to give birth. Welcome to hell, or its suburb, Mahanoy, Pennsylvania, a coal town where their father can be found either gasping in a mine or drinking in a bar. The baby daughter is stillborn; worse, their mother then becomes catatonic. The girls are bereft. A determined Maggie vows to flee all this—the boys working in the mines and half the girls getting pregnant in high school—and seemingly does. She earns a scholarship that leads to a nursing degree and freedom. Janie, meanwhile, finds mindless work in the parish rectory. There she meets Father Timothy, a young priest with a past as troubled as the Coyle girls’. Janie bears a daughter, who’s given up for adoption (the priest never even knows that he’s the baby’s father). Meanwhile, Maggie meets a brilliant, young surgeon (with a tumultuous past, of course). They marry, have six beautiful children, and Janie comes to live with them in a big house in Philadelphia. After many years of being the greatest aunt God created, Janie contracts cancer. From here on, the story, a tale of guilt, anger, and anxious expiation, focuses on Maggie. She has a wonderful husband and children who love her. (But do they adore Aunt Janie even more?) Maggie cannot forgive herself every sin she imagines, until finally the reader wants to shake her. In lesser hands, Maggie would be almost a parody of the morally tortured martyr, but with strong writing, a wonderfully modulated pace, and tenacious introspection, the novel delivers a complex portrait. Crawford paints with a really dark palette, reflecting life’s myriad tragedies. At one point, Maggie, in a tearful conversation with her father, angrily recalls her mother: “I remember her hair. I remember brushing her hair. She’d let me and Janie do it, always telling us how good it felt...I remember you making her cry. I remember that, too.” The author knows the human heart to a scary extent. This is a remarkable debut, and readers should look forward to Crawford’s next work.

An intense, perceptive tale of two sisters grappling with a turbulent family history.  

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-944193-22-5

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Deeds Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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