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Kirkus Indie Books of the Month - February 2016

This warm, extensively researched novel will entrance readers and inspire them to look further into the lives of two...

Loving Eleanor

New York Times bestselling author Albert (The Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar Bush, 2015, etc.) returns to historical fiction in this intimate exploration of the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok.

Shortly after Eleanor’s death, Lorena (known as “Hick” to her friends) decides to write a memoir of their time together. She agrees to publish it on the condition that it and accompanying personal correspondence will remain sealed until after Hick dies. “I met Mrs. Roosevelt in 1928, the year that Herbert Hoover beat the pants off Al Smith,” she begins, and her narrative voice remains lively as she reminisces about the former first lady and her own remarkable life as one of the first female news reporters in the United States. Hick first zeroes in on Eleanor during the New York gubernatorial race because she’s “doing something political wives just didn’t do. She was campaigning for the ticket.” Eleanor is an intriguing anomaly: a tireless woman who splits her time between campaigning, teaching, writing, and mothering. The two women connect during their first interview, and when Franklin begins his first presidential run, Hick covers Eleanor full-time. The two women become close, and their relationship soon turns romantic. They exchange countless letters of longing and dream of a quieter life in which they can be simply ordinary. But many obstacles stand in their way, not least of which is Eleanor’s transformation into a public personage. Over time, their romance evolves into a deep, lifelong friendship. Albert captures Hick’s spirit with energetic prose, painting a colorful picture of her fascinating life together with and apart from Eleanor. Although this memoir is fictional, the author draws upon thousands of personal letters, first-person accounts by others, and further research to present a compelling possible narrative of the relationship between Eleanor and Hick. Albert’s illuminating afterword adds important context to her narrative choices, and a comprehensive bibliography will encourage additional research.

This warm, extensively researched novel will entrance readers and inspire them to look further into the lives of two extraordinary women.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9892035-3-1

Page Count: -

Publisher: Persevero Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

A well-wrought memoir that turns simple observations and memories into powerful illustrations of grief and illness.



A writer recounts the emotions and memories of losing her mother and battling cancer.

“Have you ever heard a tooth smash?” Avery (The Last Nude, 2012, etc.) asks readers early on. “It’s a tiny sound, and a terrifying one.” Avery, winner of the Lambda Literary Award, offers 15 autobiographical essays about grief, death, and illness—and on almost every page includes a powerful observation, usually both tiny and terrifying. In 2011, the author received word that her mother had died, and in her essays dealing with her grief, she weaves together short, piercing moments ranging from childhood to the months after the funeral. By moving nonchronologically from her mother’s alcoholism to family Christmas fights to selling her mother’s jewelry after her death, Avery avoids simplifying her mother or their relationship, offering instead an emotionally driven and complex portrait of her family and of herself. Avery also writes about her deteriorating health, overhauling her diet, and the search for alternative treatments to fight cancer and arthritis. Months after her mother died, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called reactive arthritis, and the medication she takes subsequently led to the development of a rare form of uterine cancer. By her own admission in the introduction, some of the essays, like “Goodbye Ruby,” delve deeply into the technical aspects of her conditions to help readers facing the specific health challenges she did. But even as she explains dense research and terminology or painstakingly recounts frustrating conversations with doctors, she anchors every new challenge with carefully crafted and insightful moments of everyday life. A small child interacting with a cat, a simple trip to the grocery store, or her most embarrassing struggles with menstruation take on fascinating new depth in the context of her illness. As Avery waits in a hospital at one point, she writes dryly about her thoughts with each bouquet of flowers that arrives, “You have cancer. You are getting a hysterectomy. You might die.” Her narration throughout this heavy subject matter strikes an uncanny balance between funny and sad because she has taken the time to pay attention to the details in every moment and has written about them with honesty and wisdom.  

A well-wrought memoir that turns simple observations and memories into powerful illustrations of grief and illness.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Seventeen Reasons

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

Resonant testimonies and practical techniques on gaining profound spiritual insight.

Cave and Cosmos


A leading authority in shamanism shares collected accounts of modern-day journeying plus guiding techniques in this sequel to his 1980 seminal classic.

In 1980, anthropologist/shaman Harner published The Way of the Shaman, raising awareness of shamanic practice in the West. In this sequel, Harner, now in his 80s, notes that he has chosen to spend his limited time to share information that he feels is “really important, even urgent, to pass on to a fractious and perilous world willing to quarrel interminably about spiritual matters on the basis of belief in old stories.” In demonstrating the value of shamanic journeying, Harner draws on almost 5,000 reports of such journeys by present-day Westerners (Americans, Canadians, and some Europeans) collected over the last quarter-century through a project sponsored by his Foundation for Shamanic Studies. The narratives largely focus on ascents to the Upper World, in which animal guides and mystical and/or historical spiritual teachers figure, as does a sense of “cosmic union,” after which one can choose “to undertake the classic healing work of the shaman to help those who are suffering or in pain.” Descriptions of descents to the Lower World are also included, with visitors reporting positive experiences of meeting guides and crossing beautiful terrains. (In shamanism cosmology, the Lower World is not a punishing hell but simply another spiritual dimension.) “Possibly the closest thing to hell,” says Harner, “is in our own world, the Middle World.” In the appendices, the book outlines how to navigate one’s own journeys, including tapping into ascent/descent portals (including rainbows and caves, respectively) and training resources. Harner’s rich compendium gives many ways to consider and explore a powerful and inspiring view of the cosmos. His recommendation to develop one’s own spiritual authority rather than depend on “the cosmological dogmas of organized religion” may resonate with readers, and the diversity of accounts allows for inclusion of traditional religious figures (St. Francis, the Virgin Mary, etc.). While the amount of detail is at times overwhelming, this work offers a welcome message of universal healing.

Resonant testimonies and practical techniques on gaining profound spiritual insight.

Pub Date: April 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-58394-546-9

Page Count: 312

Publisher: North Atlantic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

Children will love Gracie’s actions and expressions and will eagerly ask for rereads so they can chant along with the...

Too Hot to Moo

What’s a cow to do when her family gets a pool and she’s left alone in her sunny field? Debut author Henwood’s and veteran illustrator Lemaire’s hilarious answer is a delightfully fun read-aloud.

Gracie the cow is so hot she can’t even moo. When she hears the construction on the human side of the fence, she’s curious. What are those construction vehicles doing dumping gray sludge into a big hole in the yard? Young readers will figure out what’s happening before the bovine: the farm family is getting their very own swimming pool to cool off in in the wicked heat. While the farm kids do pour water over Gracie, the relief is short, so when she realizes that the pool is a constant source of water, she charges through the fence and lets out a tremendous “MOO!” before doing “a perfect udder flop right into the deep end!” Not only does she get the water in the pool all muddy, she pees in the shallow end, a gross-out detail sure to delight kids. Despite all the family’s coaxing, once Gracie is in the pool, she intends to stay there, and it takes police cars, a water pump truck, and a crane to move her back to her own side of the fence (which gets fixed while she’s being moved). Once again too hot to moo, Gracie languishes on her side of the fence. But then the construction vehicles are back; this time, however, they’re digging a mud wallow for Gracie. While the story is probably fictional, it feels almost as though it could be real, and kids will enjoy imagining a cow doing a very cowlike dive into a human pool, especially given the gleeful expression on Gracie’s face in Lemaire’s illustration. The only quibble is that the humans are not clearly diverse—and there were opportunities to make them so. Henwood repeats the phrase “Hot, hot, hot, too hot to moo” on several pages throughout the story, giving lap readers a chance to join in chorally and take part in the story. The text design also adds a bonus feature as some of the word layout emphasizes the action: two lines ripple in blue cursive as the water is poured into the pool, and when Gracie breaks through the fence, the text cracks at an angle.

Children will love Gracie’s actions and expressions and will eagerly ask for rereads so they can chant along with the too-hot refrain.

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4602-6049-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

Weekend warriors who crave physical challenges can use Pyle’s colorful account to kick-start their own adventures.

Sacred Mountains of China


Photographer and filmmaker Pyle (The India Ride, 2014, etc.) returns with a fast-paced travel memoir about four months that changed his life.

A Canadian living in Shanghai, Pyle writes that his hikes on four sacred western Chinese mountains—Minya Konka, Amne Machin, Mount Kailash, and Kawa Karpo—didn’t lead to his spiritual epiphany or turn him into a “born-again, tree-hugging environmentalist.” Instead, he says, he became a better person due to the physical and mental challenges he overcame while hiking and camping in extreme weather conditions. In July 2013, he set off—with guides, donkeys, a cook, plenty of supplies, and a cameraman for documentary filming—to begin four separate journeys and walk more than 500 kilometers in majestic landscapes. Pyle’s spirited account often describes the local people, such as some older pilgrims who devoutly performed repeated prostrations around Amne Machin. Serious hikers will find helpful cultural information in Pyle’s friendly, first-person narrative; e.g., visitors should circumambulate the mountains because climbing straight to the top is considered sacrilegious. But some readers may be shocked by the high cost (one part of Pyle’s trip to Mount Kailash was about $6,300). Informative notes—descriptions of “trekkers’ feet” and “altitude sickness”—are highlighted in boxes throughout the text. Each mountain hike begins with a small map and ends with the author’s personal travel details (the best months to walk each trail, for example). The bulk of the memoir, however, recounts Pyle’s many difficulties due to changing environments—bitter cold that instantly froze water he was pouring into his oatmeal. The language is often vivid: “Dotted along the sides of the valley above us were several of the white tents that are home to semi-nomadic Tibetan yak herders who take their yaks up to the plateaus in the summer to feed on the lush grass.” Forty-eight gorgeous but disappointingly small color photographs (approximately 4.5 inches by 3 inches) are included. 

Weekend warriors who crave physical challenges can use Pyle’s colorful account to kick-start their own adventures. 

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9928644-1-5

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Ryan Pyle Productions

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

A sentimental but never sappy coming-of-age tale that hits all the right notes in unexpected ways.

The Artichoke Queen

After the death of her mother, a young woman vows to live her life to the fullest and embarks on a career as a race car driver, defying the norms of 1950s America in Duffy’s debut novel.

Prudence Baylor is a force to be reckoned with. A childhood accident took most of her ability to hear, but it also sparked her deep desire to prove herself. After fleeing an unhappy home life, the 20-year-old takes up her aunt’s offer to come to Los Angeles for a Hollywood audition. But when she’s robbed during a stopover in San Francisco, Prudence is too proud to ask for help and resolves to make it on her own in a new city. Her determination and never-say-die attitude help her land a waitressing gig at a top jazz club. Later, when an opportunity to join the race car circuit presents itself, Prudence eagerly takes it and quickly falls in love with the profession. Within the cocoon of her car, she thinks, there’s no “need to hear well, here she had no shortcomings.” She soon becomes a star, both on and off the track, using beauty pageants and celebrity appearances to help finance her racing career. But as she deals with dizzying developments in her personal life, can she, a woman who prides herself on beating the odds, admit that she may be in over her head? Overall, this is a fun read with a hard edge. Duffy dabbles in nostalgia but isn’t held hostage by it; his characters, including Prudence, may live in an idealized time, but they’re far from perfect. These flaws make them relatable as people and provide avenues for character development. In one race, for example, a multi-leg journey across Mexico, Prudence makes a decision that will haunt her, but it’s in her search for redemption that she ultimately finds a way forward. Duffy’s narrative lags a bit as he approaches the novel’s climax. However, the story finishes strong, providing surprising insights into the lives of those closest to Prudence.

A sentimental but never sappy coming-of-age tale that hits all the right notes in unexpected ways.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60489-159-1

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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