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Kirkus Indie Books of the Month - May 2015

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 visually stunning work addressing themes of peace, generosity, and forgiveness.

A Wolf at the Gate

Van Steenwyk (The Unkingdom of God, 2013, etc.) offers an illustrated chapter book about an angry red wolf who encounters a saintly beggar king.

The Red Wolf is born into a pack that lives deep in the woods outside of the town of Stonebriar. Her parents raise her with tales of the history of her kind, the Lords of the Forest, who have slowly ceded their territory to the growth of human settlement. They also teach her the necessity of never taking more food than necessary and sharing what she has with others. The Red Wolf grows up angry; eventually, her parents die, and she loses her pack before becoming the rage-fueled Blood Wolf that haunts the dreams of Stonebriar’s residents. It takes the appearance of the Beggar King, a man of peace who holds the respect of both the townsfolk and the forest animals, to calm the Red Wolf’s anger and teach her to live in harmony with her neighbors. The Red Wolf then takes these lessons and uses them to solve a problem: a band of outlaws lives in her woods and terrorizes the surrounding towns. She must decide whether there are better solutions to cruelty than violence and whether such solutions are practical in a world short on sympathy. The story is an imaginative retelling of the legend of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio; though rooted in Christian tradition, the book contains no overt religiosity, and secular parents should feel comfortable recommending it to their children. Van Steenwyk writes in sharp, muscular prose highly suitable for the fabulistic subject matter, deftly navigating both the darker and lighter segments of the story. The true standouts of the book, however, are the illustrations by Joel Hedstrom. Taking Japanese woodblock printing and Greek vases as his inspiration, Hedstrom supplements the text with full-page illustrations in brilliant colors that feel simultaneously ancient and stylishly contemporary. The result is a book out of time: a coupling of narrative and illustration that should stoke the imagination of any young modern reader.

A visually stunning work addressing themes of peace, generosity, and forgiveness.

Pub Date: March 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0986233302

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Mennonite Worker Press

Review Posted Online: March 18, 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

All-out victory for fans, though even pop-culture newbs will enjoy the ride.

How to Be a Superhero

This superpowered collection of more than 40 original, in-depth interviews explores the role of superheroes in pop culture—as told by the actors who played them.

In his impressive debut, Edlitz interviews actors who have played parts in shaping modern America’s quintessential mythology: the superhero universe. He delves into everything from the Adventures of Superman and Batman TV series of the 1950s and 1960s to the blockbuster movies of today. But this isn’t limited to heroes: interview subjects include noteworthy villains (such as Tom Hiddleston’s Loki), sidekicks (Jack Larson’s Jimmy Olsen), nonsuperheroes (Leonard Nimoy’s Spock), and writers and directors, including comic-book legend Stan Lee and Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man. He also interviews actors who appeared in less successful films, such as a never-released version of The Fantastic Four. Edlitz is clearly a superfan of superhero comics and films, and his lengthy introductions to each interview are packed with enough background info and trivia to please even hard-core fans. Interviews focus on how actors embodied these larger-than-life superheroes—the iconic costumes helped, as did the all-important secret identities—to become, in many cases, permanently identified with the roles. Lou Ferrigno, aka the Incredible Hulk, says, “I was that character all my life,” an idea echoed throughout the book. Edlitz’s insightful questions also explore weightier topics such as religion, mythology, race, and the nature of heroism, and in a battle against repetition, he often tailors questions to his subject. For instance, when talking with superheroines—such as Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) and Supergirl (Helen Slater)—he touches on issues of female role models and sexualized costumes. Edlitz frequently injects humor into his interviews, livening them up and always ending the conversation with a classic question: who’d win in a fight? “Your Batman or George Clooney’s?” he asks Adam West. “I think it depends on the circumstances,” West says. “It probably depends on the kind of battle. If it were to be a battle of charm, of course, Clooney would win.”

All-out victory for fans, though even pop-culture newbs will enjoy the ride.

Pub Date: June 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1593937911

Page Count: 586

Publisher: BearManor Media

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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