An often engaging story of outhouses, canned moose and bears—oh, my!

WINDS OF SKILAK

A TALE OF TRUE GRIT, TRUE LOVE AND SURVIVAL IN THE ALASKAN WILDERNESS

Ward’s spirited debut memoir documents the privations and advantages of life in Alaska’s wilderness.

The author was just 25 years old in 1980 when her husband, Sam, quit his job and sold their Ohio home. Sam was from West Virginia mountain stock and had strong survival and hunting skills, so they decided to go to Alaska. Although suburbanite Ward was initially reluctant about going on such an adventure, she threw herself into her “new role as a wilderness wife.” After a five-day journey, they settled on Skilak Lake on the Kenai Peninsula, known for its sudden storms. They started out in a tent, eating nothing but rice and not showering for a month. The chapter on how they built their cabin, “By the Sweat of Our Backs,” particularly stands out. Throughout, black-and-white photographs and lively, re-created dialogue show how the Wards adjusted to new standards. “We eventually learned to slow our pace to nature’s speed. Compared with squatting in the woods, an outhouse was quite a luxury,” Ward writes. A few close friendships with other residents eased their loneliness, even after 2 feet of snow and a frozen lake isolated them during the winter. However, the cozy, Little House on the Prairie–style domesticity of their “little piece of paradise” couldn’t keep danger at bay, as when a tree fell and broke Sam’s back. In this memoir, Ward strikes a good balance between repetitive daily tasks—foraging, canning meat, making blueberry jam, milking goats and sewing leather garments—and more momentous events, such as an earthquake, a view of the northern lights, and run-ins with bears. She also uses a menagerie of animals, both domestic and wild, to provide much comic relief. Along the way, Ward emphasizes the spiritual as well as the practical implications of becoming a pioneer woman: “The wilderness made me who I am today….Although I remained far from the nearest church, I felt closer to God than ever before.” The descriptions of nature sometimes shade purple (“Autumn showed her brilliance by clothing the mountains in a skirt of tie-dyed glory”), but more often than not, the language is restrained. The couple’s Alaskan odyssey lasted 15 years, so there’s still plenty of room for future sequels.

An often engaging story of outhouses, canned moose and bears—oh, my!

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2013

ISBN: 978-1626524712

Page Count: 404

Publisher: Two Harbors Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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