”The Lost Letter,” by Jillian Cantor (Riverhead Books, $26)
Edelweiss and memory serve as centerpieces in this history-informed tale of love and resistance in 1938 Austria. After Kristallnacht, when the Nazis invade Austria, and a Jewish stamp engraver disappears in a synagogue fire, the engraver’s non-Jewish apprentice and his daughter embark on a dangerous mission: to forge documents to smuggle Jews out of Austria. They do it under cover of the apprentice’s assignment by Hitler to produce German stamps featuring Austrian monuments.
In “The Lost Letter,” Arizona writer Jillian Cantor braids a 1989 tale with this 1938-39 one: A young magazine writer in LA, whose husband is divorcing her and whose father has just been moved to a memory care facility, takes the father’s stamp collection to be appraised. It’s in that appraisal that the World War II story comes to light.
From the novel’s dedication (“For Grandma Bea and Grandpa Milt. I remember.”), you have the sense that this is not only a story about love and memory, but an act of love for memory. It’s a touching, affecting read.
”The Septic Bucket List: 22 Things NOT to do Before You Die,” by Ryn Gargulinski (Ryn Gargulinski, $14.99)
For a quick read-and-chuckle, check out this brief, comic-illustrated, reverse bucket list. Here’s a sense of author and writer Ryn Gargulinski’s tone, as revealed in her press release: “The Septic Bucket List lets you set up a quick road to success, doubling as a surefire way to boost self-esteem, enhance health and safety, and kick off all kinds of hilarious conversations when you’re in a room full of people with nothing to say.”
BTW, Thing Number 12 of the 22 NOT to do before you die? “Trust sardines from the dollar store.” Imagine the consequences of ignoring that.
”The Snippets of a Life: From Depressed Victim to Proud Woman” by Kirsten Gershon (Kirsten Gershon, $8.99)
She hadn’t slept for 40 years, Kirsten Gershon told a therapist. “Then you must be really tired,” the therapist responded.
Even depressed, Gershon managed to keep a sense of humor.
In this self-published memoir, Tucson resident Gershon recounts her struggles to overcome night terrors, self-esteem issues, depression, and insomnia. Growing up poor in post-WW II Denmark, experiencing neglect and incest at home and ostracism and ridicule at school, she married well and moved out of Denmark, but she carried emotional damage with her. In straightforward, candid prose, Gershon relates and reflects upon her process towards psychological healing.
”Camino Del Diablo,” by Jeremy DeConcini. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. $7.95 print, $2.99 Kindle
Former FBI agent and current beach bum Ben Adams has a law degree, a prison record, and a passion for surfing the California coast. His obsessive hunt for the perfect wave is interrupted, though, when his new love interest tells him her life is in danger. Her research on Colorado River water rights has uncovered the dangerous information that water is mysteriously disappearing from the river at a substantial rate. In the arid West, she tells Ben, “whisky is for drinking, and water is for fighting over.” And it might also be for killing over, Ben discovers, as his investigation takes him on a violent chase through the Sonoran Desert and beyond. DeConcini’s talent for snappy dialog is evident in this fast-paced thriller, and it has an undeniably authentic feel: the author, who divides his time between Tucson and San Diego, is a former Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security with a resume that includes undercover weapons smuggling and anti-terrorism efforts. A second novel featuring Ben Adams, “Alpine Slide,” is also available.
”How We Speak to One Another: An Essay Daily Reader,” by Ander Monson and Craig Reinbold, eds. Coffee House Press. $20 print; $12.97 Kindle
”Essay Daily” is a website where writers engage with the versatile and often overlooked genre of the essay, a forum in which they converse and connect in beautiful, exuberant, and provocative ways. It is the brainchild of Ander Monson, Director of the MFA program at the University of Arizona. “How We Speak to One Another” is a thoughtful selection of offerings that have appeared on the website over the years since it was founded in 2010. Sound esoteric? Happily, you don’t have to be a professional writer to be captivated by this collection, and intrigued by what the essay can do. Just dip in to it at random and you’re guaranteed to come up with a treat: Pam Houston, for example, on the staying power of Rick Reilley’s Sports Illustrated essay on OJ Simpson’s quest for a golf foursome, or Megan Kimble on how her decision not to own a Smartphone finds its validation in Wendell Berry’s essay “Why I’m not Going to Buy a Computer.” These essays will speak to you — and isn’t that the point?
”A Mockingbird’s Song,” by Andrea Elena Ibanez, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. $9.99 print, $2.99 Kindle
Monkey business is probably not a strong enough description for the goings-on at the Colter Primate Center. When an unpopular researcher turns up dead, Sgt. Steve Thibeault’s investigation is met with a web of academia-infused deceit, professional reputations at stake, and an abundance of suspects. No one, it seems, lacked a motive for wishing the abrasive Walter Benson dead. Tucson-based author Ibanez has set this highly-readable crime novel in 1990s’s North Carolina, which gives regional flavor to the lively point-counterpoint dialog between the southern-fried detective and clueless-about-the-South Gemma Faranese, who is the lab’s New York-bred communications director, Thibeault’s potential love-interest, and—possibly—a killer. Mystery fans will be glad to know that this is the first in a planned series of three mysteries featuring Sgt. Steve Thibeault. The second title in the Carolina Trilogy, “A Dowitcher’s Dirge,” is also available.
”The Good Thief,” by Preston Holtry, Moonshine Cove Publishing, $13.99
Saratoga Racetrack, 1915. Like Tommy the Cork, Big Dan’s best years are behind him, yet that doesn’t stop Tommy from guiding the old campaigner through traffic on the backstretch. When the hole closes, the ensuing wreck leaves a jockey and two horses dead and big money lost on a sure thing. A mangled Tommy boards the next train west, seeking solace at a Franciscan mission in northern New Mexico. But bad debts get paid and, when friars discover The Cork’s mutilated body, local officials call in P.I. Morgan Westphal to track down the killer.
Fourth in the Morgan Westphal Mystery Series, The Good Thief aptly captures the historical detail and character of the early 1900s from the underbelly of New York to New Mexico’s rugged terrain.
— Vicki Ann Duraine
”Mom, Mania and Me: Surviving and Changing a Volatile Relationship,” by Diane Dweller, Writing Ink LLC $14.99
Recounting her life with a bipolar mother, Dweller captures the terror and instability of being raised by a “scary mom.” Chronically labeled very excitable and nervous through school, Dweller’s mother Dixie spiraled into a cycle of instability and abuse yet routinely ignored or denied her illness. Dixie died at 92. In those last years, Dweller found love and acceptance with her mother and “as her life began to fade away, so did my hurt and anger.”
Dweller concludes with an appendix listing mental health information and resources.
—Vicki Ann Duraine
”The McShanes: Reluctant Warriors,” by Conley Stone McAnally, Pharaoh Publishing USA, $5.99
From the forests of Panama to Alaska’s tundra, the men of the McShane family served in the military. Vignettes, starting with a Spanish raiding party abducting Hugh McShane while tending his cattle, chronicle the country’s progression and its conflicts and the McShanes who, though not always willingly, served honorably through our nation’s history. The luck of the Irish guided all of the McShanes safely back to the states, though two left behind little McShanes – including one conceived during a mystical rendezvous with the legendary Conga Queen.
McNally, a retired U.S. Army Reserve officer, pens a folksy tour of duty. This is his eighth book.
—Vicki Ann Duraine