“Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays”

By Fenton Johnson (Sarabande Books, $15.95)

Reading this rich, varied essay collection by University of Arizona and Spaulding University Creative Writing Professor Fenton Johnson is a little like following a postmodern teaching peripatetic: it wanders, it tells stories, it stops occasionally to observe, it muses.

Central concerns of Johnson’s previous two memoirs and three novels recur in “Everywhere Home” — the power of place (the Knobs of Kentucky; San Francisco); the significance of gay, straight and family community; the dynamic, fluctuating relations of reason to religion; of body and soul; of faith and desire. The collection also speaks to Fenton Johnson as an activist: as an 18-year-old opposed to the Vietnam War, he persuaded a Deep South draft board to grant him conscientious objector status. As a gay journalist, he participated in pressing the resistant New York Times to write openly about the devastation being wrought by the 1980s AIDS epidemic, and he wrote about the AIDS death of his lover. From the nature of art, the nature of beauty, to the meaning of Burning Man, Tina Turner’s sensuality, and monks in contemporary society, Johnson’s interests are far-ranging and engaging. Both personal and academic, they’re the product of a man who celebrates life through words, who writes, “Not long after (seeing Tina Turner perform in Lebanon, Kentucky), I graduated from high school and went wandering, an ancient and exacting and honorable calling.” To judge from this writing, it’s also been a rewarding one.

Christine Wald-Hopkins

“Acupuncture for Your Soul: A Collection of Life-Changing Aha! Moments”

By Rae Jacob (Wheatmark, $15.95)

Inspired by a moment of grace in a Carmalite chapel and her individual journey, Jacob compiled the spiritual stories of teachers and healers sharing their message of the divine and the connectivity of the universe. A short bio follows each essay – often with contact information – and a bibliography is included in the back for those seeking further readings on enlightenment.

Vicki Ann Duraine

“How to Get the Death You Want: A Practical and Moral Guide”

By John Abraham (Upper Access Books, $14.95)

An Episcopal priest and thanatologist, Abraham has dedicated more than 45 years studying the mechanisms and mysteries of death, and shares his findings in this comprehensive and approachable guide to a “good death” or, more realistically, “the least worst death.” Chapters include saying goodbye, the importance of death education and recognizing death’s benefits, and the practicalities of advanced directives, choosing an advocate, and making checklists. Abraham handles these heavy subjects with a light hand using wit and wisdom (quoting sages from C.S. Lewis to Winnie the Pooh) and, in the end, this book is as much about life as death.

Vicki Ann Duraine

“Army Brats”

By Michael G. Cerepanya, (CreateSpace, $15.99)

In “Army Brats,” Michael G. Cerepanya, who was born in Pennsylvania, and spent some of his childhood as an Army dependent in 1950’s Germany, presents a novel about a boy who was born in Pennsylvania and spends some of his childhood as an Army dependent in 1950s Germany.

It’s the time of German reconstruction, and physical evidence and political attitudes of World War II are still in effect. The household of Sgt. Ivan (“the Terrible”) Baryshivka is run with military, Darwinian discipline. When third-grader Lucas humiliates his father by crying after being beaten by a gang of German kids, Ivan puts boxing gloves on Lucas, and starts punching him in the face.

The book is promoted as recreating a time celebrating “unlimited freedom for kids,” and the kids do seem to have wildly unsupervised play time. Certainly, the boys in the family — and in Lucas’ gang — seem free to structure their own society through cunning and physical prowess, taking risks they’re lucky to survive (“Naw, trains never pass through this tunnel”) and playing pranks you wish they’ve suffered the consequences of (dig pits to trip up drunken soldiers? childish fun). This sounds like a 1950s childhood Michael G. Cerepanya himself might have been lucky to survive: a bit of “Tom Sawyer” splashed with a little “Lord of the Flies.”

Christine Wald-Hopkins

“Phantom at Honolulu Harbor”

By Pamela Ashbury-Smith, (CreateSpace , $14.99)

Pamela Ashbury-Smith applied her experience as a civilian in law enforcement and field archaeologist for Bishop Museum in Hawaii to write this Hawaii-set archaeology mystery: when a night watchman disappears, and her archaeological site in Honolulu Harbor is repeatedly vandalized, lead archaeologist Kristen Kelly calls on a private investigator. When a skull is uncovered and more watchmen take off, more than simply Kelly’s project is in danger.

Christine Wald-Hopkins

“All the Love in the Land, Alice”

By Joan R. Lisi. (Virtualbookworm.com Publishing. $15.14 pbk, $3.99 Kindle)

A vintage Louis Vuitton traveling trunk containing a lifetime’s worth of letters and papers was Joan Lisi’s introduction to the grandmother she never knew. It was the sort of discovery a family historian dreams of: using the letters to frame her plot and filling in around them with her painstakingly-researched narrative, Lisi has produced a very readable volume that imagines the life of Alice Hicks Muma, the mystery woman who was her grandmother. Born in 1887, Muma was a California socialite and opera singer and the wife of a prominent businessman. She lived a full life in the interesting and sometimes turbulent years of the early 20th century, and fans of historical fiction will be captivated by her story. Joan Lisi lives in Tucson.

Helene Woodhams

“Eleven Days: From 35 million to food stamps … What a Family Gains When Losing the American Dream”

By JC Cochrane. (R House publishing. $16.95 pbk, $9.99 Kindle.)

JC Cochran was living the dream in her elegant Catalina Foothills home, driving expensive cars and enjoying the best of everything that money could buy until a $90 million business deal went bad and left the family’s finances in shambles. In this deeply introspective memoir the author relates how, with her fortunes in freefall and her marriage in tatters, she found refuge in a Santa Barbara beach house. It was an 11-day time of grace that, Cochran says, “divinely shredded” her, and allowed her to address her own damaging internal imbalance through solitude, meditation and lessons learned from the extraordinary individuals who crossed her path at the beach. Cochran’s remarkably candid account of finding the determination and resilience to move beyond turmoil into a more fully-realized present is inspiring reading. The author lives in Tucson and in Dallas

Helene Woodhams


By Sharon R. Takerer. (Wheatmark. $10.95)

Boys and dogs were made for each other — could there be a better birthday present? For little Toby, a shepherd boy keeping watch by night on a hillside in Bethlehem, a new puppy is the perfect gift to give a special, newborn baby. This sweet picture book speaks to wonder, to a generous spirit and to the fact that blessings come in many forms — and some of them have cold noses and silky fur. A glossary is included that will help small kids sort out the tricky words and the unfamiliar names. Author/illustrator Sharon R. Takerer lives in Tucson.

Helene Woodhams.