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“From Nowhere to Somewhere: My Political Journey”

By Norman Sherman. (First Avenue Editions. $17.99)

Don’t be fooled by this book’s cover photo of a napping Norman Sherman. Far from being a snooze, Sherman’s memoir is a very readable account of the high points and memorable personalities that have marked his exceptional life in liberal politics. He traces the beginnings of his love affair with government to a “(radio) listening party” the election night that Dewey famously did not defeat Truman and got his foot in the door of Minnesota politics as a delegate to the 1954 state convention. He would go on to become a player on both the state and the national scene, working with congressmen and senators whose names are synonymous with mid-20th century American history (Eugene McCarthy, Fritz Mondale, Mo Udall, Lyndon Johnson) and serving as press secretary to Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The author, who lives in Tucson, is a gifted raconteur as well as an astute observer: Political junkies and history buffs will be especially fascinated by his entertaining anecdotes and revealing backstories.

“Notes from Grandpa: Sharing Life’s Lessons”

By Quentin H. Gessner. (Published by the author. $12.95)

Life is a journey, says Quentin Gessner, and to help his grandchildren navigate their way he sends them “Notes from Grandpa” filled with the advice, thoughts and wisdom he has gleaned from living a long and observant life. Lucky grandkids! As an expert on interpersonal relationships who has conducted workshops throughout the United States, Gessner’s grandfatherly advice is first-rate, and with this slim volume he extends his counsel beyond his family circle. With observations on topics that range from self-control and spirituality to conflict resolution and the power of a positive attitude, Gessner offers a template for sensible living, stated simply and succinctly.

Gessner, a retired businessman and educator, earned his Ph.D. at Michigan State University. He lives in Green Valley.

“Tremors in the Cloister: A Memoir”

By Alan Spiegler. (Wheatmark. $9.95)

Allan Spiegler entered a monastery in the mid-1970s, seeking a deeper level of spirituality. Providence answered his prayers in the form of Father Julian, a Catholic priest who taught Spiegler how to make wine, grow medical marijuana and embrace the natural world. He also showed him what courage and resilience look like in the face of debilitating Parkinson’s disease.

Spiegler’s recollections about monastic living at the end of the 20th century make for interesting reading on their own. But the heart of this clear-eyed, touching memoir is Father Julian, a resourceful man who loved life and explored every avenue —from homegrown remedies to brain surgery — in an attempt to live it fully despite his crippling illness. Spiegler, whose life journey ultimately led away from the monastery, is a retired social worker. He lives in Southern Arizona.

“The Tiniest Tumbleweed”

By Kathy Peach. Illustrated by Alex Lopez. (Little Five Star. $12.95)

Author Kathy Peach has chosen an odd sort of hero to deliver her encouraging message for the 7-and-under set, but it nevertheless comes straight from the heart: Believe in yourself and be the best that you can be — even if you are a tiny tumbleweed. Peach, who earned a degree in early childhood education at Arizona State University after retiring from a career in banking and project management, joined forces with illustrator Alex Lopez to produce this warmly affirming book. Animating a tumbleweed could not have been easy, but Lopez is clearly a resourceful artist — his tiny hero fairly pops with personality. “Fun facts” and a curriculum guide make this a unique and useful book for teachers and youth librarians.

“Dark Manna”

By Bruce E. Weber (Stanfield Books, $14.99)

Father Gerald Gowan slips the knots of two of his three priestly vows (poverty and obedience) in this novel, and he’s in serious jeopardy of loosening the third as he struggles to minister in a beaten-down, crime-ridden Indianapolis neighborhood.

Exiled there from another parish where he was falsely accused of embezzlement, Gowan nonetheless sets to work to keep the long-neglected church alive.

The school and rectory crumbling, and his bishop’s telling St. Martin’s to support itself, Gowan is at his wit’s end when he has two unexpected encounters: First, he runs into a parish-school alum, recently released from prison for illegitimate business practices; second, he discovers he’s been renting church space to a marijuana distributor.

The felon comes up with a (legitimate) scheme to raise revenue; the dealer agrees to make a sizable cash “donation” every week, and Gowan is back in business serving his flock.

He might be doing God’s work, in a less-than-godly way, but the company he’s chosen to keep (including one sultry parishioner), and the process he follows will prove problematic.

Weber has created a sympathetic, multi-dimensional character in Gowan, and has nicely complicated a tale mashing saints and sinners, the Church and the cops, and the realities of forgotten, ignored, needy central cities. Plus, he throws in some effective suspense and a twist. It’s an engaging read.

“Do Angels Bleed?”

By Jon Court (Jon Court, $7.85)

Southern Arizona rancher and writer Jon Court has focused on some significant historic issues in this Civil War-era novel.

“Do Angels Bleed?” opens with Union surgeon John Spencer treating soldiers at the 1862 Battle of Antietam. Setting up one of his themes, Court writes, “Each patient (was) placed on the same unwashed table, fully clothed. (Operated on by) the same instruments. The same unwashed skillful fingers.”

It’s hard to fathom that, in relatively recent times, American physicians were that ignorant of fundamental hygiene, and — as Court presents it — still believed such medieval principles as the balance of the humors.

After the war, Spencer begins practicing in a small Massachusetts town. There, Court introduces two other themes —the callous and greedy exploitation of natural resources and the equally callous post-war exploitation of human misery for profit. An industrialist dams the local river, turning riverbed into a mosquito-infested swamp; an ambitious Pole comes to town to make a killing selling caskets (and later, insurance) to the hapless victims of a resulting epidemic.

That there might be a relation between medical practices, swampland and an epidemic is up to Spencer to recognize; love, lust and family ties entangle him with the predatory Pole.

“IRS Whistleblower: My 33 Years as an IRS Insider Will Show You the Secrets of How to Engage the IRS and Win”

By Richard M. Schickel (Richard M. Schickel and RMS consulting LLC, $19.98)

Thinking of stiffing the Feds? Think again. Really: Think again. According to former senior revenue officer (tax collector) Richard M. Schickel, the Internal Revenue Service is comprised of a snarling pack of jackals — with a few less snarly, but just as capable — aching to go for your scofflaw jugular.

In “IRS Whistleblower,” Schickel describes the history of the agency, its appointed mission, its bureaucratic organization, official procedures and abuses of power. From his experience, the agency and tax system are riddled with corruption, from the inefficiencies of outmoded technology and budget-imposed staff reductions through anxiety- and paranoia-inducing employment intimidation, to a culture of illegal activity and of anti-Semitism and racism, and to fundamental inequities in the tax system.

Note that Schickel now runs a tax-resolution firm, but the many stories he tells in this book are convincingly sobering.

“The IRS loved it when I enforced promptly,” he writes. “If you had an appointment with me at 9 a.m. and failed to show up, I would drive to your bank at 3 p.m. and seize whatever cash you had.”

“What To Do When the IRS Is After You: Secrets of the IRS as Revealed by Retired IRS Employees”

by Richard Schickel, Lauri Goff and William G. Dieken, with Valerie Porter. (By Richard M. Schickel and RMS Consulting LLC $19.99)

This book is for those who ignored the advice above and tried to pull one over on the IRS or just received one of “those” letters from the agency. Tax consultants Schickel, Lauri Goff and William G. Dieken, all former agents with the IRS, explain the agency’s investigation of taxpayer returns.

They reveal the nature of tax audits and walk the reader through the process, including appeals. The writers also give general tax advice, make a sales offer and provide a list of fast IRS facts, including the following: “Never ignore a letter or a phone call from the IRS. The IRS never forgets and never just goes away.”

“North American Hummingbirds: An Identification Guide”

By George C. West (University of New Mexico Press, $24.95)

A few aviary courtship facts: White-eared hummingbird males hang in groups till females arrive in the nesting area; then they pair up and take off, leaving the females to build nests and raise the young. Male Allen’s hummingbirds show off to females by shuttling back and forth over their heads and sometimes climbing, then diving at up to 60 mph. Male Lucifer hummingbirds dive as well, but they wait till the females are building nests before they hook up. Sounds like the boys — arrayed in brilliant greens, reds and purples — have a good thing going.

These facts and many others are available in George C. West’s exquisitely illustrated and informative guide book.

Detailed descriptions and color photos are designed to help readers distinguish species, sex, and age from the 17 types of hummingbirds found in North America.

The book is ostensibly written for birders and those who work on bird banding (as does West), but it is simply a lovely, illuminating little book for the lay bird-appreciator. (Like this reviewer, wishing the little guy at the feeder would slow down so I could check out the shape of its tail feathers. Is it a broad-billed? A Lucifer? I’d love to see a ruby-throated, but they don’t live nearby.)

Note: Anderson Atlas’ YA science fiction novel reviewed Aug. 7 under the title “Allan Westerfield Off World” has been revised and retitled “Surviving the Improbable Quest” (

Helene Woodhams

Helene Woodhams

Helene Woodhams

Helene Woodhams

Christine Wald-Hopkins

Christine Wald-Hopkins

Christine Wald-Hopkins

Christine Wald-Hopkins

If you are a Southern Arizona author and would like your book to be considered for this column, please send a copy to: Inger Sandal, 4850 S. Park Ave., Tucson, AZ 85714. Give the price and a contact name. Books will be donated to the Pima Community College West Campus library. Most of the books are available locally at Mostly Books or Antigone Books. There is a backlog of submissions.