Leo W. Banks. (Brash Books ($12.99)
After pitching phenom Whip Stark squanders his talent and money over his penchant for drugs and a widely publicized stay in a Mexican jail, he buys an abandoned trailer park west of the Tucson Mountains where he wiles away the days waiting for his next inning. Other than the outcasts he’s collected, his only neighbors are the drug runners barreling over the pass, who he adroitly dodges. That is until he finds the severed hand of his former catcher on his doorstep.
Featuring a gaudy cast of characters — including an absent-minded professor, a damaged sexy newscaster, strippers, narcos, agaves and a dancing spitball called, El Bailador — this farcical drama goes the distance against the backdrop of Corbett Field and the mean streets of Tucson.
Banks is an award-winning local journalist and on top of his game in his debut novel where the boy finds true love, salvation and a diving spitter.
Take the Dogs: A Novel
R. Reynolds French. (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, $19.99)
To honor his wife’s dying wish, Mac loads up the family dogs and begins a cross-country road trip to thank the people who touched their lives. What he doesn’t know is that his Internet search to locate the people she lovingly listed, catches the attention of an obscure government department systematically silencing operatives of a bilateral biochemical fiasco in Southeast Asia – a project familiar to Mac, a United States Army Special Forces veterinarian during the Vietnam War. Now he and his children are in the crossfire as long-lost contacts resurface. The question is, whose side are they on?
An ambitious multi-layered novel that begins with a whimper and ends with a bang.
The Levine Project: Fighting Back Against a Campaign of Terror
Dan Baldwin, Myles, Karen Levine. (Trafford Publishing ($13.99)
Freshly transplanted from Chicago, the Levines fell in love with their new home in Dove Mountain. But their dream turned into a nightmare over a botched driveway resurfacing project and a cancelled check. The Levines recount in harrowing detail the years spent terrorized by a local contractor who turned a perceived slight into calculated smear campaign – literally. Retaliation escalated from defacing their property with, among other things, a motor oil and feces cocktail, to hatching a chlorine gas cloud that rose 100 feet resulting in a neighborhood evacuation and the arrival of the FBI. Though the Levines never doubted who was behind the attacks, it took almost eight years before justice was served – in this case resulting in a 27 year sentence, and a couple no longer looking over their shoulder.
“Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All”
by Edie Jarolim (The Invisible Press, $15.99)
Travel writer Edie Jarolim writes that it annoyed her when people would ask how her “vacation” went when she returned from an assignment in, say, Egypt, or Mexico. Or a spa. Or an upper-end nudist resort. Putting in those hours peering into hotel rooms to make a living is not a vacation, she asserts. What? Does she know how many writers can’t make a living, sitting at their kitchen tables writing about other writers’ adventures, and only imagining Egypt, or Mexico, or spas, or nudists? Not to complain or anything.
Hers was clearly hazardous duty, but it’s fair to say that her book about it is a kick. In “Getting Naked for Money,” Brooklyn-raised Jarolim describes how she set aside her PhD in poetry and became a travel book editor and contributor in New York and London, and then chucked that and came to Tucson to freelance write. Her New York contacts and experience stood her in good stead, and Jarolim pulled off a successful career writing about travel and food for prestigious national periodicals. She took a brief break from freelance to write about food for this particular prestigious daily (pseudonyms insuring privacy), but it didn’t end well.
Jarolim is smart and funny. She has an irreverent New York sensibility and a breezy writer’s voice, and doesn’t mind telling tales on herself. She was not an “adventure” traveler, but she took risks for a story (riding a dilapidated horse over ice into Copper Canyon, for example; interviewing a squatting male nudist from a swimming pool, for another.).
That’s enough to inspire a writer’s envy. And a reviewer’s two thumbs up.
“Life Before Life: How Soul Agreements Direct your Destiny”
by Carolyn Gervais (Soul Odyssey Books, $16.95)
In “Life Before Life,” spiritual teacher Carolyn Gervais conveys her philosophy that “[t]here is without a doubt, an energy experience our soul directs as it guides us into what comes next, in the life we call now.” Before birth, she explains, souls make connections—agreements—that influence how they interact in the world. Through personal experience (abusive father, alcoholic mother, twin sister, teen pregnancy and early marriage, anorexia) and through case studies of her clients, Gervais demonstrates how she sees soul energy experience borne out.
“Midday Moon: Poems and Photographs”
by Tom Speer (Moon Pony Press, $14)
There’s something refreshing and candidly appealing in this collection of poetry and photos by Pima College Literature and Writing Instructor Tom Speer: it clearly draws from his own life—there’s no separation between Poet and Speaker—and doesn’t indulge in crafty word play or ambiguity. Along with Speer’s atmospheric black and white photos—many taken on family trip so Wales—this feels like a bit of a memoir in black and white. “I raise the camera ...,” he writes in “Market Day in Abergavenny, Wales, “...and I think the past is as real as the present....”
Through scenes, events, places real people take shape through these poems. His first wife doesn’t come off so well in “Sawing off the Branch You Are Sitting On,” but his second one does in “Hydra, 1979” ( “...though we had / only met .../ How long does it take to know a heart ... “). We see a quiet father, an unquiet mother; relatives, friends, children (“Carmen in the Ocean”: ...“this is where I belong”). And we see his professional and personal self: In “Driving Home,” the poet-teacher is distracted and fretting over a student and his own poetic philosophy when his son Colenso runs a little intervention: “Pull over, Dad,” Colenso says, “you are driving / under the influence of poetry.”