“Kill the Gringo: The Life of Jack Hood Vaughn―American Diplomat, Director of the Peace Corps, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia and Panama, and Conservationist”

By Jack Vaughn and Jane Constantineau(Rare Bird Books, A Vireo Book. $17.95. print, $10.99 Kindle)

As the title of this book indicates, Jack Hood Vaughn lived a life dedicated to public service in a career that began in the mid-20th century and lasted nearly until its end. His memoir is an edifying record of America’s role on the world stage during challenging times.

But this is no dry record of names and dates. Jack Vaughn was a consummate storyteller. His memoir fairly crackles with wit and revealing anecdotes, and reads like a “Who’s Who” of political and international celebrities of the time: from Che Guevara (who “spouted slogans but had few thoughts of his own”) to Bill Moyers (a man of “strong character and commitment” with a great sense of humor) and even including a pugnacious Bobby Kennedy. No shrinking violet himself—he had considered a career as a professional boxer—Vaughn once went toe-to-toe with Kennedy during a disagreement, thoroughly riling up Kennedy but earning Vaughn a pat on the back from Lyndon Johnson.

Vaughn’s record of his tenure with the Peace Corps is central to this book. He signed on as regional director for Latin America in the heady days of its founding, attracted by its idealism and its goal of peaceful engagement with the Third World. He was a hands-on administrator, spending his time in far-flung outposts and “…sharing volunteers’ floor mats and their dysentery in almost 500 cities and villages.” He went on to follow Sargent Shriver as the Peace Corps’ second director, charting its course through the turbulent Vietnam era of the late ‘sixties.

Vaughn began his memoir in 1992, the year he moved to Tucson, and kept at it until his passing in 2012 at the age of 92. His daughter, Jane Constantineau, took up the unfinished manuscript and filled in the details and context missing from her father’s colorful account. Together they produced a fine read for anyone with an interest in U.S. history and an ear for a story well-told.

“Zalman Ber: The True Story of the Man the Nazis Could Not Kill”

By Sol Kotz, as told to Lisa Mishler.

(Publication Consultants. $12.95 print; $6.99 Kindle)

Sol Kotz (the “Zalman Ber” of the title) was 25 years old when he arrived in the U.S. on Oct. 29, 1946 and observed, in a wryly understated way, that he had already “lived more than a full life.” A Holocaust survivor, Kotz had suffered unspeakable barbarism at the hands of the Nazis, including the extermination of friends and family; his infant son was shot to death while Kotz held him in his arms. With nothing left to lose Kotz risked his life to escape his captors, joined forces with the partisans, and later enlisted in the Russian army. His endurance in the face of enormous odds is a testament to an indomitable human spirit. Kotz and his wife (with whom he was joyfully reunited after the war) ultimately settled in Scottsdale. His daughter, Tucson artist Lisa Mishler, grew up listening to her father’s stories and she retells them here, simply and gracefully, in a voice that that one can easily believe is authentically his own. This book is as timely as it is profoundly moving, reminding us of how dire the consequences can be when hate-filled rhetoric is allowed to take root and flourish.

“Don’t Make Me Fly”

By Elaine A. Powers. Illustrations by Nicholas Thorpe. (Published by the author. $14.95 paper, $9.95 Kindle)

What a curious creature the roadrunner is! This iconic desert bird prefers hoofing it to flying, and its footprints are the same backwards as they are forwards. With vibrant illustrations by Nicholas Thorpe, this picture book is jam-packed with scientific facts about roadrunners, delivered in verse form to keep the narrative lively. Roadrunners “…grab their victim/behind its head/And bash it on/the ground until it is dead.” Want to know how to swallow a horned lizard? Keep reading! This is the second offering in the “Don’t” series by Tucson author Elaine A. Powers. The first is “Don’t Call Me Turtle!” “Don’t Make Me Fly” is recommended for children in grades K-4.

“The Journey”

by Gail Bornfield

(Gail Bornfield, $12)

You can hear the teacher behind this self-published children’s book by former educator Gail Bornfield. A tale about a Berber family that’s forced off its date- and olive-producing land in Morocco, it amounts to a travelogue about the North African country. The narrative follows the family’s school-aged son from selling dates in the city through working on an oasis, as a “cameleer” for tourists in the Sahara, to herding goats in the Atlas Mountains. Included are snapshots from the regions and facts about life in Morocco.

“The Ways of Wolfe”

by James Carlos Blake.(Grove Atlantic Press, $25)

Tell him,” Axel Wolfe says to himself, before he leaves his prison cell for breakfast. “Tell him,” he says to himself, choking down oatmeal across from the young convict plotting to escape this Texas unit. Tell the kid no, the reader thinks; this cannot end well.

But he doesn’t tell the kid. He joins him and Axel trades his jail routine for harrowing car chases, a flooding Rio Grande, deadly desert, thrilling interactions (think guys with guns and girls with gifts), and mounting felony charges.

This fourth in the Wolfe Texas/Mexico crime family series, “The Ways of Wolfe” exhibits James Carlos Blake’s hallmark fast-paced, pummeling style, but it also proves to be a character study and a sort of examination of the allure of the unlawful. Axel Wolfe is a sympathetic character. He’s principled. He’s thoughtful. He’s a caring father. But he’s a criminal, and risk and violence are irresistible to him.

You wish you could change Axel, but since you can’t, you might as well hang on and go with him. And “The Ways of Wolfe” does take you on a rewarding, vividly wrought, gripping ride.

If you are a Southern Arizona author and would like your book to be considered for this column, send a copy to: Jennifer Bond, 4850 S. Park Ave., Tucson, AZ 85714. Give the price and a contact name. Books must have been published within a year. Most books are available locally at Mostly Books or Antigone Books. There is a backlog of submissions, so we ask that an author submit no more than one book per calendar year.