Legends of the Dragon Cowboys

By David B. Riley and Laura Givens. (Hadrosaur Productions. $12.95)

Riley and Givens present two novellas that are part “Wild, Wild West,” part “Shanghai Nights,” a touch Steampunk, and all tongue-in-check. In “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung,” misdirection and misadventure buffet Ling as he works toward his dream of owning a gun shop. A meddling niece, crooked brother, interfering Irishmen and a strong-willed grandmother determined to marry off her whiskey-swilling, trigger-fingered granddaughter are just a few of the obstacles blocking Ling from his merchant destiny. Not to mention an abominable snowman named Yeti and a Mayan god that manifests as half owl and half man.

Voodoo, cannibals and insane robots stand in the way of a lovable scoundrel and fortune hunter in Chin Pong Ping and the Long, Long Night, but what may really ground Chin is romance.

A Tucson resident, River has written five novels and over 100 short stories. Givens is a writer and artist based out of Denver, Colorado.

— Vicki Ann Duraine

Santa’s Reindeer: The Choosing & Anna Claus

By Ted Roberts and Ruth Roberts Greenway. (DiggyPod. $12)

Long before Rudolph was a twinkle in his daddy’s eye, equal opportunity ruled in this short tale of Santa’s original reindeer team. When Santa realized his sled dogs limited his “gifting program,” he turned to herd of flying reindeer located north of the Arctic Circle where he established the first ever Reindeer Flight Academy. Reindeers packed the Academy, and when the dust settled half of the top 10 were girls – including Vixen, Prancer’s sister.

In Anna Claus, Santa’s “better half” relives her courtship and idyllic partnership with the man in red, catches us up on the reindeer games and teaches Lobito, a grandpuppy of one of the last sled dogs, the ropes when it comes to mushing and speaking.

Roberts adds a feminist twist to a centuries old tale in this slim collection of two stories and four original songs.

— Vicki Ann Duraine

”Dead Again”

By R.L. Clayton. (R. Clayton Enterprise, Inc. $15.99.)

Wide swatches of the United States lay in ruins following a biosecurity attack. The government has completely abandoned California, leaving it to rival gangs all bargaining for position. Sean Gallen, leader of the Charon’s Children motorcycle gang, is poised to turn this outlaw state from an anarchy to an oligarchy. So why is he looking over his shoulder? Because his last summit ended in a high body count caused by an unknown assailant. Gallen suspects his old nemesis, Kiki Russell – a former military sniper and special agent for the president. Impossible to stop and determined to take back the state.

What he doesn’t know is that Kiki is wounded and recuperating with a band of refugee kids in Arizona. Kids much older than their years, ravaged by violence, eager for recruitment and intent on vengeance.

Dead Again is the third in the “Dead” series; a fourth in the series forthcoming.

— Vicki Ann Duraine

Aileron

By Geraldine Connolly (Terrapin Books, $16)

It’s the juxtapositions of images and concepts that strike you in this rich collection by Tucson poet Geraldine Connolly. Her themes include family, childhood reminiscence, place, woman’s role, aging, the natural world, the politics of the border, estrangement. And you’re sometimes surprised at where they appear and how they present.

The theme of family (it’s complicated), for example, recurs throughout the work: The poem “Kingfisher” begins with the description of an art print depicting Plains Indian Chief Kingfisher. A stuffed bird that is barely visible hangs from the chief’s war bonnet. “To be elegant but unnoticed,” she writes, shifting from dead bird to family, to reminiscence, “was my father’s way. / All day he would sit on a perch in his boat, … he would …/ hook a fish…/and hold it, as I hold this memory….”

Memories are “tambourines of childhood”; competitive sisters are “Pomeranians with tiaras”; life (with death) is a Seckel pear (“buttery sweetness, slope of musky pleasure”).

Image- lush “Aileron,” with its undercurrent of darkness, offers its own “slope of musky pleasure.”

— Christine Wald-Hopkins

Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse

By Arthur D. Hittner (Apple Ridge Press, $19.95)

This historical novel reads like a labor of love. Or, of two loves, to be precise: art and baseball. Retired lawyer Arthur D. Hittner, who has written extensively on both art of the ‘30s and ‘40s and of baseball, incorporates both in “Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse.” Inspired by the short, tragic life of little-known painter Harold J. Rabinowitz, it features fictional Henry J. Kapler, who defies his émigré father and heads to New York in 1936 to pursue a career as an artist. In this heady time for art, Henry meets some Modernist artistic stars, and witnesses some historic baseball. He also makes an artistic splash, along with an amorous mash-up. These all play out against the specter of looming war, and Jewish pacifist Henry must decide what to do against the Nazi threat. This is a rewarding, pleasurable read. Hittner writes knowledgeably and discerningly. Including historic artists, movements, baseball players, and the political setting, he lets us dip into a vibrant period.

— Christine Wald-Hopkins

Breeding like Rabbits

By Ardyce C. Whalen (iUniverse, $20.99)

Early feminist thought had definitely not reached rural Minnesota in the 1950s. When the boyfriend of Britt Anderson, Ardyce C. Whalen’s central character in “Breeding like Rabbits,” decides to leave Minnesota and join the Navy, Britt defaults to “woman’s role”— she quits college, signs up for a secretarial course, and gets married. To her Lutheran parents’ horror, she also converts to Catholicism and (you got it) begins to “breed like a rabbit”—five times. Repressed, oppressed, controlled by her husband, the Church and her raging fertility, Britt becomes increasingly homebound, undermined, and frustrated, until she stands up for herself and returns to college for a language arts teaching degree.

You hear some autobiographical resonance in this novel. Whalen has a BA in language arts; she raised five children, and was a teacher for several years. Judging from this novel, feminist thought has definitely reached her part of the world...

— Christine Wald-Hopkins

The Black Bruins: The Remarkable Lives of UCLA’s Jackie Robinson, Woody Strode, Tom Bradley, Kenny Washington, and Ray Bartlett

By James W Johnson. (University of Nebraska Press. $29.95 Print and Kindle.)

Integration was not the goal of the UCLA Bruins in the late 1930s when they recruited five African American players: their eyes were on a different prize. To shore up a struggling football program and achieve gridiron fame and fortune— especially fortune—they broke with tradition and recruited the best players regardless of race. This decision had consequences; UCLA’s defiance of the “gentlemen’s agreement” not to play Negroes against all-white teams was met with anger and resistance, but the transformation it precipitated in college sports had far-reaching societal effects. With this insightful volume, James Johnson offers a well-researched analysis of the careers of the young athletes, from the discrimination they faced on the playing fields in Westwood through the success, and even fame, they achieved in their professional lives, Robinson as an iconic figure of major league baseball, Bradley as a longtime mayor of Los Angeles, and Strode as a Hollywood movie star. Johnson deftly connects the dots between the Black Bruins and the gradual erosion of the wall built by racial prejudice. This highly-readable book should not be relegated to a sports library, despite its absorbing accounts of early Bruins football: readers interested in social and cultural history will be intrigued by the surprising impact of the five on the civil rights movement. Jim Johnson, who lives in Tucson, is professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Arizona and the author of several books.

— Helene Woodhams

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border

By Francisco Cantú. (Riverhead Books. $26. Kindle $12.99)

Many books have been written about the humanitarian crisis on the border, but few are as clear-eyed, personal and compassionate as this extraordinary work by former Border Patrol agent Francisco Cantú. The ink on Cantú’s undergraduate degree in immigration policy was barely dry when he began the rigorous training program for BP agents, a decision that mystified his park ranger mother. What possible benefit could there be for her peaceful, nature-loving son in this soul-deadening profession? As an empathetic Spanish-speaker he had something to offer, he explained, and there was much to be learned from a boots-on-the-ground experience that couldn’t be conveyed in academia. As it turned out, they were both right. Cantú left the BP after four years; this book is based on the journals he kept of his haunting and often traumatic encounters, and his efforts to make sense of his role in the enforcement of tragically flawed policies. Perhaps most disturbing are his post-Border Patrol civilian experiences with the deportation of an undocumented friend. If you only ever read one book about the complexities of the border, it should be this one. A former Fulbright fellow and recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a 2017 Whiting Award, Cantú lives in Tucson.

—Helene Woodhams

Chiriaco Summit: Built by Love to Last in the Desert

By Mary Contini Gordon. (Wheatmark. $19.95. $8.99 Kindle)

Travelers between Phoenix and Los Angeles have long availed themselves of the amenities at Chiriaco Summit, a self-described oasis between Chuckwalla Valley and the Salton Sea. Desolate surroundings and the lack of power and water made it an unlikely place to start a business, but Joe Chiriaco had good instincts and kept his ear to the ground. The son of Italian immigrants, Chiriaco was a surveyor for Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District in 1932 when he heard of plans for a paved highway traversing the Colorado Desert. He got busy, and his filling station and cafe on Shaver Summit opened simultaneously with the new road. Chiriaco understood travelers’ needs, from gasoline and auto parts to cold drinks and hospitality; the family business he launched in the midst of the Depression continues to prosper into the fourth generation. With this scrupulously-researched account, Tucsonan Mary Contini Gordon demonstrates how the synergy produced by historic events—including the wartime arrival of Gen. Patton’s Desert Training Center—and the dynamics of a large and devoted family, resulted in an American success story.

—Helene Woodhams