Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: April 11-15, 2022

The Dylan Tapes

Friends, Players, and Lovers Talkin’ Early Bob Dylan

Book Cover
Anthony Scaduto
Stephanie Trudeau, editor
University of Minnesota Press
Hardcover $29.95 (400pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In 1971, Anthony Scaduto’s Bob Dylan became the first investigative biography of the greatest modern songwriter, examining his formative years in the New York folk scene and the evolution of his musical style and persona. Scaduto passed away in 2017; the interviews he conducted while researching his book are now transcribed in The Dylan Tapes, a book for hardcore Dylan fans.

Two dozen of Dylan’s contemporaries—and Dylan himself—speak in the book, including his ex-girlfriend, Suze, and her sister, Carla; and fellow musicians, including Phil Ochs, Dave van Ronk, Joan Baez, and the Clancy Brothers. Some discussions focus on Dylan’s music and influences, but most involve what he was like on a personal level as he graduated from an aspiring folk singer to an international star.

Published in full, the transcripts are a window into the reporting process, with Scaduto trying to confirm facts with different sources and verify nebulous timelines. It’s also worth noting that several of the interviews include statements that were made off the record or were otherwise not intended for publication. These complications underscore the challenge of defining early-career Bob Dylan, as his own tall tales about his youth and his rapidly changing persona often made it hard to separate facts from fiction.

The Dylan Tapes is a behind-the-scenes view of one of modern music’s true legends—and of one of the first long-form pieces of music journalism.

JEFF FLEISCHER (February 27, 2022)

Under the Heavens

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Ruth Fox
CamCat Publishing
Hardcover $24.99
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Ruth Fox’s Under the Heavens updates the tale of Noah’s ark, transforming it to feature whales in space and a mission gone awry.

Working under an assumed name, Kim is the only human aboard the Seiiki, a giant spaceship bringing Earth’s last whales to the planet New Eden. The link installed in her and in the genetically modified whales allows them to communicate via thought. But the technology is so new that some of the whales are able to use it to break the barriers between their species, which not only keeps Kim busy troubleshooting, but also puts her in danger.

The whales, all named after biblical characters, have distinctive needs, personalities, and vendettas. They refuse to be passive passengers among the stars. And Kim begins to suspect that the organization she works for, the Crusaders, has more to its plans than she’s been let in on. With an intruder on the ship, and with her own future and those of the last whales at stake, Kim decides where her allegiance lies.

The future Kim inhabits has seen humans ascend into space, but also descend to inhumane depths of poverty. Kim’s past as a thief and criminal marks her as a survivor. She’s resilient and resourceful, but slow to trust, and the dangers she faces aboard the Seiiki force her to reevaluate her independence and lack of vulnerability. The depth of Fox’s worldbuilding, paired with the deep development of her characters, results in a sense of urgency. The story also asks important questions about technology, and about when automation hurts and helps humans.

In the space-set adventure novel Under the Heavens, a young woman contemplates the complications of communication and trust in a futuristic world.

JEANA JORGENSEN (February 27, 2022)

The Crocodile Bride

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Ashleigh Bell Pedersen
Hub City Press
Hardcover $26.00 (296pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In Ashleigh Bell Pedersen’s captivating coming-of-age novel The Crocodile Bride, eleven-year-old Sunshine lives with her father, Billy, in the bayou town of Fingertip, in a yellow house that tilts, “exhausted, to one side.” Her Aunt Lou and cousin JL, who is also her closest friend, live in the pink house across “the Only Road.” Though lonely, Sunshine’s childhood is animated by her grandmother’s stories about elves, giants, and the crocodile bride who buried a monster’s heart beneath the bayou and has magical powers to heal. But Sunshine’s world is also haunted by ghosts: her troubled father drinks and darkens the house with his “indoor storms.”

On the cusp of adolescence, Sunshine’s life changes in the summer of 1982. Her cousin leaves for summer camp; her father loses his job, and his inner storms grow more threatening; and Sunshine learns important lessons about independence, resilience, and, with her aunt’s help, life outside of Fingertip. Throughout, Sunshine prevails with determined strength and a spritely imagination.

The Atchafalaya Basin is a place of “strange, shadowy” mysteries, with quirky, dying towns. Its generations are covered via scenes from Sunshine’s grandmother’s move there in the 1940s; from Billy and Aunt Lou’s youth there in the 1950s; and of Billy’s drunken dancing to Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters. And poignant prose captures Sunshine’s “chain of grief, passed from generation to generation. From a father who destroyed all he touched, perhaps even from his father or mother before him … in a past impossible to visit. A grief with no words to give it shape, to give it light.”

Told with vision and compassion, The Crocodile Bride is a novel about a strong-minded, resourceful girl who breaks from her dark family history and hopes to live out a better story herself.

KRISTEN RABE (February 27, 2022)

Paradise Close

Book Cover
Lisa Russ Spaar
Persea Books
Hardcover $25.95 (232pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A troubled girl learns how to be a stable, contented woman in Lisa Russ Spaar’s novel Paradise Close.

After spending six months in a psychiatric institution, fourteen-year-old Marlise finds herself alone in Paradise Close, her family home—and, unknown to Marlise, the setting for the intimate betrayals and heartbreak into which she was born.

Decades later, miles away, another home becomes a refuge to another broken heart. The two houses are linked by sentiments of pain, longing, missed connections, and peace found in unlikely places.

In the beginning, Marlise’s disorientation, borne of self-starvation and a new environment, is palpable: she flits between thoughts, unable to focus or fully comprehend what others say to her—with near-fatal consequences. The parents and childhood that she does not remember are a source of unresolved trauma—or so her doctors say—and she soon finds herself at the mercy of others.

In the novel’s second part, an aging man, Tee, hides away in his own family home, pining for the lover he lost years ago. When he discovers a strange, amnesiac woman squatting in his house, they find a kind of solace in each other’s company. Meanwhile, the woman whom Tee once loved must find her own path to healing.

The connection between the first two parts is revealed in the third and final part, in which Marlise reconnects with and accepts her troubled past for what it is. An unexpected reminder of an old crush brings great emotion and allows her to make some kind of sense out of her experiences. There is value even to what they have lost: both Marlise and Tee realize this somewhat late, but not too late to change their futures.

Paradise Close is a poetic saga in which a woman’s life affects, and is affected by, mental illness, loss, and love.

EILEEN GONZALEZ (April 8, 2022)

When I Listen to Silence

Book Cover
Jean E. Pendziwol
Carmen Mok, illustrator
Groundwood Books
Hardcover $18.99 (32pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Fairy-tale flashes of color dart across this bubbly story that celebrates being alone with one’s own thoughts and dreams. If you are very, very quiet, a girl learns, you can hear whole wondrous worlds moving around you: dragons roar beneath the mountains, star-dappled steeds whoosh through the sky, and trees dance to tunes that now play at the fore of your mind. It may even be that these are adventures worth being hushed for.


Barbara Hodge

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