Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup August 3-7, 2020

Book of the Day Roundup Image for August 3-7, 2020

Over in the Woodland

A Mythological Counting Journey

Book Cover
Nicole Abreu
Shar Abreu
Susanna Covelli, illustrator
Familius
Hardcover $16.99 (32pp)
978-1-64170-241-6
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A mother griffin and her brood keep careful watch over an enchanted forest that’s full of mythical creatures in this magical counting and rhyming adventure. Dramatic, beautifully illustrated scenes depict families of mermaids, unicorns, and centaurs as they frolic in the woods. Close observation will help in finding the hidden griffin fledgling who looks on from the warm light and deep shadows of each page.

PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (June 27, 2020)

The Fixed Stars

Book Cover
Molly Wizenberg
Abrams Press
Hardcover $25.00 (256pp)
978-1-4197-4299-6
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Molly Wizenberg lays bare her journey of self-discovery and reinvention in her raw, honest memoir The Fixed Stars.

It was jury duty, of all things, that made Wizenberg realize that she might not be straight. After months of denial, she and her husband agreed to open their relationship so that she could explore her new desires. Far from alleviating the problem, the new arrangement widened the cracks in their imperfect marriage, forcing Wizenberg to reassess her life and what she wanted from it.

The book’s bite-sized segments flow together, resulting in an intricate, multilayered narrative. Witty observations and similes arise as Wizenberg grapples with uncertainties about her identity, marriage, and future. Astronomical metaphors recur: Wizenberg is a star yanked out of her reliable constellation by her sudden attraction to a woman she barely knows. There is no going back. Only by doing the hard work of leaving her comfort zone and asserting herself can she find contentment in a new normal.

Every person in the book, Wizenberg most of all, is made human: they are flawed, vulnerable, and resilient, and are sympathetic even in the course of making poor or selfish decisions. Watching Wizenberg’s cast stumble is emotional and sometimes difficult, but people’s mistakes make even small triumphs more meaningful.

Wizenberg relates the confusion and anguish of her roller-coaster days facing new, unwanted feelings in heart-wrenching detail. She combs through her entire history, questioning every decision and thought that led her to this point and flounders her way toward healing, Guilt—for rupturing her family; for not fitting into any of the traditional boxes regarding sexual orientation—is also confronted. In the end, Wizenberg is rewarded with the hard-won knowledge that the only certainty in life is change.

The Fixed Stars is an unforgettable memoir about the complexities of sexuality, love, and identity.

EILEEN GONZALEZ (April 27, 2020)

Raven’s Witness

The Alaska Life of Richard K. Nelson

Book Cover
Hank Lentfer
Mountaineers Books
Hardcover $24.95 (256pp)
978-1-68051-307-3
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Slow down and contemplate how progress has come to trump stability through Hank Lentfer’s evocative, absorbing, and relevant biography Raven’s Witness—a timely reminder to replace “never enough” mantras with those that prioritize sustainability and that express gratitude and respect for the planet.

From an early age, Richard K. Nelson—or Nels, as he was affectionately known—was underwhelmed by his classroom education. He pursued his own curriculum outdoors, where he was perpetually awed by nature, the great teacher. Even so, he was oblivious to the fact that he would one day be involved in Alaskan land conservation.

At university, Nelson found his wheelhouse in cultural anthropology. As a post graduate, he undertook a project in the Arctic to learn about the Inupiaq people, ice, and hunting. He initially struggled to glean the answers to his myriad questions, but, on the advice of a friend to listen and observe, he changed his approach from that of questioning to listening. It was this approach that distinguished Nels from other cultural anthropologists going forward.

Lentfer’s refined and evocative writing is enriched by excerpts from Nels’s eloquent, revealing journal entries—Nels was an Alaska State Writer Laureate as well. Nels’s adventures are absorbing. He’s seen mushing with his pack of huskies, learning about the fading Koyukan Indian traditions of medicine men and spirit animals, and enjoying life at home, where he lived sustainably and built a writing shack in the wilds. There are poignant moments, too: Shungnak, a husky who spent her life tethered to a sled harness, discovers the freedom of loping on the beach for the first time.

Packed with relevant messages, Lentfer’s biography is a timely reminder to heed the advice of students who have learned from the greatest teacher of all: nature.

BIANCA BOWERS (June 27, 2020)

The Parasol Flower

Book Cover
Karen Quevillon
Regal House Publishing
Softcover $18.95 (334pp)
978-1-947548-73-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In Karen Quevillon’s novel The Parasol Flower, a doctoral candidate, Nancy, becomes so entranced by an illustration of a painting that she stumbles upon during her research that it changes the course of her life.

The painting is the work of Hannah Inglis, and Nancy sets off to discover what happened to the nineteenth-century artist. What emerges is an opulent portrait of an artist trying to survive within the limits of society and colonialism, and the woman who searches for traces of her.

Living an impoverished student life in Paris, Nancy is an American writing a dissertation on the construction of gender. She has limited contact with the outside world and hopes that she will soon be over her failed relationship with her dissertation adviser, Kenneth, who is back in the US. Over Christmas, her mother suggests that Nancy visit Bob and Daphne, an older couple in England. There, Nancy focuses on Hannah’s life in British Malaya, her marriage to an older colonel who forbade her to paint, and the expat crowd that rejected her.

Much narrative attention is devoted to Hannah’s story. Her young, resilient, and genuine personality brings humor and passion to the world around her, even as her drive for artistic expression is threatened by the forces of misogyny, xenophobia, and elitism. The book’s language is as verdant as the flora and fauna that surrounds Hannah. The less frequent chapters that focus on Nancy’s point-of-view highlight the loneliness of both women and their parallel desires for intellectual and artistic kinship, but also the alienation and isolation of expat living.

The Parasol Flower is a visceral, captivating novel about charisma, commitment, and the need for connection—an elegant and wistful portrayal of two women from different eras searching for each other.

MONICA CARTER (June 27, 2020)

Prelude for Lost Souls

Book Cover
Helene Dunbar
Sourcebooks Fire
Hardcover $17.99 (384pp)
978-1-4926-6737-7
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In Helene Dunbar’s Prelude for Lost Souls, a charming small town boasts spiritualism and secret societies.

Every summer, St. Hilaire opens its gates and welcomes desperate tourists who are looking for answers from its psychic population. Ruled over by The Guild, St. Hilaire, a port in the storm for visitors, is also a prison for some of its year-round inhabitants, including the ghosts who roam the streets.

Dec, a “former” psychic from one of the town’s oldest families, wants nothing more than to leave St. Hilaire and never look back. The town’s macabre attractions hold little delight for him since his parents died. One of the only things in town Dec isn’t tired of is his best friend, Russ, a talented medium. Russ is conflicted about Dec leaving—and in his feelings about Dec, period—but not about his desire to become a member of The Guild. He’ll stop at nothing to earn a spot in their ranks, even if it means losing pieces of himself.

Then Annie, a piano prodigy who’s distraught over the death of her teacher, passes through the gates of St. Hilaire when her train breaks down outside of town. Dec, who has become enamored with her music online, agrees to help her finish a supposedly cursed prelude and draws Russ in to help. But is it serendipity drawing the trio together, or something darker?

Small-town staples—no-frills restaurants and chattering busybodies—blend with the supernatural to create a unique backdrop for this paranormal mystery. Small touches, such as a haunted piano, enhance the atmosphere, and are regarded with a normalcy that makes the spiritualism-stepped streets of St. Hilaire feel as American as apple pie.

Working to unravel the mysteries that drew them together, three teenagers find unexpected answers in a town where not only the dead are haunted.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (June 27, 2020)

Barbara Hodge

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