Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: June 13-17, 2022

Surf & Rescue

George Freeth and the Birth of California Beach Culture

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Patrick Moser
University of Illinois Press
Softcover $24.95 (248pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The surfing culture that California embodied in the middle of the twentieth century wouldn’t have been possible without the sport’s Hawaiian origins—or without George Freeth, the surfing virtuoso and heroic lifeguard who helped popularize surfing when he arrived on the mainland in 1907. Patrick Moser chronicles Freeth’s short but eventful life in the thorough, engaging biography Surf & Rescue.

Freeth spent his childhood in Hawaii and on other islands before Hawaii’s annexation by the United States. He was the multiracial son of a struggling businessman. His story hits its stride when he heads to California, where he took part in a wide array of aquatic feats, including diving, surfing, and playing goalie on a competitive water polo squad.

With local papers covering his accomplishments and his high-profile roles at tourist resorts, Freeth played a big part in making the Pacific Coast a popular travel destination. Via the public bath houses and club sports that hired him, and his work directly on behalf of Hawaiian tourism, Freeth helped to promote Hawaiian culture on the US mainland, and to make surfing—earlier portrayed by the likes of Jack London as a high adventure—a sport accessible to the general public.

Freeth’s athletic prowess also made a major impact on his lifeguard work, and the book chronicles some of his most daring feats, including the rescue of seven stranded fishermen during a storm. He earned a medal from the federal government for his lifesaving work. Though he was only thirty-five when he died during the flu pandemic in 1919, his life was eventful. A mix of photographs, quotes from contemporary sources, and meticulous research help to document his tale.

Surf & Rescue is the exciting biography of a surfing legend who left behind a considerable legacy.

JEFF FLEISCHER (April 27, 2022)

Beneath the Starlit Sea

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Nicole Bea
Sword & Silk Books
Softcover $16.99 (306pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In Nicole Bea’s fantasy novel Beneath the Starlit Sea, a captive sorceress is called upon to fight monsters, even as the king she serves treats her like one.

Illyse lives a quiet life in a cottage until guards from King Whys kidnap her and bind her with an iron bracelet, dampening her powers and turning her into an unwilling servant of a crown that declares her kind monsters. Paired with a human doctor, Garit, Illyse is tasked with discovering what manner of monster has been killing men on the seashore.

Bouncing between examining bodies and searching old books for clues, Garit and Illyse grow close. The king’s law forbids their union since Illyse is inhuman, though. Illyse has to decide whether or not to become a fugitive for love.

The magical foes whom Garit and Illyse face are crafty and numerous, forcing uneasy alliances as a final battle looms. There are bold descriptions, as of sparkling translucent water creatures and heated glances between Illyse and Garit, though not all of these deepen the worldbuilding. The laws of magical and mundane interbreeding are vague but important to the plot, while the enchantments that tug Garit from man to monster are unclear in origin. King Whys is depicted as sympathetic and deserving of redemption, despite his actions to imprison and harm sorceresses like Illyse.

But the book’s charm balances out its puzzles: Illyse has a companion fox, Thierry, who lends a delightful sense of playfulness to the page, and Illyse’s all-too-human temper tantrums help to make her predicaments feel real. As she and Garit orbit one another, their trust waxing and waning, Illyse begins to believe in love despite all that she has suffered.

In the romantic novel Beneath the Starlit Sea, a sorceress struggles with her desires and identity, finding a path towards redemption and love.

JEANA JORGENSEN (June 10, 2022)

A Suitable Companion for the End of Your Life

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Robert McGill
Coach House Books
Softcover $17.95 (220pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

In Robert McGill’s speculative novel, complex social problems are met with an innovative, controversial technology that bursts onto the black market scene.

After eighteen-year-old Regan decides to kill herself, she orders a toxic flat-packed person from the dark web. That person developed a parasitic infection in a country on the other side of the world and chose to be compressed to slow the disease’s spread. When they’re unpacked and inflated, their presence becomes deadly. One country’s problem is another’s solution: such infected individuals die soon after being inflated, as does the person who desires death. But the day after opening up Ülle, a woman who remembers more of her past than flat-packed people are meant to, Regan is still alive. And then a second flat-pack arrives at her doorstep.

Alternating between Regan’s present and Ülle’s past, the book weaves through the turmoil of the few days between Regan’s inflation of Ülle and her own tragicomic fate. The book examines distressing topics from an absurdist perspective, including suicide, addiction, eating disorders, and parenthood during a pandemic. It bends Regan and Ülle’s stories in unforeseen ways, with cliffhangers and loads of dark humor.

Secondary characters, including Regan’s father, who’s addicted to drugs, and two of her exes, dance on the outskirts of the story, sharing their heartfelt concern for Regan and injecting the novel with an extra dose of personality and humor. Ülle grows into a more rounded character as her amnesia lifts, becoming the perfect sober partner to youthful, troubled Regan, despite the vast differences in their life experiences.

A Suitable Companion for the End of Your Life is strange, compelling science fiction about empathy and survival.

AIMEE JODOIN (April 27, 2022)

This or Something Better

A Memoir of Reslience

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Elisa Stancil Levine
She Writes Press
Softcover $16.95 (264pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Through her lyrical memoir This or Something Better, Elisa Stancil Levine revisits painful events from her past and endeavors to become more empathetic.

Levine’s story of resilience is framed by an account of a fire in California that threatened her home, her horses, and human life. Scenes from the blaze and its aftermath are interspersed with traumatic episodes from her childhood: her step-grandfather molested her, and her mother was depressed. Her prose dazzles, even when she is recounting painful, ugly events: a fire is captured in terms of “bright ash [that] rained down like falling stars,” and her grandpa’s “white whiskers [sit] against weathered skin like sugar on a donut.”

Later events also prove significant, from Levine’s divorce at nineteen to the death of a lover. A high school dropout and a single mother, she ended up living in a farmhouse in Rescue, California, and earning enough money from making and selling a children’s book and corduroy aprons to move to the city. Discovering that “journalism was not a gold mine,” she established a successful career as a decorative artist and saw her work featured on the cover of Architectural Digest.

The book is inspiring as it shows Levine setting goals, making lists, and achieving her desires. Sifting through her memories, Levine also seeks to understand why she sometimes struggles with interpersonal relationships. But although she grew up surrounded by unhappy women, she writes about managing to forge healthy relationships with the young women in her life—and to find a caring partner.

Driven by new experiences and personal revelations, the fascinating, creative memoir This or Something Better is a story about remaking a life.

SUZANNE KAMATA (April 27, 2022)


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Valérie Perrin
Hildegarde Serle
Europa Editions
Hardcover $28.00 (512pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The wounds of a friend group break open following a chance discovery in Valerie Perrin’s gripping novel Three.

When they were children, it seemed that Adrien, Nina, and Etienne would always be inseparable. Those outside of their trio envied them. They leaned on each other through family tribulations, the cruel whims of adults, and the trials of adolescence. They folded into each other’s family vacations, plotted a move in Paris, and helped each other through everyday pains that others could not understand. But adulthood encroached: Etienne, dashing and reckless, branched off to become a detective. Nina, grieving the loss of her grandfather, married a rich older man. And Adrien headed for Paris alone, hoping to make it as a writer.

Apart, the secrets that the friends kept from each other festered, undermining their former ease: Nina’s catch was no catch at all. Etienne trembled over a hazy memory trailing from a lakeside tryst. And Adrien, worried that he could voice his truths to no one, still hoped and feared that his friends had caught glimpses of them. But just when the years apart made it seem they would never be three again: a car was pulled from their hometown lake, forcing their reunion.

Perrin’s prose is engrossing, transforming ordinary situations into delectable treats. Nina has a childhood habit of opening others’ mail in search of love letters; later, her committed work as an animal rescuer is involving. Sun-soaked lyrics complement the book’s long stretches. But there also could be a murder among these idyllic turns; there are certainly instances of violence and betrayal. The eventual unveiling of the drowned driver is far from the book’s greatest revelation—and farther still from its most poignant.

Startling and affecting, Three is a novel about the refuge found in true friends, and about the mercy of self-acceptance.


Barbara Hodge

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