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The Bookwatch

Volume 18, Number 1 January 2023 Home | BW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Education Shelf Audiobook Shelf
Literary Fiction Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf  

Reviewer's Choice

Conversations Across America
Kari Loya
XK Productions, LLC
9798986125817, $29.95

"Where did you start? Wow! VA?! Just the two of you? Did you fight a lot?"

Conversations Across America: A Father and Son, Alzheimer's, and 300 Conversations Along the TransAmerica Bike Trail that Capture the Soul of America follows a father/son cycling journey undertaken in 2015 by a 75-year-old father with early-stage Alzheimer's and his adult son. It's remarkable not just for the physical effort, but for the mental revelations that accompanied and affected their relationship as the miles and time passed. The effort afforded father and son both a long goodbye and new observations of 2015 America through conversations with ordinary Americans from all walks of life.

Three decades of a shared dream culminated in an experience that broadened the lives of both participants, leading them into new territory both in their relationship and in their perception of a changing nation. Their epic adventure will attract a wider audience than the usual father/son memoir, Alzheimer's reader, or cyclist adventure bookworm.

Packed with photos of the two cyclists as their journey evolved, as well as the individuals they encountered and write about, readers ride through the concurrent transitions of different parts of the American psyche and the interactions and efforts of father and son as they connect with one another and those around them.

This concurrent gift of revelation both personal and social examination makes for a journey like few others: a testimony to love, perseverance, understanding, and experience that captures the real reason for undertaking a road trip -- to live life at its fullest, experience surprises, and ultimately cultivate deeper understanding.

The quotes, visual reinforcement, and opportunity to visit, via this book, the byroads of America and taste the values and beliefs of a disparate population make for an immersive experience highly recommended for audiences beyond the usual memoir reader alone. Ideally, Conversations Across America will be chosen by book clubs interested in discussing a variety of topics, from early-stage Alzheimer's to worldviews and emotional connections from all walks of life. Its conversations capture the purposes and perspectives of ordinary Americans and how they live their lives with gusto.

The Education Shelf

The C.A.P.E. Crusade
Billy Lombardo
Muse Literary
9781958714140, $10.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

Many books for teens and college applicants discuss the application form, SATs, and other influencers on college acceptance, but The C.A.P.E. Crusade: Your Guide to a Great College Application Personal Essay narrows the focus to what often proves the determining factor between acceptance and rejection - the essay.

While it can be said that this, too, is a subject covered elsewhere, what sets Billy Lombardo's title apart from others is its attention to injecting some of the excitement and potential into the effort, which will inspire students to write their best. Lombardo emphasizes his different approach from the beginning, presenting his view of how and why a student essay should not assume the regimented formula approach that other books too often recommend. With this encouragement in mind, students are led into the world of college essay writing with a different, more creative mindset that remains open to all possibilities of subject and presentation.

Pre-writing exercises, examples of topics designed to get students testing their skills and hand at writing tasks, and advice tailored to encouraging creative inspiration over regimented requirements adds to this process by encouraging students to set pen to paper and free flow with creative responses: "Obsess over word count now, and I guarantee that you'll never get to the discoveries necessary for a great essay. Imagine that you're secretly competing with your classmates to write a ten-thousand-word discovery draft. If you come back to shore with more than ten thousand words, we'll sift through the flotsam and jetsam and worry about the word count later."

The C.A.P.E. Crusade is filled with good advice, inspirational and motivating lessons, and cautions about the kinds of input that reduces rather than accents creativity and good writing. The result is a highly inspirational, motivating, different college application advice title filled with rich exercises and examples of work well-done. Billy Lombardo admits from the start that he never had to write such an essay to gain entry into college, and never even took a SAT. What he did do was hone the approaches to writing that support creative efforts and ultimately lend to outstanding results.

Any library strong in recommendations for college-bound students, as well as creative writing sources for inspiring essay writing, will find The C.A.P.E. Crusade a standout and a winner for not only its encouraging approach, but its specific contrasts between what makes for staid and dull writing and the contents of great prose.

The Audiobook Shelf

Inspired, Not Retired
Dr. Burl Randolph Jr., DM
MyWingman, LLC
9781087904665, $21.00 Paper/$17.46 Audio/$3.99 Kindle

The audio version of Inspired, Not Retired provides a flavor the written word misses: the sound of emphasis and clarity which embeds written word with its own drama for an inspirational listening experience. "Retirement is in the eyes of the beholder." Narrator Jerome Ware opens this survey on leadership and life meaning with Dr. Randolph's admonition that the traditional view of what constitutes retirement may be skewed. It's not so much about quitting as about re-envisioning the type of work and life purpose that serves as an inspiration to one's remaining years and influences those around us. Few have embraced this idea more heartily than retired colonel Dr. Randolph, whose vision of retirement as putting his feet up and turning off his cell phone proved quite different, in reality. His experiences involved a foray into leadership that would pass from father to son and between not one, but several generations.

Dr. Randolph realized he was "...just not built to relax. Nor was I ready for retirement." The reality was that, married to a working wife with two teenage sons to raise, he was merely entering into another phase of life where he would have the freedom to more readily choose and direct his path and life work. Thankfully for listeners interested in leadership subjects, he chose the motivational guide route. Thus, this audio (which also appears in paperback and ebook formats), which considers the challenges of retirement, leadership, a father's influences on his son, and lessons learned "in the oddest ways."

Part memoir, part examination of leadership, and thoroughly backed by Dr. Randolph's changing experience and vision of retirement years, this audio would be the perfect retirement gift for that hard-to-please retiree who enters into this new phase of life with little vision of what his future will look like. Between selflessness, preparedness, and hard work (which feels like a startling contrast in a retirement guide; but which actually reflects part of the preparedness component when it comes to recreating one's later years), Dr. Randolph pursues a revised vision of retirement and injects his father's life lessons into his discourse. Subjects of respect, pride, obedience and responsibility may seem reflective of military training (indeed, they are), but they apply in surprising ways to views of retirement and life choices.

Motivational listeners who look for listening that enlightens, pushes, and admits readers into the wellsprings of the author's own life influences will find Inspired, Not Retired a compelling lesson in contrasts between leadership assets and becoming a role model in a child's life. While it might initially be chosen by those looking to retire, Inspired, Not Retired is not so much about how to relax, as how to become an effective leader and mentor in life. This message will reach motivational listeners in all walks of life; from business people to those who would be positive role models for others. The audio version lends emphasis and quiet power to Dr. Randolph's story, making Inspired, Not Retired a top recommendation for libraries interested in motivational listening for a broad audience.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

Ghost House
Sara Connell
Muse Literary
9781958714034, $24.99 Hardcover/$15.99 Paper/$.99 ebook

Ghost House blends occult fiction with literary twists and turns, overlaying its short stories with a sense of psychological depth and feminist inspection. This makes for a delightful collection of diverse perspectives on ghosts and haunted lives. From childhood, Sara Connell has been enthralled by ghosts and the occult. Her early passion for haunts almost got her banned from the sleepover party circuit, as her embellishments and storytelling prowess captured vivid horror scenes that chilled her peers. Thankfully, she never 'grew out' of this fascination for the spiritual realm and its haunting possibilities. Thus, Ghost House represents not just a lifelong pursuit, but a literary collection honed with the trappings of creative horror embellishments and tempered by adult perspectives on traumas that haunt and heal at the same time.

Not every story in this collection features the conventional ghost. One of Connell's talents is to tackle the traditional image of the specter and its haunting capabilities to expand the notion of otherworldly encounters.

The collection opens with the title story 'Ghost House' and the delightful prospect of a new home where the husband buyer sees opportunity and his wife senses adversity. Few buyers are purposely looking for a ghost home. This couple's choice represents not just a bad decision, but good intentions gone awry. Mostly because the ghost does not like Caitlin.

Each story harbors and evolves a different definition of and sense of a ghostly encounter. Each provides readers with a spooky experience laced with a thought-provoking psychologist twist that turns the staid story or anticipated ending upside down. The result is a powerful literary work that offers the delightful juxtaposition of ghosts and unexpected insights and reflections. Libraries that choose Ghost House for its promise of occult entertainment will find the collection evolves beyond the usual supernatural focus. It offers many satisfying points of discussion that book clubs will want to consider, whether they be focused on literature, supernatural fiction, or women's writings, experiences, and issues.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Baen Books

Two new arrivals from Baen Books provide sci-fi readers with seasoned writers and compelling new productions.

Lois McMaster Bujold's Penric's Labors (9781982192242, $25.00 provides three Penric and Desdemona adventures under one cover: Masquerade in Lodi, The Orphans of Raspay, and The Physicians of Vilnoc. Each revolve around sorcerers, demons, and gods which test Penric and Desdemona in new ways, from caring for orphans seeking a vanished father to dealing with a plague that may only be solved by ancient medicine. Bujold's trademark brand of humor and action permeate these tales, which represent space opera at its best.

Eric Flint again expands his 1637 series by working with Robert E. Waters on The Transylvanian Decision (9781982192235, $25.00). Alternate history enthusiasts who have enjoyed the many 1637 sagas of the past will find the same attention to drama and battles in this tale, which centers on the social, religious, and political battles involving the United States of Europe and the future of Eastern Europe as events in Transylvania heat up. The fast-paced action and story line provide complex, inviting scenarios that alternate history readers will appreciate.

Both are recommended for sci-fi readers looking for established authors whose popularity is evident in patron interest.

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Diane C. Donovan, Editor
Midwest Book Review
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Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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