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Standing Firm in the Dixie: The Freedom Struggle in Laurel, Mississippi

Derrion Arrington. Amazon KDP, $20 trade paper (336p) ISBN 979-8-3939-1932-0

In this well-researched debut, historian Arrington succeeds in “lift[ing] the veil of anonymity” that he argues has “long hidden” the civil rights gains achieved by residents of the small town of Laurel, Miss. Beginning in 1832 with the town’s establishment as a lumber camp and preceding through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the 1960s civil rights movement to the present day, Arrington spotlights how Laurel’s Black community has come together to fight organized white supremacy (including a local Klan outpost established at the turn of the 20th century). These efforts included pushing for voting rights and the right to unionize in the 1950s and ’60s; battling for school desegregation, which extended well into the ’70s and ’80s; and challenging a corrupt legal system in the ’80s and ’90s. Arrington highlights how often Laurel was visited by national figures, such as Martin Luther King Jr., who saw the community as fertile ground for combatting segregation, and how the town saw many of its young people go on to leadership positions within the movement at the state and national levels. While the huge amount of minutiae might be difficult to sift through for outsiders, Mississippians will find this a thorough and enlightening overview of local civil rights history. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 08/02/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Safekeeper

Esther Archer Lakhani. Bowker, $9.99 (188p) ISBN 978-1-73587-821-8

A sentient house named Gigi, an interesting play on alien invasion, and a resourceful heroine who learns she has a special connection to all of it distinguish this creative debut from Lakhani. Sophomore Macy Steward, 15, who has reddish-brown hair and dark blue eyes, lives with her parents at the Greenmont Grith Retreat Center in Las Aves, Calif., where they host vacationing aliens who temporarily take over the bodies of compounders—humans with a bit of alien genetic makeup. When a strange, black-haired, hazel-eyed new senior, Nick Pendigon, arrives at Las Aves High with too many questions, Macy must determine what he knows and whether he is a threat to the five offworlders at the Center. While the visitors adjust to their borrowed bodies, Macy must come to terms with Gigi’s sudden revelation of communicative abilities—and simultaneously, Macy’s identity as the Center’s Safekeeper. An alien assassination team, a missing “unofficial ‘guard crow’ ” named Clio, and Nick’s mysterious background compound Macy’s problems. The book’s short length inhibits character development, but Lakhani’s worldbuilding and vivid cast bolster a fun series starter for those seeking a fresh speculative twist. Ages 12–up. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Damaged Goods: Erica Jensen Mystery #1

Debbi Mack. Renegade, $11.99 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-1-7341094-1-2

Erica Jensen, the heroine of this sterling series launch from Mack (the Sam McRae series), survived her deployment to Afghanistan in 2011 as a member of a team of female Marines “who performed valuable back-up to the ground troops and intel-gathering duties.” But the concussion she received from an explosion left her addicted to painkillers, a condition that barred her from later getting a PI license in Maryland. Instead, Jensen takes on research assignments from clients with their own reasons for not going to someone with official credentials. Her latest such job comes from Stuart Blaine, an affluent real-estate developer with a drug-dealing conviction, whose college student daughter, Melissa, has been out of touch for four days. Blaine fears something bad has happened, and Jensen agrees to spend a little time tracking down Melissa. Her discovery of a murder victim connected with her employer raises the stakes. Mack never makes her lead’s work feel anything but realistic and captures the psyche of an addict’s struggles. Fans of flawed but empowered female detectives will be pleased with this exceptional mix of character study and detective work. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Evangeline Goes West

Julia DeBarrioz. Julia DeBarrioz, $12.99 trade paper (196p) ASIN B08MVTHYBH

DeBarrioz (the Dakota del Torro series) delivers a moving tale of personal empowerment. When Evangeline Everett’s husband, Jared Wassler, becomes physically abusive, Evangeline takes her savings and runs, heading to her childhood best friend’s ranch in Wyoming. But she’s not expecting hot young ranch hand Chase McCoy. Their attraction is immediate, but Chase is 20 to Evangeline’s 29, and the traumatized Evangeline uses their age difference as an excuse to avoid exploring their connection. As Evangeline rediscovers her love for horses and art, however, she and Chase grow closer. Evangeline’s marriage has taught her never to compromise who she is again, and she’s frank with the more conservative Chase about her views on abortion, gun control, and religion. Chase, in turn, opens up about his difficult childhood. There’s only so long flimsy excuses can keep these two apart—and DeBarrioz pushes it past the point of believability. Still, Evangeline’s humorous, folksy narration makes the meandering will-they-won’t-they work. It’s inevitable that Jared catches up with Evangeline just as her relationship with Chase takes off, but after the leisurely opening, the blazing finale—which features abductions, gunfights, and bear attacks—feels out of left field. Still, the scenic descriptions, steamy sex scenes, and gutsy heroine make this a solid pick for cowboy romance fans. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Love Is Free. Guac Is Extra: How Vulnerability, Empowerment, and Curiosity Built an Unstoppable Team

Monty Moran. Lioncrest Publishing, $10 e-book (318p) ASIN B08DT4HBRV

Moran, former co-CEO of Chipotle, debuts with an inviting inventory of the tactics he used to transform Chipotle into a national brand. After being recruited from his position at a law firm to help lead the growing eatery chain in 2005, Moran focused on empowering the company's employees by restructuring the hiring process and visiting locations to interact one-on-one with as many team members as possible. Curiosity, respect, vulnerability, and honesty, he writes, are the cornerstones of his leadership style, and while Moran believes "one's capacity to be fully human is perhaps the greatest prerequisite to being an effective leader," he doesn't shy away from delivering tough messages: "Don't fall for the morale trap... the only way to create a culture not in need of morale-boosting actions is to build a culture of empowerment." While some will find Moran's perspective a bit rosy, his down-to-earth style will appeal to managers looking for ways to engage their workforce. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Bell Hammers

Lancelot Schaubert. Lancelot Schaubert, $27 (334p) ISBN 978-1-949547-02-3

Schaubert recounts a mischievous man's eight decades in Illinois's Little Egypt region in his rambling picaresque debut. In 1941, six-year-old Wilson "Remmy" Remus cuts the tension in his classroom following news of the attack on Pearl Harbor by peeing in a bucket, launching a life of constant schemes and pranks and a lifelong feud with classmate Jim Johnstone, whose notebook was splashed in the act. Told in snapshots, the narrative recounts stories of Remmy unleashing pigs in the high school, dumping cow manure for neighborhood kids to play in, and deploying devious punishments for his children, such as sending his 15-year-old daughter on a circuitous Greyhound ride after she complains during a family vacation. He starts a home-building company with an eye on building a Camelot for a band of friends, but his plans run afoul of the local oil drilling company Jim works for. After a storm fells a derrick on his land and pollutes the well water, his petty squabbles with Jim ramp up. The aftermath of a particularly foolhardy prank in 1977 involving some makeshift medieval weaponry proves consequential. While the hodgepodge of anecdotes doesn't offer much in the way of plot, the tone of this particular old man's reminiscences about his greatest hits has some appeal. At its best, this is a hoot. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

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