Book Reviews

Interested in finding out more about the books from this year’s festival? Check out these reviews of the 2019 literary features from NAZBF board member ERIK BITSUI.

Book review number 44: James Jay, Master of Reality.

Barman (Gorsky Press, 2019) is the third poetry book from James Jay, not to mention the third published by the great people at Gorsky!

From a musical standpoint, any musician will tell you the third album ain’t easy to write. Kerry King, lead guitarist and founding member of heavy metal band SLAYER, says a band will emulate their heroes on their first two albums but by the third album they will find themselves alone & that’s when they’ll find their own voice.

James Jay shines as a unique voice within the pages of Barman. This is a collection of forty-nine poems in one hundred four pages. This is Jay’s Master of Puppets, his Reign in Blood, his Black Sabbath #3.

Here is a poet who sounds like he can recite poetry from memory.

Here is a poet driven enough to write his third, tend a bar, be a father & husband but will always have time to talk and visit with patrons either old friends or new ones. (Little did we all know, he knew my wife’s favorite drink before I ever met her.)

Here’s a poet who may stop everything to pick up pen & paper to write down a couple lines rolling in his mind.

Here’s a poet, older, wiser, but still the same poet we all know.

My first reading of Barman started on the #7 city bus. From the eastside to downtown, these poems spilled into the streets as the people who came on & off the bus manifest themselves within the pages. Barman became an anatomy chart of Flagstaff.

James Jay observes and reflects in a familiar way. He speaks the words I want to say. I am honored to say he is a good friend & colleague.

Flagstaff, here is your son, your father, your grandfather, your husband, your uncle, your cousin, your colleague, your friend, your very self. Barman is a testament of these very streets that makes us who we are.

Book Review #45: Team Mosier!

Echo’s Sister is the second novel by Arizona’s own Paul Mosier. Lately, I have been reading pre-teen graphic novels and books lately so Echo’s Sister was a nice surprise. If you have never read a YA book before (as an adult), Echo’s Sister is a great place to start!

As a father of two kids, I taught them how to select a book to read: if a book’s first page doesn’t grab you, toss it and grab a new book. With this in mind it should come as no surprise that I didn’t toss Echo’s Sister! After the first page, after the first chapter and the next and the next, I became emotionally invested in each of the characters and finished it quickly then recommended it to my family–and to you as well!

In the novel, Paul Mosier connects with the mind of a 7th grader girl. We see that Echo’s sister, herself, has so much potential, so much passion and insight. We also see her struggle through an impossible situation. We share in her journey, all the mess, all the mistakes and tears upon tears. The narrator’s voice made such an impression on me that I am eager to meet Mosier in person!

What I liked most about Echo’s Sister were the small details of how something smelled, tasted, felt or how the narrator didn’t feel anything at all. I think this attention to detail worked well to connect the narrator with the reader–we’re not alone, we are all connected and we are not much different from one another.

I wonder where Paul Mosier got these detailed insights of a young adult. Maybe he remembers what it was like being a teenage boy himself. Or maybe he was reminded of it as a father of young adults himself. Or maybe he gets it from the fact that he is a fellow human being knowing what it is like being alive, thinking, feeling and observing.

Echo’s Sister has an honest voice that doesn’t shy away from the largest of topics during a vulnerable time of a person’s life. Throughout the reading of the book, I paused again and again to reflect… just as Echo’s sister, herself, does time and time again.

Paul Mosier will be one of the many writers & poets invited to the 2019 Northern Arizona Book Festival. You may catch Mosier read with Janni Lee Simner at Bright Side Bookshop from 12pm to 1pm on Saturday September 14.

Book Review #46: Sensibar Highway

Jesse Sensibar’s debut book Blood in the Asphalt: Prayers From the Highway (Tolsun Books, 2018) takes a long look at the road within & without. Sensibar’s showcases his photos of roadside memorials with his stories of a life on the road.

Along a highway used for a millennia sit those white crosses covered in flowers, offerings and memories. Sensibar first book records the moments spent to take a photo, jot down some notes & acknowledge a place where things ended too soon.

Blood in the Asphalt chronicles Sensibar’s life as a tow truck driver and as a life blazing at high speeds around the American southwest. Before these landmarks for an unknown past fade completely from memory Jesse records their existence as well as his own.

During times of tragedy & loss people will make offerings to a Grieving Tree. A Grieving Tree could be a fence, a headstone or a makeshift cross. Offerings to a Grieving Tree are not necessarily made to relieve the pain of loss but rather as a symbol of acceptance of a truth that cannot be changed.

Sensibar’s book offers his own words at each site on this road of life.

Jesse Sensibar, a board member of the Northern Arizona Book Festival, will be a feature writer for this year’s bookfest. You may catch him read & sign his book with fellow board member James Jay at the Starrlight Books on September 11 at 7 p.m.

Book Review #47: It’s A Rez Dawg Life, yo!

The Adventures of Salt & Soap at Grand Canyon (Grand Canyon Association, 2009) by Lori April Rome with illustrations by Tanja Bauerle.

In this picture book written by local author Lori April Rome we follow the journey of two mixed-breed dogs through the Grand Canyon. Right away what caught my eye were the drawings of canyon vegetation and wildlife. Illustrator Tanja Bauerle has an eye for the astounding color of the Grand Canyon. Tanja also captures the wildlife who live there.

Dogs will be dogs–even in the Grand Canyon. In particular, mix-breeds are found just about anywhere and can live in the most unlikely if places! They are survivors with grand stories to tell.

In The Adventures of Salt & Soap, we get to know the day-to-day hustling and bustling of canyon life through the eyes of these two rez dawgs.

And you can find this particular copy at the Flagstaff Public Library!

Lori Rome will be one of the many authors reading for the 2019 Northern Arizona Book Festival. You can hear Lori Rome read for Storytime at the Bright Side Bookshop on Saturday September 14th at 10 a.m. along with Annie Watson, Dusti Bowling & Daniel Vandever.