Hamilton High

Eleven award-winning books of realistic teen fiction

Written by a former teacher and never out of print, each book addresses issues that often affect teens, including choices about sexual activity, pregnancy and parenting, bullying, homophobia, abuse, and more. In each book, the protagonist finds strength and resilience to cope and to overcome these circumstances, often with the aid of teachers, family, or the school librarian.  Teens resonate with this series! Teaching guides for every title and for the series as a whole are available for classroom use.

Almond, Quartz, and Finch

by Lisa Bunker

The Nezel are refugee servants, toiling in a desert land where their culture is barely tolerated. Two friends, prowling through secret tunnels, uncover a villainous plot that places the Nezel in jeopardy. Almond and Quartz hatch a desperate plan to aid Finch, rightful heir to the throne.  Even with the help of unexpected allies, their heroic efforts may not be enough—and the Time of Naming cannot be delayed. All adolescents must choose a gender and a new name for adulthood but Almond, intensely private, struggles to make this choice.

Almond, Quartz, and Finch strive to claim their true selves and protect their people in perilous times.

Fans of Ursula K. LeGuin’s EarthSea will relish this proud, loving homage to the golden age of fantasy, in which gender identity is explored in a contemporary way.

The author says: "This one is the book of my heart. It’s the high fantasy novel I wish 12-year-old closeted me could have discovered in the stacks of my school library. I wrote it in a retro style, inspired in particular by Ursula LeGuin’s original Earthsea trilogy. It’s my best work to date, and it’s a book I think the world needs."

and San Francisco Book Review says: "This book firmly places Lisa Bunker as a premier writer for the LGBTQ+ community."

E-BOOK and AUDIOBOOK, NARRATED BY THE AUTHOR, ALSO AVAILABLE.

Audiobook sample:

 

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Reviews:Rosi Hollinbeck on San Francisco Book Review wrote:

In the land of Irzem, Almond, Quartz, and the rest of the Nezel immigrants are treated little better than slaves. Almond and Quartz are still children. They have not yet chosen their adult names or paths — man, woman, or that is both, neither, and in between — as followers of The Way. The ruler of Irzem, Omdyrum, is near death, and all celebrations, even naming celebrations, have been delayed. Almond meets Zilumek, the young royal next in line to the throne. He shares with Almond his agony at being transgender in a society that won’t accept this. Almond and Quartz discover a terrible plot by Nak to overthrow the rightful heir. Can Almond, Quartz, and others find a way to beat Nak?

Lisa Bunker has written a compelling fantasy with important themes for all, especially the LGBTQ+ community. The writing is beautiful and cleverly keeps readers aware of the main theme with non-gendered pronouns used throughout. The syntax carries readers to another time and place and keeps them firmly in Irzem. All the characters are well-developed and believable. This book, along with Bunker’s earlier stellar novel, Zenobia July, firmly places her as a premier writer for the LGBTQ+ community.

Betsy on Off the Wall Bookstore blog wrote:

I really enjoyed this book. The story was interesting and the characters were relatable. I loved the conflicts between how the characters saw themselves versus how they presented to others. I was relieved to have the main characters’ names be used not only in their own language but also translated into English. That made it easy for me to follow the story and keep track of who was which person from the very beginning.

I liked how the author used pronouns to describe not only how characters felt themselves to be, but also how the character was presenting from one moment to another. The pronoun usages and changes worked well. I’d never heard of vo/veir pronouns before reading this book so that was a neat neologism for me (I love new-to-me words and descriptions!)....The ending was very satisfying (no spoilers here!) and I may have shed a few tears while reading this book (a compliment).

I definitely recommend this book when it comes out!

Mombian on Mombian wrote:

Almond and Quartz are on the cusp of adulthood in a culture where all children are genderless until they choose a gender at a coming-of-age ceremony. They are also refugees in a land with far different values about gender, and become caught up trying to save the land from a plot to overthrow the legitimate heir, whose secret only Almond knows. The story not only includes gender diverse characters, but also centers a culture whose belief in gender diversity is tied to the fundamental texts of its religion, which are interspersed with the narrative. This imaginative and affirming tale, written in a style that evokes older fantasy tales, both looks back to its inspiration and envisions a world that could be.

Included in 2023's best LGBTQ middle grade fiction books.

Barb Shumer on Stand with Trans wrote:

Almond, Quartz and Finch must listen, learn, and work together to protect their peoples and claim their true selves, whatever the cost. This is a story about hardships and struggles, and it is also a story about friendships, and working together in the hopes of securing better lives. This story displays parallels to the struggles we see in our world today, with immigrants trying to communicate and fit in to new homelands that have different languages, cultures, and beliefs. The audiobook is read by the author, Lisa Bunker.

Barb Shumer on Stand With Trans wrote:

In this adventure-fantasy novel, we are introduced to two young Nezel friends, Almond and Quartz. They and their families are refugee servants in the land of Irzem, where their culture and spiritual ways are just barely tolerated. In Nezel culture, when children are born, they are named simple words from daily life, providing no hint of girl or boy, hence the names Almond and Quartz. When children reach their thirteenth summer, they are deemed ready for the rite of Naming, when according to the dictates of the Way, they choose their paths forward into the rest of their lives, whether as woman, man, or in between, as well as the names they will carry along those paths.

As the story begins, Almond and Quartz are exploring secret passageways and enjoying a private conversation in a hiding place deep within the Irzem castle walls. The elderly Irzemi ruler Lady Omdyun has long been failing and is near her death. Because of this, many aspects of castle life, including the Nezel Naming ritual, have been altered or postponed. Quartz is not happy. He has been ready for his Naming since forever and looks forward to using his long-ago chosen man-name “Cerach.” Quartz pesters Almond about veir need to pick a name too, and suggests, “Vo would make such a pretty girl, how about Lari for a name?” Almond does not answer and wishes people would stop trying to tell veir what is best. While still in their hiding place, Almond and Quartz learn of a secret plot to overthrow the Irzem empire, and to prevent Lady Omdyun’s grandson Finch, the rightful heir, from gaining the throne upon her death. Aided by a wise orchard-keeper and other surprising allies, Almond and Quartz come up with a desperate plan to help Finch gain the throne and foil the evil schemers. Finch also has veir own challenges in trying to be true to self, while living in the strict confines of Irzem culture.

Almond, Quartz and Finch must listen, learn, and work together to protect their peoples and claim their true selves, whatever the cost. This is a story about hardships and struggles, and it is also a story about friendships, and working together in the hopes of securing better lives. This story displays parallels to the struggles we see in our world today, with immigrants trying to communicate and fit in to new homelands that have different languages, cultures, and beliefs. The audiobook is read by the author, Lisa Bunker.


Almond, Quartz, & Finch is unlike any coming of age story I’ve read before, full of intricate world building, adventure, and gender defying characters. This is a life affirming book that many people— young and old— will find magic, belonging, and solace in; a tale about growing up, trusting in your community, and being brave enough to live exactly as you are.

— Mariama J. Lockington, Stonewall Honor Award winning author of In the Key of Us

From start to finish, Almond, Quartz, and Finch is a book I couldn't put down. Bunker's writing offers the perfect balance of action and intrigue, along with a groundbreaking exploration of gender identity. Lush prose, relatable characters, and a nuanced world are hallmarks of this beautiful, important novel, which is sure to resonate with a wide spectrum of readers.

— A. J. Sass, awarding-winning author of Ellen Outside the Lines

In this imaginative and fiercely hopeful tale about family, friendship, and freedom, Bunker articulates how deeply we know our true genders, and how important it is to honor that knowledge.

— Misa Sugiura, author of Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind

Bunker creates a rich world that feels lived in and full—one that allows for a nuanced and fresh exploration of gender. Fascinating and dazzling, it is a rare pleasure to follow this journey.

— Caroline Huntoon, author of Skating on Mars

About the Author

Lisa Bunker writes rainbow novels for young readers. Veir previous works include Felix Yz (2017),  Zenobia July (2019), and Joy, to the World (2023). Vo has made homes in New Mexico, the LA area, Seattle, the Florida panhandle, Maine, and New Hampshire. Vo now lives in Sacramento, California, with veir spouse Dawn, an expert on anxiety in children and an author in her own right. Between them they have three grown children. Lisa is a longtime trans/enby activist, and from 2018 to 2022 vo represented the town of Exeter in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Veir interests include chess, birding, choral singing, and playing bass and piano.

Check out the feature article about Lisa in the Sacramento Bee!

Listen to Lisa's interviews with the Transcending Humanity podcast

and the Big Gay Fiction Podcast
and with the Authors Over 50 podcast

Read Lisa's blog post at Reads Rainbow.

Read a recent interview with Lisa: https://www.karenbmccoy.com/joy-to-the-world-by-lisa-bunker-and-kai-shappley/


Over 70 And I Don’t Mean MPH

Reflections on the Gift of Longevity

by Marilyn Reynolds

Image of a two-lane road disappearing over the hills

To purchase: https://newwindpublishing.com/product/over-70-and-i-dont-mean-mph/

Want an inscribed copy? Just indicate in the notes on your order.

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Written in a conversational tone with honesty and humor, this collection of essays is a compelling look at experiences and situations common to people over 70. The writings explore subjects such as choosing a burial or cremation plan, living in a body that requires high maintenance, and being typecast as one who can only eat bland foods. The personal essays expose with irony and humor the often overlooked details of the trials of aging, yet also provide a deeper understanding of the necessity of reinvention late in life.

Reviews:Dorothy Rice on Amazon wrote:

I just read this book and loved it. Funny, poignant, true. Passed it on to my sister. These are issues so many of us are dealing with - aging, mortality, loss of loved ones. Author Marilyn Reynolds tells her stories with the right mix of often harsh reality and humor. A quick, fun, insightful read.

Shen Feng on Amazon wrote:

Marilyn writes with complete honesty, insightful reflections and a great sense of humor. Both my husband and I are over 70 and we can relate to many issues she raises and deals with every day: such as our health problems come with aging and our mortality, etc. Her wit and wisdom are shown in every essay in this collection and we feel like she is talking to us as an old friend who inspires us to recognize the necessity of reinvention late in life. We look forward to reading more of her work.


Marilyn's straightforward take on the joys and challenges of aging is realistic, poignant, and at times thigh-slappingly funny. If you or someone you love is over seventy, or ever expect to be, this book is a must read. Part how-to-and part inspirational, her easy, conversational tone invites you to put your feet up and relax with her over a cup of tea, a sip of wine, or one of those pretty little martinis. Whatever your beverage of choice, you've got a delightful few hours in store for you.

If you liked Over 70: And I Don't Mean MPH you might also like:

About the Author

Marilyn Reynolds is the author of eleven books of realistic teen fiction: Telling, Shut Up, No More Sad Goodbyes, If You Loved Me, Love Rules, Baby Help, But What About Me?, Beyond Dreams, Too Soon for Jeff, Detour for Emmy, and Eddie's Choice, all part of the popular and award-winning True-to-Life Series from Hamilton High. Ms. Reynolds also co-wrote the Emmy-nominated script for the ABC Afterschool Special teleplay of Too Soon for Jeff.

In addition to books for teens, Ms. Reynolds is also the author of a book for educators, I Won’t Read and You Can’t Make Me: Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers; Over 70 and I Don’t Mean MPH,a collection of essays on the gifts and challenges of longevity; and 'Til Death or Dementia Do Us Part, a memoir chronicling her husband's descent into Frontal Temporal Dementia. Her newest book is Over 80: Reflections on Aging, a collection of essays.

Ms. Reynolds worked with reluctant learners and teens in crises at a southern California alternative high school for thirty years. She remains actively involved in education through author visits (Zoom or in-person) to middle and high school students ranging from struggling readers to highly motivated writers who are interested in developing work for possible publication. She offers staff development workshops for educators and is a frequent guest speaker for programs and organizations that serve teens, parents, teachers, and writers.

To request a visit, ask a question, or learn more about her work, visit http://www.marilynreynolds.com/



Other Books By Marilyn Reynolds

‘Til Death or Dementia Do Us Part

A memoir

by Marilyn Reynolds

Book Cover: 'Til Death or Dementia Do Us Part

Available in paperback

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In July 2009, after 42 years of marriage, my 69-year-old husband, Michael Reynolds, was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD). As frightening and horrendous as that diagnosis was, it went a long way toward explaining the frustrating and puzzling changes in Mike's behavior that I'd been experiencing from as early as 2005. Neither I nor any of our family members or friends had ever heard of frontotemporal dementia until the term was applied to Mike...There is no known cause. No cure. It is progressive, but the rate of progression is unpredictable...

This account of the steady deterioration of a much loved, bright, talented, funny, emotionally connected husband, father, brother, uncle, music colleague, and friend is unavoidably skewed by my own particular view. But, particular as it is, it also depicts much that is common to victims of FTD and to the ones who love them.

Reviews:Christopher Lillis, MD FACP, on Amazon wrote:

"'Til Death or Dementia is a love story above all else, a wonderful account of the relationship that Marilyn Reynolds celebrated with her husband, Mike. It is beautiful to read and an example of what I hope for all my patients' families--a deep reflection on memories representing all that was wonderful before the diagnosis of dementia. These memories can bring joy amid the struggle with the realities of the disease.

In a most courageous way, Marilyn shares her feelings, doubts, fears and regrets as she recalls Mike's personality and cognitive changes, both before and after his dementia diagnosis. Her words convey the emotional roller coaster in a way that the reader can feel every turn, loop, climb and free fall. Her remarkable ability to share serves as a road map for all those who care for someone with dementia, as I have witnessed among hundreds of families.

I would hope that everyone would read this story, not just those who find themselves caring for someone with dementia. This beautiful book reminds us that life is finite and worth living to the fullest. It brought a renewed mindfulness for me that every moment counts, and despite all life's challenges, love reigns supreme and can carry us through the darkest of times. Our legacy lives on in those we leave behind. Read this book, then think about the life soundtrack you want, and start singing!"


A moving account of her husband's losing battle with frontotemporal dementia. Throughout their journey, Marilyn clings to hope, the comfort of family and friends, and her own strong sense of self, all while having the clear-eyed recognition that her beloved Mike is slipping away. Includes a listing of resources (books, organizations, and tips) that she found helpful.

Originally published by River Rock Books. 360 pages.

If you liked 'Til Death or Dementia Do Us Part, you might also like:

About the Author

Marilyn Reynolds is the author of eleven books of realistic teen fiction: Telling, Shut Up, No More Sad Goodbyes, If You Loved Me, Love Rules, Baby Help, But What About Me?, Beyond Dreams, Too Soon for Jeff, Detour for Emmy, and Eddie's Choice, all part of the popular and award-winning True-to-Life Series from Hamilton High. Ms. Reynolds also co-wrote the Emmy-nominated script for the ABC Afterschool Special teleplay of Too Soon for Jeff.

In addition to books for teens, Ms. Reynolds is also the author of a book for educators, I Won’t Read and You Can’t Make Me: Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers; Over 70 and I Don’t Mean MPH,a collection of essays on the gifts and challenges of longevity; and 'Til Death or Dementia Do Us Part, a memoir chronicling her husband's descent into Frontal Temporal Dementia. Her newest book is Over 80: Reflections on Aging, a collection of essays.

Ms. Reynolds worked with reluctant learners and teens in crises at a southern California alternative high school for thirty years. She remains actively involved in education through author visits (Zoom or in-person) to middle and high school students ranging from struggling readers to highly motivated writers who are interested in developing work for possible publication. She offers staff development workshops for educators and is a frequent guest speaker for programs and organizations that serve teens, parents, teachers, and writers.

To request a visit, ask a question, or learn more about her work, visit http://www.marilynreynolds.com/



Other Books By Marilyn Reynolds

Over 80: Reflections on Aging

by Marilyn Reynolds

Silver Prize award for memoir from the Northern California Publishers & Authors!

A collection of twenty-eight personal essays on aging, covering health, family, faith, memories, grief, longevity, and sharing a dog. The tone ranges from wry humor to poignant reflection as the author shares her thoughts on life in one’s ninth decade.

To purchase: https://newwindpublishing.com/product/over-80-reflections-on-aging/

Would you like an inscribed copy? Just indicate in the notes on your order.

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Dear Reader

This is a collection of reflections and random thoughts dealing with various aspects and experiences of life in my ninth decade. I now fall into the “old-old category,” a stage of life we don’t often see reflected back to us in books or other media. I hope Over 80 is at least a small counter balance.

When I first started this project near my eightieth birthday, I was thinking that my 80s would probably not be much different than my 70s. But they are. Although I continue to be in good health it’s obvious my body is farther along into the decaying process. I’m slower in speech and getting in and out of a car. In some public situations I’m less visible. Although I pass the basic cognitive function test with flying colors, I definitely don’t remember names or other specific details as I once did. So, not exactly like the 70s.

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In the process of assembling all these essays, I became aware of important aspects of my 80s life that had been given short shrift. The subjects range from light-hearted, even silly, to darker aspects of loss and impending death, but music was missing; how did that happen? Music is, at various times, a comfort, an energizing force, a door to the past, or a quick kick of grief. Not a day passes without a musical offering. “Standing on the Promises” transports me back to the age of four or five, sitting on the bathroom counter, watching my father shave, my own face lathered with Yardley’s shaving cream, my father humming in his soft tenor voice, adding the words once both of our faces were cleaned with the hot wet towel, then patted dry: “Standing on the promises of Christ, my king . . .”

With “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth, I’m walking down the aisle to meet the one with whom I’ll share the next thirty-eight years. With Burl Ives and “The Little White Duck,” women now in their sixties are girls again, singing along. A Chopin waltz brings to mind Arthur Rubinstein at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, rising from the piano bench to drive a phrase home. “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” brings back the loss of Mike in unexpected ways, and “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” has me laughing again at the perfect comic timing of his remembered antics. How could I not have included the necessities of music in my reflections?...

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Cynthia Davis, hospice chaplain wrote:

Through humor, acceptance and wisdom, Reynolds shares stories and insights about “…the unknown territory of aging…” as she shares reflections on being in her ninth decade of life. This book is about finding meaning in daily life at any age, and most poignantly, Reynolds shares what has fed her soul from her many years of being an educator. Dealing with unknown challenges and loss, she takes us on a journey as she names the necessities of life, explores healthy aging to the richness of memories and what makes life worth living. It is full of life lessons.

Katerina Christiansen, MD wrote:

While there’s no universally accepted description of healthy aging, Marilyn Reynolds provides a humorous, relatable, and refreshingly honest perspective on a topic that can be as hard to face as it is inevitable. Her self-deprecating wit make concerns about aging that are daily brought up in my office approachable and provide an inspiring example of navigating unavoidable challenges with both pragmatism and hope. While I can’t completely support her red meat, martinis, and wine diet, she makes a strong case that a lifetime of curiosity crossed with a touch of skepticism and an underlying resilience can carry you a long way. Her journey provides countless insights and a thoughtful perspective that would benefit all my aging patients. You won’t regret joining her for this ride.

Ruth Saxton, author of The Book of Old Ladies wrote:

Reading Marilyn Reynolds's Over Eighty is like having a conversation with a close friend. Neither depressing or sugar-coated, Reynolds' anecdotes and insights are a bit like answers to the questions many of us in retrospect wish we had asked our mothers and grandmothers. Her narrative voice is friendly, interesting, and honest. I highly recommend her book and warn you that you may be motivated to begin writing your own reflections.

Jane Manaster on San Francisco Book Review wrote:

Wisdom suggests that as we grow older, we hold onto our attitudes, beliefs, and other lifelong characteristics. Marilyn Reynolds, at eighty-six years old, admits to slowing down and memory loss, but defies wisdom by having found gratifying new interests. Spirituality, less prominent when younger, has become important. Writing groups continue to fulfill a space between pleasure and need, though COVID-19 almost killed book clubs by introducing Zoom, keeping reading companions away. And those significant new interests? Dogs were always welcome, but now, as it gets harder to keep up with animal care, she has found a friend to pet-share. What a creative idea!

In Over 80: Reflections on Aging, Reynolds has leapt into the practice of keeping a little free library. Instead of buying an expensive build-it kit, she has adapted a toy truck to hold books found abandoned in the neighborhood for bulk collection. Just stepping into her yard, she has an ever-changing selection to give and take. Her memoir offers humor and poignancy, a wealth of “let’s share” even the less welcome changes, suggesting a trouble shared is almost a trouble halved. Reaching the age of eighty is no longer a rare achievement, but it still deserves respect and empathy.


What does it mean to live well in late life? Marilyn Reynolds showcases twenty-eight essays on how to survive a sudden health crisis, create your own form of spirituality, share a dog, and think about the past without becoming mired in it. Reynolds’ voice is unsentimental, wry and realistic with a take-no-prisoners love of life and other people. Over 80: Reflections on Aging will appeal to anyone looking to live a meaningful life, whether aged 20 or 90.

If you liked Over 80, you might also like:

About the Author

Marilyn Reynolds is the author of eleven books of realistic teen fiction: Telling, Shut Up, No More Sad Goodbyes, If You Loved Me, Love Rules, Baby Help, But What About Me?, Beyond Dreams, Too Soon for Jeff, Detour for Emmy, and Eddie's Choice, all part of the popular and award-winning True-to-Life Series from Hamilton High. Ms. Reynolds also co-wrote the Emmy-nominated script for the ABC Afterschool Special teleplay of Too Soon for Jeff.

In addition to books for teens, Ms. Reynolds is also the author of a book for educators, I Won’t Read and You Can’t Make Me: Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers; Over 70 and I Don’t Mean MPH,a collection of essays on the gifts and challenges of longevity; and 'Til Death or Dementia Do Us Part, a memoir chronicling her husband's descent into Frontal Temporal Dementia. Her newest book is Over 80: Reflections on Aging, a collection of essays.

Ms. Reynolds worked with reluctant learners and teens in crises at a southern California alternative high school for thirty years. She remains actively involved in education through author visits (Zoom or in-person) to middle and high school students ranging from struggling readers to highly motivated writers who are interested in developing work for possible publication. She offers staff development workshops for educators and is a frequent guest speaker for programs and organizations that serve teens, parents, teachers, and writers.

To request a visit, ask a question, or learn more about her work, visit http://www.marilynreynolds.com/



Other Books By Marilyn Reynolds

Deborah’s Gift

by Lois Ann Abraham

GOLD PRIZE WINNER for fiction from the Northern California Publishers & Authors.

In 1900, young women in St. Louis society must conform to certain expectations. But Deborah Huntworth longs to paint the world as she sees it—radiating with color and light. The death of her pitiless great-aunt releases Deborah. Finally she is free to pursue her artistic dreams and to reclaim the beloved child who was taken from her. But disaster awaits on the island of Martinique. Will the gift of her art be enough to carry her through tragedy?

To purchase: https://newwindpublishing.com/product/deborahs-gift/

 

Excerpt:

Deborah waits to hear the front door click shut as her lover slips out to make his guilty way home to an invalid wife. He has lingered too long, poor fellow; Brently Mallard will miss his train. She enjoys the round, warm, rosy feeling of her body, enjoying it even more now that she is alone again in her refuge where she keeps rendezvous with a passion that has nothing to do with erring husbands.

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The sparsely furnished little room is in disarray. Her paints and brushes fill packing crates; her papers and canvases are piled high along one wall. Her palette, smeared with green and brown, her untidy paint tubes, a drying canvas on the easel, and a finished painting on the wall are left to pack. Everything else has been boxed and packaged for weeks, dreaming in the darkness of escape. Deborah is waiting for the death of her great-aunt, Tante Charity, the French form of address the old lady insists on, waiting for her to pass from this life to what Deborah devoutly hopes will be a blankness, a disappearance, utter annihilation with no possible return, not even a ripple, a breath, an echo, please God, not a dream.

With an occasional dalliance when it pleases her, she is poised to return to Martinique when the fetters keeping her in St. Louis are finally removed. Deborah has just enough money to rent her small studio on Jefferson Street, to pay for paint and canvas and unobstructed room to work. She has created a sweet oasis to help her endure the harsh, dry desert of respectability, where she has sequestered her heart and steeled her nerves. Here she works in privacy, uninterrupted by expectations or obligations, unjudged and free. Only Katy, her childhood nurse, knows where to find her...

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Bonnie DeMoss on Historical Novel Society wrote:

Deborah’s Gift is the story of a woman who is intent on expressing herself, despite the attempts of others to control her. She is a free spirit in both her art and her actions. Her freedom of character explodes from the page, and we see quite a remarkable person who was born into times that tried to constrain her. There is an amazing cast of characters, who, whether wicked, judgmental, or loving, are vividly painted on the canvas of this book. This portrait of a woman’s life is full of creativity, passion, tragedy, and loss. It is a gripping read. Fans of art and American history, plus anyone interested in the eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902, will be captivated.

Jo Niederhoff on Manhattan Book Review wrote:

It’s clear from the start of Deborah’s Gift that this is a novel about an artist. I don’t mean just that it’s outright stated in the prologue; the first chapter, about Deborah’s childhood, is a feast for all the senses. Even before she is able to truly express it, she has a way of viewing things that will serve her well as a painter. Abraham doesn’t just give us a wealth of visual description, though the book has that in spades. (Best of all: it works!) She feeds every sense the reader has, immersing them in Deborah’s world. And what a world it is! Deborah is a young woman caught in the trials of the late nineteenth century when everyone expects her to be some softer version of herself. If she will not bend, she will be beaten down. At times it seems impossible that she will be able to have the life she dreams of. I fell head over heels with this book from the start, and at no point did it let me down. It’s rich and vivid, an excellent addition to the wealth of historical fiction being written today. 5 STARS

Michael Spurgeon, Borchard Foundation Center on Literary Arts wrote:

“In a style as clear, eloquent, and evocative as the paintings of its heroine, Lois Ann Abraham’s historical novel follows the life of a woman fiercely committed to overcoming the suffocating social restrictions of her times as she pursues her dreams. Deborah careens from one tragic turn to the next, but despite a world of heartache, she never wavers from her conviction that the creative act is its own form of salvation. Abraham’s novel reminds us that to live is to love, lose, and endure, but to live well requires the unwavering courage to be true to one’s self.”

Cheryl Rodriguez on Readers' Favorite wrote:

A tale of triumph born out of tragedy...Lois Ann Abraham has a refined gift of storytelling and writes a beautiful, yet heartbreaking historical tale in Deborah's Gift. Her descriptions go beyond mere illustrations as they reveal the passion and power of the imagination. The reader is immersed in the story, plunged into the heart and soul of the main character...Exquisite writing! 5 STARS

Gary Thompson, author of Broken by Water wrote:

“In deliciously descriptive and delightful prose, Lois Ann Abraham tells a coming-of-age story set mostly in America—though important things happen on the French island of Martinique—as the 19th century hastens into the 20th, into the modern age. Deborah, the spirited child who becomes a determined young woman and disciplined artist, once describes her life in fairy tale terms, but it’s a grim, sometimes-terrifying story beneath the shiny castles and princesses of her coded tale. Her artistic gift helps her see and make sense of that fractured world. There are many kinds of gifts in this novel, beginning with the Statue of Liberty, given by the people of France to the people of America, a gift that sets in motion the plot of Deborah’s Gift. And for those who delight in language, there are little, wrapped surprises on nearly every page.”

Mary Camarillo, author of The Lockhart Women wrote:

“Lois Ann Abraham has created a fully-realized fascinating character in Deborah. We see the world and its disasters and delights through Abraham's sensory prose and Deborah’s artistic eyes. I could smell the turpentine and feel the paint under her nails. Deborah appreciates what she calls the ‘luxury of being a single woman who makes enough from her art to cover expenses and then some’ during a time when women’s options were limited to what men told them what they were allowed to dream. A compelling and important story.”

AnetteMat on LibraryThing wrote:

I did not know anything about Martinique before reading this novel. The description of the volcanic eruption of Mt Pelee in 1902 and the catastrophic effects of it on Deborah and others makes for very compelling reading. I especially enjoyed how her current and future life as an artist was influenced by this and earlier personal tragedies. The descriptions of her paintings are very detailed, creating a vivid image in the mind. it is also interesting in that the book visits various places she lived - New York, St Louis, New Mexico, and of course, Martinique. A very good read.


5 star review from Readers' Favorites

About the Author

Lois Ann Abraham grew up in New Mexico in a home rich with books. She attended the University of New Mexico, winning the Freshman Honors prize the first year and dropping out the next. After working as a transportation auditor/consultant, and a brief career as singer-songwriter, she taught literature, creative writing, and grammar at American River College in Sacramento. Her books are Circus Girl & Other Stories, Tina Goes to Heaven, and Deborah’s Gift. Lois Ann loves imagining lives she hasn’t lived; she writes to understand what really goes on in the minds, hearts, bodies, and souls of other people. She lives on the banks of Chicken Ranch Slough in Sacramento with her sisters and two orange and white cats.

Watch a video of Lois Ann's May 2023 workshop to Gold Country Writers on how to write feelings: https://youtu.be/PxPRQ3TRqtw



Other Books By Lois Ann Abraham

Like A Complete Unknown

by Anara Guard

Available in paperback or ebook.

In 1969, a girl’s life is not her own. Katya Warshawsky’s parents demand she drop out of high school and join a cleaning crew. Instead, she runs away, hoping to join hippies, anti-war protestors, and aspiring artists like herself. But Chicago’s counterculture isn’t as welcoming as she dreamed. Widowed doctor Robert Lewis worries how much longer to keep his medical practice open: he can offer little help to his most desperate patients. When Katya—starry-eyed, barefoot, and in trouble—appears in his office, a rash impulse propels him into the turbulent streets of Chicago. While Katya hunts for freedom and Dr. Lewis searches for her, they encounter chaos and beauty as they both risk a new unknown life.

————————————

Finalist, Eric Hoffer Awards, 2023

Winner, Honorable Mention by the Chicago Writers Association for indie fiction Book of the Year 2022.

"A beautifully written debut novel with rich, complex characters bound by their tumultuous personal histories and the volatile political landscape of the late 1960's. Against the grit and beauty of counterculture Chicago, we are allowed to love these flawed, isolated people, and to feel joy as they create renewed lives.”

-- Meredith Hall, author of Beneficence

Reviews:John Weir on Kenyon Alumni Magazine wrote:

Guard’s fourth book and first novel, “Like a Complete Unknown,” follows Katya, a runaway teen with a dream of becoming an artist, and Dr. Lewis, a physician who wants to help her. Guard brings these seemingly disparate characters together to explore friendship, with a satisfying redemption arc that makes the story unforgettable. While at Kenyon, Guard received the John Crowe Ransom Poetry Prize, so it’s no surprise that even her prose is filled with artful, poetic language that proves she’s expert in both crafts.

~Kenyon Alumni Magazine

on San Francisco Book Review:

“In this stunning debut novel, Anara Guard weaves together the fragments of a runaway girl’s life against the backdrop of 1970s Chicago. Her voice is lyrical and self-aware, allowing the reader to fully immerse their self in Katya’s angst and yearnings with a gentle grace that can only come from sympathetic knowing…her deep understanding of story and character show mastery of the bildungsroman and novel writing…lulling the reader into her character’s painful, beautiful world.”

Diane Donovan on Midwest Book Review wrote:

This story of change, transformation, and growth captures not only the social and political milieu of the 1960s, but its pitfalls and opportunities. Readers who want a sense of what these times were like and the struggles experienced by those both within and outside of the system will find Like A Complete Unknown a vivid, thought-provoking story that captures this world from two different experiences.

Jennifer Ibiam on Readers' Favorite wrote:

Like a Complete Unknown by Anara Guard was a fantastic page-turner that broke my heart and mended it. This novel had pieces that came together to make a perfect whole. Anara wrote from the heart, giving the book depth and originality. The story was unique, realistic, relatable, and an accurate depiction of the travails of women, especially in core traditional and religious settings. Anara Guard developed flawed yet appealing characters and interpreted scenes in ways that tugged at my heartstrings. Katya was naïve yet sharp-witted, scared yet resourceful, and industrious. She could make something out of nothing. The author also showed that activists aren’t always the kindest or most decent humans in private. I couldn’t get over Harlow. Dr. Robert was my highlight of the novel, and I would appreciate a sequel that shows what became of Katya.

Trina Hayes on Hungry for Good Books wrote:

Read Like a Complete Unknown to step into authentic, technicolor 1970 Chicago where you can feel the roar of the El overhead. Experience the growing pains of young Katya as she embraces who she wants to become despite having no say about her body. Celebrate the emergence of Dr. Lewis from his self-inflicted cocoon into a world where he can help others and experience love. Grasp the fears of 18-year-olds whose birthdates meant being sent to die in Viet Nam. Like a Complete Unknown will embed you in 1970 Chicago and the lives of characters you’ll love.


Book Group Reading Guide available for download.

About the Author

Anara studied writing at the Urban Gateways Young Writers Workshop of Chicago with Kathleen Agena, the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts with Norman Corwin, Columbia College Story Workshop, St. Joseph’s College with Stu Dybek, Bread Loaf Writers Conference with Robert Cohen and Alix Ohlin, and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. In 2010, Back Pages Publishing issued her first collection of short stories, The Sound of One Body. Her second story collection, Remedies for Hunger (2014) was named one of the Best Books of 2015 by Chicago Book Review. Read her interview with the Authors Guild.

Her debut novel, Like a Complete Unknown, won Honorable Mention from the Chicago Writers Association's for indie fiction Best Books of 2022, and is an Eric Hoffer Award finalist. Her latest poetry book, Kansas, Reimagined, was published in 2024 by The Poetry Box.

She is also a poet and memoirist. Her poems, improbably enough, have won both a John Crowe Ransom Poetry Prize and a Jack Kerouac Poetry Prize, as well as gold prize from the California State Poetry Society. Her work has recently appeared in The Ear, Gold Man Review, New York Times Tiny Love Stories, Last Stanza Poetry Review, Persimmon Tree, and elsewhere.  She and her sister, Gay Guard-Chamberlin, perform their poetry together as Sibling Revelry. Watch videos of Sibling Revelry here and here

Contact the author, subscribe to her newsletter, visit her website, follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

Quotes from various Sibling Revelry audiences:

Loved your program! The introductions/backgrounds/history for the poems were perfect as well as breaking up the poetry by themes. The interplay between you also worked really well. – Joanne K.

Your reading was a delight!  So much fun to see the similarities and difference between the two of you and your work. You read (and write, of course) so expressively. —Michelle K.

It was such a delight for me.  It was such a treat to hear their work and see how they play off one another with their different personalities and styles of writing.  It was also fun to hear them read each other’s poems.—Ruth K.

I was very grateful for the brief respite your event provided. I ordered your book, so I am anxious for it to arrive. I think my favorite poem may have been the one about “What is Greater than 45” probably because of our current situation. I also loved the poem about her breasts; something I can relate to these days!—Shelli S.

I really loved hearing both of you together and the way your poetry intersects and yet is so different. I think your "concept" in these readings is just so lovely for this strange time. I can imagine writing a dissertation on both of your work and its--maybe "interplay" is the right word? I was definitely seeing your performance art side in the reading. —Abby B.

So lovely to see the two of you together with all your devotees! It was a delightful hour, so thank you. The poems really do come to life and I think you should think about reading each other’s poems more. It adds a certain freedom to the reading, I think. Nina G.

That was a lot of fun. The poem about the mason jar actually got me a little misty ("the grandmother's home we long to return to") so I covered my cam for a second to blink back the tears. The ending about the lip meeting our lips is wonderful, too. And I loved the poem about the crow and its knick-knack shelf.—Erika M.

 



Other Books By Anara Guard

Circus Girl & Other Stories

by Lois Ann Abraham

Book Cover: Circus Girl & Other Stories

A little girl discovers the power of the creative impulse. A woman remembers her first confusing sexual encounter. An aging flower child travels to Mexico to save her daughter. A baby is born with blue feet. A man ponders his ex-wife's last word. Those who live in the pages of Circus Girl & Other Stories are seeking--wisely or foolishly, successfully or in vain--to make sense of their lives and to become more completely themselves. For some, the self-examined life leads deeper into darkness, while others find the crack in their universe that lets the light in.

Published by Ad Lumen Press.

Purchase paperback here.

About the Author

Lois Ann Abraham grew up in New Mexico in a home rich with books. She attended the University of New Mexico, winning the Freshman Honors prize the first year and dropping out the next. After working as a transportation auditor/consultant, and a brief career as singer-songwriter, she taught literature, creative writing, and grammar at American River College in Sacramento. Her books are Circus Girl & Other Stories, Tina Goes to Heaven, and Deborah’s Gift. Lois Ann loves imagining lives she hasn’t lived; she writes to understand what really goes on in the minds, hearts, bodies, and souls of other people. She lives on the banks of Chicken Ranch Slough in Sacramento with her sisters and two orange and white cats.

Watch a video of Lois Ann's May 2023 workshop to Gold Country Writers on how to write feelings: https://youtu.be/PxPRQ3TRqtw



Other Books By Lois Ann Abraham

Tina Goes to Heaven

by Lois Ann Abraham

Book Cover: Tina Goes to Heaven

For fans of Anne Tyler and Barbara Kingsolver, Lois Ann Abraham's debut novel is an irreverent mid-life coming-of-age story about a resilient woman's journey to find a place to call home.

"The Swedes have a word for it: hortur, a whore's luck." So begins the story of Shatina Winona Mai Martinez, known as Tina Martin, who attempts to find a way out of being "girlfriend" to a pimp, finding that she cannot rely on "whore's luck" because there's nothing lucky about her life! After a successful robbery to bankroll her escape, she flees the city, only to find herself stranded in the most unlikely place: Happy Trout Fishing Resort, a rustic vacation spot nestled in the Sierra Nevada. It's hard to shake off the habits and dangers of her past life, but Tina relies on her good intentions, keen organizational skills, and willingness to do unpleasant things to make herself indispensable to the camp's proprietor, Bill, and his adolescent daughter, Rachel. Tina faces the challenges and risks of her situation with optimism, though it seems that every obstacle she overcomes contains the seeds of a new disaster.

Published by Ad Lumen Press.

Purchase paperback here.

Reviews:Lydia Netzer, author of Shine Shine Shine wrote:

A sharply specific book can bring more thunder than a wide drama, when an author of this skill sets her scopes on a subject with such heart. Tina is a character we should all be reading: funny, honest, flawed, and allowed to be piercingly dear on the page. Here you will find no slick post-modern detachment, no sneering cynicism, no characters you'll "love to hate." Lois Ann Abraham is not afraid to write with real love, and this is an emotional treasure.


About the Author

Lois Ann Abraham grew up in New Mexico in a home rich with books. She attended the University of New Mexico, winning the Freshman Honors prize the first year and dropping out the next. After working as a transportation auditor/consultant, and a brief career as singer-songwriter, she taught literature, creative writing, and grammar at American River College in Sacramento. Her books are Circus Girl & Other Stories, Tina Goes to Heaven, and Deborah’s Gift. Lois Ann loves imagining lives she hasn’t lived; she writes to understand what really goes on in the minds, hearts, bodies, and souls of other people. She lives on the banks of Chicken Ranch Slough in Sacramento with her sisters and two orange and white cats.

Watch a video of Lois Ann's May 2023 workshop to Gold Country Writers on how to write feelings: https://youtu.be/PxPRQ3TRqtw



Other Books By Lois Ann Abraham

Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle

by Gay Guard-Chamberlin

Book Cover: Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle

Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle is a collection of 36 evocative poems, melancholic and whimsical, that explores the natural world and the collapse of ecosystems, mothers and daughters, aging, the inner life of words, and the secret lives of ordinary objects. Read what crows have to say, how the park closes at night; hear the voice of a broom; remember girlhood; and try to banish those "Regulars," regret and dread, when they insist on showing up. Three of these poems won prizes in the 2019 Poets & Patrons Contest.

PURCHASE:
Paperback

 

Tags:
Excerpt:

Book Club

My mother & I have a book club.

It meets on one side of death,

then the other.

When we meet at my place,

I give her bagels & lox,

peppery iced black coffee.

She says, Not like New York,

but it'll do.

When I go to her house, she serves me

from the big white cracked family platter.

Nothing on it but raw onion, cut so fiercely

my tears cry themselves.

Reviews:Ronne Hartfield wrote:

I love these poems. Love is the word, not “like,” a term much too pallid to convey the luminous quality of the imagery, the straight-at-you honesty and candor of the subjects, the precise, often rapier-sharp quality of the language. These are not poems for the timid, capturing as they do the paradoxical intertwining of domestic and mythic, intimate and philosophical, keenly observant and musingly imaginative. These are poems for the times-in-between, when the way home winds a bit too crookedly, or when the fog rolls in too thick and fast. Gay’s poems are gifts for all of us in need of a phrase like “Don’t you see the whole world shining?” Exactly that.

Jenene Ravesloot on Jenene Ravesloot's Poetry Reviews wrote:

Gay Guard-Chamberlin’s fine debut collection of thirty-six poems introduces us to a world that is specific and personal, but one that also touches on universal themes. The voice of a true poet is evident throughout, as is the studied gaze of an artist. Her language sings; her images stun...One can only step back and admire, again, the imagery throughout, the use of nuanced language that moves the poem forward with great verve, and the resulting emotional impact that lingers long after the page has been turned....There is an abundance of riches in “RED THREAD THROUGH A RUSTY NEEDLE”: family stories, homages, the joy of “ordinary things” such as “zipper teeth that meet and match,” post-election politics, and climate forecasts to keep you, the reader, turning and returning again and again to the pages of this outstanding book of poetry.

Lennart Lundh on Highland Park Poetry wrote:

The thirty-six poems of Gay Guard-Chamberlin’s collection, Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle, are wide-ranging, touching on a buffet of subjects, including horses, dogs, and crows; parents and other relations; neighbors and emotions-as-humans; Easter eggs and politics (both electoral and inter-personal). They are highly personal and revelatory, but also imbued with a strong sense of universality.

Better still, they are also well-written, reflecting the author’s mastery of the poet’s craft. Form generally follows function, amplifying carefully chosen words instead of burying them. There’s nothing obscure in the imagery, and the text is free of the typos that seem to plague current small press productions.

The lengthy prose poem “Stella Maris” acquaints us with the wonderful character of Guard-Chamberlin’s grandmother, who “dated Johnny Weissmuller before he went to Hollywood and became Tarzan.” We’re told of a book Stella Maris’ father gifted her in a dream: “She swallowed the book and the little black seeds of letters sprouted inside her. When she opened her mouth, invisible words tumbled out. My grandmother fed me with sweet invisible words she grew inside her.” Such a way to be remembered and immortalized.

“Corporal” presents its subject in much less detail, but this simply allows the reader to complete the sketch by drawing on every veteran they’ve either known or seen in a film. The closing is beautifully vague:

Home the hero
tosses the papers
into a rusty tin tub
splashes in a dash
of high-flash kerosene
and a goddamned handy

strike-anywhere match.

Using thirty-seven precise words, “The Inner Life of Words” exposes heart, leaving us “listening // from the heart / of the heart.”

The narrator of “After Hearing of Your Suicide” examines both the resulting grief and their sense of culpability:
Did I notice? Did I listen?
or did I lean my head
at the right angle to convey attention,
then place a bookmark between your words
so my mind could wander off in the woods instead?

For readers who have lived in rural or smaller urban towns, “Shift Change” (p. 21) holds a most relatable, and carefully alliterative, verse: “Street lamps would flit on and off, fitful, / forgetful, an erratic glimmer along darkened / streets neon-lit by a few small shops.”

Out of fairness to the reader, enough; there’s not a single piece here unworthy of being pointed out. In the end, despite deeply plumbed wells, these are surprisingly gentle poems. There are no eruptions of anger at others or the narrator’s memories. Instead, there is honesty in these poems that is careful and caring. Out of fairness to yourself and the poet, add a copy to your library.

Sheila E wrote:

Gay Guard-Chamberlin is a welcomed voice to contemporary poetry, and her most recent collection, Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle, suggests that she has a long-standing affinity to traditional poetic forms, someone used to pushing her imagination to that point of fresh insight we expect from poetry. From the charming simplicity of "A Garment Worker's Song", the amusing self-reflection of "Lament" to her meticulous adherence to traditional structure in "Your Contract" and "My Mother's Keepsake," this book is a wonderful collection from a poet who deserves to be read more.


About the Author

Gay Guard Chamberlin is a writer, performance artist and multi-media visual artist.  An award-winning poet, she is a graduate of Columbia College, Chicago, with a Masters in Interdisciplinary Arts, Gay is a member of Poets & Patrons, Illinois State Poets Society, TallGrass Writers Guild, Budlong Writers Group, North Center Seniors Poetry Group sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, and Women on the Verge in Kalamazoo, MI. Among her poetry awards: Illinois State Poetry Society 2022 and Poets & Patrons 2023.

She has taught skills as diverse as self-defense/martial arts and paper-making to children and adults, and is a certified Interplay instructor. Gay has also worked as an office manager for an arts-in-schools organization, a waitress, childcare provider, and caregiver for people with dementia.

She lives on the North side of Chicago with her husband, musician-artist Doug Chamberlin.  Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle is her first book. She and her sister, Anara Guard, perform poetry together as Sibling Revelry. Watch videos of Sibling Revelry here and here
View Doug Chamberlin's video of Gay's poem "My Mother's Keepsakes".

Read a recent interview with Gay as featured member of Poets & Patrons here.

Quotes from various Sibling Revelry audiences:

Loved your program! The introductions/backgrounds/history for the poems were perfect as well as breaking up the poetry by themes. The interplay between you also worked really well. – Joanne K.

Your reading was a delight!  So much fun to see the similarities and difference between the two of you and your work. You read (and write, of course) so expressively. —Michelle K.

It was such a delight for me.  It was such a treat to hear their work and see how they play off one another with their different personalities and styles of writing.  It was also fun to hear them read each other’s poems.—Ruth K.

I was very grateful for the brief respite your event provided. I ordered your book, so I am anxious for it to arrive. I think my favorite poem may have been the one about “What is Greater than 45” probably because of our current situation. I also loved the poem about her breasts; something I can relate to these days!—Shelli S.

I really loved hearing both of you together and the way your poetry intersects and yet is so different. I think your "concept" in these readings is just so lovely for this strange time. I can imagine writing a dissertation on both of your work and its--maybe "interplay" is the right word? I was definitely seeing your performance art side in the reading. —Abby B.

So lovely to see the two of you together with all your devotees! It was a delightful hour, so thank you. The poems really do come to life and I think you should think about reading each other’s poems more. It adds a certain freedom to the reading, I think. Nina G.

That was a lot of fun. The poem about the mason jar actually got me a little misty ("the grandmother's home we long to return to") so I covered my cam for a second to blink back the tears. The ending about the lip meeting our lips is wonderful, too. And I loved the poem about the crow and its knick-knack shelf.—Erika M.