I’M ON A TREASURE HUNT. I’m tired of hearing people say there are “no good books left.” Yes, the market is inundated right now, but I’m on a mission to find the best literary fiction out there provided by the “little guys.” I’m digging through the muck to find rare gems: meaningful and culturally significant literature that engages and says something more than vampire love.

Today the book market is dominated by Amazon and big publishing houses, so I want to give a nod to the small presses who are fighting the good fight. ALL the books I read here have been published by small presses and (whenever possible) purchased from local bookstores.

You won’t find negative reviews here. The market is too vast to waste anyone’s time with bad reviews. Rather, you will find that I am selective about the books I read, and if I don’t like something, I won’t review it. In other words, I won’t give you the dirt, only the plunder.

I will be posting quarterly book recommendations for writers, avid readers, and anyone who thinks good literature is dead. I will also have "Throwback Thursdays" to show some of my old book collection to promote the preservation of classic stories and the art of beautiful bookbinding.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


My December book recommendation is Talismans by Sybil Baker
Publisher: C&R Press
Price: $14.95

How fiercely do our actions rely on our sense of identity? For Elise, everything is driven by her acute awareness that she is parentless. Her father, a Vietnam War veteran, left for Thailand when she was only a child. Shortly afterward, his new wife sent news that he'd drowned. Her letter was accompanied by a photo of him, which Elise carries with her as a talisman during her travels later in life.

No matter what hidden artifacts she finds while rummaging through her mother's belongings, Elise cannot understand why her father left for this otherworldly place. For that, it is no mystery why she is misguided in love, only pursuing foundationless relationships with empty futures. All of her burning questions remain unanswered when her mother dies suddenly, tragically, in a car accident.

After her mother’s passing, Elise has no strings tying her to home. Death, loss, and the absence of familial attachment have left her numb. In an effort to reattach herself to life - or perhaps shed her attachment to the past - Elise goes on a journey through Southeast Asia. She retraces her father's steps through Thailand, hoping to find the same sense of peace he had sought years before.

Sybil Baker’s Talismans is a series of vignettes strewn together, leading our protagonist forward – not toward understanding but to a greater sense of peace. The chapters alternate between third person and first person, though the focus remains on Elise – a literary device that has the effect of constantly pulling us close and pushing us away, the same way Elise treats the people around her. It’s as if we keep going under water, then coming up for clarity.

Elise connects deeply with the cultures she encounters in South Korea, Thailand, and Cambodia. She does her best to separate herself from the average “Western” tourists, the ones who assume enlightenment through superficial experiences. No doubt, Elise measures people by the amount they have suffered, like her. Baker plays upon common Western attitudes of dominance, ownership, and control as she descriptively paints Elise's surroundings.

Elise can be a dislikable person, but perhaps that is what makes her so relatable. She is lost, confused, and self-absorbed. Her search for identity is something we all can relate to, regardless of whether parents are present in our lives.

Without a doubt, Baker's novel takes hold of the reader. Her poetic style and perceptive descriptions animate everything within, creating a story that both captivates and causes serious introspection.