Finalist Reviews


Art & Photography

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Montana Modernists: Shifting Perspectives of Western Art
Michele Corriel

Much recent scholarship on Modernism has focused on transnational centers of the movement, like Paris, Prague, New York, or Mexico City. Such research focuses how the cross-cultural dialog of the early 1900s shaped modernism as the first global art movement. A finalist for the High Plains Book Awards in the Art & Photography category, Michele Corriel’s Montana Modernists bucks this trend in a fascinating way. Corriel focuses on how a group of avant-garde artists working in Montana beginning in the late 1940s took these global ideas of modernism and incorporated them into Montana’s identity and landscape as well as the history of art of the American West.

The book is a culmination of Corriel’s doctorate in American Studies/American Arts from Montana State University. In it, she guides us through the diverse work of six artists: Gennie DeWeese, Robert DeWeese, Isabelle Johnson, Frances Senska, Bill Stockton, and Jessie Wilber. Fifty beautifully printed color images show representative pieces by these artists; many of these works were included in the Yellowstone Art Museum’s Montana Modernists exhibition, which Corriel curated.

As both an educator and a relative newcomer to the state of Montana, this book and the exhibit turbo-charged my knowledge of the recent history of art in Montana. Divided into three sections, Corriel considers the importance place, teaching/artistic lineage, and community played for these artists.

The first section on place is perhaps the most straightforward as well as the most compelling. While in urban centers many modernist artists focused on the ubiquity of the city or the possibilities of mechanical reproduction, it was very different for these artists working in Montana. The landscape, the relative isolation, and the lifestyle of Montana are all eloquently expressed by these artists in never-before-seen ways.

The second section on teaching/artistic lineage gives us insight into how these artists’ styles developed. Many of them educators themselves, it is also very clear to me how their influence still resonates with today’s art scene here in Montana.

Finally, the third section on community helps us to understand the dialog occurring between these artists and the broader art world. Within the relative isolation of Montana, these artists created a dialog that buttressed and supported each other and the next generation while also tapping into the broader Post-war zeitgeist.

Montana Modernists distills Michele Corriel’s incredible expertise and years of research into an accessible and beautiful volume. It is a vital resource for anyone interested in the art of Montana.

Todd R. Forsgren is an Assistant Professor of Art at Rocky Mountain College and the director of the school’s Ryniker-Morrison Gallery as well as an artist who uses photography to examine themes of ecology, climate change, and perceptions of landscape while striving to strike a balance between art history and natural history.

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Montana Panoramic: Transparent in the Backlight
Photographs by Craig W. Hergert; Text by Shann Ray

Have you ever done an early evening walk along Swords Park above Billings and struggled to take in, let alone describe, the thrilling views of the Big Horns, the Pryors, the Beartooth range and the Bull Mountains? The wonder and joy of our precious Montana landscape are brought to vivid life in Montana Panoramic: Transparent in the Backlight by photographer Craig W. Hergert, with poetry and stories by Shann Ray. Montana Panoramic is a finalist in the High Plains Book Awards category of Art & Photography.

Hergert is a Bozeman-based freelance photographer whose work has won several international photography awards and he was the recipient of the Montana’s Treasured Artist award from the Secretary of State in 2010. Ray, a scholar of leadership and forgiveness studies, is an American Book Award winner whose poetry and prose are rooted in his childhood spent, in part, on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

Montana Panoramic is a large (12-inch x 8½-inch) and weighty book that invites the reader to sit at a desk and slowly leaf through the gorgeous two-page photo spreads of our Treasure State. The contents are organized by region, and it is an utter pleasure to wander with such a discerning eye from Ekalaka to Libby, and Plentywood to Dillon. Hergert is a master at encompassing a view as grand as the three rivers that meet to form the Missouri, the Going to the Sun Highway, or the Medicine Ridge in Big Horn Canyon. Hergert achieves even further depth by focusing on local buildings, families, animals, monuments, and businesses that define our communities. He lets differing versions of history speak for themselves through images of conflict and environmental destruction. And always there is his unique ability to capture light on the landscape.

Ray’s poetry and prose are throughout the book, bringing added grace and meaning to the photographs. Of “The Big Snowy Foothills – Shawmut” he writes: “What were we below all that grandeur? She loved how the sky was the face of one who’d loved you since before you were born. Capable of stillness and fire and beauty beyond imagining.” Of “Grain Fortresses – Stanford,” Ray writes: “Our towns put up small fortresses of steel as if to guard against desolation. We grew quick in fresh soil. On golden stalks a million-fold. We went through heartache, ceremony, harvest, loss. We fed our families and fed the nations.”

In these days of remarkable environmental challenge and technological change, we can be grateful for this wonderful contemplative collaboration between such a gifted photographer and eloquent writer.

Tim Sweeney is a retired LGBTQ and HIV advocate and activist.

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Conserving America’s Wildlands: The Vision of Ted Turner
Photographs by Rhett Turner; Text by Todd Wilkinson

Conserving America’s Wildlands: The Vision of Ted Turner is a finalist in the 2023 High Plains Book Awards Art & Photography category. Rhett Turner’s photographs are a testimony to his father’s expansive holdings, and to his quest to restore the natural order—to a deliberate, sustainable habitat.

Rhett began his career as a photojournalist and an editor at CNN’s Tokyo news bureau. He is also an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. Essay contributor for the book, Todd Wilkinson, is a long-time environmental journalist and author. He is the western correspondent for National Geographic and the Guardian. This collaboration created a visually stunning and compelling call to “Mother Nature, who is the wise sage billions of years old, but who drinks daily from the fountain of youth.” These photographs document that the world will heal if we allow it to.

Ted Turner is a man used to winning whether it be CNN, the American Cup or accumulating the largest private bison herd in the world.

According to Rhett, Turner wanted bison, lots of them, and thus, needed land – lots of it. Turner enterprises currently owns fourteen ranches, three of which are in Montana, totaling over two million acres which provides range for 50,000 bison. He sees them as a keystone species. Over 40% of the land is held in conservation easements.

Before reading this book, I thought Ted Turner’s greatest accomplishment was innovation, not restoration. Turns out, Ted is a visionary whose motto is “Save Everything.” Becoming rich by the late 1980s, he turned to conservation, restoring land that had been “used up” in part by lax grazing practices. Witnessing ranches that were barren of its natural inhabitants, Turner felt that private individuals could react quicker than government agencies. Jacques Cousteau contributed to his understanding of the natural world. Jimmy Carter, our 39th president, wrote the foreword to this book.

Over a lifetime, Ted Turner has dedicated these two million private acres to a globally unparalleled project to reintroduce and restore the species that once roamed freely there. From this beginning, his holdings have grown to be refuges of biodiversity for some of the most endangered species in the world, from migratory birds to fish and insects, and from wolves to grizzly bears.

Photographs guide us through stunning landscapes of sun, water, forest, and farms. Beaver, gophers, and swans, and, of course, what we in Montana call “buffalo” remind us of what was, and now can still be. It’s a journey that is both enlightening and inspiring regardless of how many acres you may have. Start with your backyard. Encourage birds and bees. Be like Ted!

Shari Nault is an author and the president of the High Plains Book Awards.

Big Sky Award

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Montana Modernists: Shifting Perspectives of Western Art
Michele Corriel

Much recent scholarship on Modernism has focused on transnational centers of the movement, like Paris, Prague, New York, or Mexico City. Such research focuses how the cross-cultural dialog of the early 1900s shaped modernism as the first global art movement. A finalist for the High Plains Book Awards in the Art & Photography category, Michele Corriel’s Montana Modernists bucks this trend in a fascinating way. Corriel focuses on how a group of avant-garde artists working in Montana beginning in the late 1940s took these global ideas of modernism and incorporated them into Montana’s identity and landscape as well as the history of art of the American West.

The book is a culmination of Corriel’s doctorate in American Studies/American Arts from Montana State University. In it, she guides us through the diverse work of six artists: Gennie DeWeese, Robert DeWeese, Isabelle Johnson, Frances Senska, Bill Stockton, and Jessie Wilber. Fifty beautifully printed color images show representative pieces by these artists; many of these works were included in the Yellowstone Art Museum’s Montana Modernists exhibition, which Corriel curated.

As both an educator and a relative newcomer to the state of Montana, this book and the exhibit turbo-charged my knowledge of the recent history of art in Montana. Divided into three sections, Corriel considers the importance place, teaching/artistic lineage, and community played for these artists.

The first section on place is perhaps the most straightforward as well as the most compelling. While in urban centers many modernist artists focused on the ubiquity of the city or the possibilities of mechanical reproduction, it was very different for these artists working in Montana. The landscape, the relative isolation, and the lifestyle of Montana are all eloquently expressed by these artists in never-before-seen ways.

The second section on teaching/artistic lineage gives us insight into how these artists’ styles developed. Many of them educators themselves, it is also very clear to me how their influence still resonates with today’s art scene here in Montana.

Finally, the third section on community helps us to understand the dialog occurring between these artists and the broader art world. Within the relative isolation of Montana, these artists created a dialog that buttressed and supported each other and the next generation while also tapping into the broader Post-war zeitgeist.

Montana Modernists distills Michele Corriel’s incredible expertise and years of research into an accessible and beautiful volume. It is a vital resource for anyone interested in the art of Montana.

Todd R. Forsgren is an Assistant Professor of Art at Rocky Mountain College and the director of the school’s Ryniker-Morrison Gallery as well as an artist who uses photography to examine themes of ecology, climate change, and perceptions of landscape while striving to strike a balance between art history and natural history.

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Montana: A Paper Trail
Thomas E. Minckler

In his richly illustrated book, Montana: A Paper Trail, Thomas E. Minckler offers what he calls “an idiosyncratic history” of the territory and state in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

The “paper trail,” composed of over 300 visuals that inspire and complement the narrative, derives from Minckler’s lifelong career as a collector of historical papers including government documents, personal letters, rare books, photographs, and the visual arts. Readers—viewers—will readily see why this glossy volume is a finalist for a High Plains Book Award in the Big Sky category.

The visualized narrative follows the evolution of Montana from the early days of the trappers, to the gold rush, the Plains Indian Wars, and the heydays of the cowboy and cattle herding.

The steamboat and railroad arrive, followed by the glorified stagecoach, which one traveler deromanticizes in an agonized letter to family back home: “It is not much fun to ride through buffalo gnats and mosquitos and not have anything to eat.”

The familiar figures emerge: Father Pierre-Jean de Smet, Yellowstone Kelly, Henry Plummer, Liver-Eating Johnston, Chief Sitting Bull, and Chief Plenty Coups. So, too, the familiar places—Bannack, Virginia City, Fort Benton—those larger, livelier hubs in their boom days.

Meanwhile, as the author sympathetically laments, the buffaloes all but disappear, and the natives dependent upon them are displaced—at best. But worse, as U.S. General George Crook admitted, he had done battle with native peoples whose cause was more often in the right than that of his own army.

From native culture, a rare female voice emerges. Crow medicine woman Pretty Shield observes that the male perspective dominates in heroic storytelling, even though women also performed heroically as warriors. One might want to say that such male dominance appears in historical narrative more generally, including perhaps Minckler’s.

In any case, the author’s overall emphasis on the “visual” in re-presenting history peaks rewardingly in the extensive chapter on early photography, including camera work by L.A. Huffman and F.J. Haynes. Here the reader is left with many a vivid image of the “actual” in history and the teasing mystery of untold stories behind those images.

Few readers will engage this hefty volume cover-to-cover, start-to-finish. Rather, readers will more likely pursue their own paths through Montana: A Paper Trail. It is a wealth of perspectives to be encountered and envisioned in many ways.

William Kamowski is Emeritus Professor of English at Montana State University-Billings

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On a Benediction of Wind
Charles Finn (poetry) & Barbara Michelman (photography)

The most important element of a good collaboration is that the work from both collaborators must be of equal quality. And that they complement each other. And probably nothing tells you more about how perfectly the stunning black and white photographs that Barbara Michelman provided for On a Benediction of the Wind complement Charles Finn’s poetry than the fact that when they got together in person to discuss which photographs they would pair with which poems, they said it was almost eerie how they would come to a photograph and both say “That’s the one.”

Finn’s previous book, Wild Delicate Seconds, was a beautiful reflection on nature, with each short piece focused on an intimate encounter he had with various animals and plants. But On a Benediction of Wind takes us to another level, as Finn explores the emotional landscape of his life with vivid imagery and sometimes breathtaking prose. Take for example these opening lines from a poem called “Lying Awake,” which is paired with a photograph of slashing blades of light shining down through clouds onto a mountain range:

Ever since he was young sorrow was a heavy stone in his pocket. Sand his voice. Now, when she kisses him, something like rain.

Or this from “Not Sold in Stores,” which Michelman’s photograph of a flock of snow geese landing on a lake provides the perfect backdrop for:

How many words do the birds have

For wind? How many categories for breezes?

It’s all about what you pay attention to

And getting through the day.

The collection was published by Chatwin Books, out of Seattle, and both Finn and Michelman spoke glowingly of how willing Chatwin was to create the kind of book they wanted. Rather than a large coffee-table sized collection, they wanted a book that would feel more immediate and intimate, and On a Benediction of Wind is certainly that, just slightly larger than your usual poetry collection, and more square-shaped. Which accommodates Michelman’s photographs perfectly.

The book won the Montana Book Award for 2022, and it’s easy to understand why, as Finn alternates between his fascination with nature and reflections on love. This poem, “Learning German,” gives us another beautiful example of how he views the natural world, coupled with another Michelman classic of a doe in a snowy field:

In the morning he learned a new word, Gemeinschaftsgefuhl

—a sense of belonging, community, the idea of doing

something right—and in the evening he watched three

white-tailed deer kneeing their way into the meadow,

coal black noses probing the frog-chorused air.

And this final example of love, from a moving poem about his wife, Joyce, called “Each Year on the Anniversary of Our Wedding Celebration, I Do Not Bring My Wife Chocolates, Flowers or a Card:”

I bring her sand to let run through her fingers

Our names tied to the leg of a beautiful bird we let go

I bring dirt from our garden, and a single acorn of oak

I bring her my heart on a plate with a small knife and fork

Russell Rowland is the author of seven books, including 56 Counties: A Montana Journey, and Cold Country. He hosts a radio show, also called 56 Counties, on Yellowstone Public Radio. He lives in Billings.

Children’s Middle Grade Book

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M. L. Smoker & Natalie Peeterse; Illustrations by Dale Ray DeForest

A High Plains Book Awards finalist in both the Indigenous Writer and Children’s Middle Grade Book categories, this excellent book is a graphic novel about a teenage girl who connects with her Lakota tribal tradition through a visionary dream journey. There is a combination of contemporary and traditional characters and themes. The Native girl is challenged by a trickster Raven and helped by natural and spirit-world allies.

Aiyana is a schoolgirl who makes extensive cell phone use, including viewing traditional stories in on-line posts. Her grandmother doesn’t like the stories put on-line, because although viewed by a million people, there is no personal or social context.

The city in which Aiyana lives is on traditional Lakota land, but not on the Rosebud Reservation (“home”) with the extended family, a place one can rely on for fellowship, meals, and sharing of stories. Aiyana’s young cousin says “we do not have to live on the rez to stay connected.…”

On a school field trip, Aiyana and her classmates travel to Black Elk Peak. The ranger is a Native Lakota, a contemporary role model. Challenged by classmate peer pressure, she climbs a tower to take a selfie. During a thunderstorm, she accidentally falls and is knocked senseless. When she awakes, she is alone in nature, there is no cell phone service to call for help, and she is left to her own strategies.

A trickster in the form of a Raven sends her on a quest to find and give four special offerings to the spider Iktomi, the greatest Lakota trickster. If she does, she will be free to return home, or else be trapped forever with the Raven.

The four offerings are: the coat of a great animal, a backwards point, the stone of the land, and a heart song. It is a “deal” without details, and this reviewer will leave it to the reader to see the four items and their meanings.

The book illustrates how storytelling and personal experience are important. Use of riddles is a traditional approach, a way of thinking and learning useful for youth today. A person must make both clever and wise choices and be open to learning from others.

References to the visionary Black Elk, the trickster Raven, Iktomi the spider, and other characters might stimulate students to pursue more information about Native traditions.

Beautiful, striking illustrations give the story flow and completion. A note on language considerations and a glossary of Lakota words used in the book are valuable.

Adrian Heidenreich, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus, Native American Studies/Anthropology, Montana State University Billings.

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Sandra Dallas

Tenmile is a middle-grade novel by writer Sandra Dallas of Colorado and is a finalist in the Children’s Middle Grade Book category for the High Plains Book Awards.

Dallas is an award-winning author, with four Western Writers of America Spur Awards and six Women Writing the West WILLA Awards. She is a member of the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame. Tenmile is one of her most recent works. The story takes place in the 1880s, in a hardscrabble Colorado mining town.

The novel’s protagonist, Sissy Carlson, is the thirteen-year-old daughter of the town’s doctor. Due to the nature of her father’s vocation, Sissy works as his assistant. As such, she witnesses nail-biting life-and-death situations and learns about empathy from him. During her daily struggles, she begins to think about what she wants out of life, particularly as a girl. Is she brave enough to leave the small town and her father? Is she even braver to dream of going to college?

Sissy interacts with a wide range of people, from widows, immigrants, miners, business owners, and more—people who span the socio-economic spectrum. This leads Sissy to reflect on how money, education, ethnicity, and privilege can shape people’s lives. It is clear that Dallas has done research on the time period and on the locale for this work of historical fiction; Dallas makes it easy to imagine the rough and ragged mining town where Sissy lives. The narrative is fast-moving and is sure to hold the attention of middle-grade readers. A few of the medical scenes might make readers wince—and be thankful for modern medical technology.

Dallas tells a compassionate story of nineteenth-century America through the eyes of a young girl. The author handles pacing and character development quite well and deals with complex themes in an empathetic manner. For children studying immigration and westward expansion, this novel would make a good supplement to their curriculum. For fans of Patricia MacLachlan’s classic Sarah, Plain and Tall (1985) or Dan Gemeinhart’s Some Kind of Courage (2016), Tenmile is sure to be enjoyed.

Precious McKenzie, PhD, is the Director of Advancement at the Yellowstone Art Museum and is the author of over forty books for children. Her recent novels include “Ruffian” (BeaLu Books) and “Infestation” (Lerner/Darby Creek). Her picture book, “Cinder Yeti,” was chosen by the Library of Congress Center for the Book/ National Book Festival “Great Reads from Great Places” in 2020.

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If You Can Dream It You Can Do It
Colleen Nelson & Kathie MacIsaac; Illustrations by Scot Ritchie

Young people are often asked what they want to be when they grow up. This book provides curious minds with short essays about the career paths of 25 people. Written by Colleen Nelson and Kathie MacIsaac, If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It is a finalist in the Children’s Middle Grade Book category in the High Plains Book Awards.

The first subject is Melissa Marquez, marine biologist. The easy -to-read prose starts by describing Melissa’s love for the ocean and sea life when she was a child in Puerto Rico. The essay continues by outlining her educational path and how that led to being a marine biologist. The authors describe Melissa’s daily responsibilities in her job as well as what she finds most rewarding. Side bars, including Spin Off Jobs, Living the Dream, and Pro Tips, provide information about how to gain necessary job skills and descriptions of similar jobs. Vocabulary that may be new to readers is printed in bold text and defined in the book’s glossary. Each career is given two facing pages of this engaging book. The remaining 24 career essays follow the same format: what were the person’s strengths and interests as a child and what educational and career choices got them to their current job.

As with all journeys in life, choosing the right career is not always easy. The authors point out in their forward that the subjects of the essays were chosen specifically because they faced adversity in their lives and didn’t give up. This is a valuable message for young readers. More than one of the essays focuses on people who realized that their first career choice was not right for them. Brenda Hsueh quit her job in finance to be a farmer, a choice that fits her personal values and interests much better.

This career book boasts many strengths: both university and trade school are presented as paths to meaningful careers, traditional gender roles are not adhered to, and jobs that focus on the environment are included. A table of contents and index are helpful additions to the book. The only drawback of the book is that job requirements are provided for those residing in Canada. Readers should be aware that not all requirements are the same in the United States.

This is a great choice for readers in upper elementary or middle school who are pondering their futures!

Andrea Doles is the librarian at Ben Steele Middle School and enjoys genealogy and reading historical fiction.

Children’s Picture Book

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I Do Not Like the Rotten Egg Scent in Yellowstone National Park
Penelope Kaye

In this whirlwind tour of Yellowstone National Park (YNP), our guide, an adorable young pig-tailed girl, introduces us to the animals who call the park home and the iconic smell we all know. Author Penelope Kaye’s book I Do Not Like the Rotten Egg Scent in Yellowstone National Park, a finalist for Children’s Picture Book in the High Plains Book Awards, reminds us that Yellowstone is perfect just the way it is.

Ms. Kaye is an award-winning author and teacher. Her many travels to YNP helped influence the setting for her first picture book. You cannot help but feel the author’s appreciation for the animals of the park as she describes their reactions to the smell. “Moose obviously like the odor. They make funny sounds as they wander by.” Along with the observations of the author are the beautiful paintings by illustrator Robert Sauber. Our young tour guide has red hair and pigtails, reminding this reviewer of another precocious child in children’s literature. While she continually expresses her dislike of the smell, she points out the animals who live, breathe, and call YNP home.

This book is perfect for any child who has ever commented on the sulfur smell that permeates throughout the Park and the parents who must deal with the child’s reaction. The author has created a parent/teacher page full of fun activities along with discussion of what causes the infamous smell. You can even recreate it at home with a recipe for mud pots in the book. A great introduction to Yellowstone National Park!

Allynne Ellis is the Children’s Librarian at Billings Public Library and enjoys reading children’s books and sharing the love of reading with children and their families.

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Buddy: A Farm in the Forest Story
Jena Wagmann

Buddy was a little bit crooked: his teeth stuck out of one side of his lip, his nose was off-center, and his eyes bulged a bit. In Jena Wagmann’s charming, easy-going story, this little furry hero shares the importance of love from the inside. Buddy is one of three finalists in the inaugural Children’s Picture Book category for the 2023 High Plains Book Awards.

After a series of unfortunate events, Buddy, a small Shih Tzu, is abandoned deep in a forest. Thirsty and starving, he miraculously finds the Farm in the Forest, where he spends a week stealing chicken eggs and making a hole in the chicken fence. When he is discovered by the farmer, Buddy is introduced to a whole new world of love and care through the farmer, her husband, and their five children. But will he be able to stay, and what challenges will he face in his new home? Young readers and their caregivers will have to pick up a copy to find out.

Wagmann is a retired education professional-turned-farmer living in Saskatchewan. In 2001, an odd-looking, dirty, and starving black and white puppy found his way to their farm, a story Wagmann recreates in this debut picture book. Alana Hyrtle’s unfussy and whimsical illustrations add a lot to the tale, and truly capture Buddy’s emotional journey and the exuberant love evident in all facets of A Farm in the Forest. Buddy’s intrinsic enthusiasm for life and the people within it will appeal to young readers in this ultimately gentle story of love and care for all creatures.

Carla Nordlund is a freelance editor based in Absarokee, MT.

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What If You Could?
Lynne Harley

This is author Lynne Harley’s first book. She has spent forty years being a social worker and is also a transformational life coach. What If You Could? won a gold medal at the 2022 Global Book Awards and is a finalist in the Children’s Picture Book category of the 2023 High Plains Book Awards.

Illustrator Kiran Akram has collaborated on over 100 books. She uses bright colors and expressive faces to convey the emotions the characters are feeling.

In What If You Could?, a little, green caterpillar is bored of doing the things that caterpillars do: eating big, green leaves. Unfortunately, his negative self-talk is running in the background, telling him that it is time for something new to do. The neighboring animals all seem happy and busy, including a mother robin feeding her babies worms.

Feeling discontented, the caterpillar thinks, “I want more for this life of mine! Could I find it if I tried?” What he would like to do is to soar through the air, fly around the world, and drink nectar as he flew by admiring people. A warm voice tells him that he needs to dream big! In the illustration, the warm and loving voice is represented by a heart with a smiling sun.

After a nap with pleasant dreams, the little caterpillar wakes up and sees that everything is the same. A cold and harsh voice telling him to be grateful for what he has is represented by a grey cloud with rain drops falling.

This book would be a good way to bring up how we all go through periods of highs and lows, and everyone has a constant stream of self-talk blabbering at us. Some are better than others at listening mostly to the positive, warm, self-loving, and encouraging voice but quite a few of us fall to the negative, critical, self-defensive, and self-demeaning voice and let ourselves believe what it says.

The text doesn’t mention God or a higher power as the source of the warm and loving voice, and the only time it is alluded to is in a review at the start of the book saying that this book is “sure to generate questions … about how the spiritual power of belief works.”

Looking for more books that help explain self-esteem and awareness to your youngster? Check out Being Me: A Kid’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Self-esteem by Wendy Moss.

Mary Russell has been at the Billings Public Library for almost three years and an Assistant Children’s Librarian beginning February 1, 2023. She loves to share books and play music with the Books and Babies crowd.

Creative Nonfiction

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Otters Dance
Bob Budd

Thoughtful, funny, and viscerally observant, Otters Dance is simultaneously a love letter to Wyoming, its land, people, and all creatures who inhabit it; and a sincere call to action to every human given care of a patch of land.

Bob Budd is an expert on the topic of sustainability, currently serving as the executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust after a long career with the Nature Conservancy and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, managing large scale ranches and rangeland in the interest of sustainability and ecological soundness, including caring for watersheds, bighorn sheep, sage grouse, and more. Otters Dance is his first book and a finalist in the 2023 High Plains Book Awards Creative Nonfiction category.

Through a series of standalone yet connected essays that span from memoir to the philosophical, Budd takes the reader on a journey through memories of his childhood and his experiences managing the Red Canyon Ranch through the Nature Conservancy. The novel zooms from intense detail, such as the exact color of antelope sheltering in winter sagebrush, to the macro, discussing geologic time and sustainability on a grand scale. Overall, each essay reverberates with a rather singular message: ecological sustainability does not happen solely through science or legislation, but through people. People who care about the creatures who share their grasses and watersheds, who ardently believe that bluebirds arrive to Wyoming on March 23rd of every year (Budd’s mother’s birthday) or wonder what will happen to the deer who winter in the willows if the ranch is sold. For Budd, sustainability comes through individual actions and personal wonder, no matter if the person is an “expert” or not.

Despite the sometimes-heady topics (solving sustainability on rangelands-scale isn’t simple!), Budd’s tone remains friendly, colloquial, and not afraid to poke fun at himself. Woven throughout is a thread of hope and a sincere belief that people ultimately want the best for the spaces we inhabit. Although not a how-to manual on sustainable agriculture or land management, Otters Dance is a reminder of the magic of our everyday habitats, and a call to action for all of us to pay attention to the sustainability of land and animals in our stewardship, no matter how large or small.

Carla Nordlund is a freelance editor based in Absarokee, MT.

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Think Like a Horse: Lessons in Life, Leadership, and Empathy from an Unconventional Cowboy
Grant Golliher

Author Grant Golliher, owner of the historic Diamond Cross Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, shares valuable, relatable life advice in Think Like a Horse, a unique self-help style book that encourages the reader to “let go of the reins and just back off a bit.” Lessons Golliher has compiled from a lifetime of working with horses can be translated to any relationship, whether for a spouse, parent or boss.

A finalist in the Creative Nonfiction category of the 2023 High Plains Book Awards, readers will find Golliher’s advice is practical, useful and can be implemented right away. Some aphorisms I found most inspiring include “Don’t punish the resistance—you’ll only reinforce it;” “Actions follow attitudes,” and “if your relationship relies on force rather than free choice, it’s not really a partnership.”

These lessons aren’t easy to apply, especially when it comes to building (or rebuilding) trust, but implementing them is worth the struggle.There are excellent examples of how to create clear boundaries, how to establish connection and how to collaborate most effectively. Golliher presents these lessons with some fun anecdotes from experiences on the ranch, where he teaches corporate executives, coaches, and families from all over the world skills to tame troubled horses and become leaders and better people. By following the principles of this book: “make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult,” “slow to take and quick to give,” “quit on a good note,” and others, this book really can make a difference in your life.

Golliher writes with a humble tone, sharing his failures just as much as his successes. You get an impression of what kind of man he is. It’s clear Golliher has a gentle soul; and he encourages others to be gentle, and patient. It’s the best way to work with a horse, and it’s the best way to work with others.

One of my favorite chapters is “Feel Can’t Be Taught, But It Can Be Learned.” Feel, Golliher says, is “a combination of sensitivity, intuition and empathy.” When approaching work or family relationships with this philosophy, it’s much easier to be kind to the individual. This also opens up the door to seeing potential in others. As Golliher says, “If you only focus on what he’s doing wrong, you won’t have the patience to help him grow into his potential.” After all, Golliher says, “We don’t want someone telling us what to do and forcing us against our will.”

There are many takeaways in “Think Like a Horse,” too many to share in this review, but I’ll leave you with this: “People, like horses, don’t generally respond well to constant pressure. Leading with feel involves a dance of pressure and release. If you don’t release, you don’t allow space for learning and response.” No matter what your walk of life, you’ll find helpful nuggets in “Think Like a Horse.”

Charlie Denison is a writer, musician and editor of the Boulder Monitor in Boulder, Montana, where he lives with his wife.

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I Never Met a Rattlesnake I Didn’t Like: A Memoir
David Carpenter

I Never Met a Rattlesnake I Didn’t Like: A Memoir is at once both a quiet and an exhilarating read. David Carpenter’s book, a finalist for the High Plains Book Awards in the Creative Nonfiction category, deepens one’s empathy as Carpenter shares his experiences with apex predators and other creatures necessary to ensure the health of our ecosystem. Just as the lynx he encountered on a trail remained calm and seemingly soothed by Carpenter’s presence, this sensation is one of the feelings sustained throughout the book.

As a young man enthralled with fly-fishing, Carpenter at first set out to explore the many lakes and waterways in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta in the 1960s. Skilled at quietly tossing a few well-chosen words on paper, Carpenter is as successful at reeling this reader in as he has been at reeling in fish throughout his sixty-plus years of fishing.

The connection between dinosaurs and alligators or why you might want to float a river with a dragonfly on your hand in mosquito country—such curiosities are explained in an intelligent and humorous manner. All the while Carpenter recalls more of his hikes on trails scattered throughout not just Canada but as far south as Arizona where he once searched for rattlesnakes.

His fast-paced memoir makes a strong case for protecting predators. Carpenter visits with environmental enthusiasts and engages with those on the other end of the argument for saving our ecosystem by protecting predators. At one point he met with a bear hunter who had never seen a white bear (a spirit bear), and so he shot the bear, a rarity, when he saw it. Carpenter admitted this was what “tree-hugging bear lovers are up against.”

Not to despair, Carpenter’s resilient faith in humanity and, more to the point, in nature, the case is beautifully made in this memoir that ours is a world in which predators must live and we must do what is necessary to protect them. Quoting Diane Josephy Peavey in a discussion about cougars slaughtering livestock, Carpenter shares Peavey’s insight, “Follow the predator losses on the map and you will trace the regions of new growth.”

Carpenter begins his memoir with an excerpt from Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari in which the sad lineup of humanity through the ages seems to imply doom because “the more powerful we have become, the less inclined we are to use this power responsibly.” One has only to glance around our surroundings and find easy pockets of despair. However, one can also pick up this book and become inspired by the uplifting examples Carpenter shares from his own life regarding how to live responsibly. Begin by learning about apex predators and why “a forest without a bear is empty,” and then align with the spirit of nature and find local ways to protect our ecosystem.

Sherry O’Keefe, a great-granddaughter of a Montana pioneer, is the author of two books of poetry and three YA biographies.


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Jameela Green Ruins Everything
Zarqa Nawaz

Jameela Green wants her new memoir to make the New York Times bestseller list. At her book release, her high school rival appears and upstages her, dashing all hopes of success. In her frustration, Jameela, a nonpracticing Muslim, goes to the local mosque seeking divine guidance. Here she meets up with a new idealistic imam Ibrahim Sultan who views her as being shallow, but agrees to help her if she performs an altruistic act.

They cross paths with a homeless man who they try to help until he makes the decision to join a terrorist group with the name DICK (Dominion of the Islamic Caliphate and Kingdom). When Jameela and Ibrahim approach authorities to report his stealing of money from the imam to fund his efforts, they generate suspicion directed at themselves.

Ibrahim then mysteriously disappears. In believing the CIA has captured him, Jameela sets off on a rescue mission leading her to the center of the terrorist organization in the Middle East. She leaves behind a devoted husband, Murray, and teenage daughter, Lee Lee.

Jameela embarks on a fast-paced journey in Pakistan that takes many twists and turns with life and death encounters. She goes from one impossible situation to the next. Humor tempers many of the uncomfortable topics centering on culture, religion, foreign policy, and terrorism. Unbelievable happenings, sometimes edging on the horrific, are sharpened with satire and rounded with playfulness.

Pop culture quips and popular personalities are introduced to describe a situation or character. Food is interspersed throughout, effused with flavors and aromas to bring people together and to develop circumstances. Prayers, found throughout the book, provide mostly lighthearted insights into a character’s more complicated self in wanting to solve personal dilemmas and resolve challenges. Jameela’s forced union to DICK’s second leader in command reveals the culture of family and the rituals and ceremony of marriage.

Jameela reluctantly agrees to participate in lurid acts in hopes to rescue Ibrahim but more so to return home to her husband and daughter. Her action-packed adventure as she just about ruins everything leads to new revelations and insights about herself and the world she lives in.

Stella Fong is host of Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region for Yellowstone Public Radio. She is author of Historic Restaurants of Billings, Billings Food, and Flavors Under the Big Sky: Recipes and Stories from Yellowstone Public Radio and Beyond. Fong contributes regularly to Yellowstone Valley Woman Magazine and her articles have appeared in the Montana Food Section, Big Sky Journal, The Washington Post, Fine Cooking, and Cooking Light.

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The New Neighbor
Carter Wilson

Carter Wilson’s psychological thriller, The New Neighbor, contains a DSM’s worth of mental issues including, but not limited to, depression, paranoia, dissociation, hallucination, and alcoholism—and is a finalist in the Fiction category of the High Plains Book Awards. The protagonist, Aidan Marlowe, who insists on using only his surname, is an immigrant from Ireland, happily married to an American woman. At the outset of the novel his wife, Holly, has died suddenly of a brain aneurism, leaving Marlowe alone with his twin seven-year-old children, Maggie and Bo.

On the day of Holly’s funeral, Marlow learns he has won millions of dollars in the Powerball lottery. Luckily for him, his home state of Maryland has laws preventing the public knowledge of the identity of the winner. Grief pushes Marlowe to look to relocate to a mansion in the aptly-named town of Bury, New Hampshire. Marlowe, who believes he has a type of sixth sense, begins to have eerie feelings about the house.

The previous owners of the mansion have mysteriously disappeared, and the house may possibly be haunted by the ghosts of the prior owners. Marlowe tries by various means to discern the fate of the owners and many creepy and strange events occur.

Marlowe receives a series of threatening letters from an entity who call themselves “We Who Watch.” The so-called watchers attempt to extort some of Marlowe’s lottery winnings. With the help of his attorney and financial advisor, he decides to try to search the “deep web” to find out who is sending the ominous letters.

Secret rooms, fearful former employees, and a seemingly uninterested Chief of Police enhance the intrigue. As with the best in mystery writing, the reader will not be able to guess the identity of the person or persons who are attempting the extortion.

The book is well-paced and well-written and would be of interest to anyone interested in psychology, mental health, and mystery, which can be a very intriguing combination.

Jaime Stevens lives in Billings and is an avid reader, fiber artist, gardener and pickleball player.

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Hell and Back
Craig Johnson

In Craig Johnson’s 18th book in the Longmire series, we find the sheriff in a purgatorial state, unsure of where or who he is. This novel—a finalist in the Fiction category of the High Plains Book Awards—is filled with Native American mysticism, particularly Northern Cheyenne, allusions to The Twilight Zone and in Stephen King territory. Along with these, we are also given some history lessons regarding the disgraceful story of the Indian Boarding School Program.

For my first incursion into Longmire country, I was impressed with the plot development and the character studies. Of particular note is the multitude of names for the various Native American characters. It’s easy to follow the threads of these characters but keep a sharp eye out for the nuances Mr. Johnson uses.

I believe the epigraph he uses to guide the reader into the book is worthy of a full quote here.

“Hell is oneself, hell is alone, the other figures in it merely projections.

There is nothing to escape from and

Nothing to escape to.

One is always alone.”

-T. S. Eliot

The pacing of the book is such that the reader can be drawn in and immersed in the unveiling of the plot points and the progression of the evidence against the antagonists. Perhaps many of you are familiar with the Netflix series, but I encourage you to pick up this book, or any previous Longmire book, to get the full scope of what Johnson has done and continues to do in telling the history of the people and the familiarity of the region so close to us here in Billings. Kudos to you, sir.

As an aside, I should say also that as a library volunteer who re-shelves books, the Longmire books are some of the most frequently read in the entire library fiction collection.

Louis Wolff is an avid pickleball player and treasures his volunteer time at the Billings Public Library and at the Tippet Rise Art Center in Fishtail, MT.

First Book

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Crazy Mountain
Elise Atchison

The great Chief Seattle reminded us, “The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites one family.” Award-winning author Elise Atchison contemporizes this creed, threading it powerfully and poignantly through her debut novel Crazy Mountain. Set in Montana in a fictional valley in the shadow of an all-seeing monolith, the novel embraces a multitude of voices and perspectives interconnected in the discovery of what it means to “belong to the earth.”

This High Plains Book Award finalist in the First Book category is a literary tour de force unfolding in an unusual format that is effective and compelling. Fifty years. Fifteen chapters. Fifteen perspectives, each molded by deeply human needs. The work is not a collection of stand-alone short stories; it is a novel with a narrative arc, re-occurring, interconnected characters, and a pronounced theme. Throughout this bold, unorthodox structural choice, Atchison continues to surprise her reader and as each new character and perspective is explored, invites the reader to see things anew and in a more comprehensive manner.

Of the many ideas woven throughout the novel, one of the most nuanced and complex is people’s connection to the land. For some it is birthright, in the fiber of their beings. Granite, the small town nestled in the valley, is every rural small town in Montana—scruffy and practical, populated by colorful eccentrics and regular hardworking folk. People raised in the valley understand the rhythms and seasons and history and inhabitants of the wild. If they are resistant to change, even to their own detriment, it is because they see no need and have no desire. Yet change cannot be held at bay indefinitely, and into a state with seven people per square mile, a state in which land is abundant and often cheap, transplants and opportunists will flock. Some come looking for a simplified, safer existence. Some come bearing heavy baggage, searching for an escape or a second chance. Some come for creative inspiration. Some come because a luxury wilderness cabin as a third or fourth home is in vogue. And some come seeking economic opportunities. How easy to transform a mountain slope into a trailer park, a subdivision of tract homes, an estate community of McMansions, a Crazy Mountain luxury resort. With time comes change; with change comes growth and at times irrevocable loss. Marcus Ward, the landscaper, warns, “Anytime you mess with the natural balance, you’re going to get unintended consequences….You can’t just pick and choose. It all works together.” The questions remain. Who will heed the warning? Who will carry the mantle of caretaker? And may it already be too late?

Crazy Mountain is a wise and wonderful book. The message is timely and the characters beautifully rendered by an author who understands that foresight can be elusive, that human beings are flawed and that the best of humanity can be found in unexpected places. Elise Atchison’s Crazy Mountain is the worthiest of contenders for a High Plains book award.

Sue Bach is a former high school English teacher and current library volunteer.

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In Celebration
Dorothy Bradley

Dorothy Bradley is one of Montana’s most respected and well-known political figures. She is known throughout the State as a protector of our environment. In Celebration is a collection of autobiographical memoirs and is a finalist in the First Book category of the High Plains Book Awards. It is not a detailed factual memoir by a well-known public servant. In many ways it is more than that.

Dorothy leaves out some of her most important and significant accomplishments. She does not tell you about all the environmental bills in the Montana Legislature she sponsored or to which she gave significant and often critical support. She does not tell you about HB 492 in the 1973 session, the Coal Mining Moratorium Bill, which produced a spell binding debate on the floor, and which guaranteed passage of the Strip Mine Reclamation Act, the Major Facility Siting Act, and the Montana Environmental Policy Act. HB 492 passed on second reading by one vote, but then failed on third reading by one vote. It was reconsidered and placed on the shelf so it could be available in the event the necessary environmental laws were not passed. They were passed. HB 492 prevented Montana from becoming another Appalachia, and we all should be thankful. She does not tell you about a number of other things for which she could take credit.

Although she mentioned it, she did not dwell on the fact that at 23 years of age, she was the only woman in the House during her first legislative session in 1971 serving with 99 men.

This book is about Dorothy herself. It is about what influenced her when growing up in Bozeman as the daughter of a geography professor at MSU. She tells about skiing at Bridger Bowl and about riding horses starting in the first grade. She tells about her family’s love of the outdoors and the many camping trips and memorable family occasions that enlightened her life. Teasing, joking, and lots of mirth were important in her family.

She tells how she “and a few friends” started planning for the first Earth Day in Montana. That led to driving her VW bug to Helena to file for the House of Representatives in 1970.

In her run for Governor in 1992 she almost won against a very popular Attorney General, Marc Racicot. She does not go into the strategy of the campaign, but she does say why she ran and how she felt about certain events. She talks much more about incidents that happened during her “ride across the State” on horseback than about how she raised money for the campaign.

No, this is not a detailed history of Dorothy Bradley’s impact on Montana. It is a collection of short stories about her life and how Montana impacted her. That is exactly what Dorothy intended. It is short, easy to read and well worth reading.

Thomas E. Towe is an attorney in Billings. He served for 20 years in the Montana Legislature. He started at exactly the same time as Dorothy Bradley and witnessed many of Dorothy’s accomplishments. He authored and passed many important bills, including the coal severance tax and the coal severance tax trust fund.

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A Pros and Cons List for Strong Feelings: A Graphic Memoir
Will Betke-Brunswick

Graphic novels may be an unfamiliar format for many readers, but the genre has been one of the fastest-growing parts of the book world over the last decade. While much of this expansion has been driven by series for younger readers, like the popular Dog Man books by Dav Pilkey, titles for adults have become more popular as well. An important segment of these has been the graphic memoir, with notable examples like Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer and Alison Bechdel’s seminal Fun Home. Civil rights icon John Lewis famously chose the format for his memoir March because it was a 1957 comic book called Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story that drew him into the nonviolent protest movement. Will Betke-Brunswick’s A Pros and Cons List for Strong Feelings is an exemplary addition to this developing subgenre.

Interweaving twin narratives about gender identity and grief, Betke-Brunswick employs spare, two-color illustrations and brief dialogue. Neither narrative is linear, and the multiple timelines are well-served by the mixture of smaller panels and full-page spreads. The author’s inherent humor is evident immediately in the brilliant choice to draw the characters as birds, which softens the edges of the memoir’s emotionally difficult subject matter, allowing the reader access to the story’s themes without triggering automatic defense mechanisms as readily. The central family members, including the author, are portrayed as penguins, while the supporting cast are sketched as a variety of other bird species. When it is revealed early on that the author’s mother “was an early adopter of rolling backpacks,” the accompanying depiction of a penguin trundling along with said luggage renders the statement both funnier and more endearing than it would have been otherwise. Later, as the mother succumbs to cancer and the family is inundated with food, the author reaches out to a friend to come help eat it; the friend is drawn as a vulture.

Throughout the book, Betke-Brunswick also offers important glimpses into what it is like navigating the world as genderqueer, including the helpful realization that those who identify as genderqueer are just as diverse as those who are straight. Betke-Brunswick’s humor is on full display when recounting being one of “the fastest queers to be booted from queer club.” As the book shows, though, the author’s mother was always understanding and supportive, someone who accepted her child without any need for explanation, and the author’s exploration of losing her to cancer is the central theme. That the loss comes at exactly the moment when Betke-Brunswick is taking the first steps into adulthood in a world less accepting of any identities outside the binary makes the account particularly poignant. This is an important book for both those wanting to better understand genderqueer identity and those steering their way through grief. However, bring tissues: Readers will finish the book grateful to Betke-Brunswick for sharing their mother with us but also dejected that we will never have the chance to know her in person.

Julie Schultz is the primary book buyer at This House of Books, the bookstore cooperative in downtown Billings, and also serves on the board of the High Plains Book Awards.

Indigenous Writer

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With Great Discretion
J. Hoolihan Clayton

Bordered by white cliffs, Fort Robinson sits in a meadow through which Soldier Creek flows. Its prairie beauty belies a violent history. It is that history which Indigenous author J. Hoolihan Clayton explores in her book With Great Discretion, the third installment in the Discretion series, published by Dog Soldier Press. Clayton’s book is a finalist in the 2023 High Plains Book Awards in the Indigenous Writer category.

The protagonist, Charles Wolfe Collins, receives a telegram, dated January 12, 1879, from the Secretary of the Interior, Carl Schurz, who beckons him to Washington D.C. to undertake an investigation. Schurz seeks to know what exactly happened at Fort Robinson the previous year where nearly half of the one hundred and forty-nine captured Cheyenne died at the hands of the U.S. Army. At stake is the decision whether the Indian Bureau should remain under the oversight of the Department of the Interior, or be transferred to the War Department, which is vehemently arguing for its transference.

Collins interviews both civilians and Army personnel, taking readers through the rumors and realities of the Cheyenne’s escape from Darling Agency in Oklahoma’s Indian Territory and eventual capture by Fort Robinson soldiers. Through this late-1800s lens, Clayton reveals the treatment of the Cheyenne: reviled by the U.S. Army, grievously mistreated by the U.S. government, and excessively (and falsely) blamed for depredations on settlers.

Very few of the people Collins talks to acknowledge, or even understand, these are the roots of Cheyenne anger, an anger which allows soldiers and settlers to paint the Cheyenne as a “savage” and “warrioristic” people. Military scout Benjamin Clark relays stories of the Cheyenne’s treatment in Darling Agency, of the starvation resulting from broken promises of food rations, and the lack of money, or valuable trade items with which to purchase food. With starvation comes disease.

“So, they had legitimate justifications for leaving?” Collins asks the scout, who answers with a shrug. “You tell me. What would you do if you were starving and dying in the benevolent care of the U.S. government?”

With Great Discretion is one of the few books that explore the heinous actions of the U.S. government through an Indigenous lens. Clayton’s flawless descriptions of the landscape, the settler towns, and their inhabitants, as well as the Native American encampments sets the reader firmly in the late 19th-century, as does her use of dialogue and language.

The two issues that interrupted the flow of the story was the location of the map, and the nagging question of why Collins was so protective of Native Americans. The map is in the appendix; moving it to the front of the book would immediately situate the reader in the landscape and the miles crossed in Collins’ investigation. Regarding Collins’ protective nature, I felt it needed an explanation, a backstory, especially since his compassion was for a people who were overwhelmingly defined by fellow immigrants as dangerous enemies of the state.

Despite these minor interruptions, With Great Discretion holds a place of importance in Native American literature. It educates the reader of the many atrocities committed by the U.S. government against Native Americans, in a time when Native American history is not taught. More importantly, it creates a place for discussion of what genocide looks like and sounds like. Important, because the erasure continues.

Susan Harness is the author of “Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption,” a multiple-award winner of the 2019 High Plains Book Awards.

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Valley of the Birdtail: An Indian Reserve, a White Town, and the Road to Reconciliation
Andrew Stobo Sniderman & Douglas Sanderson

This well-researched book illustrates the lives and history of peoples who share a river valley in Manitoba, and who are separated by the Birdtail River, the white town of Rossburn and the Native reserve of Waywayseecappo.

Sniderman and Sanderson (Amo Binashii) detail the stories of the Natives from their arrival and their poor treatment by the government of Canada, the arrival of white Anglo-Saxons and later, white Ukranian immigrants and the interactions and history of mis-understanding between these peoples.

Andrew Stobo Sniderman is a lawyer and scholar from Montreal. He has also written for newspapers and magazines in Canada and the U.S. and has served as human rights policy advisor to the Canadian minister of foreign affairs.

Douglas Sanderson (Amo Binashii), Sniderman’s professor in law school, is Swampy Cree, Beaver clan, or the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, the Prichard Wilson Chair in Law and Public Policy at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and has served as a senior policy advisor to Ontario’s attorney general and minister of Indigenous affairs.

The book chronicles the history of the Canadian government’s interactions with and decisions about Native peoples, focusing on Alexander Morris (1826-1889), a treaty negotiator; Hayter Reed (1849-1936), an Indian agent; and Clifford Sifton (1861-1929), Minister of the Interior. The authors reveal the ways the government of Canada marginalized the Native minority in the years from the founding of the country to the present, and the steps the government has since taken to try to reverse its errors. The Government has found that redressing the wrongs against Native peoples involves re-allocation of funds to put Natives and whites on equal footing. “It is in our larger self-interest as Canadians to recognize that the relationship between Waywayseecapo and Rossburn is no different from the broader relationship between Indigenous and settler people. Keeping Indigenous Peoples poor is an expensive proposition for everyone else as well.” P. 296

The book offers portraits of a few current Natives from Waywayseecapo and whites from Rossburn: Linda Jandrew and Maureen Twovoice, her daughter and a student represent Waywayseecapo, Nelson Luhowy, an educator and his son, Troy Luhowy, also an educator, represent the Ukranian community of Rossburn. Sniderman and Sanderson (Amo Binashii) show the beginnings of the thawing of relationships between the Native and white communities. The Luhowys, who had harbored animosity against the Indians in Waywayseecapo, decided to teach at the Indian school in Wayway. The Luhowys have found that Native people are more like themselves than different. And their positive interactions with Linda Jandrew and Maureen Twovoice illustrate the very beginning of an understanding of “the other,” though enlarging those understandings between native people and whites generally remains a daunting task.

Sniderman and Sanderson have written an engaging, human book, one that enables us to better understand the forces that have created a problem and to discern a better way forward for Natives and whites.

JP Mandler is a retired teacher living in Connecticut.


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This America of Ours: Bernard and Avid DeVoto and the Forgotten Fight to Save the Wild
Nate Schweber

This America of Ours: Bernard and Avis DeVoto and the Forgotten Fight to Save the Wild by Montana native and journalist Nate Schweber is a finalist in the Nonfiction category of the High Plains Book Awards. This extremely well-researched account of the Devotos’ life-long efforts to preserve public lands for the public makes a welcome appearance at a time when these lands continue to be threatened by private, moneyed interests. Bernard DeVoto is probably still recognized as the outspoken author of Harper’s “Easy Chair” column and of the prize-winning books, Across the Wide Missouri and Course of the Empire. However, Schweber also gives Avis DeVoto her due as typist, proofreader, editor, counselor, and ardent supporter. I had previously read a book of the letters between Avis and her good friend Julia Child, so I was pleased to see that Schweber discussed Avis’s role in getting Julia’s cookbooks published in America.

But this book primarily traces the Devotos’ various vigorous attempts to stop public land “grabs” from national parks, monuments, forests, and grasslands. DeVoto was born and raised in Utah but settled as an adult in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1940, he traveled West to research a book and after Avis joined him, they traveled through Montana, falling in love with Miles City and its 3-inch steaks. In a later 1946 trip, historian DeVoto’s conservationist spirit was ignited by the devastation wrought by the construction of Garrison Dam which flooded the homes and fertile 150,000 acres of land owned by the Three Affiliated Tribes of South Dakota. On this trip, DeVoto met Montana’s Joseph Kinsey Howard who became a trusted friend and kindred spirit. DeVoto became especially active when Echo Park Dam seemed likely to be built. Its construction would decimate Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument. For the rest of his life, until his death in 1955, DeVoto tangled with politicians, stockmen, miners, and developers to oppose such ventures as the Colorado River Storage Project. In the year before his death, he traveled to or through forty-seven of the forty-eight states to speak for land saves and civil liberties.

Schweber aptly characterizes many of DeVoto’s opponents including Senator Joseph McCarthy about whom he commented, “McCarthy was in a dark night of whatever soul he had. . “ as he waited the fate of his censure vote. He writes of another Senator, “Like many a politician whose pocketbook exceeds his talent, he discovered he could win in the West as he could not in the East.” Schweber’s imaginative prose makes an important subject all the more interesting. He writes about mobster Bugsy Siegel: “Siegel ran from his East Coast enemies to Hollywood, where his bad guy authenticity and radiating handsomeness pulled like gravity on famous new friends Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Gary Grant, and his brother in sapphire eye color, Frank Sinatra.”

The story of the DeVoto literary partnership is an engaging and relevant read.

Lou Mandler is a retired educator and writer whose book, Montana’s Visionary Mayor: Willard E. Fraser, was published in 2022.

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Born of Lakes and Plains: Mixed-Descent Peoples and the Making of the American West
Anne F. Hyde

Born of Lakes and Plains: Mixed-Descent Peoples and the Making of the American West, a finalist for the High Plains Book Award for Nonfiction, just might change how we think about the history of the American West. This is the story of the mixed-descent people who are usually cast to the margins and sometimes denigrated with derogatory names such as “half-breed.” Anne Hyde argues that these people were vital cultural and economic intermediaries between two often warring societies. The result is a book that combines historical imagination and deep scholarship to give us a new lens on the history of the American West.

Ranging from the 17th through the 19th centuries, from the Great Lakes to the Southern Plains, this is a book of grand scale. Yet by focusing on five families, Hyde allows the reader to feel a personal relationship with these multi-generational mixed-race families. She begins with Native families who married across tribal boundaries to create diplomatic relations and trade networks. When European fur traders arrived, some Indigenous women married them as a way to maintain harmonious relations, facilitate trade, and protect their own cultures. European men, meanwhile, chose Native wives as temporary companions during the long winters and to learn about the local climate, geography, animals, and culture. This “marrying and mixing,” Hyde tells us, was a “business strategy,” necessary for success in a world where family relations formed the social connections that allowed trading to flourish. Indigenous women, often relegated to the margins of frontier stories, emerge in these pages as powerful cultural intermediaries whose decisions shaped questions of war and peace, poverty and prosperity, for both whites and Natives.

By the 19th century the press of white settlement and the hardening of the color line limited the options for those who once played crucial roles in facilitating cultural understanding and economic exchange. In one example, George Bent’s extended family had members on both sides of the United States’ wars against the Cheyenne in Colorado, some accommodating and some resisting U.S. incursions. Tragically, the Bent family lost over a dozen members in the 1864 Sand Creek massacre, a moment that proved either choice could be fatal. By the end of the 19th century, white society rejected the mixed-descent families such as the Bents as “too Indian,” while the federal allotment policy on Indian reservations considered them not Indian enough. Those poised for centuries to form a bridge between cultures became marginalized by both.

In an age when missing and murdered Indigenous women capture headlines and “mixed race” is the fastest growing racial category on census forms, this book should be required reading for everyone who wants to understand the creative choices and cruel outcomes, the triumphs and tragedies which have led to this moment.

After earning his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tim Lehman moved to Billings where he is Professor of History at Rocky Mountain College and teaches American, Western, and Environmental History. He has authored three books, including Bloodshed at Little Bighorn and Up the Trail, and has a long-term interest in environmental and western history. Tim is active in community affairs and serves on the board of the Billings Community Foundation and the Montana Heritage Commission. He lives in Billings with his wife, Danell Jones, and Bella the wonder dog.

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Boys and Oil: Growing up Gay in a Fractured Land
Taylor Brorby

Boys and Oil by Taylor Brorby is a finalist in this year’s High Plains Book Awards in the Nonfiction category. The author currently holds the Annie Tanner Clark Fellowship in Environmental Humanities and Environmental Justice at the University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center, according to his website.

Tracing a path from a rural North Dakota childhood to a rewarding profession as a teacher and writer, Brorby’s bildungsroman details the young writer’s discovery of his vocation as an artist and activist. In addition to the uneasy journey from “flyover country” upbringing to academic career, Brorby must come to grips with his homosexuality; this entails coping with a hostile regional culture.

Several generations of Brorby’s father’s family have made a living in coal mining, and his maternal grandfather hoped that the coal company would find riches under his marginal farmland. “Fossil fuels flow through my veins” (44), Brorby concludes. Rural North Dakota’s cultural environment encourages hypermasculinity; he compares his father to Hulk Hogan. Brorby’s family is capable of kindness and love. He finds allies among his relatives, but some, including his parents, cannot accept a gay son.

Brorby forges his commitment to environmental journalism and activism in the Bakken oilfields, a world of displaced, largely male, loners bent on ripping a living from the earth and whatever enjoyment they can from other people. He sees connections between “logging, strip mining, fracking” and “violent people who mimic the violence done to the land” (298). One of his most harrowing experiences was being followed for miles in Washington state’s timber country, an incident that local police dismiss as a “loony” veteran’s “harmless” fun (301). Though the incident ends quietly, the memory of Matthew Shepard’s sexuality-motivated murder in Wyoming keeps Brorby alert to potential danger.

Boys and Oil is not completely successful in building a coherent narrative out of the sometimes chaotic events of a human life. At times Brorby backtracks to provide needed context. Close to the end of the book, he befriends a “ski bum” who doesn’t understand how someone from the plains could value downhill alpine sports. Neither, unfortunately, does the reader, since the family trips to Red Lodge and Bridger Bowl have scarcely been mentioned in the nearly 300 previous pages. Brorby also tends to blur the distinction between acknowledging common misconceptions and adopting them himself. For example, he notes repeatedly that people like him play classical music instead of football, implying that this stereotype is categorically true of gay people.

Brorby’s somewhat convoluted path to success as a teacher, writer, and environmental activist provides him with insight into some of the most important questions of our time. Though the book will likely seem especially resonant with LGBTQ readers and those attuned to environmental activism, anyone who feels at odds with their circumstances or upbringing may find a kindred spirit in Brorby, and all readers can admire the no-holds-barred courage with which he tells his compelling story.

Bernard Quetchenbach teaches literature and writing at Montana State University Billings.


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The Big Melt
Emily Riddle

Emily Riddle has only one book of poetry: The Big Melt. However, in this debut, she has already won the 2023 Canadian First Book of Poetry award, and now she is a Poetry category finalist for the 2023 High Plains Book Awards. This is no small feat.

Much of contemporary poetry is either too inwardly focused or too limited in form. It seems that once you’ve read one poem, you’ve read them all. This is where Riddle distinguishes herself. Her collection provides a diversity of form and content, moving the reader from free verse to prose poems to visual poems. Some are immediate and confessional, while others are reflective and historical.

The first half of the book is her most confessional, as she explores various facets of identity: “ndn,” bisexual, daughter, mother, introvert. In the second section, “The Big Prayer,” Riddle provides an acrostic of sorts, where each poem’s title is a stripe of the rainbow, and each poem centers on that stripe. “Red” is rageful (p. 25), “Green” is humorous (p. 28), and “Purple” is mournful (p. 31). These poems are accessible, but not simple, for at the heart of each poem is a significant issue: “shitty boyfriends,” alcoholism, and colonialism. For some readers, these poems will extend solidarity—a kinship forged by shared experience and trauma—and for other readers, they offer the opportunity for empathy.

However, it is the second half of Riddle’s collection where it transitions from self-expression to more global themes that the reader will find the greatest shock and perhaps the greatest beauty. In particular, “Icy Futures” (p. 62) is an exemplary ecopoem. Like a river, it meanders on the page, moving the reader back and forth as it layers in three timelines: that of a glacier, a treaty, and the poet. The shock comes with a large six-line break in the middle of the page where the word “melting” vertically bridges the gap of her resistance to revisit a glacier and these lines: “in the treaty negotiations, we told them this agreement was to last/as long as the rivers flow.”

But what happens when the glacier melts, and the river is no more? So, the rhetorical question is raised.

This melding of the intimate with the global, with the climate and the legal, is direct, pointed, and impressive. Yet not all of Riddle’s poems have such immediacy, and this is how Riddle demonstrates her greatest range—by elevating her aesthetic beyond content and form to imagery, symbol, and wordplay.

Riddle, a nêhiyaw and a member of the Alexander First Nation in Treaty Six territory, turns to the central prairie of Canada in her prose poem, “Prairie Fruit” (p. 35). She writes, “i am a prai-/rie fruit. saskatoons, strawberries, blueberries. when nêhiyaw babies/have their firsts, we feast on blueberries. . . if we do this again, perhaps the prairies will/liberate themselves. prairie fruit will reign again. rain again.” Hope persists.

Austin Grant Bennett teaches writing at Montana State University Billings City College.

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Shirley Marin

Art and poetry buffs looking for a refreshing take on artist collaboration will be pleased to find this beautiful book Puzzled, written by Ruth Maus with art by her cousin Katja Weiss. Ruth states in the beginning of her book that while she lives in Kansas and Katja lives in Germany, they share antecedents from Pomerania, which is now part of Poland. This bond has held strong through distance and time.

Although they haven’t met in real life, both Katja and Ruth are able to have their work meet in this familial collaboration that takes on a mix of contemporary art with what I think can be categorized as meta modernism poetry.

Enter the intimacy of dreams with the poem “Sleep,” experience heartache with “French Pastry,” and then experience love with “Soulmates.”

It’s truly marvelous when a poem feels like it was written just for you, and I felt that with “The Hardest Part.” Really, there are many wonderful pieces in this book.

It is no wonder that this book is a finalist for the High Plains Book Award in the Poetry category.

Shirley Marin moved to Montana in 2022 and realized that if you ever need to look for the right people in a new town, all you need to do is visit your local bookstore.

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Goodbye Yellowstone Road
Tom Vandel

Are you someone for whom poetry never resonated? Who felt it was abstruse and disconnected? Well, this reviewer counted herself among your number (with the exception of Emily Dickinson!) until an eventful afternoon at This House of Books in Billings when then Poet Laureate Lowell Jaeger gave a reading. His narrative poems were a delightful revelation!

In Tom Vandel’s debut book of poems and vignettes Goodbye Yellowstone Road, storytelling abounds. This is familiar territory for Vandel, who was a finalist for the 2022 Short Stories Award with The Broken World. He excels at drawing the reader into each poem’s scenario, building momentum from poem to poem.

Inspired by music, Vandel organized his book as a double album divided into four “Sides,” a “Bonus Track,” and “Liner Notes” of acknowledgments. He explores broad themes of family, friendship, chance encounters, and lessons learned throughout the book, but the Bonus Track, appropriately called “Nostalgia,” is really his overall subject. As the poem says, “Nostalgia means been there, done that, wanna do it again.”

Five of the 55 poems are about his daughter, an obviously feisty favorite who roundly berated him at a young age when he joked about her Halloween candy. He never made that mistake again. We are treated to vignettes throughout about his patient, card-playing mom and his reticent “except-on-certain-back-roads” dad.

A 1981 rafting adventure on the turbulent Stillwater with friends, including local writer Ed Kemmick, narrowly avoids disaster. The conclusion:

“We got a break that day and all I

can say is – stay in control,

don’t lose your oars.

Be wary of still water.”

Chance encounters are a fascinating aspect of this book – a “kangaroo” sighting near Fort Belknap, a tale of saxophone playing told by the Missouri River near Townsend, and a crow that knows 40 words and enjoys swearing at the dog. According to Vandel’s take on lessons learned, you should keep what you’re given, especially when it’s “The perfect jacket for an imperfect world”; don’t go to sleep with beads braided into your beard; and don’t forget to put brake fluid into your car!

Readers will enjoy Vandel’s sense of humor and ever-present wordplay. If you are one who believes puns are the lowest form of humor, this book might not be for you, but, sprinkled throughout, they consistently induced chuckles in this reader. In the end, though, it is the narrative of each vignette that drives this book, so if narrative poems call to you, grab a copy of Goodbye Yellowstone Road.

Louisa Frank is a retired educator who has lived in Billings since 2012.

Short Stories

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The Term Between
Brady Harrison

The Term Between is not for the faint of heart. This powerful collection by Brady Harrison is a finalist for the High Plains Book Award for Short Stories.

These spare, strange, and sometimes fantastical pieces explore the emotional and physical fragility of this mortal coil. If we care about what it means to be human, if we want to know the full register of this thing called living, then we must be willing to explore not just our joys and our sorrows, but also those events, the book suggests, that we may “never come back from.” We must be willing to go to the very edge of human experience, the place that scares us the most.

These stories focus on characters confronting awful situations. In these moments of catastrophe, we see that our flawed sense of identity often shapes our actions in tragic ways. On the surface, the thoughtless young woman of the first story “The Guest,” who gets in a gruesome accident in her suburban neighborhood, seems to have little in common with the hardened soldier of “Gone to Ground,” who negotiates a warzone filled with landmines and enemy combatants. But The Term Between not only shows how their troubled sense of self drives them into very similar dark decision-making but also takes comparable collateral damage. As men and women, we inhabit a painfully fallen world.

Many of the tales focus on the world of men: hockey players, meatpacking laborers, kayakers, fathers, brothers, soldiers, and artists. While Harrison does not shy away from portraying their toxic masculinity, his masterful storytelling demands that we look deeper. What are the forces at work here, his stories ask, that shape these men who are so banged up that they instantly resort to banging up others?

While Harrison doubtlessly takes us on an arduous journey through anguish, grief, and disaster, he also offers humor and beauty, perhaps most comically in “The Sumerian in the Driveway.” In this story, the narrator plays hockey with a 3,000-year-old Sumerian ghost. When asked if he needs anything, for example, a pashmina or a pill crusher from CVS, the bewildered phantom has no idea what he is being offered. How strange, the story suggests, is this American life filled with so many so-called “needs.”

The final story, “The Dying Albertan,” draws many of these themes together in a brilliant tale of a famously dissembling artist who refuses to tell the “truth” about the creation of his greatest piece of sculpture, a figure of a ravaged body. When the intrepid journalist trying to get the “true” story of the piece explains her reaction to seeing it for the first time, she could very well be describing the very book in which she appears: “Sad. Strange. Bizarre. Upsetting. Bewildering. Cruel. Vicious, even. Frustrating. Maddening. Elusive. Powerful. Moving.” I would add one more word about this exceptional collection of stories by Brady Harrison: Unforgettable.

Danell Jones is a writer and scholar with a PhD in literature from Columbia University. She is the author of The Virginia Woolf Writers Workshop; Desert Elegy; The Whimsical Muse, and An African in Imperial London. Her new book, The Girl Prince: Virginia Woolf, Race, and the Dreadnought Hoax, will be available in the U.S. in December 2023.

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Not the Apocalypse I Was Hoping
Leslie Greentree

A woman turns her death into an art installation. A teacher craves her young male students—and a gargoyle lawn ornament. A child beauty queen lives most of her life literally inside the walls of her house. A man documents and profits from a natural disaster, all the while hoping to be acclaimed a hero.

These are some of the characters who populate Leslie Greentree’s new collection of short stories, Not the Apocalypse I Was Hoping For. A native and resident of Alberta, Canada, Greentree spins fourteen intriguing tales for this volume—a finalist in the High Plains Book Awards for Short Stories—and along the way deals out irony that will make you both uncomfortable and amused.

Consider the “Mystery Barista.” In this short, dark fable of online stalking, a Twitter user posts descriptions of a young woman he labels #MysteryBarista. “Her thoughts,” he writes, “are far away as she cleans around me; she smiles through her exhaustion…present, yet unknowable.” The object of this attention—fittingly addressed in the second person point of view—slowly gives up her personality to, in effect, become the trending celebrity the writer—”hopeful that his words will finally reveal the complexity of your existence”—has made.

In many of the stories, on the other hand, when characters become aware of the gulf between what they think and what the world sees, they experience a sudden tragic awareness. In “The Room of Pickled Foods,” for instance, a child’s practical joke at his grandfather’s funeral goes hideously wrong. And in “Uterus/Uterthem,” a pack of extreme pro-choice activists comes up against an equally extreme group of pro-life activists.

The ironic approach is powerful, and Greentree is very good at it. In fact, when she abandons it, the stories flatten into sentimentality. “And the Ties of the Plastic Liquor Store Bag Fan Out Like Wings” concerns a young woman who, at her parents’ insistence, gives up her dreams of studying art as she watches a plainly metaphorical sparrow die. And “An Old Lady and Her Hair” follows the relationship between an elderly woman and her stylist that really never becomes anything but a reiteration of their affectionate bond.

What is revealed by these two stories is that Greentree’s quirky characters are not strong enough on their own to carry the art. The book’s true strength is plot. And that is why you should read this collection. The writing is crisp and clean, and the story arcs impeccable. You will feast on the craft. You will get the punchlines and payoffs, and you will learn something new about the cruelty of fate and the unexpected reflections others give us of ourselves.

Cara Chamberlain is a writer and editor. Her latest book is To Gaze Upon Their Loveliness.

Woman Writer

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White Horse
Erika T. Wurth

Prepare to stay up late to finish Erika T. Wurth’s White Horse, a finalist in the Woman Writer category of the High Plains Book Awards. Her unsettling ghost story combines the perfect combination of horror, a powerful protagonist in urban Indian Kari James, and twisty turns that will make you shudder and turn on more lights.

Kari thought she knew–or accepted what she didn’t know—about what happened to her mother. But when a family bracelet that belonged to her mother turns up, Kari is faced with both the ghost of her mother and a monstrous being. The darkness of White Horse is also in the unexpected, as her mother’s ghost provokes terror in her “mouth pouring blood,” and forces Kari to confront a past that plenty of people want to remain silenced. At every turn, her questions are met with more answers. It is in this search for her past that Kari’s story illuminates the complications of family secrets and the power of a past that wants (and needs) to be revealed. Wurth’s careful attention to language and her ability to create a complex character that is sometimes frustrating, often hilarious, hardcore, but tender at the same time demonstrates both restraint and precision.

Wurth also created space for a cast of characters that blend seamlessly into the narrative. Kari’s cousin Debby, Auntie Squeaker, Nick the bartender, and others help Kari illuminate her past, challenge her present, and in the best moments, they help Kari navigate the complications of family and community. The author’s sense of place, and her homage to the genius of horror—Stephen King—provide landscapes that become central to the story. And may I recommend creating a heavy metal playlist based on Kari’s choices? You won’t be disappointed with the soundtrack.

The past is continuously present in White Horse. On one level, it is the family past, the secrets and silence that arrive alongside pain and loss. But the family past is also deeply rooted in the history of the America, the processes of colonization and collective trauma and loss that bear heavily on the present. And powerful women? Yes. Weaving these strands together, Wurth serves horror, in numerous registers.

Wurth’s work has been published in the Kenyon Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, and BuzzFeed, alongside numerous others. She is both a Kenyon and Sewanee fellow and is a narrative artist for the Meow Wolf Denver installation. She is an urban Native of Apache/Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee descent.

Jen Lynn is a Professor of History and Co-Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Center at Montana State University Billings.

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The Apothecary’s Garden
Jeanette Lynes

Lavender Fitch, the young heroine of Jeanette Lynes’ debut novel, The Apothecary’s Garden—a finalist in the Woman Writer category of the High Plains Book Awards—has fallen on hard times. Her father has recently died, leaving her grieving in a large and leaky house, with a teen-aged ward and far more debt than inheritance. Her status in Belleville, Ontario, already circumscribed by mid-nineteenth century customs and small-town society, teeters precariously on the edge of slipping from respectable daughter of the local apothecary to destitute spinster. To stave off this decline and keep herself and her father’s ward, Arlo Snook, fed and housed, she turns to her long-deceased mother’s flower garden. Lavender has inherited her mother’s affinity for floral lore along with her gardening skills; now her beloved flowers serve commercial ends, and she wheels her cart to the ad hoc market that springs up whenever the train pulls into town to sell her bouquets and corsages.

The train station serves as much more than a simple depot, as the townspeople routinely gather to meet the locomotives and be entertained by the travelers. One day, renowned medium Allegra Trout and her assistant Robert arrive, causing considerable excitement and becoming instant celebrities in the town. For Lavender, the imperious Allegra’s professed ability to conjure spirits may hold her salvation, for her mother is rumored to have left a hidden treasure in addition to her flowers. While she endeavors to enlist Allegra’s help, however, she also finds herself drawn to Robert, a handsome though scarred man whose gallantry towards her may reflect a kindred spirit, equally prone to solitary walks in the forest. Allegra forbids the friendship and offers little guidance, leaving Lavender to struggle on.

Lynes’ story owes a debt to Victorian melodramas, an influence enforced by her formal, descriptive prose, though her character development is less sentimental than one might expect. Lavender herself proves to be a tenacious young woman in spite of the misfortunes heaped upon her, able to draw on her stubbornness, creativity and love of nature to sustain hope even when despairing. Likewise, Belleville feels well developed, with historical details scattered through the text that lend substance to her portrait of small-town provincialism.

Spiritualism arose in the 1840s, in part from the hunger for proof of the afterlife, which some mediums, like Allegra, provided through public displays of their talents. Its history has insinuated itself into our history of the time period, by turns a narrative of supernatural promise and a caution against charlatans twisting hope for their own ends. Like the movement itself, this novel in some respects tries to give weight to both aspects. Allegra might not be truthful; Lavender might still receive help from beyond.

The story might have benefited from a more direct conflict between these two women and what they represent. Instead, the author determinedly works to resolve all of her myriad plots into happy endings. In such a sweet story, it feels churlish to wish for less tidy answers. For Lavender’s sake, then, readers of historical romance should enjoy spending time in The Apothecary’s Garden.

Barb Riebe, a Reference Librarian at Billings Public Library, lives with her husband in Billings, and sometimes gardens in her backyard.

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Black Umbrella
Katherine Lawrence

Katherine Lawrence, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is one of three finalists in the High Plains Book Award category Woman Writer. Lawrence is the author of Black Umbrella, a personal journey through the more painful memories and dynamics of family relationships, divorce, and death. She writes about these memoirs using the extended details of truth through narrative poetry and the imaginative, abstract creations of lyrical formats.

The prose from Part I of “Liminal” recalls mom’s affairs:


tones dripping from Mother’s voice. Her special friend.

The secret chews my nails, bites my lower lip, itches

behind my knees, the skin scratched raw…

…Our Dad doesn’t know. Cannot. Not

Ever. Promise? I promise.

One cannot help feeling empathy for the speaker trying to keep this horrible secret from her dad. The expanded use of narrative prose in “Liminal” and continued division into section parts, allow more details to “tell it like it is” through the speaker’s voice of truth.

In Part 9, divorce is imminent, and two sisters are given a choice: “ … your father / or with me?”

Part 11 reveals Little Sister choosing mom, and then:

Nothing moves

A moist hand slips into mine. I’ll go wherever Kath goes.

Good. Mother lifts her hand from the banister, her balance

recovered. She looks from me to the confusion of naked

[doll] breasts, half-dressed torsos, twisted heads …

…a black


I drop Little Sister’s hand, … Gather,

fold, cram, crush, bury the mess.

“The First Killing Frost of the Season” likens the hard frost of a basil plant with the death of a friend. Couplets, enjambment, diction and lack of rhyme slow the tempo of the poem down to give readers emotional pause with the speaker:

My cell phone pinged with news of your death

the same moment my eyes fell on the blackened leaves

of a basil plant …

While pinged becomes the last text sound for end of life, silence becomes the first hush of death

at the end of the line through the absence of words. Frost-bit basil shares the blackness of mortality followed by the speaker’s shock of disbelief as:

…I kneeled

down in the dirt…, fingered slack leaves

turned black and silky-soft as earlobes, inhaled the morning’s

cold air to jump-start my logic. Was I truly grieving you

and a common herb in the same heartbeat? …

Pungent scents of basil, like smelling salts, jolt the speaker back to remembering “hundreds of cookouts, picnics, potlucks, recipes shared”.

Although Lawrence’s narrative poems allow for change, growth and introspection through more details, the strength of this book lies in the use of her other poetic tools and lyrical formats. These are the poems that breathe out life into readers and give way to the insights of grace and love at the end of Black Umbrella.

Mary Uecker, a nurse for 40 years, hopes to grow up someday and act her age, but what kind of fun would that be?

Young Adult

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Behind the Label: Gloria & Willa
Lorna Schultz Nicholson

Told in alternating voices, Behind the Label by Lorna Shulte Nicholson explores the lives of two different teens and their desire to be seen as people with hopes and dreams. Behind the Label is the fifth book in the One-2-One series of books about dissimilar teens that make connections through the Best Buddies high school program and is a finalist in the Children’s Middle Grade Book category of the 2023 High Plains Book Awards.

Ninth grade Gloria has been labeled FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) and ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). She doesn’t have any social skills, behaves inappropriately, and is naïve and made fun of by her classmates. Her home life is a mess. Her alcoholic mother frequently misses work so there often isn’t food in the house for Gloria and her brother. Gloria tries to keep her family together, hoping that her mother’s addictions and negligence don’t get them sent to foster homes. Gloria has long, curly unwashed hair, dirty fingernails, stinks, and wears thrift store clothes. She hates school. She is in a special needs classroom where she just sits and does nothing because she doesn’t know the answers to lots of things. In the afternoon she has an art class which she loves because art is something she is good at.

Willa is a high school senior. She has been labeled LD (Learning Disabled) because of her dyslexia. She struggles with school and homework. Willa has a goth look with her long purple hair, nose piercing, tattoos, and black clothing. She hates high school. She feels she has nothing in common with the other students in her school. She frequently skips school to meet her older boyfriend. Music is her passion. She is the keyboardist/vocalist in a rock band and dreams of going on tour with her band. Willa lives in a nice house in an upscale neighborhood. Her parents are in denial about Willa’s LD label and are always pushing her to do better, saying she could do better if she just tried, not understanding her difficulties with school.

Gloria and Willa are a pair of unlikely students who are put together in the Best Buddies program at their school. They become friends, helping each other out in school as well as in their home lives. As much as Gloria and Willa aren’t alike, they do have a lot in common: they don’t like school, they are in special classes, both are called dummies, both hate dodgeball, both are losers at school, and both wish their brain would work properly. As Gloria remarked, “We could have been twins!”

Behind the Label shows that people can become friends, despite their differences. Everybody is different. Everybody has different abilities. Being different is what makes the world a better place and more interesting. People need to celebrate differences, respect others, and look behind the label.

Karin Green is a retired middle school librarian and the HPBA wrangler for the Children’s Picture Book and Children’s Middle Grade Book categories.

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The Emir’s Falcon
Matt Hughes

Would you break the law to do what you felt was the right course of action?

Bernie Cholach volunteers as a bird handler at a Canadian Wildlife Service facility that breeds and rears peregrine falcons for release into the wild. His dad wants him to follow in the family business (a feedlot), but Bernie’s work with the birds has given him more interest in becoming a wildlife biologist. He and other high school students tend to the birds who are individually numbered, but Bernie has given his bird a name, Skyrider.

Rosie Leboucan runs her dad’s trap line to keep food on the table while he recovers from injury.

Persian Gulf heir Sheik Nasur bin Mukhta is studying petroleum engineering at the University of Alberta and leads a very privileged life even as a visiting student.

Two of the falcons at the facility have been gifted by the Canadian government to the Emir as a diplomatic gift for his falconry passion. Part of the deal is also that Canada would provide ibe if uts Canadian-designed nuclear reactors to power the desalination plant to provide fresh water, always a valuable commodity in the Middle East.

Author Matt Hughes gives multiple story lines with all these individuals crossing paths in an effort to free or retrieve the falcon, Skyrider, and weaves a tale of survival and compassion. Just to keep the players scrambling, he also includes a grizzly bear and cubs, a Canadian First Peoples tracker, and a wildfire. But who really is saved after all the events unfold?

The peregrine falcon breeding program really did exist in Canada from 1973 to 1996 during which more than fifteen hundred birds were raised and released. The facility was the brainchild of Richard Fyfe, and teenage volunteers worked with the birds. This book is the result of the author wondering how the young people felt when the chosen birds were gifted to the Middle East potentate. It is a finalist in the Young Adult category of the High Plains Book Awards.

Elizabeth Waddington is a retired school librarian who continues to read an eclectic selection of books for adults, children, and young adults.

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Ann of Sunflower Lane
Julie A. Sellers

An instant classic for fans of Anne of Green GablesAnn of Sunflower Lane transports readers to the dreamy countryside of Storey, Kansas. Evocative of a summer’s daybreak, Julie A. Sellers’ debut YA novel is hopeful, refreshing, and timeless and a finalist in the Young Adult category of the High Plains Book Awards.

After a string of negligent actions by her heedless father, Ann Alwyn is sent to live in Kansas on her grandparents’ farm for the summer. Resentful and angry, Ann feels isolated from the world she knew with her only comfort being a book gifted to her entitled Anne of Green Gables. Ann quickly finds a kindred connection with the one and only Anne with an “E” and starts to realize her situation may not be as dire as it once seemed. Through Ann’s tale, readers everywhere are reminded that joy can be found in unexpected places, and the journey is often more important than the destination.

The feelings of confusion, loneliness, and anxiety that accompany Ann through her story are emotions that are universally felt, regardless of your age, gender, height, job, or nationality. Reading through Ann’s eyes, I felt a sense of calm as Sellers reminds readers that we are never alone and “home” is where loved ones are, rather than a physical address. Ann of Sunflower Lane expertly navigates feelings that come with hard times and the relief that can be found by relying on those who care for you.

Lighthearted and tender, Ann of Sunflower Lane is the quintessential example of a “pocketful of sunshine.”

Linn Goss has found that being raised down the street from the Laurel Public Library had many perks, one of which being a deep-rooted book addiction that is still with her to this day. Currently working at the Billings Public Library and involved with the downtown Billings community, she is living out her childhood dream.