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Page 32: Short Takes on Five Vermont Books

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Published July 28, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.

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Seven Days writers can't possibly read, much less review, all the books that arrive in a steady stream by post, email and, in one memorable case, a clowder of snarling bobcats. So this monthly feature is our way of introducing you to a handful of books by Vermont authors. To do that, we contextualize each book just a little and quote a single representative sentence from, yes, page 32.

Twin Tales: Traveling With a Twin

Ronald Allbee, self-published, 200 pages. $20.
A crowd always formed to watch Guy shoot his muzzleloader and bless America.

Twin Tales: Traveling With a Twin is a collection of memories that author Ronald Allbee accurately calls "snippets." The advantage of this approach is that a reader can enjoy just about any snippet chosen randomly from the book.

The memories aren't organized chronologically, although the series does meander from the Allbee twins' poor childhood in rural southern Vermont through the adult brothers' business enterprises and government-related careers. (Both Ronald and Roger Allbee served in the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and elsewhere.) Allbee emphasizes that identical twins are distinct individuals, even if their own parents couldn't tell them apart. Regardless, the pair loved to prank people as only identical twins can. Who wouldn't love fooling a governor of Vermont?

Anyone who is a twin will appreciate Allbee's humorous and thoughtful reminiscences. Others might appreciate his anecdotal glimpses into Vermont's past, from old coots with muzzleloaders to the Beatles playing on a cheap dorm TV to debates about hormones in the state's cow milk.

— P.P.

Murder Mountain

Owen Curvelo, Katya Strasburger (illustrations), Yarn Authority, 298 pages. $24.99.
There's a humdinger of a situation if you're stackin' what I'm choppin'.

Things are tense in the fictional northern Vermont resort town of Rosefield. A subtle cold war brews between multigenerational Vermonters and the "flatties" — that is, tourists and other outsiders. The precarious status quo is shattered when a ne'er-do-well ski bum is found dead on the mountain with a knife protruding from his chest. It's up to salt-of-the-earth Sheriff Peggy McStoots to track down the killer.

Vermont native Owen Curvelo fills his debut murder mystery with more than 100 illustrations from artist Katya Strasburger, beginning with a detailed map of Rosefield Mountain Resort (tagline: "Bring your buds"). The world of Rosefield and its colorful inhabitants comes to vivid life in these images, from small ones that break up the text to full-page "stills."

In addition to artistic renderings, Murder Mountain is chock-full of Vermont references. Example: Twentysomething skier Joey Rogers rocks out to fictional band the Rutland Rotary Boys, whose singer, Seth Alltheway, and guitarist, Hector Yacoven, might well be allusions to Vermont's real-life blues-rock all-star Seth Yacovone.

— J.A.

Memoir of a Doomsday Prophet

Randall DeVallance, Beacon Publishing Group, 232 pages. $14.99.
A man never cried to management to solve a problem he could handle himself.

Edwin Block is about to flunk out of a bucolic New Hampshire college when a mysterious stranger named BB, who has suffered a similar fate, makes him an outlandish proposal. BB suggests that the universe wants them to exact revenge on the college by stealing an 18-foot bronze statue of Thomas Bartholomew Bradford, its 17th-century benefactor. Though it's a preposterous scheme, Block acquiesces based on BB's rationale: Time is an illusion, and the deed, prophesized to him in a dream, has already happened.

Author of the 2010 novella-and-short-story collection The Absent Traveler, DeVallance writes in the lean, economic style dictated by Strunk and White. Painting scenes with terse yet clever metaphors, Memoir of a Doomsday Prophet bounds ahead, its plot hurtling like a runaway boulder. Part philosophical road trip, part sci-fi mystery and reminiscent of a Tom Robbins novel, DeVallance's tale draws you in and keeps you reading well beyond page 32.

— K.P.

This Ardent Flame

Beth Kanell, Five Star Publishing, 292 pages. $25.95.
[A] flutter of snowflakes descended, holding separate and pointed for an instant on my woolen sleeves.

It's 1852, and 17-year-old Alice Sanborn lives on a farm in remote North Upton, Vt., far from any state where slavery is legal. But recent developments such as the Fugitive Slave Act have brought brewing national conflicts home, transforming some of the residents of Alice's sleepy village into activists.

This Ardent Flame is the second installment of Northeast Kingdom writer Beth Kanell's historical fiction series The Winds of Freedom. (North Upton is based on North Danville, she notes in an afterword.) In the first book, Alice helped a formerly enslaved girl to safety, tangling with a bounty hunter. In this one, Alice pines for a handsome fellow Abolitionist while making new friends: a spitfire teen activist and a deaf teacher who instructs Alice in sign language. Calling on meticulous research to evoke rising antebellum tensions, the beginnings of American radicalism and the day-to-day rhythms of farm life, Kanell paints a picture of one girl's coming of age that's more absorbing than any history class.

— M.H.

Politically Defined: Memoir of an Unknown Activist

Dinah Yessne, self-published, 266 pages. $16.99.
...I played football at recess ... and the boys allowed it, because though small I was very fast.

As a child, Dinah Yessne despaired of her short stature. Later, as a teen angling for a chance to meet John F. Kennedy, she made a useful discovery: "I have always found one of the few advantages of my size to be my ability to get through large crowds without incurring anyone's wrath."

That insight served Yessne in good stead through decades of political activism and organizing, which she recounts with entertaining flair in her memoir. As a young adult, she canvassed for Eugene McCarthy's doomed 1968 campaign and witnessed the aftermath of the police violence that erupted at the Democratic National Convention. Later, settled in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, Yessne ran twice unsuccessfully for the state legislature, laying a path for the Democratic candidates who came after her.

For the like-minded, Yessne's story offers education and inspiration. Now a grandmother, this firebrand hasn't slowed down — in 2018, she was arrested at the Vermont Statehouse for civil disobedience.

— M.H.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Short Takes on Five Vermont Books"

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