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Page 32: Short Takes on Five Vermont Books

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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 sedge of herons. 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.

The ABCs of Contra Dancing

Luke Donforth, illustrated by Sarah Hirsch, Pint Size Productions, 24 pages. $9.99.
Y is for the Youth, this tradition we pass.

Burlington author Luke Donforth makes dancing easy as he spells out all the ways contra can be fun. Over 24 cardboard pages (our "Page 32" selection is actually from page 23), the pint-size board book goes from A to Z, each page pairing a letter with Sarah Hirsch's colorful illustrations. Both dancers themselves, Donforth and Hirsch funded the book's creation through a Kickstarter campaign. In the afterword, Donforth attributes the book's existence "to the incredible support of the dance community."

The ABCs of Contra Dancing is clearly aimed at imparting the love of dance to a new generation, but the energy and color of Hirsch's art create a sense of kinetic motion that could bring readers of any age to the dance floor. Donforth moves across the alphabet with all the fun and tenderness of an adult on "Sesame Street," rhyming lines such as "K for Kinetic, see how we move. / L is for Legs that step to the groove."

Find The ABCs of Contra Dancing at Phoenix Books.

— C.F.

The Founders' Fortunes: How Money Shaped the Birth of America

Willard Sterne Randall, Dutton, 336 pages. $29.
The president general and grand council would also have jurisdiction over Indian affairs...

In Willard Sterne Randall's new book, The Founders' Fortunes: How Money Shaped the Birth of America, the Burlington author and Champlain College professor emeritus delves into economic factors that shaped the birth of America. In the prologue, he posits that individuals such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin "drew on their personal experiences, with their changing financial circumstances driving the formation of new laws and institutions."

Early chapters detail Franklin's rise from poverty to riches as his printing empire provided a foundation for his exploration of science. Randall also examines Washington's rocky start as a Virginia militiaman and how it steeled him to rise through the ranks.

An accomplished historian, Randall has published several other thoroughly researched inquiries into America's formation and tumultuous infancy. Though its pages are dense with names and their intertwined stories, the book is easy to follow, and Randall adjusts all monetary values mentioned for inflation. History buffs and curious newbs alike should enjoy it.

— J.A.

Companions Along the Way

Deanna Klein Shapiro, Onion River Press, 148 pages. $13.99.
I ask myself why, this year, / the serviceberries appear fuller

Deanna Klein Shapiro believes that to understand our history is to better understand ourselves. Her third book is a compilation of free verse poems that "embody a narrative, a diary, from one ancestral point of view," she writes in the preface. It is her gift to future generations, "making it easier for them to know their roots."

Companions Along the Way is divided into three sections, beginning with "Spirit and Nature." These poems explore the essence of everything from a "rugged and honest" clothesline to the value of stillness during the pandemic. "Miracles," excerpted above, recounts unexpected lilac blooms in the yard, the kindness of a stranger and the exquisite intensity of a sunset, as if rediscovering the sublime in the quotidian.

Works in the second section celebrate people and places Shapiro has known, and those in the third, artists and writers. Throughout, she employs rhythm, surprise and imagination to paint for her progeny scenes rich with detail of her life and her world.

— E.M.S.

Time and the Tree

Róisín Sorahan, Adelaide Books, 282 pages. $19.60.
Time gave a little flourish then produced a pocket watch from his waistcoat, like a rabbit from a hat.

Time is a central figure, both literally and metaphorically, in Róisín Sorahan's debut novel. Set over the course of four seasons, the Vermont-based Irish author's tale concerns a young, inquisitive boy and a cast of richly imagined characters: the Wanderer, the Weaver, title characters Time and the Tree, and Time's mysterious companion, the Shadow. All seek the knowledge they need to reconcile their places in the world — though each with very different motives.

With whispers of Madeleine L'Engle, Sorahan crafts a modern parable as philosophical as it is fantastical. In lesser hands, such ethereal meditations on time and happiness might seem trite. But Sorahan, an accomplished travel writer with a master of letters from Trinity College Dublin, elevates her story with delicate, literary prose and a cunning sense of wry humor. Time and the Tree is a thought-provoking and, just as importantly, entertaining first effort from a uniquely talented new voice.

— D.B.

What's Your Hero's Name?

Stephen Trahan, IQI Publishers, 252 pages. $14.95.
"I'll look into having Air Force One waiting in Burlington."

When President Leo Morris dies suddenly under sketchy circumstances, Vice President Marc Grégoire, a Swanton native, must race back from his vacation home in Québec to replace him — via snowmobile, during a blizzard. The clock is ticking, because North Korea recently launched a nuclear missile at the U.S. Though the weapon crashed into the sea, American intelligence forces don't know whether its launch is mere saber-rattling or the start of World War III.

Author and St. Albans native Stephen Trahan isn't just a spook wannabe. A 20-year Air Force veteran, he served as an intelligence officer in the Department of Homeland Security and as chief of counterintelligence operations in London in the 1980s. Simply put, he's fluent in military crises — and it shows in his first mystery novel.

Trahan published What's Your Hero's Name? in 2021, but his back-cover blurb sounds eerily prescient of current events: "The reader will come away awestruck by how quickly a foolish act of aggression can turn the world upside down."

— K.P.