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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 squabble of seagulls. 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.

Inclusion here implies neither approval nor derision on our part, but simply: Here are a bunch of books, arranged alphabetically by authors' names, that Seven Days readers might like to know about.

Underfunded: The Fourth Solution

Donald F. Dempsey, BookBaby, 259 pages. $13.75.
"A reminder that you have the pension fund meeting at the community center tonight at eight, Mr. Clark," Randall Clark's curvy blond assistant said, slowly getting up from her chair opposite his oversized teak desk.

The world of financial planning is probably not the sexiest setting for a murder mystery. So Donald F. Dempsey scores degree-of-difficulty points with his self-published debut novel, Underfunded: The Fourth Solution, a financial thriller in which he attempts to thread a needle and stitch together the classic pop styles of John Grisham, Tom Clancy and Elmore Leonard. The tale concerns a finance blogger, Katie Nilsson, who returns to her sleepy hometown of Lakeside, Ill., for her grandfather's funeral and stumbles on a series of mysterious killings and — perhaps even scarier — a massive pension scandal. Along with her childhood-friend-turned-handsome-detective, Nilsson works to unravel mysteries that may be connected.

Dempsey lives in Shelburne and is, as you might have guessed, a financial planner and asset manager. He's a solid writer who can spin a pulpy yarn suitably stuffed with sex, violence and intrigue. But his mix of hard-boiled prose with dense financial lingo — the latter often presented in the form of Nilsson's blog posts — might be a low-yield investment for some readers.

— D.B.

Affordable Poems, Alternative Facts

Geof Hewitt, Brown Fedora Books, 30 pages. $3.99.
And last night's nearly full moon still hanging pale
In the western horizon, man, I'm tooling.

In Geof Hewitt's world, anything can be a poem. In his latest chapbook, the local slam champion touches on subjects cosmically large ("Are there infinite universes / rubbing elbows, strafing eachother, / over-inflated balloons in a windowless room?") and as mundane as worms in compost or a skeptical guidance counselor.

The collection's cover features a "$3.99" price tag slapped across the title. The whole presentation speaks to Hewitt's unpretentious attitude toward the medium and his apparent joy in being a keen observer and recorder of the world. In our quote (taken from page 29, since the chapbook falls just short of 32 pages), Hewitt describes trying to scribble a poem while driving Interstate 89; he drifts into the other lane, and another driver flips him off. Nobody said writing was without its hazards.

— M.G.

Death Nesting: Ancient & Modern Death Doula Techniques, Mindfulness Practices and Herbal Care

Anne-Marie Keppel, self-published, 130 pages. $13.99.
You can prepare thoughtfully for one of the most sacred acts in our human existence and also completely let it go.

Anne-Marie Keppel, who lives in the Northeast Kingdom, is a death doula and educator, death-care volunteer, funeral celebrant, reiki practitioner, nurse assistant, event coordinator and mother of three. With this book she adds "author" to that list. A fervent advocate of mindful, loving support for the dying, Keppel explains how to offer that support — physical, emotional, spiritual — in Death Nesting. "Nesting" means what it sounds like: creating a comfortable, soothing, safe space for a person's most profound transition.

As Keppel describes it, conscious care of the dying incorporates practices such as meditation, ceremony and aromatherapy. Candid about the challenging realities of the dying process, she provides practical guidance for caregivers and family members both before and after the death. Death Nesting is a valuable primer not only for prospective doulas but for anyone who expects to die someday.

— P.P.

The Butcher

Alan S. Kessler, Black Rose Writing, 205 pages. $18.95.
Ludolf and Mikkel walked out into the bright sunlight withering even the Volk farmlands in this, the Summer season of pig slaughter and crop death.

If current Oscar contender Jojo Rabbit is a satirical vision of Nazi Germany, this novella from Barre writer Alan S. Kessler is a surreal one that evokes Dante's visions of hell. Technically, the story takes place not in the Third Reich but in a seemingly postapocalyptic world with two parched seasons, "Spring" and "Summer." Here a man known as the Butcher has bullied his way to leadership by uniting his people around the ruthless ritual slaughter of pigs. Young protagonist Mikkel grows up surrounded by butchery and grotesque related festivities. (Typical dialogue: "Join the others, Mikkel! Throw some pig shit! Have fun!") But he's starting to suspect that he has a genetic and spiritual connection to the despised Burners, whom the Butcher plans to target for genocide.

Kessler tells Seven Days that he wrote The Butcher "for those who believe the antidote to racism's toxicity is recognition of our common humanity." While this allegory is not a subtle one, it's a message to take to heart, now more than ever.

— M.H.

The Misfortunes of Family

Meg Little Reilly, MIRA, 352 pages. $16.99.
She didn't know what US senators did when they retired, and she definitely didn't know what happened to their drivers.

A former Obama administration official, southern Vermont writer Meg Little Reilly returns to the world of politics in her third novel, centered on the family of fictional retiring U.S. senator John Bright. The Brights, she tells us in a prologue, are "a fundamentally good family of outsized pride ... They are us."

Well, us with money and power and a lake house in the Berkshires, anyway. When the Bright clan gathers for its annual summer retreat, the dramas and pressures of the real world intrude, not least in the person of a young documentarian who hopes to parlay her insider footage of the family into career advancement. A terrorist attack reignites the ex-senator's political ambitions, and secrets are revealed and family bonds tested. While its insights are familiar, Reilly's character-driven study of American privilege remains free of soap suds.

Reilly launches the book on Tuesday, February 4, 6:30 p.m., at Phoenix Books Burlington. $3 ticket comes with a coupon for $5 off the book.

— M.H.