Sunday, April 21, 2024

Wonderful new book of slices of American life, twenty-first century


Aluminum Currents

Rodney Schroeter
March, 2024
Silver Creek Press, 392 pp

About the Book:
A selection of articles from The Plymouth Review Current, from 2014 to 2024. Rodney Schroeter edited this monthly publication during that time. This anthology includes articles on movies; individual liberty; illustration art in America; Wisconsin history; pulp fiction. Full color photos and graphics.

My Review:
Rodney Schroeter's work in a small Wisconsin town is showcased in his monthly edition of the Current, an add-on publication to Plymouth's newspaper, The Plymouth Review. Over the course of ten years, read and reflect on changing times not related just to eastern Wisconsin. Schroeter showcases films, literature, events both historical and present, besides the usual ads, puzzles and games, community calendars and editorials. In this book, Schroeter has chosen tidbits from each edition, reflected through his colorful covers. Readers of Americana, no matter where you live, will find much to love in this volume. Vibrant and entertaining. Worth the price.

About the Author:
Rodney Schroeter grew up in Sheboygan County, wanting to be a writer. He graduated from Random Lake High School and from the University of Wisconsin­ Parkside in Kenosha, where he majored in English, took classes from Wisconsin writer Herbert Kubly and earned a teaching certificate.

After graduating, he taught middle school science in North Dakota. He wrote and drew comics as a hobby. Seven years of teaching was enough, so he went to a tech school to learn computer programming. That career lasted more than 25 years, ending with the recent economic recession.

Rodney picked up several part­-time writing jobs, reporting local government meetings and other projects. Learning to design books for the Wisconsin Writers Association led to additional work. Among other things, he now edits a monthly newspaper called The Current.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Wisconsin for Kennedy by BJ Hollars


Wisconsin for Kennedy

The Primary That Launched a President and Changed the Course of History
BJ Hollars
Wisconsin Historical Society Press
March, 2024, 256 pp
Paper: $24.95
Ebook: $11.99


About the Book

The behind-the-scenes story of JFK’s 1960 Wisconsin primary campaign

When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, he did something no candidate had done before: he leveraged the power of state primaries to win his party’s nomination. Kennedy’s first battleground state? Wisconsin—a state that would prove more arduous, more exhausting, and more crucial to winning the presidency than any other. 

Wisconsin for Kennedy brings to life the stories behind JFK’s history-making 1960 Wisconsin primary campaign, and how Kennedy’s team managed to outmaneuver his politically seasoned opponent, Hubert Humphrey. From Jackie Kennedy commandeering a supermarket loudspeaker in Kenosha, to the Wisconsin forklift driver who planned President Kennedy’s final trip to Dallas, this captivating book places readers at the heart of the action.

Author B.J. Hollars chronicles JFK’s nail-biting Wisconsin win by drawing on rarely cited oral histories from the eclectic team of people who worked together to make it happen: a cranberry farmer, a union leader, a mayor, an architect, and others. Wisconsin for Kennedy explores how Wisconsin helped propel JFK all the way to the White House in a riveting historical account that reads like a work of rollicking, page-turning fiction. 


My Review

Using detailed records, interviews, a little creativity, and lots of images, BJ Hollars crafts a descriptive and unique rise to office through the eyes of several players for President John F. Kennedy. The author carefully sets the stage for Kennedy’s dizzying primary campaign in Wisconsin decades before the campaign by introducing his important future players via Democratic Convention dates and highlight events leading up to the 1960 convention: Philleo Nash, special assistant to President Truman, later chair of the WDNC, and lieutenant governor; future governor Pat Lucey, Ivan Nestingan, mayor of Madison, William Proxmire’s aide, Jerry Bruno, and Milwaukee’s Vel Phillips, recently elected to the Common Council. Each of these people were introduced to Kennedy prior to 1960, whether to help on another campaign, or simply because of the office held, and each became an important influence in Kennedy’s campaign for the White House.

Hollars’ style of setting down historical facts with storytelling charm create an easy-flowing tale of political intrigue around the JFK era, from McCarthyism, marital mishaps, and civil unrest in all its ugliest forms, to the magnetism that Jack Kennedy exuded wherever he went, will resonate with readers of popular history. The book is filled with images, casual conversation from the records, and even little-known tidbits about Jackie Kennedy was reading while reluctantly on the campaign trail, and the drama of her early miscarriages.

It's a story for the Wisconsinites who came alongside Kennedy, Hollars says in his introductory note, where he also acknowledges valuable contributions made by Wisconsin women; roles that were not as well documented. I’m glad he was able to include a great deal of material about Vel Phillips. The book doesn’t end with the Wisconsin primary. Told in three parts, the last part is the aftermath of the election, the lessons learned from dealing with people across the nation, convincing them to support Kennedy’s election. There is a story of going for the personal touch in West Virginia with Jerry Bruno as one of the advance scouts where the candidate got a real taste of poverty. The key players attended the inauguration in January of 1961, where stories about Robert Frost bring the story to relatable level. Hollars finishes the work with another the story of the president’s reasons and route that final fatal day in Dallas, Texas, in 1963. Jerry Bruno remained one of the president’s advance scouts, and had been heavily involved in setting up the stops and the parade route. He was bothered by the outcome ever afterward.

 Included is a lengthy bibliography, notes, and index. The book is a great addition to Wisconsin lore.

About the Author
B.J. Hollars is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and the founder and director of the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild. His books include Year of Plenty: A Family’s Season of Grief; Go West Young Man: A Father and Son Rediscover America on the Oregon Trail; The Road South: Personal Stories of the Freedom Riders; and Hope Is the Thing: Wisconsinites on Perseverance in a Pandemic. Hollars is the recipient of the Truman Capote Prize for Literary Nonfiction, the Anne B. and James B. McMillan Prize, and the Council of Wisconsin Writers' Blei/Derleth Nonfiction Book Award. His work has been featured in the Washington Post and on NPR.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Breakfast Jury by Kenneth B Humprey


The Breakfast Jury

Kenneth B Humphrey 
January 17, 2024 by Wheatland House Publishing, 483 pages
Paper $14.99
Ebook $7.00
Buy on Amazon

About the Book
In 1999, a jury of misfits is thrust into the case of the century. A man stands accused of poisoning his wife with antifreeze and they are charged to deliver judgment. During the longest trial in state history, they unwittingly form bonds stronger than anyone could have predicted and come to realize their differences are not so great after all. One year later, a reunion turns deadly when they fall victim to poison. Is this targeted retribution for their verdict or simply forewarning of something darker to come? Enter disgraced detective Aramis "Arch" White and his penchant for finding trouble. As he digs into the shadows, skepticism plays a third wheel, blurring the line between duty and vendetta. Can he unmask the puppeteer orchestrating this retribution tango? The clock is ticking and as time winds down he finds that vengeance possesses a wicked sense of irony.

My Review
        This is a fast-paced who-dun-it set in turn-of-the-century (twenty-first, that is) Wisconsin, bouncing between a criminal murder trial and some of the aftermath a year later. Humphrey’s main protagonist, Arch White, returns in a quest to redeem himself after his police career bottoms out. A friendly referral that was supposed to be a pat on the back turns into a serious case when Arch untangles threads that lead back to a jury of the murder trial, and apparently the members of the jury are now targets of a copycat killer.
Peeling back the evidence through flashes between the trial in 1999 and the case Arch is investigating, the reader slowly sees the suspects, means, and motive coming into play. The action was twisty enough that, although I followed the trail, I’d read the story again because there were so many moving parts and people that I’d see something new each time I read it. Skillfully played with a wide cast, detailed and nuanced in all the right placed, The Breakfast Jury is a fun read. The title is a riff on the high school comedy which is mentioned frequently. Those who enjoy detective stories with some humor and parallel action between near past and present will enjoy The Breakfast Jury. I’m also checking out Arch White in the previous series.

About the Author
My story really isn't all that different than other writers. I grew up loving books. I spent a lot of time daydreaming. I wondered how everyone else in class seemed to know what to do when I didn't even remember the teacher saying anything. 

And there were many voices in my head.

Apparently, I also lean to the left when taking pictures.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Jade Ring Writing Competition opens March 1



Get ready, Get set …

Submit your best work beginning MARCH 1

Submissions close on JUNE 15

In honor of the Jade Ring Writing Contest’s 75th Anniversary, we will reinstate an elegant tradition when winners were announced and honored at the WWA Fall Conference.

Thus, the 2024 Jade Ring Award winners will be revealed on October 25 at a banquet in La Crosse held in conjunction with the conference.


Short Fiction - Christina Marrocco, author, editor and college instructor

Non-Fiction - Maggie Ginsberg, author and senior managing editor at Madison Magazine

Poetry - Max Garland, former Wisconsin poet laureate

-  “What Wisconsin Means to Me” - Jerry Apps, author and UW emeritus instructor (new category in honor of the contest’s 75th anniversary)

In addition to glory, cash, and a Jade Ring, first-place winners in each category will also receive a one-week residency at Write On, Door County.

Be sure to follow all entry requirements! Account at Duosuma required.

Dates to Note

March 1 – Submissions open.

June 15 – Submissions close.

August 15 (est.) – Paid critiques are returned.

August 15 – Winners in all categories will be notified of placing in the contest (exact placement will not be revealed until the Jade Ring Banquet).

October 25 – Winners are notified of their winning placement at the Jade Ring Banquet.

Learn more and enter at


Friday, January 19, 2024

New Memoir about hiking the Ice Age Trail


Squatter: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim her Spirit on the Ice Age Trail
Yolanda DeLoach
Cornerstone Press, January 31, 2024, 288 pages
Print $28.95
Buy on Amazon 
Barnes and Noble 

About the Book

“I’m emotionally not in a good place.”

So begins Yolanda DeLoach’s raw and redemptive Squatter, a tale of trails, trekking, and overcoming trauma. Between heartache and the realization that a relationship was never as it seemed, DeLoach pushes herself toward Wisconsin’s historic Ice Age Trail, a place of friendship and, ultimately, forgiveness. But the forgiving starts from within, as she makes her way, section by section, along the trail’s storied footways. 

Honest, heartfelt, and told with a survivor’s grace, Squatter inspires, encourages, and listens, like a good friend on the trail.

My Review

DeLoach’s memoir about using time on Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail to work through an abusive relationship is a harrowing but restorative read. The author spends the first several chapters explaining her situation in gritty detail, inviting the reader into her chaotic and emotional life. She lays out her need for balance in order to get away from not only the personal torture of a relationship gone badly wrong, but also the trauma of the Sars-Covid 19 epidemic in the life of a nurse. The outdoors was a haven to many during this time.
The story seems both too short and yet deep as DeLoach shares her very recent journey to learn more about herself. The lessons are valuable for anyone struggling with problematic decision-making issues. Professional therapy and general support can only go so far to help people who have a deep-seated need to seek fulfillment in personally damaging ways. DeLoach takes her time showing us her angst and trauma; readers who are sensitive to psychological abuse should be cautious. By the time the author shares her adventures on the trail, we’re invested in her commitment to take control of her addictive behavior and to conquer the trail. After 800 miles, DeLoach finds her trail name, “Squatter,” when she invites herself to share the warmth of a fellow hiker’s heated tent instead of her own solo tent.
DeLoach replaces adrenalin highs of demanding people with physically and emotionally demanding elements of hiking all the trail segments she could between work and home life, through all seasons, over the course of a year. From making new trail buddy friends, to staying in friends’ garages while hiking sections, to campgrounds, to elegant homes, to monasteries, the author completes goals she sets for herself. “This time was different,” she says after completing the northern route. “This time, I had the trail. And the trail was magic.”
DeLoach is candid in admitting that she didn’t want her adult and teen children involved in her problems, but that she needed to work on being more open. I was relieved to read that, because she had teen daughters at home while practicing risky behavior and the mom in me had concerns. She listens to podcasts along the way to learn more about herself and toxic relationships and concludes, “The human spirit is resilient. Even when reduced to smoldering ash, the spirit is able to spark back to life with the right conditions. I found those conditions in nature’s touch and the hearts of others along Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail.”
I lived near and walked segments of the southeastern part of the trail during the years it was developed and worked on in the 1990s. I appreciated this in-depth journey of nature’s healing power. Readers of true adventure stories, nature hiking, and memoirs will find much to appreciate in Squatter: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim her Spirit on the Ice Age Trail.

About the Author

Yolanda DeLoach is an avid section hiker and outdoors advocate, having become a “1,000-miler” on the Ice Age Trail in 2021. She lives in Central Wisconsin, where she works as a palliative care/hospice registered nurse.


Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Epic high fantasy


The Mourning of Lost Magics
SW Strackbein

Sisyphus Triumphant Publishing, November 17, 2023, 400 pp.
Science Fiction Fantasy
Ebook $3.99
Print $16.99

About the Book:
Who are we if not for our memories?

Left for dead in a mysterious cave, Guilder Rayne awakens into a world of magic and monsters he has little knowledge of. With the help of some…complicated friends, Guilder begins to discover his own prowess for magic while uncovering the troublesome past of the alleged Butcher Prince. As his journeys take him into the dark recesses of his world, Guilder must hone his newfound abilities before an ancient power becomes bent on destroying magic itself. One reluctant sorcerer would sacrifice all to restore what once was. The other, willing to sacrifice himself to save what has become. Can Guilder and his friends stop this ancient power before it erases all magic as well as their very existence?

 My review:
Two sorcerers, both reluctant to use their developing powers for different reasons, have very different goals. In this dystopian picture of our world after a terrible decision by a delusional scientist, a prince learns of a power that could save his world from the madness of the immortal Lord Iks, the lone survivor of a former age, who is determined to return the world to its former state. Prince Guilder survives curse after curse while he seeks reclusive inhabitants for the help he and his friends need to overpower the insane Iks. The help comes at a horrific price, however, leaving Guilder to wonder at the future of the kingdom he is left to rule.

Strackbein’s world of magic is filled with those who control the elements, and creatures morphed into the marvelous and profane in a setting familiar but transformed. Guilder is a sympathetic and memorable hero in need of the personality transplant inflicted on him by a Memory Eater. The venom doesn’t last forever, and Guilder is deeply troubled by the state of warring kingdoms and the role his family has played in bringing about chaos. Fae folk, zombies, changelings, a touch of steam punk and magic keep this twisty tale ever moving. Betrayals lurk around every corner where one must be very careful about the exact wording of promises made and kept. Guilder surrounds himself with a quartet of friends who control different aspects of nature, air, water, metal, and fire. Together, they learn how powerful they can be as they unravel the terrible mystery of Luna and the secret of a prophecy that will either save or destroy the world they know. Told through multiple viewpoints in a fast-moving adventure, readers of high fantasy will enjoy The Mourning of Lost Magics.

About the Author
SW Strackbein has been writing fiction since 2006. A US Army veteran, he is currently a psychotherapist. Born and raised in rural Wisconsin, he appreciates the simplicity of the Midwest, Green Bay Packer’s football, and all four seasons. He and his wife Tanya live in a semi-rural town with their dogs Amber and Jax, both young-at-heart rescues. He loves to cook, travel, and dreams about retiring in Hawaii.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Addio Love Monster review Christina Marrocco

Addio, Love Monster

Chrstina Marrocco
Ovunque Siamo Press, 282pp
June, 2022
Literary collection of short entwined stories
Audio $5.99
Ebook $7.99
Print $16.99


About the Book
Addio, Love Monster is a novel told in linked stories spanning generations on the “regular” yet remarkable Singer Street of fictional midcentury Mulberry Park, just outside of Chicago. Marrocco transports you fully into this small world where Signora Giuseppa, the “iron fist” of Singer Street, does everything it takes to keep her grown children very near her, no matter what. Where Enrico the widower creeps in the night looking for a new wife in all the wrong places. Where Nicky the golden-gloves boxer wrestles with what he saw in the basement as a child—and Lena, his wife, also wrestles—with how to deal with Nicky’s violence. Each story follows one person, but together they are the story of the neighborhood, a neighborhood that faces life together, whether they like it or not. In these pages you will find humor and sorrow, resentment and adoration, and the churn and change of a neighborhood where everyone knows everyone both too much and too little as time marches on.

My Review
I adore beautifully drawn stories populated by memorable characters; stories that come around to reveal themselves layer by exquisite layer. I wasn’t sure what to make of Marrocco’s title, Addio, Love Monster, but the premise drew me in. The family, immigrants, first and second generation Sicilian Americans of the 1950 and 60s Midwest, are endearing, exasperating, and noble. The love monster of the title, Guiseppa Millefiore, loses her husband while raising seven of her eight children still at home. Determined to keep them close, she subtly weaves a web for her sons and daughters on Singer Street by buying up houses and lots and renting them out to her children.

Each of the twenty-one stories features a child, in-law, grandchild, other denizens of Singer Street, even the neighborhood itself, such as the tale of The Day Nothing Bad Happened. Guiseppa is the fulcrum of the tales, which slowly revolve through nearly a generation timespan, neatly tied with a death on both ends. Marrocco’s command of detail creates 3D pictures without overwhelming the senses. “Timing was everything” isn’t a cliché on Christmas Eve, when a most unusual role reversal occurs and we see tenderness beneath the trigger temper of Guiseppa’s son Nicky, who has little memory of his father. It is “sisters who help their brothers miss what they could not recall,” he thinks. Descriptions such as “Each letter looked like a little tombstone,” and Gramma’s blanket “was an itchy sort of thing, probably picked up on a clearance at Goldbatts’s by someone out shopping for something else entirely,” are amusing and poignant as they work to set the tone.

Guiseppa holds her family tight, a mother who defends her children and grandchildren under any and all circumstances and is held in the utmost esteem to her deathbed. She’s teacher, overseer, confidant, sly; the provider most of them don’t ever fully understand and appreciate. One of my favorite scenes is when Gramma counsels her young grandson John about his confession that he thought about everything and concluded there was no God. The fact that he even reluctantly told Guiseppa while believing he’d shock and mortify her, says so much about the power of her love. Guiseppa works to ensure all of her children stay true to the family, even if it means getting them brides or arranging for adoptions from Sicily. Family feuds, family secrets, family dreams all muddle together in a charming and thoroughly entertaining collection of generational stories wrapped sweet and sour, like pollo in agrodolce.

About the Author
Christina Marrocco works in memoir, short story, long fiction, and poetry. Her work has appeared in Silverbirch Press, The Laurel Review, House Mountain Review, VIA, Ovunque Siamo, and Red Fern Press. She lives outside of Chicago where she teaches Creative Writing and other courses at Elgin Community College.