“The Moment of Lift:

How Empowering Women

Changes the World”

By Melinda Gates

Macmillan Publishing

262 pages

Melinda Gates offers a behind-the-scenes peek at how gargantuan-scale philanthropy can uplift the poorest, helping humanity in the process. She shares her own evolution from parents who instilled strong morals, successful businesswoman in a man's field, wife and mother, to helping craft a give-back model supported by a growing number of fellow billionaires. Since well before co-founding the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, she’s been researching social, health and economic challenges domestic and abroad, and ways to address them. She’s also gathered much information firsthand and tapped her strong faith.

From woman-to-woman chats in impoverished communities about their daily life, and group discussion involving men and leaders, she tells startling, heartbreaking accounts of child brides, rampant abuse, broken families, sickness and death. She cites hair-raising statistics, antiquated legislation and attempts at new laws that could bring disease prevention, modern medicine and safer lives into routine practice for a fraction of resources being wasted.

Once reticent about public speaking, Melinda realized her voice is key in helping lift others. She’s aware some may initially see her as “the privileged lady” on a PR mission. But the foundation’s goal of understanding a lifestyle, and getting local buy-in, is critical to lasting change, she says.

From her visits, she’s seen that struggle at many levels can be eased dramatically by helping the poor examine their own conventions, develop skills and make schooling available to all. Advancing women in such ways is already resulting in better farming techniques, family planning, household management, happier relationships and fewer deaths, Melinda explains.

Interspersed are touching stories of inspiration, accomplishment and promising signs of long-term sustainability.

The Gates Foundation has its critics. Nevertheless, when it seems like nothing’s getting better in some corners, reading may find Melinda Gates' experiences uplifting.

Kitty Bottemiller

“Empire of the Summer Moon”

By S. C. Gwynne

Scribner

371 pages

This book is two astonishing stories in one. First, it traces the rise and fall of the Comanche Indians, arguably the most powerful tribe in American history. Second, it entails one of the most remarkable tales ever to come out of the Old West: the epic saga of Cynthia Ann Parker, daughter of early Texas settlers, who was kidnapped at age 9. She lived with the Comanches into adulthood and was named Nuduah by her captors. Married to a ranking tribesman, Peta Nocona, she bore three children. One was her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches.

Though many readers may be more familiar with the tribal names Apache, Cheyenne and Sioux, it was the legendary fighting ability of the Comanches that determined just how and when the American West opened up. When the Comanches discovered the value of wild horses released earlier by Spanish explorers, they became the most accomplished horse “soldiers” in the history of the U.S.

They were so masterful at war and so skillful with their bows, arrows and lances that they stopped the northern drive of colonial Spain from Mexico and halted the French expansion westward from Louisiana. So effective were the Comanches that they forced the creation of the Texas Rangers and account for the advent of a new weapon specifically designed to fight them: the Walker Colt single action six shot revolver.

The war with the Comanches lasted four decades and held up the development of the Southwest U.S. This story delivers a sweeping narrative that encompasses Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the arrival of the railroad.

And, during this time frame, the author presents the compelling drama of Cynthia Ann Parker, a 9-year-old kidnapped by Comanches from the Texas frontier in 1836. Though she had witnessed the massacre of family members, she grew to love her captors and became infamous as the “White Squaw” who refused to return until her capture by Texas Rangers in 1860. More famous still was her son Quanah, a warrior who was never defeated and whose guerrilla wars in the Texas Panhandle made him a legend.

I've read many books about the various Indian tribes in the U.S. and this is one of the most comprehensive narrative of all. It was a finalist for Pulitzer Prize and could be a text book for American history.

Don Severe

“Secret Tucson:

A Guide to the Weird,

Wonderful, and Obscure”

By Clark Norton

Reedy Press

213 pages

Ah, how blessed are we to reside in this wonderful patch of Southern Arizona splendor, full of distinctive Sonoran Desert critters and cuisine, legends and lore, history and heat. Whether you're a newcomer or a longtime resident, you'll find plenty that may be familiar in part and perhaps surprising in others in Clark Norton's short, playful vignettes about many special sites, landmarks and oddities in the Old Pueblo and surrounding communities.

Among the many dozen of locales and hang-outs in this new book, Norton shares his intriguing visits to an old downtown speak-easy, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's airplane boneyard, and the astronomical mirror laboratory housed under, of all places, the UA football stadium.

Out of doors, he explores some distinct Tucson occurrence including the thousands of Mexican free-tail bats drawn to the North Campbell Avenue bridge over the Rillito River, the intriguing night-blooming cereus cactus found here, and the Mount Lemmon Ski Valley in the Santa Catalinas, among others.

There's also notorious outlaw John Dillinger and his gang, and mafioso Joe Bonanno, who both found their way to Tucson, for better or worse. And who remembers President Bill Clinton's big Mexican feast at Mi Nidito Mexican restaurant in South Tucson?

Among my favorites in this book are Norton's visits to such classic Tucson neighborhoods as Snob Hollow, Miracle Mile, Colonia Solano and El Encanto Estates. Plus those of us residing in smaller satellite communities rate mentions, including Sonoita's winery successes, historic Rancho de la Oso near Sasabe, and Bisbee's vintage Shady Dell Trailer Court, where you can spend the night in a 1950s Airstream or Hollywood Trailer.

Go ahead and treat yourself to this fun, quirky look at the wonders here in our own backyard.

Karen Walenga

“Christmas In Winter Valley”

By Jodi Thomas

Harlequin Publishers

362 pages

This year for Christmas, I’m hoping to pass on to you, dear readers, the gift I got last Christmas: a writer. Jodi Thomas’ new book, “Christmas in Winter Valley,” is as heartwarming as a Hallmark Christmas movie. It follows last year’s Christmas book, “Mistletoe Miracles” — and in between the two I’ve hunted up and read at least 44 of her other books. Thomas writes authentically about Western life and people, both historical and modern; most of her latest books are contemporary. She does a perfect blend between western and romance, and anyone who’s ever lived in small-town anywhere will find someone or something to recognize in her stories.

This one, part of her Ransom Canyon series, has ranch life at the forefront: wild mustangs, a runaway orphan, a kind cook, a mysterious inheritance, and Christmas are thrown into the mix as well. As usual, there’s a lot of laughter but some tragedy, too, just like life.

The Holloway men are trying to run the ranch as usual while their brother Griffin and sister-in-law Sunlan are visiting her sick dad. The collegiate cousins-in-law have shown up to visit before Christmas, three city girls who mostly shop and party. Cooper takes off to the back country to care for the mustangs before they’re snowed in, and Elliot is trying to manage the cow hands in addition to his usual job of manning the books. Coop gets injured, Sunlan’s dad needs more care than expected, and Elliot’s college girlfriend shows up to add to the chaos. It all makes for a merry time in Texas.

More than one character will get their happy ending when the snow clears; it’s another specialty of Thomas’ to intertwine several stories in a book.

While not quite under the “clean romance” umbrella, Thomas never focuses on the sex scenes for more than a page or two. Her books focus on regular people making the best of things through hard work and kindness. Isn’t that really what love is, after all? Dear readers, I hope you find the best books all year long — and may you be blessed with the gift of lovingkindness in this season that celebrates love.

Em Maxwell

“Maybe Dying is Like Becoming a Butterfly”

By Pimm van Hest

Illustrated by Lisa Brandenburg

Clavis Publishing Inc.,

26 pages

“What happens after death, Grandpa?”

“That’s a good question, my boy . . . I don’t know the answer, really. I’ve never died before.”

When Christopher, an inquisitive young lad, and his elderly, beloved grandfather chat about the curious and oftentimes uneasy subject of death, it makes for a heartwarming exchange about life, love and loss. Their comfortable and straightforward dialogue helps the little boy understand that the end of life is something as natural yet mystical as creation itself.

This book tackles the topic with compassion and truthfulness. If you have a small child dealing with or anticipating the loss of a special friend or family member, it will provide them concrete ways in which to honor and keep alive the memory of their loved one while grieving the loss.

Bonnie Papenfuss

“CATCH AND KILL:

Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy

to Protect Predators”

By Ronan Farrow

Little Brown and Company

414 pages

This is carefully fact-checked reporting dealing with courage and cowards. Reporting that NBC tried to kill, but The New Yorker dared to publish. Reporting that the Enquirer tried to buy to use as blackmail against powerful people.

Perhaps the most intriguing sentence in the book is a short message sent to the author: "There are more Harveys in your midst." Harvey Weinstein is scheduled to go on trial for rape and other charges of sexual assault in January. The Epstein story many powerful people don't want exposed is yet to unfold.

In the meantime, where oh where is Matt? Why aren't there even any echoes from Charlie? How binding are Nondisclosure Agreements if they are designed to bury crimes and in many cases used to protect criminal activity?

To what extent is corporate greed and individual guilt hidden behind the corporate veil? Can an economic system even work when some of its components become too big to fail? Or perhaps the more appropriate question for news organizations would be: too big to dare?

The picture of the author on the back cover is symbolic of what courage really is as an unarmed Ronan Farrow stands tall against the threats against journalists who dare to drop bombshells of truth on criminal exploitation.

The women who came forward demonstrate even greater courage and Ronan clearly points out that he is not the story, merely one of the storytellers.

This is a book that will leave the reader more aware of how difficult it is to find the truth, how many seemingly reliable sources are often double agents, how critically important good investigative journalism is to a free society.

Georgia Hotton

“The Innocent Man”

By John Grisham

Dell

448 pages

For 2019, this is John Grisham's only non-fiction book, thoroughly researched and presented in a style of a documentary, which it became on TV.

Once a star athlete and hometown hero, Ron Williamson returned to his hometown of Ada, Oklahoma. After receiving a “signing bonus,” he experienced multiple failed attempts to play for various minor league baseball teams. His failures led to, or aggravated, his depression and problem drinking.

Early in the morning of Dec. 8, 1982, the body of Debra Sue Carter, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress, was found in the bedroom of her garage apartment in Ada. She had been beaten, raped and suffocated. After five years of false starts and shoddy police work by the Ada police department, Williamson — along with his "drinking buddy" Dennis Fritz — were charged, tried and convicted of the rape and murder charges in 1988. Williamson was sentenced to death. Fritz was given a life sentence.

This book describes the aggressive and misguided mission of the Ada police department and Pontotoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson to solve the mystery of Carter's murder. The police and prosecutor used forced strong arm tactics, "dream" confessions, unreliable witnesses, and flimsy evidence to convict Williamson and Fritz. Since a death penalty conviction automatically sets in motion a series of appeals, the Innocence Project aided Williamson's attorney in exposing several glaring holes in the prosecution's case and the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses. A U.S. District Court judge ordered a retrial.

After suffering through a conviction and 11 years on death row, Williamson and Fritz were exonerated by DNA evidence and released on April 15, 1999. But for Williamson it was too late. He suffered deep, irreversible psychological damage during his incarceration and lengthy stay on death row.

Another man from Ada, Glen Gore, was eventually convicted of the original crime and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The convictions of Williamson and Fritz were preceded by several other unconventional and flawed convictions for similar crimes. This exposé divided the citizens of Ada and was an embarrassment to the city, county and state justice systems

I have enjoyed reading many of the novels authored by Grisham. This is the real deal, a true crime venture.

Don Severe

BOOK EVENTS

• Come listen, read your own poetry or share a favorite poem during the Poet's Corner informal gathering on Monday, Jan. 13, and Thursday, Jan. 23, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Joyner-Green Valley Library, 601 N. La Cañada Drive. All are welcome.

Page Turner's Book Club will discuss “Waking Lions,” by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, on Monday, Jan. 27, 2:30 to 4 p.m., at the library.

Local Author Showcase features Sharon Kennedy, Marge Saiser and Byron Thompson on Thursday, Jan. 9, at 2 to 4 p.m., at the library.

To Tell Our Stories: Holocaust Survivors of Southern Arizona, is Friday, Jan. 10, 2 to 3 p.m., at the library.

• The free First Friday Local Music Program, featuring Hardscrabble Road, is Jan. 3, 1 to 2 p.m., at the library.

TOP TEN

The 10 most popular books at Joyner-Green Valley Library for the past month:

“Wild Card,” by Stuart Woods

“Juror #3,” by Kames Patterson

“A Delicate Touch,” by Stuart Woods

“The Never Game,” by Jeffrey Deaver

“The Tale Teller, by Anne Hillerman

“The Pioneers,” by David McCullough

“Song of the Lion,” by Anne Hillerman

“Never Tell,” by Lisa Gardner

“Willing to Die,” by Lisa Jackson

“The Disappeared,” by C.J. Box