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Rain Gods
By James Lee Burke. Simon & Schuster. 448 pp. $25.99.
Top Pick
Burke, author of the popular Dave Robicheaux mysteries set in the bayou country of southwestern Louisiana, has produced a haunting masterwork in this complex morality tale played out in the bleak southwest Texas borderland. The discovery of the bodies of nine Asian prostitutes buried in a mass grave sends aging sheriff Hackberry Holland on a quest for the killers and an endangered witness to the crime. The hunt resurrects demons from Holland's own past. In Burke's world, good and bad dissolve into shades of gray, as flawed human beings struggle to do the right thing. If that weren't enough, in Preacher Jack Collins, a god-fearing killing machine, Burke has created one of modern fiction's most intriguing and memorable villains. []
(fiction) In trying to unravel a complex web of murder and intrigue, a small town border sheriff not only has to contend with elusive perpetrators and mysterious feds, who seem to be more focused on conflicts among themselves than against each other, but also his own past and a world of moral ambiguity. As both the body count rises, his mission expands from defending locals caught in the mayhem to sheer survival - but on what terms? Created by a master story teller at the top of his form, James Lee Burke’s haunting and evocative exploration of vagaries of the human condition takes us from its most unfortunate depths to some of those surprising triumphs of human spirit that inspire hope for us all. This is the kind of writing that leaves us in a state of recurring wonder long after the last page is turned, and with a desire for more. []

Ranch Gates of the Southwest
By Kenneth I. Helphand, Daniel M. Olsen, Henk Van Assen. Trinity University Press. 139 pp. $45.00.
More than 200 well-framed color photos display just what the title suggests, and the range of possibilities is astonishing! Simple, but elegant, maps show locations which are, as we might expect, often on state and county roads from South Texas to southeastern Nevada. The gates themselves are not always gates but rather signs along a fence line and they range from the quirky (a spur large enough for a truck to pass through with its rowel in the air) to the cute (two quail on a post holding a mailbox) and on to the somewhat pretentious (massive white cement columns). Helphand’s text does not attempt descriptions. Rather it tackles the subject in mini-essays with titles such as “Origins”, “Language in the Landscape” and “Branding and Type Design.” Altogether a fascinating glimpse of a piece of Americana that we’ve all seen but probably ignored.
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Ranfla and Other New Mexico Stories
By Martha Egan. University Of New Mexico Press. 202 pp. $24.95.
No literary pyrotechnics here; Egan writes some down-home (maybe down-casa would be better) stories, usually with a woman as the central figure. Mary Louise bags her doctoral studies in Berkeley to pursue a man who is a great lover but lives in New Mexico; Grandma Guenther fascinates her granddaughter with tales of the olden days then lets her teach the old lady how to Google; and so it goes! []

Record of Native People on Gulf of California Islands, The
By Thomas Bowen. Arizona State Museum. 101 pp. Index. Arizona State Museum Archaeological Series 201. .
One of the deeper questions about the Southwest is how it was originally settled: by prehistoric people coming across land or along the continental shores, perhaps in canoes? Archaeological sites on the gulf islands may offer clues, just as they do to the heritage and history of the Seri Indians living on the edge of the Southwest. An energetic and exceptionally capable archaeologist, Tom Bowen has explored all of these islands looking for clues, and in this book he offers an excellent glimpse of what is known about people who lived there from the beginning of time. []

Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains
By Jan MacKell. University of New Mexico Press. 458 pp. Index. $34.95.
Whether referred to as harlot, daughter of joy, scarlet woman, painted woman, fallen woman, erring sister, hooker, illicit lady or lady of the night, it all comes down to the fact that prostitution was a lively trade in towns throughout the West. Business in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, was every bit as active in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. This is a scholarly, well-written history, respectful of the thousands of women who, for numerous reasons found themselves earning a living as a lady of easy virtue. Living conditions varied, many faced abuse, just as many became addicts and died young either of disease or by their own hand. Some were respected as good business women. Some became celebrities. Some were revered for their kindness and charity and often eulogized with elaborate burials. Here is a fine and sympathetic history of the oldest profession. []

Red, Green, or Murder
By Steven Havill. Poisoned Pen Press. 284 pp. $24.95.
When an elderly, ailing rancher is found dead on his kitchen floor, a half-eaten burrito and a glass of wine on the table, the conclusion seems obvious: a fatal heart attack. But things just don't add up for New Mexico livestock inspector and former sheriff Bill Gastner . . . and then a local cowboy goes missing. After fifteen novels set in fictional Posadas County, Havill owns this territory, which he stocks with small-town characters and plausible mysteries. This latest entry has the comfortable feel of a well-worn boot. []

Reflections in Place: Connected Lives of Navajo Women
By Donna Deyhle. University of Arizona Press. 256 pp. Index. $24.95 (pbk).

Native American women still must fight stereotyping, discrimination, and disconnectivity in the Southwest, but there is hope.
Remarkable Plants of Texas: Uncommon Accounts of our Common Natives
By Matt Warnock Turner. University of Texas Press. 336 pp. Index. $29.95.
Covering the entire state of Texas, Turner provides clear, detailed accounts of selected trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, and cacti. His accounts are informative and the photos pretty. The author succeeds in providing information beyond what we usually find in botanical field guides. []

Remedies for a New West: Healing Landscapes, Histories, and Cultures
By Sharon K. Collinge, Andrew Cowell, Patricia Nelson Limerick. University of Arizona Press. 324 pp. Index. $35.00.
The New West is not just the Southwest, of course, and the 11 essays in this volume range geographically throughout the larger region. In fact, pay attention to the subtitle so as not to be surprised that this is a book more broadly about survival, not just about the environment. Editor Limerick, the best-known of the 15 authors and editors involved in the production of this book, provides a closing essay that suggests a change in how we view our efforts on behalf of the environment. Preservation, conservation and restoration, she proposes can no longer be viewed as separate. We must integrate them so that each understands the value of the others and does not concentrate on their differences. []

Resurrection: Glen Canyon and a New Vision for the American West
By Annette McGivney, James Kay. Braided River. 174 pp. Index. $29.95.
Top Pick
Of this year’s fine crop of books about water in the West -- James Lawrence Powell’s Dead Pool, Char Miller’s Water in the 21st–Century West, and Robert Glennon’s Unquenchable -- this one is the best, for it vividly shows what water means to those who live here. In 1963 Glen Canyon dam harnessed the Colorado River and created a massive reservoir, Lake Powell, a favorite spot for house boaters and fishermen. But Nature has not cooperated, and the West faces a draught and changing climate. Boat docks are now high and dry; stream bottom sediments are now erosion badlands, and high overhead a bathtub ring mars the canyon walls. On the other hand, cottonwoods and cattails are returning to riverbanks that just a few years ago were covered by 140 feet of lake water; hikers can now take remote canyons to river’s edge. Lake Powell may never again be more than half full, and like the proverbial glass of water, we in a changing West must decide if life is half full or half empty. Our expectations need a realignment. McGivney’s clear, objective prose is matched with stunning photos by James Kay. The book is a visual parable.
Readers may wish to revisit Eliot Porter’s The Place No One Knew and Tad Nichols’ Glen Canyon: Images of a Lost World.
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Glen Canyon has long been mourned as The Place No One Knew, more beautiful than the Grand Canyon and just upstream from it on the Colorado River, yet so remote that few realized what would be lost when it was drowned by Glen Canyon Dam. After retiring, former Senator Barry Goldwater, the lead advocate for the dam in the Senate, said sadly that if he could un-do one thing he had done, Glen Canyon Dam would have been it. The plummeting water level of drought-starved Lake Powell recently receded from a good portion of upper Glen Canyon, drawing people from all over the world to explore that lost world. Lavishly illustrated with beautiful photographs, this volume gives witness to the wonders of Glen Canyon and celebrates what once was, as well as what could be again. Also an important lesson in water development run amok, this is a reminder that sustainability is not just about saving trees, it is about saving our selves and the things that really matter to us.

For readers who would like to explore this subject, I too highly recommend “The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon on the Colorado,” and “ Glen Canyon: Images of a Lost World.”
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Rhino Ranch
By Larry McMurtry. Simon & Schuster. 278 pp. $26.00.
Fleeting references to Arizona, a road trip to Wickenburg, and Ed Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" provide the southwestern connection in this final installment of McMurtry's Thalia saga. Adrift after a heart attack and impending divorce, Duane Moore returns to his North Texas hometown (the setting of The Last Picture Show), where a wild-animal sanctuary has displaced oil production and cattle raising as a mainstay of the local economy. McMurtry's keen appreciation of the foibles of the human condition and of small-town life punctuate this bittersweet rumination on change and growing old. Faithful readers will experience a pang of regret at the end of the road. []

Recouperating from a heart attach, protagonist Duane Moore returns home to Thalia, TX where life proves anything but restful.
River Flows North, The
By Graciela Limón. Arte Público Press. 177 pp. $24.95.
Do you remember the storyline of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey? Limon provides a border version, of sorts. Her travelers are not crossing a bridge but the desert through which passes the U.S.-Mexico border. From the initial phase of identifying a guide (we call them coyotes these days) to the final scenes of arrival at Interstate 8 somewhere between Yuma and Casa Grande, the tale plays out with hardships that boggle this reader’s imagination, but feel nonetheless all too real. Limon, author of six previously published novels, lets the tale tell itself and the travelers speak to us directly about their reasons, always desperate, for making the trek to El Norte. The river of the title, by the way, is that symbolic one made up of human bodies. []

Road to Mount Lemmon, The : a Father, a Family, and the Making of Summerhaven
By Mary Ellen Barnes, Tony Zimmerman. University of Arizona Press. 202 pp. Index. $17.95.
The daughter of Summerhaven pioneer Tony Zimmerman recreates a world that was reduced to ashes in the 2003 Mount Lemmon fire. In her warm and engaging memoir, Barnes recounts tales of her father and of family life on the mountain during the 1940s and 1950s, development of the resort community, and residents like Pat Jenks and others who shaped its character. The book is both a tribute to Tony Zimmerman's vision and persistence, and a nostalgic look at a bygone world. Dozens of historic photographs capture life and leisure on the mountain sanctuary overlooking Tucson. []
What was it like to grow up in the small mountain community of Summerhaven high atop the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson? Most of us would have loved the chance to do just that, and Mary Ellen Barnes brings us a filling set of essays on what it was like. She focuses on her father, Tony Zimmerman who essentially founded the mountain top community. He was an eternal optimist who loved the mountains, and even at age 99 he dug a hole in his backyard so he could plant a pecan tree. When asked why, he replied that he wanted to harvest some good pecans someday. That’s the pioneer spirit in a, shall we say, nutshell. The book is quite well-done and interesting. []

Romancing Rebecca
By Amber Polo. Wild Rose Press. 249 pp. $12.99.

Attorney Rebecca Dumarier escapes to Sedona Arizona, where she is torn between her feelings for two men.
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