The fictional setting of Marydale Stewart’s third novel, The Book Fix, is a bucolic burg of Victorian homes and Old Main Street charms, populated by an ample supply of appealing characters. But the town suffers the same polarization afflicting the United States today: social and political divisions that rend relationships, challenge folks’ sense of wellbeing, and drive both the desperate and the brave to action.
The primary conflict in The Book Fix percolates in the town library, pitting its board members, eager to ban books that challenge their religious dogma, against librarians dedicated to intellectual freedom. Stewart’s passion for the fight is as evident in her characters as is her sense of humanity for all the players, among whom there are no pure villains, despite what one might read on social media. While the author offers a clear conclusion, she nonetheless confronts the reader with a perpetual question inherent in so many contemporary conflicts, whether based on religion, partisan politics, race, gender, guns, immigration or climate change: “Whose freedom are we talking about?”
– Kit-Bacon Gressitt, Publisher and Co-editor of Writers Resist
The Book Fix is a story of two librarians and their battle against censorship and prejudice. As Adam and Olivia find their world changed in a post-2016 whirlwind of social and political conflicts, they emerge from their comfort zones to address new opportunities and challenges.
He's already an idealist who loves classical music and wants to improve lives. She's already an experienced activist raised in Chicago, savvy about the process. And the public library milieu that serves as a backdrop to these connected lives is anything but a refuge for the introverted: it's a melting pot of cultural connections and political information that provides lifelines to those without the knowledge to fight back.
This emphasis on political savvy and knowledge's link to activism and life choices is emphasized throughout the course of evolving relationships not just with each another, but with society as a whole. As Olivia says, "Day after day, my father saw people in the old Chicago neighborhoods, in the ‘hoods that had gone bad, people who couldn’t begin to imagine how to get out, how to save their lives, their children’s lives, who to find to talk to, what to ask, what might be out there for them. They didn’t know enough to know what they didn’t know.”
The Book Fix is not just a story of two individuals facing transformation, but of a community's involvement in issues of censorship, homophobia, and workplace and community-wide liberties.
Readers anticipating a story of librarians in love or involved in bookish pursuits receive many surprises in The Book Fix because it's not just a story of books and their role in the community, but of changing lives affected by prejudice and repression.
All the characters grow from their original beliefs and perceptions, and all face risks and consequences of their decisions which affect not just their roles in life, but their relationships with each other and their community. This story can serve as a parable for modern America: an account of very different individuals joined by their passion for not just books and the inner workings of the library board, but the liberties they promise.
Fiction readers seeking a cut above the usual book topic will find The Book Fix especially strong in social insight while staying true to the characters' evolving personalities, beliefs, and interpersonal relationships.
-- Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
Adam Antonetti is head librarian at the Linden Grove Public Library, and he and assistant librarian Olivia Zutkowski have built a solid collection, and an affectionate working relationship that Olivia rather wishes would turn into something more. But when conservative religious members of the library’s board attempt to censor books on abortion and non-heterosexual sexual orientations, Adam has to choose between his dedication to a library’s freedom of expression and his secure, comfortable job – and to make matters more difficult, he’s also had his niece’s expensive but sweet Arabian horse Huriya pushed into his care. Can he protect the library’s independence while retaining his own livelihood, finding a home for Huriya, and maybe finding love for himself into the bargain?
THE BOOK FIX is a heartwarming story with a cozy small-town feel, that doesn’t shrink from the ways in which a small town can feel both comforting and suffocating at the same time. The characters are generally quite well-drawn, human and likable, and it’s not hard to get emotionally invested in their stories and wish them well. It helps that the author does not fall prey to the temptation to make the antagonists of the piece into one-dimensional villains – the board president, Fred Vortman, is a decent human being at heart, who cares very much for his family and town, and is firmly convinced that he’s doing the right and moral thing by asking for certain books to be removed.
THE BOOK FIX is the literary equivalent of comfort food – it’s a gentle, warmhearted, soothing story, suitable for a pleasant diversion after a difficult day, perhaps. This has its down side as well – the conflicts are a bit too easily resolved for the story to have a really substantive feel to it, and the astute reader will be able to predict the story’s direction rather easily in places. At times, too, the book feels somewhat preachy, its moral and political agenda being pushed rather unsubtly at the reader. However, it retains a substantive amount of genial charm, and serves its purpose admirably.
THE BOOK FIX is a pleasantly readable, thoughtfully-presented story with a good heart and a satisfying ending.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader
The Book Fix
A Linden Grove Novel
In this tale of modern resistance, a man and a woman are caught up in bitter post-2016 cultural and political conflicts. Both are librarians; she is an activist brought up in an historic and tumultuous Chicago neighborhood and he is a classical music lover and idealist devoted to improving lives.
As their stories unfold, he risks his livelihood as he chooses resistance over security and she risks losing him.
This is a down-to-earth look at censorship, homophobia, and the definition of freedom in a workplace that’s not your mother’s public library.
Readers looking for a revealing, involving chronicle will find Leaves of the Linden Tree moves through ordinary lives and bigger concerns like a train: sometimes smooth and modern and at other times noisy and replete with thundering wheels of change, nicely revealing of the mechanisms surrounding restorative justice and the roots of resistance.
–Midwest Book Review
The characters are engaging, believable, and unique. The most significant issue in the book, racism, is handled in a delicate, constructive manner and embraces acceptance and tolerance of all people.
–Windy City Reviews
Leaves of the Linden Tree
Corrie Holden opens a bookstore in Linden Grove and begins living the dream of her 30-something years—independence and her enthusiasm for books. But the unacknowledged presence of xenophobia and racism in this idyllic Illinois farm town eventually has a devastating effect on the new bookstore.
Soon after the store opens, Corrie meets Breanna Campbell, victim of domestic violence, and Jimmy Kosmatka, the manager of Long Creek Stable, taciturn and rough-edged. Long ago convicted of a victimless felony, Jimmy is in the process of rebuilding his own idealism. Breanna is beginning a journey that will take her from a world of hopeless fantasy to a new life.
When the perpetrator of a hate crime turns out to be the last person Corrie would have suspected, she and Jimmy discover the principles of restorative justice—and their love for one another.
"There is an abundance of warmth and humor in The Wanderers, and a great faith that the generosity of a community can heal the wounds of its members, both human and animal. Scenes are woven from the complexity of relationships that evolve into a celebration of compassion and understanding. The Wanderers is a beautiful book by a novelist who is also a poet."
-James Janko, Author of The Clubhouse Thief and
Buffalo Boy and Geronimo
The shadow of the Cold War, the healing power of horses, an iconic rescued dog, and a sixth-century poet’s cry of grief are guideposts in this novel of love and homecoming.
With a brand-new doctorate, Kurt Schafer is about to begin his academic career. But first, he travels to Linden Grove, a small town in northern Illinois, to meet for the first time his Aunt Eva, a childhood victim of the Cold War.
His father’s suicide a dozen years earlier has frozen Kurt’s adult life into a destructive cycle of self-doubt and guilt. In Linden Grove, Kurt begins his journey to a full life. He volunteers in a therapeutic riding program, learns about community from a Quaker meeting, and shares his work on Old English poetry with Sarah Eliot, a college English teacher. In the end, Kurt’s brush with death makes him realize his love for Sarah.
These are poems about the solace of memory and the past and about a very immediate present—sudden moments of human connection with the creatures of the planet, ranging from menacing insects to a gallant horse, from a hungry bird of prey to an aging dog. The steady, conversational voice of the narrator leads readers through a series of encounters, some mythical and some from daily life, that explore a life zestfully lived and the unexpectedness of human interactions. Like the summing-up of a memoir, the book offers at the end some personal explorations of art, literature, and the creative process.
This poet is one who not only looks but also sees, her eye welcomingly attentive to the diminutive and the immense. Whether it’s horse or wasp, hawk or songbird, solitary walker or communal cooks at work, the poet spirits out of these subjects the root and feather of our shared daily lives. Stewart’s poems blend grace and the honest edge age delivers to a poet afraid of nothing but the missed chance.
Illinois Poet Laureate
The best poets have always been those who can connect with Nature in a way that is reverent and joyful, and for seven decades, Marydale Stewart has been observing her world with a poet’s soul. With grace and style, she transforms everyday events into sacred moments of beauty, even the details of her own aging process. She delights in everything, from a president who was scandal-free for his entire eight-year administration to her adopted cats, Zelda the dog, her backyard birds, and deer who dance after the hunters have gone. Lying in the sharp-edged grass of a Kansas field, she tunes into tragic memories of a pioneer woman making the long trek to Santa Fe, and a few poems later, she writes about pioneers of the future settling on Mars. Light touches of humor, as in “Murder Scene” and “The Decision,” round out this collection, which is her best yet. Yes, the years have been very good to Ms. Stewart. Her doctor has said her heart isn’t working as well now, but her poetry says otherwise.
Boston Literary Magazine
Inheritance is a book of poetry that explores the significance of place as part of our connection to nature and as inner geography: place as physical and spiritual home. Stewart' s years of residence in Colorado and Kansas and in Illinois fuel her lush descriptions in poems that at first seem quiet, even contemplative, but often surprise at the end. Subjects range from baseball to historical figures and events, from daily observations of nature to the poet's own beloved Arabian horses.
"Marydale Stewart's Inheritance is worth anyone's keen attention.
She writes in the very moving title poem:
'And so in my heart I retrace/the way we came,/how we sought the shadow of this/land's spine and moved beyond-/we the daughters-/to that bronzed, fragrant light where the sun/goes down on the New World and/where a child swings in the morning of her life.'
How fully that sets the tone of the book, throughout which
there are remarkable moments, such as,
'Then in a step,/we topped a rise, and there, between/
my horse's ears, lay the endless West!'
And in the poem 'Hope' This
'The world could use more poets, child, /
so tend your words/husband them /
and find the ones/ that fill our eyes with tears/
and keep us near/the elemental beginning/of everything.'
A fine moving book, and one to give pleasure to many."
-Lucien Stryk, Poet, Editor & Teacher
Let The Thunder In
Marydale Stewart's straightforward, storytelling voice often camouflages ironic and unexpected revelations-about the natural world we occupy, its inhabitants, our history and mythology, our art and music. This collection includes poems of life stages, the four seasons, and emotionally charged description of the kinds of experiences that can be best--perhaps only--realized in poetry. "Stewart's view of her world, largely Midwestern and small town, reflects the tiny but far-reaching dramas that take place every day but that often go unnoticed. . . . She connects the dots between the outside world and her own inner humanity." -Susan Azar Porterfield, author. "These are the poems of an independent, wise woman open to a variety of experiences. Stewart often begins a poem by observing nature or recalling a moment in history and then proceeds to meditate profoundly on life itself." -Janet Ruth Heller, author. ABOUT THE POET: Marydale Stewart's chapbook, Inheritance, was published in 2008 by Puddin'head Press, Chicago. She has poems in a number of literary magazines.
"Stewart's view of her world, largely Midwestern and small town, reflects the tiny but far-reaching dramas that take place every day but that often go unnoticed. . . . She connects the dots between the outside world and her own inner humanity."
-Susan Azar Porterfield, Author
"These are the poems of an independent, wise woman open to a variety of experiences. Stewart often begins a poem by observing nature or recalling a moment in history and then proceeds to meditate profoundly on life itself."
-Janet Ruth Heller. Author
"Hooked! Before this book touched my life, I was NOT a poetry fan. Now...I LOVE this collection. I purchased this book at an event that I attended with friends. After listening to the author read from this collection, I couldn't wait to purchase my copy and to get on social media. If you love poetry or if you are considering purchasing this book as a gift for someone who is interested in poetry, or someone who is simply reflective, you have found the perfect book. The poems in this collection will make you think...and feel. Unique, exciting, smart, unexpected. Mother's Day...Graduation...Thinking About You -- all great opportunities to give."