CROSSING THE WIRE: One Woman’s Journey into the Hidden Dangers of the Afghan War
(Casemate, 2013)

In 2010, AnnaMaria Cardinalli wrote a report for her NATO commanders in Afghanistan that addressed one of the most perplexing issues faced by troops engaged in counterinsurgency operations across the country: Pashtun male sexuality. Cardinalli’s analysis and conclusions, filtered through her experiences as a senior scientist with the US Army’s Human Terrain Team, correlated sexuality, child abuse, cultural norms, and terrorism in a provocative new way.

The report was eagerly received by commanders in-theater, who used it to reshape engagements between allied forces and local citizens. It was also leaked to the media, where it provoked commentary, a substantial portion of which was negative and personal.

One of those too-rare people who come to military and intelligence work not as establishment experts laden with bona fides, but as smart, motivated thinkers with a desire to contribute, Cardinalli—a longtime Santa Fe resident—ran into a predictable group of detractors. Anthropologists and policymakers pooh-poohed her work because she’d earned her doctorate in theology, cavalierly assuming that, ipso facto, her conclusions were wrong.

Likewise, the gleeful chortling of those who investigated Cardinalli online, only to discover that she has a successful career as a flamenco guitarist and operatic performer (see our award-winning profile of her, “The Song and the Sword,” in the October 2012 issue and at, and who therefore assumed she couldn’t be remotely qualified, rings hollow. One need only think of Eileen Nearne, T.E. Lawrence, or Robert de la Rochefoucauld to know that amateurs often make extraordinary contributions in times of national need.

Yet this book is less the full-throated defense one might expect than a more meditative recitation and reworking of the diaries and notes Cardinalli compiled during her time in Afghanistan. In places it is raw, and this rawness can be uncomfortable. It also creates a strange sort of war memoir.

There are the usual: tension and heroism, boredom and bureaucracy, bullets and bombs. But there are also the unusual: love and heartbreak, self-doubt and jealousy, fear and pride. Cardinalli falls in and out of love with a Marine, is captured and escapes from a local mullah, sits for days staring at blowing sand, marvels at the confidence of youth and its death and rebirth in the face of war, and strives to make her work matter. It’s a vital mix that keeps you turning pages even in sections where you wish she’d just get on with it.

As with many memoirs, and certainly those born of war, there is also some personal mythmaking at work, but it is of a benign, gentle sort, and, like my other quibbles, this one is minor. The larger and better story—of a woman in many ways unprepared for the job she found herself doing, yet able to turn her native intellect, passion, and doggedness to the task—is well worth telling.

Peter BG Shoemaker, a former Marine and human-intelligence specialist, is a frequent contributor to the magazine.

COWGIRL CHEF: Texas Cooking with a French Accent
(Running Press, 2012)

When Fort Worth Star-Telegram food columnist Ellise Pierce decamped from Texas for Paris, France, she didn’t initially plan to bring Texas cooking to a city with a very firm handle on its own culinary traditions. Financial frets caused her to consider offering cooking classes to homesick expats, and the idea took off. Along the way, she noticed how French ingredients, methods, and philosophies were influencing her own ways of cooking—and vice versa. She stuffed her tacos with caramelized onions, and poured her quiche filling (which contained green chile and chorizo) into a cornmeal tart. Eventually, her recipes made their way into this lushly photographed book, each accompanied by an engaging vignette. Pierce now lives in Santa Fe, where she is giving cooking classes once more, in her cozy, 250-year-old adobe casita (

THE SECRET LIVES OF BAKED GOODS: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America’s Favorite Desserts
(Sasquatch Books, 2013)

Writer, illustrator, and blogger Jessie Oleson Moore has a passion for sweets that goes beyond piping the perfect swirl of frosting or zeroing in on the best texture for an oatmeal chocolate-chip cookie. A history buff of the baking order, Oleson Moore delves into and shares the origins of 41 desserts, from traditional (birthday cake) to obscure (hermits) to faddish (Baked Alaska) to head-turning (Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies). The Santa Fe resident’s book is handsome: a sturdy hardcover of modest size with numerous photos of desserts presented in evocative, shabby-chic tableaux. This is a great gift for those with a sweet tooth or a yen for baking. If they’re not currently interested in the history of baked goods, this will likely give them a taste for it.

THE EMERALD MILE: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon
(Scribner, 2013)

The Grand Canyon, that iconic rift just west of us, in Arizona, is the main character of one of the latest offerings of page-turning adventure lit. Like any good adventure, a quest is involved—in May 1983, three men, led by rafter Kenton Grua, pit themselves against nature to set a speed record by riding the Colorado River down the Grand Canyon in a delicate wooden dory. That spring, the river itself was particularly wild, as the Rockies’ snowpack melted freakishly early and thoroughly due to an unseasonal spike in temperature.

Fedarko’s book also offers captivating lessons in the politics, philosophies, and logistics of dams. The Grand Canyon has one at either end, which has tamed the Colorado quite a bit. The weather event that Kenton Grua and his crew harnessed, “kind of a hydraulic slingshot,” offered them the opportunity to ride the river through the canyon in conditions comparable to those of its previous, unfettered state. With a deft passion for the topic, Fedarko guides the story as compellingly as his subjects beat (or aligned with) this behemoth of nature.

(Gibbs Smith, 2013)

Susan Topp Weber, the woman behind Santa Fe’s Susan’s Christmas Shop, is also the author of the popular coffee-table book Christmas in Santa Fe (recently reissued in a revised and expanded edition). Her latest book, Nativities of the World, presents almost 100 nativities from all over the globe, from the corn-husk figures of Slovakia, to an unpainted tin set from Mexico, to a carved wooden one from Burkina Faso. Although the geographical scope of this book is far vaster than her first, Topp includes a surfeit of New Mexico nativities—a Spanish Colonial–style grouping by Santa Fe santero David Nabor Lucero, a Jemez Pueblo set made by Rose Pecos, and a Diné carved-wood crèche by Harry and Isabelle Benally (one of the Wise Men presents a bag of Blue Bird flour). Although we usually think about nativities only after Thanksgiving and before New Year’s, this book’s array of different cultural interpretations is fascinating and thought-provoking at any time of year.

THE ART & LEGACY OF BERNARDO MIERA Y PACHECO: New Spain’s Explorer, Cartographer, and Artist
(Museum of New Mexico Press, 2013)

Born in Spain in 1713, Bernardo Miera y Pacheco is known as New Mexico’s first mapmaker and its first santero. In Santa Fe, the altar screen he painstakingly carved and painted can be seen today in Cristo Rey Church; another graces a sanctuary at Zuni Pueblo. It’s clear that Miera y Pacheco did not put his artistic sensibility to one side when working on his maps, which are richly illustrated with different kinds of dwellings—tipis, hogans, missions—and depictions of different Native peoples, along with various topography and flora. In this full-color book, five individually authored chapters address aspects of his legacy, accompanied by 66 photographs of artworks, maps, and more. For those who want to learn more about Spanish Colonial history, this book offers a lively, colorful route.

(Bantam, 2013)

Law of the Desert Born began as a Western short story set in southeastern New Mexico and written by Louis L’Amour, the most prominent writer of the genre. This year, readers get another chance to enjoy it, reinterpreted by his son Beau as a graphic novel, and presented in a large, appealing format. This book is sure to appeal to new audiences: readers of graphic novels, comics, and fans of Western stories. Set in 1887, the noir tale contains cowboys, ranchers, revenge, justice, and the life-or-death matter of access to water during a drought. If you’re getting this as a gift, you may want to include a flashlight for reading under the covers.

NEW MEXICO ART THROUGH TIME: Prehistory to the Present
(Museum of New Mexico Press, 2012)

The New Mexico Museum of Art’s ambitious exhibition It’s About Time: 14,000 Years of Art in New Mexico managed to cover its vast subject in an easily digestible and instructive manner. The show connected the dots between Paleo-Indian decoratively knapped flints, ancestral Puebloan pots, Spanish Colonial painted and carved saints, T.C. Cannon’s and Fritz Scholder’s paintings, all the way up to the present: Peter Sarkisian’s mixed-media assemblages, to name one example.

Traugott is the curator of 20th Century Art at the New Mexico Museum of Art. Over the course of 223 pages and 241 full-color images, he offers viewers a self-guided version of It’s About Time that allows us to take our time, absorb various contexts, revisit favorites, and find new ones. It also offers readers a comprehensive guide to New Mexico art limited by neither era nor genre.

WOVEN IDENTITIES: Basketry Art of Western North America
(Museum of New Mexico Press, 2013)

“Comprehending the beauty and complexity of a basket by only looking at its surface is to miss what underlies its artistry,” says author Valerie K. Verzuh, and indeed, looking at baskets without an understanding of their multiple layers of meaning is like trying to understand a poem written in an unknown language. The symbology of indigenous baskets telegraphs much about the culture of the weaver: philosophy, community, cosmology.

For instance, the Diné wedding basket design, well known in the Southwest, is far more than a decorative object. Its graphics are symbolic: the white center represents the beginning of life, the black stepped shapes refer to struggle and pain, the red band is marriage and family, and the outer white band represents the spirit world. The break in the pattern shows a pathway, or an “outlet for the weaver’s thoughts.” In addition to that, Diné weavers believe that weaving a ceremonial basket from the center outward cultivates harmony between the weaver and his or her environment.

This is just one example that Santa Fe’s Museum of Indian Arts and Culture curator Verzuh offers, among descriptions—in words, diagrams, and photos—of various methods of weaving. Absorbing the contents of this book is similar to slipping on a decoder ring. Readers will find that baskets will never again register as mere décor, but also as stories and messages waiting to be heard.