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Midnight Sun

Lisa Jackson. Severn, $28.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0727883438

Jackson celebrates her 30th year of publishing bestselling romance and romantic suspense novels with the reissue of her 1985 tale of family versus family in the Oregon logging community. Ashley Stephens and aspiring politician Trevor Daniels, descended from rival lumber mill owners, spent one summer together as a couple. But Ashley got impatient for Trevor to propose and instead she married a man chosen by her father. Eight years later, now divorced and back in Oregon, Ashley has inherited her family’s business. Inevitably, Ashley meets Trevor again, only to discover that someone at her company may be sabotaging his senatorial campaign and possibly trying to kill him. Ashley and Trevor must overcome eight years of misunderstandings to learn the truth and push forward as a couple. Readers will chuckle at the outdated elements: Trevor is amazed by Ashley’s “liberated” attitudes, and characters unable to reach others via their landlines are forced to call operator assistance for information. Those willing to overlook the old-fashioned style and Jackson’s comical metaphor-heavy descriptions of lovemaking will enjoy this throwback. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I Know You Think You Know It All: Advice and Observations for You to Stand Apart in Public and Online

Chris Black. PowerHouse, $12.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-57687-735-7

Black reappropriates the "listicle" format to uproarious effect in this book of advice aimed at young urban professionals. Part personal manifesto, Black's manual is tinged with cheekiness as he addresses many aspects of contemporary life. His guidance includes the professional (#12: "Sending work emails late at night makes you seem like a crazy person"), the social (#297: "It's a group text, not a filibuster"), the mundane (#156: "There's no shame in going to the mall"), and the practical (#90: "If you call the cops on your own party, you have to look surprised when they show up"). With 414 pieces of advice in all, the compendium never loses steam as the author provides a mix of insights that are by turns bizarre (#204: "The Oscars is no place for a kilt") and astute (#347: "Outrage is the go-to emotion for amateur critics"). Though generally directed at male Millennials, readers of any ilk will find advice that hits close to home. Most importantly, Black advises, "Never take yourself too seriously." His book—a social etiquette guide disguised as a gag book (or vice versa)—is testament to that. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year

Andy Cohen. Holt, $26 (344p) ISBN 978-1-62779-228-8

Cohen (Most Talkative), host and executive producer of Bravo's Watch What Happens Live and executive producer of the drama-laden Real Housewives franchise, walks readers through a year of his life via this mildly entertaining diary. Those expecting insight into the inner workings of cable network programming will be deeply disappointed, as Cohen offers next to nothing in terms of boardroom drama or casting decisions, but readers familiar with his charming and occasionally catty persona will likely find themselves drawn in as he recounts fighting a terrible urge to go to the bathroom while on-air, searching for a meaningful canine companion, and handling countless celebrity interactions with aplomb and a striking amount of humility—he's probably harder on himself than he is on his guests. Those expecting lightning bolts of bad taste will get their fill—he's kept a jar of Lady Gaga's urine—and there's plenty of celebrity dishing (Donnie Wahlberg has no problem using public restrooms, Madonna flies commercial), but his sheer delight is endearing as he recounts meeting Fred Schneider of the B-52s, watching the St. Louis Cardinals with his parents, and indulging his unabashed love for his dog, Wacha. Still, it's tough for Cohen to keep the narrative from falling into a rote cycle of lunches, late-night massages, and brief recaps of often uneventful shows ("The live show was 50 Cent and Jerry Ferrera. A caller asked how much cash each of them had and 50 pulled out ten grand in hundreds from his back pocket"), making for a book best read in small doses. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Book of Love: Improvisations on a Crazy Little Thing

Roger Rosenblatt. Ecco, $22.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-06-234942-2

Improv is usually associated with comedy, and while Rosenblatt (The Boy Detectives) imbues this work with plenty of humor, his stream-of-consciousness musings on all the facets of the things people love, from lovers and family to work and art, are more metaphysical than comedic. As in his other works, the main topic is just a starting point for a literary adventure; he combines genres, including memoir, essay, prose-poem, and literary/cultural analysis, the way an artist mixes paints or a musician combines notes. The result is dynamic writing that changes from sentence to sentence and thought to thought as Rosenblatt touches on personal memories, sports, movies, literature, the classics, and random observations of daily life. More amazing than his ability to connect all these distinct and disparate ideas into a cohesive narrative is his capacity for tying them all into the notion of love, both a universal emotion and a very personal feeling. By opening up his own heart and mind, Rosenblatt creates a work so diverse and comprehensive that it feels more like a shared dream than merely an intricately written reflection of one man's life and loves. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America

Liz Carlisle. Gotham, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-592-40920-4

In this thoroughly researched debut, Carlisle explores her realization that "American farmers weren't actually growing food, but rather, raw ingredients for big food processors." She sets off to work for Sen. Jon Tester, who was an organic farmer from her own home state of Montana, and subsequently pursues a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley's Department of Geography. Her work eventually leads her to Dave Oien, who with his business Timeless Seeds had become the first organic lentil farmer in his Montana county, selling specialty lentils at Whole Foods and to chefs who served them at fine restaurants. Carlisle's searches for answers to her central question—"How could we feed the world without destroying it?"—is reminiscent of the works of Michael Pollan (who mentored the author) and Susan Orlean. Carlisle merges high-stakes material with lovely, descriptive prose, training her sharp eye on the issue of sustainable farming as seen through a small handful of compelling characters, including Oien and other members of the "Lentil Underground," Timeless Seeds's farmers. This book delivers their stories to a wider audience, and will appeal to readers interested in food, farming, and the politics of sustainable agriculture. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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My Journey With Maya

Tavis Smiley, with David Ritz. Little, Brown, $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-316-34175-2

This salute to the legendary Maya Angelou by PBS talk host Smiley is occasionally over-adoring, but it's totally respectful of the special achievements of the recently deceased cultural icon of black arts and history. A friendship between Angelou and the 21-year-old Smiley began with a chance meeting in Los Angeles when he was a junior mayor for former Mayor Tom Bradley in 1986. The meeting was the beginning of a decades-long close bond; Smiley made a triumphant trip to Ghana in Angelou's company and later accompanied her to events and dinners. Drawing from private chats, interviews, memories, and portions of Angelou's books, Smiley, with the help of ghostwriting maven Ritz, stuffs the tribute with mostly familiar material plus a few surprises about the author's personal life and career, including his combative time at BET. Smiley can do a heck of an impression of Angelou's warm, heartfelt voice when she speaks of black mythic figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, James Baldwin, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Richard Pryor. For Angelou admirers and those intrigued by black American culture, Smiley's glowing praise-song is a wonderful reminder of what Angelou's singular, exceptional presence meant to her community and the nation. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind

Edited by Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, and Max King Cap. Fence (SPD, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-934200-79-7

This uneven but sometimes rewarding collection of essays, poetry, and imagery takes its title from a project conceived by renowned poet Rankine (Citizen: An American Lyric), in which she invited readers of the New Media Poets website to submit compositions on the role race plays in the creative process. As such, the selections most directly aim to initiate dialogue in the arts community, but Jennifer Chang's essay, about her experiences as a Chinese-American born and raised in New Jersey, suggests a more universal application. Contributors include poets, fiction writers, and academics. Most of these pieces are challenging reads, and some contributions, such as Rachel Zucker's heavily footnoted essay "Exempt, Implicated," veer into pretension. By contrast, one of the most effective contributions comes from College of the Pacific professor Zhou Xiaojing, who submits vignettes of everyday encounters with racism written by students in her "Introduction to Ethnic Studies" course. Complementing the writing are reproductions of provocative photos and paintings that provide examples of how identity can be represented in art. Readers of this anthology can expect to find effective and convincing pieces alongside others that come across as the wordy meanderings of authors who never seem to make their points. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Myths of the Oil Boom: American National Security in a Global Energy Market

Steve A. Yetiv. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (237p) ISBN 978-0-19-021269-8

Don't get comfortable with cheap oil, warns international relations professor Yetiv (The Petroleum Triangle: Oil, Globalization, and Terror) in this review of the oil boom and its limitations in securing long-term energy supplies or ameliorating the strategic and environmental consequences of petroleum dependence. He goes over Saudi Arabia's significant but lessening role, the limits of U.S. influence, and why interconnected global energy markets mean that expanded domestic supplies cannot insulate the U.S. from instability or production fluctuations abroad. Yetiv then turns to the downside of petroleum dependence, including military involvement in the Middle East, funding for hostile and undemocratic regimes, and climate change. The author prescribes the "soft power" of energy conservation instead of using the military as the principal means of influencing the Middle East. He also outlines a "synergistic strategy" of "producing more oil while also cutting oil consumption" to move beyond dependence on petroleum. These recommendations seem simplistic and unrealistic, but the balance of this timely book helpfully elucidates the complex issues surrounding global energy economics and security. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Zhang Xiaogang: Disquieting Memories

Jonathan Fineberg and Gary G. Xu. Phaidon, $125 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7148-6892-9

Fineberg (Art Since 1940) and Xu assemble an impeccable biography, critical companion, and collection of plates into one stunning volume that serves to introduce prominent contemporary Chinese artist Zhang to American audiences. The book clearly shows Zhang's progression from a rural art student to an independent master, experimental but in control of an evolving style and color palette. Surprisingly, Zhang was not recommended for an artistic career, having nearly failed to graduate from the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in Chongqing. He was forced to find employment elsewhere, enduring several years of factory work and temporary jobs. Many of Zhang's most well-known works are ghostly, gray, and even disturbing. The book includes many of his simple drawings, sculptures, photorealistic pieces, and lesser-known paintings, and ends with his most recent work from 2014. There is also a collection of Zhang's personal and revealing letters. Many of Zhang's haunting paintings concern his family or his experience as a Chinese citizen, and the authors excel at explaining how those works fit into the larger context of contemporary China. Lavish and wide-ranging, Zhang's career is still unfolding, but this monograph illustrates how much he has accomplished so far. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Small Victories: One Couple's Surprising Adventures Building an Unrivaled Collection of American Prints

Dave H. Williams. Godine, $40 (328p) ISBN 978-1-56792-529-6

Art collector Williams shares the story of how he and his wife, Reba, acquired a collection of over 6,000 American prints spanning 150 years, a selection of which are reproduced in vivid color or stark black and white within the book. The result is quite an art history lesson, from early 20th-century Realism to Pop Art from the 1960s. Notable pieces include George Bellows "A Stag at Sharkey's" (1917), Edward Hopper's "American Landscape" (1920), Andy Warhol's "Marilyn (pink)" (1967), and Winslow Homer's "Eight Bells" (1887). The collection at one time included Frida Kahlo's only print, the haunting "Frida and the Miscarriage" (1932). There is heavy focus on Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration, a source of instruction for African-American artists like Robert Blackburn and Norman Lewis. Williams delves into different printmaking processes, including lithography, screenprinting, and woodcuts, while offering sordid tales of collecting, including dealing with a known art thief and smuggling prints over the Mexican border. The images from the eclectic collection provide something beautiful for everyone, along with a wealth of instruction in art history. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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