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From My Land to the Planet

Sebastiao Salgado with Isabelle Francq. Contrasto (Consortium, dist.), $24.95 (196p) ISBN 978-88-6965-537-1

Weaving together autobiography, political exposition, global history, and meditations on evolution and globalization, Salgado takes an unapologetic look back on his career as a photographer, providing thought-provoking background to his unfailingly difficult photo endeavors. Spanning seven decades, the book takes readers from the expansive State of Minas Gerias, Salgado's birthplace, to the bitterly cold Yamal Peninsula of Siberia, to the troglodyte churches of Ethiopia, which took Salgado "into the heart of the earth and the dawn of time." His narrative often approaches the mythological, as the artist circles back to his origins, returning to Minas Gerias with his wife Lelia to restore the 93% of Brazil's Atlantic Forest that have been destroyed with increasing rapidity over the last few decades, and subsequently embarking on Genesis, a reportage devoted to untouched landscapes. Yet, it can be jarring to read stories of horrific violence in Mozembique and Rwanda along with overly technical passages concerning particular types and sizes of film and fundraising politics. Nevertheless, admirers of Salgado's art will find this self-portrait rich and illuminating. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Art of Things: Product Design Since 1945

Edited by Dominique Forest. Abbeville, $150 (592p) ISBN 978-0-7892-1208-5

This broad-minded survey of international design provides a visually stunning education. Written by contributing expert curators and art historians, the text is divided by nation, focusing mainly on Western countries—Scandinavia and Italy receive the most sustained attention—while also including a chapter on Japan. The writing is foremost informative with the tone of a textbook, but manages to sort through concepts, histories, and techniques with relative ease. When the text gets tedious, the vivid and generous images more than compensate to illuminate this visual history. To flip through these pages is to luxuriate in the incredible diversity of modern design, from objects as familiar as an Eames chair to those as unusual as a table with a giant frog carved upon it. Anyone with even a passing connection to the world of design will likely benefit from this comprehensive resource. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Saving Simon: How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion

Jon Katz. Ballantine, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0345531193

New York Times bestselling author Katz (The Second Chance Dog) takes on a shockingly malnourished and mistreated equine in this uplifting and insightful memoir. Neglected and left all but dead by a farmer who fell on hard times, Simon the donkey had a resilient spirit that was almost immediately apparent to animal patrol officers when they rescued rescued him and then called upon Katz, who owns a farm in upstate New York, to adopt this wounded soul. Much to his surprise, Katz recognized his own battered spirit in Simon and quickly develops an affinity for the annimal: "I … connected to [his] experience of aloneness and confusion, of fear and discomfort. I had spent a lot of my life that way." Recounting the quiet hours spent tending to the donkey's damaged charge, Katz contemplates the meaning of compassion and why he chooses to bestow it upon other animals, humans, and even the farmer who had abandoned Simon to his unfathomably cruel fate. Katz's account of this emotionally wrought journey is rooted in self-awareness; by caring for Simon, Katz comes to terms with other relationships in his life including a falling out with his now deceased mother. Katz's fans and animal lovers of all kinds will no doubt be delighted by Simon's heartwarming story. 4 b&w photos. Agent: Richard Abate, 3 Arts Entertainment. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Winners Dream: A Journey from Corner Store to Corner Office

Bill McDermott with Joanne Gordon. Simon & Schuster, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4767-6108-4

It's the journey, not the destination: an adage that many can't appreciate. Not so for McDermott, CEO of the software giant SAP, who in this uplifting and enjoyable memoir chronicles his life from boyhood to the present day. Born to working-class parents, McDermott's family suffered intermittent tragedy and perpetual financial instability throughout his childhood. Inheriting his father's strong work ethic, he began at the age of 11 as an enterprising paperboy, eventually doubling his initial route of 150 homes and expanding his wares to include holiday cards and cookies. An astute businessman from the get-go, McDermott purchased and operated a deli while still in high school, the first indication of an ability to turn struggling businesses into successful ones without any starting capital. His will to win, coupled with a strong sense of ethics, landed him a sales job at Xerox, where he soon began generating enviable sales numbers. The narrative of his rise through the company's ranks and eventual move to SAP is engaging, if not something that the average reader can replicate. More valuably, McDermott emphasizes that a never-satisfied curiosity was the primary quality that enabled him to meet his customers' needs and further his own goals. His wisdom should prove valuable to readers at every level of their careers, or in life in general. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Palace of Books

Roger Grenier, trans. from the French by Alice Kaplan. Univ. of Chicago, $20 (136p) ISBN 978-0-226-30834-0

To anyone as well- and widely-read as Grenier (The Difficulty of Being a Dog), the mind itself is a "palace of books," and Grenier opens the door to his in this wide-ranging, impressively erudite, deceptively slender volume. In the tradition of Montaigne's Essays, Grenier thumbs with confident ease through centuries of monumental art and literature as he meditates on crime stories; last words; waiting as the human condition; suicide as a philosophical act; love "with its secret altars hidden deep within the heart"; and the inscrutable private lives of authors. Flaubert, Faulkner, Conrad, Beckett, and Camus might share the same page—or Sartre, Foucault, Barthes, and Descartes nestle in the same line—as Grenier probes the questions that captivate him: the function of literature; the character of the short story; and the compulsion to write. While the answers have been offered before—authors want to "show a psychological truth," fiction "allows us to seek and to find the truth about people and about the world"—but the enjoyment is in the virtuoso movement of Grenier's thought. Kaplan's translation captures the wry humor and elegant poise of prose that, like a fine wine or expensive cigar, should be allowed to linger on the tongue. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Crochet with One Sheepish Girl: Easy Lessons & Sweet Designs for Wearing, Living & Giving

Meredith Crawford. Sixth&Spring (Sterling, dist.), $17.95 paper with flaps (128p) ISBN 978-1-936096-78-7

The first book from Crawford, creator of the popular craft blog OneSheepishGirl.com, continues her sweet, pastel-colored, slightly kooky aesthetic, with more than 20 project ideas for crocheting. She begins with a thorough overview of crocheting basics, a helpful launch into the rest of the volume. While there are some attractive wearables here, including a clever crochet make-over for a purchased shirt's collar, the majority of designs are for home décor items, from a set of ombre baskets in three sizes and an adorable Cottage Tea Cozy, which looks like it dropped in from a British cartoon. The book's whimsy is very charming, so it's disappointing to see that more thought wasn't put into making it user-friendly. There are no step-by-step photos, not even for the quite demanding three-dimensional gift boxes, and there's no guide to how difficult each project is. The book opens with a complex Granny-square scarf, for example, and is followed by a simple bow. Crawford's got a creative, engaging style; this book could have done a better job in teaching readers how to copy her. Full color photos. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Heart Fire

Robin D. Owens. Berkley Sensation, $15 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-425-26395-2

The telepathic cats come off best in Owens's mediocre 13th far-future fantasy romance (after Heart Fortune). On the planet Celta, lowborn architect Antenn has just been commissioned to build a cathedral for a minority religious sect, and First Level Priestess of the quasi-Celtic majority cult Tiana Mugwort is trying to mix spirituality and ambition. She assumes that her unknown HeartMate has refused to seek her out because he personally dislikes her, but Antenn simply sees a HeartMate as a distraction from his professional objective. After they unwillingly collaborate on the cathedral project, however, the sexual tension starts to throb, and the HeartMates overcome wicked Traditionalist plots as well as their deep-seated psychological misgivings about commitment. Celta's talking houses, sentient interstellar ships, and mind-reading FamCats provide playful interludes between the requisite bodice-busting and trouser-straining passages. Tiana's scruffy FamCat, RatKiller, single-handedly almost makes up for the hackneyed motivations and fragile characterizations that Owens ladles onto this conventional chase to the bedroom. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Poet & the Private Eye

Rob Gittins. Y Lolfa (Dufour, dist.), $19 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-84771-899-0

At the start of this inventive tale set in the fall of 1953 from British author Gittins (Gimme Shelter), New York City lawyer Con, who represents an American scandal magazine, hires private eye Jimmy for a "simple tail job." Dylan Thomas is suing the magazine for defamation, and Con wants Jimmy to follow "Subject Thomas," as he's called throughout, who's due to fly into Idlewild airport the next day. This assignment turns into a life-changer for Jimmy, who tries to square the adulation showered on Thomas with the writer's boorish behavior. The detective even tries to understand Thomas's poetry, with little success. As Thomas spirals into self-destruction, Jimmy becomes obsessed with figuring out why the poet acts so outrageously. For background information, Jimmy travels to Laugharne, Wales, the poet's home since 1949. There Jimmy finds more adulation but also evidence of the bizarre behavior of "Subject Thomas, female." Gittins paints a moving portrait of a talented man feted by the same public complicit in his death. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Barefoot Queen

Ildefonso Falcones, trans. from the Spanish by Mara Faye Lethem. Crown, $28 (640p) ISBN 978-0-8041-3948-9

Falcones follows The Cathedral of the Sea with a ponderous novel about two female friends, both strong and yet disenfranchised in 1748 Spain. Former slave Caridad lands penniless in Seville after her owner dies on the voyage from Cuba. Milagros Carmona is the beloved granddaughter of Melchor Vega, the gypsy who gives Caridad a temporary home that soon becomes permanent. Fearful Caridad bonds with Milagros and accustoms herself to gypsy life, finding work with the smuggled tobacco they sell, while Milagros struggles to accept the marriage her parents arrange. Milagros's fiancé is killed after she urges him to take revenge on a payo, or nongypsy, who has victimized Caridad, and the clan punishes Milagros for causing his death. Then Spain's king outlaws gypsy culture, scattering the family and the community. After the decree is gradually lifted, Milagros's singing and dancing talents make her famous, but the man she loves proves to be a cruelly abusive husband. When Melchor vows vengeance against Milagros's abuser, both Melchor's life and Caridad's the deep love for him are put at risk. This story lacks the focus and momentum that made Falcones's last novel so successful. She powerfully evokes the time and place, but the narrative is overly broad and slow-moving. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Betrayal

J. Robert Janes. Open Road/Mysterious-Press.com, $14.99 trade paper (351p) ISBN 978-1-4976-4159-4

An overly melodramatic setup mars this tepid WWII thriller from Janes, who has done excellent work in his St. Cyr/Kohler series (Carnival, etc.). In September 1941, Mary Ellen Fraser is caught between the "British, the Reich and the IRA" in Northern Ireland. Mary has become intimately involved with Erich Kramer, a captured German U-boat captain held at a POW camp where her husband works as a doctor. When she agrees to deliver a letter from Erich to a cousin of his in Dublin, she becomes an unwitting tool of the enemy. Meanwhile, IRA terrorist bombings continue, and Winston Churchill worries that the Nazis and the Irish revolutionaries are plotting to do "something" in Northern Ireland. The plot twists lead up to an ending that stretches plausibility. If Janes wants readers to become truly engaged with Mary, he needs to give his lead more psychological depth. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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