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Femmevangelical: The Modern Girl's Guide to the Good News

Jennifer D. Crumpton. Chalice, $18.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-8272-1102-5

Crumpton, an ordained Christian minister and blogger, offers a brave contribution to the emerging subgenre of post-evangelical manifestos. During her youth as a conservative Christian in the Bible belt, she strained against the narrowly circumscribed version of womanhood that was offered. In this passionate and energetic book, she shares her struggle against the constraints of traditional Christianity (memorably likening herself to "a 21st-century Jacob with a woman's hips") and tries to offer Christian women a more expansive way. Those already sympathetic to religious feminism will appreciate the aggregation of standard feminist sources Crumpton presents, but there's little here that's surprising or new. The skeptical may be turned off by her unbalanced argumentation, in which, among other things, Crumpton blames institutional Christianity for everything from rapacious capitalism to Adolf Hitler. In this version, whatever "good news" there may be in Christianity is not to be found in its history, but is left up to the reader to create. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Listen, Learn, Love: How to Dramatically Improve Your Relationships in 30 Days or Less!

Susie Albert Miller. Dunham Books (dunhamgroupinc.com), $14.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-939447-74-6

Therapist and coach Miller offers three skills she believes will transform any relationship in 30 days: listen; learn well; and love. Miller lays the groundwork well, arguing that most people receive little to no education on how to create strong and lasting relationships. Using practical examples and conversational prose, she guides readers through each of these comprehensive practices, explaining what they are (and are not). She provides bullet points to help readers imagine the impact using each skill would have on their relationships, and supplies questions to help with practice and application. While Miller acknowledges that this book is a "first step" and offers only a "broad brushstroke of these skills," the brevity of the work makes it feel lightweight. Though there are some gems scattered throughout, they're interspersed with dated movie references, as well as shopworn quotes and examples from influential thinkers in the field. The lack of a fresh angle on the mechanics of relationships makes Miller's work a fair airplane read but little else. (May)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Unbuttoning America: A Biography of "Peyton Place"

Ardis Cameron. Cornell Univ., $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8014-5364-9

University of Southern Maine American Studies professor Cameron (Radicals of the Worst Sort) presents a unique synthesis of historical research and fresh analysis in this study of Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, a bestselling 1956 novel later made into a movie and TV series. Eisenhower-era America experienced the book, with its overt treatment of socially taboo topics like female sexuality and ethnic disenfranchisement, as the literary equivalent of the H-bomb. Cameron dexterously tracks the shock waves, unearthing gushing fan letters as well as scathing reviews that deemed the book "a lethal weapon aimed at the purity of family life." Cameron's intelligent treatment of a racy novel meant to be read "often at night, under bedcovers, a flashlight illuminating the guilty pleasures of the act" makes for a fascinating read in and of itself. It is a rare feat for such an overtly academic work to have such a smooth, comfortable prose style. While Peyton Place is often remembered as frivolous, Cameron reminds readers of its resounding cultural impact, which uprooted ideas of normalcy and helped set the tone for modern America. (May)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ludmila Ulitskaya and the Art of Tolerance

Elizabeth A. Skomp and Benjamin M. Sutcliffe. Univ. of Wisconsin, $55 trade paper (268p) ISBN 978-0-299-30414-0

Professors Skomp and Sutcliffe's study of Russian author Ludmila Ulitskaya's novels and short stories is an in-depth and dense look at contemporary literature. Drawing on current events and past history, the authors address criticisms of Ulitskaya's popularity, her decision to position herself as part of the intelligentsia, and the limitations to the inclusiveness of her advocacy for people disenfranchised in modern Russia, such as LGBT residents. They also offer close readings of her work, with its themes of the body, the state, morality, and family. Ulitskaya comes across as shrewd and complicated. While the enormous popularity of her work seems to trouble Ulitskaya, who harbors suspicions of the literary marketplace, the authors argue that her success is integral to her literary significance. Readers with only a casual level of knowledge of Russian literature and history will struggle through this book. It's best suited for the confirmed fan or student of Russian literature, history, or Ulitskaya herself. (June)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Quiet Man: The Indispensable Presidency of George H.W. Bush

John H. Sununu. HarperCollins/Broadside, $28.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-238428-7

Sununu, an engineering dean at Tufts University and three-term governor of New Hampshire, became President George H.W. Bush's White House chief of staff after playing a key role in the contentious 1988 New Hampshire primary. Since leaving government, he has been a prominent talking head on cable television. This chronicle recounts the 1989–1993 Bush presidency. It's easy to see why Bush and Sununu got along in respective roles as Good Cop and Bad Cop. Both were smart, capable technocrats. Bush was calm and personable; Sununu was protective, brusque, and partisan. The author's loyalty to his former boss is absolute, unswerving, and reverential. He witnessed profoundly important transitions in geopolitics, including the Gulf War and fall of the Soviet Union, recounted here in valuable detail. Readers encounter Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev working behind the scenes during the collapse of the USSR. They also encounter the riveting backstory to Operation Desert Storm. Supporting players in this account include Brent Scowcroft, George Mitchell, Bob Dole, Richard Darman, and Tom Foley. It is marred by the unwise choice to stress Bush's unmemorable domestic record along with his adroit foreign policy. The boastful, idiosyncratic superstructure precludes much distanced analysis or balanced assessment. This seemingly unghosted, honestly wrought political memoir nonetheless makes for a valuable addition to the literature on the 41st president of the U.S. Agent: Keith Urbahn, Javelin Group. (June)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Witches Be Crazy

Logan J. Hunder. Skyhorse/Night Shade, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-59780-820-0

Hunder's debut, an excursion into comic epic fantasy parody, tilts at many of the favorite windmills of the genre, but it's loaded with historical and genre allusions that may leave readers puzzled. In the mythical kingdom of Jenair, King Ik is sick unto death, with only a newfound daughter to succeed him. Assorted high- and low-born hopefuls launch into a perilous quest for her hand and a lifetime meal ticket. Enter bumptious blacksmith Dungar Loloth, whose tavern sideline has picked up since the great search began. Drawn into the quest himself, Dungar is joined by a series of familiar fantasy types: Jiminy, his relentlessly devoted best pal; Sir Pent, a muddled knight in dinged-up armor; Rainchild, a malevolent wizard; pirate Captain Nobeard; dangerous nymphs; and a flock of gruesomely portrayed feminists. This adventure parallels the Odyssey and all its imitators, couched in language that sometimes warrants a chuckle. It goes on several adventures too long for its slim framework to bear, reprising characters to pad out Hunder's clever but essentially one-shot shtick. One of its own characters may too optimistically suggest "a sequel, I think." (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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All for You

Jessica Scott. Grand Central/Forever, $8 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-4555-5377-8

Scott delivers another sensitive, touching look at the trials and tribulations of modern military life at Fort Hood, Texas with the fourth Coming Home contemporary (after Back to You), tackling military suicides and the macho culture that contributes to them. Sgt. Reza Iaconelli had a drinking problem and a spate of personal demons well before he joined the army, and four deployments only layered on the trauma and damage. Emily Lindberg left her cushy, sheltered life as an East Coast therapist for the rich and privileged, hoping to live a meaningful life helping the army take care of its own. When they're both involved in a tragedy with a soldier who was abused by the system, they're forced to overcome the differences in their experiences to find a better way for the army, and for each other. Scott displays a deft touch with her main and supporting characters, and a realistic, moving development of Reza and Emily's romance. Readers will ache, cheer, and worry in all the right places. Agent: Donna Bagdasarian, Publication Riot Group. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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All of Me

Jennifer Bernard. Avon , $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-237216-1

The first Love Between the Bases novel is a sporty romance that never scores. Sadie Merritt , a single girl in a small town, is struggling to get by. After breaking up with her ex, she became the object of a social media smear campaign that cost her her job and much of her hope for a happy life. She finds refuge working in the mayor's office. Baseball player Caleb Hart has been sent down from the majors to regain his confidence with a minor-league team, the Catfish. Bernard piles on the kooky elements of minor-league baseball to go with bush-league drama around a central couple that lacks energy and interest. While the prose is fine, absurd situations, meaningless interpersonal uproar, and dull characters all lead to an uninspired resolution. (May)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Beasts of Tabat

Cat Rambo. WordFire (wordfire.com), $15.99 trade paper (326p) ISBN 978-1-61475-298-1

In this fantasy series opener, Rambo (Near + Far) introduces a fascinating world of magic, intrigue, and revolution. When young Teo's parents trade him to the temple in Tabat in exchange for magical healing for their ailing daughter, Teo is far from happy. Fortunately Tabat is also home to his hero, the mighty gladiator Bella Kanto, Winter's warrior, who has fought a yearly match with Spring to determine when the seasons change. Bella has won for the past 20 years, and Tabat's citizens are sick of long winters. Additional tension roils over the rights of Beasts (intelligent and semi-intelligent magical creatures such as fairies, minotaurs, gryphons, and centaurs) and an upcoming election. As various factions vie for control, Bella and Teo are caught in the middle of the simmering rebellion. Although the story, dense with details and backstory, moves slowly and ends on an unsatisfying cliffhanger, the host of colorful characters and conflicting motives offer a promising start to a distinctive fantasy series. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Hannu Rajaniemi: Collected Fiction

Hannu Rajaniemi. Tachyon (Legato, dist.), $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-61696-192-3

Technology features strongly in this solid speculative fiction collection by Rajaniemi (The Quantum Thief). His work is unabashedly in love with its genre, mixing complex technical jargon with classic, pulp-style plots along with a clear appreciation for speculative fiction. In the lengthy "Skywalker of Earth," a very modern woman gets caught up in a battle between two protagonists straight out of Astounding Stories, with the fate of the solar system at stake. Horror-fantasy appear along with the SF, as with "The Viper Blanket" or the comedic "Satan's Typist." On occasion, Rajaniemi trips over his own clever prose, especially when adding jarring pop culture references, but lush language more than makes up for it. Some stories focus on machines, but their characters still feel real, as in "The Jugaad Cathedral," where a Second Life world may be a second chance for a disabled person. This delightful trip into imaginative worlds brings a fresh take to timeless ideas. Agent: John Jarrold (U.K.). (May)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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