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Witchy Eye

D.J. Butler. Baen, $25.00 (576p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8211-9

In an alternate North America where magic is pervasive and the Appalachians are under the boot of Emperor Thomas Penn, 15-year-old Sarah Calhoun, youngest daughter of imperial war hero Iron Andy Calhoun, is content with her rural Tennessee tobacco-farming life, in which she gets to cast the occasional small spell. She’s mostly come to terms with having a “witchy eye” that’s been swollen shut since birth. When the priest Thalanes, an acquaintance of Andy’s, arrives and helps to reveal that Sarah is not a Calhoun daughter but carries royal blood—and is being hunted by humans and magical entities in the service of the emperor—she flees with the priest and her smitten, protective cousin, Calvin, to find help in low and exalted places, reclaim her heritage, and discover what she’s capable of when her eye finally opens. Butler’s fantasy is by turns sardonic and lighthearted; ghoulish shadows claw into the most remote areas and heroism bursts out of the most unlikely people. Sarah is the epitome of the downtrodden hero who refuses to give up until she gets what she needs, and her story will appeal to fantasy readers of all stripes. Agent: Deborah Warren, East West Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Where the Bodies Lie

Mark Lisac. NeWest (LitDistCo, dist.), $20.95 trade paper (247p) ISBN 978-1-926455-50-1

Lisac’s first foray into fiction, a political crime novel set in an unnamed oil-rich Canadian province, stumbles into some rookie pitfalls. The province is clearly a thinly veiled Alberta, which is a geographic and political landscape Lisac knows well from his years as newspaper reporter, columnist, and author (Alberta Politics Uncovered). In the novel, Lisac renames towns, writes around specific locations, and farcically turns the right-wing Wildrose Party into the Western Wildcat Party. The renaming is awkward and the reasons for it are unclear, since the setting and the party will be obvious to most readers. The story begins when lawyer Harry Asher is hired by his friend Premier Jim Karamanlis to quietly investigate an incident in which a truck-driving cabinet minister struck and killed a member of his local constituency executive. The premier fears it wasn’t an accident. Lisac’s knowledge of the well-oiled political machine that runs Alberta is apparent, but the scandal intended to drive the plot forward is insufficiently scandalous (though perhaps it is perfectly Canadian in that regard). The book is full of exposition that squeezes out plot and dialogue, and the pace is further slowed by frequent descriptions of scenery that don’t always add to the story. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2017 | Details & Permalink

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One Gun Ranch, Malibu: Biodynamic Recipes for Vibrant Living

Alice Bamford and Ann Eysenring. Regan Arts, $39.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-941393-52-9

Nestled in the scenic hills of Malibu, Calif., One Gun Ranch is a biodynamic, sustainable farm that takes a holistic approach to health and wellness. Authors and owners Bamford and Eysenring walk readers through their compound, expounding and expanding on topics such as biodynamics and yoga, taking time to profile various practitioners along the way. Readers interested in the biodynamic way of life will get the most out of the book, as the authors spend plenty of time explaining the importance of soil, a crucial component, as well as tips on using the moon to manage crops, best practices for planting, and getting the best bounty from the local farmer’s market. The recipes are tilted heavily toward standards such as oat pancakes, roasted butternut squash and ginger soup, collard wraps, and blackened fish. There are flashes of inspiration such as poppy seed corn bread and sesame-cilantro prawns. The recipes are sufficiently approachable and easily sourced for even the most novice cooks, and the book’s artful layout and gorgeous images of nearly every dish are sure to get mouths watering. Veterans of gluten-free and vegan diets will likely find the book to be a little basic, but new initiates interested in a healthier lifestyle in general and biodynamic farming in particular will find it helpful and informative. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Grace Notes: My Recollections

Katey Sagal. Gallery, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9671-0

Sagal, who played Peggy Bundy in Married... with Children, shares her wild, hilarious stories of growing up, struggling with addictions, and finding herself. She opens on a scene of her mother—“the singing sweetheart of Cherokee County,” a nickname she earned singing on the radio in Gaffney, S.C.—holding her in her lap and teaching her to play guitar on the Martin that once belonged to Burl Ives. Sagal, whose mother suffered from mental and physical illnesses, often turned to her father, a director who was often hard to please and critical, though loving in his own way. Sagal decided early that “music is the key to everything” and by age 15 she joined a band. She eventually found a long-standing gig singing background vocals as one of Bette Midler’s “Staggering Harlettes,” and later sang with and befriend one of her idols, Etta James. Following a bout with cancer, Sagal eventually landed her signature role in the sitcom Married... with Children, which ran for 11 seasons. Sagal proves to be tough and sassy yet vulnerable as she movingly reflects on the stillbirth of her daughter, Ruby, which gave Sagal a deeper love for life; in addition, she touchingly introduces readers to each of her other children, who are the “teachers that parents can never find—until they have children.” (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Dueling with Kings: High Stakes, Killer Sharks, and the Get-Rich Promise of Daily Fantasy Sports

Daniel Barbarisi. Touchstone, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-4617-6

Veteran sports writer Barbarisi was covering the New York Yankees for the Wall Street Journal in 2015 when he became intrigued by daily fantasy sports, an online world of “fantasy baseball married with poker married with traditional sports betting.” He takes a fascinating look at this betting world, dominated by two companies—FanDuel and DraftKings—with millions of users competing for million-dollar payoffs in an atmosphere of abandon that reminds Barbarisi of “stock traders in the 1980s before the market tanked.” After an initial effort with losses that turned him into “what the industry calls a fish”—a big-money loser—and fed his anger that the industry gives an advantage to big-spending “sharks” and is “ruinous to the little guy,” Barbarisi took a new path. He decided “to get in with these sharks, convince them to help me, and study under them.” The result is a funny and entertaining inside look at a gambling industry in which big players use complex algorithms but nevertheless can lose to the most average of rubes; it is here where Barbarisi himself becomes a winning shark in the world of fantasy hockey. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom: A Complete Prescription to Optimize Your Health, Prevent Disease, and Live with Vitality and Joy

Acharya Shunya. Sounds True, $24.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-62203-827-5

Shunya, president of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine, says it was her “karma” to write an “authoritative bible of sorts” on Ayurvedic wisdom. Raised in India, Shunya studied Ayurveda under the tutelage of her grandfather, who was born in 1900 and served as his town’s Ayurvedic guide; throughout this informative text she weaves poignant stories and lessons learned from her highly esteemed relative and advisor. Ayurveda, Shunya explains, is a 5,000-year-old system that covers such topics as lifestyle, food, health, spirituality, meditation, and yoga. Her focus is on applying the ancient principles to modern life and she includes selected case histories from clients and students who believe Ayurveda helped them resolve a variety of issues (e.g., eating disorders, stress). Despite the range of applications Shunya cites, she cautions that Ayurveda is not “one size fits all,” and gives readers a number of guidelines. Shunya writes with passion and expertise; newcomers to Ayurveda will receive a comprehensive education, and long-standing practitioners can also delve more deeply into this wellspring of knowledge. This is an important addition to a “holistic approach to health” that readers will want to refer to time and again. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Cairo Inside Out

Trevor Naylor, photos by Doriana Dimitrova. American Univ. in Cairo, $29.95 (160p) ISBN 978-977-416-756-0

Cairo, one of the liveliest and most intriguing cities in the world, Cairo remains one of the world’s great cities despite political upheavals. Naylor (A Roving Eye: Head to Toe in Egyptian Arabic Expressions), who lives and works in Cairo, makes it clear in his introduction that his book does not fall into the usual categories (memoir, travel guide, history, coffee-table book) but aims to be what Cairo is: “unusual and hard to explain.” Opening with “Nile and Zamalek,” moving through “Downtown Cairo,” and concluding with “Pyramids and Pharaohs,” the text is accompanied by extensive photos whose goal is to capture mood and transition through light and color. They include scenes of houseboat interiors and views out onto the Nile River, the timeless appeal of the old Windsor hotel and its Barrel Bar, the mix of architectural styles in central Cairo, the Anglo-Egyptian bookshop, the mausoleum of Ibn Barquq built in 1400, and of course, the pyramids, especially seen from the gorgeous interior of the Mena House Hotel. As Naylor presents the city, Dimitrova’s photos bring the text to life, creating a perfect seduction. Color photos. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas

Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Univ. of California, $49.95 (232p) ISBN 978-0-520-27403-7

New York City’s vitality and diversity are done justice in this third in a series of city atlases, following Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas and Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas. As editor Solnit states in her introduction to the present volume, her trilogy explores “what maps can do to describe the ingredients and systems that make up a city and what stories remain to be told after we think we know where we are.” The book includes 26 wonderfully inventive maps, presented in color on full pages and accompanied by essays by a variety of contributors, including historians, ethnographers, journalists, and novelists. The maps are often playful and idiosyncratic. Highlights include “Harper’s and Harpooners: Whaling and Publishing in Melville’s Manhattan,” “Mysterious Land of Shaolin: The Wu-Tang Clan’s Staten Island,” and a map entitled “City of Women,” which superimposes the names of women over stations on a subway map. Even lifelong New Yorkers fluent in their city’s history will find this work thought-provoking. Color illus. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The New Brooklyn: What It Takes to Bring a City Back

Kay S. Hymowitz. Rowman & Littlefield, $27 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4422-6657-5

Brooklyn resident Hymowitz (Manning Up) turns her attention to the rapidly changing landscape of her storied borough. Her aim is to understand how Brooklyn’s reputation swung from “crack-and-mugging” notoriety to being an exemplar of the thriving “postindustrial, creative city.” After a swift historical survey, the book breaks into chapter-length case studies of neighborhoods, each serving as a set piece through which the author explores how the “creative destruction” of gentrification brings new residents and businesses into a once-struggling area. She introduces white middle-class families, hipster artists, entrepreneurs, black returnees who grew up in Brooklyn, those who never left, and Chinese and West Indian immigrant communities. The tone of the book champions new Brooklyn, described by the author as “a splendid population of postindustrial and creative-class winners,” and the author pays only cursory attention to other residents. When struggling Brooklynites do appear, they are too often caricatured using tired stereotypes (e.g., “smallpox-infected natives,” Fujianese immigrants who “work like dogs”). The public policies and corporate muscle that have helped to determine who does and does not benefit from the Brooklyn’s new prosperity remain underexamined. Readers with an interest in the subject would do better to read Suleiman Osman’s The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap

Gish Jen. Knopf, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-101-94782-1

Novelist Jen (Typical American) gleans insight from the field of cultural psychology and her own experiences as an American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants to explore the nature of cultural divide between Eastern and Western societies. She argues that the culture gap “stems from a difference between the conception of self that dominates the West and the conception of self that dominate the East.” She explores the notion of the Western construct as “individualist, independent” and Eastern as “interdependent” and “collectivistic” through a variety of prisms—such as education, business, art, and relationships—and unpacks tough subjects, such as racism and prejudice in America, with sophisticated insight. Her examples are rooted in her own experience as a first generation Chinese-American, so the book focuses a lot on China and America, specifically describing the experiences of more affluent city-dwelling Americans. Jen is most compelling when she draws attention to the blended constructs of those who straddle both cultures, such as Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee or Chinese-American artist Maya Lin. She articulates the complexities of culture with a novelist’s command of language in this rich exploration of the East-West culture gap. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2017 | Details & Permalink

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