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Dear White People: A Guide to Inter-Racial Harmony in "Post-Racial" America

Justin Simien. Atria/37 Ink, $19.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9809-7

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Simien, writer/director of the film of the same name as this seriously funny book at times cuts close to the bone for readers of any skin tone. Simien's declared purpose is to present something "primarily meant for entertainment purposes, so as to covertly lull you into thinking critically." Brief chapters offer advice and clarification ranging from "Please Stop Touching My Hair" to "We Don't Know Why Kanye West Did That." Interspersed within the chapters are "Black Myth Busters," quizzes, flowcharts, and charts to help readers decipher micro-aggressions or decide whether they may use the N-word. Simien asserts repeatedly that, despite wishes to the contrary, racism is still embedded in assumptions and institutions throughout the culture. His humor primarily rests on the absurdity of racial stereotypes and racist behaviors, introducing the difficult, even painful, truth that lies at the heart of all great comedy. Agent: Jay Mandel, William Morris Endeavor. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Attack on U.S. Democracy

Peter Dale Scott. Rowman & Littlefield, $35 (300p) ISBN 978-1-4422-1424-8

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"We are living under a government that in certain respects is increasingly lawless and out of control" Scott (American War Machine) writes in his latest examination of the alleged underbelly of the U.S. Government. The milieu he shows is rife with shady business deals with the Mafia, as well as terrorists and the countries that harbor them, while encouraging war and eroding personal liberties, all with the stated goal of protecting the country. Scott argues for the existence of what are essentially two governments–the one we're familiar with and the "deep state," actually running things. In this telling, the latter has been in the works for some time, under the auspices of the need to keep the government running in the event of a major attack or national disaster. Skeptics will be quick to dismiss Scott as a tinfoil-hatted loon looking for conspiracies and collusion under every rock, but the volume of his cited sources begs to differ, suggesting that our current political climate truly is a toxic one in dire need of fixing. He offers a handful of suggestions for doing exactly this in the closing pages of this alarming and thought-provoking work. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Self-Made Billionaire Effect: How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value

John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen. Penguin/Portfolio, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-59184-763-2

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Who wants to be a billionaire? And how, exactly, does that happen? The second question is what Sviokla and Cohen explore in this in-depth examination of the traits that self-made billionaires share. The authors set up a research team at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where both of them work, to study a randomly selected sample of 120 such moguls. The results dispel some common misconceptions, like that recently minted billionaires tend to be young and in the tech industry; in fact, fewer than 20% of the sample group came from this sector. According to Sviokla and Cohen, the people they surveyed– including such well-known names as Joe Mansueto from investment research firm MorningH; Sara Blakeley from Spanx; and Chip Wilson from Lululemon– typically differed from other high achievers in that they mastered multiple skills, not just one. The book's most helpful insights, however, are into creating corporate cultures that will promote the same type of behavior exhibited by billionaires. Its prose is, at times, overly jargon-filled: "the job of leadership in promoting Producer-friendly culture change is to put a wrapper of legitimacy around non-traditional activity." The ideas, meanwhile, aren't always as specific as they should be. Still, this ambitious book deserves a few hours' worth of attention from equally ambitious readers. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Freud and Yoga: Two Philosophies of Mind Compared

T.K.V. Desikachar and Hellfried Krusche, trans. from the German by Anne-Marie Hodges. North Point Press, $18 (224p) ISBN 978-0-86547-759-9

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Connection emerges from the most unexpected of dialogues in this sensitive merging of Eastern yoga with Western psychoanalysis–two seemingly opposite disciplines from equally distant hemispheres. The book is structured almost entirely as a conversation between yogi Desikacher (Health Healing and Beyond) and psychoanalyst Kruche highlighting their point-by-point discussion of Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras, a foundational text for modern yoga. This format works well to foster an illuminating discussion, but takes too much for granted that psychoanalysis remains an apt stand-in for the modern world, given that the practice has lost some of its luster in the last few decades. Further misleading are the references to Freud, whom, despite his image's prominent placement on the cover, receives little mention in the actual dialogue. The East-West dichotomy drawn here between yoga and psychoanalysis also underemphasizes the prominence yoga has attained specifically in the West. But even if we are not given a complete sense of what defines these philosophies, Desikachar and Krusche do manage to convey their shared focuses on the internal and interpersonal. What readers can gather from this discussion, then, are the fundamental values that unite two disciplines usually considered so disparate that they are rarely spoken of in the same breath (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Originator

Joel Shepherd. Pyr, $18 trade paper (520p) ISBN 978-1-61614-992-5

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Super-cyborg warrior Cassandra "Sandy" Kresnov finds herself at the center of a complex plot that could lead to interstellar warfare in her crackling sixth adventure (after Operation Shield). Unknown terrorists have destroyed a moon with a League mining station on it, and the perpetrators could also be involved with a group of xenophobes bent on misusing NCT, the neural cluster technology designed by the alien Talee and used to create cyborgs like Sandy. If misused, NCT can make people—and entire societies—dangerously unstable. Cai, a Talee agent, warns Sandy that if human use of NCT gets out of hand, the paranoid Talee could target all of humankind. Sandy has personal reasons to get the situation under control, since her adopted son has some of the dangerous Talee tech in his own head. Once again Shepherd delivers lightning-fast thrills and intrigue fueled by sharp extrapolation. Readers who can keep up with all the details of technology and intrigue will enjoy the ride. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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After the War Is Over

Jennifer Robson. Morrow, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-233463-3

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Robson's second WWI novel (after Somewhere in France) weaves historical detail into a tale of a former military nurse and the man she loves. Charlotte Brown is living and working in Liverpool after the end of the Great War, but believes that she is making little difference in the lives of Britain's poorest citizens. When she returns to the estate where she was once a governess, to celebrate the wedding of her former charge, Lilly, Charlotte realizes that she has never stopped loving Lilly's brother, Edward, Lord Cumberland. When Edward's war injuries threaten to destroy his future, Charlotte agrees to help nurse him back to health, even if it means that her heart might be wounded in the process. Charlotte is an admirable protagonist: a strong woman with compassion and a forthright nature, which is evenly matched with her desire to find love and happiness. Robson will lure readers into this emotionally charged novel from the first page. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Wishing Season

Denise Hunter. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4016-8704-5

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Hunter (The Trouble with Cowboys) adds another Chapel Springs Romance with this formulaic but still sparkling contemporary tale of competing ambitions, wounded personalities, and powerful attraction. PJ McKinley is an aspiring restaurateur, and Cole Evans is a contractor and former foster kid who wants to operate a group home for teen-age foster kids. Trouble is they're both competing for the same space, a Chapel Springs, Ind., home that a philanthropic resident will give to whoever will come up with the best use for it. PJ and Cole are both given a year to prove themselves, and sharing the space produces both competitive tension and unbidden attraction. PJ and Cole both have family issues that threaten to torpedo their growing relationship. The psychology that makes the two tick is a little simplistic, but it makes the plot move forward. Less forced is the powerful effervescence of their chemistry, and the pacing of their romantic pas-de-deux is also persuasive. Agent: Karen Solem, Spencerhill Associates. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Fog Island Mountains

Michelle Bailat-Jones. Tantor, $15.95 trade paper (225p) ISBN 978-1-63015-002-0

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Bailat-Jones presents a delicate debut novel that is something of a poem in disguise. Indeed, her narrator, storyteller Azami Kitauchi, identifies this work as a poem in its first pages. The narrative captures a brief moment in time, the juxtaposition of the onslaught of a typhoon with the dreadful news of terminal cancer for its protagonist, South African Alec Chester. Alec has made his home in Komachi on the Japanese island of Kyushu for over 40 years, marrying a woman named Kanae and raising a family, and teaching English. In spare prose, Bailat-Jones sketches haiku-like images that combine emotion with sensations of the natural world around Alec. As the wall of the typhoon hits, Alec and Kanae are struggling to find one another. Azami's own story introduces elements of Japanese folklore, bringing contrast to the painfully real narrative of the Chesters. A true rendering of the Japanese "kitsune" folklore tradition, this is a lovely look at the strength and grace that can be found in the face of death, and the sorrow of the knowledge of passing beauty. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Indolence

Alison Wellford. Outpost19 (outpost19.com), $16 trade paper (210p) ISBN 978-1-937402-66-2

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Wellford's accomplished debut offers a portrait of a May-December romance, which comforts a vulnerable young woman—until it doesn't. Sixteen-year-old Maria, resentful after being enrolled in an American boarding school while her mother convalesces in the French countryside, returns home for summer vacation. Her mother's cancer, however, is more advanced than Maria knew, and her father's anxiety manifests itself as deliberately distant, "noxiously quiet." Feeling adrift and underfoot, Maria fixates on Omar, a much older man who has expressed interest in her. Her advances are soon returned, and the two embark on a love affair that eventually cuts Maria off even further from her family. Omar, an art collector living in a ramshackle house, offers more than an erotic education for Maria—but at the novel's end, it's unclear, even years after the affair has ended, whether or how Maria's growing interest in art and artists will shape her adult life. The novel's appropriately languid tone and expressive descriptions, particularly of the natural world, offers an impressionistic portrait not only of Maria's surroundings but also of her state of mind. Maria's voice not only carries readers through these pages, but will stick with them afterward. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Year of Perfect Happiness

Becky Adnot-Haynes. Univ. of North Texas, $14.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-57441-565-0

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In this smart collection, awarded the 2014 Katherine Anne Porter prize for short fiction, Adnot-Haynes's dazzles with her wit and insight about the tenuous nature of relationships as a range of characters reveal their innermost thoughts. In "Baby Baby," unemployed Mina dons a fake pregnancy belly in secret, while ironically, a pop H is wrongly accused of a pregnancy sham. As the author plumbs the psyche of a woman who is dissatisfied with more than just her self-image, readers witness a loving relationship implode. In "Planche, Whip, Salto," a 33-year-old woman hides her new passion to become a trapeze artist from her husband, reveling in the freedom and sheer joy of flying through the air to such an extent that she leaves her steady job behind and embarks on an affair with her trainer. In the title story, we follow Davis, a man in his thirties searching for an improbable year of perfect happiness, who flits from one woman to the next, from Manhattan, to Phoenix, and finally to Florida where his parents reside. Incapable of commitment or any true responsibility, his life spirals downward, and it becomes clear true happiness is an impossibility. In this winning collection, each story is a gem. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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