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The Forgiveness Tour: How to Find the Perfect Apology

Susan Shapiro. Skyhorse, $22.99 (264p) ISBN 978-1-510-76271-8

Journalist Shapiro (Lighting Up) chronicles her search for ways to heal after a devastating betrayal in this magnificent work. Her previous memoir recounted her successful therapy with addiction specialist Daniel Winters. Here, she wrestles with the revelation that their 15-year therapeutic relationship was founded on lies, when she finds out he’s been treating someone she’d asked him not to see. Winters’s refusal to explain or show remorse infuriated her and led her to set out on a quest to determine how to forgive someone who won’t apologize. Shapiro interviews colleagues, students, and religious leaders to probe universal questions around hurt, absolution, and contrition. Analyzing Jesus’s plea, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” a Presbyterian minister posits that “forgiving can get you out of pain.” A colleague tells her, “Jewish law requires a person to ask heartfelt forgiveness three times,” and that “if the injured party won’t respond...the non-forgiver has to seek forgiveness for not forgiving.” A Hindu guru, meanwhile, warns that an “angry grudge... burns your own heart first.” Their wisdom moves her to realize “how small my saga was” and to forgive Winters (who apologized first). By blending these stories with her own experiences and writing with insight, humor, and grace, Shapiro’s elegant survey becomes one largely about plumbing the boundless depths of the human heart. This is essential reading. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Seventies: The Decade That Changed American Film Forever

Vincent LoBrutto. Rowman & Littlefield, $36 (264p) ISBN 978-1-538-13718-5

Film buff LoBrutto (Stanley Kubrick) takes a revealing look at the cinematic movement that grew out of the turbulent 1970s. He presents a detailed analysis of the film world year by year, starting with “a long string of failures” of big budget films in the ’60s that indicated the “Golden Age of Hollywood” was over. From this came a vanguard of young, innovative directors who subverted the “beauty and glamour” of the first half of 20th-century film and created complex movies that treated the medium more like art, reacting to the fraught political and social climate caused by the war in Vietnam. These films “were unflinching in their approach to difficult content,” LoBrutto writes, and yielded a more realistic, if sometimes somber, style, bringing to the fore such talents as Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese and encompasing cult classic movies like The Exorcist (1973), Chinatown (1974), and Taxi Driver (1976). Charting the rise of stars including Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, and Jane Fonda, LoBrutto leaves no stone unturned in making his case, though the heavy barrage of movie titles and dates can get a bit tedious. Movie geeks won’t be disappointed. (May)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Artful Dickens: The Tricks and Ploys of the Great Novelist

John Mullan. Bloomsbury, $28 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4088-6681-8

Mullan (What Matters in Jane Austen?) deconstructs Charles Dickens in this incisive essay collection. Astute observations abound in 13 pieces that attempt to “do justice to Dickens’s inventiveness, ingenuity, and experimentalism. The essay “Fantasising” examines the number of times “as if” appears as an idiomatic tic that “unlocks the novelist’s fantastic vision of the sheer strangeness of reality.” “Smelling” describes the grim “whiff” of London sewage and horse dung in Dickens’s work, as well as the odors of his characters. “Changing Tenses” provides a chance to “share the sharpness of childhood memory,” while “Naming” proves that Dickens’s characters got their names from lists of advisers to the royal family. “Speaking” digs into Dickens’s use of dialogue, and “Breaking the Rules” shows that the novelist’s use of repetition was the “simplest and the best of his tricks.” Mullan convincingly suggests that writers including Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, and Muriel Sparks draw from the best of Dickens’s techniques—in fact, he writes, Dickens anticipated the “narrative experiments” of modern novelists. This superlative, fresh collection will please stalwart fans and bring new readers to the Dickens canon. (May)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Leonora in the Morning Light

Michaela Carter. Avid Reader, $27 (416p) ISBN 978-1-982120-51-1

Carter (Further Out than You Thought) brilliantly fictionalizes surrealist painter Leonora Carrington’s coming-of-age amid the Nazi occupation of France and her consuming affair with fellow artist Max Ernst. When the two meet in 1937 London, Leonora is a 20-year-old art student already enamored of 46-year-old Max. She chooses love and art over her family’s money, and dives into the surrealist movement. Her life in Paris and beyond is studded with famous contemporaries, including André Breton, Paul and Nusch Éluard, Leonor Fini, and Lee Miller. But as Leonora and Max establish a haven in southern France, the country falls to the Germans. The Gestapo send Max to an internment camp, leading the unmoored Leonora to flee to Madrid, where she has a breakdown. The story jumps to Lisbon and then America as European artists flee with the help of art collector Peggy Guggenheim. Through Leonora, Carter contemplates the magic of young love, the trauma of war, and the vagaries of artistic vision: “To become the master, she has killed the muse. It is that simple.” There isn’t one misstep in here. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Low Country: A Memoir

J. Nicole Jones. Catapult, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-1-948-22686-8

Jones debuts with an intoxicating if puzzling story of her dysfunctional South Carolina family, who ran a mini-empire of hotels and seafood restaurants in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “The South does not own tragedy, but it sure seems to have taken a liking to the region,” she writes. To illustrate, Jones strings together half-true tales of her unconventional upbringing, bankrolled “by tourists who anointed themselves with suntan oil.” She recalls how her father “left us to move to Nashville more than a few times,” in search of country-music stardom, but his and her mother’s dreams were quashed by her “Granddaddy,” a violent, tight-fisted patriarch whose employees were “as afraid of him as we were.” A notorious bootlegger, he opened a number of motels, pancake houses, and bars, where her dad and uncles worked as bartenders and waiters, and tended to arcade games. Her nana endured a lifetime of abuse at the hands of Granddaddy, until a fall left him with his “scalp cut wide open.” From here, Jones gambles on a speculative climax to her family’s story that fails to deliver. While her sentences are finely wrought, they can’t mask a weak narrative spine. This tale of a tourist-trap childhood would make a great beach read, if it weren’t for the unfocused delivery. Agent: Stephanie Delman, Sanford J. Greenburger Assoc. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook by Mystery Writers of America

Edited by Lee Child with Laurie R. King. Scribner, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-9821-4943-7

More is less in this uneven anthology for the aspiring mystery writer, edited by Child (the Jack Reacher series) and featuring contributions from over 50 authors. “Mystery writers,” Child writes, “is a noble and evocative term, but we shouldn’t think it limits us,” and the entries that follow are a mixed bag of quick hits and worthy advice. Marilyn Stasio’s “How Not to Get Reviewed,” for example, is a single sentence offering: “Send multiple copies of your book to the reviewer’s home and keep bugging her by email.” Louise Penny’s “Building Your Community,” on the other hand, is a standout. In it, she recounts how she built an audience by opening up to her fans, prompted by advice to promote herself because if readers “like you, they’ll probably buy your book, and will probably like it.” Jeffery Deaver’s “Always Outline” urges against “pansters” who “write by the seat of their pants,” while Child follows with a plea to “Never Outline.” The most valuable insights come on the craft level: Jacqueline Winspear’s tips on setting mysteries in the past and Catriona McPherson’s on incorporating humor, for example, hit as practical and insightful. Budding authors looking for pro tips will find some useful tidbits, but this is ground mostly covered. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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My Time Will Come: A Memoir of Crime, Punishment, Hope, and Redemption

Ian Manuel. Pantheon, $25.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-524-74852-4

An ex-con reflects on the shocking crime and even more shocking sentence that blighted his life in this heart-wrenching debut. In 1990, the then 13-year-old Manuel shot young mother Debbie Baigrie during a street robbery in Tampa, Fla. Baigrie recovered, but Manuel was sentenced to life without parole. “That would be the last day my mother and I would touch,” he writes. What followed was a harrowing, decades-long journey through Florida’s prisons, where beatings and sprayings with irritant gases were routine. The situation deteriorated drastically after he was repeatedly placed in solitary confinement for infractions as minor as asking for clean sheets, and ended up being kept there for 18 years—a deranging ordeal that prompted him to cut and burn himself. But his story took an unlikely turn after a judicial rights group took up his case. He reconciled with Baigrie, leading to his release from prison in 2016. Manuel’s account, told in prose and poetry, is gritty and unflinching (“I hear coughs and gaspings/ from multiple gassings./ And boots and fist against flesh”), and poignant throughout. The result is a gripping narrative about a man’s struggle to prove his discarded existence still has meaning. This is a stunner. (May)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton with Anthony Gostick. HarperBusiness, $29.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-304615-3

Workplace anxiety costs businesses an estimated $40 billion every year in lost productivity, errors, and health care, warn executive coach Gostick and motivational speaker Elton (The Carrot Principle) in this constructive treatise. Employee anxiety, they write, involves “overestimation of workplace threats” and disproportionately affects younger workers: 50% of millennials and 75% of Generation Z report leaving a job for mental health reasons. And things have only gotten worse during the pandemic, they write, as fears of being laid off have become rampant. The first thing leaders can do, the authors suggest, is eliminating stigma by asking if employees are okay, and being prepared to discuss anxiety. They offer a host of tips on dealing with overload, leading in times of high anxiety, shifting a workplace’s culture to one of healthy debate, and avoiding leadership missteps (such as Yahoo’s “stealth layoffs”). There’s not much new here, but the appeal that “having a healthy workplace is a goal we can all feel good about” will ring true to stressed-out workers and leaders alike. The pandemic-specific angle and encouraging advice will be great assets to leaders during this tumultuous time. Agent: James Levine, Levine Greenberg Rostan. (May)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Broken God

Gareth Hanrahan. Orbit, $17.99 trade paper (544p) ISBN 978-0-316-70567-7

Hanrahan ramps up the eldritch pyrotechnics in his gritty third Black Iron Legacy epic (after The Shadow Saint). Cari Thay, the Saint of Knives, travels to mysterious Khebesh, hoping to trade a grimoire to that land’s sorcerers in exchange for their help restoring her friend Spar, who was once human but has been transformed into a semi-divine being animating the living stone of Guerdon’s New City. Her voyage hits trouble on the island of Ilbarin, now ruled by Artolo, a member of the dragon-controlled crime syndicate Ghierdana who seeks revenge on Cari. Meanwhile in Guerdon, young Rasce has taken Artolo’s place in the Ghierdana, and his orders are to gain control of the city’s alchemical resources. When Spar’s broken consciousness connects with Rasce, Rasce is quick to exploit Spar’s powers. And across the sea, Cari must forge a path through the ruins of the Godswar to reach her goal. Hanrahan’s prose and imagery harken back to the best of classic sword and sorcery fantasy with humans struggling to survive as deities battle. This will please series fans and appeal to readers who fondly remember Robert Asprin’s Thieves’ World series. Agent: John Jarrold, John Jarrold Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Brothers, Sisters, Strangers: Sibling Estrangement and the Road to Reconciliation

Fern Schumer Chapman. Viking, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-56169-9

Journalist Chapman (Motherland) shares a deeply moving account of a decades-long rift with her only brother and how they found a path to resolution. While parental estrangement is more openly talked about, she writes, “I realized early on the disturbing nature of how others perceive a sibling rupture.” The split with her brother, Scott, happened gradually, starting in her 20s. “Hurt piled on hurt, slowly building a hard shell of separation” that kept them from speaking for 40 years, until a call from their mother brought them back together. In reconnecting, she and Scott reckoned with the shared childhood trauma caused by their distant parents. Shocked at how little literature there was on the subject of sibling reconciliation, Chapman decided to compile her own research. To that end, she weaves in interviews with psychologists and firsthand accounts from other estranged siblings, and the story becomes a hybrid of memoir and an illuminating guide to navigating estrangement. Chapman helps readers decide whether a relationship is worth saving, and how to open up communication and reestablish trust; she also tackles issues surrounding addiction, social media, and holidays. The author’s vulnerability turns what could have been a clinical look at family dysfunction into a sensitive, compassionate narrative. Even cynics will find hope in this story of redemption. Agent: Marian Young. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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