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Love’s Shadow

Paul A. Bové. Harvard, $59.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-674-97715-0

Bové (A More Conservative Place), a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, issues a spirited manifesto urging literary critics to rid themselves of the belief that “all humanity is abject” and to embrace poetry and literature for their evidence of human imagination and survival. “Melancholics,” he writes, are “wrong conceptually, wrong historically,” and he argues that society should “embrace, defend, and learn from” poets and critics. Bové lays the responsibility for despair-riddled theory at the feet of Walter Benjamin, an early 20th-century German philosopher who advanced the idea of “melancholy as the historically necessary symptom of a fallen world.” In countering this, Bové explores Wallace Stevens’s “confidence in imagination” in his poetry, essential questions in Theodore Adorno’s essays about what it means to be human, and the persistent human struggle between light and dark captured by Rembrandt’s paintings. While he can veer into scholarly jargon (“The latter is many things that help a poem configure eros as style. Idiosyncrasy and eccentricity metonymize transport as the work of style and its substance”), Bové’s close readings make for a critical tour de force. This passionate call offers a refreshing contribution to the philosophy of criticism. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Cleopatra: The Queen Who Challenged Rome and Conquered Eternity

Alberto Angela, trans. from the Italian by Katherine Gregor. HarperVia, $28.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-298421-0

Italian TV host Angela casts Cleopatra as “an amazingly modern woman” in this spirited yet somewhat overwrought account. Focusing on the period between March 44 BCE, when Cleopatra returned to Egypt from Rome after the assassination of her lover and ally Julius Caesar, and her suicide in August 30 BCE following military defeat by Octavian, Angela portrays Cleopatra as an astute ruler who enabled Egypt to retain sovereignty despite creeping Roman influence over the Levant. He recounts the saga of Cleopatra’s doomed romance with Marc Antony, but also explains the significance of her deliberate combination of Hellenistic influences, rooted in her Greco-Macedonian ancestry, with ancient Egyptian culture and religion, in particular the goddess Isis. Though Angela strives to make the ancient world accessible to modern readers, long sections in which he plays tour guide through the streets of Rome and Alexandria offer genuine insights but slow the narrative pace, and the significance of Cleopatra and Marc Antony’s first meeting is undercut with comparisons to Lady Gaga and Jim Carrey’s “jaw dropping to the ground” in The Mask. This well-intentioned history swings and misses. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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She Gets What She Wants

Denise N. Wheatley. Tule, $3.99 e-book (185p) ASIN B08CGG24YG

A woman works hard for her dreams and finds love along the way in the sweet contemporary romance that launches the Fearless Fairy Tale series from Wheatley (Love at the Icicle Café). When Devon Jacobs, who’s already low on self-esteem, confesses her long-standing love to her childhood friend Jason it goes horribly—which means it’s the perfect time for her friend Gabby, who works in Hollywood, to call and tell her a television production assistant job is hers for the taking. Devon needs a fresh start and always dreamed of writing for television, so she jumps at the chance. And the move from Indiana to Los Angeles improves her life immediately: she lives in Gabby’s gorgeous guest house in Beverly Hills, impresses the head writer on her show, builds her self-confidence, and strikes up a friendship with actor Ryan Roberts that quickly starts to feel like something more. But her friends from home aren’t as supportive as she hoped they’d be, forcing Devon to choose between them and the new life she’s created. Devon is an admirable heroine and she and Ryan make a cute couple. With as much focus on Devon’s personal growth as on her relationship with Ryan, this charming story effortlessly straddles the line between women’s fiction and romance. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Rhapsody

Mitchell James Kaplan. Gallery, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-1-982104-00-9

Kaplan (By Fire, by Water) builds an enchanting world featuring musical giants George Gershwin and Kay Swift. The story begins and ends on the same day—July 11, 1937—in-between, a great romance culminates in tragedy. Katharine Swift is a pianist of modest means who marries wealthy banker James Warburg. She’s fond of James (and hurt by his romantic indiscretions), but doesn’t experience true passion until she meets brash composer and pianist George Gershwin. This leads to a complicated setup of caring deeply for two very different men that ends with the death of one of the men. Kaplan’s meticulous research is evident throughout (an author’s note at the end points out where he fiddled with facts), and the pages glitter with the names of such musical luminaries as Richard Rodgers, Duke Ellington, and Fats Waller, who provide a glamorous backdrop to the narrative, punctuated with major world events: the Great Depression and the ominous gathering storm of fascism in Germany. This spellbinding and luminous tale will linger in readers’ minds long after the final page is turned. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights

Dorothy Wickenden. Scribner, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4767-6073-5

New Yorker executive editor Wickenden (Nothing Daunted) expertly weaves together the biographies of “co-conspirators and intimate friends” Harriet Tubman, Martha Wright, and Frances Seward in this novelistic history. When Wright, the younger sister of abolitionist Lucretia Mott, and Seward, the wife of U.S. senator and secretary of state William Henry Seward, got to know Tubman in the early 1850s, they were already “in the process of transforming themselves from conventional homemakers into insurgents.” Wright and Seward hosted fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad and helped Tubman to build and sustain a free Black community in Auburn, N.Y., where all three women lived from 1857 on. Wickenden details the links between the suffragist and abolitionist movements in the U.S., noting that women like Seward and Wright, by virtue of being in the private sphere, had a moral clarity about the evil of slavery that male politicians lacked, and describes how post-Civil War tensions over whether Black men or white women should get the vote first divided the suffragist movement. Through extensive research and fluid writing, Wickenden rescues Wright and Seward from obscurity and provides a new perspective on Tubman’s life and work. This is an essential addition to the history of American progressivism. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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On Fragile Waves

E. Lily Yu. Erewhon, $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64566-009-5

Yu’s outstanding debut opens with an enticing work of visual poetry that sets the stage for a story built of stories about the hopes of a family searching for a place where they can feel safe. Firuzeh and her family flee Afghanistan in the middle of the night, trusting hearsay that the people smugglers escorting them are honest. As they travel by land, air, and boat, the family endures cramped quarters, a waning food and water supply, and a storm that takes refugees’ lives, but Firuzeh fills even the tensest moments of their journey with fantastical stories of what their lives will be once they’ve reached Australia. Unfortunately, once they do reach their destination, the dream of freedom, safety, and comfort remains elusive in the face of poor living conditions and xenophobia. In flowing, lyrical prose, Yu showcases the power of folklore and the pain of displacement. This is a knockout. Agent: Markus Hoffman, Regal Hoffman & Assoc. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Elizabeth & Margaret: The Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters

Andrew Morton. Grand Central, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0046-4

Biographer Morton (Diana: Her True Story) examines in this vibrant history the “push-and-pull between... deep love and primal jealousy” that bonded Queen Elizabeth II and her younger sister, Princess Margaret. Opening in 1936 as Edward VIII ceded the throne to his younger brother, George VI, Morton draws a sharp contrast between duty-bound George and self-indulgent Edward, and between Elizabeth and Margaret, who once confessed that “disobedience is my joy.” Growing up in Buckingham Palace under the care of Scottish governess Marion “Crawfie” Crawford, the sisters studied and played only with each other until May 1940, when they were evacuated to Windsor Castle, a “medieval fortress... virtually impregnable to aerial attack.” At Windsor, Elizabeth and Margaret got a taste of civilian life, mingling with Girl Guides and putting on plays. In 1947, however, their dynamic shifted inexorably when 21-year-old Elizabeth married Prince Philip. Elizabeth emerges in Morton’s account as a somewhat distant figure and a reluctant player in the Windsor family soap opera, while much attention is paid to Margaret’s intrigues, including her affair with Royal Air Force officer Peter Townsend in the 1950s, her 1978 divorce, and her falling-out with Princess Diana for “question[ing] Prince Charles’s fitness to be king” in a 1995 TV interview. Royal watchers will be enthralled. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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I Am Invincible

Norma Kamali with Sarah Brown. Abrams, $35 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-4197-4740-3

Fashion designer Kamali (Facing East) shares valuable wisdom for women on building a healthy lifestyle in this empowering handbook. To create a more replenishing routine, Kamali recommends holistic solutions (such as acupuncture treatments and regular meditation) as well as quick fixes (like giving oneself a morning massage). She shares tips for sleeping, such as investing in one’s bed, creating the perfect space, and limiting screen time at night, and provides wellness recommendations and immune boosting tips from celebrity doctor Andrew Weil, including to follow a plant-based diet, avoid sugar and GMOs, and take probiotics. For exercise, Kamali suggests a mix of simple practices (among them, dancing) and more structured routines of at-home exercises and stretches. In the book’s second half, she dispenses hard-won advice and observations (“If you look good and feel good, your actual age makes no difference for all you are able to do”) alongside her own life story, including a toxic first marriage, becoming a designer to celebrities, finding “reinvention” in her 50s, and meeting her soul mate at age 65. The beautiful design is a standout feature, with gorgeously rendered affirmations (“Little girls with dreams become women with vision”) and delightful photos peppered throughout. Kamali’s message of positivity will be a treat for women of all ages. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh

Molly Greeley. Morrow, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-303200-2

Greeley (The Clergyman’s Wife) delivers an immersive queer reimagining of Pride and Prejudice character Anne de Bourgh. Anne is born into wealth as the heiress to Rosings Park in Kent, England, and the daughter of Lady Catherine and Sir Lewis de Bourgh. Anne, now in her 30s, has been prescribed laudanum since she was an infant, then for being “fussy” and now for being “delicate,” and though she expects to marry her cousin Fitzwilliam, he weds Elizabeth Bennet. While Catherine is away from Rosings Park, Anne stops taking her laudanum and travels to London, where she becomes acquainted with Eliza Amherst, a friend of her cousin’s wife, and their friendship evolves into a secret romance. Though Anne hopes Eliza will consider returning to Rosings Park as her companion, Eliza reluctantly understands the societal obligation for her to marry an eligible man, and Anne reckons with fulfilling her obligations as heiress to the estate. Greeley’s expert imaginings of the life of Anne de Bourgh reveal the hidden depths of her character and highlight the societal restrictions of 19th-century women as Anne seeks to overcome her mother’s domineering persona and find happiness. Historical fiction fans will be drawn to Anne’s plight. Agent: Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Every Thing Is Sacred: 40 Practices and Reflections on the Universal Christ

Richard Rohr and Patrick Boland. Convergent, $22 (176p) ISBN 978-0-593-23878-3

Psychotherapist Boland and Franciscan priest Rohr share reflections and exercises intended to guide readers in exploring themes of Rohr’s 2019 The Universal Christ. The authors recommend having the earlier book—which argued for an “incarnational worldview” that sees God dwelling in and through all of creation—close at hand for easy reference along with a journal for recording musings. Reflections alternate between personal and universal themes; for example, an exploration of one’s “shadow side,” which is the opposite of one’s idealized self-image, is followed by a consideration of the inevitability of change throughout the universe. Recommended exercises include journaling, prayer, spending time in nature, and participating in a “self-guided contemplative sit.” Suggesting that some topics may be difficult for readers with unhealed pain or trauma (such as the reflections on suffering or atonement), Boland recommends readers skip sections that feel psychologically unsafe. Rohr and Boland prove to be compassionate, encouraging mentors, urging the reader to seek divine presence and Christ, both throughout the universe and deep within oneself. Christians looking to deepen their spiritual practice will find rich material and wise guidance here. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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