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No Refuge for Women: The Tragic Fate of Syrian Refugees

Maria von Welser. Greystone (PGW, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $18.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-77164-307-8

German journalist Von Welser brings the voices of asylum-seeking women to the forefront in this uneven call to relieve the humanitarian crisis of Syrians escaping dictatorship and war. Firsthand reporting from overcrowded refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey—as well as disembarkation points such as Lesbos and Lampedusa, where refugees frequently land following harrowing Mediterranean crossings in dangerous rafts—helps individualize the terror that marks millions of desperate journeys. The descriptions of the unique dangers that women face, including the constant risk of sexual assault by male smugglers, the female slave trade run by ISIS, and the economic burdens borne by women with children whose fathers have gone ahead to Europe, are stomach-turning and enraging. Unfortunately, von Welser’s choppy text often suffers from inexplicable changes in tense, superfluous melodramatic statements (“How inhuman!” “But what a price!”), and an incongruous fixation with describing women as beautiful or pretty. Her photos are also too small and poorly reproduced to do justice to their subjects. Von Welser ends the book on a on a brighter note, pointing to individual examples of German citizens rejecting discrimination and welcoming newcomers, a model she hopes will be replicated across Europe. This timely cri de coeur is an important reminder of the global responsibility to the world’s most vulnerable population. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Love and Laughter in the Time of Chemotherapy

Manjusha Pawagi. Second Story (UTP, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-77260-045-2

Pawagi shares a painfully honest and surprisingly funny account of her cancer treatments and the search for a stem cell donor who could save her life. After Pawagi—a judge, author (The Girl Who Hated Books), wife, and mother of two—was diagnosed with advanced and aggressive leukemia, she suddenly had to adjust to not being in control. Of her mutinying chromosomes, she writes, “I picture a kind of morbid square dance where partners peel off and join other partners they’re not supposed to join, while the fiddler, my body’s immune system, looks the other way and fiddles on obliviously.” Even pedestrian matters became permission-seeking nightmares, as when she had to get approval from two medical departments just to eat an ice pop: “My hematology team says it is up to the surgical team. The surgical team says ask the hematology team. It’s like having divorced parents and not knowing yet who is the soft touch.” Such wit runs through the book, but she also shares her moments of despair and fears of not living to dance at her kids’ weddings. Pawagi expertly walks the tightrope between humor and heartbreak. Readers will celebrate her return to health and take heart from it. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Curry: Eating, Reading, and Race

Naben Ruthnum. Coach House (Consortium, U.S. dist.; PGC, Canadian dist.), $13.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-55245-351-3

Ruthnum, whose short fiction has won the Journey Prize, makes a ponderous contribution to Coach House’s Exploded Views series of cultural critiques, using curry as a focus for his ruminations about place, belonging, and multiculturalism in Canada. Ruthnum uses the elusive definition of curry (“Curry isn’t real. Its range of definitions, edible and otherwise, rob it of a stable existence”) as a jumping-off point to discuss what he calls “curry books,” books that he argues are defined by being written by South East Asian authors living in diaspora, such as Salman Rushdie, Shilpa Somaya Gowda, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Like the dish, Ruthnum argues that these books defy categorization. Ruthnum’s explorations of both food and literature include insightful forays into nostalgia, authenticity, belonging, and the sense of in-between worlds in which the children of immigrants live. He argues that “there’s typically also a generational divide, a bridge littered with pakoras and Reese’s Pieces that cannot be crossed except with soulful looks and tangential arguments.” Ultimately deciding that audience expectations engendered by past literary (and culinary) success are a heavy burden on present authors (and chefs), this essay seeks to push industry and audience alike to make space for the lost narratives, the ones that “go unread because of the dominance of the story we’ve heard before.” This work serves as a rallying cry for emerging writers (including the author) to write those new, different stories. Agent: Samantha Haywood, Transatlantic. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon, and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD

Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis. Twelve, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6358-6

Minutaglio and Davis (Dallas 1963) make use of newly declassified FBI documents and secret White House recordings to chronicle the 28-month global hunt for Dr. Timothy Leary in this rip-roaring slice of American history. Leary, a Harvard psychology professor who became known as “the high priest of LSD,” caught the attention of the Nixon administration in 1970 after he escaped from a California prison, where he was serving time for possession of marijuana. President Nixon was looking for a poster child for his War on Drugs—an identifiable “bad guy” whose apprehension would signal victory—and Leary fit the part. The story follows Leary’s time on the run, which, aided by the radical left-wing organization the Weathermen, extended from Africa to Europe to Asia before his eventual capture by a DEA agent in Afghanistan in 1973. The authors switch among the perspectives of Leary, the agents following him abroad, and Nixon, who grows increasingly preoccupied by the case. The authors use the present tense to describe the events, giving the story line a vivid immediacy. In one scene, supported by a White House recording, Nixon and his cabinet members decide to make Leary public enemy number one and then begin shouting Leary’s name in unison, as if rallying fans before a high school football game. This dramatic account is backed by extensive research, but its primary purpose is entertainment rather than education. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Place for All People: Life, Architecture, and the Fair Society

Richard Rogers, with Richard Brown. Canongate, $34.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-78211-693-6

British architect Rogers, who is known for his exoskeleton designs, offers thoughts on his life and craft with the same admirable transparency that characterizes his buildings. Rogers takes readers behind the scenes of his storied career, from early residential and industrial projects to his large-scale corporate and civic commissions. Combining elements of memoir and monograph, he mixes details from cantilever engineering for the Pompidou Center with personal anecdotes, as when he met the prime minister of France while wearing a denim suit. The story of his collaboration with Renzo Piano on the winning entry in the Pompidou Center competition brings to mind two college students scrambling during finals week: the architects cut and pasted drawings in a late-night post office in Leicester Square, and then smudged the postmark to comply with the competition’s deadline. Rogers is relatable throughout, still raffish despite his title (he was knighted in 1991). For an architect whose works are consistently avant-garde, Rogers’s book is surprisingly down to earth. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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This Is M. Sasek: The Extraordinary Life and Travels of the Beloved Children’s Book Illustrator

Olga Cerná, Pavel Ryška, and Martin Salisbury, trans. from the Czech by Martina and Stuart Nicholson. Universe, $29.95 (120p) ISBN 978-0-7893-3427-5

This illustrated scrapbook pays homage to the work of midcentury illustrator M. Sasek (1916–1980), best known for his This Is... series of travel guides for children. Trained as an illustrator in Czechoslovakia, Sasek was in Paris working on the first in his planned series of city guides for kids when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague in 1948 and his Czech publisher was jailed. Unable to make a living as an illustrator in Paris, Sasek moved to Munich, where he began a short but successful career in broadcasting at Radio Free Europe. When This Is Paris was eventually published in London in 1959, its pairing of architectural drawing with affectionate caricatures of city life was an instant success and led to the publication of 17 other guides between 1959 and 1974. The series was widely translated and published across Europe and North America. Only in the Eastern Bloc, which included his native country of Czechoslovakia, was his work suppressed. The irony of this is not lost on Czech children’s book author Cerná, who emphasizes Sasek’s international acclaim in this workmanlike biography. The book is enlivened by a wealth of visual material, including reproductions of Sasek’s early work, many illustrations from the This Is... series, and copies of letters from young fans. As this illustrated book aptly shows, Sasek’s books exemplified an era in which world travel became possible for ordinary citizens, and his smooth, cosmopolitan style still looks fresh today. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Rescuing Retirement: A Plan to Guarantee Retirement Security for All Americans

Teresa Ghilarducci and Tony James. Columbia Univ., $24.95 (184p) ISBN 978-0-231-18564-6

Ghilarducci (How to Retire with Enough Money), director of the New School for Social Research’s Retirement Equity Lab, and James, CEO of the Blackstone Group financial services firm, argue that 85 million Americans don’t have any retirement savings and millions more have woefully inadequate plans—and offer a possible resolution, the guaranteed retirement account, a portable retirement savings account for every worker. The money is pooled and professionally managed, and, upon retirement, the worker is guaranteed payments for life. The scheme requires no additional taxes or deficit and only a small ongoing contribution from the worker. What makes the book so readable is not just the authors’ well-reasoned proposal, which includes case studies and surveys, but also their explanation of how the U.S. got to this point, which includes the accidental birth of the 401(k). Ghilarducci and James never slip into wonk-speak or jargon, and lay readers will appreciate the way the authors make sense of complex economic issues. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Only the Devil Is Here

Stephen Michell. ChiZine (Consortium, U.S. dist.; Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Canadian dist.), $17.99 trade paper (188p) ISBN 978-1-77148-434-3

Michell’s mystical horror novel is a promising debut that leads off with a shocking kidnapping and rarely pauses for breath. Evan is a six-year-old child abducted by Rook, a terrifying brute. After killing Evan’s foster parents, Rook warns the boy, “I’m faster and stronger than any normal man... I am like no other thing in this world.” Rook is “one with the darkness,” a man with supernatural abilities that come at a price: every use of his power costs him a piece of his memory. Evan quickly learns that he is the target of a mysterious religious order, and the ferocious Rook is the only thing standing in its way. As the duo flee dangerous priests and people possessed by demons across a frigid Canadian landscape towards an unknown destination, Michell subtly upends expectations with a genuinely insightful examination of the essence of good and evil. By the novel’s end, Michell delivers an invigorating chase story, a suspenseful horror-action hybrid with memorably warped characters, and terrific B-movie cinematic flair. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Slip

BA Tortuga. Dreamspinner, $14.99 trade paper (246p) ISBN 978-1-63533-801-0

In this life-affirming contemporary romance, a personal trainer finds love with a taciturn cowboy, but their relationship is threatened by a near-death experience. After Zack Jung’s AA sponsor commits suicide, his best friends take him home to their ranch in New Mexico so he can process his emotions and avoid relapsing into addictive habits. There he meets Cimarron Duran, and the two men unexpectedly hit it off. Their mutual attraction swiftly takes them to the bedroom, where the sparks fly. When Cimarron winds up in the hospital following the flare-up of an old injury, the two must figure out whether they can forge a future together. Tortuga (Hurricane) spins a cozy, emotionally rich story of healing through love, with Zack and Cimarron supporting and accepting each other despite their differences and respective traumas. Their casual chemistry meshes with intense sex scenes, making for an enjoyable, quick story. At times, however, their relationship feels rushed, and the conflict could be stronger and more challenging. This novel lacks complexity but is straightforward and satisfying. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Neogenesis

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. Baen, $25 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4814-8278-3

This enjoyable latest installment of the long-running Liaden space adventure saga, featuring the ever-resourceful Clan Korval and their eclectic allies, picks up on the simultaneous and parallel story lines of Alliance of Equals (2016) and The Gathering Edge (2017). Theo Waitley, captain of the intelligent ship Bechimo, arrives at the clan home on Surebleak with a ship that once belonged to Korval’s founder, accompanied by a pair of superhuman Yxtrang Pathfinders in search of a new purpose. Meanwhile, mentor Tolley Jones, newly birthed AI Tocohl, and their companion Hazenthull must contend with the intelligent, potentially dangerous space station Tinsori Light, an artifact from a previous universe that has been corrupted by age and circumstance. Finally, returning protagonist Daav yos’Phelium, a major figure in Clan Korval, and his lifemate, Aelliana Caylon, cope with their recent cloning, which has de-aged them and placed them in debt to the mysterious Uncle. As always, this intelligent space opera focuses on matters of manners, honor, duty, and clever repartee; violence is rarely the solution, and subtlety wins out over overt force. This tale relies heavily on previous entries, and new readers will be lost. For returning fans, it provides thoroughly satisfying progression or resolution for multiple threads and will feel comfortably familiar for fans of Korval’s escapades. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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