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Awakening Wisdom: Heart Advice on the Fundamental Practices of Vajrayana Buddhism

Pema Wangyal. Shambhala, $21.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-64547-163-9

In this concise, motivating introduction to Tibetan Buddhist practices, Buddhist teacher Wangyal invites readers to heal and spread goodness through meditation. Wangyal puts forth a practice of Buddhism rooted in kindness, care “for all beings,” and positive motivation based on five “purification practices” that serve as antidotes to human weaknesses: taking refuge in Buddha (the antidote to pride), bodhichitta (to jealousy), guru yoga (to ignorance), offering the “mandala” (to materialism), and the practice of Vajrasattva (to anger). Each chapter dissects central concepts and provides practical suggestions. On the mandala, for instance, Wangyal suggests exercising generosity by “mentally offering the buddhas everything we find pleasing” and giving food to the hungry, while taking refuge in the Buddha can help turn “pride into wisdom” via targeted mantras and the inclusion of one’s enemies in personal prayers. As well, the author reflects on tonglen (taking on others’ suffering) and powa (the transfer of consciousness at the point of death), giving readers tools to better connect with others. Wangyal makes a convincing case that anyone can learn to be more generous and wise through sustained effort, and frames lessons in ways that are inspiring and digestible without dumbing down spiritual principles. Those eager to learn about Tibetan Buddhism will find this an accessible way in. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Glow in the F*cking Dark: Simple Practices to Heal Your Soul, From Someone Who Learned the Hard Way

Tara Schuster. Dial, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-59324-309-1

Former Comedy Central exec Schuster follows up Buy the F*cking Lilies with an upbeat plan for readers to become more confident versions of themselves. Blending witty personal anecdotes and ample doses of wisdom, Schuster urges readers to surpass their “good-enough plateau” and “unleash [their] inner glow.” After she lost her job during the pandemic, Schuster was at loose ends—and one day, careening down an Arizona highway on the brink of panic, she realized she had work to do. To that end, Schuster set up a three-part plan to help “heal,” “grow,” and “glow.” For healing, she suggests meditation, growing involves improving communication practices, and glowing is the process of learning to recognize one’s “inner light.” As well, she mines her life for material, as when she realized an adult slight (feeling excluded when her friends’ “wins” were celebrated) had roots in her feeling unseen as a child; she then reframed loneliness as a positive force that made her a more introspective writer. While Schuster’s tips aren’t exactly groundbreaking (and some are recycled from her last book), her stories are candid and funny, and her chatty tone keeps the narrative moving. Readers will be charmed by Schuster’s honesty and humor. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Love, Pamela

Pamela Anderson. Dey Street, $28.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-322656-2

Model and actor Anderson chronicles her rise to fame in this pensive memoir. Growing up on Vancouver Island, Anderson loved spending time on the beach, though her childhood was also marked by abuse and a rape when she was an early teen. Even so, she writes, her upbringing was “the ultimate gift... I was raised in a way where nobody was telling me what to do or how to be, or how to think, or what to believe, and I’m eternally grateful for that.” Her life changed dramatically after she appeared on a Jumbotron at a football game, and before long she was on the cover of Playboy in 1989. Anderson speaks of her career with nostalgia: acting on TV series Baywatch opened the door to films, while Playboy continued to offer new opportunities, though, she writes, “My life took off without me.” Now, as a mother of two, Anderson considers being a mother her “priority and greatest source of pride.” Though she can contradict herself (modeling is “empty, shallow, and weird,” but posing for Playboy was “empowering”), she is frank about her inner turmoil, notably about longing for others to see through her carefully curated persona: “How could I expect anyone to love me enough to see through it all?” This poetic and free-spirited narrative reflects both Anderson’s naivete and her wild spirit. Agent: David Kuhn, Aevitas Creative Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Einstein

Jim Ottaviani and Jerel Dye. First Second, $32.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-62672-876-9

Science comics veteran Ottaviani (Hawking) partners with Dye (Pigs Might Fly) on an inventive graphic biography of Albert Einstein (1879–1955) that effectively employs the comics medium to demonstrate the scientist’s hallmark nonlinear perspectives of space and time. The narrative follows the beats of Einstein’s life: his silent youth, his aptitude for mathematics and science, the Annus Mirabilis that introduced E=mc2 to the masses, his relationships with his wives (first wife fractious, second wife steady), colleagues (competitively genial), and admirers (bemusing), and his final years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Emulating theories of relativity, the scenes expand or contract, with time represented across shorter or longer panel lengths, or characters who converse across points of time across panels. Other clever visual devices include having a young Einstein dream up theories imagining his older Einstein self walking on a beam of light. The creators do an admirable job accentuating Einstein’s intellectual feats while giving equal time to his human foibles, faithfully depicting someone who is a “lover of humanity, but detached from his environment and the people in it.” This tension forms the heart of the book. It’s an artful play on the “distinction between past, present, and future” and how these elements are only a “stubbornly persistent illusion.” (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Save the Best for Last

Jennifer Probst. Montlake, $16.99 trade paper (330p) ISBN 978-1-5420-3853-9

Probst pairs frenemies on a mission of love in her explosive final Twist of Fate romance (after So It Goes). Media mogul Tessa Harper runs Quench, a “multimillion-dollar-media empire focused on self-care for women,” with her besties Chiara and Malia. The last of the trio to still be single, Tessa, who handles beauty content and writes a viral advice column, ironically excels at making over those hoping to attract new romantic partners. So when sportscaster Ford Maddox, Chiara’s husband’s bff, needs a makeover to win over his work crush, Patricia, Tessa is reluctantly roped in, despite the well-established mutual dislike between her and Ford. The pair decide to fake a relationship to make Patricia jealous, and Tessa does a masterful job of acting like she’s into Ford—so much so, in fact, that it soon stops being an act. Probst paces the transition from enemies to lovers perfectly, with a hero and heroine whose snappy dialogue and gentle bickering rings true. A solid supporting cast—especially the returning stars of previous books—adds charm. Readers will cheer Tessa and Ford along their road to happily ever after, even when that eventuality seems remote. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Yeti Left Home

Aaron Rosenberg. NeoParadoxa, $16.95 trade paper (242p) ISBN 978-1-949691-91-7

Rosenberg (the Relicant Chronicles series) shifts effortlessly from epic fantasy to lighthearted paranormal thriller in this offbeat novel centering on a yeti trying to live peacefully among humans. The fierce-looking creature disguises his true nature in human clothes, adopts the name Wylie Kang, and finds a haven on the outskirts of a small Minnesota town. Wylie’s content to fish, drink beer, and watch television (he prefers the original Magnum, PI to the reboot), but his peaceful existence is upended when a strange woman comes looking for him. Some people have been torn to shreds nearby, and the stranger considers Wylie a suspect. Believing her to be a hunter targeting “supernaturals,” Wylie flees to the Twin Cities hoping to be less visible in an urban setting—only to be followed by his adversary. Aided by other supernatural beings, including goblins from the English-Scottish border known as Red Caps, Wylie works to stay alive and stop whatever creature is really responsible for the killings. Rosenberg’s tongue-in-cheek approach charms, creating an endearing, hirsute hero. Readers are sure to be entertained. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Death of a Traitor

M.C. Beaton, with R.W. Green. Grand Central, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5387-4676-9

In the meandering 36th Hamish Macbeth mystery (after 2022’s Death of a Green-Eyed Monster), the second collaboration between Beaton (1936–2019) and Green, Hamish, a police sergeant stationed in the village of Lockdubh but whose “beat covers a vast swathe of rural Sutherland in the far north of Scotland,” investigates when Kate Hibbert, a relative newcomer to the village, goes missing. Hamish soon discovers that Kate was not the friendly, helpful neighbor she had pretended to be. Three weeks after the woman’s disappearance, Hamish is the first policeman on the scene when her strangled body is found floating in a remote loch. Hamish spots her battered suitcase and pulls it from the water; its contents point to a range of possible suspects in her murder. Pompous, officious Detective Chief Inspector Blair, “an evil scunner” and “a bungling eejit,” as well as Hamish’s nemesis, provides an obstacle for Hamish to bump up against. The plot swerves wildly from village foibles and secrets into the world of international espionage as it marches doggedly toward its finale. This one’s for established fans only. Agent: Barbara Lowenstein, Lowenstein Assoc. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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More Than Meets the Eye

Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen. Grand Central, $29 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5387-2623-5

Bestseller Johansen and son’s pulse-pounding ninth Kendra Michaels thriller (after 2021’s Blink of an Eye) opens with FBI agents and other law enforcement officers escorting serial killer James Michael Barrett, who has taken a plea deal to avoid the death penalty, to where he buried his first victim two years earlier in a remote area east of San Diego, Calif. As two officials begin to dig, a bomb goes off, killing Barrett and others. The San Diego FBI reluctantly allows consultant Kendra Michaels to assist in its investigation, as she’s eager to help after learning that an FBI friend of hers was seriously injured in the blast. With help from Adam Lynch, a former FBI agent now working in black ops, Kendra discovers that Barrett was likely taking orders from some unknown person. Kendra and Lynch come to believe that this person is still out there as the body count rises, along with the suspense. The pair must draw on their entire arsenal of skills to prevent more deaths and expose the bomber. Fans and newcomers alike will be enthralled. Agents: Andrea Cirillo and Rebecca Scherer, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Chalice of Darkness

Sarah Rayne. Severn, $29.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4483-0640-4

Set in 1908 England, this superb series launch from Rayne (the Phineas Fox mysteries) introduces charming actor Jack Fitzglen, who enlists the help of his extended family of “society burglars” in a “filch.” Jack plans to secure the Talisman Chalice, a medieval treasure that was owned by the royal family but vanished in 1893, and make it the surprise centerpiece of a theatrical production. A letter dated 1891 from a mysterious woman, Maude Vallow, to Jack’s father provides a strong lead to the chalice’s location. Jack sets out for Vallow Hall in Northumberland in search of Maude. Flashbacks to 15 years earlier show Maude, a lonely young bride, married to a dangerously bitter and jealous landowner near the Scottish border. The suspense rises as the narrative shifts between 1908 and 1891, and both Maude and Jack get into serious trouble. Meanwhile, the enticing backstory of the Talisman Chalice unfolds, drawing on several of the darkest chapters in the royal family’s history. Lovers of British historical mysteries with a dash of romance and gothic atmosphere will clamor for more. Agent: Jane Conway-Gordon, Jane Conway-Gordon Ltd. (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Schoolhouse

Sophie Ward. Vintage, $17.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-46926-2

London librarian Isobel Williams, the heroine of this superlative psychological thriller from Ward (Love and Other Thought Experiments), is haunted by her years at the Schoolhouse, an unconventional school with a dangerous mix of lofty goals, lax supervision, and volatile students. Though she left the Schoolhouse in 1975, Isobel remains fearful of close attachments and is reliant on carefully ordered routines to keep her memories of it at bay. In 1990, she receives an unexpected letter from one of her Schoolhouse teachers, who asks to see her and mentions a former classmate Isobel has tried to forget. The same day the letter arrives, she notices two school-age girls in the university research library where she works. Children are unusual there, but Isobel isn’t concerned until she sees a newspaper photograph of missing 10-year-old Caitlin Thompson. Det. Sgt. Sally Carter, who’s investigating the disappearance, questions Isobel’s story: Caitlin vanished the night before Isobel claims to have seen her, and no other schoolgirl was involved. As Carter doggedly works the case, Isobel’s past gives rise to new peril. Passages from Isobel’s childhood diary punctuate the women’s adult perspectives, perfectly balancing nuanced emotion and riveting suspense. This is not to be missed. Agent: Laura Macdougall, United Agents. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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