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Without Apology: The Abortion Struggle Now

Jenny Brown. Verso, $17.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-78873-584-1

In this cogent manifesto, National Women’s Liberation activist Brown (Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight Over Women’s Work) sketches the history of abortion rights in the U.S. and argues that reproductive justice won’t be achieved until feminists break down the stigma surrounding abortion. According to Brown, concerns over a steep decline in the birth rate and corresponding increases in gender equality, not religious or moral objections, laid the groundwork for the 1873 federal statute outlawing abortion (it had been legal in America for the century prior). She sees similar anxieties behind recent attacks on reproductive rights and argues that abortion is less a cultural issue than a “key economic battlefront.” To win the battle, Brown writes, feminists should switch legal strategies from reforming anti-abortion laws to repealing them altogether; follow the examples of the 1969 Redstocking Abortion Speakout and the 2015 #ShoutYourAbortion media campaign by giving people a platform to share their abortion stories without shame; and expose the links between anti-abortion measures and class, gender, and racial inequalities. Not all readers will embrace Brown’s Marxist interpretations, but her call to “move feminism toward bolder, more universal demands” is likely to strike a chord with young progressives. This laser-focused polemic makes its case effectively. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/04/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Dirty Letters

Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paperback (332p) ISBN 978-1-5420-1679-7

An anxious, agoraphobic heroine takes center stage in this optimistic contemporary from Keeland and Ward, who last collaborated on Hate Notes. Reclusive novelist Luca Vinetti, whose mental health has deteriorated since the fire that killed her best friend eight years ago, receives an angry letter from Griffin Quinn, the childhood pen pal she stopped responding to after the accident. Despite years of silence, they quickly become close again and their renewed correspondence slides into sexual talk. Luca steels herself to travel cross-country and surprise Griffin, only to arrive and discover that he lives a double life as rock star Cole Archer. Though their bond in person is even stronger than it was in print, Luca worries that Griffin’s life in the public eye is incompatible with her anxieties. Though Griffin and Luca’s letters are endearing and believably intimate, Griffin’s rock-star status and extreme wealth feel much less plausible. Readers motivated to see this unlikely heroine succeed will forgive the more fantastical indulgences of this light, escapist romance. Agent: Kimberly Brower, Brower Literary & Management. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/04/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Shattered Bonds

Faith Hunter. Ace, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-0-399-58798-6

Hunter drives the danger to dizzying heights in the emotionally charged 13th novel to feature skinwalker and vampire hunter Jane Yellowrock. Jane hasn’t recovered from the effects of acquiring magic in 2018’s Dark Queen. Her newly developed powers make her gravely ill, and even shapeshifting into her supernaturally healthy Beast form won’t heal her. When Shimon Bar-Judas, the psychotic 2,000-year-old vampire known as the Flayer of Mithrans, comes after her, Jane will need all the dwindling strength she has. At Yellowrock Clan Home, a converted inn outside Asheville, N.C., Jane gathers her allies to prepare for an all-out war against Shimon. Her business partners, Eli and Alex Younger; her lover, Bruiser; and her best friend, witch Molly Everhart-Trueblood, agree to help her, but in the end it will be down to Jane and Beast to take out the threat. In a series chock-full of preternatural villains, Shimon stands out as the scariest of the lot. Hunter delivers the fast pace, high stakes, and flawlessly crafted fight scenes fans expect. This is one of her best yet. Agent: Lucienne Diver, The Knight Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/04/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Quillifer the Knight

Walter Jon Williams. Saga, $16.99 trade paper (544p) ISBN 978-1-4814-9001-6

Lively adventure, court politics, and clandestine romance combine in the exquisitely detailed, if occasionally tedious, follow up to 2018’s Quillifer. Knighted at the end of his previous outing, Quillifer continues to build his reputation in the kingdom of Duisland through a series of episodic quests. His exploits, as he recounts to one of his many paramours, include dragon-slaying, duels, entrepreneurial endeavors, and royal intrigue. Many of the friends and enemies Quillifer made in the first novel return, most notably the spiteful nymph Orlanda, who continues to torment him for rejecting her advances. Williams eases away from the picaresque form of the previous installment to provide more of a through line; each of Quillifer’s adventures embroils him further in Duisland’s politics as the kingdom prepares for war and a treasonous plot brews around the queen’s sister, Floria. Although Quillifer’s self-confidence sometimes veers into smug arrogance and his boasting can grow tiring, he is a savvy and skilled hero. Series fans will enjoy checking back in with Quillifer and be gratified by the more cohesive plot. Agent: Eddie Schneider, JABberwocky. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/04/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Honey and Leonard

Mark Paul Smith. BQB, $16.95 trade paper (342p) ISBN 978-1-945448-47-8

Smith (Rock and Roll Voodoo) takes on the topic of love in one’s twilight years in this uplifting tale. Widow Honey Waldrop and widower Leonard Atkins begin the novel happily in love despite Leonard’s battle with the early stages of Alzheimer’s and his scheming niece Gretchen’s insistence that she keep power of attorney over him. But when Leonard’s blood work shows an unusually high level of arsenic, Honey becomes a person of interest for allegedly poisoning him. The couple flees the law in favor of a romantic trip to Paris, insisting that the arsenic is from Leonard’s years of working with pesticides on farms, and their story becomes international front-page news, billed as “the Bonnie and Clyde of love.” Their love grows as they navigate newfound fame, failing health, and a foreign city; memory lapses and greedy heirs vying for inheritance money add depth. Though the prose is somewhat stilted, the premise is refreshing enough to keep readers engaged. Smith imbues his story of elders in love with plenty of rakish charm. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/04/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Nobodies

Liza Palmer. Flatiron, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-16984-6

Palmer (The F Word) delivers a feel-good story about second chances in her funny and clever latest. Thirty-six-year-old out-of-work Los Angeles journalist Joan Dixon is at a crossroads after a corruption story she’s spent the last six months on failed to impress the influential Tavia Keppel, whose family owns several newspapers. When she scores a job as a junior copywriter at tech startup Bloom, she’s thrilled to get a paycheck, but feels hopelessly out of place among so many perky 20-somethings. She strikes up friendships with her manager, the kind and attractive Thornton Yu, and coworkers Elise and Hani, but her instincts tell her that the slick founders of the aggressively hip Bloom are hiding something. What does Bloom actually do? No one really knows, and Joan can’t get a straight answer, so she recruits her new friends to help her find out, discovering romance and plenty of surprises about herself along the way. Joan’s at times fumbling attempts to move forward with her life amidst crushing self-doubt will resonate, and her tentative romance with Thornton and relationships with friends and family showcase Palmer’s talent for finding magic in small moments. This is a real crowd-pleaser. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/04/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Permanent Record

Edward Snowden. Metropolitan, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-23723-1

The notorious and celebrated whistleblower---who divulged top-secret documents revealing the mass surveillance of citizens' phone calls, emails, and internet activity by the U. S. National Security Agency and other intelligence organizations---recounts his battle with the system in this impassioned memoir. Snowden, a former systems engineer and NSA contractor and now board president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation from his Moscow exile, presents himself as animated by a combination of idealism and covert nonconformity, someone who subverted the rules as a civic duty from middle school history class to his CIA training program. (As a teenager he hacked classified files at Los Alamos National Laboratory, then pestered lab officials into fixing the security flaw.) Snowden's well-observed portrait of intelligence work reveals spooky Langley night shifts, spies pilfering nude selfies from private online accounts, and his own intricate, suspenseful operation to steal documents using byzantine encryption and tiny storage cards smuggled past guards. His somewhat paranoid brief against the surveillance state is less convincing; he envisions the government permanently recording every communication, movement, misdemeanor, and sin, subjecting citizens to "oppression by total automated law enforcement," but he cites no cases of serious harm from NSA surveillance and doesn't make a strong argument that it leads inevitably to oppressive control. Still, Snowden's many admirers will find his saga both captivating and inspiring. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/20/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation

Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. Portfolio, $29 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-08439-7

Journalists Pogrebin and Kelly (Street Fighters) expand on their New York Times coverage of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's 2018 confirmation hearings in this measured, methodical account. Readers who followed the hearings will be familiar with the major events: the letter sent by Stanford University research psychologist Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to California senator Dianne Feinstein accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault in high school; the emergence of a second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who claimed that Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her at a Yale University party in the 1980s, causing her to inadvertently touch his penis; the back-to-back testimonies delivered by Ford and Kavanaugh to the Senate judiciary committee; and Arizona senator Jeff Flake's demand that the FBI be allowed to investigate the accusations. Pogrebin and Kelly reveal that the FBI didn't investigate an eyewitness claim that Kavanaugh had exposed himself on another occasion in college (the alleged victim told friends she didn't recall the incident) and report that he may have reached out to at least one college classmate to coordinate the response to Ramirez's allegations. Pogrebin and Kelly conclude that Ford and Ramirez were "mistreated" by Kavanaugh, yet "over the next thirty-five years [he] became a better person." Judiciously reported yet lacking in substantive analysis of the larger issues involved, this blow-by-blow chronicle feels more like a second draft of history than the definitive version. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/20/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Who Do You Say I Am? Daily Reflections on the Bible, the Saints, and the Answer That Is Christ

Timothy M. Dolan. Penguin, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-984826-72-5

In this daily devotional aimed at an American Roman Catholic readership, Dolan (To Whom Shall We Go?), Archbishop of New York, educates and encourages readers to grow in (or return to) their Catholic faith. Topics include matters of Catholic theology, including apostolic succession and the seven sacraments; the liturgical calendar (Ash Wednesday, Easter); and spiritual practices such as praying the rosary, attending Sunday mass, and confession. Dolan also extols the virtues of Catholic saints and expounds on the church’s concern for the imprisoned, impoverished, and immigrants. Dolan takes unapologetically orthodox stances on issues such as birth control, abortion, and the sanctity of marriage, and celebrates the Catholic Church’s appreciation of women. For example, in one of numerous devotions focused on the Virgin Mary, Dolan emphasizes the essential role women have played throughout church history and offers an intriguing theological interpretation that speaks to contemporary concerns: “It is the Church that believes that the omnipotent God of the universe awaited the free consent of a woman before His plan of salvation could proceed.” Practicing Catholics and even those disillusioned by the church may find sustenance in Dolan’s forthright approach and enthusiastic espousal of Catholic identity and faith. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/20/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Homewreckers: How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream

Aaron Glantz. Custom House, $27.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-286953-1

Members of President Trump’s inner circle have exploited the 2008 housing market collapse to amass wealth and power while sending U.S. homeownership rates to their lowest levels in more than 50 years, according to this cogent, infuriating exposé. Investigative journalist Glantz (The War Comes Home) targets such wealthy businessmen as U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, real estate investor Thomas Barrack Jr., and private equity fund founder Stephen Schwarzman, all of whom placed big bets on the housing market in the years after the crash. Between 2012 and 2014, for example, Schwarzman’s Blackstone Group spent $7.8 billion to buy 41,000 foreclosed homes across the U.S. and flip them into rental properties. Meanwhile, Mnunchin’s OneWest Bank was being rewarded under the terms of its loss-share agreement with the FDIC for foreclosing on thousands of reverse mortgages across Southern California. As a result of the “rigged” system that made such maneuvering possible, Glantz writes, millions of middle-class households have lost their best opportunity to build wealth. His lucid prose and impressive research make this an essential account of an under-the-radar housing crisis. Agent: Anthony Arnove, Roam Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/20/2019 | Details & Permalink

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