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The Girl Next Door

Chelsea M. Cameron. Carina Adores, $14.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-335-14694-6

Cameron (My Favorite Mistake) conjures an idyllic coastal Maine setting for this pleasant tale about second chances between two perfectly mismatched heroines. Iris Turner always harbored dreams of leaving her small hometown of Salty Cove, so it’s particularly galling to be back after college with hardly a penny to her name and few plans for the future. But when her sexy neighbor, Jude Wicks, catches her eye, Iris begins to wonder if her summer at home might be more worthwhile than she first assumed. Jude works on a lobster boat while grieving her first love, who recently died of cancer. Though she tries to resist her feelings for Iris, it proves impossible given their close proximity. Iris and Jude savor a summer fling, but Iris is still determined to prove to herself and her parents that she can make it in Boston come fall—unless Jude can find the courage to ask her to stay. The plot is straightforward and allows the characters the chance to take center stage, and though Iris’s immaturity grows frustrating, deeply empathetic Jude provides an excellent foil that makes their pairing work. This simple, emotional story may not have much depth, but it has plenty of charm. (June)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Psi-Wars: Classified Cases of Psychic Phenomena

Edited by Joshua Viola. Hex, $18.99 trade paper (308p) ISBN 978-1-7339177-7-3

The 13 inventive tales in this original anthology crisscross between science fiction and horror to comprise a multifaceted dossier on psychic warfare. Gabino Iglesias’s outstanding “Awake” takes the form of a confidential memo from a scientist overseeing a military experiment in sleep deprivation and warning of the terrifying capabilities it’s awakened in its subjects. Stephen Graham Jones presents his ambitious “To Jump Is to Fall” as the thoughts of a telepathic spy mid-skydive during a mission to breach a secret federal facility. In Matthew Kressel’s “Very Surely Do I Not Dream,” an artificial intelligence run amok threatens the fate of humanity with an algorithm through which it accesses “an ancient pathway into mental darkness.” With settings ranging from ancient Atlantis (“Protectors of Atlantis” by Mario Acevedo) to the battlefields of WWII (“The Calabrian” by Warren Hammond), into the present (“And When You Tear Us Apart, We Stitch Ourselves Back Together” by Betty Rocksteady) and beyond, the breadth of these stories is impressive. Readers will be taken in by the paranoid appeal of this offbeat anthology. (May)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Train to Key West

Chanel Cleeton. Berkley, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-451-49088-9

Elizabeth Preston, one of three spunky heroines in Cleeton’s loosely braided historical (after When We Left Cuba), finds herself caught in a killer hurricane in the Florida Keys over Labor Day weekend in 1935, having fled New York City to avoid marrying gangster Frank Morgan and instead search for a WWI vet who wrote her a letter. Elizabeth’s train stops in Key West, where she meets the heavily pregnant Helen Berner, a waitress at Ruby’s restaurant. Married for nine years to Tom, an abusive alcoholic fisherman, Helen fantasizes about a new life. Also at Ruby’s is newlywed Mirta Perez Cordero, who is on the way to joining her husband, Anthony, at their honeymoon beach house. After Tom threatens Helen, she flees up the Keys to Islamorada, determined to protect her unborn child. Elizabeth, worried she might be tailed by one of Frank’s lackeys, allows a man she met on the train to accompany her. During a terrifying ordeal at the height of the hurricane, after Mirta discovers what business her husband is in, she is forced to confront the limits of her loyalty. The author neatly ties up the trio of plotlines, revealing the slender—and very convenient—threads connecting the women. Cleeton finds the right balance of historical detail and suspense, making this a riveting curl-up-on-the-couch affair. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Rethinking Readiness: A Brief Guide to Twenty-First-Century Megadisasters

Jeffrey Schlegelmilch. Columbia Univ., $20 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-0-231190-41-1

Despite its worthwhile aims, this survey from Schlegelmilch, deputy director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, is too superficial to be very useful. In tackling five categories of catastrophe—biological, cyber, nuclear, infrastructure-related, and climate change–based—he dispenses such details as the different kinds of “cyber adversaries” handled by security firms, including, in addition to state-sponsored agents and hacktivists, “script kiddies” (young hackers in search of fun and fame) and “vulnerability brokers” (professionals who find and sell system weaknesses, for good or ill). Schlegelmilch also distinguishes between the well-known nuclear winter scenario, involving the “collapse of the global food supply,” and the lesser-known one of a nuclear autumn, which “would not destroy life on earth but would [still] cause severe climate impacts.” Some of his general remarks on emergency planning, such as about the lack of an “increased culture of preparedness” among Americans, resonate in the context of Covid-19. However, the U.S. federal government’s much criticized pandemic response refutes his conclusion that there is “reason for optimism” about how the country, armed with “more knowledge of the world we live in, and more resources at our disposal” than ever before, will respond to future threats. Schlegelmilch’s study throws little new light on an urgent topic. (July)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism

Anne Applebaum. Doubleday, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-385-54580-8

Responsible conservatism has drifted into bigotry, antidemocratic ideology, and revenge psychology, argues this deeply personal analysis of the populist right. Historian and journalist Applebaum (Red Famine) calls out erstwhile center-right friends and colleagues who once supported democracy, meritocracy, free markets, and internationalism for accommodating xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and illiberal one-party rule. Focusing on her adopted homeland of Poland, Applebaum decries former allies who now support the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party’s undermining of the independent judiciary and media. She also faults Tory acquaintances in Britain for backing Brexit, and Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham for abandoning Reaganite conservatism for “apocalyptic pessimism.” Applebaum paints contemporary right-wing politics as a psychosis of “resentment, envy, and... the belief that the ‘system’ is unfair—not just to the country, but to you,” and of psychic anxiety about “clashing voices and different opinions.” Her armchair psychologizing—as when she suggests that the “loud advocacy” of Ingraham and other Trump boosters may help “to cover up the deep doubt and even shame they feel about their support for Trump”—sometimes feels too glib and dismissive of the divisive issues that energize populist movements. Still, this anguished and forceful jeremiad crystallizes right-of-center dismay at the betrayal of the conservative tradition. (July)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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You Had Me at Hola

Alexis Daria. Avon, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-295992-8

Daria (Dance All Night) delivers a sexy showbiz love affair in this steamy rom-com. Soap opera actor Jasmine Lin Rodriguez has just won the title role in a hotly anticipated telenovela when she’s dumped by her rock star boyfriend and her life is splashed across the tabloids. To get her life back on track in time for the first day of shooting, Jasmine and her cousins—aka the Primas of Power—devise the Leading Lady Plan, a list of dos and don’ts including “leading ladies only end up on magazine covers with good reason” and “leading ladies don’t need a man to be happy.” But Jasmine’s plan to stay single is upended when her TV love interest is recast with enigmatic heartthrob Ashton Suarez. Jasmine and Ashton’s chemistry is explosive both on- and off-camera, but the quirky choice to also include segments from the perspectives of Jasmine and Ashton’s on-screen alter egos is a puzzling one. Still, Daria breathes effortless life into a cast of messy, loving, talented, and downright hilarious characters readers will adore. A sense of Latinx culture and pride exudes from every page, elevating an already entertaining story. Romance fans won’t want to miss this. Agent: Sarah Younger, Nancy Yost Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Animal Spirit

Francesca Marciano. Pantheon, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4815-9

Marciano’s sharp-eyed and effortlessly graceful collection (after Rules of the Wild), set largely in the author’s native Italy, explores the ways people’s animalistic instincts drive relationships. In “Terrible Things Could Happen to Us,” wealthy family man Sandro falls in love with his yoga teacher, and Marciano’s lack of sentimentality keeps things taut until a devastating denouement, which leaves Sandro speechless, “like an actor who has forgotten his lines.” In “The Girl,” a middle-aged Hungarian tries to convince a young Italian woman to join the circus and help in his snake-charming act. The title story follows two couples sharing an island vacation house as their varying degrees of uncertainty about their futures coalesce around a midnight encounter with a sheep—or is it a poodle?—that may or may not need to be rescued. In “There Might Be Blood,” Diana decamps to Rome to write her long-deferred novel. Rather than writing, she obsesses over seagulls, which plague the city and prevent her from enjoying her terrace near Piazza Navona. Diana decides to enlist Ivo, a falconer, whose birds, Queen and Darko, can hunt the gulls. In this story, and throughout the collection, Marciano skillfully uses her characters’ relationships with animals as metaphors to explore their humanity. Polished and compulsively readable, this is a real treat. (June)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us

Donald Trump Jr . Center Street, $30 (294p) ISBN 978-1-5460-8603-1

Trump Jr. debuts with a vitriolic screed against "liberal losers" and "Starbucks-chugging socialists in Brooklyn," combining a full-throated defense of his father's presidency with autobiographical snapshots likely to fuel speculation that he has political ambitions of his own. Sarcastically stating that he's "not mad" about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Trump Jr. derides the inquiry for "taking nearly two years" when "anyone with half a brain could have done [it] in five minutes." He snipes at many of the right wing's favorite targets, including the Green New Deal ("freaking stupid"), undocumented immigrants ("comparing today's illegal immigrants to the ones who built this country is ridiculous"), and safe spaces on college campuses ("don't get me started"). Trump Jr.'s memories of visiting his maternal grandparents in Czechoslovakia, learning to hunt and fish, and working manual labor jobs during summer breaks are meant to burnish his common-man bona fides, despite the fact that he grew up rich. Aiming exclusively at "Trump-supporting Americans," Trump Jr. delivers the snarky yet polished self-portrait he's been honing at his father's rallies and on Twitter for years. Loyalists will nod their heads in agreement; skeptics need not apply. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Cheaters Always Win: The Story of America

J.M. Fenster. Twelve, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5387-2870-3

In this acerbic survey of American culture, historian Fenster (Jefferson’s America) examines how and why people cheat, and whether or not cheating is part of the national character. Fenster relates stories of fraud, deception, and rule breaking in sports (caddies in 1920s Chicago who demanded payment in order to keep golfers’ true scores secret), entertainment (the quiz show scandals of the 1950s), and law (a New Jersey man who went to the district attorney when the fake law license he bought for $1,000 never showed up). She investigates whether or not it’s true that everybody cheats (it’s not); examines various responses to being cheated, including seeking revenge and staying silent (“all are apt to fail”); and provides a quiz to determine the likelihood that a partner who’s had an affair will do so again. According to Fenster, American society has stopped believing that “nothing is more important than integrity”; as a result, she writes, “never has cheating been so blithely accepted by the non-cheater and never has it been granted as a privilege of leadership, as it is today.” Fenster’s sarcasm gives the book a somewhat peevish tone, but her moral outrage is genuine. Readers who’ve noticed a downward trend in American virtue since the 1960s will relate. Agent: Julia Lord, Julia Lord Literary Management (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Spy Who Changed History: The Untold Story of How the Soviet Union Stole America’s Top Secrets

Svetlana Lokhova. Pegasus, $29.95 (496p) ISBN 978-1-64313-214-3

In this eye-opening debut, University of Cambridge historian Lokhova documents the Soviet Union’s covert campaign to acquire America’s scientific and technological secrets in the decade before WWII. Beginning with the 1931 arrival of 75 Russian students (several of whom were trained spies) at U.S. universities including Cornell, Harvard, and MIT, the espionage mission, Lokhova contends, made it possible for the Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany and close the “technological gap” with America. She focuses on the career of MIT graduate and spy Stanislav Shumovsky, who spent 15 years gathering intelligence on the U.S. aeronautics industry and established a network of American engineers and scientists willing to share top-secret technologies with the U.S.S.R. It’s thanks to Shumovsky, Lokhova writes, that Russia was able to mass-produce bombers capable of reaching U.S. targets and build its own atomic bomb. In addition to the scope of Shumovsky’s espionage, Lokhova also uncovers the roles of two Russian-American women, Raisa Bennett and Gertrude Klivans, in helping to train the Soviet spies for their U.S. missions. Though it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of the various code names and military hardware, Lokhova delivers a comprehensive account of a crucial yet overlooked chapter in the history of Soviet espionage. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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