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How to Fight Anti-Semitism

Bari Weiss. Crown, $20 (224p) ISBN 978-0-5931-3605-8

Weiss, a staff editor and writer for the New York Times opinion section, investigates the global resurgence of anti-Semitism and offers helpful tactics to prevent its spread in this impassioned wake-up call. She begins with the 2018 mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in her hometown of Pittsburgh, an event that “marked the before and the after” in her awareness that anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past. She then traces the history of “the Jew-hating disease” from Egypt in 300 BCE to 21st-century America, where President Trump’s “dog whistling” draws conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, and anti-Semites to his banner. But Weiss argues that anti-Semitism is “more insidious and perhaps more existentially dangerous” when it originates on the political left, because “it pretends to be the opposite of what it actually is.” She notes that liberal college campuses are hotbeds of anti-Zionism, where many Jews report “preemptively censoring themselves.” Weiss outlines the best practices for Jews and their allies to fight back, including denouncing anti-Semitic ideas vocally, especially when they’re espoused by progressives, and resisting “hierarchical identity politics” that rank groups on the degree to which they’re oppressed. Weiss’s refreshingly forthright opinions and remarkably thorough yet concise history lessons make this a must-read for anyone seeking to understand and stop the rise of a pernicious ideology. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Districts: Stories of American Justice from the Federal Courts

Johnny Dwyer. Knopf, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-101-94654-1

Journalist Dwyer (American Warlord) delivers a character-driven examination of New York City’s federal courts and the prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and jurors who make them run. His case studies, which are organized around the five “major categories of crime” (organized crime, drug trafficking, financial fraud, terrorism, and public corruption) prosecuted in Manhattan’s Southern District and Brooklyn’s Eastern District, mention such high-profile investigations as that of New York State assemblyman Sheldon Silver, who was convicted in 2018 on corruption charges, and Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to multiple crimes the same year. For the most part, however, Dwyer features defendants who aren’t household names. Among the most illuminating cases are those of Chevelle Nesbeth, an accused drug courier, and Imran Rabbani, a 17-year-old charged with attempting to support the Islamic State. Both trials hinge on legal nuances and showcase federal prosecutors and judges grappling with a defendant’s past, present, and potential future when making charging and sentencing decisions. Along the way, Dwyer also skillfully explains complex federal statutes, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and traces shifting definitions of what constitutes criminal conduct in insider trading cases. Ultimately, he leaves it up to readers to decide whether justice is being served, but his balanced, sympathetic account demystifies and humanizes the criminal justice system. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Dancing with the Lion: Rise

Jeanne Reames. Riptide, $18.99 trade paper (324p) ISBN 978-1-62649-901-0

Alexandros, better known to modern readers as Alexander the Great, returns as a young adult in the second Dancing with the Lion historical novel. Alexandros’s best friend and lover, Hephaistion, provides the cool, logical counterbalance to Alexandros’s fiery impulsiveness and impatience, and the two spend quite a lot of the novel navigating political intrigue and danger together as Alexandros rises and falls in the favor of his father, King Philippos. Though their relationship is a central theme of Alexandros’s life, it’s not at the center of the story, and though they argue and disagree like all couples, their relationship is stable and is never really in question. Once again Reames has written a lovely historical novel, but has missed the mark when it comes to what romance readers expect from the genre. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Hidden Cove

Meg Tilly. Berkley, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-440-00056-3

Tilly’s third standalone romantic thriller set on idyllic Solace Island (after Cliff’s Edge) fails to deliver on its intriguing premise. When crime-fiction writer Gabe Conaghan arrives on Solace Island, he is expecting merely to fulfill his father’s request to inspect an estate. He’s hardly prepared to meet stunning gallery owner Zelia Thompson or get wrapped up in her amateur sleuthing. Though the death of Zelia’s friend and fellow gallery owner was declared a drug overdose, Zelia is sure the story is a cover-up for a murder. Enlisting Gabe’s assistance, Zelia sets to work uncovering a dark conspiracy that endangers everyone on Solace Island. An overly complex plot and exposition-laden dialogue bog down the pace and make the protagonists’ passion feel forced rather than fated. Though Tilly’s fans may enjoy returning to Hidden Cove, this installment never rises above its heavy-handed narration. Agent: Kimberly Witherspoon, InkWell Management. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Crossed-Out Notebook

Nicolas Giacobone, trans. from the Spanish by Megan McDowell. Scribner, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-1-501-19874-8

Giacobone, who co-wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Birdman, contributes a mind-bending addition to the Latin American tradition of metafiction in his clever debut. Pablo Betances, a talented but unknown screenwriter, believes he’s had a lucky break when his friend’s girlfriend passes his screenplay to famous film director Santiago Salvatierra. Instead, Salvatierra kidnaps Pablo and imprisons him in his basement, forcing him to write a screenplay that Salvatierra intends to take credit for. Pablo is brought sustenance by the housekeeper (whose cooking gives him hemorrhoids), listens to The Beatles on repeat, and has endless arguments with Salvatierra about plot ideas and edits to the screenplays he is being forced to write. After five years in his basement prison, during which time he’s written two successful screenplays, he is tasked with writing his final screenplay: the one that will change the history of film and cement Salvatierra’s reputation as the greatest director/writer in the world. While a movie is eventually made, it subverts both Pablo and Salvatierra’s ideas of what filmmaking can be. Pablo’s journal entries detailing his ridiculous situation and creative anxiety are humorous, insightful, and pointedly sardonic as he draws from and imitates with delightful absurdity the writing of Samuel Beckett and Jorge Luis Borges. Giacobone’s superb novel entertainingly dredges the neural recesses of how art is created, what it means to be authentic, and if potential can ever truly be harnessed. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation

Chanequa Walker-Barnes. Eerdmans, $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8028-7720-8

Walker-Barnes (Too Heavy a Yoke), a theologian and clinical psychologist, presents an urgent, penetrating analysis of Christian racial reconciliation theory and practice that centers the voices of black women and other women of color. Beginning by noting the upsurge of white supremacist violence in the U.S., the author argues that racial reconciliation must reject the dominant model of antiracism work that primarily focuses on building interracial relationships and supporting “symmetrical treatment.” Such a paradigm, which she terms the “interracial playdate” model, ignores that racism is not about friendship or feelings but is, instead, “an interlocking system of oppression that is designed to promote and maintain White supremacy.” Walker-Barnes calls on readers to move toward a commitment to liberation, justice, and transformation through working in solidarity with others who share the goal of dismantling white supremacy. The author contextualizes racism as one component of intersectional oppression—for example, as expressed through “gendered racism and racialized sexism.” The alternative she suggests is confrontational truth telling about oppression, “prioritizing the narratives of women of color,” establishing “networks of mutual support and empowerment,” and reviving the Christian obligation to struggle in solidarity with the oppressed. “A distinct process is necessary for oppressors,” she writes, “that of repentance and conversion.” Walker-Barnes’s important evaluation of racial reconciliation will be crucial for any Christian engaged in antiracist activism. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, & Universal Salvation

David Bentley Hart. Yale, $26 (232p) ISBN 978-0-300-24622-3

In this provocative, informative treatise, philosopher Hart (The Experience of God) provides an emphatic, soundly reasoned case for universal salvation as the only possible theological position logically acceptable for Christian believers. Examining traditional Christian dogma about the existence of hell, the threat of eternal damnation, and the doctrine of predestination, Hart blames the widespread acceptance of these doctrines on bad translations and faulty interpretations of scripture, incoherent logic, and “communal self-deception.” Instead, he argues that the “sheer moral hideousness” of these beliefs emphatically contradicts Christianity’s fundamental claims about God’s just and loving nature. Mincing no words, Hart declares his impatience with “twentieth-century biblical fundamentalism and its manifest imbecilities” and writes: “We should all already know that whenever the terms ‘justice’ and ‘eternal punishment’ are set side by side as if they were logically compatible, the boundaries of the rational have been violated.” Lamenting that Christian tradition embraced Augustine’s misinterpretation of the apostle Paul’s theology of grace, Hart educates the reader on the lesser-known works of Gregory of Nyssa and claims his arguments in favor of universal salvation offer a more faithful, logical Christian theology. While Hart expresses doubts that his arguments will sway many Christians, his resounding challenge to orthodox Christian views on hell and his defense of God’s ultimate goodness will prove convincing and inspiring to the open-minded. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Chasing My Cure: A Doctor’s Race to Turn Hope into Action

David Fajgenbaum. Ballantine, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5247-9961-8

Fajgenbaum, a fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, chronicles a mysterious disease previously neglected by the medical community in this remarkable memoir. When Fajgenbaum, the son of an orthopedic surgeon father, entered the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, he still believed strongly in the power of medicine “to find answers and cures,” despite the recent death of his mother from brain cancer. However, during his medical studies, he began feeling fatigued, and was eventually diagnosed with Castleman Disease, a rare malady that attacks the vital organs. Fajgenbaum writes lucidly and movingly as both a patient and physician. He was placed on a regimen of one of the only drugs available for the disease, but became bereft when he suffered a relapse; he then vividly recalls his decision—along with a team of cutting-edge researchers—to infuse himself with the experimental drug siltuximab, which had not yet been approved by the FDA. Five years later, he now serves as an advocate for research into a disease that affects 6,000 people a year. Fajgenbaum’s stirring account of his illness will inspire readers. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Forever

Kevin Robbins. Hachette, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-48530-2

Sportswriter Robbins (Harvey Penick) delivers a riveting and heartbreaking biography of celebrated golfer Payne Stewart (1957–1999) that celebrates Stewart’s individuality (“a Jay Gatsby among the indistinguishable Tom Buchanans” of the golfing world) as well as his showmanship. Opening with the plane crash that killed Stewart just months after his legendary 1999 U.S. Open victory, Robbins focuses on the final year of Stewart’s life while expertly weaving in biographical details, from his time at Southern Methodist University through his PGA Tour success and rising popularity. Robbins provides both highly detailed and memorable accounts of Stewart’s tournaments that year, including the U.S. Open, but also explores the time as a transitional one for professional golf, in which the era of classic shotmaking gave way to the devastating power embodied by the likes of a young Tiger Woods. In his powerful closing chapters, Robbins explores the memorials and remembrances for Stewart while lamenting that Sundays without him “would never be the same.” This excellent biography is sure to please many a golf aficionado. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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No Judgments

Meg Cabot. Morrow, $26.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-291357-9

This lighthearted romance by Cabot (her first novel for adults since 2011’s Overbite) has dark undertones as its characters grapple with a ferocious hurricane and the aftermath of sexual assault. Feeling betrayed by her mother and boyfriend, who failed to take her trauma seriously, Sabrina Beckham fled New York for Little Bridge Island in the Florida Keys, where her family long ago had happy vacations. Now known as Bree and waitressing at a diner, she has adopted a cat and feels almost like she belongs. She thinks the forecasts for an approaching hurricane are fearmongering and refuses to evacuate, but soon the wind starts howling. She’s thrown together with her boss’s nephew, handsome carpenter Drew Hartwell, and their chemistry out-sizzles the electricity of the storm. Bree sets out to rescue the abandoned pets on the island, which helps her gain the confidence needed to cope with the past and envision a future with dreamy Drew. Cabot, best known for her Princess Diaries young adult series, shows that her work for adults can be just as frothy and entertaining. Though not especially memorable, this sweet novel will leave readers with a pleasant glow. Agent: Laura Langlie, Laura Langlie Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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