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Shadowed

Thomas Waite. Marlborough, $14.95 trade paper (329p) ISBN 978-0-9850258-2-3

Waite’s so-so second technophile novel (after Terminal Value) follows the misadventures of “tall, youthful-looking thirty-three-year-old” Dylan Johnson and his girlfriend, Heather Carter. Currently unemployed, both made—and lost—a good portion of a fortune when they sold their jointly owned mobile-computing consulting firm. The two now face the prospect of jail time and further hefty financial losses for their part in coercing a murder confession out of their evil former partner, Harvard MBA Rob Townsend, who was once Heather’s “handsome blond boyfriend.” Rob is about to be released from jail for lack of evidence in the murder of Dylan’s best friend, computer genius Tony Caruso. Meanwhile, Dylan and Heather are approached by a mysterious African mogul, who offers them a chance to do “important work... technology with a humanitarian heartbeat.” Soon Dylan and Heather are off on a wild and at times convoluted ride complete with ravenous lions, slimy blackmailers, bloodthirsty terrorists, and so much more. Too often Waite tells rather than shows. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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An Invitation to Celtic Wisdom: A Little Guide to Mystery, Spirit, and Compassion

Carl McColman. Hampton Roads, $15.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-57174-792-1

McColman (The Big Book of Christian Mysticism), member of a Lay Cistercian contemplative community under the guidance of Trappist monks, concisely describes Celtic Christianity in this inviting book. Claiming that Celtic sects are often overlooked in Christian texts and considered to be more myth than serious theology, he lays out the lore of the early peoples of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany. McColman takes short dips into Celtic folklore, Gaelic prayers, and Irish poetry, and charts Celtic spirituality’s deep roots in mysticism and storytelling. With traditions such as the three lents (three separate lent periods) and “thin places” (places where the sacred and profane meld), the early Christian Celts structured rituals around hospitality, monastic rites, and everyday compassion. Living at the so-called “edge of waiting” between the physical and spiritual worlds, the Celts honored the mystery of God and viewed the island Éire as situated as the edge of the known world—a fact McColman believes contributes to Celtic emphasis on contemplative prayer and worship of the land. This sound overview of Celtic Christianity will appeal to those with little prior knowledge of Celtic traditions. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/30/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Empathy Effect

Helen Riess, with Liz Neporent. Sounds True, $22.95 (248p) ISBN 978-1-68364-028-8

Riess (Integrative Group Treatment for Bulimia Nervosa, coauthor), a professor of psychiatry at Harvard, brings together neuroscience, sociology, developmental psychology, and evolutionary theory to explain how nourishing empathy can lead to a healthier life. Actively engaging in empathy helps people recursively by easing and deepening everyday interactions, Riess explains. Empathetic behavior is more than just sympathy or considering another’s perspective; it is, she writes, relating underlying feelings to others in order to establish mutual humanity, and sharing life experiences to stimulate learning and growth. To practice empathy, Riess recommends seven steps: make eye contact, be expressive, maintain good posture, create an affect, be wary of tone, hear the whole person, and be responsive. Riess also discusses the negative effects of social media, which she argues often increases neuroticism and diminishes empathetic behavior; to counter this, Riess provides tips for reducing screen time. In addition to her practical tools, she also asks open-ended questions intended for discussion: How do people create authentic connections despite the proliferation of smartphones? How can parents teach children to be sensitive without being pushovers? Riess explains strategies for cultivating and employing empathy that will help readers looking for new ways of finding connection. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/30/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Homesteaders

Sandra Rollings-Magnusson. Univ. of Regina, $29.95 (275p) ISBN 978-0-88977-515-2

Rollings-Magnusson delivers a sweeping, wide-ranging account of the homesteaders of Saskatchewan, who arrived there beginning in the 1870s after the implementation of the Dominion Lands Act. It reads partly like a typical history book and partly like a collective memoir, with photos and the homesteaders’ own words interspersed throughout. The author drew upon the pioneer questionnaire developed and distributed in the 1950s by the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan. Homesteaders filled out a variety of questionnaires on different subjects and submitted them for the following three decades, creating a vivid record of the province’s homesteading history. As Rollings-Magnusson notes, the settlers persevered through poverty, near-starvation, horrific accidents, wild weather, and more; she includes everything from accounts of mothers crying over feeding their children meager rations to girls giggling during a sleepover. She also broadens the book’s perspective to take into account those excluded (African-Americans, who were barred from entering Canada), discriminated against (people of Asian descent), and violently displaced (the indigenous peoples) by the homesteading program. This is a valuable and readable document of the daily experience, culture, and history of Canadian homesteaders. Photos. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/30/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Freak Kingdom: Hunter S. Thompson’s Manic Ten-Year Crusade Against American Fascism

Timothy Denevi. PublicAffairs, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-1-5417-6794-2

Denevi (Hyper: A Personal History of ADHD), a professor of fine arts at George Mason University, serves up a sympathetic biography of Hunter S. Thompson, focusing on the journalist and countercultural figure’s life from 1963 to 1974. Denevi’s premise, which is only spottily supported, is that Thompson sacrificed himself, descending into drug addiction and a chaotic lifestyle, in order to battle fascism as personified by Richard Nixon and other Vietnam-era politicians. Thompson is, for Denevi, a principled truth teller who understood the dangers to America posed by the Vietnam War and Nixon’s cynical dishonesty. But the text is mainly a straightforward biography. As Denevi recounts, in the course of those years Thompson immersed himself in the motorcycle gang Hell’s Angels and wrote his genre-breaking book about them; reported on the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention; engaged in participatory democracy by running for sheriff of Aspen, Co.; wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; for Rolling Stone magazine; covered the 1972 presidential campaign and Richard Nixon; and developed “gonzo journalism,” the highly personal, free-flowing style with no boundaries between writer and subject and no pretense of objectivity. This account will deepen readers’ understanding of the personal events and experiences that surrounded and informed Thompson’s best-known works, and as such is best suited to those already familiar with them. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/30/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Under a Darkening Sky: The American Experience in Nazi Europe: 1939–1941

Robert Lyman. Pegasus, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-68177-736-8

Historian Lyman (Among the Headhunters: An Extraordinary World War II Story of Survival in the Burmese Jungle) uses the firsthand accounts of students, housewives, academics, journalists, businesspeople, and others to provide a clear and unsettling account of the North Americans who warned of Nazi Germany before Hitler declared war on the U.S. Appeasement by the leadership of Western Europe and U.S. isolationism predominated in the 1930s, but information about Nazi violence and expansionist ambitions was conveyed by people such as New York Herald Tribune reporter Leland Snowe, who published a prescient, widely ignored 1933 book entitled Nazi Germany Means War. Other Americans who saw the Nazi threat early on included singer Josephine Baker, who aided the French Secret Service, as well as many now-obscure figures, such as Arthur Donahue, who, as a member of the RAF, became “the first American to engage enemy aircraft during the Second World War.” The compilation validates Lyman’s contention that the experiences of individuals “looking at history as it is made... offer in their accumulation an interpretation of events as valuable as... specialist historical accounts” and effectively rebuts those who still assert that no one could have foreseen WWII. This is a well-constructed, valuable alternative to military-focused histories of the time. Agent: Charlie Viney, Viney Shaw Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/30/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Race, Nation, Translation: South African Essays, 1990–2013

Zoe Wicomb. Yale Univ, $35 (368p) ISBN 978-0-300-22617-1

Wicomb, a South African novelist (David’s Story), short story writer, and literary and cultural critic, assembles some of her best previously published essays, spanning three decades of a brilliant career. Part one includes insightful essays about politics and culture written beginning in the late apartheid period, including the playful “Remembering Nelson Mandela,” a version of which was originally published in the New Yorker. Part two includes scholarly, dense essays focused on questions of reading and authorship, in which Wicomb engages thoughtfully with the works of fellow South African writers J.M. Coetzee, Bessie Head, Nadine Gordimer, and Ivan Vladislavic. Part three concludes with a recent interview with the author. The value of this book lies in its insider-outsider perspective: Wicomb was born in South Africa but left in the 1970s and has lived in Scotland for most of her career. She explains, “My life, however, remained immersed in South Africa in the sense that all my work, creative and critical, was centered in the place that I did not live.” Because of the highly specialized and technical vocabulary, the general reader will struggle with the text. The audience is limited to advanced students of postcolonial studies or literary and linguistic scholars with extensive background knowledge of South African literature, politics, and culture. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/30/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Peace at Last: A Portrait of Armistice Day, 11 November 1918

Guy Cuthbertson. Yale Univ, $27.50 (296p) ISBN 978-0-300-23338-4

Cuthbertson (Wilfred Owen), an associate professor of English literature at Liverpool Hope University, marks the centenary of Armistice Day by compiling a thorough evocation of that day and how the armistice was received and celebrated throughout the world, particularly by Britain and British troops abroad. His emphasis on the human element—the reactions of everyone from soldiers to schoolboys, government to civilians—captures a spontaneous, temporary mass insanity in full bloom. As befits Cuthbertson’s expertise in poetry and literature, his narrative voice is romantic, even flowery: “The day was a vast party with its drinking, music, dancing, fancy costumes, romance, beauty, vulgarity and vandalism; with people coming and going, paths crossing and strange encounters taking place, and crowds that swelled, surged, dispersed and re-emerged.” He also covers the anniversary’s subsequent transformation into a day of remembrance. Although the level of detail (for example, an 11-page section on the role of church bells in the celebrations) and sometimes dense prose may put off some readers, Cuthbertson is nothing if not thorough in creating this vivid picture of the British response to the end of the war. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/30/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Ian Fleming and Operation Golden Eye: Keeping Spain Out of World War II

Mark Simmons. Casemate, $32.95 (214p) ISBN 978-1-61200-685-7

In this detailed but dry history, Simmons (Nicolson’s Gold), a former member of the Royal Marines, explores Britain’s attempts to keep Spain and Portugal neutral in WWII with a specific focus on naval intelligence and the role of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Simmons posits that this time was pivotal in Fleming’s creative development and “all these influences would lead him to make a living with his pen,” but he doesn’t offer much support for this claim. Fleming is absent for long portions of the book as Simmons explores the diplomatic dynamics playing out in Portugal and Spain in the early 1940s; recounts intelligence campaigns (including Operation Tracer, a fascinating plan to leave British spies inside the Rock of Gibraltar if Germany successfully took control) with only vague or speculative discussions of Fleming’s role; and profiles other operatives, including Wilhelm Canaris, a German official secretly working against his superiors. The portions with Fleming draw frequently on supposition, and the connections to his writing are not particularly insightful (“Gold crops up many times in Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, often in the form of buried or lost treasure”). Bond enthusiasts hoping to see direct parallels will not find this rewarding, but readers with a deep interest in WWII might. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/30/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Anatomy of Victory: Why the United States Triumphed in World War II, Fought to a Stalemate in Korea, Lost in Vietnam, and Failed in Iraq

John D. Caldwell. Rowman and Littlefield, $29.95 (568p) ISBN 978-1-5381-1477-3

Caldwell, a defense analyst, offers up a strategic survey of America’s major wars since 1941 to determine why the U.S. was victorious in WWII but has not meet its objectives in the major wars since. According to accepted strategic theory, ends, ways, and means must be aligned to ensure victory, and, according to Caldwell, they have not been in these more recent conflicts. The book’s conclusions are somewhat obvious: WWII was largely successful because the key Allied leaders ensured that strategic ends (unconditional surrender) were clear, the means were adequate to achieve them, and the allied generals successfully fought campaigns to do so. On the other hand, he argues, in Korea the offensive north of the 38th parallel in 1950 didn’t match the desired end (stopping the North’s invasion of the South) and was not adequately resourced; in Vietnam the U.S. failed to pursue the end of creating a viable and appealing alternative to North Vietnamese communism; and in Iraq the U.S. failed in its objective by not establishing a self-sufficient democratic government. Readers well-versed in history and strategic theory may not find much that is new here, but for those who are interested in but have not read deeply on military strategy, this will be illuminating. Illus. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/30/2018 | Details & Permalink

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