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Kaizen: The Japanese Method for Transforming Habits, One Small Step at a Time.

Sarah Harvey. The Experiment, $18.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-61519-657-9

In her approachable debut, Harvey, who worked as a publishing rights consultant in Japan, uses straightforward, encouraging language and inspiring photographs to explain the Japanese art of kaizen (“good change”), which advocates taking small steps toward achieving big goals. To begin, Harvey writes, one must identify the habit to be changed or goal to be achieved, then inventory priorities, formulate a plan of improvement, decide the time frame to meet the goal, create a daily or monthly to-do list, and keep a progress journal. While her prologue and introduction explore her exposure to Kaizen and the history of the practice in Japan, the bulk of the text serves purely as a guide for readers. If one encounters stumbling blocks, Harvey suggests adjusting targets to create more achievable goals and seeking support from family and friends. True change can take days, months, or years, she notes, and the process should be allowed to unfold without discouragement. Harvey also provides simple but practical steps—visiting a museum for a cultural fix and organizing trips, for example—to encourage new ways of thinking. Self-help enthusiasts interested in Japanese philosophies will find Harvey’s practical advice constructive, positive, and suitable for many of life’s situations. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Protective One

Shelley Shepard Gray. Gallery, $16 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-98-210091-9

Shepard Gray continues her Amish Walnut Creek series (after A Precious Gift) with this slow-burning, enjoyable romance. Elizabeth “E.A.” Anne and Will are both members of “The Eight,” a group of lifelong friends now in their mid-20s, but they are the last two of the group without partners or clear direction for their lives. E.A. gives sewing lessons and Will works in a trailer factory; both are looking for something more meaningful. E.A. boots potential suitor David—who, by all measures, seems perfect for her—after she recognizes that David, despite his dedication and Mennonite upbringing, is not what she is looking for in a life partner. Then, after the death of a close mutual friend, E.A. and Will reconnect and she begins to see him in a new light. As their friendship deepens, E.A. is struck with a new challenge after she discovers one of her students, Marta, is in an abusive marriage. While Marta struggles to leave her relationship, E.A. and Will find safety and security in theirs. Embedded in this quaint story is a poignant message about the importance of community, compassion, and doing what’s right rather than what’s easy. The author’s fans and newcomers alike will enjoy this appealing tale. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Colors of Blood: A Moriah Dru/Richard Lake Mystery

Gerrie Ferris Finger. Bold Venture, $12.95 trade paper (284p) ISBN 978-1-080802-52-4

At the start of Finger’s convoluted eighth Moriah Dru/Richard Lake mystery (after 2018’s Wolf’s Clothing), 13-year-old Evangeline, a former client of PI Moriah Dru, who specializes in finding missing children, asks Moriah to locate 16-year-old Soire, who’s disappeared from the thoroughbred horse farm near Aiken, S.C., where Soire works as an exercise rider. Evangeline fears for her friend’s life. In the last year, the horse farm has had one other missing rider and several deaths. Moriah can’t say no to Evangeline, and the PI’s subsequent search for Soire leads her to the inner sanctums of the Saratoga, N.Y., racetrack and more than one murderer. Meanwhile, in an unrelated subplot, Moriah’s boyfriend, Richard Lake, tracks a drug smuggler. Readers will need a scorecard to keep track of the many characters given the frequent switches between nicknames and given names. The surprising revelations regarding Soire barely hold together. Finger has done a better job in previous entries. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon

James Lovegrove. Titan, $19.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-785658-02-0

In December 1890, Eve Allerthorpe, the 20-year-old heroine of this stellar Sherlock Holmes pastiche from Lovegrove (Sherlock Holmes: The Labyrinth of Death), travels from her family’s estate in Yorkshire, Fellscar Keep, to London, where she has the good fortune to run into Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Eve is slated to come into a substantial financial legacy on Christmas Eve, her 21st birthday, if she is of sound mind, but her sanity is in peril, as she explains to Holmes and Watson. Eve is troubled by reported sightings of a ghost resembling her late mother, who suffered from mental illness, as well as signs that a legendary monster her mother used to tell her about, the Black Thurrick, is real. Birch twigs have been left for Eve, the very item that the Black Thurrick, a dark inversion of Father Christmas, supposedly left for bad children instead of presents. In addition, Eve has glimpsed a figure outside her home resembling the description of the Black Thurrick. Holmes and Watson travel to Fellscar Keep to investigate. Canonical characterizations complement the ingenious plot. Lovegrove joins Denis Smith and Philip Purser-Hallard in the top rank of authors of traditional Holmes pastiches. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Justice: The Curtis Chronicles #3

Joseph Badal. Suspense, $15.99 trade paper (372p) ISBN 978-0-578-55928-5

In Badal’s slapdash third Curtis Chronicle thriller (after 2018’s Obsessed), orthopedic surgeon Matt Curtis, a U.S. Special Forces veteran, and his wife, Renee, travel to Costa Rica with friends Esteban and Alani Maldonado to unwind after a lengthy medical lecture tour. Meanwhile, psychopath Lonnie Jackson, who ordered the murder of Matt’s sister, is plotting more revenge. He blames the Curtises for his mother and brother’s deaths, as well as the shambles left of his criminal empire. Lonnie coordinates the kidnapping of Renee and Alani, intending to sell them to a human trafficking network. With their wives’ lives hanging in the balance, Matt and Esteban enlist former Special Forces soldiers to help infiltrate Lonnie’s compound. Multiple points of view amid the political and military maneuvering add perspective and confusion as the action ramps up. Despite the high stakes, the thinly drawn characters and hard-to-fathom plot make this an emotionally vacant addition to the series. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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An Ale of Two Cities: A Literary Pub Mystery

Sarah Fox. Kensington, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4967-1869-3

It’s early December in Fox’s pleasant if workmanlike sequel to 2019’s Wine and Punishment, and the residents of Shady Creek, Vt., are preparing for the town’s annual winter carnival. The event’s ice sculpting competition is attracting even more attention than usual due to the participation of imperious Boston restaurateur Federico Mancini, who was born in Shady Creek and left at an early age. Rumor has it that the $5,000 prize and a feature in a national arts magazine lured him back. It certainly wasn’t a chance to catch up with old friends. Mancini manages to infuriate practically everyone, including Mel Costas, a past winner of the competition. During a break, Mel discovers that her tools have been stolen and suspicion falls on Mancini, who’s subsequently found stabbed to death with Mel’s ice pick. Book-loving Sadie Coleman, owner of the Inkwell Pub, sets out to track down the truth, guided by local gossip and overwhelming curiosity. Fox offers plenty of plausible suspects and a thrilling confrontation with the killer, along with a dash of decorous romance. Those who don’t require wit in their cozies will be content. Agent: Jessica Faust, BookEnds Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Summoning the Dead: A DI Bob Valentine Mystery

Tony Black. Bold Venture, $12.95 trade paper (214p) ISBN 978-1-690184-06-5

Black’s engrossing third outing for Scottish Det. Insp. Bob Valentine (after A Taste for Ashes) takes Valentine and his partner, Det. Sgt. Sylvia McCormack, to his hometown of Cumnock. Land developers have uncovered the mummified bodies of two boys, “their hands cable-tied, crammed into a rusty oil drum”; one has been strangled, the other bludgeoned. Both were murdered some 30 years earlier, and their identification links them to a cold case that was considered unsolvable. Interspersed with the contemporary action from Valentine’s point of view are harrowing first-person chapters told by one of the young victims. Black has created a sympathetic and fascinating character in Valentine, whose recovery from a near-fatal stabbing left him with an uncontrolled psychic connection with the victims in his cases. This ability gives Valentine and the reader a deeper understanding of the emotional lives of the deceased. Strong characters and tight pacing elevate this police procedural. Agent: Donna Pudick, Parkeast Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | 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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