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Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy

Rachel Ricketts. Atria, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-1-982151-27-0

Antiracism workshop leader and “secular spiritualist” Ricketts offers a primer on combating white supremacy in her accessible, urgent debut. She opens with an explanation of how pervasive racism is, how trauma can be inherited, and how oppression is internalized by marginalized people. Defining spirituality as “an ethereal concept... in direct opposition to the analytical, tangible, facts-based knowledge adored by white supremacy,” Ricketts argues spiritualism and social activism go hand-in-hand and notes that “to approach racial justice in a heart-centered and embodied way” requires an honest mindset that allows for righteous rage. Ricketts, who is Black, shares many personal stories of her own encounters with racism, as well as a heartbreaking account of her mother being spat on for being mixed-race. She also warns against adopting spiritual practices that focus on profit or rely on cultural appropriation, and prepares readers with a host of immediate actions they can do to combat racism, among them being attuned to microaggressions and considering impact rather than intention of one own’s actions. Rickett’s conversational tone and accessible activities will prove welcoming to anyone new to racial justice work. Agent: Cherise Fisher & Wendy Sherman, Wendy Sherman Assoc. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Her Texas Cowboy

Pam Crooks. Tule, $3.99 e-book (238p) ASIN B08H5WQ2C5

Crooks returns to Texas in the spicy second Blackstone Ranch romance (after A Cowboy and a Promise). Lucienne Dunn could be facing jail time after her powerful father’s erstwhile girlfriend falsely implicates Lucienne in her embezzling scheme at the New York City hospital where they both work. Lucienne’s father believes that if they raise the money to build the hospital a new wing, it might be persuaded to drop charges against both women. To get the money, he sends Lucienne to Texas to buy a ranch from the Paxton family—unbeknownst to the Paxtons, it sits atop massive mineral reserves. Brock Paxton hasn’t had the best luck with relationships, and he doubts that will change just because a beautiful, Jaguar-driving Manhattanite rolls into town hoping to buy a ranch that’s not for sale. As they spend time together, however, opposites attract—but will their romance survive after Brock learns Lucienne’s secret? While it’s difficult to believe that the Paxton family could be unaware of a lucrative source of income on their property, readers will appreciate the headstrong heroine and strong, silent hero. Tightly plotted and sexy, this contemporary western should please Crooks’s existing fans and earn her new ones. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Irish Parade Murder: A Lucy Stone Mystery

Leslie Meier. Kensington, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4967-1039-0

Early in bestseller Meier’s middling 26th Lucy Stone mystery (after 2018’s Silver Anniversary Murder), Lucy, a reporter for the Pennysaver newspaper in Tinker’s Cove, Maine, returns from her father-in-law’s funeral in Florida to discover that her boss has hired a young new reporter, ambitious, arrogant Rob Callahan. Lucy clashes with Rob, who she fears will replace her. After Rob looks into corruption in the sheriff’s department and the first person he is investigating dies in a suspicious car crash, Rob is arrested for murder. Lucy’s sleuthing leads her to uncover the truth about a young woman who disappeared from Tinker’s Cove months earlier. Meanwhile, the dictatorial sheriff controls everything, including who can and can’t participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and Lucy must deal with her mother-in-law, newly arrived from Florida, along with the supposed half-sister of Lucy’s husband, Bill. The plot plods along for nearly half the book before the action picks up. The harried Lucy, overwhelmed by her personal and professional woes, is not at her best. Maybe it’s time for her to retire. Agent: Christina Hogrebe, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Farm to Trouble: A Farm to Table Mystery

Amanda Flower. Poisoned Pen, $8.99 mass market (288p) ISBN 978-1-4926-9991-0

Shiloh Bellamy, the heroine of this sprightly series launch from Flower (the Magic Garden mysteries), returns to her hometown of Cherry Glen, Mich., after 15 years spent building her career as a TV producer in Hollywood. Her goal is to get her family’s failing farm up and running again. To that end, she has signed a contract with entrepreneur Jefferson Crocker, who has agreed to invest heavily in her plan to convert the farm to organic growing methods. When her father, Sully, hears of her deal, he flies into a rage. It seems that Sully, like many Cherry Gleners, views Crocker as a heartless money grubber, intent on owning the town and filling the surrounding farmland with wind turbines. Shiloh, realizing she’s made a mistake, goes to the farmers’ market intent on convincing Crocker to let her out of their contract, only to find him dead. For the local police, she becomes the prime suspect. With a full complement of insecurities, along with a nice sense of humor, Shiloh is a winning lead. Flower ticks all the requisite boxes: a good man, a bad man, a mean woman, a small town, and family conflict. Cozy fans will be enchanted. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Sign of the Gallows

Susanna Calkins. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8956-0

Set in 1667 London, Agatha finalist Calkins’s diverting fifth Lucy Campion mystery (after 2016’s A Death Along the River Fleet) finds Lucy, a servant turned printer’s apprentice, horrified to discover a dead man hanging from a tree at a crossroads. Whether the man was murdered or committed suicide piques Lucy’s curiosity, as does the strange behavior of two rough men she encounters near the tree. Constable Duncan and Adam Hargrave, a magistrate’s son, join Lucy in a search for answers after she learns that a murder in a tavern has set in motion a relentless quest for justice. The romantic triangle that develops with Duncan and Hargrave leads to exchanges that are more awkward than pulse-racing. Far more enticing is the role of a series of messages requiring a cipher to comprehend. Calkins makes fine use of advances in mathematics and cryptography of this period, while also drawing in the chaos of the Great Fire and plague in London as agents of change in society. For anyone interested in 17th-century England, this mystery is a treat. Agent: David Hale Smith, InkWell Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Without Blood: A Victor Lessard Thriller

Martin Michaud, trans. from the French by Arthur Holden. Dundurn, $17.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-4597-4209-3

Michaud’s intriguing prequel to 2020’s Never Forget follows three days in the life of Montreal Det. Sgt. Victor Lessard as he investigates a hit-and-run, the stabbing death of a senior hospital administrator, and a dead man found in the trunk of a stolen car. Against medical advice, Simone Fortin—the hit-and-run victim—leaves the hospital and tries to locate Miles Green, the young man who came to her aid after she was struck by a speeding car. Simone’s quest takes a strange turn when she learns that Miles has been in a coma for years. Has she entered a parallel reality? The tension rises as a stone cold killer stalks Simone, and Lessard comes to realize that the two murder cases and the hit-and-run may be linked. Michaud keeps the reader guessing as to what’s real and what’s dream. Those who like their mysteries with a surreal touch will be rewarded. Agent: Abigail Koons, Park & Fine Literary and Media (Canada). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Runaway Justice

Chad Zunker. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (246p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2552-2

Parker Barnes, the 12-year-old boy at the center of Zunker’s engrossing third mystery featuring attorney David Adams (after 2020’s An Unequal Defense), has lived in a string of unsafe foster homes since the death of his parents and now lives quietly on the streets of Austin, Tex. While sleeping in a park one night, he witnesses the execution-style murder of a federal witness about to give testimony. The shooter chases Parker, who escapes. The police later pick up Parker for purse snatching, and David, who left an affluent law practice to help those less fortunate, agrees to defend him. David is unaware that both the hit man and the FBI are looking for Parker, who runs away from the youth facility where he’s being held after FBI agents and the hit man show up there within minutes of each other. Once David realizes Parker’s connection to the murder, he must uncover who ordered the hit and who’s feeding the FBI the progress of his efforts to locate the boy. Zunker gives heart and hope to his characters. There are no lulls in this satisfying story of a young runaway in trouble. Agent: David Hale Smith, InkWell Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | 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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