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Shatter the Nations: ISIS and the War for the Caliphate

Mike Giglio. PublicAffairs, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5417-4235-2

The ISIS caliphate has been dismantled, but the conditions that led to its rise, and the appeal it held for extremists, remain, according to this searing debut from Atlantic writer Giglio. In dispatches from Egypt, Germany, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey in the years between 2011 and 2017, Giglio reports on Syria’s descent into multisided civil war, the origins of ISIS in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the smuggling of foreign jihadists across the Turkish-Syrian border, and the alliance of American and Iraqi special forces soldiers, Syrian rebels, and Kurdish militias that dislodged ISIS from the territory it held in Iraq and Syria. Giglio vividly describes the experience of coming under machine gun fire in a Humvee (“The feeling this gave me was always the same, both riled and afraid, like a trapped animal taunted by someone rattling its cage”), and his insights into the “strange ecosystem” of journalists, hustlers, and fixers that operate on the edges of war zones will be of interest even to readers who’ve had their fill of battle stories. His warning, meanwhile, that many jihadists and their families escaped ISIS territory before coalition forces moved in takes on frightening new relevance as U.S. troops withdraw from the region. Giglio’s probing, prescient narrative illuminates the global repercussions of a murky conflict. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Busted in New York and Other Essays

Darryl Pinckney. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-11744-3

This robust group of essays written between 1994 and 2018 by novelist Pinckney (Black Deutschland) explores African-American identity, politics, and culture. Covering such topics as Aretha Franklin’s “profound influence” and what Pinckney sees as Afro-pessimism’s futility, the author puts his insightful perspective on full display in each selection. From the highs of Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign to the lows of police violence in Ferguson, Mo., Pinckney acknowledges both the social progress that’s been made and the urgency for further change. In the book’s title essay, Pinckney recounts spending a night in the Manhattan municipal jail known as “the Tombs” after he and two friends were arrested for smoking a joint outside a nightclub. Spending that night and much of the next day behind bars, Pinckney observes how “the system” exercises absolute control over “the nonwhite young, the poor” in ways previously unknown to him and his friends, all educated professionals able to easily brush off the experience. Reflections on black women’s experiences are relatively underrepresented, but nonetheless, Pinckney demonstrates his extensive range as a commentator on African-American life. This collection offers a deep dive into his prolific career as an indispensable critic of his times. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Huckleberry Lake

Catherine Anderson. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (560p) ISBN 978-0-399-58638-5

The tedious sixth book in Anderson’s Mystic Creek series (after Strawberry Hill) splits focus between three separate but connected love stories without fully developing any of them. Mystic Creek, Ore., sheriff’s deputy Erin De Laney has been crushing on Wyatt Fitzgerald, the deaf foreman of her uncle’s ranch, for quite some time, but flirting with him doesn’t yield the result she’s been hoping for. Elsewhere in town, Wyatt’s younger brother, 22-year-old Kennedy, falls for levelheaded 17-year-old Jenette Johnson. He knows he has to tread lightly at least until her 18th birthday, but an injury brings them together and they develop an intense emotional bond. Meanwhile, Erin’s best friend, café owner Julie, nurses feelings for pawnshop owner Fred “Blackie” Black. Blackie, who is 20 years Julie’s senior, returns her affection, but he worries about what type of relationship they could have. The transitions between these disparate story lines are often disorienting, and, despite an excess of small-town detail, the characters and relationships feel sketchy at best. Readers will struggle to stay invested in this choppy romance. Agent: Steve Axelrod, The Axelrod Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose

Rebekah Lyons. Zondervan, $24.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-310-35614-1

Rhythms for Life podcast host Lyons (You Are Free) turns again to her own life in this wise account to offer readers help and hope in the midst of what she calls society’s “collective panic attack.” As she writes, “with a little intention and a lot of perseverance, stress and anxiety can be transformed into peace and purpose.” Lyons offers four “rhythms”—rest, restore, connect, create—to help readers turn the corner from stress to peace. Rest includes taking inventory of priorities, ensuring deep sleep, and observing the Sabbath. To restore, she recommends making space for play, walking, working out, and pushing out of one’s comfort zone. Connect encourages readers to initiate friendships, practice hospitality, and apologize first. And to create, she asks readers to recover their life passions and to take risks. Chapters are accompanied by three reflection questions and exercises to put her advice to action. While Lyons is open about her deep faith, her strategies are directed toward all readers. To make her lessons relatable, Lyons opens about her personal struggles and joys, including the recent adoption of her daughter, Joy. Lyons’s many followers and newcomers alike will find a plethora of actionable ideas in this spirited work. Agent: Chris Ferebee, The Christopher Ferebee Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Soul of Activism: A Spirituality for Social Change

Shmuly Yanklowitz. Changemakers, $14.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-78904-060-9

In this instructive guide, Rabbi Yanklowitz (Pirkei Avot), founder of Arizona Jews for Justice, offers an interfaith primer on spiritual activism. Lessons are organized into four thematic sections: the self, others, truth, and spirituality. In a homily-esque style, Yanklowitz reflects on a specific quality of spiritual activism in each chapter. For example, in “Dignity” he focuses on the importance of honoring the worth of every being, drawing examples from his work in Thailand and Ghana, as well as from quotations from the writings of Charles Dickens and Parker Palmer; suggested exercises encourage the reader to focus on the “divine light” within themselves, as well as the divine light within others. While Yanklowitz’s exploration of interfaith strategies for dialogue is welcome (as when he proposes topics for common ground religious topics), his prescriptive advice remains frustratingly brief and vague. With each chapter only a few pages long, treatment of each quality is superficial. Similarly, Yanklowitz argues that believers must “bring all our unique streams of faith together into one stream: for the sake of justice” yet fails to grapple with the reality that there is no universally accepted understanding of what justice means in practice. While this might work well to guide group study, on its own, Yanklowitz’s handbook fails to provide substantive insight into faith-based social justice work. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Faith of Queen Elizabeth: The Poise, Grace, and Quiet Strength Behind the Crown

Dudley Delffs. Zondervan, $22.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-3103-5697-4

Delffs (The Faith of Dolly Parton) sets out on what he admits is the near-impossible task of making determinations about Queen Elizabeth’s faith in this laudatory religious biography. By looking to the queen’s own works and words, Delffs argues that faith has been a deeply personal, integral part of her life and an important factor for the British people throughout her reign. To back up his points, he provides an overview of key moments and observes how the royal has applied “principles of faith,” such as kindness, courage, duty, and service. For instance, he reads religious undertones in her 2002 Golden Jubilee speech to Parliament, her handling of her uncle’s abdication, her response to her children’s divorces, and her grace and wisdom in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death. Delffs also compares the queen with other rulers, and includes largely conjectural observations taken from the portraits of Queen Elizabeth in the Netflix series The Crown and the film The Queen to further bolster his claims about her faith. While some readers will be skeptical of the strong religious drive Delffs finds within all of the queen’s public statements, this remains a piquant study of her tightly guarded inner life. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Unnatural Magic

C. M. Waggoner. Ace, $16 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-984805-84-3

Waggoner’s delightfully playful debut offers a fresh take on traditional fantasy tropes to explore themes of love and sacrifice. In Daeslund, trolls and humans live in an uncertain peace. Then six trolls are found murdered by human wizards, and the underlying tensions between the species surface. Onna Gebowa, a hyperintelligent human woman who leaves home for the city of Hexos after being rejected from an all-male wizarding school, discovers the bodies and launches an investigation. Meanwhile, Tsira, a young half-troll travelling to Hexos to find herself, discovers Jeckran, a human soldier, wounded in the snow and doctors him back to health. As Onna and Tsira separately work to understand the attacks they’ve discovered, they are drawn into a larger search to uncover who is attempting to undermine the peace between species. Waggoner avoids playing into easy genre conventions with consistently surprising twists and intricate depictions of the specificities of troll and human culture in this world. Though the novel is slightly overlong, the whimsy, mystery, and vibrant characters of Waggoner’s debut are sure to enchant readers. Agent: Jennifer Udden, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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All the President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator

Barry Levine and Monique El-Faizy. Hachette, $29 (360p) ISBN 978-0-316-49266-9

Investigative journalists Levine and El-Faizy (God and Country) deliver a thorough and disturbing rundown of President Trump’s attitudes toward and interactions with women in this sobering account. The authors claim that 67 women have accused Trump of “inappropriate behavior, including sexual harassment or sexual assault,” and state plainly that “Donald Trump is, and has been for some time, a full-blown sexual predator.” Levine and El-Faizy note multiple infidelities in each of Trump’s three marriages; numerous claims that he has groped and forcibly kissed women on airplanes, during business meetings, and at parties; instances in which, as owner of Trump Model Management and the Miss Universe pageant, he barged backstage when women, many of them underage, were undressed; and rumors that he regularly offered adult film actresses $10,000 for sex. The book’s most salacious, if poorly sourced, charge is that Trump was filmed having sex with a porn star and an underage girl at a private brothel in Times Square in the early 1980s. By and large, however, Levine and El-Faizy succeed in laying out a credible pattern of misogynistic and predatory behavior, much of it supported by Trump’s own words on the infamous Access Hollywood tape and in interviews with Howard Stern. Though it rehashes much previously reported information, this somber narrative makes a strong case that Trump’s history of sexual misconduct goes far beyond “locker room talk.”(Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Targeted: The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower’s Inside Story of How Big Data, Trump, and Facebook Broke Democracy and How It Can Happen Again

Brittany Kaiser. Harper, $28.99 (392p) ISBN 978-0-06-296579-0

In this explosive debut, whistle-blower Kaiser chronicles her experience working at Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Kaiser was a lifelong Democrat working on a PhD in diplomacy and human rights when she joined the company as a consultant and became CEO Alexander Nix’s protégé. Throughout, Kaiser describes how Cambridge and other companies mine online data and how that data is used to create hyperspecific (and usually misleading) targeted political ads. In the case of the Trump campaign, this meant using illicitly acquired Facebook data to produce and disseminate “thousands of individual ad campaigns within campaigns... separate suites of content aimed... at millions of segmented voters in different states, regions, and even neighborhoods.” Kaiser also candidly discusses her reasons for abandoning her principles to work for Cambridge; without excusing her behavior entirely, she claims to have “fallen under the spell of a charismatic man who preyed on [her] vulnerabilities.” Captivating and revelatory, Kaiser’s personal story explores the dangers of falling victim to the allure of money and power, and warns readers that data analytics can be misused to undermine democracy. With the 2020 election just around the corner, this account should be required reading. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Unborn

Brian Herbert. ReAnimus, $9.99 e-book (321p) ISBN 978-1-08-742026-4

Herbert (the Dune series) strains believability with this techno-thriller that pits genetically engineered humans against both the law and themselves. In 2097, Riggio Demont is the subject of a secret experiment to create pacified humans, or Homo Pax. When Riggio awakens to a dead body in his bed and no memory of what happened, he flees in the victim’s car to its programmed destination. Along the way, he rescues Meredith Lamour, a risk management consultant, from a fire. In gratitude, Meredith offers Riggio a job as her assistant on her upcoming business trip to a moon of Saturn, but Riggio’s admiration for Meredith triggers the ire of his embedded genetic “twin,” Tatsy, a result of the experiment, who takes over their shared body to complete her latest murder spree. Herbert’s nuanced statement about the risks of genetic engineering is undermined by the fantastical abilities he grants to Tatsy, among them telepathy and shape-shifting. Clunky exposition and a strangely conventional vision of the future, in which gender roles and religious views have remained unchanged, will pull readers out of the story. This is a fascinating concept, but poorly executed. Agent: John Silbersack, the Bent Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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