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The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World

Melinda Gates. Flatiron, $26.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-31357-7

Philanthropist, mother of three, and wife of one of the world’s richest men, Gates delivers a thoughtful and empathetic treatise that demonstrates how empowering women can change the world and lift families from poverty. Gates’s career as a human rights advocate began with family planning issues, that is, a women’s right to choose when to get pregnant—an unusual stance, she notes, for a longtime practicing Catholic. With each chapter, Gates addresses other thorny issues that hold women down: unreliable maternal and newborn healthcare (“Forty million women a year give birth without assistance”), lack of access to education (both in the U.S. and abroad) and lack of access to contraception, child marriage, sex work, and female genital mutilation. Gates writes movingly of other change makers globally, including investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett (who, with Bill Gates founded the Giving Pledge organization), Pakistani education-activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai, and Dutch human rights activist Mabel van Oranje, who fights to end child marriage—and of the pride she feels in instilling these values in her children, who have volunteered in organizations throughout Africa. Part memoir, part call to action, Gates’s compassionate narrative underscores her determination to leave a positive mark on this world. She inspires and emboldens in this eloquently argued work. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Truth in Our Times: Inside the Fight for Press Freedom in the Age of Alternative Facts

David E. McCraw. All Points, $28.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-18442-9

McCraw, the deputy general counsel of the New York Times, recounts 17 years of defending the First Amendment and the paper’s legal integrity in this passionate memoir. Best known for a letter he wrote responding to a lawsuit threat from President Trump about a report detailing groping accusations against him from two women, McCraw colors his legalese with wit and levity. Much of the book involves the 2016 election, including the paper’s publication of a portion of Trump’s 1995 tax return (a move that McCraw reassured reporters would have no legal consequence), but also features lighter anecdotes, such as a libel suit from Beatles acquaintance “Magic Alex” about his portrayal as a “charlatan” in an obituary for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Stories including the Harvey Weinstein sexual allegations (during which McCraw reviewed early article drafts) are recounted vividly, and McCraw includes correspondence with opposing legal teams, as well as his fielding of questions from reporters, once via phone from the stands of Yankee Stadium. Laws regarding leaks, libel, and Freedom of Information Act requests are explained thoroughly, with McCraw believing “there was still something right about a system where you had a chance to stand up to your government in a court of law.” News junkies will relish the insider access. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Readymade Bodhisattva: The Kaya Anthology of South Korean Science Fiction

Edited by Sunyoung Park and Sang Joon Park. Kaya, $24.95 trade paper (446p) ISBN 978-1-885030-57-3

Sang Joon Park, president of the newly launched Korea SF Association, and scholar Sunyoung Park present a history of literary science fiction in South Korea to Anglophone readers through this thoughtfully annotated selection of 13 stories and excerpts of “discursive significance” published since the 1960s. A postapocalyptic, dystopian aesthetic and a sense of the individual’s self-exploration in the face of huge forces threads through almost all of the work. Those forces include alien invasion, as in Kim Jung-Hyuk’s eerie “Where Boats Go,” and corporate interest, as in the title story’s thought experiment on what it means for a robot to be enlightened. Several of the newer stories explore issues of gender, including Kim Bo-Young’s powerful “Between Zero and One,” which addresses competitive mothering and the Korean education system alongside quantum physics and time travel. Extensive introductions to the short excerpts of older works do an admirable job of supplying helpful historical and cultural context, but those snippets don’t deliver the emotional punch of the more recent stories. Readers used to American SF’s notions of Asian technology will be challenged by seeing how related ideas manifest in Asian fiction, and this collection makes that challenge accessible and enjoyable while lifting up some voices new to this side of the world. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Westfarrow Island

Paul A. Barra. Permanent, $29.95 (262p) ISBN 978-1-57962-569-6

At the start of this exciting crime novel from Barra (Astoria Nights), Big Anthony Tagliabue, who operates a freighter along the Maine coast, finds the body of his mate, Joshua White, in the boat’s cabin. Joshua was supposed to help Tony unload hay that Tony was delivering to his girlfriend, Agnes Ann Townsend Brunson, on Westfarrow Island. Agnes Ann owns Seaside Stables, where she boards several horses; one of them, Francine, is a valuable two-year-old thoroughbred filly being trained to run her first race. Francine was part of the divorce settlement from Agnes Ann’s ex, Jack Brunson, a lawyer with mob clientele. Unhappy to lose Francine, Jack now wants her back. In Tony’s search for Joshua’s killer, he puts himself, Agnes Ann, and possibly Francine in grave danger. Complicating his investigation is a dangerous undercover assignment he accepts from an agent with whom he occasionally works to rescue a defector from a Russian intelligence-gathering ship. The relentless action in the dual story lines keeps the reader engrossed. Barra offers it all: murder, smuggling, chase scenes, romance, and international intrigue. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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State University of Murder: A Nick Hoffman Mystery

Lev Raphael. Perseverance, $15.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-56474-609-2

In Raphael’s entertaining ninth mystery featuring literature professor Nick Hoffman, the campus of the State University of Michigan has finally settled down after the horrific violence of 2014’s Assault with a Deadly Lie, and Nick Hoffman and his fellow lit professor husband, Stefan, are slowly moving on with their lives. Their attempts are hindered, though, by the new department head, Napoléon Padovani, a hotshot who has a lot of radical ideas for the department, many of which involve various program cuts and faculty being assigned to courses they can’t stand. Padovani’s behavior also extends to sexual harassment, and by the time he’s finally killed, almost everyone in the department is a viable suspect. Raphael’s sharp takes on university politics overshadows the plot, which builds to a denouement that may not please some readers but is realistic in not tying up all the loose ends. While the jabs at the academy might not rise to the level of Lucky Jim, the distinctive characters and authenticity of the setting keep the story moving forward. Series fans will hope they won’t have to wait years to see Nick again. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Collusion

Newt Gringich and Pete Earley. Broadside, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-285998-3

This overwrought political thriller from bestsellers Gingrich and Earley (the Major Brook Grant series) addresses all kinds of issues dominating the headlines, from domestic terrorism and Antifa to campus protests and fake news, but it mainly focuses on the danger posed by Russia and its Putin-like president, Vyachesian Kalugin. When terrorists break into the foreign ministry building in Kiev and shoot the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Stanford Thorpe, the dying Thorpe instructs former Navy SEAL Brett Garrett, a member of the ambassador’s security detail, to remove a USB drive from his pocket and give it to U.S. president Randle Fitzgerald. Back in Washington, Garrett delivers the encrypted drive, which contains a message to Fitzgerald from a high-ranking Russian official who wants to defect. Meanwhile, FBI agent Valerie Mayberry goes undercover to get close to a person of interest, a wealthy 26-year-old American woman, who might have connections to the terrorist attack. Few characters rise above caricatures, and intrusive flashbacks and inside-the-Beltway information slow the plot. Fans of jingoistic action novels will best appreciate this one. Agents: Kathy G. Lubbers, Lubbers Agency and David Vigliano, AGI Vigliano Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Guillermo Saccomanno, trans. from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger. Open Letter, $14.95 trade paper (262p) ISBN 978-1-940953-89-2

This suspenseful and claustrophobic novel from Saccomanno (Gesell Dome) follows the dangers and paranoia faced by a middle-aged high school literature teacher in Argentina under dictator Jorge Rafael Videla in 1977. Gómez, a teacher and closeted gay man living in Buenos Aires, lives in fear, and every green Ford Falcon that goes by fills him with terror: maybe he will be the next one taken by government goons. Gómez and his friends try to ignore the arbitrary arrests, but after a favorite student, Esteban, is taken from his class by the secret police, Gómez’s fears ramp up. A series of incidents increase his paranoia: he’s monitored by his landlord, Ramón; his phone is tapped after he starts an affair with Walter, a homophobic police officer; frogs are nailed to doors in his apartment complex. The story picks up when Diana, a pregnant dissident and lover of one of Gómez’s old friends, goes into hiding in Gómez’s apartment. They develop an unusual father/daughter relationship that gives his life new meaning, but also gives him more to lose. This dense novel is rife with intersecting sequences and unrelated subplots, but its rewards are substantial and the prose is excellent. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II

Robert Matzen. GoodKnight, $27.95 (416p) ISBN 978-1-73227-353-5

Matzen (Mission: Jimmy Stewart) completes his trilogy of books about Hollywood figures during WWII with this exciting volume about Audrey Hepburn’s childhood and adolescence under the Nazi occupation of Holland. At first, Hepburn is largely a supporting player, having been only 11 when the Nazis invaded (she later said, “A child is a child is a child; I just went to school”). Instead, Matzen focuses on Hepburn’s mother (by then divorced from Hepburn’s father), a socialite and longtime Nazi sympathizer, and other family members, including her uncle, who was held by the Nazis and eventually shot in retaliation for Dutch resistance activity. Nevertheless, Matzen shows how war shaped Hepburn’s resilient and fiercely private personality and informed her work as a UNICEF ambassador later in life. And all is not gloom and doom, as he explores Hepburn’s fascination with dance, and her dreams of becoming a ballerina. More dominant, however, is the wartime background. Visceral details—of intense privation (“I went as long as three days without food” Hepburn recalled), constant bombings, and also acts of resistance—evoke the period. Matzen has created a vivid portrait of a civilian population under siege–one of who just happened to become a Hollywood star. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Contemplative Caregiving: Finding Healing, Compassion, and Spiritual Growth through End-of-Life Care

John Eric Baugher. Shambhala, $18.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-61180-704-2

Baugher (Creative Social Change), a social science researcher and longtime hospice volunteer, illuminates the life-giving opportunities that arise from the hospice experience (both those in hospice and caregivers) in this compassionate and intimate look at caring for the dying. Baugher describes how he began caregiving at age 18, as a means to cope with the trauma of his mother’s murder and being estranged from his father. With hindsight, he notes that his early volunteering was more about him than his patients: “I was so blinded by my glowingly good intentions.” But that early desire to seem like a caring person led him on a path of humility and true healing as he came to view hospice work as a transformative spiritual practice. Baugher relays stories of caregivers from many walks of life: prison inmates, Vietnam veterans, and people seeking to assuage guilt over not having cared for dying loved ones, among others. While examining preconceptions and behaviors that can undermine the quality of caregiving, such as romanticizing hospice work and infantilizing a dying person, Baugher contends that everyone has the capacity to care, and that learning from mistakes leads to spiritual growth. Each chapter includes a section called “Contemplation,” which often poses a question (for instance, “Who would you be without your grief?”). While this elegant work will be of particular value to hospice volunteers, Baugher’s wisdom will resonate with anyone who finds themselves caring for someone at the end-of-life. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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In Tune: Music as the Bridge to Mindfulness

Richard Wolf. The Experiment, $18.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-61519-535-0

Wolf (Thought and Play in Musical Rhythm), Emmy Award–winning composer and professor at the USC Thornton School of Music, finds many productive connections between his musical career and meditation in this fine guide. Though Wolf tried zen meditation for years, it only became beneficial after he began relating meditative practices to his musical training. Each of the 12 chapters opens with anecdotes from his own experience or that of famous performers, including Miles Davis, John Cage, John Coltrane, and Pablo Casals. He then presents exercises and techniques drawn from music to introduce aspects of meditation. These bridges include instructions on topics including posture and concentration, as well as arguments, such as why one should practice for the sake of practicing and the value of losing oneself in performance. Though many of the techniques—loosening the whole body, counting breaths, letting the mind drift—are standard beginning approaches, the musical associations provide fresh context. Wolf also shows how these techniques can be used beyond sitting meditation to calm the mind and aid mindfulness during other tasks. The conclusion includes specialized exercises such as tonal breathing for those with advanced musical skills. Readers with even slight musical background will enjoy Wolf’s sharp, useful suggestions to make mindfulness a more achievable goal. Agent: Stephani Evans, Pande Literary (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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