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Goodreads Choice AwardNominee for Best Mystery & Thriller (2016) Her eyes are wide open. Her lips parted as if to speak. Her dead body frozen in the ice…She is not the only one. When a young boy discovers the body of a woman beneath a thick sheet of ice in a South London park, Detective Erika Foster is called in to lead the murder investi...Details, rating and comments
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Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turn...Details, rating and comments
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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER A landmark volume in science writing by one of the great minds of our time, Stephen Hawking’s book explores such profound questions as: How did the universe begin—and what made its start possible? Does time always flow forward? Is the universe unending—or are there boundaries? Are there other dimensions in space...Details, rating and comments

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Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary
Alan Charles Kors
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1972
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Rebbeca
Daphne du Maurier
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1938
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WYLIE FINDS A DINOSAUR
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“A little boy his name is Wylie. / He’s seldom sad AND often smiley.” Wylie is a young boy with pale skin and brown hairwhose father’s hobby is digging for fossils and other buried treasure. Wylie goes out with his dad one day. While the father methodically investigates a hill Wylie wanders ahead and comes across a bone. Analysis by professors from Southern Methodist University reveal the bone to be from a hitherto unknown type of dinosaur—a Nodosaur. Wylie makes the news and is featured in a presentation at the zoo. Brys tells Wylie’s story in rhymed verse across 21 double-spread pages. The use of iambic meter lends the proceedings a child-friendly singsong quality but also a meandering vagueness as redundant phrases are used to conclude the rhymes. (For example: “They wrap in tissue cloth and plaster / Bill joins in and is a master.”) Huey’s illustrations are suitably dirty and chaotic capturing the enthusiasm and investigative spirit that is in evidence throughout. The text equally wild could prove a bit too drably colored for younger readers. The absence of any living dinosaurs may disappoint those drawn in by the title; nevertheless there is much here to stimulate inquisitive young minds.


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THE ZEROTH DAY
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Set in a near future in which Venice and other coastal cities are underwater Paris has been incinerated in a nuclear blast and surviving cities like Moscow are plagued by permanent rolling blackouts the vast majority of humanity finds escape in the Flow a virtual-reality simulation of the world that’s powered by users’ subconscious desires. The story follows Nikolai Vasilyev who’s a shadow of the man he used to be. Once a renowned actor he’s now a down-and-out alcoholic struggling to come to grips with the death of his wife who died years earlier. Essentially begging for some vegetables and a bottle of vodka at a store in an impoverished Moscow neighborhood Nikolai agrees to deliver a gift (a wooden case containing two glass beakers filled with a transparent liquid) to the store proprietor’s cousin. But the simple deed goes awry as Nikolai questions whether he’s hallucinating institutionalized in a mental hospital stuck inside the Flow or a spy in a secret program run by an AI research institute. With what might be the spirit of his dead wife leading him through a surreal dreamscape Nikolai finally discovers the mind-blowing truth. Powered by an unreliable narrator and set in an all-too-plausible future inhabited by zombified VR users who have lost touch with the real world the mind-bending narrative works so well in large part because of the author’s utterly compelling prose style. Rozental’s use of darkly lyrical imagery throughout is an undeniable strength: Old apple trees loom in the darkness as “huge spiders” a woman’s wrinkled hands and crooked fingers resemble “the branches of a rain-starved tree” and a white church melts into the darkness “like a lump of sugar in a cup of hot coffee.”


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GROWING INTO GREATNESS
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It is May 1960. Forty-year-old Sofia Russo is swirling a glass of Pinot Noir poured from the first bottle from her second harvest. On her desk sits a blank sheet of paper waiting for her to write words of tribute to her father Giovanni Russo to be spoken at the opening ceremony of Russo Vineyards’ first tasting room. The festivities will also serve as the official handover of the vineyard from father to son from Giovanni to Sofia’s twin brother Alonso (Al) Russo—but it is Sofia who has always dreamed of being the next Russo vintner whose soul is infused with the smells and labor of the vineyard. Al is a graphic artist with little interest in winemaking but he is resigned to accepting responsibility for preserving the family heritage. From the time she was a toddler Sofia would follow her father and grandfather into the fields spending every possible moment with her Papa. All that changed at the twins’ 10th birthday party the day that Giovanni made clear that Al would inherit the vineyard (“as fathers we are blessed to have sons to carry on the family name”); her relationship with her father has been fractured ever since. After renting a patch of land from friend and neighboring winemaker Mateo Parisi Sofia has just produced her own outstanding vintage. Williams’ narrative is a vibrant tale of complex filial relationships. Of equal weight is the vivid presentation of the struggles of Napa Valley vintners during Prohibition and the Great Depression—some of the novel’s most compelling and poignant sections are found in these historical chapters. Additionally the story serves as a primer on the extraordinarily intricate day-by-day decisions involved in producing a fine vintage with Sofia scrupulously following her beloved grandfather’s inspiration and tutelage. The technical information can become a bit mind-numbing for the average wine consumer but connoisseurs will enjoy having their attention to vintage subtleties validated.


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WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE POISON
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Dr. Lily Robinson knows her poisons and toxins which is how she makes her U.S. government–sanctioned assassinations look natural. She’s also the perfect choice to look into scientist Daniel Williams’ death while he was scuba diving off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Though a venomous sea krait’s bite killed him that particular snake isn’t commonly found in that area. After another scientist and her husband mysteriously die in Australian waters it seems someone is targeting people with ties to the Climate Council which has an upcoming conference in Brussels. Lily on behalf of a clandestine team she’s previously worked for investigates in Sydney South Africa and Belgium. She’s joined by operatives Jean Paul “JP” Marchand (who’s also her soul mate) and the mononymous Parker as she works to uncover the toxin-armed killer(s) agenda. Their mission may soon entail taking out the operatives who are hot on the killer’s trail. As in Magnani’s A Message in Poison (2022) the story teems with medical terminology and clear details about poisons and toxic plants and animals. Chapters intercut Lily’s first-person narration with third-person perspectives; this approach allows readers to identify at least one villain before Lily even has a chance. This structure also amps up the suspense especially once the malefactor in question realizes someone is onto them. The narrative intermittently dives into Lily’s curious past as she reminisces about someone she lost decades earlier as well as the woman who recruited her to the team. Although Lily’s toxicological expertise and professed “Spidey sense” (“Years of buried feelings have allowed me to develop an intuition that reaches deep from within”) rarely come into play in this sequel her doggedness and all-around scientific knowledge make her an exceptional investigator. The plot rolls out a few surprises including a doozy in the searing final act.


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SAM LACY AND WENDELL SMITH
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In this new entry in Routledge’s Historical Americans series the author tells the life stories of Sam Lacy and Wendell Smith from their childhoods and early years through their careers as baseball journalists for Black-owned ventures (Lacy for Baltimore’s Afro-American and Smith for the Pittsburgh Courier) to the very different ends of their lives: Smith only lived until his 50s and died in 1972 (Chicago mayor Richard Daley paid his respects: “We have lost a great citizen who was interested in the city and most of all the city’s children”) whereas Lacy lived into his 90s and eventually moved to writing for the white-majority-owned Chicago American. As Dawkins notes however they shared the same journalistic mission: “To reason ridicule and report to owners and the commissioner that Black ballplayers deserved to compete on Major League Baseball teams.” The author fleshes out the tense racial politics of the 1930s and ’40s in densely documented pages (the book has extensive notes and a bibliography) and fills his narrative with many notable personalities of the period from Kenesaw Mountain Landis the adamantly pro-segregation baseball commissioner to his successor former United States senator A.B. Chandler who ended the unofficial ban on Blacks playing professional ball. And of course the narrative returns frequently to the iconic figure of Jackie Robinson who was often caught up in the intricacies of standing against the institutional racism of the sport he loved. Robinson is by far the book’s most three-dimensional character but Dawkins also excels at bringing his two main subjects to life skillfully distilling the bite and acerbity of their writings and capturing their voices (when a manager said of a former Negro League pitcher “Johnny’s not ready yet” Lacy responded “Certainly he can’t get ready riding the bench”). Much like its subjects the book strikes a fine balance between baseball and civil rights.


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SAND, SEA, & SECOND CHANCES
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Kate Fiore has just made it to Gull Island North Carolina her new home for the next few months. Her best friend CeCe Greenwood is beginning her maternity leave and Kate will be filling in for her at the Gull Island Aquarium. Aquatic life may not be Kate’s forte but she’s good at keeping things running smoothly and organizing events which will come in handy when she has to help coordinate the donor dinner during the upcoming Founders Day celebration. This time away keeping busy at the aquarium is exactly what Kate needs—a reset after getting divorced and losing her job (adding insult to injury she learns her ex has already impregnated his new girlfriend). But on her first day there she manages to get locked out of her little bungalow and embarrasses herself in front of Luke McAllister a very handsome (but very snarky) local. Gull Island isn’t especially big and Kate soon realizes just how small it really is as she seems to run into the gruff Luke everywhere she goes. As time goes on she realizes Luke has a kinder heart and a sweeter personality than their first few meetings led her to believe. But Kate is only supposed to be here for the summer…. In this sweet romance the first in a series the author creates a beautiful small-town setting in Gull Island and the surrounding areas (“A gentle breeze brushed against her cheek carrying the briny perfume of the ocean and the scent of jasmine from a nearby garden”) with plenty of colorful side characters. Kate and Luke’s romance is definitely the highlight of the novel with their squabbles and their “Turtle Team” (they comb the beach looking for turtle nests to protect) rules that they amend as they go. This is a romantic and chaste narrative (with nothing steamy happening on the page) sure to please anyone looking for a sweet and breezy beach read.


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THE BRIGHT SWORD
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Collum of the Out Isles has stolen armor and a horse from his local lord hoping to be accepted as a knight of the Round Table. But when he arrives at Camelot the place is nearly deserted; King Arthur and a majority of his knights have died in the battle at Camlann leaving no clear heir. With the few remaining knights and the sorceress Nimue Collum travels across the disintegrating nation and even into the fairy Otherworld searching for a successor to the dead Arthur and marshaling forces against the rivals who seek Britain’s throne for themselves—including Morgan le Fay Arthur’s enchantress half-sister who claims that she is the rightful heir but mostly acts as a chaos agent throughout helping or harming the questers as seems best to her in the moment. As the book progresses we learn the secret backstory of each of the surviving knights as well as the nature of the relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere the apparent spark for the civil conflict (the truth intriguingly is not what you think). The story of King Arthur has been told and substantially altered many times over the centuries and explored by a multitude of contemporary novelists but the author of the Magicians trilogy makes room for himself here. The purposeful inclusion of anachronisms recalls T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and the conflict between Christianity and pagan traditions is strongly reminiscent of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. However very few writers have explored post-Arthurian Britain or focused quite so much on developing the stories of the minor characters in the saga—the transgender man Sir Dinadan; Arthur’s bodyguard Sir Bedivere secretly in love with his liege; Sir Dagonet the Fool suffering from severe bipolar disorder; Sir Palomides a highly educated prince of Baghdad whose not-so-secret passion for the lady Isolde keeps him in a primitive land that looks down on him for the color of his skin; and so on. This is not a realistic conjecture of how Britain would continue after the death of a charismatic leader who tried to institute new policies of standard law and justice. It’s a metafiction in which the survivors of a myth attempt to extend that myth as they contend with the inner demons of their pasts.


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ALL THE ROCKS WE LOVE
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Poet and psychotherapist Lisa Varchol Perron and her husband Taylor Perron a geology professor have combined their different areas of expertise with appealing accessible and informative results. Told in verse and accompanied by carefully composed watercolors this simple introduction to geology opens by a river; one child looks at rocks in the grass while in the distance an adult and several other kids one of whom uses a wheelchair return from the waterside. Ensuing spreads depict diverse children interacting with various types of rocks from chert to granite. A curious youngster takes pleasure in stacking pieces of shale. A fearful child finds comfort in holding a piece of obsidian. Agate makes a delightful gift for a loved one. Some activities will be familiar to readers: A bespectacled youth draws on the sidewalk with chalk as a seagull looks on; another child tosses pumice into the water and smiles as it floats. Each spread contains a four-line stanza that scans well. The useful backmatter includes excellent descriptions of the 10 kinds of rocks presented; the authors also remind readers that “some rocks need to stay put in order to preserve the geology and ecology of an area or to respect local beliefs and practices.”


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YOU'RE A GOOD SWIMMER
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It all begins with “the biggest race of your life” depicted in Boroff’s animated glowing illustrations as a cloud of sperm rendered as thumbprints or thumbprint-shaped blobs with long wriggly tails zooming toward an egg cell. Being “crafty…quick…smart and a little wild” one particular “you” got there first and with a bit of placental protection “all the forces of the universe cooperated so that you could be here.” Rivas covers the bases evolution-wise with separate allusive references to a heritage measured in “billions of years” and to something “mysterious immense and profound” that “had already decided since the beginning of time that you would exist.” More importantly you were wanted the author affirms. And being “a champion of champions. Genetically speaking” you “WERE BORN A WINNER.” The egg’s role doesn’t get much explicit notice in the narrative but it does in the artwork which includes schematic but recognizable views of an ovum a placenta and several figures with bulging midriffs. Also on another page silhouetted couples including one who uses a wheelchair dance at a “starting line” (and “there are many starting lines” Rivas writes).


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THE AU PAIR AFFAIR
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Burgess Abraham is 37 and can feel himself aging out of hockey—everything hurts. He refuses to let the team doctors know the extent of his pain worried it will force him into early retirement. Complicating his life he’s recently divorced and has shared custody of his daughter Lissa. Burgess’ punishing travel schedule means he needs help at home so he hires 26-year-old graduate student Tallulah Aydin to be his daughter’s nanny. Tallulah just moved to Boston for a graduate program in marine biology. She’s flat broke and landing this gig is a financial lifesaver but she worries that her incendiary chemistry with Burgess will make it hard to keep things professional. Burgess’ feelings of protectiveness toward Tallulah are amplified after she tells him about a traumatic incident from her past. Her move to Boston showed her that she’s been letting fear rule her life that she’s reluctant to trust people and afraid to live. Burgess offers to help Tallulah check items off her bucket list of adventures promising to accompany her and keep her safe. In return Burgess wants to be her boyfriend not just a casual fling. Unfortunately Lissa is convinced her parents will get back together and sees Tallulah as an interloper. Bailey fans will find all the classic hallmarks of her style: a plucky heroine matched with a possessive dirty-talking hero in a high-heat romance. Although the novel engages with deeper themes its exploration of these difficult topics feels simplistic and superficial. Huge problems are introduced late in the story and then fixed offstage without readers seeing the work and effort involved.


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BEYOND POLICING
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Growing up in the Bronx McHarris learned early in life that despite their purported responsibility to promote public safety the police were actually a danger to him and his Black friends and family. “I’ve been trying to avoid the police for as long as I can remember” he writes. This lifelong tendency to avoid police as well as his extensive research for his dissertation for his doctorate in sociology and African American studies at Yale led to his ability to imagine—and his commitment to advocate for—a society without police. McHarris begins his abolitionist argument with a short history of the American police force connecting its origins to slave patrols anti-Asian and anti-Mexican sentiments and the genocide of Indigenous peoples. After thoroughly uncovering this deplorable history the author traces the evolution of the police into its modern form which evolved from the Reagan era war on drugs and continued with then-senator Biden’s racist 1994 crime act. Crucially McHarris describes these developments alongside alternatives to policing ranging from modern movements in Miami Minneapolis and Philadelphia to historical movements like the “copwatch patrols” instituted by the Black Panthers. In the final section of the book McHarris gets imaginative about what it might be like to live in a world without police emphasizing that in every community safety is contingent on an equitable distribution of resources. “It’s fundamentally a question of prioritizing lives and people over property and capital” he writes. The author’s impressive expertise is matched only by his passion for his subject and commitment to radical imagination. While the text is occasionally repetitive this is a compassionate comprehensive and practical guide to envisioning and creating a world free from the oppression and violence caused by police.


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BACK IN BLACK
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AC/DC’s Back in Black (1980) is the jumping-off point for this surprisingly diverse collection. While the stories—whose titles match the 10 tracks on the album—are all rooted in mystery and suspense they range over various subgenres from the tale of an urban serial killer to a revisiting of World War I carnage to the familiar face-off between a hardboiled gumshoe and a mysterious blond. Highlights include Dave Bruns’ “Givin the Dog a Bone” which features loner Carl Boyd raised in isolation on a farm and the faithful mutt who latches onto him as well as some Mexican desperados; Reed Farrel Coleman’s “Shoot To Thrill: A Tale From Gun Church” a gritty account about an unhealthy and surprisingly sensual obsession with the most intimate details of weapons and heavy metal; and Tori Eldridge’s “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” in which Dr. Candace Stone the jaded host of a call-in radio advice program snaps to when she’s taunted by a shooter. The marquee entry is Andrew Child’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” a brisk and stylish espionage yarn featuring the KGB a crucial briefcase and happy-go-lucky superspy Jack Reacher protagonist of the long-running series. Heather Graham Sandra Balzo Rick Bleiweiss Charles Todd Ward Larsen and editor Bruns round out the roster of contributors. The quality is understandably uneven but mostly above average. And the terrific idea behind the collection kindles the hope that every reader will someday be gifted with an anthology based on their favorite album.


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ON A MUSHROOM DAY
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“On a mushroom day” a gap-toothed child and a bespectacled adult with long curly black hair streaked with gray trek through the woods. Both wear shorts and boots; both soon have dirty knees. Over the course of this appealing introduction to the world of fungi readers encounter 12 very different species of mushrooms (identified in the backmatter) and learn about the mycelium the network of roots that connect fungi with trees and help to nourish the forest. The gentle narrative concludes with the characters sitting down to have mushrooms for dinner. Baker reminds readers in the afterword that only “knowledgeable adults” should pick mushrooms “and never more than half of what you find.” Quietly contemplative text and delightful illustrations bring this expedition to life. The visuals convey the child’s sense of wonder and active imagination and even add some fantasy: A big cat reclines upon lion’s mane mushrooms while winged creatures happily cavort in the fairy ring. The earthy illustrations rendered in acrylic gouache and oil pastel were inspired by actual photos taken in the woods and the mushrooms are accurate and identifiable. Informative and engaging this tale is sure to have kids eagerly taking to the outdoors in search of mushrooms—and more.


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THE NIGHTMARE VIRUS
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Cain wanted to build dream worlds as a professional Draftsman but then the Nightmare Virus arrived. It traps sleeping people in the nightmarish state Cain’s older brother Nole called the Tunnel adding one hour of sleep per day until after 22 Sleeps you never wake up. When Cain is infected after Nole’s death he fights his way through the Tunnel by sheer force of will and finds Tenebra a dreamscape reminiscent of ancient Rome that’s inhabited by other infected people. Cain makes a bargain with young Emperor Luc—save Luc’s infected father (who’s in a Life Support Pod that needs charging in the Real World) access the cure that’s locked in his mind and get an exorbitantly expensive LifeSuPod of his own. While Cain is asleep he must earn his Tenebran citizenship by surviving the Arena and dangerous Spores who enter and exit the Nightmare at will. When he’s awake he faces the apocalypse. If he dies in one world he also dies in the other. While this genre-bending work features an interesting premise it’s slow to start the worldbuilding is muddled and the ending may not satisfy readers who are unfamiliar with Christianity. The author’s approach to dealing with mental health and emotional struggles is confusing potentially communicating blame for sufferers. Most characters read white.


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NOT ANOTHER LOVE SONG
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Gwen Jackson and Xander Thorne are talented performers with the Manhattan Pops Orchestra: She’s a violinist; he’s a cellist. When Gwen is hired to play the wedding of one of Xander’s friends she’s stunned to realize that Xander has no clue who she is. Given that Xander is also from a family of famed and wealthy musicians the snub stings even more. After all Gwen’s natural talent didn’t come from good genetics or expensive lessons. Her gift was nurtured by a caring music shop owner and at times she feels more at home busking in a subway station than in a fancy concert hall. Gwen seems to be beneath Xander’s notice until she receives the coveted spot of first chair further igniting their hostility toward one another. Beneath their personal antagonism Gwen and Xander have a healthy amount of respect for each other’s talent which bubbles up and turns into sexual attraction. Some readers may find that the change from rivals to romantic partners progresses rather swiftly but the close quarters and public setting is an ideal pressure cooker. This is a delightful spin on the workplace-relationship trope trading buttoned-up boardrooms and Type A strivers for intense rehearsals and musical prodigies whose journeys to the same orchestra couldn’t have been more different. There are some plot threads that don’t land well as when the orchestra decides to use Gwen and Xander’s relationship to drum up publicity. Less is more if it allows a relationship to develop at a pace that won’t give the reader whiplash.


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PITCHING TO GIRAFFES
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John Light walked onto his baseball team at his small Michigan college suddenly in possession of an impressive fastball that had eluded him during his high school career. Now he’s in his senior year and the team has a real shot at winning the league championship. John should be excited but he’s discontent. The philosophy and politics he’s been reading about at night—unrelated to his pharmacy major—have been exposing him to new ideas helping him to see the flaws in America and its institutions and he’s beginning to suspect some sort of youth-led revolutionary change might be necessary. Even though it’s 1972 conservative Wrencher College hasn’t yet felt the spirit of the 1960s. “Every year brought more long hair more beards more flared torn jeans more tie-dye more beads and more flannel shirts but no groups organized to spread information or employ rebellious energy like everywhere else on the planet” John narrates. “Wrencher was a time bubble stuck ten years in the past.” As John starts to attend peace rallies and demonstrations he gets connected to a network of student activists at Wrencher and elsewhere who are willing to go to extreme lengths to make their voices heard. Meanwhile his well-meaning coach’s efforts to secure the team the championship are undermined by the players’ antics immaturity and penchant for distraction. When the opportunity arises for John to put his politics into action he must decide which rules he is willing to break and what it will mean—for himself and for his team—when he breaks them.

Puszykowski is an adept writer particularly about baseball. Here John imagines a fireball moving through his body as he throws a pitch: “As I pushed forward to pitch it rode up my thrusting thigh muscles entered my twisting hips and into my upper torso as I opened up shot through my pitching arm as it whipped forward crackled through the snap of my wrist and sparked out from my fingers as they propelled the baseball: powerful rhythmic and fluent.” But the combination of baseball and radical campus activism makes for a sometimes overwhelming baby boomer cocktail—all 46 chapters are named for popular songs from the era including “Bad Moon Rising” “Instant Karma” and “What’s Going On?” At one point John and his catcher discuss Beatles lyrics: “I thought of how music can bring people together like at Woodstock ya know? That’s what this team needs to pull together.” Puszykowski doesn’t seem to know much more than John does about what to do with this moment of cultural upheaval failing to establish why it might be important or what any of it has to do with college baseball. The result is a narrative without much incident and a narrator too ambivalent and reserved to really carry a novel with his voice alone. The story is believable and successful at capturing a common experience of adolescence but it is not always compelling.


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HOUSE OF SHADES
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In 1833 Hester Reeves arrives for the first day of a new job at a foreboding mansion called Tall Trees. Hester is 23 a free Black woman who uses the title “doctoress” to indicate her skills as an herbalist. Up to now she has used those skills mainly to treat the city’s sex workers at King’s Cross with the support of her kind husband Jos. Hester’s mother has died leaving her to care for Willa her pretty and headstrong younger sister. Willa’s factory job has brought her to the attention of her rakish boss and Hester wants to move her family out of the city farther from such temptations. So she jumps at the chance to undertake the care of the wealthy Gervaise Cherville for a month as he settles his affairs before moving to his country estate to live out his last days. Hester’s skills are suitable—Gervaise is dying of syphilis—and the pay generous enough to finance a move. She soon discovers Gervaise wants something more from her. Years ago he brought several enslaved women from his family’s plantation in Honduras to London. They escaped but he is haunted by them and wants Hester’s help to find out their fates. She proves to be a good detective but her discovery of what happened to the women could ruin lives. Complicating the situation are Gervaise’s sternly protective housekeeper Margaret and his son Rowland the very man Hester hopes to distance Willa from who is eager to get his hands on his father’s estate. The plot has some interesting turns and Gervaise’s situation as an enslaver coming to terms with his behavior has potential. But the book suffers from stereotypes and limited character development; Hester is so unfailingly upright she can come off as priggish while Rowland is such a stereotypical villain he almost twirls a mustache. But with brisk pacing and plentiful historical detail it’s still an entertaining read.


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THE REACTIONARY SPIRIT
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Beauchamp a senior correspondent for Vox who focuses on right-wing populism argues that the emergence of competitive authoritarianism whose proponents hold (rigged) elections and undermine such democratic institutions as a free press and politically independent courts is a consequence of a perceived need to defend social hierarchies from advances in social equality. This reactionary spirit pits democracy’s equal citizenship against a form of liberalism that embraces individual freedom and xenophobic nationalism. “Democracy by its nature” writes the author “encourages the upending of social hierarchies” and it’s “always possible for citizens to elect leaders whose policies would challenge the existing social order.” The rise of competitive authoritarianism was precipitated by postwar decolonization the formation of welfare states mass migration and efforts to reduce discrimination against marginalized groups—e.g. Black citizens in the U.S. and the lower castes in India. Beauchamp uses four cases as illustration: the U.S. Hungary Israel and India epitomized respectively by Donald Trump Viktor Orbán Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi. Although Beauchamp suggests American origins for competitive authoritarianism his evidence is more congruent with it being a global phenomenon similar to the spread of democracy after World War II. As the author writes it’s possible that “the consensus around the basic principles of liberal democracy in countries like the United States might not be nearly as widely shared” as many think. To counter the reactionary spirit Beauchamp argues for democratic activism and evidence-based governance and he thoughtfully presents the history of competitive authoritarianism and defines its major dimensions. As a broad assessment the author’s approach is more than sufficient in detail and attentiveness to political theory and academic scholarship.


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SLOW BURN
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John Starkey in the tale “Strange Wisdoms of the Dead” sails a rotting ship out to sea carrying victims of the Plague. Far away from the surviving villagers of Bliss he can set the vessel afire and burn the corpses. Along the way however something else takes the helm turning Starkey into a passenger with no idea of the ship’s new destination. These assembled short stories feature such spooky conventions as ghosts a witch and someone trying to bring a creature to life but the prevailing theme of this book is body horror—grotesque depictions of torn or modified flesh and impossibly contorted bodies. That’s just where the title story leads with Aaron Friedrich and his online publication for Owlswick County; he’s always looking for material for his website and Aaron’s own town of Grandy Springs Virginia has an especially bizarre history. Locals like Aaron bear scars on each side of their faces but have no recollection whatsoever as to what caused them. As Aaron inches closer to a terrifying hidden truth he may prefer to forget all over again. Characters from “Slow Burn” also pop up in the equally gruesome and novella-length “The Comforter” which takes place in another Virginia town. The story focuses on 13-year-old foster kid Maddy who’s receiving cryptic notes (“my mom stole your mom’s skin”) stuck to her school desk. Even with someone looking out for her Maddy may be unable to elude the terrors awaiting her.

It won’t surprise readers familiar with Allen’s work (Aftermath of an Industrial Accident: Stories 2020) that he doesn’t shy away from violent bits. Descriptions include viscera teeth (not just in mouths) and tortured limbs of all shapes and lengths. Many passages are outright disconcerting even out of context: “She fills his mouth and plugs his throat his tongue slapping uselessly against a column that tastes of blood and raw river silt.” The author’s gleefully vibrant prose animates these stories; this also holds true for the collection’s free-verse poetry. The poem “The Windows Breathe” gives life to an old house with “hungry shuddering groans” and a hall that’s “rounded glistening so much like a gullet”; “The Sacrifices” makes an abstraction tangible as “shriveled souls brushed our skin / like dried leaves.” As in many works in this genre the monster or brooding presence often reveals itself only at the end or opts to remain ambiguous. This narrative approach injects these stories with nerve-racking anticipation and dread over what may happen to characters like friends Andi and Celine in “Machine Learning” in which an early-morning casting call leads to a mysterious detour. Owen’s black-and-white digital illustrations accompany each of the stories and poems though there are only five unique pieces with multiple repeats throughout. These stark images (a monster peeking over a horizon; tendrils emerging from a skeletal chest) nevertheless enrich the dark tales herein.


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HOW TO EAT A MANGO
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Abuelita tasks Carmen a young Latine girl with picking mangoes. Carmen isn’t pleased with the chore; she doesn’t like mangoes—they’re too sticky and the fibers get stuck between her teeth! But Abuelita urges Carmen to truly look at and listen to the mango tree and its fruit. The wind blowing through the leaves of the tree makes Carmen think of her mother’s singing while the stirring roots which seem to call out “¡Gracias! Thank you!” to Mamá Earth remind Carmen of how she gives thanks at bedtime. And Carmen learns to see herself and Abuelita in the tree’s tall branches: “We are strong too! You can carry me and we can carry fruits.” With more reflection and a lesson on how to peel a ripe mango Carmen delights in the fruit and the time spent with her grandmother. Santos’ supple text is accompanied by Perdomo’s exuberant artwork which makes beautiful use of visual metaphor: As Abuelita speaks to the joy of eating a mango we see juice spurt out from her mouth while miniature people cavort (“Tiny strings play between your teeth and the songs of our people dance on your tongue”). Readers will appreciate the warmth and wisdom woven throughout this touching story of discovery and familial love.


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woman-stock-portrait "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."G.K. Chesterton.

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