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The Belle of Charleston

Jerri Hines. Amazon, $2.99 e-book (158p) ISBN ASIN B00Q8M1EYK

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Hines's first Southern Legacy romance has all the elements of intriguing antebellum fiction: a mansion near Charleston, a beautiful woman, and two men who are both in love with her. Josephine Buchanan Wright is convinced that Wade Montgomery will marry her instead of abiding by his family's wishes and marrying the fiancée of his deceased brother, Percival. When Wade's cousin, Lt. Cullen Smythe, informs Josephine that Wade will uphold his familial duty, she is heartbroken. Though Cullen offers for her hand to minimize the damage to her reputation, Josephine is convinced her father would not allow the marriage, as Cullen is a Yankee. But Cullen refuses to withdraw his offer, as he finds Josephine extremely attractive. Fickle Josephine falls in and out of love too quickly, and while Hines keeps the story moving, the lack of character development and precipitous ending are likely to disappoint. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I'm Not a Terrorist, But I've Played One on TV: Memoirs of a Middle Eastern Funny Man

Maz Jobrani. Simon & Schuster, $24 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4998-3

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Iranian-American comedian Jobrani is a man of many stages: he's acted alongside Chuck Norris (regrettably), entertained the king of Jordan (nerve-wrackingly), and even played his own worst enemy: an ethnic cliché. Jobrani's immigrant story confronts pre- and post-9/11 prejudices unflinchingly, with writing that mimics the comedian's signature accents, though they play better onstage than on the page. Jobrani explores his Iranian family with stories that bridge the invisible wall between cultures as he describes escaping the Iranian revolution and establishing himself in comedy. Hidden amid tales of strip-club performances (don't do them, is Jobrani's advice) and elderly Persian hecklers is a valuable study in American race relations centered around Jobrani's own relationship with his family and friends. Jobrani's personal touch lends weight to his often but not always joking observations, and the result is a memoir about race that's accessible to people who don't like to talk about race. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story

Mac McClelland. Flatiron, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-05289-6

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This raw look at life with PTSD begins in Haiti in September 2010, where an earthquake has just shaken the very fabric of society. McClelland (A Twisted Trail) is one of the journalists who comes to Port-au-Prince to cover femicide and hate crimes, and she witnesses "something." She does not provide details, only writing that it has to do with rape, and that watching the "something" is the closest she's ever been to someone else's terror. Immediately afterward, she feels "a disembodied version of myself hovering somewhere behind me and to the left." This dissociation and a psychological numbness—so severe that she felt no emotion when her boyfriend, Nico, placed a rose on her chest and fed her strawberries in bed one day—are symptoms that strain her ability to function. McClelland pulls herself away from drinking binges with the help of Nico's steadiness, a somatic therapist's expertise, and the affirmation she receives from PTSD survivors who thank her for reporting on the illness. McClelland is writing this memoir for those survivors. She asks readers who haven't experienced dissociation and numbness to empathize with psychological conditions that they won't fully understand, and makes it easy to grant that request. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Living Years: The First Genesis Memoir

Mike Rutherford. St. Martin's/Dunne, $25.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-06068-6

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Rutherford, bassist and guitarist for the renowned progressive-rock band Genesis, gives thisautobiography the same title as his emotional number-one hit song with Mike + the Mechanics; the song is about Rutherford's recently deceased father, whose unpublished memoir inspired his book. Rutherford recounts the origin of Genesis at Charterhouse, a boarding school in the English county of Surrey, where he, guitarist Anthony Phillips, keyboardist Tony Banks, and vocalist Peter Gabriel met and formed a band that pioneered the mix of theatrical elements with odd lyrics and complex song structures. After Gabriel's departure in 1975 for a wildly diverse solo career, drummer Phil Collins took over lead vocals and brought Genesis to even greater commercial heights amid his own solo success. Refusing to dwell too much on particulars—the band's final two albums receive surprisingly short shrift, as do stories about rock-and-roll excess—Rutherford writes with British wit, charm, and honesty. His depiction of the rigid Banks is less than favorable, for example, and there's little emotion in his description of the departure of guitarist Steve Hackett. This book is being heavily promoted as the first memoir by a member of Genesis and is already a bestseller in Britain. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Missing Persons: A Life of Unexpected Influences

Bruce Piasecki. Square One, $17.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7570-0412-4

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Piasecki (Doing More with Less), head of a management consulting firm, looks back at his eventful life in a fragmented, energetic memoir occasionally resembling the cut-up techniques of Burroughs and the stylistic methods of the New Journalism of the 1960s and 1970s. Piasecki started this book 17 years ago when his daughter, Colette, was born, recalling his hardscrabble childhood on Long Island and his journey to becoming a promising three-letter high school athlete, a Cornell University scholar, and a successful businessman. The key influences of his life include his rebellious Uncle Ziggy; his foster children, Edwin Torres and Suie Ying Chang; artist Frida Kahlo; writer Jay Parini; and his confidante Darlene, whom he loves as much as his mother, wife, and daughter. Piasecki's compulsively addictive memoir, combining rich cinematic touches and psychological elements of memory and dreams with dispassionate third-person narration, celebrates family life, marriage, reading, writing, and business achievement. B&w photos. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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First Jobs: True Tales of Bad Bosses, Quirky Coworkers, Big Breaks, and Small Paychecks

Edited by Merritt Watts. Picador, $16 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-06125-6

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In this slender, innocuous volume, Watts pulls together 50 short first-person narratives about first jobs, edited from interviews she conducted. Her own first gig was telemarketing, hoping "no one would answer [the phone], saving us both the pained exchange that was to follow." A school counselor recalls that as a teenager in Florida, he would tag along to work with his father, a pet cemetery caretaker. A graduate student working behind the counter in an Aspen, Colo., shop served former president Bill Clinton and California's then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on her first day. A 16-year-old boy in a small town in Illinois was tapped to be the local newspaper's sports editor during WWII. Watts balances these everyday anecdotes with others from more famous people. Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, for example, recalls shining shoes downtown when he was six years old, and designer Jonathan Adler worked the fax and photocopy machines at a talent agency in New York City before hitting on his true passion. What this collection offers in breadth, however, it lacks in depth, with the brief, episodic format not allowing for much background information or truly significant insight. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Concussion Inc.: The End of Football as We Know It

Irvin Muchnick. ECW Press. (Legato Publishers Group, U.S. dist.; Jaguar Book Group, Canadian dist.), $19.99 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-77041-138-8

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Investigative sports journalist Muchnick (Wrestling Babylon), who has written extensively about the tragic effects of traumatic brain injury among wrestlers, turns his attention to the same issue in football. In this compilation of blog entries written between 2009 and 2013, Muchnick unflinchingly documents National Football League veteran Dave Duerson's time on the league's disability claims review board, which he spent frequently denying benefits to other retired players and "downplaying known evidence of the connection between football traumatic brain injuries and long-term mental-health problems." When Duerson committed suicide in 2011, he left a note indicating that he himself suffered from brain damage. Another target of close scrutiny is Dr. Joseph Maroon, longtime neurosurgeon of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was on the NFL's concussion policy committee while simultaneously promoting concussion management software and nutritional supplements that purportedly protect against concussions. Muchnick argues that the NFL's violent culture has a dangerous effect on teenage athletes and that tackle football must be banned in public high schools. It's not easy reading. The author's tone is sometimes polemical or pompous, but his arguments will resonate, not only with football aficionados but also with fans of hockey, boxing, and other contact sports. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Jaded

Varina Denman. David C. Cook, $14.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-4347-0837-3

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In this capable debut novel, home educator and Bible study teacher Denman offers a glimpse into the complexities of life and romance in a tightly knit west Texas town. Years after the Turner family is caught in a scandal and ostracized, Ruthie Turner develops a romantic interest in Dodd Cunningham, the new local minister, setting the stage for the revelation of a string of secrets. Trapp, Tex., is no bucolic escape: it’s characterized by closed-mindedness, grudges, secrets, and distrust of outsiders. Denman refreshes an oft-told tale by adding variations to familiar character types. The cast is large, but the characters are well developed, making it easier for readers to follow their interactions. Although ostensibly a romance between Ruthie and Dodd, Denman’s novel is ambitious and multilayered, reading more like women’s fiction as it focuses on the issues of shame and forgiveness. Ruthie and Dodd alternate narration, which can be jarring at times. Denman offers an engaging tale of forgiveness and acceptance with memorable characters, and to her credit, she avoids a predictable ending. Agent: Jessica Kirkland, Blythe Daniel Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Love Poems

Bertolt Brecht, trans. from the German by David Constantine and Tom Kuhn. Norton/Liveright, $23.95 (144p) ISBN 978-0-87140-856-3

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Though Americans know Brecht (1898–1956) almost entirely for his theater works, many Germans also think him a first-rate poet. This relatively short volume collects attractive new English versions of the great playwright's poems on erotic devotion, longing, disappointment, and good and bad sex. Some are caricatures; some depict sex workers, seriously or sarcastically; and some are raunchy jokes. Others, however, comment seriously on the beginnings, middles, and ends of romantic connections: "You ask how long now have they been together?// Not long.—And when they'll part?—Oh, soon enough./ So love appears secure to those who love." Still more poems, apparently written to real women, appear to track the great writer's devotions and his regrets. With the variety in tones comes a welcome mix of forms: a few dozen sonnets (put skillfully into rhymed English), but also enthusiastically vulgar ballads, stark free verse, and beautifully archaizing fragments. Constantine and Kuhn plan to translate all of Brecht's verse into English, making this collection the first of many: their forceful, clear versions usually sound like real poetry, not translationese. A compact and polemical introduction almost makes up for the lack of facing-page German and the absence of explanatory notes. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Expect Delays

Bill Berkson. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (140p) ISBN 978-1-56689-373-2

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Delight and capaciousness are hallmarks of the New York school,in which Berkson (Snippets) has carved a unique place for himself, but few of his contemporaries achieve the distinct blend of tenderness, pathos, and meddling fun that define so many of his poems. Here, he focuses on the endless parade of stimuli in American culture and the endless capacity of language to capture it. Berkson moves fast, and a lament for a fictional character will just as soon shift registers to celebrate Berkson's mother's 100th birthday with an ecstatic, Whitmanesque line. When his poems disappoint, as they often do, it might be because they rarely amount to anything more than their disparate parts, as in the long, collaged "Songs for Bands," in which Berkson settles for collage as an end unto itself and is content, at times, to remind us of songs we already know. But it's hard to stay mad at Berkson, who is always flitting to the next quote, the next city, the next fragment of Mandelstam. And, oddly, Mandelstam may be the poet with whom Berkson shares his closest bond, both of them ecstatic in the throes of language, both of them ready to declare, "My breath, my warmth has already lain on the panes of eternity." (Nov.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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