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Anchor & Flares: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hope, and Service

Kate Braestrup. Little Brown, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-37378-4

Braestrup (Here if You Need Me) cuts an intriguing figure in her warm, thoughtful chronicle of her time in the trenches as a parent and on the job. A mother of four with two stepchildren from her second marriage, she goes for a Masters in Divinity as a young widow and becomes a chaplain to the Maine Warden Service, wearing what a poet described as "SWAT-Team pastorwear." Her job is to comfort the friends and family of those missing or killed, and provide support to the wardens who go on rescue and recovery missions. Braestrup is not, however, a stereotypical Bible-thumper. As a young mother in the 1980s who gave her children feminist interpretations of "The Three Little Pigs," she was preoccupied with her little boys becoming "agents of oppression" and dressed them in pinks and florals, while her daughters were encouraged to get their overalls messy. She regularly questions her skills and the lessons she has passed on,. When her oldest son, taking a page from his grandfathers who joined up, decides to enlist with the Marines at 17, she wrestles with the standard set by the men in the family while contemplating whether she has prepared him to stay true to himself and maintain a moral compass that will give him courage and keep him safe. Braestrup's compassion, grace, and wisdom come through loud and clear. Agent: Sally Wofford-Girand, Union Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama's Vision for Our World

Daniel Goleman. Bantam, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-553-39489-4

Goleman (Emotional Intelligence), a longtime friend of the Dalai Lama, presents a personal and passionate account of Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader, discussing his habits, disposition, and goals for humanity. Goleman describes practical aspects of the Dalai Lama's vision that include being mindful of social injustice, supporting groups such as "Action for Happiness" and "B Corporations" that have an "explicit mission to benefit society," and uniting to combat climate change. Our hearts, he believes, can turn away from destructive dreams of money, power and fame. Oddly, however, Goleman seems to presuppose that the reader's interest in the Dalai Lama lies precisely in the sage's power, fame, and access, and spends a great deal of time on his globetrotting appearances that fill stadiums, his Nobel Prize, and his routine meetings with heads of states. One wonders whether a reader who would be wowed by that aspect of the Dalai Lama would also "get" the humble aspects of the vision—but perhaps those are the readers Goleman wants to pull in? For anyone not put off by Goleman's dazzle, a solid and hopeful message awaits. (June)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lovecraft and a World in Transition: Collected Essays on H.P. Lovecraft

S.T. Joshi. Hippocampus (hippocampuspress.com), $75 (645p) ISBN 978-1-61498-079-7

This collection of 54 essays written by Lovecraft scholar Joshi between 1978 and 2013 is aimed at the serious student of the groundbreaking horror author, as the titles of some entries make clear ("The Development of Lovecraftian Studies: 1971-1982"; "A Guide to the Lovecraft Fiction Manuscripts at the John Hay Library"). Nonetheless, even the more casual Lovecraft reader will enjoy Joshi's work. For example, Lovecraft's little-known affinity for Charlie Chaplin is referenced in a study of his opinion of the cinema of his day. Joshi's trademark trenchant prose is present in abundance. In the title essay, he says, "It is as if Lovecraft required two brutal years in New York to bring him into the modern world; for then his fiction not merely takes a radical turn for the better but the archaism of manner is shed like an old skin." While a self-selected "best of" collection would have a broader appeal, the categorization of content (e.g., biographical, philosophical, thematic studies, and looks at individual works) makes it easy to find entries of interest. Joshi's modest goal, that the product of his decades of scholarship will "remain relevant in the years to come," will certainly be met. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ

Giulia Enders, trans. from the German by David Shaw. Greystone Books (PGW, U.S. dist.; Univ. of Toronto, Canadian dist.). $19.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-77164-150-0

Enders, a medical student, became fascinated with all things digestive after a roommate asked her about the mechanics of elimination. She discovered that the gut affects overall health far more than she thought. With a great sense of humor and ample enthusiasm, Enders explains everything readers did and didn't want to know about their innards. She describes the digestive journey of a piece of cake from eyes to outcome in graphic detail, showing how much more is involved than just the stomach and intestines. She explores the world of microbes to talk about the good (probiotics), the bad (germs), and the ugly (toxoplasma). Parasites feature as well, and after disgusting readers with the particulars, she kindly provides tips on how to avoid an infestation. Enders also includes advice on how to avoid constipation, how to lie in bed in case of bloating, and what to do for heartburn. She doesn't just state facts—she delves into the science behind them, which is eye-opening and humbling to learn about. With Harry Potter references, a Facebook analogy for understanding microbial food preferences, and zany drawings, this book defies boredom. (May)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Politics Across the Hudson: The Tappan Zee Megaproject

Philip Mark Plotch. Rutgers Univ., $34.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8135-7249-9

We spend years in traffic yet know little of the brew of politics, bureaucracy, interests, and ideals keeping us there. Planner and political scientist Plotch examines this principle through one transportation planning debacle: the three-decade struggle to refurbish or replace the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River north of New York City. He provides helpful context by beginning with imperious Governor Dewey's 1950 decision to build a relatively insubstantial bridge across the second widest spot in the Hudson for political and financial reasons. By 1980, increasing bridge congestion prompted a planning process that generated comparatively modest refurbishment and traffic management proposals, but those were ultimately killed in the mid-1990s by environmentalists opposed to highway expansion. Plotch goes on to describe the protracted study of a plan to build a replacement bridge for cars and trains within a new regional rail system, a grandiose project that attracted much support but was regarded as impracticable by many professionals. In 2011, Governor Cuomo ended the futility by peremptorily deciding to build a new highway bridge stripped of transit, frustrating almost all concerned. Plotch dissects a well-intentioned assessment and public participation process undone by parochial interests, turf battles, unrealistic expectations, and arcane and glacial regulatory procedures. Anyone concerned about the place of large infrastructure projects in the modern U.S. should consider this sobering case study. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The ADHD Advantage: What You Thought Was a Diagnosis May Be Your Greatest Strength

Dale Archer. Penguin/Hudson Street, $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59463-351-5

This provocative book puts forward a thesis that some may find reassuring but others will find problematic: that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be beneficial as well as detrimental. Psychiatrist Archer, who realized he had the condition while researching and writing his 2013 bestseller, Better Than Normal, claims that it helped him achieve success, and that he's not alone: JetBlue founder David Neelman, Cisco CEO John Chambers, Sir Richard Branson, NFL quarterback Dave Krieg, and pop vocalists Pink and Adam Levine all have ADHD. According to Archer, possible benefits include the ability to work under pressure, rebound from crises, multitask, and conceive of ideas outside the box. Part I of the book provides historical, genetic, and pathological context, Part II focuses on the so-called "ADHD advantages" in more detail, and Part III connects them to entrepreneurship, athletics, and interpersonal experiences. Part I also contains the most potentially controversial material: Archer's recommendation that ADHD sufferers and their guardians avoid managing the condition with medication and instead follow a "skills, not pills" approach. At its best, however, the book provides potentially helpful advice on how ADHD's most challenging aspects can be repurposed as strengths. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dream Houses

Genevieve Valentine. WSFA, $25 (128p) ISBN 978-1-936896-06-6

Valentine, a 2012 Crawford Award winner for Mechanique, spins an effectively brooding novella out of familiar hard SF elements. Amadis Reyes is one of five crewmembers on the cargo ship Menkalinan headed from Earth to the dwarf star Gliese; the job is the latest in a series with minimal human contact. Amadis and her colleagues are supposed to be asleep for much of the six-year journey, but for some reason she's awakened soon after blastoff to find herself the sole survivor of the crew. With only the ship's AI as company, and supplies that won't last her until Gliese, Amadis struggles to maintain some degree of physical and mental health, a challenge exacerbated by her suspicions that the four deaths were murders. Valentine neatly offers tantalizing dollops of backstory for the likable protagonist, accompanied by both noir-like prose and subtle construction of a dystopian future. Agent: Barry Goldbatt, BG Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Pyrophobia

Jack Lance, trans. from the Dutch by Lia Belt, with additional editorial input from Bill Hammond.. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8490-9

Fire-fearing Jason Evans, the hero of this uneven crime thriller from bestselling Dutch author Lance (Dark Memory), seems to have it all: a good job as an art director at a Los Angeles ad agency, a nice home, a lush wife named Kayla, and a set of troubled coworkers thrown in for contrast. But when eerie graveyard photos start arriving anonymously claiming that Jason is dead, he undertakes a predictable quest for his real identity, first into the wilds of hypnotic regression therapy and then on a 300-mile jaunt with Kayla into the Mojave Desert. Lance strains to capture California noir, but by the time Jason's psychic knots are unraveled and his tormentors unmasked, this stale kindling has only smoldered a little, and never really produced more than feeble, acrid smoke. (July)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Malanga Chasing Vallejo: Selected Poems of Cesar Vallejo with New Translations and Notes

Gerard Malanga. Three Rooms (PGW, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (278p) ISBN 978-0-9895125-7-2

Peruvian-Parisian writer Vallejo (1892–1938), one of the great Spanish-language modernists, became both a searing poet of linguistic innovation and a heartbreaking writer on human disconnection. Americans do not lack for versions of Vallejo, but this bilingual selection has three merits. It's a new and largely careful introduction to most of Vallejo's career, from The Black Heralds (1919) to "España, Aparta De Mí Este Cáliz," a late long poem on the Spanish Civil War. It comes with letters and documents, in an appendix, from the poet's widow Georgette. And it comes from Malanga, who began as a player in Andy Warhol's Factory and has since become a prolific, successful poet, filmmaker, and portrait photographer on his own. Malanga has been translating Vallejo since 1969; he does well with the poet's sense of fatigue and with his strange blend of alienation and yearning. What seems enticingly bizarre in Vallejo's Spanish can end up, in Malanga, simply unidiomatic: "I cry out, then, without stopping/ either of living, without turning/ either in the joust I venerate." Malanga sometimes sticks to literal sense, but not always. His translations probably will not become the standard, but they are welcome anyway; the attention they bring to the Spanish can only do good. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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To Forget Venice

Peg Boyers. Univ. of Chicago, $18 trade paper (86p) ISBN 978-0-226-18126-4

Boyers invokes the atmospheric city of Venice, addressing both its dream-like ephemerality and its Shakespearean underbelly of duplicity, sexuality, and debris. "Cymbals and drums/ confirm it all," she writes in the opening poem, drawing from a memory in which loyalties are variable and display a sinister performativity. Boyers adapts the voices of famous Venetians to tell the story of her enchantment with this place: "Dearest Mama: Eel! I am to eat eel," Effie Gray Ruskin exclaims, "the heads of eel after eel, flinging// the wretched beasts, still/ twitching, into shopping bags/ of eager, festive customers." In "Wall Moss" Boyers appropriates an altogether different kind of speaker, offering this advice: "Grow resourceful./ Become like me completely Venetian:/ cling to debris, favor ruin." The emphasis on fragments and remains appears elsewhere in the collection, "the lives—the lies—we lived/ on both sides of the canal,// invisible the water's stench at low tide... a local specialty: filth/ disguised as ornament." Boyers debunks the idea of a scenic, postcard-worthy Venice in favor of a more complex attachment—one no less enchanting for its human influences, its "Silence, then the boatman's cry." (Nov.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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