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Arts & Crafts: Living with the Arts & Crafts Style

Judith Miller. Mitchell Beazley (Hachette, dist.), $39.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-84533-943-2

In this visual encyclopedia of the British and American designers, makers, and manufacturers of the Arts and Crafts movement, Miller writes that the "style found a voice in the simple shapes and minimal decoration of the furniture created by Gustav Stickley and the Gothic and medieval designs produced by Charles Rohlfs." Sections on furniture and furnishings, including lighting and even wallpaper, emphasize these influences, from the Japanese flourishes on a mahogany sideboard by Edward William Godwin to the graphic symmetry of a Mackintosh chair. The legendary Kelmscott Press, with its beautiful books on hand-made paper; William Morris's unmatched textile designs; and Tiffany's iconic lamps are represented, but so are the lesser-known but equally important silvery toned, matte finish green vases of Teco Art Pottery and organic ceramic shapes and matte glazes of potter Artus Van Briggle. In her selections of examples from the movement, Miller shows her appreciation of the genius of these designers and their lovely, simple, effective solutions that are now synonymous with good design. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Royal Experiment: The Private Life of King George III

Janice Hadlow. Holt, $35 (704p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9656-9

Beginning with the ill-fated match of George I and Sophia Dorothea, the stage was set for the Hanoverian royals: rifts between husband and wife, and father and son, were the standard family dynamic. But in this engrossing and thorough portrait, BBC executive Hadlow reveals George III as a young man who wanted change—one who believed being a good king started with being a good person, a good husband, and a good father—and he set out to pursue a moral family life. He got off to a relatively good start, according to Hadlow, arranging a fulfilling marriage with Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, moving the family to a more private residence, and being actively involved in the informal raising of 15 children. Hadlow reveals the difficulties of living a private life in the public sphere and how, despite George III's good intentions, the tension of succession, political difficulties (including the American war of independence and conflict with the French), and a fall into fits of madness dominated royal family relations. Hadlow provides a critical, yet compassionate and intimate account of George III's trials and tribulations in undertaking to create the ideal family. Agent: Peter Robinson; Rogers, Coleridge & White (U.K.). (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Future of the Brain: Essays by the World's Leading Neuroscientists

Edited by Gary Marcus and Jeremy Freeman. Princeton Univ., $24.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-691-16276-8

Cognitive scientist Marcus and neuroscientist Freeman intend this well organized collection of 22 essays to be an introduction to cutting-edge brain science. Yet the work suffers from three shortcomings: repetition; dense, inaccessible text; and misleading focus, i.e., rather than helping readers understand what scientists have learned about brain configuration and function, virtually every essay looks to the future and concludes that at the moment we know remarkably little. In essay after essay, the closing remarks refer to breakthroughs just over the horizon, from understanding the origin of language to the reverse engineering of the brain. A typical claim posits that "by taking advantage of an ever-growing tool kit for investigating gene function, it will at last be possible to bridge the mechanistic gaps between DNA, neurons, circuits, brains, and cognition." One essay advises readers to bear in mind that many scams were perpetrated in the name of science during the push to decipher the human genome and that scientists have a responsibility to "debunk hype, allay groundless fears, and anticipate likely ways in which efforts may be made to exploit or dupe the public." (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Juliet's Nurse

Lois Leveen. Atria/Emily Bestler, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4767-5744-5

In her second novel, Leveen (The Secrets of Mary Bowser) imagines the life of Angelica, the nurse in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. She brings mid-14th century, post-plague Verona to life with its poor, its royalty, and the battles between rival families—here called "Cappalletti" and "Montecchi." Before Angelica can grieve the loss of her own (unexpected) baby in childbirth, her husband, Pietro, a beekeeper, arranges, with the politically savvy Friar Lorenzo, for her to be the wet-nurse for the newborn Cappalletti daughter, Juliet. As the inevitable bond between babe and wet-nurse grows, we are drawn into the protected world of the ultra wealthy, seen through the eyes of the hardworking, no-nonsense but good-humored nurse. Also remarkable is the strong relationship between the nurse and her steadfast husband (in marked contrast to the stiff Cappallettis), who uses his beekeeper trade to gain access to the Cappalletti gardens and his beloved wife. The characters from Shakespeare's work become present—Lord and Lady Cappalletti, Tybalt and Mercutio, Rosaline, and the ill-fated Romeo—and Leveen adds rich new layers to the story we know so well. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Knife Fight and Other Struggles

David Nickle. ChiZine Publications (Diamond, U.S. dist.; HarperCollins Canada, Canadian dist.), $16.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-77148-304-9

While his past work has embraced the genre, it's not entirely accurate to label award-winning author David Nickle's newest collection as "horror." Yes, tropes are at play that support the classification: throughout the tales frolic possessed babies, vampires, and house-destroying worms, "[crawling] over the floor lamp, tiny bodies making an uneven pattern of curling silhouettes on the shade…[covering the] leather recliner, like a new, writhing layer of upholstery." Yet the collection as a whole belies its category. It isn't "Boo!" horror; this is the horror of uncertainty, of helplessness, of traditions and change. In Nickle's fevered imagination political disputes are settled not with debate but with blades, the combatants "stripped naked to the waist, polished with a thin slick of goose fat." The stories are sui generis in presentation, veering from the discombobulating nightmare that is "Basements" to the squid-laden eco-satire "Wylde's Kingdom" to the sci-fi love of "Loves Means Forever." When it comes to this book, only two things are certain; the stories never travel where you expect, and David Nickle is a monumental talent. Agent: Monica Pacheco, The Anne McDermid Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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What Was Before

Martin Mosebach, trans. from the German by Kari Driscoll. Seagull Books, $27.50 (248p) ISBN 978-0-85742-214-9

Mosebach's (Heresy of Formlessness) novel plumbs the meanings and complexities of storytelling, and the unreliability of anything said to another person. The story begins with a young man and his lover sharing post-coital talk, the lover asking the young man what his life was like before he met her. What follows is a luscious romp through the upper echelons of Frankfurt society. The young man accepts an invitation to spend a Sunday afternoon with a friend, Titus Hopsten. Soon plunged into the Hopstens' extravagant world, where rare birds run amok in grandiose villas and love affairs bring people together and tear families apart, our protagonist relates a tale that his girlfriend only half believes. Mosebach's charming, exuberant narrator is not be trusted, and the novel calls into question our notions of memory. Mosebach's writing is florid, tinged with a biting wit. Beneath these layered vignettes of the Hopstens and their inner circle is a tale of a young couple in love, and all the insecurities such love can bring. Irreverent, playful, and intricate, Mosebach's book is a deconstruction of how we choose to tell stories. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Woman Who Borrowed Memories: Selected Stories of Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson, trans. from the Swedish by Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-59017-766-2

Like Jansson (The True Deceiver) herself, many of her protagonists are artists, be they illustrators and cartoonists or painters, authors, actors, architects, interior designers, or sculptors. Jansson frequently depicts people who in turn study human character, and her vignettes are remarkable for their cell-like precision. In "The Listener," she writes of an elderly woman who crafts an elaborate tree of family secrets; "Traveling Light" tells of a young man so burdened by others' confidences that he has tried to escape on a voyage at sea. She also studies alienation: people experiencing gradual estrangement from loved ones ("Black-White," "The Doll's House") and those imposing isolation on themselves ("The Storm," "The Squirrel"); in each case, she illustrates the growing rifts with vivid light/dark imagery. Jansson further explores surreal, dissociative themes, such as a man who becomes obsessed with his double ("The Other"), and, in the title story, a woman whose former roommate has co-opted her past. Themes range from madness to sweet reminiscence, murder to survival, in tales that are relentlessly observant. As she writes in "The Listener": "Probably few of us pay adequate attention to all the things constantly happening to the people we love…" (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lake Surrender

Carol Grace Stratton. Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, $11.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-941103-22-7

Stratton's debut contemporary Christian romance introduces readers to the healing joy of life on Lake Surrender, Mich. With a failed marriage, two children (one of whom is autistic), and a house to sell, Ally Cervantes already feels at the end of her rope. Being downsized at work is the last straw, and that sends her and the children from their hectic California life to the Michigan home of her aunt. Despite having wonderful references, the only job Ally can land is as the lead cook at the nearby Christian summer camp for children, run by Will Grainger, a man she knew when they were both children. Circumstances contrive to throw them together at every available opportunity, routinely contrasting Will's solid faith with Ally's lack thereof and turning the spotlight on Ally's spiritual journey. Stilted dialog combined with unconvincing characterization and extraneous plot devices detract from what might otherwise have been a promising tale of redemption and perseverance. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hiding in Plain Sight

Nuruddin Farah. Riverhead, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-59463-336-2

Somali writer Farah's (Crossbones) 12th novel takes on religious extremism and sexual politics in Africa in this bold but ponderous novel about a woman reassembling her family in the wake of a tragic event. After her older half-brother, Aar, a high-ranking UN official, is killed in a terrorist attack on the organization's headquarters in Mogadiscio, Somalia, the 35-year-old, half-Italian, half-Somali Bella is forced to put her photography career on hold and travel to Nairobi, where Aar's teenage children, Salif and Dahaba, live. There, she adjusts to her new role of surrogate mother and shares her grief with family friends and Aar's former lover, a Swedish UN official named Gunilla, while waging a custody battle with Aar's estranged wife, Valerie, who arrives with the woman for whom she left her family 10 years earlier, Padmini. While the tension between Valerie and Bella is compelling, and Valerie and Padmini's experiences as lesbians living in Africa illuminating, the novel otherwise suffers from a lack of forward movement. Whole sections are spent on quotidian scenes that do nothing to develop the story or characters. Many of the more interesting threads and subplots remain underdeveloped, such as the attack that kills Aar and one about a friend of Valerie and Padmini's whose gay bar in Nairobi is raided, leaving the reader wishing Farah had more tightly focused his narrative. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Crystal Monkey

Patrick Nohrden. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, $16.99 trade paper (292p) ISBN 978-1-4621-1481-8

In Nohrden's debut novel, Min Li is a girl coming of age during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the years thereafter. She believes that China is the greatest country in the world, but her faith is shaken when the Red Guards exile and execute several members of her community. Growing up under Mao, she begins to question not only oppressive communist ideology, but also the traditional principles of Chinese society. She struggles against a traditional patriarchal family and mores that would keep her illiterate because of her gender and steer her into loveless marriage. Offsetting the hardships of daily life, Min Li experiences dreams of hope and a happy future mysteriously connected to a crystal monkey, a toy from her childhood. Nohrden's story offers an education in Chinese history; seen through Min Li's perspective, opportunities rise and fall during the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, the death of Mao Zedong, and the rise of Deng Xiaoping. Nohrden crafts an absorbing story about how political and social factors shape the thoughts and opportunities of individuals. Ages 12–up. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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