China Dolls by Lisa See
Kirkus Reviews –
See's latest follows three Asian-American showgirls whose dreams are derailed then reset by the onset of World War II. In the late 1930s, Grace, a talented dancer, comes to San Francisco from Ohio to flee the beatings of her father. Helen, who fled China under circumstances not immediately revealed, lives with her parents and extended family in a Chinatown compound. Ruby defies her parents, who plan to return to Japan, by staying in San Francisco to pursue a showbiz career. The three young women meet while auditioning for jobs in a new "Oriental" nightclub, Charlie Low's Forbidden City, which will feature an all-Asian cast of chorines, ballroom dancers, chanteuses and crooners. Grace and Helen are cast, but Ruby is not—because of Japanese aggression in China, Chinatown is hostile toward all Japanese. She finds a job dancing semi-nude in Sally Rand's traveling show. Ruby and Grace fall out over a man, Joe, a lo fan ("white ghost," or Caucasian), and Grace and Helen strive to break into movie musicals. However, racial barriers in Hollywood are insurmountable, and they return to Forbidden City. There, Ruby, now headlining as Chinese Princess Tai, performs a Rand-inspired bubble dance, employing a large beach ball as her gimmick. Grace becomes Ruby's dresser, and Helen dances backward in high heels as the partner of Eddie, billed as the Chinese Fred Astaire, whom she marries. After Pearl Harbor, the U. S. government, fearing an enemy invasion, interns all Japanese residents of the West Coast, whether U. S. citizens or not, in camps. Ruby's Chinese disguise works for a while, until it doesn't, and she's arrested and interned in Utah. For Grace, Ruby and Helen, the war will bring more upheavals—and opportunities. The episodic and creaky plot staggers under the weight of See's considerable research into the careers and lifestyles of the actual stars of the all-Asian revue craze of the 1930s and '40s. Still, a welcome spotlight on an overlooked segment of showbiz history.
Cop Town by Karin Slaughter
Kirkus Reviews –
A gritty procedural in which the streets of 1970s Atlanta are just as dangerous for cops as for criminals. Being a woman in uniform is hard enough, but thriller-writer Slaughter (Unseen, 2013, etc.) drives the point home like a knife to the eye—she does that, too—with her taut stand-alone featuring two female cops in a city bubbling over with racial and political unrest. Maggie Lawson bleeds blue—older brother Jimmy is in uniform and uncle Terry is top brass—but she's not welcome in the male-dominated police world. Besides the racial clashes erupting on the street and within the department, there's a cop killer on the loose. Known as the Shooter, he ambushes officers and executes them. As a woman whose duties involve writing tickets and generally keeping out of the way—despite the fact she has five years' experience under her heavy utility belt—Maggie can only stay peripherally involved in the manhunt, even when Jimmy's partner is killed. Officially, that is. Joined by rookie Kate Murphy, a woman trying to leave everything, from her upper-class upbringing to her dead husband, behind, the pair conducts their own investigation. Slaughter excels at empathetically flawed characters who rise above the violence—her books are not for the squeamish—of their circumstances; Maggie and Kate are on par with series regulars Will Trent and Sara Linton. There's nothing pretty about this divided cop town, but in exposing its ugliness, Slaughter forces us to question whether times really have changed.
Ghost Ship by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown
Kirkus Reviews –
Kurt Austin and his National Underwater Marine Agency team save the world yet again, this time from a criminal family that's been hijacking the innocent and taking hostages for four generations. Commandeered off the coast of South Africa by Gavin Brèvard and a gang of criminals who'd booked passage with counterfeit currency, the SS Waratah vanished without a trace in 1909. A century later, the Brèvard family is still at it. Brothers Sebastian, Egan and Laurent, along with their kid sister, Calista, have kidnapped Sienna Westgate and her two children and intend to sell her services to the highest bidder—assuming they can recover her from Rene Acosta, their double-crossing former client. The Brèvards' racket is much more high-end than sexual slavery, for Sienna, architect of the legendary Phalanx security software, is one of the most sought-after computer experts in the world. Nothing could stop their nefarious scheme save for the fact that Sienna is the one-time fiancee of Kurt Austin, who lost her to Internet billionaire Brian Westgate. Sienna and her kids were supposedly lost at sea when Westgate's yacht, Ethernet, sank, but mounting evidence shows that she's no more dead than the SS Waratah, which never sank at all. Kurt's initial encounter with fire-breathing Calista Brèvard as they battle over Sienna, who's being held on Acosta's yacht, ends inconclusively. So Acosta packs Sienna off to Korean street criminal-turned-industrialist Than Rang, head of the DaeShan Group, and the action—there's plenty of action—shifts from the African coast to the Korean peninsula, where Kurt, his buddy Joe Zavala and their NUMA stalwarts dodge everything the Brèvards can throw at them as they struggle to free Sienna before the world's computer systems all go kablooey. Once more, Cussler and Brown (Zero Hour, 2013, etc.) paint with such broad strokes that Kurt's adventures aren't so much written as whitewashed.
Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton
From Barnes & Noble –
Hillary Rodham Clinton has served as a First Lady and as a United States Senator, but it is on her 2009-2013 tenure as Secretary of State that this absorbing memoir focuses. Her four years in this central post were eventful and replete with turning points: debates over terrorism; the killing of Osama bin Laden; the Egyptian Revolution and Arab Spring; changing relations with allies; and fluctuating tension with North Korea and Iran. She also writes compelling about the foreign policy challenges that we confront in coming years. As Clinton continues to lead in presidential preference polls, Hard Choices is certain to be viewed and reviewed as far more than just another cabinet member's reminiscences.
How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg
Kirkus Reviews –
It's time to drop the idea that mathematics is an esoteric field best left to a few academics. In fact, writes Ellenberg (Mathematics/Univ. of Wisconsin), the truth is better: Math is everywhere, and the knowledge it yields can benefit everyone. The structure of the world around us—everything from the genetics that determine height to intricacies of electoral politics—is infused with the principles of mathematics. Ellenberg, author of the "Do the Math" column at Slate, argues that math is not relegated to the set of hard and fast rules taught in classrooms. Instead, the field is an extension of common sense that has the potential for sophisticated and deeply insightful applications that produce better results than common sense alone. The author avoids heavy jargon and relies on real-world anecdotes and basic equations and illustrations to communicate how even simple math is a powerful tool. In addition to grand applications like those used in calculus or physics, mathematical principles can be wielded pragmatically to improve decision-making and better parse splashy claims made about the stock market or lottery—or, more humorously, claims that hidden codes embedded in the Bible can predict the future. Importantly, Ellenberg insists that improbable things happen all the time, and they can't be taken at face value; there is frequently more information available that will improve a calculation's result and eliminate statistical anomalies, however tempting those are to believe. The author writes that, at its core, math is a special thing and produces a feeling of understanding unattainable elsewhere: "You feel you've reached into the universe's guts and put your hand on the wire." Math is profound, and profoundly awesome, so we should use it well—or risk being wrong. Witty and expansive, Ellenberg's math will leave readers informed, intrigued and armed with plenty of impressive conversation starters.