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The Chile Pepper Bible: From Sweet and Mild to Fiery and Everything in Between

Judith Finlayson. Robert Rose (Firefly, dist.), $27.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-7788-0550-2

Finlayson (The Healthy Slow Cooker) declaims a hybrid ode to the chili, combining history, botany, and a generous helping of recipes devoted to chili peppers of many varieties and from all over the world. The first two sections of the book provide a brief history of the chili in the Western world, as well as information about the Scoville scale (used to measure the hotness of chilies), the health benefits of chilies , and types of chilies . The information isn’t revelatory, but it provides interesting background for chili novices and is useful for readers looking to try some new chilies in their cooking. Finlayson includes pictures of chilies followed by tables that list each variety’s name, heat level, and physical description; he gives give a brief overview of more than 30 varieties of chili. The bulk of the book is recipes, which are organized in the usual categories: appetizers, soups, fish, meats, sides, desserts, etc. Breaking them down according to the heat of the chili being used would have been more fun and in keeping with the focus of the book, but the recipes themselves are dependable and delicious, as long as readers can handle the heat. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation

Yves Engler. Fernwood (Brunswick Books, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-55266-946-4

Engler—whose previous works have critiqued Canada’s foreign policy (Canada in Africa), the role of corporations abroad, and the smug self-congratulation that underlies many of Canada’s foundational myths—turns his sharp eye to the massive public relations apparatus inside the country’s military. Comparing the marketing of war to the promotion of professional hockey, this work skewers what Engler views as a well-oiled governmental machine pumping out a propaganda barrage. But the Canadian government couldn’t shape public opinion alone, he says, requiring a compliant press, targeted defense funding to universities and think tanks, and corporate entities with an interest in securing weapons deals. Engler also discusses an intricate network of institutions that seeks to control both how Canadian history is presented in schools and museums and the manner in which the country’s armed forces are viewed with each new engagement. Engler’s arguments are sure to rankle some, but he backs up his case with solid documentation that often comes directly from his opponents. Drawing on historic case studies and his own personal interactions with military-friendly media editors, Engler’s outrage is palpable. He hopes that social movements will have some restraining capacity and that acts of truth-telling can ultimately give the public a more balanced view of what has for too long been a one-sided story. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder

Ma-Nee Chacaby, with Mary Louisa Plummer. Univ. of Manitoba (Michigan State Univ., U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $24.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-88755-812-2

This collaboration between Chacaby and social scientist Plummer tells the story of Chacaby’s remarkable life. She was born in a tuberculosis sanitarium in 1950 and raised largely by her grandmother—who early on recognized her special nature—and their Anishnaabe community. Her story was shaped by social conditions specific to that era of colonialism in Canada. She avoided residential school by being in the bush when the other children were rounded up, but then had to survive abuse by her closest family; a harrowing escape with two children from an arranged, abusive marriage; alcoholism; living on the streets of Thunder Bay; and coming out as a lesbian in a small community in the early 1980s. Chacaby’s story is suffused with people helping others overcome hardship. These helpers include Chacaby herself, once she is in a position to aid others. Leveraging the storytelling traditions that she learned as a young girl in Ombabika, Ont., this autobiography is rich in detail and reads like taking tea with a wise and dear grandmother. Plummer’s role is evident in the way the book is organized, but she is otherwise unobtrusive, facilitating rather than obfuscating Chacaby’s narration. (May)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Vimy: The Battle and the Legend

Tim Cook. Penguin Canada/Allen Lane, $38 (512p) ISBN 978-0-7352-3316-4

Cook, whose Shock Troops won the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction, insightfully examines the 1917 battle of Vimy Ridge and evolving perceptions of it as Canadians prepare to commemorate its 100th anniversary. Four Canadian divisions fought at Vimy, and after four days, the Canadians succeeded where other Allied forces had failed, taking the strategic ridge from the occupying German Sixth Army, albeit at the cost of nearly 3,600 Canadian lives. It was a battle that shaped the still-forming Canadian identity as Canada evolved from colony to dominion to sovereign nation, and the battle has sometimes been described as “the birth of a nation.” Although Cook sees that description as myth, and one that has been used by some politicians to promote their own agendas, he writes that it is one of Canada’s most enduring narratives. He analyzes the ways that subsequent generations have commemorated Vimy: some made grand speeches and iconic memorials, but others, disenchanted with war, saw the battle as a terrible waste of human life. Covering a century in fewer than 500 pages, Cook’s account is necessarily highly compressed, but he effectively conveys a complex topic in a few well-chosen words, showing how Vimy came to hold a place in the Canadian consciousness that no other battle does. Agent: Rick Broadhead, Rick Broadhead & Associates. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Imperial Plots: Women, Land, and the Spadework of British Colonialism on the Canadian Prairies

Sarah Carter. Univ. of Manitoba (Michigan State Univ., U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $34.95 trade paper (456p) ISBN 978-0-88755-818-4

This well-crafted, accessible history of early agricultural development on the Canadian prairies is a social document surveying the gendered stereotypes underlying British colonialism. It is also a comprehensive overview of the legal and social obstacles placed in the way of European immigrant women owning and working their own land. Carter (The Importance of Being Monogamous) explores how a process viewed as liberating for women (at least within the limited confines of female land ownership) relied on First Nations land dispossession as surveyors cut up vast regions into postage stamp–sized homesteads. In Carter’s hands, this academic study is marked by an invigorating, inviting style that uncovers and reclaims history in all its muddied complications. She allows readers to share in the excitement of her discoveries and insights. Her sharp analysis views the past fairly and judiciously, while generously supplying archival photographs of women on the land that defied the perception of them as fragile creatures to be kept indoors. Additional historic newspaper clippings supplement a depth of research that travels from ancient times to the beginning of the Great Depression. Carter shows how history can be well documented, provocative, and entertaining. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Fault Lines: Life and Landscape in Saskatchewan’s Oil Economy

Emily Eaton and Valerie Zink. Univ. of Manitoba (Michigan State Univ., U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $31.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-0-88755-783-5

This combination of Eaton’s (Growing Resistance) informative, objective text and Zink’s haunting black-and-white photography—reminiscent of classic Depression-era portraits—strikingly documents a landscape whose transition from grain silos to oil pump-jacks has received scant attention; in studies of the Canadian oil economy, the prairie province of Saskatchewan has long been overshadowed by its petrochemical giant neighbor, Alberta. Eaton and Zink ably chronicle the history of Saskatchewan’s oil development, along with its economic and environmental impacts, through scores of interviews and visuals that illustrate life in a province subject to the boom-bust cycle of an industry dependent on world commodity prices. The stories of those most directly affected—family farmers whose often desperate need for additional cash opens the door to oil leases, First Nations people whose ongoing struggle for land rights recognition is overridden by developers, temporary foreign workers tied to uncertain contracts, women working in a predominantly male environment—come alive in all their nuance and humanity. The bars, hotels, and shops that support the oil economy also come into sharp focus. Zink and Eaton portray a precarious population with little control over an existence driven by unseen and unaccountable global forces. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook

David Galef. Columbia Univ, $25 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-231-17969-0

Novelist Galef (How to Cope with Suburban Stress), a creative writing professor at Montclair State University who has also published many short stories, turns his attention to the unique genre of flash fiction, which, he explains, “has become the catchall term for any minuscule narrative.” After noting that Aesop’s fables may be the ur–flash fiction, Galef nicely summarizes how the form became popular in the 1980s; now there are magazines and online sites devoted to flash fiction (500-1000 words), microfiction (250-500 words), and even nanofiction, “also known as Twitter fiction or Twiction” (only 140 characters). Galef is an excellent writer, and the book throughout is a delight—he makes the reader want to immediately start writing. He begins by describing the types of narrative most suited to flash fiction, such as character sketches (“Don’t say that Alex is a good cook; say that his veal piccata has just the right amount of lemon”) and anecdotes (“One anecdote from someone’s life... can reveal more than an entire chapter of her autobiography”). He provides deft insights and suggestions on editing, such as “slashing” and “microsurgery,” and he suggests techniques that work well when applied to a small text. Best of all, each chapter provides examples of great flash fiction—from authors as different as Saki and Steve Martin—as well as ideas for readers to explore. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone

Mark Dawidziak. Thomas Dunne, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-08237-4

Dawidziak (The Bedside, Bathtub, and Armchair Companion to Dracula) combs through one of television’s most beloved series in this tongue-in-cheek self-help book. The loving tribute encompasses nearly two-thirds of the original Twilight Zone episodes in the course of its 50 short essays, lightly analyzing a vast swath of “moralist in disguise” Rod Serling’s work (as well as that of his writing team). Making references to the online gaming site Pogo, It’s a Wonderful Life, and his own personal life, Dawidziak draws readers in with a friendly tone that’s inviting even to the uninitiated. His survey is by no means comprehensive, but it doesn’t need to be. The point is proved easily enough: The Twilight Zone deserves its immortal status not only for its artistry but for its timeless life lessons. The book includes a touching foreword by Anne Serling, Rod Serling’s daughter, and “guest lessons” by legends such as Harlan Ellison, Mel Brooks, and Dick Van Dyke. B&w photos. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Always a Bridesmaid (for Hire): Stories on Growing Up, Looking for Love, and Walking Down the Aisle for Complete Strangers

Jen Glantz. Atria, $24 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5011-3906-2

How does a woman who doesn’t love weddings wind up with nine bridesmaid dresses and her own business, Bridesmaid for Hire? With wit and honesty, Glantz breezily shares tales of her awful online first dates and her transformation from beleaguered bridesmaid into a highly skilled and prized bridesmaid machine who is happily single. Glantz was a recent college graduate with a low-paying PR job in New York and a loving yenta for a mother who tried (long-distance from Florida) to find her daughter a husband. Meanwhile, she was deluged with calls from girlfriends asking her to be a bridesmaid. She realized after a few jaunts down the aisle that she had become her circle’s wedding expert, armed with tips for the stressed-out members of the wedding parties, and that her troubles and time could be turned into a money-making enterprise. Following two bridesmaid requests on the same Friday from former friends she hadn’t talked to in years, Glantz boozily created a Craigslist ad offering her expertise, which was quickly picked up by Buzzfeed and the Knot. Within a week, she was on television and her new business was legitimate, though not without a steep learning curve. Though Glantz sometimes overshares and tries too hard to get laughs, she writes in a charming and funny fashion that makes her easy to root for. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Panetteria: Gennaro’s Italian Bakery

Gennaro Contaldo. Interlink, $30 (224p) ISBN 978-1-56656-017-7

In this impressive cookbook of sweet and savory baked goods, Italian-born chef Contaldo (Gennaro Slow Cook Italian), now living in the U.K., compiles diverse recipes including the delectable crostata di crema di semolina e pesche (a tart with semolina cream and peaches) and the homely and nostalgic biscotti di castellamare (childhood cookies). Contaldo includes an entire chapter on pizza, with classics such as pizza bianca and pizzette margherita (pizza with mixed tomatoes and anchovies) as well as recipes for calzones. He also provides some delightful gluten-free recipes such as castagnaccio (chestnut squares) and amor di polenta (polenta and almond cake). Outside of the recipes, must-read sections describe the stages of bread making, the different kinds of flour involved in Italian baking, and the different kinds of yeasts. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction describing the spotlighted item and its origins, immersing the reader in culture and history. With each recipe, Contaldo brings joy and dazzlement. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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