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Spit That Out!: The Overly Informed Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt

Paige Wolf. New Society (Consortium, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $16.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-86571-830-2

Addressing parents' concerns about how to keep their children healthy in a toxic world, Wolf is a calm voice of reason. Quotes from other parents remind readers that they are not alone in the struggle to balance children's desires for plastic toys and gummy worms with healthier alternatives. Wolf discusses various means of diapering, breast milk versus formula, organic and hand-me-down clothing, natural cleaners, and even toxic school environments, with action steps and tips for easy implementation. Her book will be useful to readers who know almost nothing about these matters as well as those who feel that they are drowning in information. Given a somewhat bleak subject, this is an entertaining and surprisingly positive read. Wolf never preaches but writes appealingly from the perspective of a regular mother trying her best. She provides direction and focus, advising parents where to invest limited energy and money so as to have the greatest impact on their children's health. Her work is enlightening and frightening, but also empowering and practical. For readers seeking advice on how to ditch guilt and be proactive when it comes to making healthy choices for their children, Wolf's book ought to become the go-to guide. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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What Killed Jane Creba: Rap, Race, and the Invention of a Gang War

Anita Arvast. Dundurn (IPS, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $18.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-4597-3506-4

Arvast, a cultural studies professor at Ontario's Georgian College, explores the repercussions of an infamous Boxing Day 2005 killing of a teenaged white girl, which she concludes was a tragic result of some macho posturing but not the gang war that Toronto police and media claimed. The black male suspects are usually dismissed as gangsters and thugs, but she provides refreshing, fully developed portraits of them and their world, a desperate place of poverty, harassment, drugs, foster care, violence, and jail. There are few avenues of escape, other than sports excellence and rap. Arvast's examination of the music, which can both reflect a bleak existence and project a generation's hopes, provides insight into a cultural backdrop that remains largely misunderstood or denigrated by mainstream media. All the men who were charged but not convicted—and who languished in jail for four years—were aspiring artists. Arvast is stylistically awkward at times, shifting from analysis and reportage to street slang that, while making a point, comes across as awkward and self-consciously hip. But her cri de coeur is an important reminder of racial double standards still driving crime coverage and the perceptions of black men in Canada. (July)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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No News is Bad News: Canada's Media Collapse%E2%80%94And What Comes Next

Ian Gill. Greystone (PGW/Perseus, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $18.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1771642682

Longtime journalist Gill (All That We Say Is Ours) takes an unflinching look at the state of traditional Canadian news sources, finding them struggling as a result of self-inflicted wounds and narrow-minded worldviews: corporate concentration and cost-cutting, smugness at the CBC, a decline in overall quality and in public-interest stories, and an inability to comprehend digital platforms that have thrived outside of traditional media hands. Traveling abroad to assess how other countries are handling the decline of legacy media, he finds examples of good synergies at companies such as the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper and Manhattan's ProPublica investigative journalism outlet. His hopes for Canada are somewhat dimmed by the lack of outcry over increasing losses in an industry that, when functioning properly, is a key component for healthy democracies. Potential solutions include a greater role for philanthropic institutions (which often fund alternative U.S. news outlets but would run afoul of Canada's charitable advocacy laws). Gill posits that the discussion is much larger than a technical debate between print and digital. He invites readers to consider new national narratives and innovative means of telling stories as part of the new blood needed to infuse a dying industry. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Paleo Baking: Delicious & Easy Baked Goods That Ditch Refined Sugars & Grains

Monica Stevens Le. Page Street, $21.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-62414-249-9

Blogger and cookbook author Le serves up sweet options and a handful of savory ones for home bakers, minus the refined sugar and grains found in typical baked goods and desserts. The book includes full-page color photos of such dishes as dark chocolate cashew butter cups dusted with crushed pistachios; a decadent layered chocolate cake generously frosted in buttercream; and soft pretzels drizzled with garlic and onion–infused ghee and sprinkled with sea salt. Most of the recipes rely on nuts and nut flours; coconut oil, milk, and flour; maple syrup and raw honey; arrowroot flour; and citrus and chocolate flavors. The author happily promotes and encourages all things paleo, but she’s never preachy; she even divulges her former love of Domino’s cheesy breadsticks and offers her own tempting version, made with a cauliflower crust. More information on paleo eating and ingredients would be helpful, but this title excels in enticing both die-hards and newbies. Directions are clear and concise and helpful sidebar notes lend tips on specific brand suggestions and techniques. This well-designed book may just be the perfect holiday gift for a modern cave-dweller. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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China: The Cookbook

Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan. Phaidon, $49.95 (720p) ISBN 978-0-7148-7224-7

Despite their deep knowledge of Chinese cuisine, the Chans at first feared they might not have enough recipes to represent the country’s culinary breadth. That fear was quickly put to rest as the married duo packed over 650 recipes into this hefty and vital resource. Similar to other titles in Phaidon’s immersive national cuisine series (Mexico: The Cookbook, India: The Cookbook, etc), this is a text-heavy tome dedicated to showcasing the country’s most iconic regional dishes as well as tasty variations. Organized by course, the book offers dozens of recipes for familiar recipes (hot and sour soup, vegetable rolls, drunken chicken, etc.) as well as riffs such as deep-fried chicken patties, sweet and sour spare ribs, and duck with onions. This is a book dedicated to practicality: complex, hard-to-source dishes such as pork lungs and apricot kernel soup, goose intestines in soy sauce, and chicken with snow fungus are in the minority. Readers will be surprised that the majority of the book’s recipes are succinct and easy to shop for. Less experienced cooks interested in expanding their repertoires may be intimidated by the book’s lack of descriptions of the finished dishes or recommendations for accompaniments, but those comfortable with Chinese cuisine will find this immersive collection indispensable. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier

Michael Ableman. Chelsea Green, $29.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-60358-602-3

In this insightful, inspiring narrative, Ableman explains that he had been a farmer for 40 years when he decided to attend a meeting in an urban slum in Vancouver, British Columbia, called Low Track. That meeting and several more resulted in Sole Food Street Farms, which is currently operating four urban farms in downtown Vancouver. The produce is sold to local restaurants and at farmers’ markets, in addition to stocking some of the city’s food pantries. Ableman says the organization’s goals go beyond simply supplying food. The farms are staffed by local residents—some homeless, some with substance abuse issues—and serve as community hubs. In this mix of memoir and guide, Ableman shares his experiences in farming and operating a social service organization. Navigating regulations, budgeting, wooing investors, dealing with landlords, and training employees are just some of the hurdles Ableman covers, in addition to basic farming techniques. Those interested in starting their own neighborhood or urban garden will deeply appreciate his insight into urban farming’s unique challenges and opportunities. While some might find this a cautionary tale (theft and crime are omnipresent, and an urban setting adds even more complexity to the already challenging task of farming), those serious about embarking on a similar endeavor will find a mix of inspiration and solid advice they’ll want to keep close at hand. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine

Sophie Pinkham. Norton, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-24797-8

Pinkham, who has written on Ukraine for the New Yorker, has a reporter’s incisive eye and gives a rich and fascinating view of post-Soviet Ukrainian life. She studied Russian and volunteered with health groups in college, and, after graduating in the early 2000s, was in search of purpose. She took a job with the Open Society Institute, working on an education and treatment program for drug users to combat the AIDS epidemic. Pinkham eventually moves to Ukraine—a country whose “horse-drawn carts and babushkas survived” alongside newfound wealth and a growing totalitarian state—and falls in love with it. She’s astute in her observations as she takes a close look at Ukraine’s complex history and often hostile relationship with Russia. Pinkham is increasingly aware of the ever-present corruption and growing instability in Ukraine, and she examines the Maidan revolution and Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the continuing war in eastern Ukraine. Pinkham’s look at Ukraine is accessible and comprehensive. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Ethnic American Cooking: Recipes for Living in a New World

Lucy Long. Rowman & Littlefield, $38 (248p) ISBN 978-1-4422-6733-6

This condensed version of 2015’s two-volume Ethnic American Food Today: A Cultural Encyclopedia essentially replicates its source material while magnifying its flaws. Arranged alphabetically by country of immigrant origin , the entries briefly survey the country, its culture, key flavors, and iconic dishes, and provide recipes exemplifying those qualities. That’s a lot to chew on, but Long offers readers only an amuse-bouche. Her dish selections (often sourced from cited third parties; many are repurposed from her previous work) are frustratingly arbitrary. African-Americans have made significant contributions to American cuisine, but merit just a single recipe (pan-roasted collard sprouts), while Croatia and the Netherlands receive three apiece. Italy is a country rich in culinary history with recipes for any given dish often varying from town to town. Here, Long limits herself to just a few paragraphs to cover the cuisine’s influence on America and just two recipes: spaghetti with anchovies and walnuts, and chicken with potatoes and peas. It adds up to a book that raises more questions than it answers. To Long’s credit, she suggests plenty of other works to follow up with should a dish or cuisine spike the reader’s interest (including Ethnic American Food Today), but the larger question of why this digest exists isn’t really answered. The book might be useful in a school or institutional context, but readers hoping for a survey of how countless cultures have influenced American cuisine will be left hungry. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The People’s Money: How China Is Building a Global Currency

Paola Subacchi. Columbia Univ., $35 (256p) ISBN 978-0-231-17346-9

“Money is the game changer of our time,” says economist Subacchi in this accessible introduction to and critique of China’s efforts to strengthen its currency. Drawing on her research and role as director of international research at the Royal College of International Affairs in London, Subacchi lays out the story of the renminbi in intentionally plain language so as to appeal to general readers who are interested in international economics as well as an academic audience. In the first several chapters, Subacchi describes how capital movements have driven China’s transformation in the last 20 years, what it takes for a currency to become “international money,” and the effects of living with a currency that lacks international status. By the middle of the work, she asks the key question: why isn’t China’s renminbi treated as an international currency? She also analyzes Japan’s experience with currency internationalization and discusses the importance of a well-developed financial center with good infrastructure. Subacchi argues for reforms and policies to push the renminbi’s use while acknowledging that China’s ambitions to raise its status as an international currency are still unfulfilled. Given the decision, effective on October 1 2016, to enter the renminbi into the International Monetary Fund’s basket of reserve currencies, this work is a timely , relevant, and fascinating read. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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My Lost Poets: A Life in Poetry

Philip Levine. Knopf, $27.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-451-49327-9

The last completed book from the late Levine (News of the World), a former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize–winner, collects original and previously published essays that revolve around artistic development—the poems and poets that shaped Levine’s distinct voice—as well as the circumstances that eventually led to his celebrated vocation. Though there is a chronology to the organization of the chapters , they can just as easily stand on their own as individual works; for example, the final chapter, a reading of Keats and Whitman, reads more like a critical essay than a memoir. Unsurprisingly, Levine’s prose is often poetic, from his earliest recollections of composing poems in the “double dark” to his reminiscence of jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown and his music: “pure, free, clear, as water was in my early years.” Levine writes at one point of how a poem hits first “in the gut” and then in the intellect, and his descriptions of his life, brimming with nostalgia and imagination, operate similarly. Like so many of Levine’s poems, this book evinces a commitment to evoking hard-won experience and bringing it to lyric life . (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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