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999: A History of Chicago in Ten Stories

Richard B. Fizdale. Ampersand, $79.95 hardcover (260p) ISBN 978-1-4675-4528-0

Chicago native and former CEO Fizdale offers up both a lively history of the Windy City and a somewhat ponderous biography of a condominium at 999 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. In the first half of this well-researched book—replete with archival photography and illustrations—Fizdale provides an arresting depiction of the formation of Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood and the colorful characters involved in the process. Less interesting, however, is the section of the book devoted to the building at 999 Lake Shore Drive, despite the author's best efforts to imbue its apartments with beguiling notoriety. While the escapades of architect Benjamin Marshall, the avant-garde costume parties of Elizabeth McWilliams, and Muriel McCormick's bizarre marriage are engaging, and the presences of notorious gangster Terry Druggan, influential philanthropist Elizabeth Paepcke, and disgraced auto manufacturer Preston Tucker are noteworthy, the many pages documenting every person who ever lived in the building quickly become tedious. Still, for residents of Chicago, Fizdale's unequivocal affection for his home and city will be contagious.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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To the Survivors

Robert Uttaro. CreateSpace, $12.95 paper (268p) ISBN 978-1-4909-3166-1

Rape counselor Uttaro draws upon his years of experience to warn that sexual abuse is far more prevalent than most people suspect, and provides a moving series of survivor stories. Uttaro persuasively argues that each survivor's story is unique—and this militates one-size-fits-all advice. The surprising revelations of the survivors Uttaro interviews corroborate his claim that justice is an individual concept that depends on what redress survivors seek. Uttaro's assurances that survivors are not defined by sexual abuse offer the possibility of a positive resolution. This book is both informative for the general public and supportive for those who have suffered sexual abuse. It is hard to imagine that members of either group will not gain from reading it.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Stress Less: 10 Balancing Insights on Work and Life

Amy Freeman. Daylight Press, $14.99 paper (84p) ISBN 978-0-9641971-2-1

Educator and parent Freeman—who holds a doctorate in workforce education—tackles the difficulties of juggling work life and personal life in this slim volume, encouraging individual reflection rather than proposing a one-size-fits-all prescription. Freeman urges readers to fight stress by doing less, rather than more, but fails to go beyond offering personal anecdotes and general bromides. The author's emphasis on gradual progress and individual pace matches the reflective tone of her prose. Perhaps Freeman's strongest insight is that slowing down and talking with others can help people put their lives back in order. Readers won't find a cure-all, and Freeman's book is unlikely to stand out in the crowded self-help market.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Letting Go into Perfect Love: Discovering the Extraordinary After Abuse

Gwen Plano. She Writes Press, $16.95 paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-938314-74-2

"Logic itself cannot restore us to a place of joy; we need the direct experience of love," Plano counsels in her gripping memoir of surviving domestic violence and coping with the sexual abuse of her daughter. Raised to keep a stiff upper lip when challenged by adversity, she ascribes her long-term post-traumatic-stress disorder to hiding her pain and misinterpreting the Roman Catholic concepts of sin and redemption she absorbed as a child. Her deeply disturbing narrative relates how she separated from a mentally ill husband only to land in a physically and emotionally abusive second marriage, followed by her daughter's victimization by a prostitution ring ensconced in a seminary. Plano also chronicles her struggles to re-establish a healthy relationship with the Catholic Church and a series of transformative events that helped her heal. Ultimately life affirming, her journey will ring true to readers familiar with domestic violence and anyone who feels trapped and crippled by shame and self-blame.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Italy: Beer Country

Bryan Jansing, illus. by Paul Vismara. Dog Ear, $24.99 paper (188p) ISBN 978-1-4575-2655-8

This enthusiastic and informative celebration of Italian craft beer profiles the principal brewers—and describes the clash between tradition and change—in a country where beer often takes a backseat to wine. Among the many key players covered by Jansing are Teo Musso, whose discovery and love of European beer led to his creation of Le Baladin, a bar famous for its beer in Italy; Agostino Arioli, who operates a brewery called Birrificio Italiano and creates "beer for beer lovers,"; and Birrificio Lambrate, whose brewpub prospers through local publicity in Milan. Illustrations, photography, and promotional materials add to this thorough examination of Italian craft beer, revealing the influence of culture, taste, and food as well as the aesthetic passions and business complexities in the art of brewing.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Face to Face: Cultivating Kids' Social Lives in Today's Digital World

Kathy Masarie, Kathy Keller Jones, Ruth Matinko-Wald, Jody Bellant Scheer, Cassandra Dickson, and Monique Terner. Family Empowerment Network, $34.95 paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-9819504-4-0

This parenting guidebook, intended for parents, educators, counselors, or discussion groups, reads like it was written by a committee—and with six author credits, it likely was. Although the book's title suggests a focus on digital technology, readers will find a surprising shortage of practical information, as well as little coverage of cyberbullying and organized sports. Still, the authors address a host of important topics—everything from cliques and resiliency to cultural identity and creativity—and include an early exercise to kick things off, as well as questions or additional resources at the end of chapters. Charts, photos, and graphics also work well to reinforce ideas. However, because the book strives to serve multiple audiences, it sometimes struggles to effectively reach any of them.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Burning Shield: The Jason Schechterle Story

Landon J. Napoleon. Avery Press, $19.95 paper (390p) ISBN 978-0-9886519-4-4

This gripping biography of Jason Schechterle's battle for life and justice celebrates the resilience of the human spirit while condemning corporate greed. In the telling of Schechterle's story—from his becoming a Phoenix police officer to the March 26, 2001, auto accident that nearly killed him—Napoleon offers up suspenseful prose replete with all the crucial elements of a legal thriller. Schechterle's accident—a taxi hit his police cruiser, which inexplicably burst into flames—turned out to be part of a nationwide spate of similar auto explosions. Legal crusader Patrick J. McGroder, who worked with Schechterle in his case against Ford Motor Company, is depicted as a feisty, down-home everyman. This enthralling biography injects the intimacy of fiction into a true story of human endurance. Readers are continuously reminded that Jason Schechterle is flesh, bones, and blood, not a fictional character, and they are invited to experience his terror, frustration, and ultimate triumph.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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1914: A Novel

Charles B. Smith. CreateSpace, $21.99 paper (650p) ISBN 978-1-4942-3600-7

Mind and bodies are shattered in this carefully researched yet meandering descent into the tragedy and triumph of war. Set against the allegiances, politics, and shocking trench warfare of WWI, Smith's novel follows nine men from various walks of life as they struggle to come to terms with war, violence, and themselves. Despite convincing physical descriptions of the agony of battle, a rambling narrative and unfocused plot sacrifice momentum and suspense in favor of exposition. From American Gordon to British friends Arthur and Perry, the characters—many of them underdeveloped—do little to summon reader empathy or interest. While the internal conflicts of characters can fascinate, the stagnant motivations of these combatants are less than engaging. Even German Lance Corporal Hentsch—who provides one of the more interesting perspectives on battle—seems to exist primarily as a vehicle for an author interested more in history than narrative.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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13:24: A Story of Faith and Obsession

M. Dolon Hickmon. Rehoboam, $16.99 paper (376p) ISBN 978-0-9911066-0-8

Hickmon unleashes a shocking blitzkrieg of murder, conspiracy, and child abuse in this disturbing, breathlessly plotted murder mystery. When 14-year-old Chris Pesner murders his mother and her boyfriend, Andrew, the media blames heavy metal band Rehoboam's violent, blasphemous lyrics. But homicide detective William Hursel's investigation unearths a dark web of child abuse and black market pornography. Merging biblical tales, psychology, and social criticism, Hickmon stares into the distressing abyss of child exploitation with daring honesty. Designed to provoke, scenes of underage abuse avoid the pornographic by focusing on psychological damage—thus rousing pity and disgust, not titillation. Eschewing easy answers for moral complexity, this thriller is unsettling entertainment that offers catharsis.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Writer: Daughter of Time, Book 2

Erec Stebbins. Twin Pi Press, $16.99 paper (444p) ISBN 978-0-9860571-8-2

As the tyrannical Dram—an advanced alien race—make military advances in this sequel to Stebbins's Reader, Lt. Nitin Ratava reaffirms his love for New Earth savior Ambra Dawn (a "reader" with powerful visions of the past and future) by joining the Temple Guards. The sarcastic voice of Weapons Sgt. Grant Moore provides a contrast to the often ethereal relationship of Ratava and Dawn and the cool wisdom of her loyal alien protector, Waythrel. With the appearance of malevolent Dawn clones pointing to a powerful new enemy, Stebbins uses the Xix—a benevolent alien race—to present a contrast between the cultures of love and wisdom and of conquest and hatred. While Stebbins's novel is full of the same adventure and excitement as Reader, it suffers from a disjunction between the action of the story and the rarified relationship between Ratava and Dawn. Additionally, the narrative bogs down at times due to overly long inner monologue from Ratava. Still, fans of the series will likely keep turning pages in anticipation of the next installment.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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