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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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Skyward

Philip David Alexander. Now or Never (LitDistCo, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (220p) ISBN 978-1-988098-21-0

Alexander's fourth novel (following Peacefield) could be described as a taut and adroit crime novel, but that doesn't tell the whole story. It is quirkily funny, in a way that sits comfortably among books by Carol Shields and Trevor Cole, and Ethan Coen's screenplay for Fargo. Alexander is assured enough to add thoughtful flashes of Twin Peaks–style weirdness to the mix, including a lonely clairvoyant cop, a "bush-league drug lord," and a creepy annual fair in semi-rural Skyward, Ont., where three men have vanished over three consecutive years. The arch but fond depiction of small-town life in southern Ontario's factory, farm, and fast food franchise belt begins with a drunk driver and a wintry stolen car chase. Keeping readers enjoyably off-balance, Alexander opts for four different narrative perspectives (two police agents, one townie whose bad attitude and quick fists land him in trouble, and "The Pursued," whose fondness for joyriding in expensive cars is just the start of a list of crimes). While focusing, as in a police procedural, on the trial-and-error tracking of the elusive thief, this intriguing thriller also provides satisfying glimpses of the characters' unsettled lives as they deal with work politics, post-retirement dreams, childhood traumas, and affecting matters of the heart. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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My Brother’s Keeper: Christians Who Risked All to Protect Jewish Targets of the Nazi Holocaust

Rod Gragg. Center Street, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6629-7

Gragg (By the Hand of Providence: How Faith Shaped the American Revolution) provides an inspiring look at 30 Christian heroes who defied the Nazis at great personal risk and bucked the general tide of indifference and paralysis that overwhelmed almost all bystanders to the Holocaust. Jan Karski, who tried to get F.D.R. to respond to the mass murders of Europe’s Jews, will be familiar to many readers, but most of the people profiled here are not. For example, relatively few will have heard of Feng Shan Ho, a Chinese Christian, who saved over 12,000 Jews. When Ho’s promotion to consul-general at the Chinese embassy in Vienna coincided with increasing reports of Jewish persecution, he issued visas to Austrian and German Jews, allowing them to emigrate to Shanghai. Ho persisted despite opposition by his own government, which wanted to maintain its relationship with Hitler. Ho’s story, like that of the others, merits fuller treatment than it gets here, but Gragg gives a sense of these activists’ mind-boggling bravery, though he does not provide a deep dive into their psychology to explain why they acted when so many did not. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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God of Earth

Kristin Swenson. Westminster John Knox, $17 trade paper (146p) ISBN 978-0-664-26157-3

PW reviewer Swenson (Bible Babel), a self-described “lapsed churchgoer of a questionable Christianity,” writes of a “Jesus beyond Jesus, the God of Earth .” What exactly that phrase means is at times hard to pinpoint, but she asserts that Jesus was not just a man from Galilee born 2,000 years ago—he is the Earth itself. Through personal reflections, the author analogizes the events of Jesus’s life to the birth, death, and resurrection of the planet’s natural environment. As she discusses the debate around the Keystone Pipeline and the importance of finding the right balance in terms of environmental responsibility (like not getting so bogged down in making a compost pile you forget to take a walk in the woods), Swenson incorporates passionate pleas for change. A good place to start, she says, is to live with less—less stuff, less fossil fuel consumption, even fewer visits to exotic wilderness areas. One of the most beautiful passages in her book examines the creation story in Genesis and explains the original meaning of the Hebrew words, which gives insight into humankind’s true purpose. “Of all the planets in our solar system” she says, “none compares to Earth .” The natural world is full of stories with important lessons, Swenson insists, that are similar to Jesus’s parables. With a poetic and serene tone, she beckons readers to listen. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Short Life of Martin Luther

Thomas Kaufmann, trans. from the German by Peter D.S. Krey and James D. Bratt. Eerdmans, $18 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-0-8028-7153-4

Timed to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses, which ushered in the Protestant Reformation, Kaufmann’s short, incisive biography of Luther focuses on the theological import of his subject’s life. Kaufmann conveys the core of Luther’s theology, rooted in the scholar-monk’s conviction of the primacy of scripture over Roman Catholic theological tradition and his unwavering belief that salvation came through grace of God alone, not through works. His sketch of Luther’s life is brief, but Kaufmann does not shy away from controversial topics such as Luther’s anti-Semitism and his harsh reaction to the German Peasants’ War, which alienated him from many of the common people who were once his staunch supporters. Kaufmann, having taken on a daunting task, expertly cuts to the heart of Luther’s thought, illustrating how his religious and intellectual consistency after 1517 drove his life decisions. The book, written in a tone of high seriousness, is impressively clear, providing insights into the mind of a complicated individual. For those who want more, Kaufmann offers a reprint of the 95 theses as well as reading lists on both Luther’s life and the Reformation. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Roots of Violence

Krister Stendahl. Paraclete, $16.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-61261-815-9

This posthumously published volume offers four interrelated talks on violence and religion given by theologian Krister Stendhal (1921–2008) at Dana College in Blair, Neb., during the 1980s . Stendhal, a Swedish-born Lutheran best known for his academic leadership at Harvard Divinity School and his tenure as Bishop of Stockholm (1984–1988), spent much of his career occupied with the question of “how to mend creation.” As a New Testament theologian, he turned to the Bible for insight into the origins of and solutions to violence. The four transcribed talks, presented here with explanatory matter and reflections by colleagues, offer a glimpse into Stendhal’s in-progress thoughts on the concepts of salvation as victory, mysticism and nirvana, shalom or salaam, and the way language shapes violence and peace. The interfaith orientation of the talks themselves is sustained in the response section, in which Stendhal’s colleagues Dr. Marc Brettler, Imam Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, and Dr. Rebecca Pugh reflect on the themes he raises. This work offers little systematized exegesis or social analysis; readers wishing for a blueprint for addressing violence behavior inspired by faith or drawing on faith to address violence will be disappointed. However, those wishing for as complete a record of Stendhal’s thought as history can provide will welcome this addition to his published works. Readers for whom this is an introduction to the scholar’s work may find themselves wanting more, and luckily a long bibliography is available for those interested . (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Plea for the Animals: The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative to Treat All Beings with Compassion

Matthieu Ricard. Shambhala, $24.95 (345p) ISBN 978-1-61180-305-1

Buddhist monk and author Ricard (Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and Your World) makes a strong argument for treating animals with respect and compassion. In practice, he says, that means not eating them. Ricard is systematic and comprehensive in developing his case; he examines the conditions of contemporary meat production, the use of animals in experiments and for entertainment, the history of human-animal relations, and what contemporary ethology shows about animal consciousness. The most original part of his treatise is philosophical and ethical. He draws on well-known animal rights advocates such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan and also looks closely at moral philosophy, from Kantian ethics to the contemporary “trolley problem” of distinguishing between two evils. Given his monastic livelihood, it’s surprising and disappointing that he does not draw more from Buddhism, which has a rich understanding of compassion. Instead he relies on sensational indictments of animal breeding developed by others such as novelist Jonathan Safran Foer and French journalist Aymeric Caron. Two chapters repackage prior work. Despite some flaws, the book makes an important contribution to the literature on animal rights. (Oct.)

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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