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Happiness

Randy Alcorn. Tyndale, $24.99 (563p) ISBN 978-1-4143-8934-9

Alcorn (Heaven), director of Eternal Perspective Ministries, serves as a guide on the road toward true happiness and fulfillment in this hefty but appealing tome. He examines the life of Jesus for clues regarding how to lead a truly happy life. Transcending oneself to serve others plays a key role in his version of obtaining happiness, but Alcorn refreshingly wants to shift the focus of religion away from pure duty and obligation. Christians should observe the gospel through the happiness of their lives, he explains, not just the deeds they accomplish or the acts they avoid. One step in this direction is to eradicate the myth perpetrated by many Christians that emotion is bad. Alcorn attempts to diminish the divide between sacred and secular that's found in certain strains of Christianity. His approach is progressive in many ways, but when discussing marriage and homosexuality, Alcorn checks in as a traditionally conservative Christian. Still, Christian readers of all kinds may find that happiness is not as elusive as they once thought. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Campus Sex, Campus Security

Jennifer Doyle. MIT/Semiotext(e), $13.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-58435-169-6

In a pointed and deliberately fragmented book-length essay, Doyle explores how modern U.S. campuses are policed, delving into the "discourse of campus rape" along the way. She demonstrates how well-intentioned bureaucratic procedures can transform a campus into a "conflict zone" where students are soaked with pepper spray, a professor is thrown to the ground for jaywalking, and non-white students are singled out to produce ID, among other abuses. Doyle, a Professor of English at UCLA-Riverside, names the 2011–2012 school year the "year of risk management" for American colleges, due to new Department of Education standards for Title IX compliance. These new standards associated a discrimination-free campus with one that felt safe, noted the frequency of sexual assault using now-disputed statistics, and put colleges on notice regarding their responsibilities toward potential victims. Doyle describes how the campus is now viewed as a "hunting ground" to be protected from the "non-affiliate" outsider. While analyzing stories of campus rapes (Penn State), suicides (Rutgers), and pepper sprayings (UC-Davis), Doyle tars administrators with a rather broad brush, saying they are "the last people one would actually trust to know what it means to support a robust... equitable sexual culture." She challenges readers to see abuses of power as forms of sexism on college campuses, and to imagine a more open campus community. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 3

Mark Twain, edited by Benjamin Griffin and Harriet Elinor Smith. Univ. of California, $45 (792p) ISBN 978-0-520-27994-0

This third and final volume of Twain's half-million-word autobiography begins with an amusing reminiscence about a rascally jewelry salesman, dictated in 1907, and ends with a wail of anguish over the tragic death of his daughter, Jean, in 1909. In between, there occur all manner of engrossing events and experiences, including Twain's receipt of an honorary degree from Oxford University, employment of a man masquerading as a housemaid, luncheon with George Bernard Shaw, travels abroad to England and Bermuda, and audiences with Andrew Carnegie and other famous personalities of the day. Twain recalls his twilight years' main events in roughly chronological order, but each serves as a touchstone for digressions and reveries on experiences described in his autobiography's two earlier volumes. Twain's expansiveness occasionally deflates into numbing levels of detail, but he is usually as sharp and witty here as he in his fiction, particularly when gleefully goring his favorite bête noir, President Theodore Roosevelt. Life, in Twain's opinion, is a "procession of episodes and experiences which seem large when they happen, but which diminish to trivialities as soon as we get perspective upon them." This fascinating volume gives lie to that assertion, and closes the book on the remarkable life of one of America's most outstanding literary talents. With extensive scholarly annotations. B+w photos. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Age of Aspiration: Power, Wealth, and Conflict in Globalizing India

Dilip Hiro. New Press (Perseus, dist.), $28.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-62097-130-7

Hiro (The Longest August) develops a dense, intriguing analysis of India's complex sociopolitical climate since 1991, when the country launched extensive neoliberal reforms. The book reveals the gap between astonishing technological developments and the worsening status of the poor. While appreciative of the information technology education that gives Indian students a competitive edge throughout the world, Hiro points out that "the benefits of the boom have gone to those at the top and the middle, leaving the bottom stagnating." In chronicling the contest between the once-dominant Indian National Congress and the upstart Bharatiya Janata Party, Hiro gives specific instances of corruption on both sides. As he shows, the divide between rich and poor is also evident in agriculture: rich landowners are exempt from most taxes, while tenant farmers suffer from dwindling water resources and poor soil. The chapter on West Bengal's Maoist Naxalite guerillas deftly shows how violent radical movements can win support from locals who feel abandoned by the government. The author's anger at ruling-class greed is evident throughout, but he's willing to acknowledge positive changes: intermittent electricity in villages, more access to information, some improvements in health care. Still, he makes clear these are but "short-term palliatives." In an epilogue on the rise of xenophobia and religious bigotry during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration, Hiro expresses little hope for change. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Plans I Have for You

Amy Parker, illus. by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Zonderkidz, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-310-72410-0

For Christian children wondering what God has in store for them, Parker (My Christmas List) offers a playfully reassuring rhyme, written from the perspective of an enthusiastic deity. The focus is on future careers ("I need you in a hospital/ and you at the zoo./ You'll be an entomologist/ in a forest in Peru"), though a spread in which four children peruse a Bible is decorated with words like "patience" and "kindness," emphasizing altruistic values. Brantley-Newton (My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay) draws from an array of visual influences in her always energetic illustrations. In one early scene, a hand points out at readers from a cloud, like an Uncle Sam recruitment poster; elsewhere, children sit on an assembly line (which stretches over several pages) as robot arms outfit them with stethoscopes, musical instruments, and other gear. Parker's meter can be slightly shaky, and there's an overreliance on certain rhymes (you/do gets a workout, in particular), but the encouraging tone, range of careers represented, and ethnically diverse cast create the sense that the sky's the limit. Ages 4–8. Author's agency: Working Title Agency. Illustrator's agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Space Dumplins

Craig Thompson. Scholastic/Graphix, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-545-56543-1

A third of the way into Thompson's first graphic novel for young readers, his heroine Violet mishears "eschatological" as "scatological." Oddly enough, both adjectives fit the story to a T. Poop is everywhere in Violet's itinerant, extraterrestrial existence—neon green space whale poop, that is. Violet's father, a "lumberjack," harvests it for money (it's an important energy source), while her mother works in the fashion industry; the family's financial stresses are as keenly felt as the tension between blue-collar and creative-class work. When a toxic whale diarrhea spill threatens widespread disaster, and Violet's father goes missing, she is thrust into a position to save the day, joined by Elliot, a timid chicken plagued by portentous visions, and Zacchaeus, a rowdy alien who may be the last of his kind. Thompson (Habibi) has created a richly imagined and gorgeously illustrated universe, and his candy-colored palette belies the class divisions, environmental woes, and corporate/industrial dominance of Violet's future. It's a wild and funny escapade, undergirded by a tender portrait of a family just trying to get by. Ages 8–12. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Anxiety Survival Guide for Teens: CBT Skills to Overcome Fear, Worry, and Panic

Jennifer Shannon, illus. by Doug Shannon. New Harbinger/Instant Help, $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-62625-243-1

This straightforward self-help book uses cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to help readers grapple with different forms of anxiety. Rather than reduce anxiety to a list of symptoms or disorders, Shannon spends the first few chapters discussing its biological origins; describing the instinct to worry as "the monkey mind," governed by a fight-or-flight response, she covers the thought processes that can perpetuate anxious rumination. Practical activities for acknowledging and reducing such thoughts appear throughout, along with links to online materials, as Shannon explores various types of anxiety in greater detail, including social anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Supportive, specific, and well-articulated advice may ease the minds of readers who seek to better understand their own habits and behavior: "When you respond to monkey chatter by worrying, you are saying, You are right, monkey. This is something I need to worry about. You are giving your monkey a banana—training it to view the imagined threat as a real one." This resource has the potential to both enlighten and empower. Ages 13–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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All I Know Now: Wonderings and Advice on Making Friends, Making Mistakes, Falling In (and Out of) Love, and Other Adventures in Growing Up Hopefully

Carrie Hope Fletcher. The Experiment (Workman, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-61519-294-6

Fletcher, a British actress and host of the YouTube channel It's Way Past My Bedtime, debuts with what she calls "the manual I yearned for when I was a teenager." Her own black-and-white line illustrations are interspersed throughout—the kinds of doodles one might see in the margins of a student's notebook. Dividing the book into eight "acts" (with titles like "How to Get Your Heart Broken Only Just a Little Bit"), Fletcher discusses how to navigate social and home life, school, professional goals, and relationships, bolstered by examples from her own life; for example, after jumping between relationships, afraid to be alone, she spent much of a year single in an effort to become more independent. Fletcher openly addresses the ebbs and flows of adolescence, pursuing goals, and sometimes letting go of them: "If you decide to change those dreams after having wanted them for so long, it doesn't make you a failure. It makes you smart, realistic and above all honest with yourself." Ages 12–up. Agent: Hannah Ferguson, Hardman and Swainson Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dreamland

Robert L. Anderson. HarperTeen, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-233867-9

Anderson's ambitious debut centers around Dea Donahue, a high school social outcast in contemporary Indiana, who has always been able to enter other people's dreams. In fact, she gets sick if she doesn't routinely "walk." Dea's mother has laid down rules for her: no visiting the same person's dream more than once, no letting the dreamer see you, and no changing anything. When Dea meets her new neighbor, Connor, she feels particularly drawn to him—enough to break the rules and revisit his dreams. But, even together, Dea and Connor may not be strong enough to face the consequences of her actions, which begin with the appearance of terrifying faceless monsters that do not seem to stay in dreams. Anderson's plot takes a while to get going, but this complexly characterized and multidimensional novel rewards readers with a deep sense of place, an unusual world, and an entirely enjoyable romance. The conclusion satisfies while leaving room for a potential sequel. Ages 14–up. Agent: Stephen Barbara, Inkwell Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Nightfall

Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski. Putnam, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-399-17580-0

Halpern and Kujawinski (coauthors of the Dormia series) have created an intriguing but implausible world for this dark story. After 14 years of Day, Night descends on the island of Bliss. Meanwhile, the receding tide exposes a statue bearing the ominous words, "The houses must be without stain." As is traditional when Night approaches, the islanders prepare to flee to the Desert Lands (where, somehow, Day and Night alternate in three-day shifts) until Bliss's sun returns. When adolescent Marin and her twin brother, Kana, leave the ships to look for her best friend, Line, they become stranded on the island to face the Night: the cold, the dark, strange animals that hide by Day, and the terrifying original inhabitants of Bliss. The extremity of the world and premise requires significant suspension of disbelief (including how "years" are measured on such a planet and why anyone would settle somewhere they must abandon for 14-year spans with other options available). But the authors' lovely wordsmithing, especially in the descriptions of falling night and the rituals of departure, compensate for these and other implausibilities. Ages 12–up. Agent: Tina Bennett, William Morris Endeavor. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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