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Theological Graffiti: Writings on the Wall of Belief
A. Deacon
Vantage Press (www.vantagepress.com), $12.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-0-533-16339-7
In this ill-informed and insipid attempt at theological reflection, Deacon seeks to promote an understanding of Christian faith and tradition that is compatible with "twenty-first century reality." Regrettably, Deacon never makes it clear what he means by "twenty-first century reality" and fails to address how such a concept might affect belief and faith. The author covers a host of typical theological questions, addressing everything from original sin and the relevance of sacred scripture to the concept of evil and life after death. But in drawing his conclusions, Deacon often fails to marshal any evidence or cite theological writings. For example, in his brief discussion of evil he simply asserts that "in the absence of humanity, immorality/evil cannot exist." This shallow, poorly written book never states its purpose clearly, never develops any of its ideas, and thus fails to accomplish anything at all.

The Boomerang Effect: How You Can Take Charge of Your Life
Nicola Bird
iUniverse (www.iuniverse.com), $13.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-4502-8722-7
With her trademarked therapy techniques, psychotherapist Bird promises an end to repeating cycles of negative thought and emotion, unfulfilling relationships, self-hatred, and depression. She describes three instinctual personas—the fighter, the hider, and the runner—that people use to manage the "muck" (i.e., challenges, fears, loss, and sadness) in their lives; guides readers to identify their primary protective mechanisms; demonstrates how those mechanisms initiate a "boomerang effect" in which problems recur; and explains why cognitive awareness alone will not break futile patterns. Her therapy consists of deep breathing, guided meditation, and visualization to stimulate a relaxation response and transform unconscious beliefs and reactions. She writes: "Many of us don't know the underlying causes of our conflicts or the deep-rooted issues that are affecting our perceptions and reactions. Even if we have some sense of the core reasons for our behaviors, thoughts and emotions, we still find ourselves struggling with our reactivity." Bird brings a remarkable degree of clarity and an engaging style to complex psychological concepts. In this slim volume, she simplifies the process of change with a few effective exercises that can be done quickly throughout the day.

God, Torah, and the Meaning of Life: Musings on the Things That Matter
Barry Leff
The Neshamah Center Press, $19.75 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-965-7508-01-5
This collection of Leff's self-selected greatest written hits—almost all of which are sermons he delivered—represents his philosophy and theology, but proves to be nowhere as interesting as the author's life, which included two decades as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and trips to Germany, Thailand, and Iran. Part of the problem is repetition. Too many concepts recur too often, while his choice to present the sermons as written works, complete with scheduling information about synagogue activities, is an unfortunate one. In addition, many of Leff's homilies end in a way that undercuts the case he's making for particular religious practices. Oddly, some entries, including a prayer he wrote for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, are unaccompanied by an explanatory preface. Readers are left to wonder why Leff felt Katrina merited its own prayer, but September 11 did not. Ultimately, the book suffers—and will most likely not reach a wider audience—because Leff's rich intellectual curiosity is not given enough room to flourish.

Go Undiet: 50 Small Actions for Lasting Weight Loss
Gloria Tsang
HealthCastle Media (www.healthcastle.com), $21.95 trade paper (210p) ISBN 978-0-9832167-9-7
Founder of the nutrition network healthcastle.com and a registered dietician, Tsang presents a straightforward plan to help readers control their food and nutrition choices via small, achievable steps. Tsang asserts that diets, as a rule, don't work and instead suggests readers incrementally change the food they consume. She shows readers how to identify and avoid highly processed foods, offering a five-second-scan method that includes "uncartooning" (animated characters on a box usually means high sugar content), avoiding fat-free food, and examining nutritional information and ingredient lists. Tsang sticks with the "undiet" theme (uncrate eggs, un-medicate your meat, unveil fish), while covering a range of food topics. She's not hesitant to name names, pointing out the unwholesome features of specific products and warning that fat-free salad dressing is "a Frankenstein's monster of artificial ingredients." Tsang cautions against overeating and urges readers not to be tricked by misleading food labels. Instead of foods high in sugar, fat, and calories, she steers readers toward mindful eating and better choices. Tsang's plan is logical and uncomplicated; readers weary of yo-yo dieting will welcome the chance to eat healthy food without obsessing about calories and rigid rules.

Circle of Friends: Thomas Jefferson and His Women Correspondents
Gerard W. Gawalt
CreateSpace (www.createspace.com), $14.99 trade paper (282p) ISBN 978-1-4563-5538-8
For historians who love the formal language common in letters of the 18th and 19th centuries, Gawalt's collection of Jefferson's correspondence with women will be a pleasure. For the rest of the world, it's going to be a plodding challenge. And that's unfortunate, because the book contains some amazing moments. In one letter, a Jefferson correspondent, in describing her escape from Paris before the storming of the Bastille, writes, "I am not sure the Revolution can be prevented." This is a chilling and prescient comment about the impending French Revolution, coming from a woman during a time when females were expected to be delicate, uneducated, and cloistered. In another letter, Madame de Corny, commenting on the Louisiana Purchase, remarks, "I am not sure even with all your skill Louisiana will not give you some embarrassment." The correspondence also provides a glimpse of Jefferson as a romantic dreamer, shows the struggles he endured, and illustrates his lifelong financial problems. He writes to a daughter about his plans to "sell the detached tracts of land... so as to pay the debts I have." Gawalt's pithy commentary between letters is so informative that fewer letters and more contextual information might have allowed the correspondence to shine more brightly.

Information Bombardment: Rising Above the Digital Onslaught
Nick Bontis
Institute for Intellectual Capital Research (www.iicr.ca), $28.95 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-9867945-0-6
A professor at the McMaster University in Canada, Bontis has lectured widely to various banks and businesses about how to handle "the information bombardment that attacks us from every angle" in the digital age. The difficulty is evident in his first book: a clearly written, well-organized, but uneven volume. Stating upfront that his is a "practitioner-focused book," Bontis effectively argues that "most of us have no idea how to filter, organize and prioritize all the information we receive" from multiple sources such as e-mail and the Internet, and that we have "become addicted to knowing the latest and greatest piece of information." The bulk of the book presents concise descriptions of the impact of information bombardment on individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions. Bontis is especially good at detailing the resultant stress-related physical conditions. But the author's concluding prescriptions for dealing with information bombardment tend to be bland and general: "prioritization is a useful tool for managing email messages" and "[a]ccelerated information sharing is best promoted when an aligned team atmosphere is present."

Waltz of the Asparagus People: The Further Adventures of Piano Girl
Robin Meloy Goldsby
Bass Lion Publishing (www.createspace.com), $14 trade paper (278p) ISBN 978-1-4564-7754-7
Goldsby's witty sequel to her memoir Piano Girl matches its predecessor's humor and breeziness. The first book recounted her experiences playing piano in New York City hotel lounges before moving to Germany. This collection of more than 20 essays includes episodes from before and after her move, starting slowly with "Mr. President," a tale about how she crossed paths with former president Bill Clinton while recording a segment for National Public Radio. Goldsby hits her stride with the title essay, in which she recounts a bizarre display at the Grand Hyatt of over 200 asparagus stalks arranged to form a village and "hand-painted, shellacked, and dressed in a little outfit." Her trials and tribulations while trying to obtain a driver's license in Germany—complete with a road test on the Autobahn at a speed of 100 miles per hour and a written test with extremely esoteric questions—is another high point. But pride of place must go to "The House on Sorority Row," which describes Goldsby's portrayal of a doomed sorority sister in a 1980s cult slasher film—a role that gained her a degree of celebrity.

Grip: A Memoir of Fierce Attraction
Nina Hamberg
Route One (www.ninahamberg.com), $12.50 (288p) ISBN 978-09827547-0-2
After being assaulted in her own bedroom by a masked intruder when she was a teen, Hamberg found her relationships with men complicated, to say the least. In this thoughtful memoir, she shares the victories and defeats that shaped those relationships in vivid detail. Introspective without lapsing into solipsism, Hamburg paints a portrait of a woman who stood up to her attacker, embraced feminism, and still managed to fall for the worst guy in the room, be he a spineless hippie, a manipulative ex-con, or a karate instructor with anger issues. Hamburg never resorts to caricatures; while each beau has his flaws, she also illustrates his particular appeal and the unique dynamics that kept the relationship going. This is no small feat. Strangely, it's her last (and healthiest) relationship that gets short shrift. Hamburg's marriage sounds like a stable one, but the reader is unable to determine who her husband is, why they clicked, and what has kept them together for a decade. Soundly edited, focused and well-crafted, Hamburg's memoir is an examination of what it means to be a strong, independent woman, and how we often manage to lead ourselves astray despite the best intentions.

Collision: When Reality and Illusion Collide
Ron Bruguiere
AuthorHouse (www.authorhouse.com), $15.99 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-4567-2525-9
A 40-year career in theater management is drawn in this show business memoir that provides an insider's view of the industry and its history. Bruguiere covers a variety of topics, including theater innovations (the advent of air conditioning), musings about the cost of maintaining proper facilities, and meditations on the production of inferior plays: "It starts with the producer, and what his goals are. Yet, the mysteries of the ‘why's' and the ‘how's' will always exist because every producer believes he has a winner." The book's scope is broad and celebrities abound. The idiosyncrasies of such stars as Carol Channing, Maggie Smith, Ethel Merman, and many others are intriguingly and kindly related. And it appears Bruguiere—whose experiences include theater tours and television productions—knew absolutely everyone in the business. Despite his success, Bruguiere often found himself at the mercy of early closings and unexpectedly short runs. He also recounts discreet details of failed love affairs, family relationships, and skirmishes with alcohol and drugs.

Fish & Fashion
Mari Lorraine Kimura
A Zone Publishing, $14.99 trade paper (357p) ISBN 978-0-9832193-0-9
Kimura's overly detailed memoir charts the life of a Japanese-American woman who worked in the fishing industry before becoming a successful stylist and costume designer in Hollywood. Kimura drops celebrity names and encounters throughout, including her childhood meetings with Donnie and Marie Osmond. Her father actually comes across as the "creative genius" she dubs him, although his accomplishments are lessened by some major missed opportunities. According to his daughter, Tadao Kimura was the real inventor of the California Roll, and blew opportunities to be an early investor in Microsoft and distribute Hello Kitty products in the U.S. The author's decision to end her memoir abruptly in 1992—just as she "discovered the missing link to an amazing technology that may someday revolutionize the way to environmental cleanup"—is an odd one, even if the event did turn her into a "pro-environmental, self-educated scientist." Nonetheless, Kimura's prose is solid, if not gripping, and readers who persevere will get a partial picture of an interesting and original life.

I'm Not Crazy Just Bipolar
Wendy K. Williamson
AuthorHouse (www.authorhouse.com), $16.95 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-4520-6851-0
In this candid but commonplace mental health memoir, Williamson describes a life spent battling addiction and bipolar disorder. Undiagnosed well into her early 20s, the author's condition lead to manic episodes in college involving alcohol abuse, drug binges, risky choices, and extremely unsafe behavior. Additionally, Williamson battled depression and, during her 30s, was hospitalized, attempted suicide several times, and struggled with her weight. Now that she is stable, Williamson presents her memoir as a guide for people affected by bipolar disorder—those who suffer from the condition as well as their family, friends, and acquaintances. Williamson's prose is direct and thankfully not given to flowery language or circumspectness about her condition. The book is straightforward and the author achieves something difficult in a memoir: she remembers feelings from a period of her life, while still providing distance and perspective. Williamson's analysis of the mental health field and mental health professionals is insightful without being preachy, and she presents her story with grace and humor.

Cottage [Twelve]: A Story of Two Paths Toward One Heart, One Given... the Other Discovered
Mike Biggs
Wasteland Creative (wastelandcreative.com), $14.99 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-0-9761479-3-0
This tortuously bifurcated memoir charts a brother's efforts to deal with a sister's disability, as well as his later divorce and religious awakening. Born three years after his sister Kathy, Biggs is delivered via cesarean section, echoing his sibling's complicated and debilitating birth. Very soon, the differences between the children becomes apparent to their homemaker mother and high school coach father. While Biggs is active in sports, Kathy—diagnosed with cerebral palsy—grows increasingly debilitated; she requires assistance performing such automatic tasks as swallowing and breathing and is soon bound to a wheelchair and institutional care. After his parents divorce, Biggs heads to college and later embarks on a promising career in public relations. However, his life and accomplishments are accompanied by a deep sense of guilt about Kathy's disability and his rare visits to her residential facility in Oklahoma. When his own marriage ends, Biggs gains custody of his son and a deep faith in Christ. The author's account of his life rambles and—despite Kathy's role in his transformation—the story lacks focus.

What'll I Do with the Baby-o? Nursery Rhymes, Songs, and Stories for Babies
Jane Cobb
Black Sheep Press (www.blacksheeppress.com), $39.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-9698666-1-9
Children's librarian Cobb (I'm a Little Teapot! Presenting Preschool Storytime) presents rhymes, stories, and book lists for newborns and toddlers in this creative resource geared toward early-childhood educators, parents, and caregivers. Because a child's primary brain development occurs during the first three years of life, Cobb emphasizes the importance of properly utilizing this period. Cobb insists language play is needed on a daily basis to have the greatest impact during this time of growth. She cites nursery rhymes as powerful tools for fostering attachment and brain and language development. In separate chapters, Cobb presents various types of rhymes, including bouncing rhymes, games and dances, face rhymes, hand rhymes, greeting songs, lullabies, rhymes in other languages, toe wiggling rhymes, and good-bye songs. She also provides clear guidelines for both parents and educators on how to encourage and enhance development and offers sample programs for educators to use. Containing nearly every rhyme imaginable, this is a charming and useful resource for early-childhood educators, librarians, day care teachers, and parents of young children. Includes a CD of nursery songs.

Breast Cancer: Reduce Your Risk with Foods You Love
Robert Pendergrass
Penstokes Press, $24 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-0-9844769-0-9
Pendergrass, a pediatrician and educator, packs this slim volume with simple, sensible advice about reducing breast cancer risk that is clearly explained and easy to follow. There are no magic bullets, miracle cures, or guarantees. Instead, Pendergrass—who studied under physician Andrew Weil and believes in eating a variety of real, whole foods—argues that every choice we make moves us in the direction of either lower or higher risk. Sections include "General Guidelines for Cancer Prevention," "Top 10 Foods for Breast Health," "Foods to Avoid," "Eating for Healing," and "Integrative Medicine." Pendergrass takes a holistic approach, asking readers to "think of human health as a vegetable garden" where different produce represent kinds of health, invasive weeds represent cancer, and one's lifestyle choices amount to tending the garden. The author is realistic about the difficulty of making lifestyle changes and provides useful suggestions for readers of various backgrounds and incomes. Appendixes include a breast cancer action plan and resource list; helpful Web sites are provided throughout the book. There's nothing revolutionary, but in a world of cookie diets and quick-fix cures, this compendium of sound advice is refreshing and provides a primer for those beginning to take action against breast cancer risk.

What Really Works: Blending the Seven Fs for the Life You Imagine
Paul Batz and Tim Schmidt
Beaver's Pond Press (www.beaverspondpress.com), $20 (184p) ISBN 978-1-59298-360-5
For this first offering in a planned series of inspirational books, study aids, and workshops, Batz (Inspire Persuade Lead: Communication Secrets of Excellent Leaders) and Schmidt surveyed leaders and professionals working in a variety of fields to identify their satisfaction in seven areas: faith, family, finances, fitness, friends, fun, and hopes for the future. The authors contend that striving for the elusive work/life balance is limiting. They contend a holistic "blending" of personal and professional goals creates inspired leadership and promotes authenticity in the home and workplace. The book's easily digested advice is illustrated via stories from the lives of people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs, all of whom have developed habits to overcome challenges to the Seven Fs. Presented with a mix of high-powered executive coaching lingo and popular self-help jargon, the book contains simple, often unexpected suggestions (doing business with friends; expressing faith in the workplace) for leaders to support and encourage employees and positively influence society while becoming happier, more successful, and healthier people.

Children's Books

The Journey of the Shih Tzu: From Prehistory to Present, from Asia to the World
Helen Asquine Fazio
Travel Dog Books (www.traveldogbooks.com), $19.95 (42p) ISBN 978-0-615-39686-6
Raja, a shih tzu, delivers a detailed first-person chronicle of his breed's history, tracing shih tzu evolutionary roots to "wolf cousins" in East Asia and describing their roles as companions to nomadic people, Tibetan monastery pets, and "palace pets" in the homes of Chinese aristocrats. Throughout, Raja explains how the breed's history has contributed to its temperament and appearance ("Hundreds of years of monastery living made us docile and quiet"), describes how European and North American visitors to China became interested in shih tzus, and includes entertaining tidbits with citations in an afterword. While initially rare in America, the "adaptable, companionable, brave, adventuresome, sturdy and cuddly" shih tzu became a sought-after pet. Digitally composed photo-collages add a goofy element, despite their inelegant execution; in one, Raja is superimposed next to a monk in a Tibetan painting, while a trio of dogs later appears outside a row of picturesque British cottages, though badly out of scale with their surroundings. Shih tzu devotees ought to appreciate this enthusiastic homage. All ages.

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