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A Future Without Hate or Need

Ester Reiter. Between the Lines (Brunswick Books, dist.), $34.95 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-77113016-5

This beautifully illustrated labor of love captures a little-documented piece of Canadian Jewish history, when 20th-century Yiddish-speaking immigrants created a progressive counterculture, teaching children to strive for a better world. In the U.S., this milieu produced Noam Chomsky and Zero Mostel; in Canada, it birthed the Travellers singing group and the Lovin' Spoonful's Zal Yanovsky. Reiter invites readers into a passionate world of true believers who developed a remarkable infrastructure of schools, summer camps, fraternal help organizations, and cultural clubs that thrived on Yiddish heritage and absurdist humor while dodging RCMP surveillance, "red squads," and Quebec's repressive Padlock Law, which allowed the closure of any house or building where people were suspected of propagating communism. Firsthand accounts from octogenarian lifelong socialists, union members, and feminists help color a history that spans struggles from the Bolshevik Revolution and the Spanish Civil War to the social uprisings of the '60s and '70s and current frazzled Middle East politics. Reiter's often conversational writing can be repetitive and occasionally focuses too much on details of political factionalism and internecine fighting. That aside, Reiter provides a valuable contribution to the history of Canadian immigration, political movements, and a Jewish community whose stories beg for further documentation. (May)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Cure Back Pain

Jean-Francois Harvey. Robert Rose (Firefly, dist.), $24.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-7788-0531-1

Harvey, a kinesiologist, osteopath, and athlete, wrote this extremely useful compilation of exercise techniques in response to his patients' requests for a good back exercise book that didn't just center on one popular method. His spinal training regimen combines a number of exercise methods, such as yoga, Pilates, advanced stretching, rehabilitation exercises, qigong, and breathing exercises, as well as the principles of osteopathy, biomechanics, and the Godelieve Denys-Struyf method (a way to stabilize the spine that combines several therapies, including stretching, manual massage, reflex techniques, and muscle stimulation). Harvey's method does not require any expensive equipment and can be done almost anywhere. The average time to complete a training session is 15 minutes a day, but Harvey writes that even five minutes on a regular basis can be beneficial. The first five chapters provide information about the back: anatomy, causes of pain, diagnoses, posture, and effective training exercises. The next two chapters consist of 80 clearly illustrated exercises and 35 exercise routines. Readers can choose which exercises suit their health issues and lifestyle, though Harvey recommends that readers consult with a doctor first. This excellent book is highly recommended for its frank, thoughtful examination of back pain and cornucopia of spinal training exercises that should suit even readers who can only manage brief exercise. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Call of the World

Bill Graham. UBC/On Point Press (University of Washington Press, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.) $39.95 (512p) ISBN 978-0-7748-9000-7

Writing this political memoir, Graham, Canadian foreign affairs minister from 2002 to 2004 and defense minister until 2006, was careful not to step on the toes of his Liberal associates, thereby depriving readers of the honest insights that might make this a worthwhile read. Instead, this overly long, bland recounting of his life and career people lists people he met and places he visited, and mixes occasional anecdotes and recalled conversations with scores of pictures of himself with other leaders. He fails to plumb the depths of the political world he seeks to describe, and his occasional critiques of the electoral process or the labyrinthine Canadian parliament are made as if he were a baffled observer rather than an active participant. His self-deprecation is undercut by quoting himself (even the time-honored introductory quotation page features a quote from Graham) while including kind things others say about him. Readers may also tire of frequent references to self-sacrifice and hard work. Historians will find little new here, especially in sections regarding landmark moments such as the Canadian decision not to directly participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, though Graham does express a rare regret in failing to repatriate Omar Khadr, the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay, for more than a decade. Graham's book never lives up to its lofty title. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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When Someone You Know Has Dementia: Practical Advice for Families and Caregivers

June Andrews. Greystone (PGW/Perseus, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.) $17.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-77164-215-6

With a friendly, conversational voice and a frank manner, Andrews (Helpful Hints for Carers) reduces the stigma associated with dementia, reassures readers that they are not alone on the journey of caregiving, and provides thoughtful, constructive advice based on her years of research and observation as director of the Dementia Services Development Centre at the University of Stirling, England. Her book is pragmatic and kind, describing best and worst case scenarios. Sprinkled throughout the book are first-person accounts, references to useful websites and books, and checklists to aid decision-making. When looking for a home for someone with dementia, for example, Andrews lists qualities and standards of care that patients might expect and explains the differences between levels of residential care. Another chapter highlights the dangers of hospital admission for dementia patients. If a loved one is admitted, Andrews offers advice on the emergency room, guerilla visiting tactics, reducing the risk of pain and delirium, how to watch for medication errors, and how to get a patient out. Although the book was written for U.K. readers, Andrews has added some North American information to this edition and much of her advice is relevant anywhere, making this an extremely useful resource. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell Management. (May)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald

Hugh Merrill. Stark House, $25.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-944520-03-8

This short biography by the late Merrill (d. 2015), first published in 2000, is the perfect introduction to author John Dann MacDonald (1916–1986). A prolific writer of crime fiction, MacDonald was best known for creating salvage expert/beach bum Travis McGee, the hero of 21 novels (The Deep Blue Good-by, etc.) published between 1964 and 1984. After succinctly surveying MacDonald's childhood, education, and marriage, Merrill focuses on his subject's writing career. MacDonald sold his first story while serving as an officer in the U.S. Army in India during WWII. He did his apprenticeship in the pulp magazines after the war, and successfully shifted to paperback originals in the 1950s. His novels eventually appeared in hardcover and hit bestseller lists, and he earned respect from critics both within and outside the genre. Ample quotations from MacDonald's letters, articles, and other nonfiction convey his hard-edged, no-nonsense voice. Anecdotal material lends interest: for example, MacDonald was originally going to give McGee the first name Dallas, but after JFK's assassination, he decided instead on Travis, after the California Air Force base. This reissue includes a new afterword by MacDonald scholar Calvin Branche, a reprint of an interview with MacDonald by crime writer Ed Gorman, and a bibliography. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Esther the Wonder Pig: Changing the World One Heart at a Time

Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, with Caprice Crane. Grand Central, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6078-3

Life partners Jenkins and Walter (assisted by novelist Crane) embark on a heartwarming journey when Jenkins eagerly agrees to adopt a miniature piglet in need of a home. Walter, who resisted the adorable little pig at first, quickly becomes "head over heels for [the] pig, of all things, experiencing all the firsts you have with a new pet." When they notice that Esther is gaining weight and growing at an alarming rate, their greatest fears are confirmed: Esther is a commercial pig, coming in at around 600 pounds upon full adulthood. What follows is a comedy of errors involving house training, broken furniture, ear-splitting squeals, and two men who simply cannot give up their beloved pet pig no matter what. When Walter and Jenkins realize that there are other homeless "Esthers," their beloved pig leads them to a life-changing decision that also saves the lives of numerous abandoned animals. Funny, entertaining, enlightening, and touching, this book about an unknowingly influential little piggy is a good read that also provides an education on the intelligence of pigs and their capacity for giving and receiving affection. Agent: Erica Silverman, Trident Media Group. (June)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hearing Voices, Living Fully: Living with the Voices in My Head

Claire Bien. Jessica Kingsley, $15.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-78592-718-8

In this candid, informative memoir, Bien, a trained facilitator for the Hearing Voices Network, describes experiencing auditory verbal hallucinations throughout much of her adult life. Having eventually learned to manage this condition, she aims to bring hope to others in the same circumstances. Bien details the most difficult and embarrassing periods of her life, including the deaths of close family members and her two troubled marriages, both which ended in divorce. The book chronologically documents Bien's life from her early years, through college, to her struggle to find a vocational calling, alongside the time line of her voices: their first appearance, her first hospitalization, and her subsequent recoveries. Bien's tone is matter-of-fact and often rings flat throughout her comprehensive accounts; the sentences are mostly declarative and devoid of much emotion. Bien is lucid and calm in looking back at her life and battles, displaying an admirably unflinching self-awareness. She's able to understand how she "was primed to hear voices" by biological and life triggers associated with her condition, and her journey will appeal to others struggling to overcome or better understand the same affliction. (June)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Walking with the Muses

Pat Cleveland. 37 Ink, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5011-0822-8

Cleveland was one of the first prominent African-American fashion models, and in this wonderfully written memoir she offers great insight into the fashion world, as well as glimpses of her own dramatic life off the runway. This friendly, conversational memoir chronicles her rise to international prominence from humble beginnings. Raised in a small New York City apartment, Cleveland developed a deep love for her mother, who imbued her with her love for wearing and designing beautiful clothes, but their connection was disrupted by Cleveland's abusive stepfather. Escaping her home life, Cleveland quickly became a working model and appeared in Vogue and Ebony, opportunities that brought her into close contact with celebrities such as Muhammad Ali and would eventually lead to Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol considering her a muse. But Cleveland's life was far from charmed, as she illustrates in her frank discussions of sexual assault—of both her and others around her—as well as her experiences with anti-black racism, both personal and systemic. Some readers will be particularly interested in her discussion of Bill Cosby, but Cleveland is the real star of her own story of passion, strength, and elegance above all. Agents: Becky Sweren and David Kuhn, Kuhn Projects. (June)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The War Before Independence: 1775%E2%80%931776

Derek W. Beck. Sourcebooks, $26.99 (528p) ISBN 978-1-4926-3309-9

Beck follows 2015's Igniting the American Revolution: 1773–1775 with another rich and accessible popular history of the early Revolutionary period. He opens about a month after the violent confrontation between the British and Americans at Concord. Covering the battle of Bunker Hill, the siege of Quebec, and the end of the siege of Boston, Beck's narrative offers plenty of vivid details that bring the conflict to life. Lay readers with only a general familiarity with this period of the war will find some surprises, including Dr. Benjamin Church, the chairman of the rebels' Committee of Safety, turning traitor, and the lord mayor and aldermen of London sending a petition to King George III accusing him of tolerating despotic rule over their fellow subjects in America. After being designated commander-in-chief, George Washington struggled to instill discipline in his troops, an irony that stemmed from the "rhetoric of the Revolution itself," which was a "concerted effort of social insubordination" that did not mesh well with the army's dependence on its members' adherence to the obligations of rigid military ranks. Beck occasionally lapses into purple prose and has a fondness for unnecessarily emphasizing dramatic moments, but he tells the story well. Illus. Agent: Doug Grad, Doug Grad Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Edge of the Empire: Journey to Britannia from the Heart of Rome to Hadrian's Wall

Bronwen Riley. Pegasus, $28.95, (336p) ISBN 978-1-68177-129-8

Riley, head of guidebooks at English Heritage, imagines a second-century C.E. travelogue based around Sextus Julius Severus's journey from Rome to Britain upon assuming his post as governor of Britannia in 130 C.E. Making clear that much is based on conjecture, Riley builds on documentary and archaeological evidence, and borrows relatable information from other areas of the empire or adjacent time periods in Britannia to provide a logically plausible scenario. She begins with a sketch of the Eternal City itself, moving northward across Gaul to Britannia and taking time along the journey to describe various aspects of life for a Roman citizen of the time. Once in Britain, Riley follows the course that Severus might have taken on his first tour of the province, giving precise distances between stops as well as including known features of each settlement and both Roman and modern names. A postscript delivers a further brief history of Britain under Roman rule and an idea of what a modern visitor might see at the various sites. There are maps and diagrams scattered throughout that help to bring this journey to life. Riley gives readers a reasonable snapshot of life as it might have been in second-century Britain. (May)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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