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My Journey into the Heart of Terror: Ten Days in the Islamic State

J%C3%BCrgen Todenh%C3%B6fer. Greystone (PGW/Perseus, U.S. dist; UTP, Canadian dist.), $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-77164-224-8

Todenhöfer, a former German judge and politician turned author, recounts the lead-up to and his travels into Islamic State (ISIS) controlled parts of Syria and Mosul, Iraq in 2014 to interview ISIS fighters in order to better understand their ideology, motives and goals. His research, focused on German recruits, leads to an official invitation to speak with fighters as well as a promise of safety. Todenhöfer's public criticism of U.S. foreign policy, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq, and previous books (Why Do You Kill, Zaid?) seemingly earned him enough trust to be the first journalist from the West to be granted such access. But with ISIS's history of executions, including journalists, in mind, Todenhöfer packed suicide pills before he and his son Frederic and a friend journeyed through Turkey into ISIS territory. They report what the fighters, some of whom have come from Western countries, tell them are their beliefs about Islam, ISIS's goals and its ruthless executions and punishments of "non-believers," and practices such as slavery. Todenhöfer questions them about how such brutality can be reconciled with Islamic teachings from the Qu'ran about mercy and peace. Written almost like a travel diary with transcribed interviews, the book offers a rare inside view of ISIS and insight into the terrorist organization's methods and hold on adherents. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden

Signe Langford. Douglas & McIntyre (PGW/Perseus, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.) $22.95 trade paper (210p) ISBN 978-1-77162-097-0

Professional cook and food writer Langford combines her love of food, gardens, and backyard chickens in her scattered but delightful first book. The book is a hybrid of several genres: part cookbook, part memoir, part how-to-raise-backyard-chickens manual, and even part sketchbook. The genres, for the most part, blend together seamlessly and add to the unique charm of Langford's creation. A few negative family anecdotes seem out of place, but they're brief and easily overlookd. The book is divided into four sections by season. Each section is then broken down into two parts, the first providing advice on raising backyard chickens and on gardening with chickens in general, and the second providing seasonal recipes for free-range eggs. Langford's tips and tricks for chicken tending don't go into much detail, but they are helpful in that they will get chicken owners and would-be chicken owners thinking about a wide variety of issues that go hand-in-hand with urban hen-keeping. Similarly, some of the recipes lack specifics, such as the required temperature, but the wide variety will appeal to many tastes and skill-levels. (May)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Ballad of Danny Wolfe: Life of a Modern Outlaw

Joe Friesen. McClelland & Stewart/Signal (Penguin Random House, dist.) $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7710-3023-9

Danny Wolfe truly lived and died by the sword. In this engrossing biography, author and Globe and Mail reporter, Friesen explains how the horrific legacy of Canada's Indian Residential Schools and the rampant poverty of First Nations reserves coalesced into the life a man who had little other choice than to become an outlaw. Danny was born in Regina, Sask. in 1976. His alcoholic mother was a traumatized survivor of residential school abuse. Danny and his brother, Richard experienced a broken, violence-ridden home life from their earliest years. In 1988, they founded the Indian Posse street gang in Winnipeg. "In the gang," Friesen writes, "Richard and Danny found an acceptance they hadn't found anywhere else in their lives. School was a disaster, family life the same. With the Indian Posse, they had people who cared about them." Through 24 chronological chapters, Friesen details Danny's criminal life, from theft to murder. His story parallels the broader rise of First Nations gangs in Canada, a reckoning of sorts for generations of government-sanctioned cultural genocide and institutional racism. Friesen is a great writer who tells Danny's story with unbiased detachment. The implications of Canadian social policy as reflected in this outlaw's life should be clear to all readers. Highly recommended. (May)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Silence

Anthony Quinn. MysteriousPress.com, $15.99 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-1-4976-6587-3

Quinn's masterly third mystery featuring Insp. Celcius Daly (after 2013's Border Angels) successfully integrates the bloody history of Northern Ireland with a suspenseful plot. In 2013, long after the ceasefire that ostensibly ended the Troubles, the police are reinventing themselves to bring "peace and order to a society splintered by forty years of violence." Against that background, Daly's probing of a fatal accident is unwelcomed by his superiors. He's curious why Fr. Aloysius Walsh, an elderly priest, ignored a police cordon and drove straight off a precipice to his death. Daly learns that Walsh was collaborating with a journalist on an investigation into the past that reached the shattering conclusion that "a secret committee of police officers, judges and politicians during the Troubles" organized a series of killings. To make matters worse, when the inspector accesses Walsh's records, he learns that the dead man believed that Daly's own mother was targeted for death and wasn't the accidental victim of a shooting he long believed. Understated but effective prose enhances a crackerjack story line. Agent: Paul Feldstein, Feldstein Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Muladona

Eric Stener Carlson. Tartarus, $65 (296p) ISBN 978-1-905784-84-4

Set in Incarnation, Tex., at the height of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, Carlson's serviceable tale of horror is driven by its young protagonist's sense of helplessness in a world increasingly out of his control. Vergil Strömberg has been left on his own on the eve of his 14th birthday—not coincidentally Halloween—locked in his house for protection against the disease-ravaged world outside the door of his family home. This makes him a captive audience for the Muladona, a shapeshiftng mule of Mexican folklore who ravens for his soul. Seven nights in a row the Muladona visits him to tell "bed-time" stories laced with clues to the identity of the person of whom the monstrous creature is an avatar. Struggling to guess whom the Muladona really is, Vergil discovers that with each story told, "its tales and my life are mixing together," and that secrets concerning his stern pastor father, his deceased mother, and the town's history are about to reveal themselves. Although the stories within this story make for an unwieldy mix—most differ in their telling from the frame narrative's style, and some are riddled with anachronisms—Carlson (The Saint Perpetuus Club of Buenos Aires) makes Vergil's increasing sense of helplessness as each is told seem palpable and believable. This book will appeal to readers who believe that childhood fears are often the most potent. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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It Is an Honest Ghost

John Goldbach. Coach House (Consortium, U.S. dist.; PGC, Canadian dist.) $18.95 trade paper (150p) ISBN 978-1-55245-333-9

Goldbach's (Selected Blackouts) second short fiction collection deftly explores a multitude of personalities and anxieties. In "An Old Story: In Five Parts," vignettes reveal a man slave to his isolationist routines. The title story tracks a group of young men whose conversation regarding the strange happenings at a 200-year-old flourmill devolves into an acid-fuelled discussion of metaphysics and the transmigration of souls. Two stories—"A Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" and "Jenny"—are almost entirely dialogue driven: the former involves two high school friends reconnecting at a strip club after many years apart; the latter is a one-sided transcription of a truly awful first date. "Standing in Front of the Kazon Cathedral: St. Petersburg, Russia, 2005" is the strongest piece—a work of flash fiction, it's a near-perfect distillation of the branching, rapid-fire thoughts of an anxiety-ridden mind as a man, while staring up at the sky, imagines being captured and killed as part of a terrorist action. Two stories, however, don't fit with the rest. "Sigismund Mohr: The Man Who Brought Electricity to Quebec" and the novella "Hic et Ubique" feel more emotionally detached and less introspective than the others. Additionally, the novella's weight throws off the collection's balance—its tone and heft don't belong, and so the book limps to its end after a decidedly strong start. (May)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Arctic Comics

Nicholas Burns, Michael Kusugak, Susan Thurston Shirley, et al.. Renegade Arts Entertainment (Diamond, dist.), $15.99 (88p) ISBN 978-1-987825-03-9

This collection of comics "written and drawn by Inuit and other northerners" showcases a variety of styles and themes. "Kiviuq Meets Big Bee" by Jose Kusugak, illustrated by Germaine Arnaktauyok, recounts an adventure featuring a legendary Inuit character likened to an "Arctic Ulysses" in the volume's introduction; with vengeful shamans, giant spiders, and an eyelid-eating monster, it's an apt analogy. The lovely "On Waiting" is adapted from a poem by Michael Kusugak, in which a boy daydreams while hunting seals; Susan Thurston Shirley's art brings the northern landscape to vibrant life. Other stories, particularly those by Nicholas Burns (who assembled the collection), recall vintage comics: "The Great Softball Massacre" reads like a slightly edgy, far-north version of Archie, with a lover's tiff playing out on a softball field, while "Sheldon the Sled Dog" shorts seem inspired by the likes of Heathcliff and Marmaduke. The slapstick and crass jokes in Burns's "Film Nord," about a beleaguered movie shoot, fall flat. The anthology closes with "Blizzard House," a thriller that mixes renewable energy, family drama, and violence. Though not every story hits its mark, it's still an intriguing window into Arctic life and lore. Ages 12–up. (May)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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What Happens Now

Jennifer Castle. HarperTeen, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-225047-6

Ari Logan is starting the summer before her senior year feeling stable, though the memory of the night she cut herself is still fresh. Now Camden Armstrong, the boy she pined after the previous summer, is showing interest in Ari—he even shares her all-consuming obsession with an old science fiction TV show, Silver Arrow. Ari's summer romance is a thrilling distraction from her past and from her mother, who avoids addressing her own depression by focusing on work, leaving Ari and her stepfather to care for Ari's younger sister, Dani. Castle (You Look Different in Real Life) depicts the subtle complexities of familial and romantic relationships with vividness and sensitivity: Dani looks to Ari for all the things their mother neglects, and the joy of having a longtime crush reciprocate is palpable as Ari basks in Camden's attention and that of his friends. At the story's center, though, is Ari's steady growth as she learns to welcome new possibilities in her life. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jamie Weiss Chilton, Andrea Brown Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Run

Kody Keplinger. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-545-83113-0

Keplinger (Lying Out Loud) explores the unlikely friendship between two girls: Agnes Atwood, who has a genetic condition that has left her legally blind, and Bo Dickinson, a member of the most notorious (and most maligned) family in a small Kentucky town full of gossips. Alternating between Bo and Agnes's perspectives, Keplinger tells this story backward and forward—Bo's chapters take place in the present, as Agnes and Bo skip town in the middle of the night, while Agnes's start at the beginning of their friendship, revealing the local reputation of the Dickinsons and how the two girls met and became close. Keplinger creates strong, distinct personalities for the girls through their first-person narratives; that readers never get Agnes's thoughts about being with Bo as they flee police is the story's main weakness. Agnes and Bo may share equal space on the page, but this is primarily Bo's story, with Agnes left explaining Bo's circumstances. This, along with the drawn-out mystery behind Bo's reasons for running, tends to frustrate the story's tension rather than build suspense. Ages 14–up. Agent: Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary & Media. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Darkest Lie

Pintip Dunn. Kensington, $9.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0358-3

In a romantic thriller that unfolds in the aftermath of profound loss, CeCe Brooks's mother, Tabitha, has allegedly committed suicide, following rumors that she was sleeping with the high school quarterback. Hounded by students and reporters, CeCe tries to keep a low profile during her senior year. Dunn (Forget Tomorrow) believably conveys Cece's anger, shame, and growing distrust, and the mystery intensifies when CeCe's father reveals that he doesn't believe Tabitha killed herself or slept with the student. The answers may lie at the crisis hotline where she worked, so CeCe volunteers there to investigate. New student Sam wants to help, but CeCe worries that he's trying to dig up dirt to win a journalism scholarship. When CeCe is threatened, she wonders whether a killer may be on the loose, and the suspects multiply. Layered on top of the mystery is romance, with CeCe torn between her feelings for Sam and Liam, a fellow crisis center counselor. While Dunn's writing can be overwrought at times, CeCe's attempts to preserve her mother's reputation keep the story's emotional stakes high. Ages 14–up. Agent: Beth Miller, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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